Tag Archives: Gulf Coast

Post Card from St. Pete Grand Prix USAC Pirelli World Challenge Paddock

Lots of pix from Day 0 at the St. Pete Grand Prix and specifically the newly USAC sanctioned Pirelli World Challenge Paddock. Lots of new things joining a bunch of lovable oldies… I love the variety in this series and for me that was the main attraction to sign up and volunteer. Check them out:

Brand spanking new Chevy Camaro GT4.R

The skittles McLarens…

New paint jobs on the Cadillacs…

Brand spanking new Acura NSX’s

Much prettier paint jobs for the Ginetta’s compared to last year.

New more sinister black paint job for the SIN too.

I’m guessing the championship winning car from last season is available should a capable driver come along… no Brett Sandberg?

Love the Benzes!

I’m craving BBQ now…

There’s the Panoz Avezzano I was so eager to see in person!

According to one of the mechanics there’s nothing new about this tube-frame car… certainly much less than the GT4 machinery that is doing so well in this series. That said a tube-framed Mustang won both of the races this weekend.

Got scolded by one of the team members for taking pix of the engine

The most  popular attraction and “RACE?” of the weekend

Parking lot find… a new Hertz Mustang Shelby GT-H rental car…

more pix to come from the race weekend soon…

Signed Up for Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and Sebring 12 hour

Good News! I signed up to volunteer for St. Pete Grand Prix and Sebring 12 hour with the Central Florida Region SCCA.

I had a blast last year. I had a great time at Daytona this year. So it was natural to want to return to sunny Florida this March.

Like last year I’ll be driving my Miata down for two weeks on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I’ll do a stop over in Daytona Beach on the way down and hopefully on the way back home. All of this I am very much looking forward to. New for this year will hopefully be my role at the event. I asked to work Pit & Grid so hopefully I’ll get to see more at St. Pete than just a remote corner of the track. Although I think Sebring will indeed be the more busy of the two races for me.

We shall see…

Looking forward to watching the pelicans land into Tampa Bay while in St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach area.

this is my post assignment from last year…

…can’t wait!

Mazda MX-5: 3,000+ Mile Spring Break Road Trip South in a Miata, from New Jersey to Florida

Question: “Is Mazda MX-5 Miata a good Road Trip car?”

Answer: Yes, absolutely!

I have found first hand how good my little red sports car was for the little Spring Break Road Trip down the Eastern seaboard from NJ to Florida. My goal was to marshal the Grand Prix of St. Pete and Sebring 12 hour, but what I ended up doing was much more than that. I got to visit several more circuits including Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, FL and Roebling Road in Savannah, Georgia. And I got to enjoy a ton of foodie experiences along the way, which is probably the best way to make a long trip in a Miata really comfortable. The trick is making sufficient stops along the way to not get tired or bored of the drive.

I also kept a little game going trying to play with my fuel mileage and finding most reasonable fuel prices along the way. I relied on an app called Gas Buddy which helped a lot considering the spread for fuel prices for 91-93 octane Premium fuel was vast, from $1.90 in the Northern States to $3,00/gallon in Southern states. I’ve found out that even from the same brand gas station, not all fuels were performing comparatively. I got better gas mileage sometimes from Speedway gas stations than I did from BP, Exxon or Sunoco.

Although not very scientific I created this spreadsheet of all 15 of my fill ups, including price paid, amount of fuel used, and MPG #’s:

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south to florida fuel strategy and gas mileage

But enough about strategy the key attraction for me was sightseeing

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south central florida region scca at sebring

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south to florida sebring international raceway

Sebring was the farthest point South I’ve driven my MX-5 Miata yet, I always wanted to get a shot of the car with the track. Daytona International Speedway was another, I’m happy to accomplish both!

mazda mx-5 day trip to daytona international speedway 2

On the drive back I had some time to kill since my plan was to spend the night in South Carolina at a fellow marshal’s home (who wouldn’t get out of work until about 5’ish which gave me plenty of time to be a tourist while driving up). So I visited Roebling Road in Savannah, GA on the drive up.

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south to florida roebling road savannah georgia

And that was as far as racetracks went on the trip. I did drive right past Darlington Motor Speedway (and Raceway, and Dragway) but that was around 5 o’clock in the morning and way too dark to take pictures anyway.

The rest of the trip was devoted to general sightseeing. Every time I’m in that part of Georgia I love visiting Savannah and Tybee Island.

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south tybee island savannah georgia

And believe it or not, I have yet to take a single picture of me in my car until now, I offered to take a photo for some tourists at the sign and they returned the favor for me to take this shot :

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south tybee island savannah georgia russ

Of course the main reason to visit Tybee Island is for it’s incredible seafood at The Crab Shack, which is exactly what I did.

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south tybee island savannah georgia crab shack

The food wasn’t particularly cheap, and the portions were kind of small, but you couldn’t beat the experience of freshness. Worth it!

Food therefore was a major theme on my Road Trip, and an integral part of keeping me entertained and enthusiastic about the drive (read: not bored!).

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south to florida watering hole sebring

On our very first night in Sebring, Nancy Digh organized a nice marshal welcoming party at the Cowpokes Watering Hole in Sebring. I had a fantastic Brisket Bacon Burger there.

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south to florida watering hole sebring brisket burger

But my favorite meal at Sebring (besides what the spectators fed us at turn 13) was at the Palm Diner trying their seafood belly buster:

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south to florida palm diner belly buster

My most favorite meal in Florida thought was in Lake Worth while Couchsurfing. My host took me to a little hole-in-a-wall place called Cherry Pocket Steak & Seafood where I had an awesome meal.

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south to florida cherry pocket steak & seafood fish

The appetizer was really my favorite. We had gator bites while sitting on a patio looking over a lake looking directly at a small alligator sunning itself out of the water. The salad that came with it had the most awesome strawberry flavored sauce, finger licking good!

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south to florida cherry pocket steak & seafood gator bites

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south to florida airboats and seaplanes

Only in Florida where you can arrive at the restaurant by car, seaplane or air boat.

Driving further north my buddy Ben took me to Redbone Alley  serving an amazing dish of Grits and Catfish… very southern!

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south grits and catfish florence south carolina

Even chain food in North Carolina was delicious, Bojangle’s famous biscuit and gravy, cajun chicken and sweet tea were sooooo good!

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south biscuit and gravy cajun chicken sweet tea bojangles

Virginia and Pennsylvania welcomed me with an even faster fast-food option right at the gas station: Sheetz and their delicious sliderz and chicken strips tossed in Dr.Pepper BBQ sauce… Yum!

Long story short, the Road Trip in a Miata becomes not just bearable but extremely enjoyable when you take your time and enjoy the sites, try the local foods and enjoy yourself when you can.

After making it home I went ahead and swapped my Winter BFG’s that now have about 4.5k miles on them for Summer BFG’s with 0 miles on them and am looking forward to taking another Road Trip soon…. stay tuned!

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south wheel swap winter for summer

mazda mx-5 spring break road trip south wheel swap winter for summer bfg

Mazda MX-5: St. Pete Beach Miata the Perfect Car for the Gulf Coast of Florida

I have found the place I belong: St Pete Beach, Florida and my Miata is the perfect car to get me around there. I think it’s only a matter of time before I grow enough cojones to pick up and move there!

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mazda mx-5 st pete beach 1

I always thought that one day I would call South Florida home. Miami, Ft Lauderdale, Palm Beach always appealed to me. But after this visit I thing the Gulf Coast is where it’s at, and one day St. Pete will be home, fingers crossed!

PS. the restaurant scene is really happening too, like this awesome hole-in-a-wall joint I found called Mid Peninsula seafood.

Grand Prix of St. Pete, IndyCar Season Opener – Streets of St. Petersburg

What an outstanding weekend on the streets of beautiful St Pete on the Gulf Coast of Florida waving flags for the season opener of the IndyCar racing series and all the supporting classes that run with it.

This post will act as a debrief for the event and some of the things I liked and disliked about my first GP of St Peterstburg weekend.

First, the things I really liked. The drive down to Florida was pretty freaking awesome. I had just flown home from Texas doing the PWC season opener at COTA which was fine… but the fact that I was being cheap about travel didn’t help with the road trip. I spent almost two days traveling from TX to NJ leaving Austin around 7pm for Dallas by bus and departing to NYC via Houston at 6am the next morning. By the time I got home I was shot. Very early the next morning, at 4am, I was on the road driving South. The drive took me two days because I felt like spending a night of rest about half way. So a good 13 hours after leaving home I arrived at my motel in Columbia, South Carolina to rest. Early the next morning, another 4am departure I was ready for the final leg, which instead of taking me 7 hours to complete actually took about an hour and a half longer for some reason. I wasn’t stuck in any traffic and didn’t take any detours but it took me longer than expected to arrive in St. Pete to make registration and to go out on track to marshal the first half day of the event.

Along the way on my Road Trip I kept track of my fuel mileage and noticed some interesting things. Fuel seems to be better quality up north than it is further south. I got much better gas mileage on my first two fill ups than the following ones. But instead of following my previous strategy of limiting the amount of stops to optimise my timing, I ended up stopping more than I planned as my fuel stops didn’t align with my food stops and pee stops. Long story short, I stopped too many times because the places I wanted to eat weren’t the places I wanted to fill up. All in all I got 36mpg early on, which dropped to 35mpg later on and down to 31mpg towards the end of the drive. The only other factor that I think significantly contributed to the pitiful fuel mileage was that I increased my speed once the roads got better. Leaving NJ and PA where I was putting along at 60 to 65mph I started keeping up with the speed limit in VA and further south doing 70 to 80mph. I think increasing speed really killed the gas mileage. But this was still the good thing.

The bad thing was, in large part, the schedule of the event. There was no breaks allotted for us to do anything other than be ready for the next support track activity or the feature track activity. I took advantage of our first half day delays to snap some pictures in the support paddock, and those are the only pictures I got from the event. There was no opportunity to visit the paddock or pit lane throughout the weekend, which kind of sucks. I hope the event organisers consider that volunteers are also fans.

Back to the good things… my station assignments were awesome. And best of all I was paired with a local guy that really made my time at the event enjoyable. Dave told me off the bat that he wasn’t interested in blue flagging which made me like him right away. And from that first moment forward we worked together really well, looking out for each other’s safety as well as BS’ing enough to make the time go by really quickly. On the first day Dave even made the local paper waving the flag for the USF2000’s first time on track. It was really an awesome experience and I’m surprised to see in practice how one positive person can make such a big difference between having a good event and having a miserable time like the last time I worked Daytona and got booted off my station.

The racing was fairly good, more or less. This being a street circuit had it’s typical incidents of cars running out of room to pass resulting in some interesting incidents. Few of them happened within sight of our station, which was nice to have. Turn 8 was especially busy and that meant I got to wave a lot of green flag. As far as blue goes it was difficult to see, so that flag had minimal use.

I think the highlight of the event was the Stadium Super Trucks “race” or exhibition, whatever is the appropriate term to use. We had ramps set up directly across from our station meaning we could see the jumps closer than anyone else really, right from our station. The crowds behind us grew as soon as SST’s were about to come out, much more so than they were present for IndyCar or PWC events, which makes me wonder… why bother holding an IndyCar race when they could just hold an event for Robbie Gordon’s SST’s?

The crowd loved these things:

st pete grand prix stadium super trucks robbie gordon 3

st pete grand prix stadium super trucks robbie gordon 2

st pete grand prix stadium super trucks robbie gordon 1

And while I adhered to the rules of not taking pictures with cars on track, since our participation was very limited for SST’s I took a few snaps… and our CFR SCCA buddy Dave Green caught me in action by taking his pro shots from across the track from our station:

st pete grand prix stadium super trucks dave green

Image by Dave Green from flagtoflagphotography.com 

And finally, the last really awesome thing about this event was the fact that I couldn’t find cheap accommodation while looking for hotels to book for this race. Everything was either booked solid or really expensive. And even at the cheap places prices were thru the roof, I can’t imagine paying over $100+/night for a Motel 6 or Rodeway Inn, but that’s the type of prices I was dealing with. So instead I chose to pay nothing and relied completely on CouchSurfing.org My host lives less than 2 miles from the track and it was a very convenient place to stay for the event with the trip taking me just under 10 minutes to complete (from house to the morning meeting). Probably the closest place I’ve ever stayed to the temp circuit for a street race.

Next stop, Sebring!

But I will spend a few more days exploring St. Pete….

Prepping for a 3,000* mile Road Trip: New Jersey to the Gulf Coast of Florida

After two massive International MX-5 Miata Road Trips where my car sat in the driveway in New Jersey, covered in snow. I’m about to embark on my biggest Road Trip yet… actually driving the car. This trip will be about 3,000 miles down the Eastern Seaboard starting from Northern New Jersey just outside of NYC all the way down to the Gulf Coast of Florida. Destination St. Pete followed by Sebring.

Instead of taking the most direct route down, I plan to divert a little out of the way, for two reasons… both equally important to me:

  1. to avoid the pot holes and generally bad road conditions in the Northeast, including the Beltway around Washington DC
  2. to avoid all the tolls in the Northeast along i95 corridor, which based on my last trip to Northern Virginia were around $100! bux (round trip)

This post will also serve as a check list of sorts to help me prep for the trip. Considering how tiny the Miata is with luggage space I’ll really have to optimize the room I have to bring along all the necessities which include my camping gear for Sebring. It will likely take up the most space.

The easiest things to bring along is plastic! And as the photo above shows I did stock up on almost every possible fuel gift card/gas card available. I used eBay to buy discounted gift cards for brands I knew I would encounter along the way as well as those that I could finish using back home if I didn’t get use them up on the road. Frankly I hope I don’t use up all the value of the cards while travelling because theoretically there’s far more money than the amount of fuel I will need to purchase. (3,000 miles, 30 mpg, 300 miles on tank, 3 or 4 fill ups each way, plus about 2 tanks of local use, at $25 – $30 per fill up) The cards I chose are BP – my favorite option at home, also Shell, Sunoco, Exxon-Mobil and Speedway. In addition to the 5% discount eBay offered I used the discounted eBay gift cards to purchase these gas cards so the total discount was around 10%, which is much better than nothing. Additionally BP gives me 10 cents back per gallon for every $100 I spend on fuel to be used cumulatively for a one time fill of up to 20 gallons. And Shell has a new promotion where I’ll earn 25 cents off per gallon on one fill up of 8 gallons or more, purchase. Pretty significant savings even if the current price of fuel is relatively cheap.

One last comment on fuel. As a big endurance fan the ideal of fuel windows and conservation strategy is a big deal. The fuel window will really play an important role on my trip. Because I will be somewhat pressed for time to arrive in St. Petersburg, Florida before noon on Thursday, March 10, I have to make sure I don’t waste too much time looking for a gas station off the highway. The optimal solution would be to get fuel every 300 miles or so, since that’s what my highway fuel mileage should dictate. Of course it makes more sense to get fuel cheaply in Virginia than West Virginia or South Carolina vs. Georgia. So I’ll adjust the fuel strategy a little bit to make sure I get the minimal amount of stops with the most cost effective fuel options out there. Having some play with the choice of fuel from BP, Shell, Sunoco, Speedway or Exxon-Mobil should help with this strategy. I would like to try to avoid buying fuel from a no-brand name gas station. But we’ll see I guess.

Now to the check list. As mentioned earlier the tent and other camping gear will take up most of my free space. The trunk of the Miata is already full with the RX-8 spare which I’m hoping I will not have to use, but should something happen at least I’m prepared. I plan to take the bare minimum of clothes, maybe one backpack full, but I will bring a few pairs of shoes in case it rains in Florida which it most probably will. This way I’ll have something comfortable to change into. The one thing I normally take on my trips like to Upstate New York or New England, I plan not to bring at all: food. I will avoid taking more than what I need specifically for the drive down because I can easily stock up on food and water along the way or at the destination. I’m definitely not taking any gallon jugs of water or tea which I normally take, because it’s just dead weight.

Based on my calculations the optimal way to go will be via i78 into Pennsylvania where I’ll pick up i81 all the way down through Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, then i77 from North Carolina into South Carolina where I will spend the night at a motel in Columbia after about 12 hours of driving. The final stint will be an easy 8 hour drive from South Carolina to Georgia via i26 and down i95 into Florida where I’ll probably take i20 just south of Jacksonville and i75 into the Tampa Bay area, depending on the local traffic at the time. If I leave early enough I just might make registration in time to be on track on the St. Pete GP street circuit to watch PWC GT cars practice. But IF I don’t, I will definitely arrive there in time to watch them practice as a spectator and maybe even take some pictures for the blog.

Concerns for the trip aren’t many other than worrying about any road debris hitting the car while driving. Stormy weather could be an issue especially up in the mountains. Pot holes of course. As well as parking safety when I leave the car overnight at the motel in SC or while at the events in Florida. But given that I don’t typically take out extra insurance coverage when I rent cars, I should be OKAY driving my personal car this distance. Should take it easy for the trip, avoid speeding and stick to driving during the day time so I can actually see the obstacles in front of me. Should be an awesome trip!

I am very excited!

Planning 3 Major Trips Simultaneously: Motorsport Events in Texas, Florida & California

With the excitement from the trip to the South Pacific barely starting to wear out I’m keeping the momentum going by planning 3 massive domestic trips to marshal around the country.

What’s on the agenda?

Pirelli World Challenge season opener at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas immediately followed by a trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida for a few events. I plan to drive down to Florida in my MX-5 the day after I fly home from Texas. The trip will put at least 3,000 miles on the car while volunteering my first St. Pete Grand Prix tagged along to another exciting Sebring 12 hour enduro with the IMSA WeatherTech United SportsCar Series Championship race. After a few weeks of recovery I’ll depart on a trip to California for another IndyCar Grand Prix on the streets of Long Beach.

I could hardly contain my excitement about these trips, and am currently wrecking my brains trying to organize all the travel arrangements. In a way, the flights are the easiest part of the equation. The costs to marshal are tremendous especially when the volunteers compete for the same accommodation that drivers and fans use during a race weekend. I’ve found this to be especially true in the case of St. Pete where even the cheapest hell-hole hotels are pushing $100/night. But it’s a challenge I’m happy to accept, I find the planning part almost as exciting as being trackside for the event.

PWC at COTA

For the Pirelli World Challenge season opener at the Circuit of the Americas I’ve frankensteined a trip together using a $36 AA flight from LGA to DFW and then $2.50 bus from Dallas to Austin with Megabus. On the way home it’ll be another $2.50 Megabus ride back to Dallas to connect to a $49 UA flight back to LaGuardia via Houston: DFW-IAH-LGA. I’m looking forward to my buddy Joaquin helping me out in Austin again with his monster Chevy dually.

St. Pete GP & Sebring 12h

The IndyCar season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida will be a two day drive in the MX-5 from New Jersey. I will probably break up the trip into a 12 hour and an 8 hour drive with a rest stop overnight in Columbia, SC. I am a little concerned about parking for the MX-5 while in Florida especially if I do stay at a cheapo motel, which tend to be in bad parts of town and therefore prone to crime. But fingers are crossed everything works out. I plan to camp at Sebring, as much as I dislike the idea of camping you can’t beat the price. Although my camping gear, sleeping bag, pillows, etc. will completely pack the poor little convertible.

Long Beach GP

For this trip I frankensteined a few flights to bring the price down. Because it’s a busy Motorsport weekend in the LA area the flights are priced higher than normal. My goal was to book something for under $200 round trip and I just managed to do it by booking a number of separate reservations with United. The one way NY-LA was about $150 but I cut that cost in half by booking NY-Chicago and Chicago-LA separately… $35 for LGA-ORD and $35 ORD-LAX with favorable departure times and plenty of room between the two separate bookings in case there is major travel disruption on the day of travel. The flights back home were the pricey ones and in fact I paid almost double of the cost to get there. I chose to fly out on the Monday after the race, and the cheapest option was a $132 flight from Burbank to Newark via San Francisco: BUR-SFO-EWR. I think I am pretty happy with these bookings considering the alternative was at least $75 to $100 more, or I would have had to rely on wasting an award which I would rather save up on a flight to Europe.

In the next few days I’ll continue researching accommodation for these three trips and trying to decide whether to stick to public transport in California or rent a cheapo car to get around.

I’m excited!

PS. I am especially looking forward to the lengthy trip in the Miata, after a beautiful Road Trip in New Zealand I want to appreciate driving my own car as much as the owners I met love driving theirs.

Expanding my Wish List This Year to Marshal the St. Pete GP & Sebring 12h

I am seriously considering registering as a marshal to volunteer this year’s St. Petersburg Grand Prix followed immediately by the Sebring 12 hour in Florida. Best events to marshal are those that you can do back-to-back and it doesn’t get better than this schedule in March including a street race in a beautiful Gulf Coast Florida town overlooking Tampa Bay as well as one of the most iconic endurance races in the US that is Sebring 12 hours of IMSA racing.

The last time I marshaled in Florida I had less than great time, especially the time before the last time. This involved getting kicked out of my station during the Daytona 24 hours in January of 2013. But I’m over it now and if they let me come back – that is the CFR – Central Florida Region SCCA club that staffs both of these pro-races including IndyCar at St. Pete and IMSA at Sebring, I’d be happy to return.

I would love to actually drive down for this event and do a little bit of recon work to see if I could make the move to Florida in 2016. I realize waiting and hoping for something to happen will actually never make anything happen, so this would be a good opportunity to take the first step towards this move.

Well, fingers crossed!