Tag Archives: Michigan

Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix 2016 the debrief

This year’s Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix was a blast!

I had such a tremendously great time I can’t express my gratitude enough to all the people that make the event possible.

There were some hiccups, as there always are, but things worked out perfectly. I was in good spirits from day 1, although it was hard to overcome my displeasure with the state of the roads in Michigan. Many of the highways and roadways in suburban Detroit suffer from incredible neglect and my Miata was the wrong vehicle to navigate these streets. Specifically Interstate 75, Chrysler Freeway and parts of Ford Freeway (Interstate 94) had such big pot holes I’m surprised I didn’t suffer a blowout. My GPS didn’t help me either, sending me along Mound Road or Metro Parkway (Metropolitan Pkwy) which had pot holes so big they had their own pot holes within them, it was so rough I cringed every time I found myself falling into one. And with the car being so low most of the time I couldn’t see it coming until I was in it…. So with that off my chest, to the positive.

Or at least sort of positive. My GP experience I found out, is what I make it… and on the first day of the event I found out I was flagging at Turn 11 which is along the Detroit River on the back straight just past a few sharp turns from Turn 7, 8, 9 and 10. Turn 11 was spectacular both with the views of Canada across the river, Windsor Ontario hustle and bustle can be seen and heard quite easily. But also because once the cars come out of the turn they come so close to the concrete barrier which we flag from, sometimes they brush up against it. Often times I had to yank my Blue flag back after displaying it because it was possible for the cars to rip it out of my hands and take it along for the ride… the rush was incredible!

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Yet… Turn 11 has the identical views I’ve seen before from Turn 7 which I worked the last time I went to Detroit Grand Prix in 2013. And that bummed me out…. I was hoping to experience something new, something unique… even if it wasn’t the best view I wanted for it to be different…. so after contemplating whether or not I’d be a pain-in-the-ass for asking, I reached out to my corner captain and asked if I could be switched. He told me “NO”, the assignments were set in stone… Hmm. I asked a few more people on the ride back to the dinner tent after the day’s events were finished, and they said if I feel it is a legitimate reason I should go ahead and make the request, but it would be better if I present the Flag Chief with a solution, otherwise find someone from a different station to switch with me.

While I knew some people at the event, I didn’t know enough to have this conversation about switching so I went straight to the Flag Chief. I presented him with my dilemma and suggested that he could even put me on a “Shitty” station but my goal is to have a different view. He kind of “whoah’ed!” at my “Shitty” comment, as if there’s no such thing at the track and all stations are “good” but then after some thought told me he’d take care of it. I told him no pressure with the decision, I’m quite impressed with the views of Turn 11 and I had a great time working with all the people on there, but honestly I’d prefer a different view, and left it at that.

During dinner the flag chief asked one of the corner captains if he wouldn’t mind trading people, he agreed… and I found out I’m going to work Turn 1 for the rest of the weekend… Holly Fucking Batman! Turn 1!!!!  WHOA… that was very surprising and not at all expected.

I couldn’t wait to come back Saturday and Sunday because I knew Turn 1 would be awesome… the switch totally made my day!

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The team on Turn 1 welcomed me even if they probably thought I was a jerk for even requesting this move. I can’t say I was terribly concerned what other people thought, I noticed that as long as I look out for my own interest, I have a great time. But we all had an amazing time working together. I tried to share with the team what I learned working a few IndyCar, IMSA and Trans Am events this year… possibly even too much info. But I thought it was helpful. We had a great rotation, I got to do what I wanted. I even said it would be a nice thing to have an incident at Turn 1 so we could all learn from it, and sure enough we had quite a tangle on the very first lap of the IndyCar race on Sunday. Nobody got hurt except some pride maybe, but we learned a lot… Especially from our Holmatro Safety Team crew that scolded us for blocking their exit with the truck. Sadly, their exit coincided with our escape route in case an incident such as this happened. So no matter how much they think they’re doing Godly work with their God-like attitude towards the volunteers who stand between a moving concrete barrier and the swing of their open door as they rush out to the scene. I wouldn’t have changed anything about the way we reacted to the multi-car crash that moved our station a few inches in making the truck exit hole even smaller.

Post race we had a great photo op with the cars that couldn’t continue:

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photo courtesy of Pat
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photo courtesy of Pat
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photo courtesy of Pat
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photo courtesy of Pat Not a lot of wiggle room where we stand to flag from. All the personnel on our post was essential, blue and yellow flaggers faced each other while the communicator relayed race control traffic and the captain served as a safety to respond to incidents (which technically we weren’t allowed to do because Holmatro Safety Team was there)

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The views from Turn 1 were pretty awesome, we could see almost everything that went on in that part of Pit Lane, including penalties and all vehicles exiting onto the track. Prior to the IndyCar incident we had a few scuffles and spins in Trans Am, while IMSA was pretty well behaved and civil through our corner.

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Every night Detroit SCCA Region treated us to a tasty dinner, which was so appreciated!

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The food was excellent, from sign-on/registration throughout the event… I especially like the Thursday night welcome party at Sindbads, for all the bad things being said about Detroit, this was an excellent view of what Detroit is really like, and that there are multiple experiences to be had in the D, not just bad ones like people assume every time. Sindbads is great!

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Believe it or not, this is Detroit!

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The other thing I’m a big fan of is the Michigan State Police cars with their traditional light bubble and the stop sign on the hood… What in the world is that still all about?

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Anyway I had such a great time I can’t wait to return again and again! I will marshal another Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix if I have the money to do it. Next time I’ll rent a car though!

Fiat 124 Spider: Fiata Sighting at Auburn Hills, Michigan (FCA HQ)

Taking advantage of the opportunity of being in Detroit for the Grand Prix I figured it would be a good chance to spy the pre-release Miata-based Fiat 124 Spider in the wild… friends I talked to claimed they were roaming around and you could spot them everywhere, so when I failed to see one within the first few days of being in Michigan I started obsessing about it, making it my mission to see the Fiata in the flesh before I leave Detroit to go home.

I succeeded!

Although at a cost. The cost of fuel that is… trying to spy a Fiata on Detroit suburbs streets was nothing more than a fuel burning exercise with very limited success.

The most obvious place to look for the new Fiata that I could think of was driving through the FCA HQ at Auburn Hills. Being a big SRT fan I’ve visited the place before and knew it was possible to visit as “general public” driving around Chrysler Dr. I did this heading out to Detroit to register for the Grand Prix with SCCA but failed to see one on the first day. Getting a little antsy I reached out to a few Chrysler people I knew, including my host for the weekend, to pick their brain on where would be the most likely place to spy a Fiata without getting into trouble. And both said that since the embargo has been lifted as the car was presented at various auto shows, it shouldn’t be an issue… hell one of the guys said they should be hitting dealer lots in the next month or so, so I’m sure they’re stamped by huge quantities already in production form.

But I haven’t seen one yet, so I was eager for a chance. The most likely scenario of spying one at the HQ was being at the right place and at the right time… so to optimize I chances I did a drive-by right around lunch time and then once again at quiting time, at the end of the day…. the success came just after 11am… I saw a beautiful red model that I caught just out of the corner of my eye leaving the parking lot as I drove past… I had to slow way down for that car to catch up to me and took a few snaps:

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FCA HQ has it’s own Interstate 75 exit/entrance ramps, and the gray haired big wig driving this thing hopped on and took off. I thought it would be weird following him, so I went the other way hoping I would spot a parked version of this car so I could take some much better still shots. But I failed in locating one.

First impressions of the car: I feel like I’ve seen it before! I realize it’s a new model and all, but it has a familiar look to it, something ordinary something that’s already on the market. I realize people would say: well, it’s based on the Miata and that’s already out. But that’s now what I mean. It looks nothing like a Miata. The ND MX-5 is unique with it’s looks, it looks like nothing else on the market. While the Fiat 124 Spider that has yet to hit the dealer lots already looks like a slightly squared NB Miata that’s been sold for a decade.

I don’t know how I feel about it yet…. I guess it’ll grow on me.

Foodie Tour of the D… Detroit’s Obsession with Coney Islands (that’s Hot Dogs with Chili + Onions)

Wanna make a lunch decision you will instantly regret?

Go on a foodie tour of the coney islands in the D… Detroit loves it’s Coney Dogs!

They don’t call them coney’s in New York… on Coney Island in Brooklyn hot dogs are hot dogs… Nathan’s is probably my favorite though Hebrew National aren’t bad either, even Ballpark is OK. But that’s something I’d have every once in a blue moon, typically at a BBQ on a summer’s day.

Well in Detroit hot dogs with chili are all the rage. I remember seeing stores along Van Dyke for as long as I remember coming up to visit my friends on 26 mile and always wondered what the fuzz was all about… what is this Coney Island? and why are there so many of them…? on this trip to Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle Park I found out. So come join me on my little foodie adventure that resulted in nothing more than confusion and a stomach ache… I enjoyed it!

I started out on Woodward Avenue near Pontiac because of a side trip to the Fiat Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills while on a hunt for a Fiata sighting, but more about that in another post. My first stop was Athens Coney Island on Woodward in Royal Oak, MI Naively my plan was to pop into three or four different joints, order a coney to go, and sample it while driving to the next one… that plan was STUPID!

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As I soon found out with Athens coney dog in my car, eating it was messy and I soon regretted the decision of doing this! I also ordered french fries with this dog so I don’t puke all over myself having a hot dog for my first meal of the day and they were extremely bland. But I needed a baseline to compare my future coney’s to, so with a small chili stain on my t-shirt I proceeded to the next place which happened to be the most famous one’s depending on whom you ask.

Downtown Detroit is known for it’s turf war between two family owned coney joints… or at least the family was related when the restaurants opened. Now Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island are two competing businesses working side by side selling coney’s to fans of their rivalry.

I went to Lafayette first just because I parked my car nearest to their entrance… The place looked pretty old school, with two old Greeks behind the counter slapping together people’s orders. I figured for this one I’d sit down to avoid getting any more chili sauce all over me. The order was served on a small plate with a fork and a glass of water which the fella behind the counter insist I take, I didn’t want it. Here’s the famous serving:

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Despite my best efforts as soon as I picked up the coney to shove it in my mouth the little dices of onion went flying everywhere. The dog was tasty, chili and mustard added good flavor, but raw onion is not something I normally eat knowing how it typically sends my stomach rumbling… so I was a bit apprehensive. All in all, it tasted like a hot dog something I could probably make sans the chili.

Next stop American Coney Island:

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Unlike the previous two stops, this place took their hot dog selling business seriously and looked extremely polished and commercialized. Was that good? Sure… I’d say it looked like a chain now though the owner was clearly running around supervising the staff and talking with some of the customers, that was cool. Still retained some of that mom and pop feel like the diners I visited.

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detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 9 american

I ordered their coney with some fries and found out that if I dip the fries into the chili, I’d save myself from making a mess of it in the end. The dog was good, the chili did taste slightly different and the chunks of onions were much smaller which made them a bit less noticeable in every bite, although clearly the strong taste was still there. I could see why people rant and rave that this place is #1.

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The location also captures a small portrait of Detroit in general. While the downtown looked really nice, a lovely place with nice buildings, stadiums and other entertainment venues. A new M-line rail is in development that I’m sure will revitalize the city bringing people from Midtown and other points closer to Downtown. The Bathtub Bar next door looked in complete state of neglect and disrepair. And that sums it up. No matter how wonderful Detroit is there are aspects of it suffering neglect (including those horrible pot hole lined highways, freeways and avenues, so massive I don’t know how I didn’t suffer a blow-out… I will bitch about in another post) which brings the image of the whole city down. It’s not to say other cities don’t have their eye sores to look at, but in Detroit it’s the first thing that jumps out at you and most people tent to talk about. I really love Detroit and I wish the image changes soon! So I praise places like American Coney Island for doing their part in polishing the city’s image.

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Now after these three pit stops any sane person would call it quits, but I decided to have a go at one more place for scientific purposes of comparison of course… I visited one of the chains in the suburbs called Kerby’s Koney Island on Woodward in Bloomfield Hills, MI ( I was heading back to FCA HQ for another go at the Fiata ).

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Their coney’s were just as messy as the rest of them, but instead of ordering fries I went with fried zucchini sticks or zucchini fries.

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That was a great decision! The zucchini fries were extremely tasty and I actually managed to notice the different taste of Kerby’s chili. At this place I finally reached for the fork and ate the messy dog as it was probably intended to: in a civilized manner.

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So all in all… four different places visited, four different coney’s sampled and I am no closer telling the difference between them now then before I started. They all tasted like hot dogs to me.

A funny moment while I was finishing my meal at Lafayette some kids were talking about doing a coney road trip, sampling the different coneys around the State…  made me chuckle a little. If that’s your thing, go for it and enjoy. Personally I’ll probably leave the chili dog experience to my next BBQ or pic-nick. (or more likely one of the cookouts at the race track somewhere, where burgers and dogs are easiest fare to make). Glad I’ve been there and done that now, so I’m not tempted to do it again next time I come back to Detroit!

Post Card from Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix featuring IndyCar, IMSA and Trans Am racing

Greetings from Beautiful Detroit (Belle Isle!)

After a three year hiatus I decided to sign up for another DGP. It took a while to contemplate my options but I pulled the trigger on the last day registration was open and just a week before the race.

I’ll write in greater detail about what I liked and disliked about the event, there were plenty of both… but for now I’d like to share some of my favorite pictures from the IMSA pre-race pit and grid walk… To me this was the highlight of my participation.

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Guess who’s going to watch the next Jason Bourne movie?  This guy!

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Gorgeous view of the fountain on Belle Isle, and an even more gorgeous station assignment, working Turn 1!

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More to come… soon!

Detroit Grand Prix Spotter Guide by Andy Blackmore

With a few days left to go until the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, Andy Blackmore Designed has released another amazing spotter guide for the IMSA events of the weekend.

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Download your copy from: www.facebook.com/SpotterGuides/ or pick up a printed version at the gates during the event, which is what I typically try to do. As a huge fan of Andy I have a whole collection of his spotter guides from various events that I’ve volunteered.

Be sure to pick up an official IndyCar spotter guide too… and as the TransAm fields are growing HUGE! I hope they come up with a spotter guide also… only recently I’ve noticed Pirelli World Challenge has started offering spotter guides for their events, I was lucky to pick one up at Lime Rock (and I’m talking about an actual spotter guide and not the magazine program that they printed at the beginning of the season and distribute throughout the year).

See you in Detroit… a lovely city!

Planning another 1,500 mile Road Trip to Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

I’ve been on the fence about returning to marshal the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix for a while, and with only a day left to register and just a week before the actual event I have pulled the trigger… I will be heading on this 1,500+ mile Road Trip to marshal DGP again!

I love Detroit!

How many people can say that? I really do… it’s a nice city despite all of it’s problems. One thing that made me hesitant just a bit was all the damn pot holes I know I’m going to hit driving up there and driving around there… but what the hell, it’ll be an excuse to upgrade the Miata’s suspension once it’s shot.

The thing I’m looking forward to the most is checking out the cars on track… this year Pirelli World Challenge is out but another SCCA Pro group is taking it’s place: Trans Am racing. With the fields I saw at Watkins Glen International a few weeks ago, I know it’s going to be a blast to watch them race on a street circuit.

I’m looking forward to the food also… especially if I find the time to either sneak into Canada at Windsor, Ontario crossing or decide to drive to my destination through Canada to begin with… apparently I could shave 20 miles and avoid a lot of the crappy roads of Pennsylvania and Ohio by going via the 401 and 402 in Ontario. Would be my second trip to Canada in a month. Love it!

There’s only a day left to sign up, so if anyone else is interested in joining me in this adventure… hurry up and register on MotorsportReg.com

See ya Detroit!

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Oh yeah, among other groups we’ll see IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship big guns as well as IndyCar open wheelers.

Registration open for 2014 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

For anyone considering marshalling the 2014 Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, the registration process is now open through the Detroit Region SCCA web site: detroit-scca.org/e107/e107_plugins/survey/survey.php?8

Over the past two years Detroit has been an excellent event for me personally. It was one of the first major events I registered for when I returned from New Zealand in 2012. It’s a great opportunity to visit friends in Michigan, and we’re always treated well by the organizers. You can see Canada across the river and quick trip across the border for a plate of poutine is doable… did it last time.

Chevrolet Belle Isle Grand Prix in Detroit

I’ve been blessed with good luck the past few months because even after realizing I had missed registration by several weeks I was graciously accepted to participate in the Belle Isle Detroit Grand Prix. It was a great deal of fun not just for the racing, but specifically because of the type of series represented in the races as well as an opportunity for me to do some flying which I absolutely love.

The pieces slowly fell into place after I got my acceptance e-mail. As luck would have it an email from Southwest Airways followed with a neat 35% discount coupon and the dates of travel I selected were actually the cheapest in that week! A quick e-mail to a Michigan buddy that I haven’t seen since Woodward Dream Cruise many years ago took care of the accommodation and some hocus pocus with Hertz allowed me to have a rental for the duration of my stay in Detroit for a fraction of what it normally costs. I love when things just happen right.

Upon arrival things continued smoothly, got a nice Chevy Sonic to test drive for a few days, collected my credentials, got some new SCCA patches, etc. Friday’s practice was wet but with my New Zealand wet weather gear I was fully prepared. Saturday was perhaps the best day, sunny and warm and Grand Am kicked ass. It was the main attraction for me and as far as I was concerned that was the feature race, though I realized later that IndyCar was meant to trump it. But it didn’t. On race day Sunday track started falling apart especially after the World Challenger cars had their way with it (and boy did they rip it apart, I and my fellow flaggies were pelted with tiny rocks from the asphalt all weekend) that wasn’t much fun getting hit in the face all the time.

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Meeting some new marshals was one of the highlights of my trip, especially the internationals from Canada. But hanging out with my friends was even better. The day after the races I had an opportunity to finally visit the Henry Ford museum, it was neat. Shortly after I drove across the tunnel into Canada to take a closer look at Windsor, Ontario and had an excellent time. Quick flight home, had my father do a tune up on the Impala and now I’m all ready for Montreal. Here we go!

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It rained a lot, so here’s the obligatory wet weather gear pic.