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Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama the debrief

The third and final stop on my April marshaling extravaganza, whirlwind tour of the south ended in Alabama. And to my surprise and amazement it was the best experience yet! I was impressed, I was surprised and very pleased with the whole experience and I’m happy to share my story below.

So a few months ago I saw a friend of mine bragging about doing an event at Barber… sweet, I looked it up, saw that my weekend was free on those dates, researched some flights and booked a deal! Of course flights were expensive directly to Birmingham, Alabama so I booked a $35 each way flight to Atlanta and then picked up a $1 Megabus ride to the destination. After doing all that I went on MotorsportReg.com to sign up and BAM! Barber is not staffed by SCCA….  DAMN! So I went back to my buddy and asked him for help convincing Flagging by Faynisha crew that I’m a worthwhile flagger.

Luckily she said YES!

Well, to start the journey I would begin in California… because as soon as I arrived New Jersey I was getting ready to leave the same day for the trip south. My SFO flight arrived 5am. I got picked up by my parents, taken home to do my laundry, breakfast, sleep… and then pack for the bus trip to NYC to take a Megabus to Philadelphia where I got on a plane to Atlanta, where I picked up the Greyhound for Birmingham.  A CouchSurfer picked me up for the first night where I got some much needed sleep and on the second day I took the city bus to the airport to pick up my rental car for the weekend. I got upgraded to a full size Huyndai Sonata that was a fuel hog, I think I put less than 100 miles on the car and paid more for fuel than I did in California, and fuel was almost half the cost in Alabama.

The same day I picked up my rental I went over to Barber Motorsports Park to have a look-see and register. I popped into the Barber Motorsports Museum which seemed like an overwhelming place for motorcycle enthusiasts, got sent to the Hampton Inn on the road leading into the track to register, where register I did, and then returned to the track with my credentials to actually have a tour of the paddock and even got a chance to pop into race control.

The first day was a bit rainy but it didn’t stop me from taking a million pictures particularly of all the Pirelli World Challenge cars getting their tech inspections done. For an open wheeler weekend the highlight of my trip was enjoying those beautiful and exotic PWC cars which were so amazing. The SIN cars returned to the track this time around after crashing (both of them) at COTA. There were all four KTM Xbows. The field of Ginettas grew by one. All in all a fantastic showing of wonderful machinery.

For the next three days I got to check out how Flagging by Faynisha folks ran the marshals at Barber and I was pleasantly surprised that the atmosphere in the morning meeting was a lot more pleasant than at many of the other pro events elsewhere.

I was put on the team with my buddy Robert who got me into the event and another Road Atlanta marshal on Turn 1 which was amazing, but for race day we were moved to Turn 10 which was just as amazing because that’s where the driver presentations were taking place in front of the big grandstand and the ferris wheel. Turn 10 especially was a wonderful blue flag station and the PWC race I got to work didn’t have it’s usual full course yellow nonsense, so I got my money’s worth for sure.

The rest of the time at Barber I was admiring how amazingly manicured the circuit was. It seems like not a single strain of grass was out of place. There were statues everywhere you look, some cooler than others. A big spider carrying a motorcycle. A few alligators sticking their heads out of the water at one of the many ponds around the property. Prancing horses… Elephants. Amazing!

I like this place. I really like it a lot.

I think I’ll post a new thread on how wonderful Barber Motorsports Park really is. For now I’d encourage everyone in the position to work with Flagging by Faynisha to reach out and join the group to marshal future events at Barber. If nothing else besides the pleasant experience at a world class facility, you’ll even get paid at the end of the day for rendering your services. The $90 bux per day I received absolutely paid for the entire trip of mine from New Jersey.

I loved it!

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See you next time Bama!

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:

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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:

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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….