Tag Archives: saint petersburg

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg the debrief

What an amazing experience this year’s Firestone Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg was. I had a blast!

I signed up to volunteer as a pit & grid marshal and spend the entire event in pit lane near pit out. Occasionally during my off time I went to spectate at Turns 2 and Turn 10 as well as do a little bit of flagging from the amazing Turn 12. My favorite events of the race weekend were everything but IndyCar but since they were the big boys in town I did enjoy spectating their time on track. We didn’t have much to do during the IndyCar sessions because that series brings their own Pit people to work the event, so instead I took some pix…

So for this event the role I was assigned was more of an observer in nature than anything else. Having worked the Indy race at Pocono Raceway with Team Pocono, the paddock at Daytona for the 24 and as pit fire at VIR for IMSA, the pit lane observer role was familiar for me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to do where I was stationed at pit out. It seems the St. Pete GP folks contracted the event “volunteers” – a separate group from CFR SCCA folks that I was part of, to do the crowd control duties. But I noticed the people were a bit timid and didn’t really stop anyone from crowding various pit boxes, or assisting much for teams bringing cars onto the pit lane from the paddock. The time went by slow because of the lack of duties, but there couldn’t be a better spot to watch what’s happening in pit lane other than maybe watching it on TV. I enjoyed the experience.

Post race we were right in the thick of things as the winning drivers walked past us towards the podium.

As we wrapped up and walked towards our worker shuttles I noticed this little Disney jem… a Mickey Mouse race car and boy do I think it looks sooooo much better than the massive billboards the actual Indy Cars have become. I’m not a big fan of the series. To me IndyCar feels a lot like the open wheel version of NASCAR where good drivers go to retire. And I’m sure the series could be improved greatly if it aspired to be more Formula 1 rather than NASCAR. Instead of one chassis supplier Dallara, there should be more variety. Optimize the wings and things for aero more than advertising space, and things would improve. Watching the crowds at this event though I can see they are not exactly struggling, so let them ride a wave of success and ignore my difference in taste of the outward appearances.

Besides the actual event, I am absolutely in love with St. Petersburg and the Gulf Coast of Florida in general. I would totally love to move to the Tampa Bay area, Clearwater, St. Pete Beach, or even Brandenton… it’s far more laid back than South Florida/Miami area and just as exotic. I’m sure there are tourism and motorsport based businesses I could make a living at. And check out some of the murals and street graffiti around downtown St. Pete, it’s simply uplifting… I want to live here!

One final highlight of the trip. I had booked a cheap motel about 10 miles north of the track. It had horrible reviews and I was cringing at the idea of staying there. After much thought I decided to change my plans and reach out to people on CouchSurfing to host me. The fella that accepted my request turned out to be awesome and I had an absolute blast staying there… just a few blocks from the track. Before heading back to Daytona after the race I offered to buy my host dinner for his troubles and he chose a really tasty option, burgers at Engine 9 downtown. It was a great experience!

… another Florida event is next on my calendar: Sebring 12 hour!

Post Card from Firestone St Petersburg Grand Prix

What a difference a year makes…

Last year I felt a little bit stuck between Turns 8 and 9 at the St. Pete GP street circuit. This year however I decided to give Pit Marshaling a try and what an incredible difference that made. I’ll write in greater detail about what that role entailed, but suffice to say I had an absolute blast. It gave me some freedom to roam around during the off time and visit some amazing stations from Turn 2 which was the nearest to my post to Turns 10 and 12 which required a bit of a walk… but that took me to the spectator area and all the cool things on offer there. I loved every minute of it!

We were off to a quiet start, literally being inside the pit lane at pit out making sure no one got in a way of cars entering the circuit.

Of course being that close to cars was an excellent perspective. Sure you see cars close at some of the turns, but they’re going rather fast. In pit lane the speed limit was 35mph and I got a great view and sound off of the passing cars like the new Panoz Avezzano GT.

I should say that the pictures were taken while off duty, and while the cars were returning to their paddock on the other side of the track through the Turn 1 opening.

So much Britishness!

There was a collection of safety cars, pace cars and course cars near pit exit that we walked past every morning. Later on during the races there was quite a collection of broken down race cars there too.

The front stretch on this street course actually is a runway of the local airport, so looking down the straight towards Tampa Bay you could see an occasional sail boat going by on the blue water, while small planes were coming in for a landing on the runway that remained active during the event. I shouldn’t say just small planes, a rather large Coast Guard cargo plane also landed which was impressive to say the least!

This was my post!

Up close to many of the drivers and the series officials.

Love all the Mazda branded race stuff on pit lane…

I thought this was cool, a train of race cars being pulled off pit lane.

Exotica!

The Panoz team didn’t do so well though the car ran strong… turns out there will be a pair of those Avezzanos racing in this series!

Central Florida Region fed the marshals real well over the weekend.

A mini Moke!

Oh and I got to flag at Turn 12 / Timeline during my off sessions!

Thanks to Craig from Canada for taking the pictures, that’s his finger you see in the top right corner.

Darren Gunn from CFR did a great job printing these large scale spotter guides for the past two events, Daytona and St. Pete!

The sun was brutal, I got fried… but these snowballs were refreshing

View of the starter stand where I’d like to end up one day…

View from Turn 10, one of the most exotic views I feel on the track

I’m sure my little nephews would enjoy this spectator attraction.

I’ll make another post fro the IndyCar specific pix.

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!

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 12

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 11

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 10

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 9

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 8

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 7

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 6

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 5

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 4

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 3

mazda mx-5 st pete beach 2

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….