2018 Florida Speedweek tour blog
Tuesday January 30th 2018
Having arrived in the US one day before the group to put some final arrangements in place, the first task for me today was to meet everybody as they flew into San Francisco International. Hence it was an early arrival to watch United Airlines 840 glide into the City by the Bay.
Spontaneous things always happen on tour and it didn’t take long for the first to occur on this one. And it was my Global Speedway Tours jacket that did the trick. Whilst waiting with others inside the spacious arrivals hall, a lovely lady approached me to ask if I had just arrived on UA870. “Nope, I’m waiting to meet my tour group”. “Oh” she said “I saw the sprintcar logo and Australia on your jacket and figured you had.” The conversation continued of course only to reveal that she was waiting for her young son who had been racing a sprintcar in Australia over the last month. “He’s only 16 and I can’t wait to see him again.”
It was easy from there. So I said “Well let me tell you Mrs Kofoid that Buddy represented you very well in Australia and I saw every one of his races, except for Murray Bridge”. She just looked at me with amazement that this random guy in an airport would know all that. We chatted for quite some time before Buddy was the first to appear, loaded up with luggage on a cart. Whilst I had seen Buddy before (from a distance), meeting and then shaking this kid’s hand was like going into junior high school and meeting a first year student on day 1 in class. How could he handle a 900 horse power sprintcar?? But he does and very well indeed, although his disappointment in not totally showing the Aussies what he can really do was quite evident.
My group then rolled up and met Buddy and his ‘Mom’ and then our brief encounter was over. We caught our shuttle bus to the Handlery Hotel and the Kofoids went back to the raceshop to prepare for season 2018 in California.
Rush hour on US101 from SFO to downtown was totally in place at 8.30am, but our shuttle driver was keen to show he had what it took to get us there the fastest way possible. I guess it proves that you don’t need to be able to speak English to drive and speed at the same time. At times his two way went off with the caller shouting at the driver in Chinese, to which Trev responded “copy that” which caused much mirth amongst us. The GPS was also alive and well, sprouting out instructions in Chinese which our driver responded to by changing lanes constantly. Had he not done so we reckon we would have arrived at the Handlery 10 minutes quicker. But he was happy, having obeyed the ‘shuttle bus driver mantra’ of weaving in and out of traffic for absolutely no benefit whatsoever.
Weirdly enough, at 9.30am, one of our hotel rooms was available so all the luggage was piled in there before setting out for a (very) early lunch and a coffee. Followed by a visit to the T-Mobile store on Powell Street for SIM cards where Tammy provided excellent service with all phones set up and running instantly.
Without doubt the best way to see a city is via the Hop On Hop Off double decker buses. Here in San Fran the competition is tough with perhaps 5-6 companies offering their services. Global Speedway Tours has always used ‘Big Bus’ and after today we will definitely continue to use them. The very concept of Hop On Hop Off means that you will encounter many different guides on the buses as you swap and change. We were blessed today to have four of the best. Daragh a very rare non-drinking Irishman, Joe and his ‘happy bus’, John the Golden Gate bridge expert and finally Dwayne who took us home.
Boarding at Union Square and finishing at Fisherman’s Wharf, the route engulfs most of downtown San Francisco including the picturesque Golden Gate Park and the naturally aspirated Haight Ashbury. By that I mean the smell of legal marijuana lingers long in the air. Big Bus is one of two companies that travel over the Golden Gate Bridge which in all honesty is probably best of many highlights.
Stopping at the northern lookout we got off to admire the view, but also to ride Joe’s happy bus down into Sausalito. Without doubt a must do, should you ever be coming this way in your travels. Ice creams were the order of the day with banana pie and cookies being the favoured flavour. John took us out of Sausalito, but not via the direction we came in. Otis Redding was born and bred in Sausalito and after hearing of his song writing prowess from the driver, he proceeded to sing ‘Sittin’ on the dock of the Bay’ which apparently did not refer to San Francisco, but Sausalito.
After the Japanese destroyed Pearl Harbour in WW2 and much of the US’s Pacific Fleet, the country needed to regroup with more warships and it was Sausalito where most were built and very quickly. Supply ships came in with materials and brand new warships left to fight the enemy. Otis’ song gives homage to that massive undertaking.
John took us back across the Golden Gate and I gotta relate one more of his stories. The water flowing under the Golden Gate and into the Bay comes directly from the northern Pacific Ocean, call it Alaska. The water temperature of the Bay hovers around 11°C and is widely reputed to be one of the main reasons that it is claimed no one ever escaped from Alcatraz. So they say. Well John described that the reason prisoners on Alcatraz were unusually treated to hot showers morning and night, and not cold water, was to keep them acclimatised to warmth so they could never survive plunging into the icy cold waters of the Bay. Sounds feasible enough ….
Now back into the downtown area we finally climbed off the busses for the day in Fisherman’s Wharf. And even though it’s winter we sat up the top of the bus all day. Why because the weather here today was a beautiful 23°C and abundant sunshine. Spoke to Stubb in Ohio this afternoon and it’s snowing and he’s locked inside ….. I just sniggered!
An early seafood dinner at Alioto’s Café #8 saw us back in the Hotel around 8.00pm for most bodies to drag themselves into bed after essentially 40 hours with next to no sleep. Never go to sleep in a foreign land until your watch says it’s time to go to sleep is my motto.
Wednesday January 31st 2018
This morning brought forth another beautiful day, with no fog, which if you know San Fran is highly unusual. Today was a day that allowed tour members to do their own thing, given that they saw so much yesterday but couldn’t fit anymore into the day. As well as the Hop on Hop off bus tickets, we have included three day passes allowing unlimited rides on the iconic cable cars. Just today’s activities alone saw the value added benefit that these can be.
Some went shopping, some went back to Fisherman’s Wharf, some wanted to go to Chinatown but finished up back in Sausalito again having caught the wrong bus (!) and all (eventually) went to the magnificent Aquarium which sits beneath the Bay at FW. The favourites here were undoubtedly the sea otters that have their very own pool, rockery and spacious enclosure in which they good-naturedly run amok, swimming and diving constantly inside the large glass encased pool. Equally as playful as the sea lions we saw yesterday at Pier 39. Another must see (free) attraction by the way.
We were there for the otters’ feeding time at 2.00pm and a more fun filled enlightening time you could not imagine as these four frisky little guys become well trained little darlings when it comes time for a free feed from their keepers. As much as you’d love to have one as a pet, you’d need to own a fish market to keep up with the food bill such was their appetite.
By late afternoon it was time for happy hour in Sam’s Cable Car lounge on Powell Street. After a few blue moons (that’s a beer brand) and cocktails for the girls, we were set to join the Hop on Hop off bus again, this time for the Night Tour of the city. Remembering that we are still in winter here, on any other day it would have been a crazy decision to sit on the top deck of an open bus, but given the heaven sent weather we have, it was a no brainer tonight.
Whoosh, away we went with immediate instructions to look for naked people in their apartment windows. Apparently they either forget to close the curtains, or deliberately keep them open. I’m thinking that our guide may well ‘bat for the other team’, so perhaps he knew more than he was letting on. Anyway the final tally of naked people seen on the tour was nil.
San Fran at night is a sight to behold, especially as the tour goes across the four mile Oakland Bay Bridge to Treasure Island where astonishing views of the city can be seen from across the Bay. The traffic tonight was so light our 90 minute tour diminished to just on a hour, although if we had seen some naked men in windows I’m sure Doug the guide would have found a way to go round the block a few times.
$2 Blue Moons in Applebees at Fisherman’s wharf concluded the night very nicely, ready for Alcatraz tomorrow.
Thursday February 1st 2018
Like me, I bet you didn’t know that Alcatraz in Spanish (Alcatraces) means pelicans. Given the sheer number of these birds in the Bay it’s not surprising. Before the crims were invited there in 1934, the island was inhabited by thousands of them. But when the US Government decided they needed somewhere for the most incorrigible inmates in the prison system across the country to be housed together, Alcatraz became home for jailbirds instead of pelicans.
So it was out to ‘the Rock’ that we headed today on the 10.00am boat, just as Al Capone, ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, ‘Public enemy #1 Alvin Karpis, the ‘Birdman’ Robert Stroud and 1,572 others did from 1934 to 1963. A mere 12 minute voyage for us, but potentially a lifetime for others. Whilst prisoners were actually released from Alcatraz, none ever returned to daily life on the streets from there. Inmates were transferred to Alcatraz from other prisons, simply because they would not conform to prison rules where they were. If they learned to do so in Alcatraz, (usually an average of five years) then they were released and transferred back into the regular prison system to finish their sentence.
Life on the Rock was a highly structured, monotonous daily routine designed to teach the inmates to follow rules and regulations. The cell house tour is the highlight of course and the audio streaming through your headsets carries all the info you need to imagine just what it was like back then. It’s a super tour which in my view still remains as one of the world’s best tourist attractions. The 2018 tour was outstanding because of the weather. Usually there is morning fog clouding the Bay and visibility is at a minimum. The eerie sounds of freighters sailing out to the Pacific, constantly sounding their horns for safety sake, were non-existent today. The ships were still there, but they could actually see where they were going.
The recreation yard at Alcatraz is a favourite of mine. When the prisoners left the cell house they would have stood at the top of the stairs and looked out at the Golden Gate Bridge (opened in 1937), and they would have also seen Sausalito over the top of the walls albeit for a fleeting moment. But that was all. A few steps lower and all outside vision was lost. But they could still hear everything. On many days and nights the sounds of partying in San Francisco would come wafting over the walls and into the cell block. That certainly wouldn’t have helped morale ….
Our time on the rock ended three hours or so after stepping foot on this most famous institution. Back on land in Fisherman’s Wharf we headed for Boudin’s Bakery, a San Francisco icon since 1849. Every day it bakes what appears to be hundreds of tons of sourdough bread. Our mission was to have one of their large hollowed out sourdough rolls filled with steaming hot clam chowder. Delicious. After that more liquid was needed by the blokes at the Golden Gate Tap Room, the preferred bar of any person who supports the 49’ers, while the girls needed retail therapy in Union Square. Apparently that did happen, but cheesecakes in Macy’s may have taken precedence.
Dinner in Lori’s classic US Diner topped off a great day ….. Tomorrow we hit the East Coast.
Friday February 2nd 2018
The shuttle arrived right on the dot of 5.50am and we were all present and accounted for in the Hotel lobby. 30 minutes later we were checking in with United Airlines for the five hour 25 minute direct flight to Miami for the start of new adventures in Florida. That and the three hour time difference creates havoc for anything meaningful to happen for the day.
Perhaps the only worthwhile report is that having picked up the Ford 12 seater, which is to be our home for the next 18 days, we took a 10.30pm drive to the nearest Wal-Mart to secure the $ esky. Oh, and the necessary ingredients of course. All achieved before, rather bewilderingly, Wal-Mart closed for the night. I’ve never known one not to be 24/7 these days.
It was a sight to behold when the carpark became the place to fill the esky under the cover of darkness.
Saturday February 3rd 2018
The Florida Keys really are extraordinary. From the moment one drives out of the town of Florida City and the six lane freeway (or should I correctly say tollway) quickly becomes a two lane road, you sense you are about to experience something special. High fences on either side of the early part of the road are there to prevent the alligators from getting run over by the RV’s, trucks and cars that endlessly stream into the Keys, which by the way are a series of coral islands.
First up is Key Largo. Nothing really special about this place from the road, although if you venture off it, there are some superb inland waterparks for campers in their 42 foot motorhomes. Key Largo is the longest key at 30 miles (48km) in length, but has only an average width of 0.8 kms. The whole of the keys are bounded by the Gulf of Mexico to the north and the Atlantic Ocean on the other side.
Myriads of smaller keys are traversed as the journey continues. Each being connected by one of 42 bridges which serve the purpose of creating a continuous 113 mile (182 km) journey to Key West, the final key in the archipelago. We stopped at Islamorada for a squiz at Bayside Marina and the pelicans which sit patiently waiting for yet another fishing boat to return so they can swallow the guts and innards of fish that are filleted right there on the jetty.
We had never eaten here on previous tours, but will do so again in the future for sure. Sitting in a Tiki Village under a straw canopy, live Caribbean music, sea water flowing beneath our table and fabulous priced food was a no brainer. We’ll be back here to watch the sunset under the abundant palm trees on the way out of the keys on Monday.
We lobbed into Key West around 3.30pm and checked in to the La Concha Resort which sits right on Duval Street. For those who may know Key West, you simply cannot get closer to the action. A beer or two at the Hotel bar for happy hour was first before catching the complimentary golf cart down to Mallory Square to watch the sunset. Sunset Pier was the destination, but that didn’t happen because Hurricane Irma fixed that last year. Not yet totally re-built, some parts of the pier remain, so we were fortunate to secure a table there to watch what was in the end a disappointing sunset compared to what is usually seen from here.
Dinner at Red Fish Blue Fish followed where an Australian (Angie) was the Manager and Kelly was our server. No mention here of what sex our server was, but two of our party totally swooned and melted in their seats when he came up to take our orders. Just like on previous tours, we had a really good time in here. The service, the food and the atmosphere were fantastic. So much so that we have ordered the same table for tomorrow night because its smack bang right in front of the big screen.
So we can watch the Super Bowl of course……
Strawberry daiquiris here we come. This town will absolutely go off its head tomorrow with a night full of partying. But first we must pick up our jet boats for some skylarking on the Gulf of Mexico!!
Sunday February 4th 2018 Super Bowl Sunday
Sittin’ on Sunset Pier in the late afternoon sun yesterday was a superb experience. Caribbean music piped through the speakers just like the ice cold beer from the kegs, mojitos are mixed and consumed and then there are the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The amount of different vessels never ceases to amaze. The biggest was the 137,000 tonne Explorer of the Seas, with 3,000 guests on board. The smallest was a home made raft fitted with four beer kegs as seats and a small sail to catch the breeze. In between were literally dozens of yachts and cruisers of all shapes and sizes taking tourists out to the horizon, presumably with the thought it would be a bigger sunset if they get closer to it.
Mixed in amongst all of them were the rented Jet boats. They were the ones which captured our attention so once the sun had disappeared to go wake Australia up, we went by the Fury office to book our two, three seater 16 foot Scarab jet boats. Here’s a photo.
We arrived at 10.30am ready for the usual safety and operational instructions and to depart with US$61.00 each for the hire, tax and fuel. At 11.00am we were off with a request that they would prefer if we didn’t circumnavigate Key West in these. Jet Skis yes, but not the Jet Boats. Surprisingly we accepted that advice and stayed in the waters off Mallory Square. Three in one boat and three in the other.
It wasn’t long before we became separated so drag racing was out of the question, but we certainly tested out the speed of our boat way off beyond Sunset Key which has enormous palatial homes on it. No access to the island other than by boat, so I’m guessing they built out there to secure the privacy. Maybe they forgot about nosey tourists on noisy jet boats and jet skis who would go out to stickybeak. 38mph (61kph) was the best we could get of her, but when you’re on the ocean jumping the wake of others, the sensation of the boat clearly right out of the water, slamming back down again on the next wave is fantastic. Any faster would have been potentially disastrous. If in fact it went any faster.
The adjacent Wisteria Island is uninhabited but we went to check that out anyway and on the way witnessed something special. An upcoming marker post for shipping and boating looked as though it had a nest on top of it. As we drew closer at speed, the engine throbbing as it coped with the swell, an eagle appeared from out of the nest to check out what the noise was. I immediately slowed to idle as a courtesy to the bird as it was obviously there to protect whatever else was inside the nest.
Within seconds a second eagle popped out and both stood atop the nest glaring at us. And then without warning they each soared away from the marker pylon and circled above us just waiting to see if we were going any closer. We knew we weren’t and couldn’t because it was 15 to 20 feet above the sea. But they didn’t know that. So after quickly snapping the required evidence that we had actually witnessed this, I feathered the throttle and gently floated away. Both eagles seemed OK with that and promptly flew back to the nest leaving us alone and in peace.
The Eagles won that battle ….. an omen for tonight’s game perhaps?
The boats were returned safe and sound and 60 minutes of fabulous fun was over. Do it again? In a heartbeat, yes.
Showers were the next order of the day with everybody pretty well saturated in salt water. The balance of the afternoon was available for people to do their own thing and prepare for Super Bowl time in Key West.
Red Fish Blue Fish had our reserved table ready for the game right in front of the big screen and after several (well maybe more than several) $2.50 happy hour beers at the bar talking to the locals, we took up our spots. 230 minutes later, (that’s close to four hours), the 60 minutes of actual playing time was completed. The balance of three hours were adverts and Justin Timberlake. I reckon if Kerry Packer had recognised how much TV ad income could be produced by televised NFL football, World Series Cricket would never have happened.
An experience? Absolutely yes. But do it again? No.
The streets of Key West were pretty much deserted during this four hours, but once the Eagles had won the game, the rest of the night was party central up and down Duval Street. We could hear the whoopin’ and hollerin’ from the comfort of our beds!
Monday February 5th 2018
Waking up this morning was easy for us, but maybe not so for thousands of others on the island who had celebrated a little too hard last night. Although we were leaving Key West today it wouldn’t be until around 3.00pm, so it gave plenty of time for folks to see stuff you don’t see by walking up and down Duval Street. Such as Ernest Hemmingway’s house with its polydactyl cats roaming freely. To save you the trouble of looking it up, polydactyl means the cats have six toes on each paw.
Former President Harry S Truman liked Key West so much that his house down here became known as the ‘Winter White House’ in which for 175 days of his Presidency he ran post WW2 America from the balcony. Now on the Historic House register and owned by the state of Florida, many subsequent Presidents have taken rest and recreation in there as well.
And then there’s the famous ’90 miles from Cuba’ landmark which identifies that you are at the southernmost point of the continental USA. Always a long, long line here to have your photo taken, but with technological improvements in cameras it’s easy to crop out the people you are standing beside getting the family portrait taken!!
At 3.00pm we left the little island of paradise, or should I say ‘the key that opens everybody’s heart’. Two hours later we were back at the Bayside Marina in Islamorada for Key Lime pie and coffee ready to watch the sun go down in an exquisite setting beneath swaying palm trees and lighted flares. The address for this place should you ever need it is 81576 Overseas Highway, Islamorada. You can’t miss it. Just keep driving straight and don’t turn left or right ….
Quite separately we had a rather unusual weather event tonight in Homestead which should be recorded for posterity. It appears that a mini Florida tornado, which the authorities involved have subsequently named ‘hurricane Bob’, whipped it itself into a frenzy in the patio of the Courtyard Marriott whilst a number of tourists (believed to be Australian) were enjoying drinks at around 11.30pm.
The following is how the group’s spokesperson described what happened.
“Things had been calm for hours with no sign of any pending weather activity, until one of the group arose from his chair to announce that he had enough rum and coke and that he would be retiring for the night. Or at least we think that’s what he said. He then turned to make the few steps walk to the entrance door into the hotel that had a sign on the handle of ‘pull’. Given Bob’s incoherency he missed holding onto the handle. In fact we figure he totally missed it by a metre or so. Just at that moment the hurricane appeared from out of nowhere and sent Bob on the ride of his life.
“For those reading this report at home, this hurricane did not hit anyone else in the patio. It appears to only have zeroed in on the unfortunate Bob, just as his brain became aware that his hand had not gripped the door handle. He then hurtled backwards faster than Elon Musk’s Space X rocket launch yesterday, clearly propelled by the strength of this mysterious tornado. The only thing in his path was a rubbish bin some eight metres away. He hit this harder than Juan Montoya hit the jet dryer at Daytona four years ago. It didn’t move and nor did Bob once he’d come to a stop. The remaining tour members, still enjoying a balmy evening where they were sitting, raced to the point of impact to provide assistance. Memories of Trevor in Butler, Pennsylvania came flooding back.
“But this time Trev was part of the rescue crew and lead brilliantly from the front. With no luggage trolley in sight, our only choice was to engage the fireman’s lift to get him inside and to the lift. On this occasion however, we fortunately did not have to go past the reception desk. Having deposited him in his room sound asleep, we returned outside to finish our drinks and look at the weather radar in case another tornado was forming at that same time as we wanted to go upstairs. But the coast appeared clear.
“Safely ensconced in our room, a knock on the door came forth. There was Russell standing there with blood oozing from his elbow. Bob had decided he needed a pee but after having done so the hurricane had returned, this time to the bathroom in room 411. Bob had been blown over yet again, but this time Russell went with him having been unable to hold Bob up. So the Rescue Crew were called out again. What they found resembled a crime scene!
“Blood from both Russell and Bob was spattered around on tiles everywhere, mixed in with onions and carrots, which not surprisingly rested underneath Bob. We cleaned him up, put him back into bed and attended to Russell’s elbow by wrapping hotel towels around the injury and then secured them by tying two of his hankies in a tourniquet. Perfect. The crime scene was cleaned up, all other towels were left soaking in the bath tub and the First Responders returned to their room.”
It should be acknowledged that this episode had the makings of knocking ‘Trevor’s fall down the hill in Butler’ from its #1 ranking in Global Speedway Tours’ history, but after extensive analysis, ‘Hurricane Bob’ comes in a very close second.
Tuesday February 6th 2018
Bob woke up bright and early with no after effects and perhaps luckily, no recollection whatsoever of what happened last night. But the evidence of lost bark on knees, elbows and arms tells him that something certainly did occur. Russell’s elbow gash had coagulated nicely and all agreed it needed no further attention.
It was a quiet ride from Homestead to Gator Park on US41, otherwise known as the Tamiami Trail across the Florida Everglades. Instructions were given to Bob not to stand up on the Airboat ride. The wind may cause him problems, or if we were to stop any time to allow swimming alligators to cruise past us in the boat, he might finish up with them. Which in fact happened. Not Bob falling in, but for the first time ever in my time of going to Gator Park, we did stop dead in the water to allow a rather large gator to slowly swim past the boat looking carefully upwards and eying off what appeared to be each and every one of us on the boat.
Later in the Wildlife show Fiona was chosen out of 100 or so people to be the sole female who had to kiss the cane toad on the lips. Amazing how that happens on every tour we do …..
A stop further on at the Oasis Visitor Centre in the Big Cypress National Park revealed, as it always does, dozens of snoozing alligators lying half in and half out of the water while basking in the sun. These almost prehistoric creatures are cold blooded and cannot regulate their own body temperatures and so the only way they can do it is to change their environment and a river is the best option.
Lunch was at Joanie’s Crab Shack, but it will be the last time we go there. Way overpriced.
Eventually after another 200 or so miles North up I-75 to Tampa, we arrived at the Holiday Inn in Brandon. Great hotel and highly recommended. Especially ‘Fancy the Peacock’ who roams wild around the hotel gardens, but at precisely the same time as the complimentary cookies come out of the oven, he turns up to get his share from willing tourists.
Tonight was our first of 12 race nights on this tour. East Bay Raceway welcomed us to night 4 of the Lucas Oil Late Models Winternationals series. Only Late Models, no other class was racing. A really good show with my guess being that any one of 20 of the 50 or so cars entered are capable of winning. And tonight that was Jonathan Davenport who became the fourth different winner in four nights.
Dave Argabright was working the Lucas Oil TV coverage and we spent some quality time with this great guy who kindly took us into the TV Production trailer to show us how things work and introduce us to directors, producers and staff. Thanks Dave and a special hi to Dan Just. It was great to see you again mate.
Wednesday February 7th 2018
I have driven through Orlando many times, with the last being in 2014. I remember noting then that I-4 through the heart of the downtown area was a nightmare of a journey. I guess others must have thought so as well because in 2015 a multi-billion dollar project was begun to reconstruct and widen 21 miles of what was already an eight lane freeway anyway. Straight through the city. Due to be completed in 2021 I look forward to seeing progress again in 2020 on our next Florida tour.
A short stop in Kissimmee to show the group our hotel we’ll be in when we return there next Monday night culminated in lunch at IHOP. No, it isn’t a name born out of new technology like the iPad and iPhone. IHOP stands for International House of Pancakes and was shortened when presumably selling just pancakes didn’t make enough money. Now it’s a great place to eat. Open 24/7, very economical and importantly they make the best Philly Cheese steaks in the country. That’s for you Adam. We’re all thinking of you over here my friend.
After a quick drive around the astronomically big Walt Disney World (104 square kilometres) we headed on to Daytona where we’ll spend the night five days and nights in the Lexington Inn & Suites right on Daytona Beach. No truer words could be spoken, because on arrival the tour members found all their rooms and balconies to be facing directly east. The only thing separating them and the Atlantic Ocean was the beach. The heated pool would have as well, except that is off to the right!
Volusia Speedway was next and it was an animated group who set off to Barberville to watch the first of five straight nights of sprintcar racing in the Dirt Car Nationals. The All Stars were sanctioning tonight and tomorrow night with the Outlaws running the show for the last three nights. Once the sprintcars leave, the next six nights belong to the Late Models.
Disappointed that we couldn’t park beneath our favourite tree, we selected another spot to settle in for the first of many nights of tailgating, meeting folk and attacking the contents of the $ esky. The fold up chairs from Wal-Mart at $8.99 are proving a master stroke as always, with tired bums often slumped into the chairs to just rest and take in the atmosphere.
Tonight’s crowd was good, as it should have been, given that all but four of the Outlaws were there, along with the All Star teams and many from Ohio and Pennsylvania. However I’m tipping that given fine weather, Friday’s crowd will be immense because it’s a World of Outlaws sanctioned race. The casual supporter thinks that these are the only nights Donny Schatz and his mates are racing. It never ceases to amaze ….
Speaking of Donny, he was in a league of his own tonight. Unbloodybeatable.
PS Bob is yet to have another drink …..
Thursday February 8th 2018
To find out how big Daytona Speedway really is we ventured back into town to take the All Access Track Tour ….. and visit the fan shop which generated considerable income from our group I might add. Because of the forthcoming Speedweek some areas of the tour were off limits, however enough was seen to whet the appetite for what is to come across the course of next week.
After lunch at the Outback Steakhouse, Kenny Holland’s all-time favourite Daytona restaurant, Wal-Mart beckoned for supplies, with the esky being the main beneficiary, but extra suitcases were also popular.
A reasonably relaxing day before heading back the 26 miles to Volusia. This time the transporters which yesterday had rudely taken our spot under the best spreading oak tree in the parking lot, were gone and it was now ours. Mixed in amongst many Motorhomes that were settled in for the 12 days of racing, we spread the chairs around ready for what was already a cool afternoon. It would be cold tonight which was fortunate because the tour hoodies, so thoughtfully provided for our guests, had not yet come out of the suitcases. But they certainly did tonight. Tomorrow and subsequent days will be back up to a beautiful 80°F (27°C) for the foreseeable future.
To be honest we have been struck in the bum with a moonbeam with the weather on this tour. As I write this, the TV is all about Trump and the Govt voting to keep the money supply running, which is fortunate I guess if you live here. But the other continual reference is to the harsh arctic winter in the north. Even Chicago has 26 cm of snow at the moment. But not down here. Hmmm I think I’ll go for a swim when I finish this ….
But back to the races. All tickets here include free admission to the pits. Just sign your life away at the Fan Tent, get a wristband and away you go. Access to drivers is unprecedented. And that includes Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson and Kasey Khane who wander the pits just like we do chatting with fans and other drivers. You gotta wonder why NASCAR fans haven’t woken up to this yet. Maybe it’s best they don’t?
Once again Donny Schatz dominated coming from the 12 spot in the feature to take the lead around lap 15 and win by virtually half a lap. A large victory indeed on a half mile clay oval. As he said at the presentation, “there are no WoO points for these two victories so let’s hope I can do it from tomorrow onwards as well.”
Friday February 9th 2018
Shopping day!! As if every day isn’t a shopping day ….
On previous Florida tours we have driven 55 miles north to St Augustine to the Outlet Stores located up there along I-95. But not anymore, as a year ago Tanger thoughtfully constructed one of their Outlet Centres right here in Daytona. A brand new one, with nearly 100 stores to spend your money in.
Fiona and Jane tested that age old motto of “the more you spend, the more you save” and returned to the bus on the hour every hour to drop off bags, thereby enabling them to carry more new ones. The boys? After about an hour or so, which importantly included visiting the Direct Tools store, they spent their leisure time in the bus next to the esky. (Not sure, but Bob may have snuck a quick beer in.) Some bags however were identifiable as non-female ones in the back of the Ford. A quick inspection revealed any number of Lee and Wrangler jeans at $16.95 a pop, thongs (for the feet that is), plus shirts and shorts, all at giveaway prices.
It was genuinely hot today and our thoughts turned to ensuring we got the shade of the oak tree once again at the track. We figured that the casual sprintcar fan would come out of the woodwork tonight, so an earlier than usual start was attempted, only interrupted by a return visit to the Outlet Stores to retrieve US$200 cash left in an ATM by one member of our party. No names, but she was part of the two person raiding party on the shops and lives in Kurri Kurri.
Our earliest arrival so far at Volusia revealed hundreds of vehicles already lined up in the grassy parking lot. Ignoring the instructions of the dude on the gate to turn left, we went straight on to our tree. And there it was. A perfect spot still available to spread out in the shade. All that was missing was a BBQ.
As we sat there watching the world go by, the mass of cars streaming in was akin to Field of Dreams on opening night. By 6.00pm it was evident that this was going to be a huge crowd. A few moments later Johnny Gibson announced over the PA (we listen via FM radio through the back doors of the Ford) that all seating has now gone and it was standing room only. But still they came and still the promoter continued to sell tickets. Thank goodness for reserved seats. Just as the Star Spangled Banner began (which is always our sign to go in), we ambled inside and took up our seats.
It was nearly an absolute fairy tale first start in his full time Outlaws career for our own Ian Madsen. Finishing second in his heat got him into the dash for which he drew marble #1! A second placing in the dash gave him a front row start for the feature. Drivers were mindful of a hole that had developed in turn 1, but every driver still continuously tests his courage and ability to drive over it. On the second lap of the feature the hole beat David Gravel when he hit it, then bobbled into the adjacent Tim Shaffer with both going for wild rides up and into the brand new catch fence erected in the off season after last year’s two fence vaulting accidents in exactly the same spot.
Ian shadowed the leader Paul McMahon for 27 laps and although anything can happen in sprintcar racing, it did not look likely he could pass McMahon for the victory. But it all came undone when he hit the same hole that he had previously driven over 26 times before. The car became unsettled at 187 kmh going sideways on a clay surface. Like Gravel before him, the left side of the car became airborne. Ian tried to correct it and to be honest had it under control until that brand new concrete fence came into the equation, when he hit it ever so slightly and gently rolled onto his side. But, with sufficient damage to render a re-start impossible. A podium finish gone in a flash …. Pity because Bob said “I would have had a drink to that.”
McMahon led the pack away on the restart, but in three laps was run down by a rampant Sheldon Haudenschild who pinched his first WoO victory. If Ian couldn’t win, then I’m pleased Sheldon did ….
Saturday February 10th 2018
Day 12 brings forth the first time on the tour that nothing is scheduled for the morning, which to everyone means sleep-in time!! Our only obligation before the speedway was lunch at the Oyster Pub, an old favourite of ours, which didn’t disappoint back then, nor does it now. Chloe was a superb server and she was tipped handsomely. I’m guessing she didn’t prepare the food too, but whoever did deserves remuneration as well. Trev’s ‘fully loaded’ plate of nachos was bigger than him. So huge in fact that he finished them off later at Volusia.
Over lunch a recommendation to consider going into the infield tonight was accepted by the group. Not just a pit pass, although one was needed of course (and they are free at Volusia), but the van as well which is always loaded with items to quench your thirst. $10 per vehicle on top of the regular general admission cost was all it took and once the necessary paperwork was done and wrist bands acquired, we drove in through the pit gate on turn 4 and picked what we thought was the best spot on turn 3 just as the cars come off the back straight. Speeds at this point are generally around 180 kmh.
The ‘campsite’ was prepared with Australian flags secured to the inside of the open back door of the Ford, plus another on the track’s wire retaining fence, both positioned exactly so Kerry and Ian (all drivers really) could see them. Thanks go to one of the Modified teams pitted on the infield who supplied the race tape for the flags. Russell the Scrounger (he’s a fan of the Great Escape too) went in search of what we needed.
The fold up chairs came out, the cheese and bikkies came out and even the red wine which Trev decided he needed a bottle of first. The esky was well used throughout our time here. But don’t worry the tour driver behaved …..
To watch sprintcars at any time is exciting enough, but to see them just five metres in front of you turning left at maximum pace is breathtaking. If there’s a drawback, it’s not being able to see turn 1 and most of turn 2. After all it is a half mile track and turn 1 is a fair way away! Although you are quite permitted to walk there; or anywhere on the infield to be exact. An unexpected side benefit of our turn 3 possie is that once hot laps have concluded, all the cars stay in the infield ready to take qualifying. And guess where they choose to assemble? You guessed it. Right behind us. Wandering in and around teams and watching them madly making changes after hot laps is a thrill, believe me. Especially given that the very best in the world for our sport were within arm’s length and very receptive to nosy Australian fans!
The World Racing Group, who own the Outlaws (and Volusia Speedway) are to be congratulated on this initiative, which rather surprisingly was not as popular as I thought it might be. Maybe not enough people knew about it, but it was by far the best $10 I’ve spent on this trip. Please Mr WRG, keep the offer open for 2020 and our next Florida tour …..
By the way #15 won again to take his third victory out of the four features so far. Johnny Gibson keeps asking Schatz over the PA in the victory presentation about why it is that he is so good here. A shrug of the shoulders and a bit of a grunt suggests Donny ain’t gonna say anything he doesn’t have to.
Our first visit to Daytona Speedway comes tomorrow with qualifying for the 500 followed by the Advance Auto Parts clash, before heading back to Volusia for the fifth and final night of the sprintcars. A big, big day coming up.
Sunday February 11th 2018
Another welcome sleep-in was allowed this morning before we piled into the Ford and headed the six miles up International Speedway Boulevard (what a great name for a road) to the superspeedway simply known as Daytona. Our last tour to this landmark place was in 2014 and the preferred place to watch from then was along the back straight on the Budweiser Party Porch. The refurbishment of the complex throughout 2016/17 saw the party porch demolished, along with all the back straight grandstands.
Just how could they do that!! However, clearly they knew what they were doing, as the viewing areas from the immense new front straight stands have been reconstructed with fan comfort firmly in mind. Every seat is now almost like an armchair with cup holders and loads of leg room. But the major change is the amount of open space beneath the stands, with countless designated café style areas available for a rest from the racing. Grab a Bud and a hamburger and sit in comfort surrounded by literally hundreds of 70 inch TVs all tuned to the racing. Or just stand for a while and watch, smell and hear the race from special front row viewing areas.
Today was qualifying for the Daytona 500 next Sunday. Of course it’s not a simplified process at all with the casual fan struggling to comprehend what goes on. It’s still not over as today only set the front row. Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin won that honour. Next Thursday’s twin Can-Am Duel races set the rest of the field. But we’ll be at Bubba Park Raceway in Ocala watching the USAC non wing sprintcars duel it out there instead.
Following qualifying was the quite meaningless Advance Auto Parts Clash with just 17 cars over 75 laps. The crowd was very poor and in addition, this morning’s second consecutive sleep-in couldn’t have helped because more than one of us dozed off for the duration. NASCAR should be quite concerned I’d suggest. Hard to tell, but maybe just 10% of the available seats were occupied.
And then it was back to Volusia for the fifth night in a row. Kyle Larson thought he would nick off after his afternoon NASCAR duties to race his beloved sprintcar and join the slicing and dicing of real racing on the clay. But even he wasn’t good enough to beat Schatz. No one was in fact, as once again he ran away and hid amongst the lapped cars to take an unprecedented fourth win over the five nights. Surprisingly, given his nine World of Outlaws championships, he has never before won the Dirtcar Nationals in Florida.
Besides the prize money, Volusia offers the series winners (in all divisions) a highly sought after mounted bronzed Gator as the trophy. But it was a stunned Schatz who was also presented with a live baby alligator on the podium in recognition of his superiority. The jaws were taped of course, but the rest of it was very real indeed. I can only presume he didn’t fly it home with him in his plane to Fargo, North Dakota.
Monday February 13th 2018
We were on I-95 south before 8.00am this morning headed for Titusville and then out to Merritt Island better known as the home of Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) and Cape Canaveral.
Alcatraz back on the west coast is fabulous, but my favourite east coast attraction is KSC and all it offers. Clearly there is ‘stuff’ there that the average tourist is not permitted to see., but the amount of ‘other stuff’ you do see is astonishing I reckon. For $50 bucks or thereabouts the inclusions are a 45 minute bus ride around the complex which just days before had launched the Elon Musk SpaceX Falcon rocket into the heavens. It departed from Pad 39A so unfortunately it was still closed to prying tourist eyes, but we did inspect 39B (from inside the bus) which in its lifetime has fired off the Apollo, Discovery and Saturn missions, plus Skylab and 53 Space Shuttle launches. After modification it will be the pad used for new SLS (Space Launch System) rockets which are designed for deep space exploration culminating in the first manned mission to Mars.
Numerous other locations are passed on the coach trip and there are way too many to mention in a blog of this style. The best way to learn about what you will experience at KSC is by using this link. Kennedy Space Centre attractions. The bus only lets you off once and it’s at the Apollo/Saturn V Centre where a real dinky di never launched Saturn V rocket is mounted horizontally in the building to allow its sheer size to be comprehended. Words just can’t describe it, so I won’t try.
Once off the bus and back in the Visitor Centre there are numerous themed attractions to visit with the best being the Space Shuttle Atlantis display which has an actual returned to earth Shuttle orbiter hanging from the roof inside. Simulators are available to experience a Shuttle launch and a myriad of other good fun ‘stuff’. Ya just gotta go there ….
We put our heads down in Kissimmee, Orlando tonight after dinner at the family favourite Golden Corral all you eat Buffet restaurant.
Tuesday & Wednesday February 13th & 14th 2018
These two days are always set aside for personal choices to visit preferred Theme Parks. They could be any one of the following Walt Disney World parks:
- Magic Kingdom (exact equivalent of Los Angeles’ Disneyland)
- Animal Kingdom
- Hollywood Studios
- Typhoon Lagoon
- Blizzard Beach
- Disney Springs
- ESPN’s Wide World of Sports
- Disney Boardwalk
Elsewhere is the famous Universal Studios which now has a choice of three parks.
- Universal Studios
- Islands of Adventure
- Volcano Bay
The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Universal were the popular choices for the group, but my only involvement was dropping off and picking up across the two days, so unfortunately the Blog remains silent on any happenings. Apart from Mission to Mars, a simulated ride which slingshots travellers around the moon and eventually on to Mars. The G Forces are severe and like previous riders from GST, most came off this ride needing a Bex and a good lie down for an hour or so.
Old Town got a work out Wednesday night, strolling around looking in shops (the girls) and drooling over Classic cars lined up and down the streets (the guys). Or we could have tested our Karaoke talents Monday night, learnt line dancing on Tuesday or become C&W fans on Wednesday.
Thursday February 15th 2018
Back to racing tonight so it was time to leave Old Town, Kissimmee and head north to Ocala and Bubba Raceway Park where USAC were opening their season with the first of a triple header. We would only see night 1 before driving back to Daytona Beach at the end of the races.
Some rural driving was needed today and by that I mean not the interstate freeways. It was pleasant going at our own speed because we had yards of time up our sleeves. Eventually however I-75 beckoned and we took that into Ocala for our first duty of the day. “Big Daddy”, otherwise known as Don Garlits is considered the father of drag racing in the USA. Which means the world! He opened his Museum of Drag Racing in 1976 really to commemorate and display the cars he drove, but has expanded to include many dragsters from other top names in the sport.
Now aged 86 Don still attends the museum daily when he can to meet and greet. And today he was taking a bus load of special guests from Spain of all places around his enormous collection. An assembly that has now grown to 90+, including all of Don’s legendary ‘Swamp Rat” cars. He started with #1 in 1954 and continued over the years with design changes and improving safety right up to # XXXVII in 2003. At the age of 71 he set a personal best for the quarter mile of 319.98 mph in a time of 4.788 seconds.
A final word on Don surely must be that in March 1970 he was driving Swamp Rat XIII, a front engine slingshot rail dragster, when the transmission exploded. Now this might not at first appear too disastrous, except that in a dragster where the engine was in front of the driver, the diff lay right between their legs with their knees up around their belly. Totally and utterly vulnerable to any malfunction in the driveline. As a consequence Don lost half of his right foot. How his crown jewels survived is beyond me.
Hence, whilst in hospital he planned the innovation of putting the engine behind the driver and Swamp Rat XIV made its debut at Pomona in 1971 and was so successful many more drivers followed his lead and the front engine dragster was dead and buried. In 1978/79 Swamp Rat XXIV won 24 events and raked in the extraordinary sum of $660,000 in prizemoney. That’s an average of $27,500 per win. It was 1978 remember.
Anyway enough of drag racing and Don Garlits. We went from the Museum straight to Bubba Raceway Park where the USAC non winged 410 teams were racing tonight. To win paid $3,000 by the way and we are in 2018. 40 years later …..
The funniest thing I’ve seen on a tour since Trevor fell down the hill in Butler, Pennsylvania occurred tonight. Stubb and Gail had motored down from Ohio, where the snow lies thick on the ground. Sick of shovelling his driveway and no doubt inspired by my recent call from Key West, Stubb decided to abandon the house and the new barn for a couple of weeks and venture to Florida. Bubba was our rendezvous point.
Trevor Mackereth, besides being a fervent supporter of aliens landing in Waikerie when he was a callow youth, has a pronounced gap between his front two teeth. It allows him to squirt a two metre stream of water out on anyone who is within distance. The trick has become known as the ‘Trevi fountain’. Stubb had not seen this before, but being an experienced traveller who has been to Rome, Italy, he participated in a re-enactment of the fountain and the tourist. All captured on video.
A further highlight pre races saw Johnny Gibson drop in to say hi to most of the gang. Trev was that excited he almost wet Gibbo too!!
Unfortunately the racing didn’t turn out to be as good as I had promoted it would be. A poorly prepared track for the USAC guys meant they couldn’t display the skills they are renowned for, so it was a quiet 90 minute drive back to Daytona Beach whilst at the same time watching out for black bears which inhabit US40 as it winds its way through the Ocala Forest.
Friday February 16th 2018
Having arrived back from Ocala around 2.00am this morning the tour members gratefully accepted the chance of a free day before heading for the big track and the Camping World Trucks at night. The beach was equally as popular as the washing machine in the laundry. As Trev was heard to say 73 times, ‘they never stop coming in Peter’ which is a reference to the waves at Daytona Beach by the way, rather than the aliens in Waikerie. (You just gotta ask him about his experiences when next you see him.)
In fact, the door to the balcony in our room was left open so we could hear the thunderous sound of the Atlantic surf every moment of every night. I must admit it was very soothing indeed and no doubt drowned out my snoring for Trev. No aliens came in through the door, but several seagulls dropped in to say hi.
The Trucks at Daytona offer an enormous spectacle under the lights. Four years ago on our last tour, the 2014 Truck race was carnage personified and tonight was no different. Fan Zone tickets were provided to everyone and those who ventured through the tunnel onto the infield were provided with a thrill of major proportions. Authorised fans with wristbands were permitted onto the infield to not only inspect the cars lined up ready to be wrecked, but could also wander freely onto the steeply banked bitumen, which in 40 minutes or so would have 43 trucks roaring across it at 300 kph. No issues to take a beer out there with you either. I’m sure that the security guys cared, but sometimes it didn’t seem like it.
The cars lined up, the green flag dropped. They were crazy fast before enthusiasm rather than brains took over. Multiple cautions were the order of the night and a 100 lap race (the track is 2.5 miles long) but we lost probably 30 laps or so to yellows. Being a short track fan where laps under yellow don’t count, the NASCAR practice drives me nuts. Although tomorrow night would prove that if they did the race would maybe never finish.
Anyway for the record, Johnny Sauter won his third Next Era 250 Daytona Truck race.
Saturday February 17th 2018
If yesterday was an easy day, then Feb 17th was the direct opposite. Sleep ins, walking on the Daytona Boardwalk, feeding seagulls, pre-packing and weighing suitcases (the women), occupied the morning before lunch at the Oyster Pub enroute to Daytona Speedway for the Powershares QQQ 300 NASCAR race. What a mouthful? Most drivers wouldn’t get that name out for a sponsor in their podium speech.
Last night’s Truck race tickets were general admission on the lower tiers of the gigantic grandstands. Good viewing, but nothing compared to where we were this afternoon and for tomorrow’s Daytona 500. High up in the Tri-Oval area on the top levels. Expensive, but worth it for the spectacle which can unfold within these two races.
While Russell and I enjoyed the abundant sunshine at the back of the Ford ‘tailgatoring’ on our own, the others ventured into the Midway where every team’s merchandise haulers were expertly positioned to take your last dollar. Around 2.30pm Russ and I wandered in to the track from the parking lot, a distance of about a mile (1.6 km). In actual fact the grandstands which scrape the sky and stretch from turn 4 to turn 1 are exactly that same distance in length. They are very impressive indeed after their recent refurbishment.
The race itself was nothing to write home about. As I said in a Facebook update, a NASCAR race reminds me somewhat of a 50 over one day international cricket match. The first 10 laps and the last 10 laps are the most exciting. The balance of the race or match is only there for the TV networks to sell advertising space.
As explained yesterday, NASCAR events have rules where laps run under yellow caution lights are counted as part of the race, unlike short track racing where yellow laps are not. The only time that doesn’t apply is at the end when the race must finish with at least two racing laps. This can cause chaos as it did this afternoon. A late yellow caused this two lap rule to be invoked. On the first lap of the dash to the finish Kyle Larson was taken out by Eric Almirola on the back straight and an 18 car ‘train wreck’ ensued.
We had other things to do tonight like get to Volusia for the World of Outlaw Late Models, so as a group we chose to not wait while they cleaned up the track. A swift walk to the Ford and a quick exit had us on the road and three quarters of the way to Volusia before the race actually finished. It needed five attempts to get those two laps in before Tyler Reddick was able to take the win.
It was refreshing to get ‘back to the dirt’ and we were highly entertained by 48 Late Models and 45 Big Block Modifieds in their heats and respective 50 lap features. Even arriving at 6.45pm, well after we usually would have, we were still able to park under our favourite oak tree with its hanging Spanish moss.
The unusual event of the night was seeing maybe 20% of the super large crowd leaving after the Modified feature. Guess they were just not interested in watching the Late Models. Brandon Sheppard won that race and Tim McCreadie came from 17 to win the Big Blocks.
Sunday February 18th 2018
With memories of past Daytona and Indy 500’s, the tour leader decided we should leave the hotel early, fully expecting the traffic to be mind-blowing as usual. I think the group, except for Russell who’s been through it all before, thought I was mad as we zoomed our way to the track arriving as easily as if it was 3.00am in the morning.
Even as early as it was there hundreds of cars surrounding us in the track’s parking lot who had already set up their BBQ’s, put up umbrellas for shade, brought out the coolers (eskies), dragged out the corn boards and then dropped the tailgates of their trucks ready to get blind five hours before the race was due to start.
Thousands and thousands of people were happily walking from miles away to avoid the excessive parking fees. Like Indy in May there are more spectators than there are public parking lots so the city allows private homes to open their yards and get between $30 or $80 per car. The closer to the track the dearer it becomes.
We all scattered in different directions, as being the penultimate day of the tour meant that last minute purchases were important to fill those remaining kilos left in the suitcases.
The race itself was the usual story of NASCAR fans standing up for the first three laps of the race, thus entirely blocking the vision of those who reckon the view when sitting down is equally as good as when standing up. They do actually sit back down, but only until there’s an incident in which case it’s like cows lining up to be milked. The first one knows the way and the rest follow. At a NASCAR race someone stands up because they’ve seen a car spinning and the rest stand up to find out what they have missed. Incredibly annoying …..
As usual the race had to be finished using the two lap caution rule. So many good cars had been eliminated early in the race, it soon became evident that a first time winner was likely and that’s precisely what happened when Austin Dillon crossed the line in the #3 car to win exactly 20 years to the day since the late Dale Earnhardt won his one and only Daytona 500 in the same numbered car. Team owner Richard Childress fielded cars for Earnhardt and now Dillon.
Monday February 19th 2018
Last day of the tour, but there was one final place still to visit. The North Turn is a bar and grill in Ponce Inlet built on the exact site of an old rickety wooden grandstand that was built on the north turn of the original track where NASCAR was born. Half the track (two miles going south) was on a two lane bitumen road which still remains these days, but only for purposes of wealthy residents getting to and from their exclusive beach front homes. And the other half of the track is still there as well because it was the hard packed sands of Daytona Beach for the other two miles going back north.
The success of these races forced the hand of the fledgling NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing) to build a permanent track for these daredevils, most of whom had returned from WW2 and being still alive, considered themselves infallible. Hundreds of cars started these races and the photo evidence inside the Bar & Grille is compulsive viewing.
The late afternoon and evening was spent around the hotel pool watching the Atlantic Ocean produce wave after wave, while at the same time enjoying a picnic dinner, washed down by trying to empty the contents of the esky.
Memories and highlights of a great and friendly tour were shared, promises were made to keep in touch and we convinced Russell to become a Facebooker, which duly happened at Miami Airport the next day whilst awaiting flights home …..
This tour will be offered for sale again in 2020, so if you’ve enjoyed reading about the fun we’ve had and places we have been to, then feel free to drop me a line to indicate your interest.