2012 – Life on the Florida tour road
Now totally updated from beginning to end ….
Heaps of new photos have been added to the Gallery. Refresh your browser and take a look …
They keep pace with the days and more have been added to previous days.
Here you can read all about the Global Speedway Tours trips to the USA as they happen ….
The Blog below is from our current tour to the Daytona Speedweek in February 2012. Plus plenty of sprintcars and Late Models of course ….
We endeavour to keep everybody at home informed day by day on how the tour is going and of course provide all the info from the many race meetings we attend and the juicy bits of gossip about the adventures of our guests.
And all the fun …
The Gallery will grow as we go, but there are lots there now.
Day 1 / Thursday February 9th 2012
Sue was her name. The Delta check-in chick at Sydney International gave us the special treatment. Especially when she found out that all our Tour members had been checked in on-line the day before. It lessened her load and our folks went through the system in a breeze. So much so that we had time for duty free shopping, Macca’s (as if there wouldn’t be enough of that where we were going) and a leisurely walk to gate 53.
13 hours later with the help of a 100kmh tail wind high across the top of the Pacific, we landed in Los Angeles, 40 minutes early. To satisfy Dale Kerrigan from The Castle, my movie choices were ‘Moneyball’ and ‘The Big Year’, just two of probably 300 to choose from at your seat. Oh, and it wasn’t a carvery, but chicken, beef or pasta were the choices for dinner.
An early arrival in LAX meant immigration was a breeze, including for co-tour host Pete Hanson whose fingerprint records had finally been transferred from his wife’s name to his after seven years. Even Los Angeles doesn’t have a lot of people around at 6.10am in the morning, which was again in our favour because it allowed us loads of time to get through the strictest of security regimes to enter the Delta domestic terminal to fly further north to San Francisco.
Now I know we are on a racing holiday, but we hadn’t expected to be part of the on track action. The shuttle driver to The Handlery at Union Square really did make it to 85mph (136kph) on the freeway from the airport. At one stage we high tailed it past the local KRON Channel 4 mobile news van and we figured for a while there that he might get some unexpected live action footage very shortly. But no, we made it to Geary Street safely and checked in.
The afternoon was spent touring San Francisco on what quite frankly is the best way to see any city … the hop on, hop off double decker bus ride. For some of us Willie was the driver and host and a more radical character you wouldn’t find. The gallery shows him in fine vocal form as he ramped up the highlights of a beautiful city.
Most hadn’t slept for a long time, but you can’t go to bed too early, so Lefty O’Doul’s was the venue for dinner. A San Franciscan local, Lefty was a star with the New York Giants in the late 20’s and early 30’s. When he retired, he opened his restaurant, decorated it with the charm of baseball’s old world past and it still remains just off Powell Street with its glorious cable cars cranking their way slowly up the hill.
We might not always have a quote of the day, but Day 1 brought forth three. Bob Whittle, upon seeing wife Pat called in for her third random drug test of the morning before we had even left Sydney, exclaimed “Good job you didn’t have that last snort before you left home dear.”
Philip Folpp, as we neared the Handlery Hotel in the heart of downtown San Francisco, asked, “Do you think there will be anywhere around the Hotel to get lunch, Peter?”
And finally Adam Hawkes when asked what he wanted for lunch …”anything, as long as it doesn’t have vegetables.”
Day 2 / Friday February 10th 2012
The fog was bad this morning throughout greater San Francisco. It was even worse for some touring Australians, with a few sore heads emerging for breakfast at Lori’s Diner this morning. Three eggs, Canadian bacon, sausages, hash browns and toast proved too much for some. One didn’t make it at all, remaining unsighted until late afternoon. But we figured he was probably in a happier place ….
We hopped on the blue double decker bus (tickets valid for 2 days) and by coincidence we got Willie again. 20 minutes later we were at Pier 33 to board the 11.00am to Alcatraz.
5,500 people every day make this 2.2km trip across the bay to the Rock. Quite extraordinary numbers indeed, no doubt boosted by a very reasonable $26 for admission. Not unusual then that the next tour which had space available was not until Wednesday afternoon at 2.00pm. In the 50’s & 60’s when people made the trek to Alcatraz, they usually stayed for about 20 years or so. For us today, it was around three hours. An excellent and thought provoking time spent walking the cell block with audio headphones detailing each step along the way by using the voices of both former prisoners and guards.
From the Rock, the view of the city itself and both bookending bridges is breath taking. The Golden Gate to the south and the Oakland Bay Bridge to the north were glorious sights as they emerged from the fog. Pete Hanson wondered whether he would actually get to ride the two level Oakland Bay Bridge, but figured that wasn’t going to happen this trip.
Back on dry land we heard the call of the sea lions from Pier 39. Probably more than 150 of them today, draped across the specially provided pontoons soaking up the sun’s rays that only started providing warmth when the fog lifted around 2.00pm. From there it was on past Boudin’s Sourdough Bread bakery and down to Fisherman’s Grotto to watch the experts cut up and soften the crabs for the tourists. From there the trail led past Ghirardelli Square (chocolate anyone) to the Powell & Market cable car.
Most tour members needed SIM cards for their phones, so T Mobile and the very helpful Jonathan did very well indeed out of us. To top off a day where the only expense was lunch (read hot dogs), Global Speedway Tours also picked up the bill for dinner at the famous Alioto’s Restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf. Great service, great food and an even better view provided the backdrop for our official dinner to start the tour.
The included all day cable car tickets proved to be a boon as we used them for the third time today to travel back up the hills and down the valleys of the City by the Bay. A 4.30am start for the airport tomorrow put the brakes on any thoughts of a late night, faster than the cable car driver going down Nob Hill.
Day 3 / Saturday February 11th 2012
Absolutely nothing has gone wrong yet. Some have been luckier than others, but that’s another story for another day. Even the Super Shuttles arrived on time at 4.20am. Both took off together but after about five blocks, one went one way and the second went the other. Aha, another super shuttle race we thought, remembering back to Thursday’s white knuckle ride in to the city.
The first shuttle pulled out onto US-101 south to SFO and settled at a nice sedate 60mph in pitch black, rainy conditions. The second however must have thought he had Barry McKenzie in it. It took off north and commenced the trip across the Oakland Bay Bridge. About halfway across Adam and Pete H realised that something was seriously amiss here, asking the non-English speaking driver whether he knew they had to go to San Francisco, not Oakland Airport.
“Ya ya, I know,” he stuttered before punching the San Fran airport coordinates into his GPS unit. The first thing the lady inside then said was, “make a U turn at the first available opportunity.” Which he did, thus satisfying Pete Hanson’s desire to travel across the Bay Bridge on both levels. Fortunately it only delayed them by 15 minutes or so and check-in was followed by belts off, shoes off, coats off, laptops out, absolutely everything in your pockets out, full body scans, pat downs, get dressed again, rebuild your carry-on luggage and proceed to the departure gate as though it was everyday normal procedure.
The four hour flight, plus the three hour time change meant that a 6.30am on-time departure got us into Atlanta at 1.30pm. After a 65 minute stopover at America’s largest airport, we were heading for Miami and an arrival at 4.45pm. Checked in at the Sleep Inn, collected the 15 seater van as our travelling companion for the next 18 nights and headed to South Beach as its maiden journey.
Miami itself is truly monstrous. From the air coming in, the scene was one of 20 ‘Surfers Paradises’ end to end. High rises, condominiums, man-made islands with multi-million dollar homes, endless miles of freeways and cloverleaf interchanges, but the daddy of them all was the airport itself. A driverless train is required to transport people between terminals and if required, to the car rental area some two miles away, but still within the airport precinct.
But back to South Beach. Ocean Drive was apparently dead in the water for decades with neither tourists nor locals interested in what it had to offer. The old Art Deco historic buildings lining one side of the street (the other is the beach) suffered from decades of neglect until 1988, when a couple of brave investors saw the potential of the joint and sunk some money in and tried their luck. Today it still has the same old Art Deco buildings (call them Retro if you like), but they’ve had a coat of paint and no doubt an interior facelift, which has brought them alive …. and the customers back.
Parking on a Saturday night was impossible until $20 changed hands to a neat young guy who put the van in his acre lot, along with dozens of other $20 notes …. sorry, cars. We found Mia Bella Roma, selected it as our place for food and had a ball with great staff, entertainment (both on and off the street) and excellent food. Tonight (Feb 12th) brought out 100 or so brave souls who decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day early by continually running up and down Ocean Drive between 7th and 12th Streets in flimsy red outfits. No doubt they had first been suitably ‘liquored up’ at the adjacent Clevelander Bar. We experienced the fun there too, before the boys decided they wanted to save themselves for Key West tomorrow night ….
Day 4 / Sunday February 12th 2012
And save themselves they did indeed. Sunday night Feb 12th was big. Very big. But you are in Key West, so therefore it is allowed.
We departed the Sleep Inn at around 8.30am heading due south to Florida City via the Turnpike. What a great name for a road!! Turnpikes are in the main, toll roads and are there because the original planners of the Eisenhower Freeway system got it wrong back in the 50’s when planning and building them. Some were put in the wrong place and some states (like Florida) had nowhere near the development back then and therefore didn’t need the freeways that they do now. So the private road operators moved in to build their own and brought the tolls. Just thought you might like to know that.
But the turnpike stops at Florida City and so did we, at Wal-Mart, to buy the first two cartons of beer and a ½ gallon (1.75 litre) of Jim Beam. Ridiculous total cost of $54.91. Now the tour members were set for the amazing trip through the Florida Keys.
From Florida City it is one lane (each way) through to Key Largo where the available land then permits a divided highway in parts. As the road winds its way out of the most northern Key in the chain, it once again becomes a lane each way and the permitted speed limit is set at 45mph. And to every driver’s credit (and the police) the average speed is well below that.
Most people describe the Keys as islands joined by bridges, however perhaps it should be reversed as the bridges outnumber the islands (Keys). After Key Largo, we wound our way through delightfully named places such as Tavernier, Plantation Key, Windley Key and on to Islamorada where we stopped for a wee time (too many $1 beers actually). Today was unusually cold and we had hoped to see the fishermen gutting their catch, after which the myriad of pelicans would gorge themselves on the leftovers. However it wasn’t to be, as to quote one guy “it’s too cold to fish. Come back tomorrow.”
Continuing on we passed through Fiesta Key, Long Key (great RV camping area there in the State Park with every site on absolute beach frontage at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean), Duck Key, Marathon, (where Adam, an hour or two later, wasn’t real impressed with our lunch choice of Wendy’s hamburgers), Bahai Honda Key, Big Pine Key, Ramrod Key and many others. Until finally Key West emerged, right at the end of 130 miles of ribboned road.
A drive around the island shouldn’t take long, but it does when the traffic simply doesn’t move. The number of tourists here is immense. And for good reason. This place is heaven on a stick. As we ventured around to the south, the southernmost point in the continental USA is right there. Cuba is just 90 miles away across the Gulf of Mexico. It was here that a number of tour members asked if this was all there was to Key West. The answer of course was “no, wait ‘til we get to Mallory Square and Duvall Street on the northern side”.
And then it started. Virtually every bar and every shop has Caribbean music playing constantly and it just makes the place rock. We took the van down Duvall to see it all first hand before tackling it on foot later this evening and again tomorrow. Our accommodation tonight was at the magnificent Parrot Key Resort, the newest of Key West’s many such places. Once checked in, the van was put to bed and a maxi-cab organised into Sunset Pier on Mallory Square.
The rest of this Blog for tonight is hazy to say the least, but I do remember parts of it. Key West is renowned for its spectacular sunsets and from the long Sunset Pier we had a great view of the sun getting ready to light up Australia on Monday morning. The pier is not your normal jetty however. This one has bars on it and we made very good use of them before heading for the Red Fish Blue Fish where more drinks (read margaritas and daiquiris) and good food made for a very funny and enjoyable balance of the evening.
I say balance, because morning came too quickly and RFBF shut. So Sloppy Joe’s was next, from where the ever reliable Conch Taxi company got us the one mile home. Check out the Gallery for some photos.
Day 5 / Monday February 13th 2012
When you think back on Key West, the idea of securing accommodation at one of the best resorts on the island was well intentioned, but in practice not too many people made extensive use of the fantastic facilities. Not even the poolside Tiki Bar got a run. We had arranged a late checkout of Midday and most took great advantage of that foresight considering last night’s activities.
We dropped the group off back at Duvall Street and for the next four hours the many local shops and sightseeing venues were given the once over. A pick up at 4.00pm saw us on the road back to mainland America. Fortunately we left a few minutes later than anticipated because making our way around to the bridge to get off the island, we came across a massive three car accident that had happened just moments before. After negotiating our way around the numerous paramedics, firemen and police, we started the 130 mile drive back along US1.
Around Islamorada dusk was setting in so we stopped to once again watch the outstanding sunset and allow the van to lose a bit of liquid weight. When night falls on this road, it puts a whole new light on the scenery, if I can use that confused metaphor. You can’t see the water which constantly surrounds the cars, street lights are virtually non-existent and when travelling through the small towns their neon lights give an enchanting new perspective.
Apart from great fun and humour inside the van, nothing else of significance occurred worthy of reporting. Once out of the Keys we were quickly at the beautiful Hampton Court by Hilton in the town of Homestead. Some went to eat Cuban, some ate at McDonalds and some had pizzas. A quiet night indeed, but everyone knew there was only one more sleep until the racing starts.
Day 6 / Tuesday February 14th 2012
Apart from a foggy day in San Fran, the weather has been sensational. This morning dawned as a typical sunny Florida winter’s day and again shorts and speedway shirts were the order of the morning. Tonight was our first racing engagement at East Bay in Tampa, but first we needed to satisfy our own thirst for speed. The fact that it was going to be over water, reeds and alligators didn’t seem to faze anyone.
US41, otherwise known as the Tamiami Trail carries traffic from Tampa to Miami, hence the abbreviated name. The southern section of it spans Florida from east to west through the Everglades. Built in 1922, it is now surpassed by a modern tollway (I-75) further north called “Alligator Alley”. However the Tamiami Trail is the more romantic of the two and is the one most drivers choose who have the time to traverse it.
And we had the time. First stop was at Gator Park, 12 miles into the Everglades National Park where Air-Boat riding was the task for the morning. The importance of an early start was apparent when we left, as the number of tourists wanting to ride the boats an hour or so later had multiplied 10 fold. For those who haven’t seen (or heard) an airboat, they can best be described as a 410 Chevy sprintcar engine bolted on to a flat bottom boat with giant fan blades providing the propulsion. Direction is supplied by two large fins behind the fan blades. Nothing touches the water except the hull of the boat.
This boat (one of a dozen waiting to explode into life on the Everglades) held 30 passengers. The skipper sits way up on top on a tower like structure to both look for wildlife, and avoid alligators. After a slow ride up a main made channel we stopped to allow earplugs to be inserted before all the Chevy horses were unleashed. If you’ve seen the jet boats out on Sydney Harbour then this is similar, except the water may at times be only half a metre deep and is covered in reeds.
Nothing stops the airboat when in full flight. The noise of the unmuffled engine, the wind in your hair and the exhilaration when the boat is thrown into a full throttle 360° turn is worth every cent. The wildlife out there on the fresh water everglades is unique. When the driver spotted something, he slowed, turned off the Chevy and the silence was deafening. As usual with any form of motor sports, video does not do it justice and one day everyone must take a 30 minute airboat ride.
Upon returning to ‘base’ the ticket price also included a wildlife show. Naturally alligators form part of that performance, but our Kimmy (that’s Gail) stole the show when she was selected to kiss a giant bullfrog. The lead-up story had her believing that if and when she kissed it, a prince would emerge to take her away. Steve suggested that knowing her luck, it would be Prince Charles. As soon as I can get video loaded into the gallery, you will see the famous Folpp bull frog kiss …..
We set out again heading further west deep into the Everglades along US41, stopping on the way to view alligators in their natural habitat along the road. We headed into San Marco where the homes resemble those on the canals at Surfers Paradise, but with a big difference. The mosquito problem in San Marco is such that all houses must enclose their outdoor living areas with netting. The end result sees each house with what appears to be a giant aviary attached to the front, or rear. Many of them are half the size of the house again.
North up I-75 we went towards Tampa where a tactical error emerged from the driver when he elected to take I-275 to the Hotel, in lieu of I-75 all the way through. Reason? We were ahead of time and we had the opportunity of driving over the magnificent Sunshine Skyway Bridge which runs for four miles over Tampa Bay. US freeways with three digits are ring roads built to avoid the downtown areas which get choked at peak hours. But not I-275 as we now know. It goes right through Tampa and the two hours it took to get through at 5.00pm put us right behind the eight ball indeed.
A quick turn around at the beautiful Springhill Suites Hotel however had us swiftly back on the road to East Bay Raceway for the Lucas Oil Late models. 43 cars, a good crowd and a warm night made it enjoyable, but without any support classes, the night went very quickly and just two hours or so later we headed home.
Day 7 / Wednesday February 15th 2012
Nicknames have begun to develop as we continue our travels throughout Florida. So far we have Thomas, Kimmie, Two Dogs, Stevie Wonder, the Shark, Bob the Builder and Guru Gaz. Identities will become apparent as we go ….. maybe the photo gallery will help.
19 million is the official permanent population of Florida. However in winter, it is said to grow by three million snowbirds who flock to the warmer climate for six months from up north. On top of that the visitor base is up to another eight million who come in for holidays and the various attractions the state has to offer. Two of those are the Daytona Speedweeks for cars and later for the bikes.
Another is the extraordinary city of Orlando that lies midway between Tampa and Daytona Beach. Interstate 4 carries the traffic to and from, and we were on it about mid morning. As a teaser for next week we took 192 east into Kissimmee, our home for Monday to Wednesday of next week. 192 leads to many things, not the least of which is Disneyworld that now includes the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios, Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon and Animal Kingdom.
Celebration Drive is the road that all Mickey Mouse lovers take to get to any of the Disney attractions. Disneyworld is so large that three of the four lanes on 192 going west are exits into the Disney complex. Back in 1955 when Walt Disney built Disneyland in Los Angeles he acknowledged that his biggest error was not buying enough land for both expansion and privacy. Determined not to make the same mistake again when planning his Florida playground, the Disney company purchased 46 square miles of land at rock-bottom prices in a sleepy town called Orlando. And thus the dynasty continued on the east coast.
We drove around some of these 46 square miles to see the size for ourselves and whet the appetite with something else, other than beer and bourbon. The remaining 70 miles to Daytona passed quickly and before we knew it the imposing Daytona Speedway complex was on our right hand side in International Speedway Boulevard. Our accommodation for the next five nights is right on the beach at the Comfort Inn & Suites. The only thing between the beach and the Hotel is the pool ….
After a quick reconnoitre around the local area it was off to Volusia County Speedway, 24 miles away in De Leon Springs. Tonight was night 1 of 12 consecutive nights of racing for the track. We will be there for the five nights of sprintcar racing and two Late Model nights. The Volusia complex is now owned by the World Racing Group, owners of the World of Outlaws for both sprintcars and Late Models. They also own the UMP Modified series, hence their presence in great numbers every night. No doubt WRG made the strategic decision to purchase Volusia Speedway to ensure they always had a place to race during a Florida February.
Tonight there were exactly 43 sprintcars and 73 modifieds in the house. And it was being run under the All-Stars’ sanctioning rules, although the average punter in the stands would not notice any differences between their format and the Outlaws who would be running nights 3, 4 and 5. Our boy Kerry looked good in hot laps, but timed poorly and his night was effectively done. He missed the feature and the hauler was out the gate before the A Main was run. Turns out he had only arrived in Des Moines, Iowa from Perth two days before and every moment of those 48 hours were spent getting the truck to Florida. Eyes were difficult to keep open for Madsen ….
Danny Lasoski went on to win after a great battle between Kraig Kinser and father Steve for the lead. The Dude eventually found the bottom to his liking (how surprising) and sped away to win comfortably from K Kinser and Tim Shaffer. Steve had blistered a left rear and with two to go it disintegrated going into turn 1 and he was lucky to remain the right way up. After all the average speed at this place is 137mph, or 220 kph. Not real bad on clay and having to turn left four times a lap. Plus deal with 23 other cars.
Day 8 / Thursday February 16th 2012
Things always happen on tour that can’t be predicted or promised in advance. But if you’re nice to people in this country they often return the favour in spades. One such example was the Global Speedway Tours group being invited to watch last night’s racing from the World of Outlaws suite on Turn 4. A very kind gesture indeed from Jeff Hachmann, our WoO host for the week.
Another example occurred today when as a group we went to Daytona Speedway to “do” the “Daytona Experience”. Peter H and I had to go there anyway to pick up all the pre-paid tickets for next week’s racing. Viz: The Gatorade Duel on Thursday, the Trucks on Friday night, the Nationwide cars on Saturday and the 500 itself on Sunday. TJ Wagner was the guy I had dealt with to secure what we hope are excellent seats. After meeting TJ and collecting the prized package (with Racefan Zone passes) TJ offered the 90 minute Daytona Experience tour to everybody free of charge.
So off on the tram we went content in the knowledge that the $24 saved will buy four more beers on race day. The tour usually takes its passengers on a ride around the racetrack, but during Speedweek and the lead-up, it is understandably out of bounds. Today the ARCA cars were practicing. However it took us into the infield, the Racefan Zone area, the Trophy Presentation area where surprisingly the photographer used our cameras to take pictures of the group in Victory Lane. We went right to the top of the Sprint Tower, the highest viewing area possible in the complex, watched a short film on the history of the track all of which (of course), brought you out through the merchandise shop.
From the bitumen at Daytona Speedway, we then moved on to the sands of Daytona Beach. Now of course the origins of NASCAR racing are on the beaches of Daytona when the good old boys got tired of just running the moonshine liquor in the prohibition era and took up racing jalopies up and down the sea shore. $5 gets any vehicle onto the beach for 24 hours so we took the Chevy down there and cruised for ages at 10mph watching people watching us. The big Global Speedway Tours magnetic signs on the van are a dead giveaway that a) we are race fans and b) we are from Australia. There were plenty of friendly waves …
A late lunch beckoned, so a close handy venue was nominated by the driver that had been previously researched as likely to be popular. When it was announced that we were going to the Oyster Bar on Seabreeze Avenue, Phil looked a little despondent, as he enjoys his tucker. But clearly seafood isn’t a favourite because after thinking carefully about it, he innocently asked “can you get anything other than oysters?” We assured him you could ….
At 5.15pm we commenced the trek to Volusia for night 2 of the Dirt Car Nationals. It’s a 24 mile trip for us in each direction and it is an easy commute, made even easier with $1 beers or $1 Bourbon & cokes. The same 43 cars were back as were the UMP Modifieds who this time turned up with 78 cars, which meant eight heats and four B Mains before the A. Starting out of position eight, Craig Dollansky ran away and hid after catching and passing Daryn Pittman, he was that fast. Only one yellow light for the race meant it was over very quickly. Pittman was second from last night’s winner Danny the Dude.
Tonight we started the Global Speedway Tours betting comp on the winner of each sprintcar feature. Interestingly out of all the punters no one picked Dollansky which shows the quality of the fields here. The money jackpots to tomorrow night.
Dave Argabright, the renowned American author and biographer joined us in the stands tonight and again back at the Hotel pool for storytelling. Dave is a wonderful raconteur and he can be listened to until the sun comes up. Which it did, but admittedly we had left the poolside about two hours earlier.
Day 9 / Friday February 17th 2012
Shops, rain, plenty of fun and tailgating were the order of the day. But no sprintcars ….
America has hundreds of thousands of shops to choose from for every conceivable purchase you would ever want to make. But none come close in value to the Outlet Stores which are always located on a major Interstate freeway between cities. Land is abundant and cheap to build these centres on and the developers then offer leases to every major manufacturer you could possibly think of.
The product is always brand new, no seconds, high quality and cheap as. St Augustine, 50 miles north of Daytona, was the target today. Its Outlets sit on I-95. I say Outlets plural, because mirror image stores have been built on either side of the freeway so that passing motorists, of which there are thousands every hour, don’t have to think about finding the next exit to get to the other side.
The doors to the Chevy sprung open, passengers fell out, quickly recovered and then set off in a frenzy to find the bargains they had been promised. And they were not disappointed as the back of the van began to fill up progressively with purchases made and carried in bags that were proving to be way too heavy to cart around.
There are 85 stores in this complex and whilst maybe not every one of them got a keen eye run over it, most would have been inspected by an Australian at least once during the five hour excursion. A gas station was the first stop after departure, not for fuel but to pump the tyres up. Additional brand new suitcases were also seen piled up in the back. Necessary to get the gear home, believe me.
Our timing was spot on with the return journey to Daytona Beach. Three things had to be done. First was empty the Chev of parcels and bags. Second was fill the cooler (aka esky) with beer and coke and third was grab a jacket for the speedway because the mist and fog rolling in from the Atlantic over Daytona was exceptional to see. No rain, just mist. A quick call to the guru Kevin Eckert at the track revealed all was well there, so off we went hoping for yet another entertaining night.
But alas just as the cars were coming out for the first heat, the rain started. Which in hindsight was just as well as a major argument was brewing in the stands between us and some Americans who sadly weren’t as nice as the majority of their countrymen. The space allowed for a numbered seat in the stands at Volusia must be measured by the size of Kylie Minogue’s bum, not that of a person who eats hotdogs and fries at a race track.
But the rain cooled some potentially hot tempers and we retreated to the car park to wait out the weather delay. The Chev and the $1 beers and bourbons enclosed therein became quite the place to be seen that night, as a constant stream of people dropped in to chat with the Aussies in their colourful GST jackets and hoodies. At one stage a magnificent SS Camaro became the focal point, perhaps because of the car, but the Shark was more interested in its occupants. A very, very funny night went down and for three hours or so we kept everyone and ourselves entertained.
Around 11.00pm the track had been re-prepared and the punters filed back into the stands expecting to see a full race program. Fortunately the supersized ones around us had chosen not to wait out the rain and were nowhere to be seen. But sadly it was all in vain and the rain came again before a wheel was turned in anger.
The entire Friday night program will be run again on Sunday afternoon, followed by the scheduled Sunday night show. Long, long day coming up …..
Day 10 / Saturday February 18th 2012
There is way too much to do in this town at the best of times, but it multiplies when Speedweek is on. Although officially it starts next week, the action is everywhere. The dilemma is just where to go. Tonight for example there is the third night of the Sprintcar Nationals at Volusia, the NASCAR Budweiser Shootout at the “big track”, Late Models on the pavement at New Smyrna Speedway and the nightlife of Daytona Beach.
But before that decision had to be made, it was off to lunch at Houligans in Ormond Beach with Toby Kruse, the promoter at Knoxville Raceway who Global Speedway Tours had hosted and entertained when he was in Sydney across New Years. Also present was Kerry Madsen who took a short break from building a new car for tonight’s events at Volusia, plus Davin Emmel and three Canadian mates who race Modifieds in Estefan in Saskatchewan.
Toby and Kerry were delighted to regale our tour members with stories of sprintcar racing in the USA and around the world. There is no doubt that Toby will look after our GST tour members when we visit his track for the Knoxville Nationals in future tours.
Terry, Gail, Phil and Steve elected to go to the ‘big track’ as the Daytona Speedway is known in this town, for the Bud Shootout so after lunch we dropped them off on International Speedway Boulevard (what a great name for a street) while the balance stayed in the ‘booze bus’ and made their way back to Volusia. Bets were made on the way and hopes were high that each had selected a winner.
We didn’t use our reserved seats tonight as we had access to Davin’s motorhome parked in the pits right up at the fence between turns 1 & 2. They were at the Shootout and suggested we take the opportunity of watching in comfort. We didn’t need to be invited twice as you might imagine. Bob and Pat sat in the driver’s and front passenger’s seats respectively and were seen to be dozing off every now and again. After all, since this tour started I can’t remember one instance of any available free time!! It has been full on ….
I should add that general admission at Volusia also provides complimentary access to the pits. A fantastic idea, which we took advantage of most nights. They have public grandstands in there as well, but one needs to cover your beer and hotdogs every lap!!
Speaking of dogs, the world champion connoisseur of hot dogs is Peter Hanson. After selecting shrimp (read prawn cutlets) and fries for dinner tonight (see photo gallery), Pete noticed that I had chosen a dog. Interested in finding out its quality, I said I would give it 8.5 out of 10. That rating tickled his fancy and sometime later we found out that he too rated his dog at 8.5, but the second one was a 9. We suspect that a third one was also demolished sometime throughout the night as well.
Tonight’s racing was the first run under the World of Outlaws sanction. Last night should have been, but the rain put paid to that of course. Wednesday night’s winner Danny Lasoski took the honours again and Adam pocketed the cash, albeit a reduced pool with four folk at the Shootout.
In our website itinerary promoting this tour I mentioned the presence of the UMP Modifieds as the support class to the sprinters. These cars are as prevalent across the USA as kangaroos are across Australia. Great to see for the first couple of days, but annoying after three. They have 80 of them in the pits and they race every night. Fast for sure but because of their numbers they split into eight hot lap and qualifying sessions, eight heats, four B Mains and an A Main of course. Tonight most tour members decided to stroll the pits when they were racing ….
Back at the Hotel we met up around the pool with the Shootout guys and swapped tales over beer and bourbon. We have now graduated to Jack Daniels I should point out. 1.75 litres of Jack at $31 is just $8 more than his cousin Jim.
Day 11 / Sunday February 19th 2012
A huge day coming up. With only qualifying for the front row of the 500 at the ‘big track’ today, we had a full complement in the Chevy to Volusia. The unprecedented buying spree at the Outlet Stores on Friday has caused many purchases of additional suitcases. Which was always expected, so to avoid carrying stuff that won’t be needed in Orlando, we had arranged for storage for the next three days. After attending to that task, it was off on the usual trail to Volusia.
That being a 25mph cruise north up Atlantic for about five miles, taking a left at Granada, west on US40, under I-95 and into Volusia County. Did you get all that? Gotta use Yankee lingo.
It was a warm day, but the winds buffeting the Chevy were concerning. It was a hot easterly wind, which when combined with the sun made veteran sprintcar fans very wary of what lay ahead for them. It appears that many others had similar thoughts and duly voted with their feet not to attend the afternoon races. Friday’s tickets got us in; some went into the pits and others sat in the grandstand. It was uncomfortable for everybody except the Goodyear tyre dealer who would surely have been worn out counting his money from the sale of countless tyres. The abrasive nature of the track meant that the WoO reduced the A Main to 20 laps. Even so, eight cars still shredded right rears.
After a miserable first two nights of competition during which he missed both A Mains, Donny Schatz won the hard charger award on Saturday night and it therefore spelled danger for everyone else today. He subsequently ran away with the feature, winning easily from Swindell, Sides and Saldana. Mercifully the sprintcar portion of the program was hurried through and the program for Modifieds was run after the sprints.
So what to do now between 4.00pm and 7.00pm when night 5 would start? You can only have so many dollar beers, hence after a couple in the car park we elected to get something to eat other than hotdogs, cheeseburgers, fries, Philly cheese steaks, popcorn, peanuts, fries, pretzels, corn dogs (pluto pups), pizza, donuts or fries.
A quick drive to nowhere in particular found us in the tiny town of De Leon Springs where a sign for Emma’s All American Restaurant appealed to our fancy. Our arrival increased the number of patrons in the restaurant from zero to 11. And I must say that the way they welcomed and looked after us means that Emma’s is now on the agenda for lunch on future Florida tours. Needless to say they were thrilled with having Australians in the front room of their house (or at least that’s what it looked like) and the food was outstanding.
Country fried steak, meatballs and mashed potato with vegetables (not Adam), spaghetti …. all the stuff that Emma presumably learned to cook from Mum I suppose. Even apple pie for sweets. And nobody paid more than $15 in total.
Satisfied with all that, the racetrack did not financially benefit from us again apart from the admission price. Peter H may have slipped in a dog, but no one can confirm it. This evening’s racing was superb. The track had been brought back from being like sandpaper to a racy slick surface that produced the best race most have seen in ages. Adam had won the money last night on Lasoski and was confident he would do it again tonight when he chose Tony Stewart.
Stewart had flown in by helicopter after the qualifying sessions at Daytona this afternoon. His desire to race a sprintcar, despite his enormous NASCAR success is refreshing. The fans appreciate it and leave him alone, he loves it and the promoter is over the moon because the superstar’s presence only enhances the gate receipts. Your writer chose Craig Dollansky in the knowledge that he is a Volusia specialist and had already won before during this week. The money was a certainty …
A titanic battle eventuated between Dollansky, Schatz and the very impressive David Gravel. Lap after lap they were just metres apart threading their way through lapped traffic. Although the ‘crowd pleaser’ went on to victory, had the race gone another five laps, I have no doubt Gravel would have taken the biggest win of his career. Dollansky was full of praise for Schatz (2nd) and Gravel in his post-race interview and of course the track curators who pulled off a master stroke in returning the racing surface to the best it has been all week.
Those pesky modifieds finished up the program after which we tackled US40 again, along with a few thousand other very satisfied fans who would sleep well tonight after nearly 12 hours at the races.
On arrival back at base, we welcomed Scotty to the group. Son of Steve, Scott had flown in today from London to spend the last week with us.
Day 12 / Monday February 20th 2012
After going round in circles for so long, it was time to check out some straight line speed. No, not the dragsters, but rockets. 54 miles down I-95 lies Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre. The trick to visiting prime attractions such as these is to arrive early, right on opening time. We’re not sure, but it appears some parts of the US are on a pre-spring school break. Even if they’re not, Florida’s warmth makes it a haven for tourists to escape the northern winter.
Which simply means that everything is always crowded about now. KSC was no different. But at 9.30am we were inside before 95% of those who arrived after us. After the obligatory coffee and a photo under the NASA sign it was off to board the buses which transport tourists around the 190,000 acre site. But understandably there is a lot one will never see.
First stop was the viewing gantry for the Shuttle launch site. To get there however we passed the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where the rockets are built from scratch. The American flag painted proudly on the side is bigger than a basketball court. No tour gets you in there ….. Continuing on, other super large sites and mechanical gadgets emerge. Such as the creature which transports the assembled rockets to the various launch pads scattered across the complex. The rocket stays bolt upright, balanced solely by computers controlling every inch of the way.
The Shuttle, and its rocket which propels it up into space, travel 3½ miles in this fashion at a speed of no more than one mph. So many stats and figures, which one can only assume are true, flow from the driver. Mind blowing. The sheer scale of the joint is so awe inspiring that the only possible outcome is admiration for those folk, who in 1969 put a man on the moon just eight years after JFK pronounced to the world that it would happen.
At the launch gantry the view and the wind were on a par. Both were a spectacle in their own right. The weather had delayed a Saturn V rocket launch last Thursday which we had hoped to see from Daytona Beach, but it is unlikely to launch any time soon until conditions are perfectly still. Even from three miles distance, we imagined just what the noise would be like on take-off. One stat I remember is that anyone within a mile of the launch would be killed instantly from the blast.
This gantry is only for viewing the launch site on the tour. No one is allowed on it during an actual launch. The viewing areas for dignitaries are another three more miles away. In an attempt to deaden the noise created, they shoot 300,000 gallons of water in 10 seconds at the base of the rocket upon take off.
From there it was back on the bus to the Saturn V Centre. An excellent introductory movie on big screens invites people to go through the adjacent doors to be confronted by an actual Saturn V rocket which drove the Apollo missions. Photos don’t do it justice, but have a squiz in the Gallery for evidence. This rocket has been laid horizontally and occupies the entire length of the complex. In operational mode it was 363 feet high. But in the centre it is longer than that owing to splitting the various stages apart to allow visitors to see the massive tanks that held the propellant to get the thing off the ground. Liquid hydrogen and oxygen form the lethal mixture which explodes with 7.5 million pounds of thrust.
Other classic historical items include moon rock, actual space capsules from earlier flights, space suits, lunar modules and the list goes on.
Meanwhile back at the KSC itself, the final stop in the journey are IMAX 3D movies, simulators to experience the G forces under lift off in the space shuttle, the Rocket Gardens (a graveyard for rockets of bygone eras) and at least 10 obligatory gift shops finalised a wonderful day.
The final part of today’s jigsaw puzzle was the short ride to Orlando and our beautiful hotel in Kissimmee. Adjacent to Old Town, there will be no shortage of fun over the next two days. Tomorrow is Epcot and Wednesday is a do what you want day, but at night we’ll be in Old Town for the “Wednesday Nite Little Darlins’ Street Party and Cruise-In”. Classic cars roll in and 50 & 60’s music blares through the streets.
Tell you more about it soon …
Day 13 / Tuesday February 21st 2012
Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about today. I chose to remain in the Hotel to catch up on the Blog backlog and other pressing business from back home, so after dropping the crew off at Epcot the next I saw of them was at 10.30pm that night when picking them up.
As nobody wanted to be a guest Blog writer about their Epcot adventures, the day will remain a mystery I’m afraid. Other than their appearance when picking them up, proved that Epcot really does stand for “Every person comes out tired”. The real name by the way is “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow”.
Day 14 / Wednesday February 22nd 2012
A long evening after hours at the pool bar last night created a few bleary eyes next morning for some. Tonight however would cause a very sore head for one individual indeed.
We were a mixed bunch today with five heading out on foot to the numerous shops around Old Town and across US192. In particular, the enormous Flea Market got a big work out apparently, judging by the amount of shopping bags that came back. A quick look at credit cards statements must have regenerated interest. Particularly when you see an entry for US$100 being charged at around AUD$93.00. Makes you want to work even harder to find the bargains.
Meanwhile the Chevy took the rest to International Drive some ten miles away for several specific purposes. Terry wanted a pair of Tony Lama handmade alligator skin boots. He had been on a mission since San Francisco to find such a store and there was one here in Orlando. He was very happy with his $300 purchase. The others went into the premium Outlet Stores, with Dad Steve leading newly arrived son Scott as though he was a veteran Outlet Store shopper.
Meanwhile, the rest of us found what may well be America’s best ever store (for men). For many years Bass Pro sponsored Danny Lasoski and now Steve Kinser has the Bass Pro car out of the Tony Stewart stable. The Orlando store is reputed to be their largest and if it isn’t, then we need to see the one that’s bigger.
The Shark hadn’t been in one before, so he put his boots in the Chevy and tackled Bass Pro as only someone who hasn’t seen one before could. He marvelled over the range of guns, ammunition, cross bows, in fact anything that can kill a critter in the wild. He particularly admired the Assault rifles and sub machine guns, but the one that captured his imagination was the pretty pink little hand gun just waiting to be bought for the lady in someone’s life.
He wandered through the aisles where thousands of fishing rods lay waiting to be bought, and the dozens of portable deep fryers to cook whatever it is that you have just killed. He liked the skillets that have a diameter of a metre for the open fire, boats to fish from, ATVs for getting to what you have just shot, massive letter boxes in the shape of a recently caught bass, the list is endless. Not forgetting the Big Game Tree Stands (Sammy Swindell and Craig Dollansky’s sponsor) that are constructed for attaching to trees in the wild. The seats are elevated and for hours one sits high above the ground waiting, waiting, waiting … gun in hand.
And then there are the clothes for the hunters. Really high quality in fact; perfectly suitable for everyday wearing. We figured that the rest of the boys should see this store as well, so a return visit is scheduled for tomorrow morning on the way through to Daytona Beach.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, an assembly was called for 7.00pm at the pool bar because tonight was the “Wednesday Nite Little Darlins’ Street Party and Cruise-In” at Old Town. Just before roll call, a massive thunderstorm hit Orlando, but it only had the effect of wetting people on the outside. Their insides would become wet later on.
Mexican was for dinner before wandering down to the musical trio providing the tunes from the 50’s and 60’s. Classic cars had been driven into the cobbled streets of Old Town and prominently parked before their owners stepped out of the car and into their dancin’ shoes. The troops watched, enjoying the music (except Adam) and chatting to car owners who were only too happy to show off their model.
It was here that drinks became a little exotic. ½ yard glasses of beer, blue margaritas and daiquiris helped the fun along. Pat and Gail couldn’t convince their hubbies to dance, so off they went on their own. All of this happens beneath the shadow of the Sky Coaster and whilst no Global Speedway Tours member had sufficient courage to ride it, others did and their screams could surely be heard in Texas.
When the music finally died, it was off to the ‘Sun on the Beach Bar’ just around the corner. Things started getting interesting in here. Adam and Scotty kicked things off with a cocktail served in a 64oz fish bowl. Adam had “The Devil went down on Georgia” which has vodka, southern comfort, amaretto, peach schnapps, bourbon, slow gin, triple sec and orange juice. In fact we believe it had several more not shown on the menu because word back from the barmaid suggested our Ads had 11 different shots in his.
Scotty tried the “Alien Orgasm”. Coconut rum, pineapple rum, passionfruit rum, mango rum, melon liqueur, wildberry schnapps, pineapple juice and whipped cream. Scotty finished his, but he took way longer than Adam who decided this was going to be his night. We estimate it took no more than eight minutes for the Devil from Georgia to go down on him. It was to be his undoing, as you might imagine.
The DJ then decided that he would play grabs from obscure songs and offer free drinks to those who could name the singer or the song. Global Speedway Tours cleaned up here. Not that we are rap fans or have a fetish for that style of music. It’s just that yours truly had Shazam on my iPhone. For those that don’t have, or know of this app, it will record about 8-10 seconds of the song, send it to a website and after usually another 10 seconds it delivers the song name, singer, group and lyrics to your phone. I just spread the answers around the group to give the appearance we were all Molly Meldrums.
The DJ was fascinated that the ‘Osssies” in his audience were so knowledgeable. He would still have no idea of the electronic help we had. I’m told that my effort to get to the answering seat to give Shalamar as the singer of ‘The second time around’ was a highlight. The young bloke who got hip and shouldered out of the way in the process was horrified at his treatment from the guy with the blue tongue. He would have got it wrong anyway, because the DJ excitedly proclaimed that it’s been four years since anyone had got that song right. Oh well ….
Some left the bar at a reasonable time, some didn’t. You will find out tomorrow just who came up the worst. (PS No prizes for guessing.)
Day 15 / Thursday February 23rd 2012
Today was always going to be massive. Wake up in Kissimmee and sleep in Daytona Beach. But poor old Adam got a little confused because he didn’t really get up in Kissimmee at all. Physically he did, but mentally, no. In fact he possibly didn’t wake up at all until just after the second Gatorade Duel this afternoon at the big track.
The morning started poorly for Adam when roommate Gazza Guru spoiled the whole day by waking him up to be ready to leave at 9.00am. Resplendent in his brand spanking fresh New York Yankees’ hoodie, he wandered slowly down to and then around the Chevy, apparently looking for something on the ground. Clearly he found it because he came back wiping his mouth and looking a little less pale. It was therefore decided that the best place for Adam for today’s drive was the front seat. The windows open wider (and more quickly) than anywhere else.
Bass Pro on International Drive was the target. All but one went into the store. The other lay down for a bit and with legs sticking horizontally out the side door, Adam ‘watched over’ the van like a 12 year old worn out Labrador. ie Fast asleep. The rest? Well they drooled over everything there was to offer inside. Phil couldn’t stop taking pictures of the guns and no doubt will display them proudly alongside the hundreds of snaps of motorbikes he has also taken.
On the road again was then the order and it was a sedate 75 minute drive on I-4 east to the Atlantic Ocean. Adam at this stage still had no idea where he was, although I reckon if we had passed a race track for horses he may have come good. It was like coming home returning to the same Hotel and this time we had total beachfront view rooms. As I sit here now typing this, the room door is open, the Atlantic is peaceful, the sun is shining, cars are cruising up and down the beach, large white males and females are sunbaking and swimming and life couldn’t be better. But for Adam, well he will have to read this to remember the early part of today.
This arvo saw the twin Gatorade Duels which set the line-up for the 500. Each of 60 laps, the field is split into two based on qualifying times from last Saturday. The results determine the inside and outside rows from positions 3 & 4 back. Tony Stewart (who will win on Sunday) won his leg whilst Matt Kenseth took the second race. Some carnage in the first one with Danica Patrick clouting the inside wall in the back stretch causing the biggest thrill for the boys in the stands. (She’s a bit of a stunner.)
Nightfall saw us back at Volusia Speedway for the World of Outlaw Late Models, supported by the Big Block Modifieds. Now as a sprintcar fan first and foremost, let me state right at the outset that I could now turn and become a Late Model fan as well. These guys play for keeps, have no doubt about that. 78 cars were in the pits with 60% of them as fast as the guy alongside them in the line-up. Extremely competitive, ultra-fast and very spectacular. When a Late model rolls, it lights up the place big time. And both LM flips in the main straight tonight were in front of a sell-out crowd.
On a half mile track with speeds of 180kph, clipping the fence coming out of Turn 4 is not a good idea. The end result for one poor sole, who had made the long tow from Arkansas, was a dead flat race car, squashed by numerous impacts with the ground. Although the roll cage had remained intact, the condensed bodywork caused the rescue crew to work overtime to get him out of what is a very small opening in the window anyway. Made more difficult again because he finished upside down. Perhaps the biggest wreck I’ve seen for a while.
That was until the Modified feature race when at full noise past the starter’s flag stand, a clash of wheels saw an earth-shattering end for end flip right before our eyes. The noise was immense as the driver (wish I could remember their names) kept his foot flat to the board as he cartwheeled down the straight. The bodywork simply disintegrated around him and he too was left upside down with a twisted chassis and I would guess, an engine that was now well past its use by date.
The night was a late one and we rolled back into the Comfort Inn & Suites right on Daytona Beach at around 1.40am.
Day 16 / Friday February 24th 2012
Today was a day that many had been looking forward to for a while. Not because we had multiple race meetings to go to. In fact, the opposite was true. There was no driving to be done, nothing planned until night time …. just the whole day to do nothing, lie on the beach or around the pool, or catch up on long overdue sleep.
But at night Daytona Speedway was calling. It’s a cinch to get around the town (city?) and travelling in the Chevy is easy. I can’t recall one street which is other than east west or north south and the grid pattern makes it a breeze. The city totally embraces the 2.5 mile speedway making it clearly the focal point of everything. It brings in millions of dollars of revenue to the locals and like Knoxville in Iowa, noise and congestion is tolerated.
The weather today was simply outstanding. In the old money it was 87°F (30°C) and remained that way all night for the Camping World Trucks. Five of our group purchased the premium package for seats high in the Sprint Tower for all races while the others had the cheap seats. But to be honest there are no bad seats in the house. It’s just that some are higher than others. But then again some are closer to the action ….
And oh boy didn’t the trucks (utes) give us some of that. There was so much carnage in these 100 laps that less than 50% of the field finished. Three attempts to run the last two laps resulted in the win being awarded to the rookie John King. The spectacular and arguably reckless nature of the driving left a lot to be desired. Is it the big Daytona stage that gets the adrenalin flowing, or are these guys just not good enough to be going that fast?
If I was a truck owner I’d be having a close look at the skills of some of these boys …..
Day 17 / Saturday February 25th 2012
It’s unusual for attendees on a speedway tour to voluntarily decide that they actually don’t want to go to a scheduled race meeting. For readers who may one day choose to travel with us, it’s probably hard to accept that fact. But it happened today.
Last night after the total carnage with the trucks, our arrival home coincided with a distinct drop in temperature. We had been sitting around the pool debating just who had created the most havoc on track when all of a sudden the sea breeze became colder than the beers in the esky. The gentle breeze became a gale within 10 minutes forcing us inside to continue the spirited debate about the demolition derby we had just witnessed.
We were concerned however because the change in weather conditions was that rapid, we figured that maybe something sinister was brewing. The Nationwide NASCARS were racing this afternoon and like the robots we have become, we reported for roll call after our hot breakfast (which is included every morning), to make our way to the track again. Most have worked out by now that if we turn right out of the Hotel onto Atlantic Avenue we are on our way to Volusia, but if we turn left we’re headed for Daytona.
Access to the big track and subsequent parking is a breeze. The locals make big bucks from allowing cars to park on their business property and each day varies between $10 and $40, depending on what’s racing. The local law enforcement does their job and although you know they are there, they’re not over the top like the Knoxville police force can be at times.
Everybody was rugged up with hoodies and jackets today. The weather had turned, but we were spared any rain. We split after parking the Chevy and made our separate ways around the monstrous complex. Some went into the Racefan Zone area which, after seeing how it works, I’m now full of admiration for. We had seen it during the infield tour a week or so ago, but to witness how it operates in real time was an eye opener. Clearly it must be in a driver’s contract to interact with the fans. If it isn’t, I’m in further awe of their preparedness to do so.
Bands (music that is), pit garage viewing, and best of all, the cars being pushed out onto pit lane all at the same time. And where is pit lane? In the Racefan Zone of course. Fans were not permitted to mingle with drivers and crews but they can get within five metres of them and the cars. If Mr Kodak was still in business he would make a fortune on each day of Daytona. More often than not the drivers would wander over to the crowds and endlessly sign autographs. It helps of course that each has a giant merchandise trailer out on the Midway and every autograph means another T-Shirt or jacket sale.
The race itself was like a 50 over one day cricket match. (Sprintcar racing is like a 20/20 match by the way. Full on every lap.) But NASCAR racing starts with a flourish as drivers jockey for early strategic positions. Then, in overs #15-35 it is pretty much follow the leader stuff with drafting and extreme speed, but very little passing. In the last 10 overs (or 20 laps in this case) it is realised that there is a race to be won here. Then all hell breaks loose.
Like last night in the trucks, all common sense appeared to be thrown out of the window. Drivers pushed, drafted, leant on others or went to the top to pass without having the speed to do so. The end result is so predictable. Something has to go wrong and at 190mph it is spectacular when it does. Numerous cars were wrecked in the mayhem and surely you must have seen video footage of both last night and tonight. I stand by my comments from yesterday. I haven’t seen any media reports or read any newspapers, but surely the smaller teams cannot sustain this absurdity. No one has been hurt so far, but ….
Tired and bewildered from what had just been witnessed this arvo, believe it or not the group unanimously elected to forego tonight’s WoO Late models at Volusia. To compensate, GST bought all the drinks at dinner ….
Day 18 / Sunday February 26th 2012
One of the key things a speedway tour organiser should always do is factor in a rain date for the big dance. In our case, the Daytona 500 is the final waltz and the day had arrived. But as foreshadowed yesterday, Mother Nature was not going to play ball with anyone, or anything today. She couldn’t have cared less that several hundred thousand fans were in town to experience a race that has never not been run on the scheduled day. Not once since 59 cars took the green flag on February 22nd 1959 to start the inaugural Daytona 500, has rain ever curtailed a total day of racing. Until today ….
A 9.00am departure under threatening, but still dry skies remarkably had us at our $40 car park spot within literally 10 minutes. Absolutely amazing when you consider the corresponding ride to the Indy 500 last year took three hours to go an equivalent distance. More than twice the amount of people in Indianapolis though.
As we drove down Bill France Boulevard to our favourite parking spot, it happened. I’m sure you’ve experienced that dreadful sinking feeling when those initial spots of rain begin appearing on the windscreen as you approach a race track. Undeterred however, we continued on foot to the Midway to once again explore the enormous displays from the absolute heavy weights of American auto racing. Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler played each other off with driver appearances, giveaways, new release car displays and hospitality tents for corporate guests and some lucky fans who got in by ballot draw.
Supporting the manufacturers were the individual team sponsors, themselves all being the big names in the US economy. Acres and acres of space totally devoted to increasing the NASCAR brand and image and of course improving their own bottom lines. The last links in the chain were the drivers’ own merchandise trucks. We might think Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz have big haulers exclusively devoted to their clothing, but realistically they are not a patch on what we have seen across the last few days.
Interestingly however, we could not find one Marcos Ambrose T-Shirt, jacket or cap anywhere. And everyone in the Tour group was looking independently, so we’re confident to be able to say that poor old Marcus (or Richard Petty) needs to lift their game in this regard.
By now the rain had become more than irritating and it was persisting down. Once again our seating was split into two with some in the premium Sprint Tower and the balance today experiencing the back straight. The Super stretch as it is known, only opens on 500 day to accommodate the overflow crowds. Besides, the infamous Budweiser Party Porch is over there.
We climbed the five floors of steps to the top of the porch to realise that the rain was doing more than just keeping the track and the fans wet; it was also causing many to not turn up. It wasn’t deserted up there, but only the hardy ones endured the wind and the rain. We grabbed a table under some sun sails which tried their hardest to shelter us from the rain and settled in to enjoy the party porch sponsor’s product. It wasn’t great fun, but at least we were there.
Before long it became very evident that a 1.00pm start would not be achieved, even though all the festivities of driver introductions, a concert from Lenny Kravitz, the anthem and a flyover from the US Air Force (we used the Porch to watch them take off from the adjacent Daytona airport) were completed on time. But the cars stayed eerily silent under their tarpaulins I’m afraid.
Just after 1.00pm came the dreaded announcement of a postponement to 7.00pm. About the only people inside the track who figured that would happen were the optimistic NASCAR and Daytona officials. Of course they had to try as the teams need to be in Phoenix for next weekend’s race. And that is a 3,416 km drive. MapQuest says it will take 33.5 hours to get it done.
The only shelter lies beneath the steel grandstands which in itself is a worry if the weather turned into thunderstorms. Lighting likes high metal structures. The Shark and I made a decision to return to the van to wait it out. It was dryer and besides the drinks (for Terry at least, not the driver) were $5 cheaper!! On the way we were utterly soaked while sitting on the shuttle tram, having chosen the front seat of the second carriage which saw rivers of water cascade from the roof of the first.
We listened to race radio while we presume the others waited out the rain. Of course it was a futile exercise for everybody and eventually about 7.00pm it was abandoned for the day. Come back at 1.00pm tomorrow was on everyone’s lips. Eventually we were all reunited and the Oyster Pub became the place for dinner. Not just us, but everybody in town it seemed. Later in the evening Pete H, Adam and Steve met Marty, who is Bobby Allen’s best friend, confidante and former sponsor. Allen of course was an original legendary Outlaw from Pennsylvania and the 1990 Knoxville Nationals winner.
After hearing numerous tales of their exploits on the road to hundreds of different sprintcar tracks across the county, the conversation switched to Bobby’s grandson, Logan Schuchart, who in September last year led an Outlaws race at Williams Grove for all but the last two laps. Jason Meyers tracked him down and went on to win. But it was that race which set the future for this kid who interestingly has the nickname of “Shark”.
Marty wanted to know if any owners in Australia would be prepared to put him in a car for our next summer season. If so he said, there would be 20 people who would travel with him on tour to watch. Anyone out there interested? The kid can drive. The night at the Grove last year was his first ever 410 drive having cut his teeth in the 358’s around PA.
The forecast for tomorrow is no better, so many have left town, but others have rescheduled flights and organised a sickie for Monday.
Day 19 / Monday February 27th 2012
It was miserable with rain and wind while a grey stormy Atlantic Ocean confronted us as the curtains were opened in the morning. The Weather Channel was all about the race and those with greater insight than us said it would clear late this afternoon, thus permitting an evening race. Nothing is a hindrance here (except rain). Unmuffled motors, no curfew and a track that has as its closest neighbours giant shopping malls and prestigious Hotels. Just what Australia needs!! If only ….
It was an early call this morning from officials that 1.00pm would now become 7.00pm. What to do? We knew instantly. Time hadn’t permitted it before but we just had to see where the good old boys started racing on the sands of Daytona. Way down south on the Ponce peninsula is the place where some enterprising folks have built the “North Turn” Beach Bar & Grille on exactly the piece of land where they roared off the beach to re-join the highway (Atlantic Avenue). The Bar and Restaurant does a roaring trade indeed as we were to find out. Priceless B&W photos adorn the walls to demonstrate just how it was done back then. Pete Hanson’s hero Fireball Roberts featured prominently.
The track was 4.1 miles long. 2.0 miles south along Atlantic Avenue on the bitumen to Turn 1, a sharp left and then left again onto the beach and 2.0 miles back again, often competing against the incoming tide. At the end of this section is where the North Turn bar is built right on the spot where a rickety old wooden grandstand stood for those braver than the drivers to sit in it. The spectators had a great view of them coming off the beach and back onto the bitumen. Many a car rolled at this point as they simply couldn’t pull up in time from the 150 mph speeds on the beach. Sadly many drivers in this era didn’t get to make the journey back to their homes after racing had finished. But hundreds more waited in line to take their chances at keeping their life intact. After all, most had escaped death in WW2 and figured they were invincible perhaps. Up to 180 cars started each race!!
After a particularly enjoyable two hours here it was time to leave. Lunch was great, the history totally enveloped us and the gift shop got some of our surplus greenbacks. 5.00pm was upon us and it was time to try again at the track on International Speedway Boulevard. The weather was indeed clearing and hopes were high amongst everybody that we would get it in. Little did we know just how long it would take.
It’s probably superfluous to write about the events of the night because any race fan worth their salt would have already seen what happened. Suffice to say that a race which essentially started on Sunday at 1.00pm, finished at 12.30am on Tuesday morning. The second lap crash set the scene for the night. It was simply more of the mayhem and carnage from the Shootout (Jeff Gordon rolling down the main straight), the Gatorade Duel races (Danica and others driving headlong into walls), the Camping World Trucks (probably the most extreme), the Nationwide cars (no expense spared to wreck what they could) and now the 500.
And of course the most bizarre of all was Juan Montoya’s long sideways slide at the approach to Turn 3 into the Jet dryer truck which caused fire eruptions and explosions equal to Pearl Harbour. 200 litres of aviation fuel, used to fire the turbine engines that blow debris of the track, were stored in the truck. Not a skerrick was left after it gushed out and burned way beyond the capability of the assorted fire crews spewing fire retardant foam on the burning hulk.
The crowd had seen both Montoya and the track crew escape their vehicles, so concern for them had passed. It became entertainment after that, watching upwards of 100 safety crew trying to put it out. Fortunately it occurred at a part of the track where there are no spectator stands, otherwise life would have been very warm indeed for those in the first 20 rows of seats.
Meanwhile there was a red light of course, and all cars stopped right in front of us allowing massive photo opportunities for about an hour before officials decided to send the cars back to the pits. The wait was too long for some drivers who exited their cars and walked to the infield and scaled the fence to relive themselves in the porta-loos on the infield. Much to the delight of everybody watching. Brad Keselowski hade his mobile phone with him and began tweeting to his followers. This alone made headline news the next day amongst a media who fell over themselves to milk these two hours for all they were worth. Keselowski by the way picked up 135,000 new followers just by that action alone. The Fox Network had the race and their ratings would have been gigantic for a Monday night prime time show. The Yanks love their Monday night sport on TV.
And then at 12.30am or thereabouts it was all over. 200 laps had been done and the underfunded Matt Kenseth had won his second Daytona 500 for the Best Buy team. Celebrations didn’t last long at all, as the haulers began to withdraw instantly from the pits. Many had wrecked race cars within, but that won’t matter. They’ll pick up fresh ones from the workshops on their 2,135 mile drive through to Phoenix.
Day 20 / Tuesday February 28th 2012
Sadly it was now time to leave this great country. Our home at the Comfort Inn & Suites right on the beach was farewelled. The big Aussie kangaroo we gave the staff remains proudly sitting on the counter in the foyer. Unless it’s pinched, it will still be there when we return for future Daytona 500’s and associated Speedweeks.
So much additional luggage has been purchased by our enthusiastic tour members that a second vehicle was rented to get it all to Miami International Airport. Five hours later, via I-95 and the Florida Turnpike a bunch of Aussies gathered to check in with Delta and undertake the third degree with Security.
But all was managed well and the party flew out to LA and the connecting flight to Sydney.
Tours can be well planned and managed which this was, but it is the people who make the trip. Our thanks go to Adam, Terry, Gary, Bob & Pat, Phil & Gail, Steve & Scott for making our job so much easier. Our thoughts lie with the absent Paddy who should have been with us as well, but for the inadequacies of the US Consulate.
Now for the Month of Money tour in July & August!! Places are still available for those who want to experience the fun of travelling with Global Speedway Tours.
A word from the author and driver. Please be assured that the references to constant beer and bourbon consumption do not apply to him!! When he has driving responsibilities that is …
PS If anyone knows how to load videos in Sony MTS format onto flickr.com please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org If you do, I can provide everyone with full HD quality videos as well!!
If not, you’ll have to buy the DVD!!