2014 Florida Speedweek tour blog
Day 1 – Tuesday February 4th
There was something of an irony about the 14 hour Delta flight to Los Angeles. Firstly the rain in Sydney (which was falling mainly on the plane by the way) was the last load of moisture that we hope to see for the next 24 days. Rain, sprintcars and NASCAR’s simply do not mix well together you see.
Secondly the superb Delta on-board entertainment system offers just about every recently released film known to man. One of which was “Rush” directed by Ron Howard. It brilliantly tells the story of the early 70’s rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt on the Formula One Grand Prix circuit.
These two grew up in Austria and Great Britain respectively and first clashed in Formula 3 where their apparent mutual hatred of each other was there for all to see. Neither wanted to lose (most of all to each other) and the bravery, skill and desperation displayed on the track totally mesmerised the fans in the stands.
Just in case you haven’t seen the movie we won’t give away the ending from the 1976 Grand Prix season, but suffice to say our tour members will soon be watching a similar rivalry when Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell rekindle their lifelong competitiveness in their 37th season of World of Outlaws competition. The difference this year is that 2014 will be the King’s last on the WoO circuit. We will see him race five times on this tour at Volusia and another 13 on our mid year Month of Money tour. His farewell season is going to be one for the ages that’s for sure.
And 58 year old Swindell will once again make it as difficult as possible for 59 year old Kinser.
The first pink rays of dawn presented themselves high above the Pacific Ocean about 15 minutes out of LA to make it a very picturesque 7.00am arrival over this sprawling city. The smog hadn’t had a chance to build up yet, even though the amazing network of freeways and clover leaf interchanges were already clogged with traffic. Our first time visitors to the USA had their faces glued to the windows.
We beat the rest of the touring party (who had a Melbourne departure) into LA by a couple of hours. Once we were all together it was just a short 60 minute hop north to San Francisco on a somewhat smaller Delta jet compared to the one we had just been on. A couple of blue Super Shuttles delivered the group to the Handlery Hotel, a beautiful historic hotel in Geary Street adjacent to Union Square which will be our home for the next three nights.
The 2 day Hop on Hop off Big Bus tickets were dispersed, as were the 3 day Cable Car tickets before heading down Market Street to secure SIM cards for mobile phones etc. Bodies were weary at this point, but hunger and thirst took precedence with Sam’s Cable Car Lounge providing sustenance in both areas. An informative sign on the window announces that Happy Hour is from 11.00am to 7.00pm. We were late apparently, arriving at 2.30pm approx.
Dinner was an informal one at Lefty O’Doul’s restaurant adjacent to the Hotel.
Day 2 – Wednesday February 5th 2014
Essentially today started as it finished. Last night I watched fascinated as the San Francisco garbos invaded the city and emptied the rubbish bins that line the streets every morning. Tonight I saw the same guys doing the same things right outside Lefty O’Doul’s. I guess that means that today must have been a long one …..
It started with everybody congregating in the foyer of the Hotel (we now have a new meeting place at Lefty’s) ready to board the San Francisco “Big Bus” for a tour of the city. A double decker open topped style of London Bus whisked us away from stop #5 at Union Square. All was going well until I realised that it was taking the usual San Fran tour route in reverse. Later I worked out we should have been at stop #17 Union Square. The fact that stop #17 was just metres from stop #5 was not pointed out to the GST Tour guide.
For this trip we had chosen a different company to the one we had used in 2012. However there was no harm done to anyone but me and we saw everything that was needed to be seen as we made our way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Approaching the GGB is an awesome sight from the road. Not a word I use very often, but it truly describes something that really needs to be seen in the flesh.
At the western end of the GGB is Sausalito, a quaint little village that you could just imagine could be in Tasmania. The big Big Bus deposited us in the parking lot of the scenic overlook of the Bridge to allow the obligatory photos of relatives and friends in the foreground of a structure which sways eight metres in high winds. It is sometimes called “the bridge that could never be built” because of the tides and currents in the Bay.
Patrick, a large jovial and humorous African American drove the little shuttle bus that took us into Sausalito, a mere two miles or so down from the 1,000 foot height of the bridge to the Bay. Very prominent on the skyline from here was Alcatraz which is on tomorrow’s agenda. Wandering around on foot saw us visit ice cream shops (to warm us up), gift shops, shops with fleecy lined jackets and shops with coffee, but not that good.
Back in the Big Bus, we departed the GGB until next time, enroute back into San Fran. The guide wasn’t a good one and in such cases the rule of thumb with these buses is to get off and wait for the next one. We got off OK but never got back on again as by now it was 2.00pm and lunch was calling. People scattered to have hot dogs, Chinese, or Cheesecake in Macy’s on Union Square. The agreement was to regroup in Lefty’s (around the piano) at 6.00pm.
Dinner tonight was a GST shout at Alioto’s in Fisherman’s Wharf. The plan to get there backfired when the cable car system failed and after waiting 40 mins for a “tram” to arrive we elected to grab cabs down to the wharf. The venue, the food, the company, the location and the staff were absolutely magnificent. Earlier in the day we had befriended the Maître De when Peter H and I had called in to re-confirm the reservation. It turned out that Matthew was the second person that day who actually knew what a sprintcar was. Highly unusual in San Francisco let me tell you. I can’t quite remember who the first was, but it was about the time the garbage bins were being emptied.
Dinner really was superb and it was a pleasure for GST to host a gathering in such salubrious surroundings. The night was topped off with a visit to the Gold Dust Lounge, recently of Market Street fame before their lease ran out after 59 years. The owners re-located to Fisherman’s Wharf and for those who had such a great time in the former place on the 2012 tour, I can tell you it’s now bigger and better.
Day 3 – Thursday February 6th 2014
I should explain why the Day 3 diary for Alcatraz is being written from Day 5 in Key West.
That little island in the Bay wreaked havoc on your blogger when I caught a massive dose of the flu. I have been laid very low ever since. In fact so low that whereas on all other tours I can survive on five hours sleep a night, in the last three days I have had 15 hours sleep every day.
Fortunately the driving stints are relatively short on this tour and Pete Hanson is doing a great job during the day and night keeping the ship afloat and upright and I can’t wait until I’m strong enough to join everyone again for the night activities.
I’ll mention what when on at night, but in not as much detail.
Good old Alcatraz remains as probably still the world’s greatest tourist attraction. It is unique in every way and its reputation confirms the fact that everyone should make the tour of The Rock if they can.
The Cell Block Audio tour is eerie, with ex-prisoners and guards telling the story through ear phones. Their words being supplemented by recreated audio of real battles that occurred in the cell blocks.
We allowed everyone 2-3 hours and we met back at Pier 39 for the Sea Lions. Except for me, who headed for bed to keep out of the way of everyone else.
The evening was optional with some brave hearts choosing the Night Tour on the top deck of the bus!!
Day 4 – Friday February 7th 2014
It was a 3.45am wake-up call this morning in order to board the 4.30am Super Shuttle to the airport to catch the 6.20am American Airlines flight 68 to Miami.
Again my apologies to Americans reading this, but when will US airlines ever learn that boarding people from the back row first will fill up their aircraft three times as quick. Won’t mention it again….. promise.
Everybody slept for most of the 5 hours and 20 min direct flight and a 2.40pm arrival in Miami had us snugly resting in the magnificently appointed Sheraton Airport. If you pay for quality hotels over here, you certainly get ’em.
Today is Cheryl’s 50th birthday and by coincidence it is also Tony’s 38th birthday. Plans were made to catch the local bus down to South Street, Miami Beach for the joint celebration. (Well it wasn’t quite a “joint” celebration, but then again I didn’t go!!)
But before leaving, drinks were partaken of on the Hotel bar deck overlooking a stream which separates the Hotel from the golf course. No doubt it had alligators in it, but none were sighted. What was though was a giant iguana sunning himself in the tree on the Hotel side, so photography positions were at a premium. For those who remember the Iguana that came into Eldora last year, sizes were similar.
In the evening the guys invaded La Baguette where drinks were expensive, but easily offset by the size. See the photos on the Global Speedway Tours Facebook page or Peter Hanson’s or mine, Peter Physick. This website’s Photo Gallery also has them amongst the many photos already posted.
Day 5 – Saturday February 8th 2014
This morning there were two urgent things to do.
Pete H had already picked up the Town & Country minivan yesterday which we use as the luggage mule.
But for me, it was firstly to familiarise myself with our new Minibus which had been delivered the night before. It is actually a 15 seater bus, rather than a Passenger van that we have used for past tours. Vehicles like these have plentiful availability in Florida, but not necessarily so in the Midwest where the MoM tour starts and finishes.
So, if you’re reading this and live in Indiana I’d love to hear from you if you know of a 15 seater bus available for rental across 34 days in July and August.
Secondly it was to put some food inside me which I did, but it was out again within the hour!
Richard joined us overnight having driven down from Ocala where he had intended to watch two All-Star Sprintcar races at Bubba Raceway Park. Rain washed out both sadly.
Note to self:
Never make the drive to Key West on a Saturday with weekend traffic, or when thousands of people are running what looked to be two marathons back to back, but in teams changing at relay points. Stuff the traffic. The cops looked after the runners every time. What is usually a 4½ hour trip with stops, turned into 7½.
The dollar esky kept the punters refreshed however. We always look after majority interests so instead of bourbon for a dollar liquor drink, Jack Daniels is the preferred on this tour. But it will cost $2 I’m afraid. After all 1.75 litres does cost $36 …..
We are now in the very upmarket Sheraton Key West Suites and Resort on the southern side of the island. Food was needed by all except one, so off the othersv all went in the Hotel Shuttle to Mallory Square and Duvall Street.
By all reports I’m hearing it was quite a sedate evening, with most saving up for Sunday night.
Day 6 – Sunday February 9th 2014
Well what a day Sunday turned out to be. A cloudless winter’s day of 30° C superbly highlighted the natural tropical features of Key West. If you were to lie down and close your eyes and imagine what a tropical island would look like to you, then you would be describing Key West.
Here’s a rundown.
Tony went deep sea fishing on a local Charter boat and had a wow of a result. First catch was a 9lb tuna which he could have kept, but allowed the skipper to use it as bait. Tony had confidence he would catch more ….
Next success was a Sailfish. Google it, if you’re not familiar with the attributes of this fish. The effort required to land these creatures is equivalent to pulling in a marlin. They were unable to get it into the boat, not that they couldn’t, but at 7′ long it was too big for the charter boat. Its long swordfish type snout could’ve done some massive damage to people’s legs if it started thrashing.
So back to the depths of the Gulf of Mexico it went, ready to chew another fish hook again one day. To Tony’s regret there is no photographic record of this achievement, but he does have one damn fine souvenir. When a Sailfish is caught in these waters the boat is permitted to hoist a flag which has only one purpose in life and that is to boast about a Sailfish triumph.
Tony now has that flag …..
But he wasn’t finished yet. A 24lb grouper was next which is a beautiful eating fish but guess what, February is not the month you want to catch a grouper. They are out of season!! So it too went back. But he had a great day and now has a lovely flag.
Luke, Richard, Russell and Glenn threw caution to the wind and hired a 4 seater jet-boat for four hours from just inside Sunset Pier. Now it takes a longer time than you think to drive around Key West, (maybe 30 mins in traffic) and would take two hours to cycle it and probably 45 mins on one of the fabulous mopeds they have here.
But our boys tried to break the circumnavigation record in a boat which reached speeds of 57 knots (an impressive 104 kms/hour) and they would have smashed it (they say) if it wasn’t perhaps for the low lying reeds which brought the boat to a grinding halt on the south eastern corner near the Cuba sign. Upon re-floating it they decided against any more water speed records and simply had some fun. But even more fun followed after returning the speedboat and four individual jet skis were immediately hired to again satisfy the speed urge. Richard was thrown head first from his unit and the others gave him a bath as he struggled to the surface.
At night everyone gathered down on the Sunset Pier for what is usually a spectacular sunset, but not tonight Josephine. It was poor and the Pier depleted fairly quickly including us who went off to the Red Fish Blue Fish for dinner. I thinks shenanigans occurred afterwards but I cannot detail that as bedtime for me was early again, but getting a little later each night.
Day 7 – Monday February 10th 2014
As Phil Collins’ would say “it was just another day in Paradise” when dawn broke over Key West. Some of our people are so nice they way they were able to describe how dawn looks in this place. Gee they must get up early to see it.
After hearing about the fun on the jet boat yesterday the “Williams’ Family Vacation” continued this morning when they commissioned chief Jet boat driver Luke Brough to take the wheel for a few hours of fun on the crystal clear Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. (You can hop between the two just as easily as changing your shorts here.)
Which I’m reliably informed that Dad Brett needed to do at least twice when Luke managed to get the boat maneuvered to a point that allowed a massive backwash wave to drench him. Brett never saw it coming!!
The other may have been when the Coast Guard warned them away from the Cruise ship ‘Ryndam’ which was docked at Mallory Square. Apparently 30 metres is too close!!
“Taree Glenn” hired himself a push bike and set off briskly to test my assumption yesterday about it taking two hours to ride around the island. Glenn reported he took 75 mins – his KWPB.
If others aren’t mentioned in this story it means they must have gone back to bed after seeing the sunrise.
We left this jewel in the sea near Cuba around 2.15pm for the drive back along the dozens of bridges joined together by islands that form the ribbon of bitumen from end to end. 205 kms in fact. A pleasant drive indeed, uninterrupted this time by the marathoners.
Watched our last (and best sunset) from Key Largo before arriving at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Homestead ready to chase alligators tomorrow.
Day 8 – Tuesday February 11th 2014
Riding an Airboat for the 6th time is as good as the first. A lot depends upon your driver, but generally most of “the good old boys from the south” are more than happy to wrench the life out the boss’ equipment. And if you can understand them as well, it’s a bonus.
Gator Park on US41 looms large on your left just after entering the Everglades National Park and no sooner than you’ve blinked you’ve arrived at 9.00am ready to go. Tickets include the Airboat, the Wildlife Show and general admission to view their exhibits, which seem to have grown from 2012.
The Airboats deserve a brief description. I guess if you were living in these parts when they invented gasoline engines you must have been itching to put one in a vessel which could get you as quickly as possible to your neighbours’ house on the other side of the slow moving river – which is all the Everglades is. In fact the entire eco system is the water supply for Miami.
Hmmm. “Where will I put the motor?” “I know. I’ll install a massive Chevy V8 that Donny Schatz would be proud of on the back of a flat bottomed raft, mount a giant fan behind it, then erect a seat for me to drive it on the top of the whole petrol guzzling contraption.” “Let’s see how that goes huh”.
And you know what, they haven’t changed a bit for over a century. “One day I might build a bigger one and charge idiots to come ride with me”. So those Global Speedway Tours’ people duly lined up to get on one and after a leisurely first 10 minutes idling up a waterway to get out into open water, our good ‘ol boy suggested the supplied earplugs should be inserted before he opened her up. It was probably only for a quarter hour that we slipped and slided wherever he wanted to point it, but it was truly exhilarating.
What may appear as dry land to the uneducated eye is driven into at great speed and relief flows when you realise it is actually huge clumps of reed grass growing unchecked in the river. At one stage we stopped “in the middle of nowhere” to listen to the serenity and to hear a history of the whole ecology system. It was fascinating to listen to the wildlife making their rounds for the morning, until from a distance came the rumble of the next Airboat. It arrived and the fact that we were humbly sitting there in solitude seemed lost on good ol’ boy #2 who (and we were grateful) decided that he needed to do some loops at great speed around our boat. It made for some great video and pictures.
I think the funniest part of the tour for me yet, occurred next. As he was pulling up a small distance from us, it became apparent that he had a boat load of Japanese. When all was silent, the driver promptly announced to his passengers (who had not a clue what he saying) … “Right all those who hold the green one-way tickets … this is your stop”. Our boat packed up, but there was stony silence on the other, just a lot of nodding going on.
The education part of the ride is great, as many varieties of wildlife are found and described. Families of baby alligators are located, but not impinged up and every now and again something pops up which even takes the guide by surprise. A great start to the day.
Back on dry land we had the thrill of watching Marilyn kiss the cane toad. Promise Marilyn, it wasn’t set up …. much. The wildlife show is always good fun. Except for the Japs who were also in our audience. Because they can’t understand what’s being said, they make it their business to ensure no-one else can hear either. Putting heads and hands inside alligator mouths occupied lots of attention though.
About three hours later we were back on the road headed for Tampa via a quick stop at Big Cypress to view more alligators sunning themselves along the side of the road and yes that’s correct, in canals on the side of the road. As always happens, people get hungry on these tours so there was a need to find a food joint. And from out of the blue one materialised. They are long lonely roads through the Everglades but like a mirage, Joanie’s Blue Crab Café appeared. And it will stay on future itineraries. It had a live Hillbilly singer, deep fried everything (including alligator) and beer that you took from eskies lining the room and then paid for the bottle tops of those consumed. Talk about an honour system ….
Another 200 miles north lay Tampa and the East Bay Raceway. After checking in at the Springhill Suites by Marriott in Brandon, we were at the track just as qualifying had finished. 7.00pm saw the usual festivities of National Anthem and invocations from the resident Track Minister and then 45 high quality Lucas Oil Late Models unleashed the entertainment for the next two hours. Four heats, the Strawberry Dash, a B and an A Main was all that was on the program. Needless to say it ran quick.
Steve Francis (our resident Aussie LM champ) came second to Billy Moyer. In the pits afterwards Steve offered a photo opportunity for the group and then to top it all off, Francis’ car owner suggested he too wanted to be in the pic. How could you say no to NASCAR’s Clint Bowyer!!
Great end to a great day …
Day 9 – Wednesday February 12th 2014
Not a lot to do on a sunny Wednesday when your only task is to drive to Daytona Beach ready for the full blown racing action that confronts us from tonight on. But to get to DB one has to drive straight through Orlando, the home of the Theme Parks. So of course a detour was made, firstly to show off where we are staying in Kissimmee when we come back next Monday night and secondly to drive up and down the magnificently named World Drive which meanders around all of the Disney Resorts and Theme Parks.
Once we reached the Magic Kingdom it was time to turn around and return via the Floridian Way, past EPCOT and back onto I-4 northeast to Daytona Beach. As we neared the Speedweek city the weather turned rapidly for the worst and from my vantage point at the front of the bus, it looked dreadful. Keeping my mouth shut didn’t do any good because the windows on our new 15 seater bus are huge and can’t keep anything away from the prying eyes at the back. All of whom are sprintcar fans and are used to watching the weather.
They too knew we were doomed for tonight I think and as we alighted outside the Holiday Inn & Suites the arctic blast of wind sealed the fate. It hit us just before the rain and it wasn’t long before Volusia announced that the 1½ inches of rain that fell at the track in five or so minutes had done enough damage to cancel the meeting.
There is nothing you can do in such a situation except cry privately!! Then put a new face on and go to the pub, helped by the fact that Global Speedway Tours bought dinner and drinks to the value of the rained out ticket. The Oyster Pub it was and we stayed only until around 10.00pm as tomorrow held a major challenge for us all.
Day 10 – Thursday February 13th 2014
On our Month of Money Tours, we are in Iowa for the Knoxville Nationals at the same time as the Richard Petty Driving Experience (RPDE) hires the Iowa Speedway for their public NASCAR driving experiences. It occurred to me to also do it on the other side of the country and assumed the Disney Speedway inside Walt Disney World would be where it would happen. It wasn’t until a chance look at a page on the RPDE website that I realised they were running at Daytona Speedway on Feb 13th so hasty arrangements were made, tour members were locked in and we were set to go on the 31° banking.
RPDE had sole use of the track until Midday, so at 10.00am we had arrived on the infield and checked in. Russell had chosen the $1,299 16 lap Kings Experience and he was whisked away for pre driving instructions and lectures while the rest of us had chosen the $84.14 three lap Ride-A-Long. Three laps around a 2.5 mile high banked track for $84 was a bargain we figured.
The cars used are highly authentic and although obviously “governed” a little, sounded magnificent as they went out in groups of four with their cargo. Kenny was the first to front up and after putting on a fire proof race suit, balaclava and helmet, he climbed in through the window and was off. Followed by Tony, Brett, Cheryl, Kayhla, Luke, Glenn, Richard, Steve, Bob, Patricia, Kim and Peter. Marilyn sat it out and Peter H was back in his room getting rid of the flu.
Once inside the car (I had Jeff Gordon’s #24 with Eddie at the wheel) seatbelts are applied, checked and checked again while the driver chats to you to find out your level of courage. The pack of four is given the green light and the foot is planted. Starting from pits and behind the start finish line it’s just a drag race down pit lane to turn 1. We had easily exceeded 100mph at the left turn onto the banking and with no lifting it was up to fence line where even at this speed the G Forces had kicked in. Further acceleration into turn 2 and then terminal speed of 265 kmh had been reached.
The back straight seems to go forever when looking at the track from the stands, but down on it in a NASCAR, turn 3 rushes up real quick. Watching the gauges is easy so listening to the motor and watching the tacho reveals there is absolutely no lifting going into the turns. We whizzed past the spot where Dale Earnhardt was killed between 3&4 and careered down the front tri-oval the motor revving as high as it was allowed to go (approx. 6,000 rpm). Under the flag stand where we received the signal of two to go and into turn 1 and the car again adopted its own crazy balancing act on the banking.
The Hans device that everyone must where did its job in keeping my head positioned on top of the neck where it is usually located. It seemed as though we were going faster again but I was imagining it I reckon. Going beneath the Budweiser Party Porch on the back straight I permitted myself a look up to see if I could see ourselves up there on Daytona 500 day but no yellow and gold clothing was to be seen.
The newly laid bitumen in the entrance to turn 3, thanks to Juan Montoya from 2012, paved the way for a perfect entry on to the banking. Eddie was doing a grand job and he could see from my hand signals that the next lap needed to be up closer to the fence. He had no problem with that and signalled back with a thumbs up that the final lap might be one to remember. All this time I had no realisation that there were three cars following us in pack formation. As far as I knew it was just Eddie and me out there having a ball.
The starter gave us the white flag and into turn 1 we went, deeper than ever before, which took us right up to as close to the fence as I guess their rules permit. Still at 265kmh a big white concrete fence bearing down on you is alarming. But the car just magically turns left and points its nose further up track. The massively high catch fencing isn’t visible from inside the car …. just a pure white Safer-Barrier fence that looks the same wherever you are on the track. Losing your orientation at race speed would be very easily done here at Daytona.
And then suddenly it was all over. We cruised off turn 4 onto Pit lane, Eddie shut it down and all was silent again. Various items are available at additional cost to more permanently record your memories. A USB stick with video from inside the car and a very well produced wall plaque with your photo inside and outside the car helped take additional spare dollars out of pockets.
A value added morning for sure after which we made a mid-afternoon run along the actual hard packed Daytona beach in the GST Bus. To the south first and then back up north past our Hotel. A planned break for an hour or so was needed to allow punters to put on as many layers of clothing as possible because the temperature was forecast to plummet tonight, our first at Volusia Speedway.
Those in the know got it right because it must have got down to around 2°, such were the icicles forming on every exposed extremity. The stands at Volusia are aluminium and to park your butt on the bleacher was virtually an impossibility. The merchandise stores were raided for cushions, beanies, gloves and blankets in an attempt to keep our core body temperatures up.
The cold air caused a few engines to be destroyed and wisely the promotion moved the program along to get the sprintcars over and done with to allow those who wanted, to leave for the warmer confines of their Hotel rooms. As soon as the A Main was finished I was off to the bus to get it started and warmed up. Many joined me, but others remained inside the fridge to watch the rest of the UMP Modified races before they too returned to normal senses and joined us in the bus.
For the record, Joey Saldana won going away from Paul McMahan and Tim Shaffer.
Day 11 – Friday February 14th 2014
Temperatures today are expected to be 10 degrees warmer than yesterday and there was already evidence of that at 9.30am when we took off for the Premium Outlet Stores at St Augustine, 45 miles away. There were keen shoppers on board and some not so keen, wondering why blokes have to go shopping. Some didn’t make it at all. But 12 of us headed off and to their credit they came back with around $4,000 less than they started the day with. It is easy to do once the quality is understood and the discounts offered are genuine. One young man who ”came along just for the ride – I’m not going to buy anything” finished up as our star shopper. His clothing purchases are now complete I’d suggest. Brett found the IZOD Store and although he bought a heap of stuff, now wants to go back to get more. Maybe in Orlando, Brett …..
A 5.00pm departure is always scheduled for the track to allow us to get there before hot laps and qualifying at 6.00pm. The weather forecasters got it spot on. It was a glorious cloudless sky and significantly warmer and although a jacket was still needed, the various appendages from last night could be discarded. There was a full field of high quality cars in the pits, a full house and a full moon. What more could you want on a Friday night?
A great race could have been the answer and it was delivered in spades. As Johnny Gibson said over the PA, if the next 93 WoO races are that good, they are in for a hell of a season. Tim Shaffer led for 25 of the 30 laps, then traded it with McMahan and Sweet over the next four before being swamped at the end by those two, plus Kerry Madsen who had come on really strong in the last five. Shaffer finished out of a place altogether and it was Brad Sweet who took the honours from McMahan (second again) and Madsen who surely would have won the thing if there was two more laps.
Kerry is in excellent form and has great faith in his new crew chief Tyler Swank (ex David Gravel) and their new Premium sponsor of American Race Wheels. 2014 may be a make or break year for the #29 driver but the stars may have just aligned enough this season to see him have some excellent results in 2014.
Day 12 – Saturday February 15th 2014
Everyone appreciated today’s planned rest day. A do nothing day if you wanted, or a day to stroll up to the Pier along the beach and back through the shops on Atlantic Boulevard. Or the humdrum stuff like washing.
It was a 5.00pm departure again for Volusia Speedway. Our route to the track kicks off from the Hotel, north along Atlantic Boulevard for about five miles. Scenery is much the same for the whole distance with Hotels and hi-rise condominiums towering over the eastern side of the road to allow owners and holiday-makers unobstructed views of what so far has been a rather angry Atlantic Ocean. Apart from our arrival on a stormy first afternoon, we have had virtually cloud free days, but often with a biting wind which takes the edge off any desire to sit around the pool sunbaking. Although that was a very pleasant past time this morning ….
Once we reach Granada Boulevard at Ormond Beach we take a left and follow Highway 40 for 18 miles due west to the speedway. The track sits miles from anywhere, hence the opportunity for mufflers to be discarded and to allow the engines to create as much noise as mechanically possible!! Volusia is a half mile dirt oval which was, back in its day, a paved ½ mile. The Winternationals used to be raced across the road on a now defunct 1/3rd mile dirt oval, but when the World Racing Group, which owns the Outlaws franchise and name, bought the entire race complex the half mile track was converted to dirt and it is what we know today. The claim is that Volusia Speedway is the world’s fastest dirt half mile.
The size of Black Beauty (our Mini-Bus) allows us preferential parking each night under a beautiful spreading oak tree. In warmer times it would afford the perfect spot to tail-gate before and after the races, but the artic weather stops that every time. A two minute walk to the entry gates has us up in Section 8, back row, right on 6.00pm for hot laps and qualifying. The tickets permit complimentary access to the pits all night, so many choose to go in there to get pictures with amazingly cooperative drivers and owners. Owners such as Tony Stewart, Kasey Khane, Kyle Larson and others such as the Dillon Brothers, Rusty Wallace, Kenny Schrader, David Stremy and Justin Allgaier who are competing in the UMP Modifieds. NASCAR fans will learn one day that if they want to see their heroes up front and personal, then they need to get to a local dirt track.
Donny Schatz put on a clinic tonight when, after qualifying poorly and only sneaking through his heat, decided that the points and the money were on and powered his way through the field from position 11 to win by nearly half a lap. It was as dominant a performance as we see regularly in Australia over our summers.
Forgot to mention yesterday that the Global Speedway Tours tipping comp started last night and the Chief Steward from Heywood demonstrated his talents by picking Brad Sweet to win. $32 went Kenny’s way, but it’s all about the bragging rights on the bus, rather than the money that people are wanting.
Tonight we altered it to a $2 sweep and put numbers 1-16 in a hat and each drew out one number. Their car is whoever starts the A Main in that position. Most figured if you drew a starting number further back than 6, then your chances were gone. But not Steve Evans who picked 11 and secured D Schatz and the sweep money.
Day 13 – Sunday February 16th 2014
It was a different experience for us today. There was the final night of sprintcar racing at Volusia which was a must of course, but the group was in a bit of a quandary as to what to do during the day. Qualifying for the Daytona 500 was on at 1.00pm and tickets were available for that, but surprisingly it didn’t hold great appeal to many.
So after a leisurely Sunday morning hanging around the hotel, taking a walk on the beach, or along the boardwalk by the pier we agreed we would get the best of both worlds. So Black Beauty the bus drove us to Hooters on International Speedway Boulevard, directly across the road from Daytona Speedway. What a great solution!!
Hooters has multiple big screens showing sports of all kinds, especially the 500 qualifying from 200 metres away. The Chief Steward couldn’t stand being that close and not going in so he took his sunscreen, crossed the busy highway and two mins later he was in the Roberts Stand feasting on the colour and noise. The rest? Well we settled in to Hooters and watched the whole drama unfold on the big screens whilst feasting on wings, burgers and beers.
Race fans of all persuasions should have been thrilled with the outcome of qualifying when 23 year old Austin Dillon came out late in the piece and took the pole on his second lap. Firstly he carried the famous #3 last worn by the late Dale Earnhardt for his whole superstar career up until the time of his death at Daytona on Feb 18th 2001. Earnhardt’s car owner was Richard Childress and it just so happens Childress is the mega-rich grandfather of brothers, Austin and Ty Dillon. Fans were misty eyed watching that cherished number #3 go round again under Austin’s watch and when it took pole, wow, that was something big indeed. None of the remaining cars exceeded Dillon’s 196.019 mph speed and he claimed the pole amid great excitement. Kenny would have been jumping up and down by himself inside the track as he knew we would see him race again tonight at Volusia in the Modifieds.
Just in case you had forgotten, our Global Speedway Tours RPDE passengers were going round Daytona just a few days earlier at 165 mph. And Russell Blackman was doing 163 mph himself as the driver. It actually puts the power of those Petty NASCARS into perspective when you compare speeds.
The punters at Hooters were happy and a couple more celebratory beers were ordered to toast this preliminary victory. Kenny returned from the track and because it was such a glorious afternoon we chose to leave for Volusia an hour early to allow some famous tailgate beers in the car park in the warmth of the sun. Many others were doing the same and just like it always is at speedways across America, new friends were made with our neighbours, all of whom wanted to know more about our country.
Our man Kenny was still in the limelight as he decided he needed to rescue the driver of a large Interstate semi-trailer who somehow had driven his massive rig into no man’s land in the parking lot and was irretrievably stuck. The Chief Steward from Heywood strolled up to him, offered assistance and proceeded to hold up all incoming traffic to allow this dude to manoeuvre his truck to a position where he could extricate himself. Kenny provided all the signals, held up the traffic, made cars shift and in general was a superstar traffic cop. The rest of us? We just watched and applauded from under the shade of the Oak tree ….
The racing provided a fairy tale finish for two drivers. Austin Dillon won his feature in the UMP Modifieds and the “retiring King” Steve Kinser smashed his opposition in the sprintcar A Main. The season is only three races old for the Outlaws, but having seen Kinser race at Parramatta a month ago and then the first two nights here, then you could be forgiven for pondering whether he could actually beat America’s best on their own dirt in his farewell season.
It’s possible Kinser may have thought that too, because his reactions when he got out of the car and undertook the post-race interview were ones of unbridled joy. He was genuinely thrilled and the interview was not the usual “thank the sponsors first”, “take my hat off to the crew who worked so hard”, “we’ll see what happens at the next race”, kind of stuff. He spoke with great emotion and let out some “hell yeah’s” every few seconds because the veteran acceptance speech winner could not honestly think of what to say. Good on him I reckon … let’s hope there are more victories for him over the next 91 races he’s going to front up to.
PS The GST sweep was on again tonight and the winner was whoever held the driver who started out of position 3. You guessed it. Steve Evans again drew that number!!
Day 14 – Monday February 17th 2014
Seeing dawn break over the Atlantic Ocean is a wonderful sight to behold. This morning’s early 8.00am start for Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) allowed this to happen and when time permits the vision from our balcony will be posted in the website’s Photo Gallery. But now if you want, you can see it on Peter Physick’s Facebook page. It was dead calm with an eerie half-light and the seagulls waking up to scavenge for food complemented the few humans walking along the beach with metal detectors sifting the sands for whatever they were looking for.
Daytona to Titusville, Florida is an easy 80 minute drive south down I-95. We even got priority parking because of the bus!! Cape Canaveral, which coincidentally used to be known as Cape Kennedy until 1973, occupies land to the south of Kennedy Space Centre and is still used to fire rockets to this day. The area was chosen by the Govt of the day for rocket launches in order to take advantage of the earth’s rotation. The velocity of the earth’s rotation is greatest at the equator and the relatively southern location of the Cape allows rockets to be fired to the east in the same direction as the earth’s rotation. Just thought you’d like to know some of the interesting facts picked up on the tour. This, plus the sparse population then and now of the area along with thousands of square miles of available ocean, allows for misfire accidents.
Everybody agreed that today was a great day. I say this with no disrespect intended, but there are Yanks and then there are other Yanks. The latter ones are sheer geniuses when it comes to the Space program. After a series of launch failures in 1961, then President JFK issued a decree that the country would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. A challenge which was enthusiastically taken up by the men and women of NASA.
The bus tour around KSC is now extended to beyond where it ever went before. Earlier this year it was decided to permit the tour buses right down to the launch sites, whereas previously they stopped three miles away. We were lucky that we happened to visit during a time when no fuel is stored at the launch sites, hence the revolutionary decision to open up more territory to the tourist. You can bet your life though that there is other stuff on that base that no one will ever be permitted to see.
Following this lucky break, the usual stop at the Saturn 5 exhibit introduced our Aussies to their first glimpse of American animation at work. The 10 minute show that demonstrates the firing of the Saturn rockets from a replica launch control room is fascinating. But maybe not as much as when the doors open to the right from the theatre and one is confronted with a full size Saturn rocket from tip to toe, lying horizontally from one end of the building to the other. It truly is massive and an absolute highlight of the tour. Super wide angle lenses are needed to capture this beauty and to do it justice.
Back on the bus to the central KSC tour centre revealed a brand new exhibit built since our last tour. They were starting it two years ago and now the Space Shuttle Atlantis building towers over the joint. Headlining the entrance is an actual size, full scale, replica space shuttle stack including the external orange tank and two solid rocket boosters which sent the Shuttle into space each time. At 184’ high it gives visitors a sense of the immense power required to send the shuttle into orbit.
Inside the building is an actual Atlantis Space Shuttle now suspended from the ceiling in all its glory. It is on an angle of 43 degrees, has the payload doors open and the Robotic Arm extended just as it would have been when docking with the International Space Station. It too, as you might have guessed, is monstrous and still bears scars of the fiery heat of re-entry each time it went skywards. An added bonus in here is a simulator to experience the G Forces of lift off inside the shuttle with enough fuel beneath the astronauts, which in the event of an explosion on take off, would create the same damage as the atomic bomb did in 1945 over Japan. Scary stuff ….
An excellent day, topped off by dinner at the Golden Corral in Kissimmee, Orlando where we will be for the next three nights. It is very difficult to satisfy all food needs at one stop when running a tour, but the all you can eat buffet nature of a Golden Corral solves that dilemma seamlessly.
By the way, I lost at least $500 today, probably $100,000. If only I had my video camera running when the 7 year old kid walked out of the Orbit café at KSC proudly carrying his plate of French fries. Unfortunately for him he had no knowledge of the vast number of overweight seagulls lined up on the roof above, just waiting for such an opportunity. As soon as the kid came into their sight line, at least 80 swooped on the plate, irrespective of invitation or permission. Alfred Hitchcock must surely have created The Birds in Florida I’m tipping. The poor little bloke was swamped and I can guarantee that the plate did not have 80 chips on it, so the fight was on. All he could do was throw the plate in the air in sheer terror, cover his head in fright and cry out for Mum and Dad.
It was frightening, but sorry kid, it was also very, very funny.
Day 15 – Tuesday & Wednesday February 18th & 19th 2014
Both of these days had been designated as “Theme Park visiting days”. One thing a tour organiser cannot possibly do is to dictate which of many Theme Parks the group should go to. Hence the guys had researched their preferences before leaving Australia, courtesy of many website links we had provided to them. Others spoke to others and made their decisions from that.
Most popular was Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (combined) on day 1 followed by the Magic Kingdom combined with Disney’s Hollywood Studios during day 2 culminating with EPCOT for the stunning evening fireworks extravaganza. Thanks go to Luke, who knows his Orlando Theme Parks backwards, for his leadership.
Luke and Richard were still at EPCOT Wednesday night when the rest of us visited Old Town (directly across the road from the Hotel) for a Mexican feed and then on to the “Little Darlin’s Wednesday night Cruise In”. Sounds a mouthful I know, but suffice to say the beautifully warm evening brought out many classic cars, owners and dancers.
To explain, Old Town hosts this regular Wednesday night event where classic US cars are driven in by their owners and proudly parked for the visitors to drool over. At the same time as The Dukes are performing live 1950’s and 60’s music from the stage, the classic car owners are sitting in their fold up chairs foot tapping away to the music, waiting for someone like a Global Speedway Tours enthusiast to come up and talk to them about their car. They love it. If no one is talking to them, then they are out the front of the stage area dancing madly to the Dukes outstanding music. There were perhaps 600 people there tonight in the open air, most in various stages of light intoxication, either caused by the beer from the many bars in Old Town, or the unbelievably good music.
Those “older kids” amongst our tour group also created their own GST Go-Kart tournament in Old Town on Monday night. No doubt still fuelled by their laps around Daytona Speedway last Thursday, half a dozen of the boys paid their dough to race the karts around a track which was three stories high. Starting at the bottom (obviously) the track winds its way upwards in a corkscrew fashion. Speed is a little slower during the climb, but coming down is significant fun indeed. It would be wrong of me to say who was the best, but in my view the man from Taree was the smoothest and fastest all night. So I would call Glenn Mears the Global Speedway Tours 2014 go kart champ!!
Day 17 – Thursday February 20th 2014
We left Kissimmee this morning after three fabulous days in a very high quality hotel, the Comfort inn & Suites. The outdoor pool was heated and open 24 hours and the pool bar was open from 3.00pm till late. Our guests indulged in both.
First stop this morning is an obligatory one which we engineer into all tours. A visit to a Bass Pro store. The Orlando version is their largest and as usual it provided eye opening comments from everybody. Nobody purchased a gun, but plenty bought some of their wonderful clothing brand.
There was still one more American icon to be visited and we had thoughtfully entwined this attraction into the itinerary today. It is mandatory that every Aussie touring America eats at a Texas Roadhouse. Their steaks are mind bogglingly good. (Is that a word?) Consequently everything was planned, juices were flowing in the mouths of our guests as we neared the town of Ocoee on the way to Ocala. What could be better than the Texas Roadhouse for lunch first, followed by USAC non-winged 410 racing at night.
Have I given it a big enough build up?
And there it was in the distance. The unique shape of a Texas Roadhouse emerged as we got closer and closer. We drove into the parking lot, the doors of the bus opened, people tumbled out and walked briskly to the front door only to find that it was closed and did not open until 4.00pm on a Thursday ….. so much for the best laid plans.
So what to do now? The tour company figured we should push on towards Ocala some 60 miles north and stop at a Steak & Shake Restaurant which just happened to have Happy Hour prices whilst we were there. Marilyn was delighted she only had to pay $8.90 for two meals, taking into account Happy Hour combined with Seniors’ pricing.
We still had time up our sleeve before USAC kicked off proceedings at Bubba Raceway. So we were able to fulfil another dream by calling into the National Drag Racing Museum in Ocala, which is owned lock, stock and barrel by ”Big Daddy” Don Garlits. $10 each got us in and believe me this joint will find a permanent home on the Florida Speedweek itinerary from here-on-in. Like many things in the US, this place is astonishing. The first building we were ushered into has Don’s collection of classic cars. At a guess I’d say there were 120 inside the building. 90% are owned by him with the remainder loaned by friends or just people who want their classic car displayed for all to see.
The second and third buildings contained his collection of drag racing vehicles from day 1 of him developing an interest in drag racing in 1956. Garlits, being from Florida, was something of an outsider. He was sometimes referred to as the Floridian, before permanently adopting the nickname, “Swamp Rat,” which also became the theme for each generation of his innovative dragster designs. In the Museum are every one of his (I think) 39 different variations of dragsters which he built throughout his career to take him to 17 World Championships and 144 NHRA wins. Each variation became Swamp Rat X, XI, XII etc etc.
He only ever used Chrysler engines and in return Chrysler has remained loyal to him for 58 years and still support him with his Drag Racing Museum. Like the Don Smith Museum in Terre Haute, like the EMMR in Williams Grove, like the Bill Smith Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, like the Knoxville Hall of Fame Museum, these places deserve to be seen by anyone interested in learning how men made race cars go faster.
What I can’t understand about Don Garlits’ collection is that most rookie race car drivers who have a little success early in their career, sell their current car for cash to build or buy a new and better one. That first, second, third etc car is usually never seen again. However Garlits has every “Swamp Rat” he ever built starting from #1 in 1956. Has he bought them back over the years, or did he have the foresight and the cash reserves to keep each and every dragster? Does anyone know?
At 6.30pm we rolled into Bubba Raceway Park. Like Volusia Speedway in Daytona Beach, Bubba runs their own version of Speedweek(s) and he schedules 14 consecutive nights of racing in February. Unfortunately for Bubba (that’s his real name – Bubba the Love Sponge) his track lost the first eight nights to rain. Sometimes you have to feel for promoters!
Tonight however was beautiful, but I predicted to our busload as we drove in that tonight they may well see the best racing of the whole tour, but it will be in front of the smallest crowd we will see all tour. And that proved to be pretty much correct. USAC just doesn’t draw the crowds, but their quality of racing and excitement is superb. The bravest men in racing I say they are. Brady Bacon took the win on a slightly dusty but slick track which provided plenty of racing lines.
An 80 mile drive through to Daytona Beach in pitch black conditions late at night was an experience. We had to drive through Ocala National Park and I’m sure in Australia most have seen kangaroo and wombat signs warning of their presence, but I bet you’ve never seen similar signs warning of bears crossing the road!! Well we did this night. As lead driver, I resolved that if one was silly enough to want to cross the road at 1.00am in the morning, then I would hit it amidships, no swerving or braking allowed. After all, a bus is way bigger than a bear.
Fortunately the Yogi’s stayed in the woods, but the deers later on didn’t. They were in abundance on the side of the road mesmerised by the headlights, and frozen to the spot as we went by thank goodness. Good fun and plenty of adrenalin flowing, but it was a relief to finally arrive back in Daytona and retreat to the comfort of our rooms.
Day 18 – Friday February 21st 2014
Despite the practice I adopt in my usual daily life in Sydney, breakfast becomes an important item when on tour. Especially at the Holiday Inn & Suites on Daytona Beach. During our first five days there last week, breakfast was selected from the buffet. Excellent range of choice and quantity. However this morning after wandering down to the restaurant about 10.30am, it became apparent to me that we could also order from the ala carte menu as well via our included vouchers. One such item on said menu is steak and eggs. Given that we had missed our steaks at the Texas Roadhouse yesterday, I figured I’d better give this option a try before telling everyone else.
Well, what a decision that was. Try a plate full of beautifully fried eggs, over easy medium, hash browns with green peppers and onions and 10oz of prime rib steak. Toasted white bread (already buttered) accompanied the feast which was made even better by the inclusion of vegemite on the toast. Yes, one of the added benefits of touring with GST is that vegemite is given to the kitchen staff at any long stay hotel. The jar is just left out in the breakfast area and there is absolutely no danger of it being stolen or eaten by any other guest of course.
Sensational was the only word to describe the meal, plus the fact that I didn’t need to eat again until dinner time. But more about dinner later. Having given the thumbs up to this new found discovery I felt compelled to share this news with others, which resulted in the kitchen running out of steak three days later. Never mind it was good while it lasted.
We had time to kill before heading for the Truck race at Daytona tonight so an impromptu drive around Daytona Beach (which doesn’t take long) plus a trip to Wal-Mart was organised. Everyone always buys something at Wal-Mart. Beer and bourbon is popular, along with Daytona Speedway clothing.
And then it was off to the Big Track on International Speedway Boulevard. The weather, which has been so kind to us over the last two weeks, had turned sour. There was a chance that the Trucks would be rained out but “weather man Luke” utilising his worldwide weather radar app on his phone, confidently predicted we would get it in. Before entering the track we wandered around the Midway where all the Sprint Cup teams line up their merchandising trailers to sell millions of dollars of jackets, T-Shirts, caps, stickers, photos, you name it, they sell it. The major sponsors such as Sprint phones, Toyota, Chevrolet, Ford, Geico, Budweiser etc also have a major presence giving away as much stuff as they can.
Of course to get free stuff one must first register at banks of computers where, amongst other things, an e-mail address is mandatory so they can bombard you with product offers for the next 10 years. I sincerely hope that my brother Bill enjoys reading everything that comes his way for the next few years …..
After the Midway it was a short walk down through the Turn 4 tunnel to board a shuttle tram that would take us to the Sprint Fan-Zone area. A wrist band was needed for access into here and GST had provided that as part of the Daytona package of tickets. The Fan-Zone allows partial access to the pit garages, access on to the infield and the track itself where the cars line up and drivers are introduced one by one to the crowd. You can’t stand adjacent to the cars, but it’s quite amazing just how close you can get to them. Naturally the Fan-Zone has Budweiser outlets which were put to the test and we decided their product was equal to that sold in the Midway.
Rain had delayed the start so we enjoyed extra time in the infield while at the same time judging when we should catch the shuttle tram around to Turn 1 to get into the track to watch the race from the outside. That timing was perfect, because after the tram ride of 14 mins or so (remembering that the track is 2.5 miles around so it is a massive infield area) we felt the need to top up with some food. Pizza sounded good, but little did we know that they would cook it from scratch. That took another 15 minutes and after collecting the product we walked up into the stands, sat down and the race started. Perfect all round …. and with piping hot pizza.
The Camping World Trucks on our last Florida tour in 2012 were out of control with accidents and carnage all over the track. Tonight they were on their best behaviour, but fans were wondering when the “Big One” would come. It surely did on lap 76. Click here to see what happened. 15 cars were taken out in one hit and the fans could go home happy knowing that nothing had changed! Kyle Busch took the win.
Day 19 – Saturday February 22nd 2014
The next 15 hours would make today the longest day so far. (Until tomorrow that is!)
We left the Hotel (after multiple steak and eggs for breakfast) around 10.00am bound for Daytona Speedway and the NASCAR Nationwide race. It was a designated 1.15pm start and after parking the bus we made our way down Bill France Boulevard and here we split up.
Yesterday part of the group wanted to eat a “non race-track” dinner so the suggestion was made that they try the Outback Steakhouse on Airport Road. A dozen or so trooped over there and had a ball. Although the name Outback Steakhouse suggests Australian ownership, that’s not the case. Someone simply figured it was a good name. The general consensus was that they could not have eaten finer beef, washed down by icy cold draft Foster’s beer. Not often that you find draft Fosters. It’s usually in the big 750 ml can and it is never served cold enough.
Too much steak is never enough. Dinner last night, breakfast this morning and now again for lunch. Besides “the Chief Steward” had fallen in love with the waitress and he was distressed today when they were allocated a table that was not in her area. But he made up for it by going to visit her from time to time.
The rest visited the Midway again and made their way into the Sprint Fan Zone for an inspection of the cars and to walk the track. The rain yesterday had made the grass area inside the tri-oval very sloppy indeed. On TV it would have looked immaculate, but underfoot it was as wet as. Cars spinning into here tonight would make for quite a spectacle.
It wasn’t an exciting race by any means, except for the last few laps. Regan Smith won by the smallest of margins. I think 1/100th of a second. But then what do you expect when all laps run under the yellow light are counted as racing laps. But NASCAR graciously permits the last two laps to be run under green flag conditions. No wonder it’s a tight finish at a lot of races. Everybody bunches back up again and then drives like a madman to get to the front. Just like watching a basketball match to be honest. The only good part is the last two minutes.
Although we were split up around the track, everybody knew they had to be back at the bus by 4.30pm ready for the drive to Volusia Speedway for the World of Outlaw Late Models. We would see more passing here than we did today that’s for sure. At 5.15pm we rolled into Volusia in sensational weather and although the parking lots were filling quickly, our spot under the Oak tree with the Spanish Moss was still vacant. It was as if it knew we were coming back one last time to say goodbye.
Some dollar beers went down nicely standing around the bus, along with tales of past adventures on the trip. It’s about now on the tours that people begin to realise that things are coming to an end and start reminiscing about days gone by, but when the Chevy V8’s crank up and distribute their unmuffled decibels for miles around, it’s time to go inside.
Late Models have a totally different fan base to sprintcars. It’s hard to explain …. they’re just different. I think I’ll leave it at that. While the Late Models provided a great spectacle, for mine it was the Big Block Modifieds from up around New York state that stole the show. Peter Britten, born in Brisbane and an Aussie through and through is gaining in notoriety in this class and he was a big chance to win the pointscore over their three nights of racing. But a major crash in the 50 lap final put paid to any hopes he or us may have had. But it wasn’t before we had let some “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi” chants rip across the stands to him on the track.
Sadly we had to leave Volusia at some time and that came around 11.30pm and by Midnight we were back in the Hotel after a big, big day of racing.
Day 20 – Sunday February 23rd 2014
Yesterday paled into insignificance when compared to today.
That first peek through the curtains over the beach and the Atlantic revealed a very pleasant and virtually cloudless day. However the forecast predicted a thunderstorm at 4.00pm. If that was to happen, then 2½ hours of racing would produce a valid result given that in that time they would have done more than 50% of the scheduled 200 laps. But that won’t happen. How could the weather possibly change that quickly? After all we’re not in Melbourne.
We were in the Midway again by 9.30am. This time the place was teeming with people, all of whom, like us, just wanted to soak up the atmosphere. Aimlessly wandering around is one way of putting it. Unlike 2012, we even found Marcus Ambrose T-Shirts on sale, not that anyone bought any. He’s just not popular over here. Possibly because Yank fans associate him with keeping one of their own out of a drive. “Why import an Australian over here when we have plenty of our own home-grown who can do the job?” I doubt that Ambrose will last much longer in a ride.
Our tickets today were on the back straight “SuperStretch” in the Allison Stand. An interesting place to watch it from and with two huge MCG size infield TV screens to show the action on, you wanted for nothing. Nor do you have to go thirsty because for whatever reason many years ago someone decided to build the Budweiser Party Porch adjacent to the back straight grandstands. A massive open air structure which as the name suggests is a porch, but of a size that would equal two US football fields, 8 stories off the ground I’d say. The front provides an unobscured view of the track, the middle section has tables and chairs and the rear section has bars and food vendors.
As our GST people gradually made their way by tram shuttle from the Midway to the back straight, the Party Porch became the meeting place. At one stage it was so warm up there we pulled our tables back under some giant sails that provided shady relief from the sun. Drivers were introduced, National Anthems were sung, the gentlemen (and Danica) were asked to start their engines and before we knew it the cars were idling around beneath us on the first of their three warm-up laps.
At 1.30pm the race was underway. After a couple of early cautions and around 28 laps had been run, just about everybody on the western side of the track (where we were) watched as giant black “thunder bumper” clouds began building in the northeast. Was this the 4.00pm T-Storm arriving early? To be honest, at that point we should have left, but no one wants to be first, do they? Our own resident weather man Luke was monitoring the storm on his phone and pointed out that it had lots of nasty red and black bits in it. You don’t want red and black bits in the radar believe me.
But we stayed because no rain was falling yet and hence the race was continuing. But not for long did it stay that way. The racing was halted, cars were dragged under cover into the pit garages, and those with any sense departed the scene as quickly as they could. The rain drops became bigger and more constant until it simply became a monsoonal downpour. Thunder and lightning quickly cleared the people out of the all metal stands who then went and stood underneath them to shelter from the rain. Presumably lightning is not permitted to strike a grandstand and those underneath it …..
But we were under there as well. The track constantly broadcast warning messages that more severe weather was coming our way and that they absolved themselves from all responsibility. After 30 minutes or so, it was decided that a small break in the rain provided an opportunity to get to the Shuttles (which were still running bless their souls) and then make a run for our bus which was parked at least half a mile away. Total separation occurred at this point and hopefully everyone would meet up later.
Whilst on the Shuttle tram, the heavens broke again and didn’t close up until the bulk of the group were safely in the bus. We were not just wet, but saturated through to the skin. The walk back to the bus was through giant puddles, wind and tornado warnings coming through on everyone’s phone. A neat trick that. If the phone company you’re with knows you are currently in an area where weather warnings must be given, you get a general broadcast text message. Yes, it was predicted that a tornado could form quickly in the Daytona county area. (It didn’t by the way, so don’t feel too sorry for us!)
Marilyn had decided not to go to the 500 (wise in the extreme wasn’t she?) so Kenny was let off the leash. He had stopped to talk to everyone up on the Party Porch and we tended to forget about him. And of course the Chief Steward was the only one without a phone. And guess who wasn’t back on the bus? We waited for an hour for our Kenny to turn up but there was no sign of him, so the decision was made that the saturated ones needed to get back to the Hotel to change and get ready for whatever tonight brings.
Just as we are pulling into the Hotel, my phone rings. “Hello is that Mr Peter Physick?” I answer yes and then I hear “This is Police sergeant whoever (he did give his name). Do you know a man called Ken Holland?” My heart jumped. What had happened to him? “I have Mr Holland here beside me.” Can I talk to him I said and then I hear the phone being transferred and the sheep farmer from Heywood comes on and asks “where are you lot?”
He had found some people to chat with in the stands during the rain and just figured he would stay there because he had come to watch a race and wanted to see it. Kenny was convinced the rain would go away. But I encouraged him to find his way to the Outback Steakhouse and we would come back and pick him up. Which was duly done. So the rest of that afternoon was spent drying out and waiting for updates to come through from the track. NASCAR and Daytona were determined to run the rest of the race tonight.
The turbine powered track dryers were out in force once the rain stopped around 6.00pm. In the meantime our group strolled down to the Oyster Pub for dinner and watched the multiple TV’s for the latest updates. The news flash appeared across the screens that an 8.30pm start was anticipated, so we rounded everyone up (including Marilyn who must have decided she needed to keep an eye on Kenny) and jumped on board the bus and away we went again. This time there would be no parking the bus a mile away from the back straight. I figured some people at least would not be returning and that vacant prime parking spots would be available in the official area.
And of course it worked. Turning up with a full bus load of people to a guy on the gate who really couldn’t give a stuff because he should have been home in bed three hours ago, meant that we were waved through to the bus parking area and we parked about 100 metres away from the back straight entry gates. Perfect!!
The night was cool, but still and the rain had disappeared so there was a big chance the remaining 170 laps or so would be run. Most of the group went back to the Party Porch while others sat in the stands. Either way the view was excellent. Like the day before with the Nationwide race, there was an accident with seven laps to go and the caution lights came on. It took five laps to clean it up hence we had another green, white chequer finish with the last two laps run under green. Dale Earnhardt Jnr held on to win and (some of) the crowd went nuts.
Dale Jnr is loved or hated, there is no in between with American fans. Some booed and walked straight out, while others melted in the glory of his win. It was his second 500 victory, the first being 10 years ago in 2004. It was late in the night and no one really wanted to hang around so it was back to the beach and the Hotel for I presume a reasonably early night for most.
Day 21 – Monday February 24th 2014
Given that NASCAR got the 500 run and won late last night, Monday became a day to visit Racing’s North Turn. The best way to describe this place is for you to read about it by clicking on the following link. And then watch the first video on the top of the page. Click here.
The North Turn is where NASCAR started. There was no Daytona Speedway; in fact Super Speedways as they call them now did not exist in 1936. The Good Old Boys got together and decided that the hard packed sand of Daytona Beach at Ponce Inlet provided an ideal surface for them to race on. Trouble was the beach was not wide enough for them to have cars going both ways on an oval course. Especially when the tide came in. So that was solved by racing two miles along the beach then turning left at the North Turn and racing back two miles along the bitumen of the A1A highway to the South Turn.
140 cars used to start and many drivers were killed due to the rudimentary safety standards applied back then. But never mind, hundreds of other returned WW2 soldiers who survived the war figured they could stay alive in Stock Car racing as well and queued up to enter their cars.
We had lunch here and afterwards gave out a few GST Awards, seeing as how the Tour was all over tomorrow. Russell had become everyone’s favourite tour member. Especially after his decision at age 68 to drive the 16 laps at Daytona with the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Everyone chipped in to get Russ a Number Plate (the Yanks call them Licence Plates) which are popular over here because you do not need a front number plate. Hence people buy special plates to suit their needs and put them on the front of the car.
We had a specially made plate done for Russ with the outline of a NASCAR on it and in the middle we proudly put …. Russell Blackman: Daytona Speedway 2014: 163 mph. We all signed it on the back and presented it to him at the North Turn overlooking the beach where they used to race. He was stoked as you might imagine. The other award went to Richard who received a pair of Superman shorts for services rendered to the local Daytona community.
The evening was spent with firstly people agonising over the weight of their luggage after making a trial pack and secondly in the Rotunda on the lawns of the Hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It was important you see to ensure that the remaining contents left in numerous liquor bottles were emptied, as well as the $ beer esky. Russell should have won another award tonight if we had had a “Wobbly Boot” to give to him. Still riding high on emotion from his North Turn award, our Russ tested his capabilities against the remaining Jack Daniels and lost. It was a good job that the maternal Kim took pity on him as he departed the Rotunda and she assisted him to the lift and then along the corridor on level 6 to his room. Like the seagulls at Kennedy Space Centre, if only the video camera was with me to record this unexpected episode I would easily have won another $100k. Good on you Russell, you’re a champ!!
Day 22 – Tuesday February 25th 2014
All good things must come to an end at some time and today marked the moment when tour members had to leave Daytona. Some were heading straight home, one was going to Charlotte to tour NASCAR workshops, four were going to Las Vegas, one was going to Hawaii, one was cruising out of Fort Lauderdale and one was returning to Key West.
Pete Hanson and I had to return the bus to Miami and at 9.00am everybody lined up out the front to say their teary farewells. And guess who was first down there? You got it …. Russell, looking like he was ready for another 16 laps. Second was Richard, another huge effort considering his post Rotunda experience last night. Hugs, kisses, hand shakes and high fives all round followed before the bus turned left into Atlantic Avenue for the last time until we do it all again 2016.
Peter Physick – February 2014