Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Auto. Extremist.

The pic of me in that OMGWTF Audi R8, is here:

A few other pics were taken, and those will be forthcoming in some gallery or other.

I cannot begin to tell you just how bad it sucks to be home. The weather is cold (not that I mind the rain, but the chilly weather blows - quite literally), and the goddamn traffic... Every time I come home, I ask myself "self, why did I come home?" Then my dog looks up at me with his reddish-brown eyes matching his coat, and I forget what I was grumping about. I just wish the traffic up here was a little less... traffucked.

Anyway, if you know me, you know I'm in the middle of my usual week to ten days worth of hating life after a racing trip. My Sebring 2008 article's submitted, the PHOTOS ARE UP, TOO, and now I have time to just get back to the business of... what passes for life when I'm not Doing What I Do.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Home from Sebring. *sigh*

After a 17h 14m drive, which began with brunch at Denny's, a brief stop on the sand at Daytona Beach, and then playing through literally 1/2 of the songs on my iPod, I arrived safe at home at 0545 this morning, exactly 12 hours ago.

I've had a good bit of sleep, but I'm still quite knackered. I also have a deadline, so I probably won't be responding to many emails over the next 24 hours, but as of 1800 tomorrow, I should be back in circulation.

LOTS more, later.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sebring Saturday: Mid-race hyper-ness

Let me tell you a little something about Sebring: There is simply nothing else like it in the world. No, I'm not talking about the Green Park, with its Animal House antics and bizarre culture unto itself. And I'm not talking about the cars, teams, and drivers, because these are all the same people who race the rest of the season here as well as Le Mans. I'm not even talking about the weather, because I've seen more rain at the 24 Heures du Mans in recent years than we've had at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

No, I mean the track itself. As one team guy told me earlier today, "this is the exact opposite of the Daytona 24 we just ran. Daytona was 24 hours of heaven. This is 12 hours of hell."

Why is that, you might ask?

It's because this track is one hyper-challenging, unforgiving, mean-spirited bitch. She doesn't cut you any slack, and if you're lucky enough not to demolish the car when you go off-course, you still end up shoveling half of the dirt in southern Florida as you limp back to the pits.

Such is the case with today's race, just about halfway through. It seems as if nobody wants to win this one. The fastest car on the track all week, that being the Peugeot 908 HDi, suffered mechanical crapitude and is now running down in back. The lead was then inherited by the #1 Audi R10 TDI, who just fifteen minutes ago retired to the pits with some kind of engine failure (yes, an engine failure in an Audi, rare that may be). Many of the Big Dogs are just dropping like flies, be it an error in judgment or just plain bad luck.

Though, if I'm honest, maybe it's not just the unforgiving heartless bits of 3.7 miles of bumpy tarmac. Maybe there's more to it.

On my fifth trip to the historic race, I'm still discovering so many little things that all make this such a great event. Not just the parties in the infield, but the people there. The big fat smelly ocean of humanity, the no-shirt-no-shoes-no-problem beer-guzzlin' rednecks, and the prim wine & cheese crowd with nary a hair out of place. The people who drive in from 1000 miles away, and the locals who live just down the road. The ones who have been coming here for more than 50 years (yes, I've met quite a few), and the ones who are experiencing not just their first Sebring 12, but their first ever auto race. The people from so many different countries there aren't enough translators in all of Florida to make sense of it, the people with southern drawls so thick, they need their own translators...

It all comes together, and it all blends beautifully.

What makes this race so great, I think, is what has made our country the greatest place in the history of the world. It is where everyone else comes to be the best, and to challenge for the win. In Sebring, there is no McCain or Clinton or Obama. There are no pollsters and no breaks in the action - except for a caution flag or six. This is the greatest road race in North America, and international diplomacy played out on tarmac. The French, the Germans, the Brits and the Italians, the Swiss and the Aussies, the Kiwis and the Scots, and us, the Americans. Somehow, we all just get along and have the best damn time in the world.

Some people wonder what it is about motorsports that moves me so. What about it wakes me up in the morning and literally drives me to sacrifice so damn much, just to see a bunch of cars going fast on a road circuit. If you've read this far, I hope you have more of an idea now.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sebring notes, Thursday, Part 1

Yesterday left little time to post, given the 13-hour drive down from NC the night before. That, and the fact that I was positively knackered by the time the sun rose over the historic 3.7-mile road course here in Sebring, FL. Along with my "crew" (that would be Tim and his wife), we were all wasted from the trip and desperately in need of showers and sleep. By early afternoon, we'd decided to use what little coherency we had left, and retreat to the hotel.

Before we got going, however, I was offered a lap at speed around the course in an Audi R8. This ride, for once, is not a race car but a proper road machine, and I totally agree with Clarkson, it is STUNNING!

The Red Carpet Inn on Rt 27 certainly isn't the worst place I've stayed, but when I have to call the front desk to have someone come up and plug in all of the electrical things (alarm clock, microwave, mini-fridge, hair drier, etc), well, that's just odd. I have my own room, though, so I can sleep. The shower is nice n' hot, the A/C works, and the TV... well, they have good wireless, at least.

Anyway, cleaned up and rested, we were off to the Sebring Gala. For some reason, I'm still among the few of us media types who knows this party exists -- which is amazing, considering "free open bar" usually attracts everyone in the room. I was self-appointed Designated Driver last night, not wanting to overdo it and have hell to pay on Thursday, so my company took advantage of the free booze. Patrón is entering racing in a big way this year, both as a series/race sponsor as well as full sponsor of David Brabham's P2 Highcroft Racing Acura. So, to underscore their commitment to the American Le Mans Series, they saw fit to have their own Tequila bar at the gala, and do their best to get everyone annihilated. I had one small "Le Mans-arita" and a couple sips of a "Brabham Bender," their term for a straight shot of their agave silver. Good stuff, even if tequila isn't usually my thing.

This time, they weren't serving Tilt, so I didn't get "tilted" like I did last year. And I'm not rooming near Aunt Nancy, so I'm not getting attacked by the Grey Goose, either.

Time for GT-class combined qualifying -- either Jan Magnussen or Max Papis should take the pole.

More stuff later, as time permits!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Getaway in Appalachia - Days 1-2 of Sebring 2008

Mopars DO love mountains!

I'm currently in Burnsville, NC, way up in the Blue Ridge mountains. I started out on the drive on Sunday down I-81, but the sheer number of speed traps (15 in less than 100 miles) and the traffic incidents seemingly caused by people slamming on the brakes to avoid cops...

Well, it all got to be too much, so I diverted off I-81 onto Blue Ridge Parkway. Now, I've driven some of the most amazing roads in North America, but there is absolutely nothing that compares to this. I now have a very clear understanding of the term "breath-taking." I had to remind myself to breathe, it was that impressive.

As luck would have it, after about 200 miles of heaven, I ran out of road -- Blue Ridge Parkway is closed right near Boone, NC... so I had to re-route my course. This is where the road atlas came in handy: In the time it would take to re-program a GPS to map out a new course, I was able to duck into a Quik Stop, get coffee, check the atlas, and find Route 221 which leads down down to where I was headed.

What I didn't expect was for Route 221 to be the tightest, twistiest, least-forgiving ribbon of asphalt I have ever seen! This was like the Nürburgring, in North Carolina! I left probably 1/3 of the tread from my Falkens on that road, over a span of about 150 miles.

Where I'm from, if you take a curve too fast, you might hit some guardrail, or maybe a tree. Up here, you either eat a boulder the size of a small house, or... you fly off the side of the mountain.

Back home in DC, you might have to dodge a raccoon, a possum, maybe a fox or even a coyote. Up in Appalachia, the skunks are the size of small bears. I don't know what they eat, but I damn sure wasn't gonna' stop and ask.

Anyway, I'm rested-up, and will be getting back on the road to Sebring in just a few short hours. I'll probably be in touch sometime tomorrow, with a dispatch from the front stretch.

"there's more to life than gears and horsepower
not much, admittedly, but you get the point..." -- Road Kill