Yes kids, good news to some, bad news to others, it seems you are stuck with me for a while longer.
Full disclosure: So I started to write this up earlier this weekend, and was going to finish up during the race, figuring it would be a festival of beautiful wide shots of the gorgeous facilities, and cutaways to filler reports to make up for the snoozefest of a race. Oops… misjudged that one! (and thank fucking god for that!)
so… on to the bloggy blog… there is no rhyme or reason to this one… some of you have been asking me about my trip, so these are just some random thoughts based on some notes I jotted down over the weekend. For those of you that come here for racing snark and sass… just skip over this one.
Ironically my personal suspicions leading into the weekend were confirmed (not gonna get into it here) and were it not for a couple of validating conversations with a couple of people who’s opinions and “friendships” I truly value, last weekend may have very well been my last. I put friendships in quotations because “friend” is a stretch, and “colleagueships” isn’t a word. (shout out to Mike Levitt and Curt Cavin for unknowingly talking me off the ledge)
So St. Petes…
I guess my main fear heading to the airport was this; What if the one thing that brings me the most joy in my life is no longer able to do that. All winter I felt like I was losing grip on it, and that it was being stolen away from me. (both by circumstance and force) I was also afraid of the underlying emotions still coursing so close to the surface. Which was the reasoning behind the word vomit pre-boarding in Toronto.
As I usually try to do, I arrived a day in advance to get my bearings and settle in. We stayed at a lovely “boutique” hotel, which was old and full of character (like me!), and had a nightly happy hour out on the expansive veranda.
Being at the track erased most of the doubt that I belong there. Some hearty hellos and “happy new year” hugs from my racing family immediately made me feel at home. Oddly enough, I also realized how many of the driver’s parents I’m close with! EJ’s dad actually chased me down on Friday, sad that I had failed to see him wave at me earlier in the day. (he’s a sweetheart!)
The sights, smells and sounds of the race track all sealed the deal.
Hard to explain to non-racing folks, but since none of you fall into that category, I’m confident you all get that. It’s home to me.
If that didn’t convince me to stick with it, then the first four conversations did. Michael Johnson (first handi-capable driver approved to race in the Road to Indy), Shannon McIntosh, Zach Veach, and Josef Newgarden. These are the future faces/voices of our sport. And as such, our sport is in very good hands. Those four conversations convinced me to fight for my right to be at the track to cover their meteoric rise through the ranks.
Michael is inspiring. Paralyzed doing what he loved, he chose a new vehicle (literally and figuratively) to carry out his passion. Shannon is strong and beautiful, a mix of athlete and covergirl, with no phoney air about her. Zach is adorable! Wise beyond his years, and the energy of terrier! You can’t help but smile in his presence. I have to resist the urge to scoop him up and hug him everytime I see him. And Josef, well Josef is the total package. I remarked when I chatted with him that he seemed to have turned into a man over the off season. I have an odd sense of pride when it comes to Josef. Like a teacher watching a student graduate. He is so young and so talented. Confident without being cocky, passionate, but realistic. Someday we will be talking about him in the same way we talk about all the great champions who have come before him. Of this I am confident.
So, now onto the cars…
I’ve been very vocal in my dislike for the new cars, but I must say, painted up in different liveries certainly improves the awkwardness of them. And there seems to be strength in numbers. Of course some of them still look bulbous and ugly, but that is the fault of the livery designer for not choosing lines/colours to compliment the bodywork.
anyway… I was used to it (the car) by the end of the weekend. It wasn’t “new” anymore. It was just the race car. I was more thrown by the new liveries, drivers at different teams, etc… I found myself wandering pitlane shooting during the first session actually surprised by the driver I found in the car. It felt really odd for the first day. *sidenote: I’ve also decided that if I’m lucky enough to still be here and be involved in this next year, I’m going to spring training. I wasted a whole day of shooting just trying to get my reflexes up to snuff again*
But what about the Turbos?
To be honest, they were really quiet actually. In fact, I didn’t even realize the cars were on track at first. I was expecting that sexy Cosworth throatiness… not so much.
It’s a lovely sound (certainly better than that whiny pig of an aspirated Honda engine) but not the “rattle your vertebra sexy” like the cosi did that I was expecting. Yes, I know I harp on Champ Car/CART stuff a lot, but hey, that is my history.
Walking around to the various corners to shoot, I could really see a difference in how the new car handles in the corners. Those that had a good handle on their car/set up were able to fling those puppies through the corner like they were on rails. They definitely looked faster. (especially on tv)
The Weekend itself…
It felt like any other race to me actually. It was a rather subdued atmosphere. Now maybe I was projecting that myself, but I really didn’t get a huge sense of excitement or anticipation. There was more of that online from people not at the race. But on the ground, it was quiet. I think there was a real sense of unknown, which dampened the usual amped up energy of the start of the season.
no horse in the race…
yes, Tags and Hinch are Canadian, and I’m a huge supporter of them, but y’all know who’s in my stable. It’s weird for me not having Paul in a car. Though admittedly, I’m more used to it now. It’s just odd not being in his pit stall for most of the weekend, especially on race day. I feel… un-anchored.
I was pretty proud of myself when I landed in St. Petes. I actually had a long conversation with my shuttle mate about Dan and the accident, and racing, without getting choked up at all. (she brought it up when she found out I was here for the race) In fact I was fine all day Thursday at the track.
But Thursday night, at the parade of all places, this float went by…
and from it were tossed strings of orange beads. And there in the darkness, a rainbow of beads around my neck, and a string of orange ones in my hand, I began to sob.
It was all very real again.
From that point I shut it down and put the memories and the emotions into a little compartment until Race Day.
Thankfully the tribute aired at the track on race day was short and simple, which was tear evoking enough. But the cheer from the crowd when beckoned to stand and cheer in his honour was huge, and made the hair on my arms stand on end.
Well, we’ve all debated it back and forth, and after today’s race, there is no doubt in my mind. They were all sandbagging last week. It was a safe, quiet, boring, gentlemanly race. It was a “lets see how much we can push it, but not do any damage” kind of race. It was a “lets race cleanly and come out of this weekend with no injuries or controversy of any kind for the sake of the sport” kind of race. It was the race that was needed after last years finale, but it wasn’t memorable in any way. Other than Helio climbing the fence by Dan’s sign.
Gelato and Fireworks…
By the end of my 4 days, I had been reunited with some treasured friends and been shunned by others. Had reignited my passion for shooting and writing. Had cried a little, drank a little, and laughed a lot. Had enjoyed good food, good company, and good conversation, and was more determined than ever to continue on this wacky journey in racing.
Fuck politics and road blocks and favoritism.
This is MY passion. This is MY life. And if I want to be there, I’ll be there. Period.
See you at the track.