Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Finally Cooled Down

It was HOT last weekend during the run up to IndyCar's season finale race in Fontana, CA. Standing in the pits for qualifying on Friday afternoon (at 2 p.m., in August, 60 miles inland from the ocean), ambient temperature was 99F and the track temp was 137F. The heat radiating up from the concrete and asphalt was intense.

It made for an odd race weekend: practice at 10 a.m. Friday, qualifying at 2 p.m., and evening practice before sundown. All for a race that would take the green after the sun went down on Saturday—or at least after the sun dipped below the edge of the Speedway. The reason? Not the heat so much as the glare of the sun. Turns out, it's not a great idea to be blinded when you're flying down the back straight at 220 m.p.h.

Yes, you see that speed correctly. On the Auto Club Speedway's speed-billboard (standing in Turn 1 to catch top-speed on the front straight), I saw a high of 226 m.p.h., and the driver who took me around for a hot lap on Saturday (at noon, in a Camaro, with air conditioning going full blast) said the drivers in the race would easily hit 220. We topped out at 130 m.p.h.

After that Saturday hot lap, my friend @cogitoergobibo and I repaired to an air-conditioned restaurant for a late lunch, and then to our hotel rooms to cool off again. We ventured out again at 4 p.m. (still hot) to make the tweet-up with Pippa. (That's us, @cogitoergobibo, me, and Pippa; photo stolen from Pippa's photo album from the Fontana weekend.)

The sun started to go down, and we made our way to the temporary stage on the front straight where driver intros would happen. We had IndyCar Fan Nation access to be inside the rope line to watch drivers come out to the stage—and the first one down the line, working the crowd the whole way, was Mario Andretti.

And then it was nearly race time. We scrambled off the front grid and made it to our viewing spots in time for the green flag. I was lucky enough to be in a seat on the rooftop deck of the pit suites for most of the race—which was a perfect view and a perfect temperature. If you look closely at the photo below, you'll see the green flag was waving, and Helio Castroneves had taken the lead before the line.

After the race, we wandered between celebrations (Tony Kanaan's for winning the race, Will Power's for winning the championship) and finally made our way back to the car and the hotel. We passed In 'n' Out on the way, surprised at the enormous line at 11:30 p.m.—but maybe we shouldn't have been surprised, because according to Twitter, half of the paddock was there post-race.

Sunday was another adventure, as we headed into downtown LA for the IndyCar Championship Celebration. I got to handle Pippa's cell phone camera as she and her husband walked the red carpet, and then we chatted with new and old friends inside. It was a (mercifully) short ceremony, and then the season was over.

Thank goodness we had Monday, to recover, is all I have to say.

Once again, the "trip" to the race proved hugely valuable. I finished connecting with IndyCar last weekend—literally and figuratively. I've made some great new friends (all thanks to social media) who've been incredibly supportive and helpful about connecting me to more readers and resources: I put my first book in Sarah Fisher's hands on Friday, thanks to one friend (info on her, for my non-race-fan readers), and on Sunday I connected with the Director of Communications for IndyCar, who offered to help me with whatever I needed to write about IndyCar accurately (and forever!).

The business of racing really does happen at the race, but the family of racing is also vibrant and present every race weekend. I'm starting to really feel like one of the family, and it's a pretty neat feeling.

If you want to follow great racing writers, fans, and racers, check out @cogitoergobibo, @stevewittich, @tonydizinno, @nasarcasm, and @pippamann. They're good people.

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