2,789 miles; that’s how long it took me to travel by car, to and from St. Pete Florida and the Poconos. That is the number of miles traveled to get sunburned, meet a childhood hero, flirt with the captain of the Tampa Bay Bucs Cheerleader team, and get totally confused who was in the lead.
I left for Florida the Monday before the race, first having to clear four inches of wet slushy snow. My car has an exhaust leak, so I had to drive with my window open a few inches in the cold of Pennsylvania. This problem was not so bad once I entered the warmer boundaries of Maryland and all points south.
Once I reached my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Spring Hill, my left arm was as red as the Target cars. Some would call it a “trucker’s tan”, I like to call it my “Open Paddock tan”. I spent two nights with my Aunt and Uncle in Spring Hill, and then the next two nights were with my other Aunt and Uncle in tropical hot Fort Myers.
Saturday morning I came back to St. Pete, having received my credentials Thursday on the way to my Uncle in Fort Myers place. Being back in the paddock and on pit road is a high I can never get enough of.
I was shocked to see the sponsor Telemundo on the sidepod of the Newman/Haas 02 of Servia. The Comcast owned Latin network will partner as a sponsor for the team, and also in promoting the IZOD INDYCAR Series to its Latin audience.
I have to say, this makes sense. How many South Americans compete in the series? Makes sense for both INDYCAR and Comcast to go after this demographic.
As for the facility; it is really a nice layout, great scenery, and very well attended. While there might have been empty seats on the front stretch stands for the crazy start, the place was packed with fans. The area is a buzz with the event taking place; this is a far cry from what I saw with ISC and Watkins Glen last summer. The turnout is far better since St. Pete is heavily promoted both locally and nationally.
On my way to St. Pete Saturday morning heading north to Tropicana Field; I saw a large number of vehicles with Indiana tags heading in the same direction. While not all might have been going to the race, a decent number had signs of being fans. It is nice to have a loyal base, but it really needs to start expanding beyond Indiana residents. Fans from many other states come down too, but it seems the Indiana area is the leader.
While it is nice Comcast is upping the promotion with Telemundo they have so many more outlets to use; regional Comcast Sportsnets, G4 (A network geared for 15-35 year olds), and even the Daily Show (who has all sorts of guest not just political with a demographic around 15-35 also). Let’s hope Telemundo is only the start of expanded promotion. There needs to be more loyalty in forty nine states outside of Indiana.
I was also happy to write for INDYCAR Nation this weekend as well. It was a blast interviewing fans Saturday, and taking in the excitement of the fan and driver interactions. This series really knows how to treat their fans good, and really provide the most bang for their buck. You have a better chance of meeting and speaking to the stars of this series (even Helio, “Mr. Dancing with the Stars”). There is no reason more fans can not be found, outside of the cult following it currently has. Just do more promoting to a “main stream” audience, ads on more Comcast networks, guests on more shows—just hustle harder. NASCAR is rapidly losing fans and ratings. Yet they still hold the lead.
As for staying in the St. Petersburg area; I crashed with a long time friend in Gulfport, about ten minutes away. It is a fun town that is affordable should you come next season. You might stay just outside of the little town in a motel, but Gulfport bars and restaurants are a nice place to spend the night for better prices than near the track.
Now race day at St. Pete this year was as beautiful as could be. The sky had nearly zero clouds, it was very warm with a little breeze by the bay. It was like heaven, perfect feel for a race, I just glided around the place with a smile. It was heaven; INDYCAR, no snow, no cold, no clouds, and then I get to pit road pre-race—Tampa Bay Bucs Cheerleaders are holding the driver signs.
I am walking the road taking pics of the cars, and of some “signs”. (*clears throat*) When I get to Sato’s car I am taking pics when suddenly I hear a female voice say, “Hey, I really like your hat!” I look up to see a smiling Asian Bucs Cheerleader talking to me.
“Oh,” reaching up I adjust my hat, “I’m a really big fan of NPB.” (NPB is Nippon Professional Baseball, Japanese MLB)
“Oh really?” As the beautiful woman tilts her head and smiles. “I’m from Osaka. I have not seen that hat in ages.” (The hat is my ‘Kintetsu Buffaloes’ cap; a throwback for a team that in the 1970’s & 1980’s dominated while calling Osaka home.)
“Yeah I got this hat since the Phillies current manager Charlie Manuel was a big deal on the team in the late 1970’s.” My heart pounds harder, I can’t believe a beautiful NFL cheerleader, FROM JAPAN, is getting so chatty with me.
“ I got you.” She replies with a smirk and adjusting her hair.
“I also have a Hiroshima Carp jersey in my suitcase for this trip.” I chirp quickly.
“Oh really.” She smiles more and tilts her head to her side, “Have you ever been to Japan?”
“No, not yet. Japan is a place I really dream of going to.”
“You should really go, you would love it there.” She suddenly winks at me.
“Oh trust me I would love to go, I love so much about Japan.”
“You are a really cool guy.” Again she winks. I then start taking her picture a few times. We laugh and try again after the breeze blows her hair over her face. Just as I get a good shot of her, a female in a red dress comes over and hugs her. I go on my way and take as many more shots as I can before the kick us out.
Just as they announce for drivers to get in their cars I am waiting to enter pit open. Suddenly the cheerleaders gather around me. And to my right is the cheerleader who held Sato’s sign.
“Why hello again.” She says while smiling at me.
“Long time no see.” I state and wink. I get a return wink, again.
As we then get a stop in driver intro pick-ups and carts moving in the track officials wave us in. When I walk to go back to taking pictures of the race personalities I make eye contact one last time. “Very nice meeting you, enjoy the race. And I hope you get to see Japan.” She says with a big smile.
“Nice meeting you too, and I hope to.”
I walk off to take more pictures, and then I realize how much of a spaz I am. I never gave her my card. I could have had her follow me on Twitter, maybe flirt some more. I’m in heaven and still can’t be smooth. UGH!
Moving on, I have stated the events of the race itself in my ‘Post race wrap-up’. I will say, the street venue is much harder keeping track of position if you are not glued to timing and scoring screens. It lacks the scoreboards a permanent course has. While at the restarts I saw Dario up front, late in the race he seemed to have vanished from my sight. I thought he fell way back and was starting to think Power was leading, with Kanaan and Simona running P2 & P3 respectively. The white flag brought my attention to Dario.
Having attended most races of my life along the pit road area, I only know how to keep track with a scoreboard that always shows positions. This was my first street race, and while it was a good one, I disliked the changing graphics and at times lack of positions listed for the front. I did know Simona passed Viso and not Kanaan late. Not sure many fans knew this, it had a massive roar from the front stretch stands when we saw that on the screen.
As the race came to an end, Simona had received chants from the crowd. Not all fans did, but a large enough group for me to hear over the noise. Her P4 finish may have been mistaken for P3 by many others. Regardless, we may have seen a glimpse into the future of not just Simona, but the series. The real deal is in the 78 car. Simona may be the biggest thing since Helio, or even Juan Pablo Montoya.
Below is a little video I put together. This one is of a Sato pit stop during the race under green. I am working on a Simona one also that I hope to have up in a few days too.
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