It’s Just a Difference of Opinions

By Susan Phillips

I’ve written here before about my oldest son, Eric. He has been going to Indy with us every single year since 2004. George converted him to an IndyCar fan at an early age and he still is one today.

Eric came out to our house last month to watch the championship race at Laguna Seca. Neither he nor I had ever watched a race from there and George started explaining the history of that track. After the race, Eric stayed for dinner. While George was in the other room typing his race re-cap, Eric started asking me about what tracks we went to this year and which ones I liked best. George overheard me say that I didn’t care for St. Pete. He stopped his typing to come out and ask why not.

He seemed to take it personally that I said I didn’t enjoy that race. I’m not sure why, because I told him at the time I didn’t like it.

I enjoyed getting away to Florida in early March (who wouldn’t?). All of our travel was nice and we ate some good seafood. But I didn’t care for being at the track at all.

This was the first time either of us had been to a temporary street race. I didn’t realize until we got there just how temporary everything is at a street race. The first day there that Friday, we used the media parking pass they had sent us. It was in a downtown parking garage that was far, far away from the track. I think we walked about a mile and a half before we got inside the track. Once there, a friend of ours gave us his parking pass he had bought, because they were staying directly across the street from the track and didn’t even have a car, so at least that worked out well for us.

But everything seemed so makeshift there. The paddock was very bizarre. Some of the teams were housed inside a parking garage just off of the track. But it was so dark in there that they all had floodlights set up, so they could see to work on the cars. Other teams were placed in the daylight outside the parking garage.

We had to cross the track on a temporary bridge set up for the race. As cars from the support series went underneath, the whole bridge shook from the wind from the cars. I get motion sickness and that sort of made me queasy just crossing over it. George doesn’t get motion sickness, so you know how much sympathy I got when I said it had upset my stomach.

We finally made it to the media center, but it was also makeshift. It was located in the second floor of a local performing arts theater in a room that overlooked part of the track. The seating was first come, first serve and there was only one spot left. It made sense for George to get it since he did most of the writing and posting from there. But I usually do a post from the track and I take all of the photos. I needed a space too, but I was lucky to get an empty chair off to the side, with no electrical outlets.

The whole temporary setup just seemed strange to me. The seats along the main straightaway (an airport runway) were all temporary bleachers, the winner’s circle was a temporary setup in a strange location behind the pits. And all of the concession stands looked like something you’d see at a weekend carnival at the local mall parking lot. George seemed to be intrigued with the idea that in a few days this would all be gone. I found nothing intriguing at all about it. It just seemed to have a cheap feel to it.

On Saturday, we walked to the far end of the track to get what were supposed to be better views. There was a small park at the far end of the track. While that part was kind of neat for an in-town setting, the track was so tight through there, you could only catch a quick glimpse of the cars as they went whirring by. And did I say that we walked? That meant we had to walk back.

We ended up watching qualifying and the race from behind the pits and watching the video screen set up across the track. We could see the pit stops right in front of us, but because of the concrete barriers set up, we could see nothing on the track except for the top of the driver’s helmets going by.

I felt very detached from the race and the track. I was surprised to see that there were a lot of people there each day, because it really didn’t feel like a race track. It felt more like a neighborhood street festival that happened to have race cars going by.

I told George while we were there that it was a fun weekend, but as far as the race and the track was concerned, it was my least favorite track. So I don’t know why he acted so surprised when he heard me tell Eric the same thing six months later. Based on that experience, I don’t know that I ever want to go to a temporary street race again.

And now he’s talking about going to Long Beach next April. I’m sure I’ll go and have fun on the west coast, but I’m afraid the race and the track will be much of the same that we experienced in St. Pete. Is it just me? Am I expecting too much from a temporary track?

I love going to different tracks. I like some more that others, but I have good things to say about every one I’ve been to except for St. Pete. If anyone has been to both tracks, will I like Long Beach better? George has talked about us getting Passports just so we can go to the Toronto race someday, but I’m afraid it will be just like St. Pete. To those of you that go to a lot of temporary tracks, please tell me what I’m missing.

8 Responses to “It’s Just a Difference of Opinions”

  1. John Oreovicz Says:

    You may enjoy Long Beach more. There’s the Expo, a couple concerts, the celebrity race (if they still run it), and there are several vantage points where you can actually see the cars on track. There’s much more of a “big event” vibe and the people watching is second to none.

  2. Try to erase that memory of the concrete jungle and join us once again at the national park of speed-Road America. We’ll leave the light on for you.

  3. If George is insisting on more street races, have him take you to Monaco! Of course it’s in May so that’s probably a no go for George. Take lots of money if you do go. It will probably kill your budget for all other tracks! 😕

  4. billytheskink Says:

    All the street races I have been to happened in one city, which was their greatest appeal… as I lived in that city. Traveling 20-30 minutes to a race from your own house is a lovely life experience, no matter what the track is like.

    I find the experience of a street race to be pretty similar to that of a road course race, in that your sightlines are usually quite limited and moving around is advisable to get the best viewing experience. Road courses often have much more general admission space to move around to, though. The setting of a road race is usually much more appealing, too, and parking is usually easier.

    I cannot speak for St. Pete’s stands, but I’ve sat in so many hard, rickety bleachers watching short track races and high school sports that the ones at the street (and road) races I’ve been to don’t really bother me. In fact, I would say they are generally a good bit nicer than the seating at a lot of those little race tracks, football stadiums, and baseball fields.

  5. Chris Lukens Says:

    A very brave post actually. You have put your finger exactly on the problem I have with every street race – How do you know what is going on? I can’t bring myself to pay $60 – $120 for a ticket just to watch the top of a driver’s helmet go by every 30 seconds or so. People keep telling me what a great party it is, or what a great concert it was. Well, if I want to go to a party I’ll go to a party. If I want to go to a concert I’ll go to a concert. I want to go to a race.

  6. Talón de Brea Says:

    I prefer a natural terrain road course (favorites include Sebring, Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, Portland, Sonoma, Riverside (RIP)) — yet with temporary circuits on city streets, there’s a lot to be said for proximity to one’s own home or the home of friends or relatives, or to hotel/motel accommodations (camping can be a real attendance-enhancer at non-urban courses such as Sebring, Pocono, Road America, etc., where accommodations can be limited or at least far flung) but if camping’s not desired or possible, city circuits with ample sleeping options allow you to fly in and fly out and sleep with a roof over your head). Indoor plumbing and the chance to duck into airconditioning for a break can be nice features at a temporary circuit, as well.

    Then there’s the added bonus of spectators — both for people watching and to make the weekend seem like more of an event. With a temporary circuit, there is that sense of the circus being in town, which you alluded to, and which can work for or against the event, depending on your viewpoint.

    Being from the general St. Pete area, I have to say that I’m pleasntly surprised at how well everything works, given the limitations of the middle portion of the course, the concrete canyons, the eccentric paddock arrangements, etc. I think the “spring training” and “new season” vibe, good event management, and the pleasant weather help. Sure, there’s no way the track can compare to Road America (still haven’t been — glad it’s getting a lot of love from race fans), but it’s a nice event in a state that supports auto racing.

    That having been said, as I mentioned earlier this year in an e-mail to George, as much as I like the St. Pete race weekend, my current closest local race, Long Beach, is easily four times the “event” that St. Pete is (probably a conservative estimate). Maybe that means you’ll dislike it four times more, but then maybe you’ll like it more — attending the second-biggest race in the series would be a nice way to find out.

    Whatever you decide, thanks for the commentary and your informed opinions — and for managing to make George seem like the rational one, at least this once!

  7. if you didn’t like Disney World maybe you won’t like Disney Land.
    FL and CA with the same structure of entertainment.

  8. Long Beach is my local race and for a time I could be down there in 15 minutes. There is so much racing going on all weekend! The only extra you pay beyond a race ticket for a seat or general admission is the IndyCar paddock, which is well worth the money. You are also located right on the beach with usually warm and sunny weather. I would be happy tell you more, Susan. Just email me.

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