Adventures and Memories
Tom Kjos's ALMS 2003
Burnsville, Minnesota, USA – The 2003 American Le Mans season certainly gave us entertaining racing, but as always, it gave us other adventures and memories just as important.

Sebring Is Rain, the Finish Line, Green Cars, and Emeril
Sports cars have always meant quite a bit more than the racing of them. The wanting of them as cars to own and to drive has always been part of what this sport is all about, and what makes it unique. What in the heck would (or could) one do with a Formula 1 car? Why in the heck would anyone want a Winston Cup car? But a Corvette C5? A Ferrari 550 Maranello, or better yet (to these eyes) a 360 Modena?

dailysportscar.comHow about a Bentley Speed 8? Huh? That’s a prototype, isn’t it? Ah, but it is a car with a top, and remember the “street legal” conversion of the 962 by Dauer a few years back? We saw those little green cars (you’d be astounded how small they look) and we fell in love. Swoopy comes to mind. Shark-like. They look like they are moving standing still. Pictures can’t do them justice. They are border-line “take it home and drive it” cars, like an open top prototype or open wheel car can never be. Damn the limited racing program that only tantalized us with one opportunity to see that car in a real racing environment here in the colonies.

It rained at Sebring on Friday night. We survived that, though it was rain like we haven’t often seen. That sent us home – well not really – it sent us to the Finish Line Bar and Grill at the Inn on the Lake in Sebring, the local watering hole for the whole fifty plus years of Sebring races.

dailysportscar.comBurt Levy (left - selling his wares) was there, and so were the Auberlen boys. Nancy Schilke of Motorsport.com, too. And Cort Wagner. Party time. One of those all-too-infrequent times on the ALMS caravan when there is really time to relax and socialize. In a Texas sports bar for F1 from Australia was one, a restaurant in Monterey with Sylvia and BMW was another.

We usually “decompress” after a race – that is we don’t head for a plane right after the checkered flag flies. That is especially true for endurance events like Sebring, where we stay through Sunday into Monday following the Saturday race. That leaves time for other attractions of the area. There is a cooking show on “The Food Channel” by one Emeril Lagase, New Orleans chef and recent “darling of the chic.” Jeannie finds him entertaining and the food enticing. Last year on a trip to New York, where he was taping his television show, she asked if we could go. I demurred from sitting in a television studio audience with the comment that “I’ll be glad to actually go to one of his restaurants..” and promptly forgot the whole thing. Jeannie didn’t, which is why we came to stay the Sunday after the race at Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort in Orlando, which has – you guessed it – an Emeril Lagase restaurant.

Sebastopol
Sebastopol is a city in the Crimea, of course, and the Crimean War was the one where the Light Brigade was immortalized by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Sonoma is a quaint little town. Napa is not. In fact, Napa reminded us of, well…Green Bay. Which is fitting I guess, the wine to go with the cheese. They’re about the same size. One has a football stadium and the other has not much of note that we could see. Undoubtedly a wonderful place to those who live and work there, but really too big to have the kind of character that a place like Sonoma has, or Sebastopol, though the latter has more of a “country” feel. Napa has too many one-way streets. We drove around a bit, didn’t see anything interesting, and left.

dailysportscar.comWe intended to go home to Sebastopol, but were drawn in to a little roadside tavern called Joe’s Place on California 116 on the way to Sebastopol, where the talk was of the SOB the lady at the end of the bar had recently divorced. This is a place where they knew lots of things about the 49’ers and about pickled eggs. If they know anything about racing, it is about Winston Cup or Super Modifieds at the local “bull ring” or “figure eight” – even in California (you thought that culture was just in the south?). We missed dinner tasting wine and talking about sports cars with the Brits in Napa. So we had dinner at Joe’s Place; warmed-up frozen pepperoni pizza and a Bud – not Emeril’s, but special in its own way.

Trois Rivieres
We didn’t know at the time that it would be our last in this quaint corner of North America. We don’t really mourn the passing of any street course, but we do consider any visit to Quebec, the French outpost in North America, a treat. A few years ago, we went to the F1 circus in Montreal. It was a blast. Since then we have been at two races in the small town of Trois-Rivieres, about 100,000 people; like Green Bay, Pueblo, and Napa – but different, of course. We commuted from Montreal the first year, and from Quebec the second. The latter was better, if for no other reason than it was fresh – somewhere we had never been. Here is what we wrote about it this past August:

This city 125 km Northeast (of Trois Rivieres) along the St. Lawrence River is the soul of the French in America. This is where one of the defining battles of the “new world’s” history was fought in 1759 between French commander Louis Joseph Marquis de Montcalm, who died of wounds the morning after the battle and Major General James Wolfe, the British commander who was killed on the field. Wolfe won the battle and thus ensured that Canada would remain a part of the British Empire, not the French. This is a place where the populous is determinedly French, to all of our advantage, because this is a city of charm, grace, and beauty.

That (along with some chicken cooked in Jameson) remains our memory, and such is why we mourn the passing of le Grand Prix de Trois Rivieres.

The Lights Went Out in Canada
We arrived about 75 km east of Toronto, and checked into our motel and headed out to relax and get something to eat – when the lights went out. We were in the car, but we knew something was amiss when all the traffic lights were out for the two mile distance we drove. The restaurant-bar was still open, and the staff gladly pointed out that the beer was still cold – and of course we had no reason to believe that the power wouldn’t be back soon. We soon figured out that it would last long enough to outlast our hunger, so we ordered chips and salsa.

Not much later we were back at our little motel along the freeway – and something we had never seen before, people, lots of them – outside, in the parking lot, chatting with perfect strangers. It is easy to see how in the absence of electricity a “tribal” (and convivial?) culture exists. For the first time in memory, we truly paid attention to our “neighbors.” We ran out of beer. We couldn’t start a campfire. We went to bed early. Of course.

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Siebkens and Friends
We had dinner at Seibkens, and spent a couple of nights in the bar there – the same place immortalized in Burt Levy’s “The Last Open Road”. Buddy Palumbo wasn’t there of course, and neither was Phil Hill, but Fiona Miller and Care Racing Development-Prodrive made it a sea of red after the Ferrari team’s first win of the season.

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My closest friend made it as a guest of DSC, and was most impressed. Even a fan of multiple 1980’s IMSA events was impressed by “the show.”

Jungle Cat and friends made the trip and joined Tom Green and family, adding more colorful characters to the event. Hospitality in the Carousel – you can’t beat that. Beer, brats, corn-on-the-cob; does it get any better than this?

The Sea, the Beautiful Sea
There is no place like the Monterey Peninsula for us. We love every bit of it, and have written more than once about its attractions.

dailysportscar.comIt’s also a place that attracts the “beautiful people,” like Kim Novak, Bing Crosby and many others, including the gentleman at the bar in the courtyard of the Hog’s Breath, the establishment once owned by former Carmel mayor Clint Eastwood. He was chatting up the bartender and browsing through the real estate ads in the “Carmel Pine Cone.” Came down from San Jose, he explained. Interested perhaps in picking up some property. Flew down in a private jet…described the big turn out over the Pacific at the end of the short flight. He took little note of us, and when we mentioned we were there for the sports car race he didn’t seem to be aware of it, or very interested. Soon he paid for his drink and left, and we went to dinner – a disappointment, the menu having lost its “For a Few Dollars More” charm.

We didn’t think any more of it, until the next day in the pits at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Because there he was. With a GT team. Working.

Moon Over Miami
The hotel was right on the course, above the start-finish line. Last year we were about as far away as this year’s ALMS paddock. Regis has mostly good things to say about this race – at least as an event. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, we think. We don’t need an ALMS race to get to Miami – we’ve made the trip a number of times before with no race. The race in this case just makes it more work than pleasure.

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Except for being able to see what we think was Biscayne Bay just about a quarter mile from our hotel room, we could just as well have been in Milwaukee (that might not clinch it either, of course, given that Lake Michigan is in the same place relative to downtown Milwaukee). In fact, I’d be quite surprised if Milwaukee were as boring as Miami on a summer night. It’s all shut down. No little markets, no bars, no clubs, no shopping – nothing except for hotels, most of which shut out all but their own guests. Of course there is “Bayside,” but heck, that is nothing but a shopping mall, with all the usual suspects, including eatery chains Bubba Gump’s, Hooter’s, and Hard Rock Café. You don’t have to be in Miami for any of that. The Hard Rock was the site of one of Hazardous Sport’s parties on Saturday night after the ALMS race – the crowd enticed by a couple of free drink tickets. Other than a short chat with JJ in the hotel lobby on Friday night, that would have been the highlight of the weekend, if it hadn’t been for JJ (and Johnny) on Saturday. During the race, dailysportscar Pit Reporter Jeannie was doing her usual thing, working the pits for news or the occasional photo. In the heat at Miami, that’s tough work, and she perched on the pit wall for a bit of a rest as JJ Lehto brought in the race leading Champion R8 for fuel, and a change-over to co-driver Johnny Herbert. Dutifully, she took a couple of shots and satisfied, put the camera in her lap. All was routine and how many of those shots are there over a season? JJ was standing over Johnny when the fire broke out. In the end, no one was hurt, and after bailing, JJ returned to finish buckling in Johnny and the latter drove the car to the win. The photo sequence was up on dailysportscar.com before the end of the race. Sometimes you’re in the right place. But we’ll still take Milwaukee.

On to 2004
We keep hearing disquieting news – people leaving, teams leaving. We don’t know whether there will be more or less teams on the track in the coming season. We don’t know if they’ll be faster or slower. We don’t who will dominate and who will have bad luck. We do know that the racing will be at Sebring, Laguna Seca, Sonoma, Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Road America, Lime Rock… What more do we need to know than that?
Tom Kjos

 

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