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