86400 Seconds of SPEEEED

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 16:42

This year I attended the Rolex 24 race in Daytona Jan 29/30. Without a doubt, the Rolex 24 is something every motorsports fan should experience at least once. First of all, the event is a phenomenal entertainment value - the basic all-access pass for the weekend is only $85 and included a practice day and a Continental Tire Challenge race day. Although you can purchase various "VIP" group packages for meals and other events, the basic pass allows access to all seating areas and garages during the race and pit/grid walks before the race. It's an incredible level of access to the teams and cars and many excellent viewing points. With 24 hours of racing there's plenty of time to see the race from all locations.

In order to really absorb the flavour of the race and because I'm cheap, instead of a hotel, I camped out in the infield camping area of the track, the main feature of which is a 36-hr Gong Show performed by professional tailgaters. It turns out that a marginally muffled Mazda RX-8 zoom-zooming by at ~200mph only 50m from your tent is not as sleep-disruptive as you'd think once you are tired enough.

He Said, I said.
The track is huge and the crowds are small. I've watched lots of races from Daytona on TV and you just don't get the proper sense of the scale of the place on TV. The road course track is 3.56 miles long and with access to all seating areas plus all of the infield track area, it would be impossible to not find a great place to watch from - in fact, given the length of the race, you have time to check out ALL the best view points and you never have to fight anyone for space or seating.

I also had passes for the Grassroots Motorsports Experience which included a couple dinners, coffee and donuts each morning, access to the GRM tent and some GRM-specific pitwalk access, etc. They had a full schedule of GRM-hosted events throughout the event. Well worthwhile.

The access to paddock and garages is wide open. As you can see from some of my photos, fans can simply walk into any of the garages and be as nosy as the crews will tolerate. The hot pits are technically "off limits" but you can walk behind them about 10 feet back behind a fence and get a pretty good view. I say technically, because the security to the hot pits is kinda lax and (I learned too late) some of the teams that are out of the race early pack up and fans can discreetly move into their vacated pit area to watch the race up close.

The camping was a bit of an adventure. I roughed it in a simple tent in the infield campground. Most of the other campers were true pros. Our next door neighbor John was something of an amateur chef and brought along his full-size propane meat smoker and cooked up a feast each day, which he happily shared. Yum. Chicken, Beef, Sausages, Bacon. John's dad used to race a Lotus 19 back in the day...

Some of the multi-group camp setups were elaborate. "Beer Town" had a full kitchen w/ 3 or 4 BBQ's, a large flatscreen tv and a foosball table. One family with a campsite backing onto the track erected a kids play fort/slide/gym thingy. Adults w/ beer and lawn chairs on the top deck and kids running around the rest. Another group had 3 of the tents like we use for timing set up and strung up with rope lighting all around and underneath they had laid down snap-together plastic B&W checkered flooring. They had a kitchen and a bar with stools, two flatscreens, a sound system, a bar table and barstools and of course a disco ball. Another group had a 30+ ft high construction scaffold set up in the back of a pickup and they somehow got a large sofa up on the top of it. They would have had a great view of the chicane/busstop on the superstretch and most all of Nascar turns 3&4 and the front stretch.

Our camp, by contrast, consisted of a small tent, two folding chairs from Wal-mart, a cheap styro cooler that was destroyed by falling on it (twice!), and a rented Toyota Camry. The entire campground was a big party for most of the night with race coverage and music etc., everywhere. Not that you could hear much of it, the cars were loud and I had earplugs in all weekend.

 As this was the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, part of the celebrations for the weekend included a few parade laps by winning cars of the previous 49 races, and an open-house showing of the cars over the weekend. Definitely a lot of drool-worthy hardware to gawk at up close and a real thrill to see and hear most of them on the track. 

Another friend attending the race let me know about a really cool service - for $20 ea, I rented a scanner radio with headset for the weekend. The scanners picked up all the chatter from the drivers and crews as well as had feeds for the TV broadcasts & commentary. Plus they doubled as hearing protection. Listening in to all the team comms was a really fun addition to the experience. We'd often hear about issues w/ the cars exactly as they were reported and diagnosed by the teams and well before the official commentators had anything to say about it. It's also interesting to get a perspective of the human side of things as the drivers, crew and officials make mistakes, get confused, etc. Excellent value for $20.

All in all, a fantastic experience that I'd definitely like to do again.The best way to describe the Rolex 24 is that it's not so much going to a race as it is completely immersing yourself in motorsport culture for an entire long weekend. Most definitely a must-do bucket list event for any gearhead.

Check out the rest of my photos from the weekend on my Picasa album.


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