Here I am again, on the road, chasing racecars around the US! This evening I am in my hotel room at the Holiday Inn in Houston but I will update this thread as I progress along my Houston & Talladega roadtrip.
Up at the crack of dawn I set off for the airport, somewhat nervous, as I'd never flown to the US on my own before. I'm not sure what I expected would go wrong... plane hijacked by terrorists, refused access by the US immigration people, maybe the ultimate nightmare... sitting next to an abnoxious South African? Anyway, as it turned out, there were no problems at all. In fact, the flight was a pleasure, the food was great, the flight attendants were pleasant and, best of all, I was sat on my own so I could spread out in my seat. Fabulous.
As the plane made its way to the stand, we watched as another Continental plane passed beneath plumes of water from a couple of airport fire tenders. Slightly mystified, (Wikipedia suggests that it could be to mark the retirement of the pilot), the thought soon passed to the back of my mind as we made our way to immigration. Expecting an hour long queue, as I had encountered the last two times I flew into the US, I was amazed to fin myself walking straight through, without any delay, and with a friendly welcome from the immigration official too.
Maybe it's a fact of life of being British, but I expected that there would be problems around the corner somehow. But, no, my bags arrived safely and I picked up the car, a Mustang convertible, from Hertz without any problems. Welcome to America!
After a couple of wrong turns, I arrived at my hotel and checked in, before walking across to the Reliant Stadium to collect the tickets for the first two installments in my quest to chase racecars. Having collected the tickets I decided to go and explore the circuit and within a couple of minutes, a guy from one of the raceteams spotted my 'Le Mans 24 hour' cap and came up and introduced himself and started teling me his favourite memories from Le Mans. After chatting for about 25 minutes he apologised that he 'really had to go' as his car had been out on track for 10 minutes and, well, he was the crew chief, so he really should be in the pit box!!!
Still chuckling to myself as I left, I popped into Office Depot and picked up a copy of Microsoft Streets & Trips in the hope that it would help me avoid those aforementioned wrong turns for the rest of my trip.
With the change in timezones playing havoc with my sleep pattern, I woke at 4am, in pitch darkness. Somewhat surprising myself, I managed to go back to sleep for a couple of hours until it was light. Opening the curtains I had to convince myself that I was in Houston, not San Fransisco, I couldn't see more than 20' because of thick, and I mean THICK, fog. An unexpected start to the day!
Being British, I always look for the differences in culture between our two countries, and have developed a bit of an interest in baseball over the past two or three years. I always try and fit in a visit to any MLB ballparks if they are on my route and, with Houston being home to the Houston Astros, I really had to go and visit Minute Maid Park and, as I have always done before, pick up a souveneir baseball for my collection. Having installed the software that I bought yesterday, I plugged the GPS device into my laptop which, amazingly took me right to my destination.
Having walked around the perimeter of the park, and having been told at least four times that it had seen a concert by somebody called Jimmy Bufett the night previously - presumably he must be a big 'name' given the excitement with which the story was relayed - but the only thing I was interested in was getting a look around and picking up that baseball for the collection. It was a no-go, however, the place wasn't opening up until 2pm. Great.
I had previously arranged to meet up with Laura (lhuff from this site) and her sister at 12ish back at the track. Having originally planned to meet up for a drink and simply to put faces to the names, we managed to chatter for the rest of the day! Having missed most of the ALMS race as we chatted, I finally headed back to the hotel around 9pm! My ears were ringing for all the noise - okay, I really should have worn ear plugs, but I'm British and it's more manly not to! :) - and my throat was sore as hell for shouting constantly over the cars for hours on end. It had been a fun, but exhausting, day!
Having been tipped off by a guy in the hotel bar that I really should visit a place called 'The Waterwall', and keen to take off in the car for a bit, I decided to head off and have a look. According to the guy I spoke to, presumably he worked for the tourist board, it was 75' high and, pumping out 27,000 gallons a minute, it is better than Niagara Falls, something, according to this page which wasn't strictly true. Next time I'll do my research before heading off... especially as, when I got there, the damn thing was out of operation! Ah well, two days, two disasterous trips out... back to the race track.
Once again I met up with Laura and her sister but, before the Champcar race started, I left them to go and take up my seat in the grandstand. I felt bad leaving them to watch from the side of the track, especially as Laura's sister had a broken foot, I hope they'll forgive me!
I had been unable to book race tickets online, as Ticketmaster don't ship internationally, so I emailed the organisers one Saturday evening (very early Sunday morning local time) and was amazed to receive a personally typed response back within 15 minutes. From that time, the guy personally took care of sorting me out with my tickets, I'd been very impressed with the service he'd given right up until then - you just don't get that level of service in the UK - but I was blown away when I took my seat an realised it was one of the best in the house... on the front row, right on the start/finish line, with a great view of the pitlane.
I am really starting to enjoy my latest experience of the US!