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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
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    Default Chasing Cars: Houston/Talladega (and the Deep South/Texas)

    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.

    Day 1

    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.

    Day 2

    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!

    Day 3

    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!
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 04-22-2007 at 06:54 PM. Reason: Added a link to the MS S&T software info & Laura's page

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2000
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    Default Sounds like a grand adventure!

    Craig,

    Sounds like it is going really well!

    Thanks for the updates from the road!

    Before you leave town, and since you like these kinds of places -- check out item #8 on this page. And Taste of Texas is hard to beat!

    Mark
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 04-22-2007 at 07:31 PM. Reason: added a link to an attraction

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
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    London, England
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    Default

    Thanks for the links, Mark! I'd have loved to have checked out that restaurant, since getting off the plane around 60 hours ago, I've eaten the following:

    1 packet of trail mix (with M&Ms - fantastic!)
    1 sirloin 'salmonella' burger
    1 'German' sausage in a tortila wrap

    So... I'm ready for some fooding!

    But I'm leaving town early tomorrow, so won't have time, though I will definately keep it in mind for when I get back in a couple of weeks.

    The 'Buff Stadium' link is defiately interesting - I will head out of town that way on the off chance the store is open - thanks for the link!

    Incidently I have three of Chris Eptings books at home - very interesting - even if they are a little biased towards the west coast. I will have to see if I can pick up the baseball book when I get back home.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2000
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    Las Vegas, Nevada
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    Default Sorry, I didn't check the site before

    Quote Originally Posted by Craig Antill View Post
    Thanks for the links, Mark! I'd have loved to have checked out that restaurant,
    There is a lot of stuff on this site, like that. Sorry I didn't think of it earlier.
    The 'Buff Stadium' link is defiately interesting - I will head out of town that way on the off chance the store is open - thanks for the link!
    Glad that will work out at least.
    Incidently I have three of Chris Eptings books at home - very interesting - even if they are a little biased towards the west coast. I will have to see if I can pick up the baseball book when I get back home.
    If you look at the acknowledgements in those books, you might even see my name... Chris is a colleague and if you are all all interested in some autographed books, I am sure it can be arranged. Chris has written several articles for RTA. Here are some of them.

    Mark

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Keithville, LA
    Posts
    638

    Default I forgive you!

    Well, I it was a hard sale as I stood by the fence breathing in more carbon fiber dust and getting pelted with marbles off of the track. That is, until Katherine Legge managed to crash her car into the fence right in front of me and take out Neil Jani in the process. You should have seen everybody jump out of the way!


    Bye!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
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    London, England
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    Default

    Thanks Laura, though I did warn you about Katie, IIRC. She's gotten no better since I used to know her from karting back home! We didn't get any on-track activity in front of us, unless you count the two Forsythe cars trying to crash into each other in pitlane... that was very funny!

    Anyway, it's coming up to 6am, and I'm awake. I may as well hit the road, I think, clear Houston before the traffic really builds up. Will report back next time I have internet access.

    Cheers
    Craig.

  7. #7
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    Default

    Okay, so another update, but where to start? I guess the Super 8 in Hope, Arkansas is as good a place as any. For that is where I am sat, right now, slightly ahead of schedule. Laura will probably already know it but, if not, she’ll undoubtedly be delighted to hear it’s proudest achievement is being the birthplace of Bill Clinton. Now that really is some claim to fame!

    Day 4

    My previous sore throat had developed into a nasty cold and, unable to breathe properly, I’d been struggling to sleep, so I decided to leave Houston early in the morning, I had to contend with the rush hour traffic as I navigated around the city, something I really should have thought a little more about… it really is no time to be getting used driving a new car! Thankfully I and, more importantly, the car, survived the experience unscathed. Unfortunately, my plan to check out the site of the old Buff Stadium didn’t, I was too early. Damn.

    After clearing Houston, I started to relax and enjoy the drive, especially as the day started to warm up and I dropped the roof on the car. This time I was a little more careful to ensure nothing was going to blow out of the roof this time, as my map had done as I departed the airport after picking up the car!

    I work for the European arm of a company based in South Dakota who supply childrens play equipment and, although I knew it was a big business in the US, I had never seen one of our display areas over here. So, having spotted one alongside the interstate, I was suitably intrigued to swing the car around to go and find it. After 15 minutes of negotiating the various access roads I ended up at their front door. It was closed… fantastic. My success continues!

    Somewhat more of a success was the quick stop at the Sam Houston Statue, a rather Texan 70ft tall monument to one of their most illustrious sons. I had seen a small sign, about 70 miles north of Houston, pointing to the ‘Statue Visitor Center’ and decided to leave the interstate to investigate. I had no idea what to expect so you can imagine my surprise as I made my way through a wooded area and was confronted with such a huge statue.

    Up until now, as mentioned earlier in this report, I’d been testing out the GPS facility of Microsoft Streets and Trips with some success. As I neared the Cedar Hill State Park, where I planned to camp for the night, my luck changed. After going round and round in circles, and having endured several of the infamous Windows Blue Screen Of Death ™ I finally arrived at the gate to the park - the back gate - and it was locked. I gave up and asked a bemused local resident for directions and found my way to the entrance within a matter of minutes.

    Having set up camp by the lake and made use of the fantastically clean (and hot!) showers, I set off for Arlington, where I had tickets for the baseball that evening.

    Realising I had several hours to kill I decided to head off to Texas Motor Speedway to have a look at the venue and, with luck, get a track tour.

    Back at the ballpark I had time to reflect: two more Rainbow dealers spotted, numerous extra miles driven due to iffy mapping software, and no track tour - the bus was broken! My luck, it would seem was continuing. It changed though with a fabulous ballgame - the visitors winning 5-4 - and, this time, I did manage to pick up a souvenir baseball for the collection.

    Day 5

    Another poor nights sleep later I headed into downtown Dallas with three places to check out - Dealey Plaza, the Record Grill and the Reunion Tower. With the skies cloudy and visibility poor, I decided it was perhaps a little pointless going up onto the observation deck so headed straight for the Record Grill to treat myself to some breakfast. Mark from this site had suggested I should check it out and I was determined to do so - yet I was unable to locate it - even after pulling up and using an unsecured wireless connection to look for a map online.

    In the end I had to admit defeat and so headed for the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. Being British, whilst obviously aware of what happened there, it doesn’t really have the same importance as it would have to an American, but it was somewhere I felt it was right to visit whilst I was in town. Generally I don’t ‘go in’ for museums but this one was very well done, the audio tour well worth the money. Looking out ‘the window’ was very eerie somehow, I guess it was a feeling of déjà vu, having seen footage from that same place on TV numerous times.

    Afterwards I made my way outside to get a feel for the ‘lay of the land’ and, having seen the spot that the motorcade came under fire and stood on the ‘grassy knoll‘, I headed up Elm Street towards the John F Kennedy Memorial and, almost literally, stumbled over the Record Grill that I had been so patiently searching for earlier in the day! Having worked up a real appetite I headed inside for a fry-up. Sadly they had stopped serving breakfast by this time but I devoured a very keenly priced bacon double cheeseburger and fries - thinking of it now is making me hungry - and left before they realised they were underselling themselves! Mark was right, it may have been a tiny, tiny place (and impossible to find) but it served great food at ridiculously cheap prices.

    Next stop, Southfork Ranch! I may be a little young to have watched Dallas when it was shown on TV, but I remember quite clearly my mum and dad sitting down to watch it once a week, so it would have been rude not to stop off and pay homage! As I wasn’t a fan, I avoid the temptation (!) to join the tour and limited myself to stopping briefly in the visitor center and a few photos of the front of the property. At first I felt a bit stupid but, after a moment or two, a few other people stopped their cars at the side of the road and snapped away. Within moments two security men arrived and insisted that we left, at which point one of the others took a photo of them, and in the ensuing mêlée, I took off.

    After a large detour the long way round the man-made Lavon Lake, created by the construction of a dam, thanks once again to the software genius of Microsoft, I arrived at the outlet center at Allen. I had previously looked online and picked out two stores in particular that I had wanted to visit but, such is my luck, there had been some changes and they had both closed down! I did manage to spend 120 bucks on two shirts, two pairs of trousers and a pair of 501s though… unbelievable, the 501s alone would have cost that in the UK.

    Originally I had planned to stop in this area overnight but, as it was only late afternoon, I decided to press on towards Arkansas. A massive storm erupted as I left the parking lot at Allen and treated me to a spectacular light show that beat the one I witnessed stood on the banks of the Thames as London welcomed in the New Year. The rain that accompanied it was unbelievable and, at one point, I did wonder if the dam at Lavon Lake was no more. Eventually though it all calmed down and I enjoyed a relaxed drive into Arkansas.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 04-25-2007 at 11:51 PM. Reason: Fixed links upon request by Craig

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2000
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    Default Another great report

    Quote Originally Posted by Craig Antill View Post
    Okay, so another update, but where to start?
    I am glad you found the Record Grill -- it can be tough.

    Hope the cold clears up soon!

    Mark

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    London, England
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    Default

    I have learned two things about connecting to the internet in the past 24 hours -- first, Super 8 HAS wireless but it is appallingly bad. Second, if you wanna use it, just swing up to any Holiday Inn and hook up, they don't seem to have heard of the word security. Right now I am sat in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Keithville, LA
    Posts
    638

    Default Good old Hope

    Yes - I did know of its fame.

    It sounds like you're having a wonderful time!

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