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  1. #1

    Default Chasing Cars: Homestead (and Florida)

    Just briefly checking in from the (surprisingly well presented) Super 8 in Fort Myers, Florida. Just in case you thought I'd died in a horrible fireball or something! This is the first time since I left the UK that I've got online so you will hopefully excuse my tardiness in updating you all o the trip. I will try harder from now on but, please excuse me for now, it's been a long day and I need a nice hot shower!

    [Editor's Note: Here is a link to the trip that Craig is currently on...]
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 11-21-2007 at 08:53 PM. Reason: added navigation link

  2. #2


    Okay, so I didn't die in a horrible fireball yet. But I'm back at the airport (Orlando International) waiting on a flight for Miami where I connect to London. I'm pretty impressed to discover they have an open wireless connection here... good work. Normally they cost something insane like 10 bucks for 30 minutes. Wireless availability in general is quite poor in Florida it seems. Or maybe I've just been unlucky.

    Anyway, it's been a great trip and, although I spent a lot less time in the car than I usually do (just 1400 miles) I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Especially the post Miami portion. The Keys were really good and it was fantastic to catch up with old friends (and make a lot of new ones) in Sarasota.

    I'll update you once I've got home and uploaded some photos.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default So, uploading via MTJ was a wash-out?

    Quote Originally Posted by UKCraig View Post
    I'll update you once I've got home and uploaded some photos.
    Craig, glad you have avoided any miscellaneous fireballs thus far -- I take it that MTJ was not a success for you in the field this time?


  4. #4


    Sadly not. Although, I have to confess, that's pretty much my fault for being lazy and not making any effort to update it after I was unable to get online for the first half of the trip...

  5. #5


    Well I am back in the UK now. It is very cold!

    As no-one, least of all myself, will be surprised to discover, the 1hr 10min lay over at Miami was no where near enough and, after leaving Orlando 1hr late you can imagine the excitement at Miami when I tried to make my connection. Especially when I learned that it involved a terminal change.

    Thankfully, due to the kind assistance of a guy driving a golf cart, I made the gate just in time. They were waiting for me and the doors were closed and we were pushing back before I'd even taken my seat!

    Of course this means that my luggage is MIA somewhere at MIA but hopefully that'll come in on tomorrow mornings flight. Whatever... at least I didn't get to spend 24 hours on the floor at Miami airport!

  6. #6

  7. #7

    Default Day One

    Friday 16th November 2007

    It could have been any weekday morning. The alarm goes off and it’s 5am. It’s dark and cold. Oh so cold. Out of bed and into the car. But this morning is different – I have an appointment with American Airlines. I turn right out of the close instead of left and head off towards Heathrow. I’m going off on my travels once more but, for some reason, it just doesn’t feel right. It’s not that I’m not looking forward to it – I am – but, erm, I dunno. It just didn’t feel right somehow. The usual nervous excitement isn’t there this morning. Maybe it’s that the much anticipated fight for the Nextel Cup title - which had spurred me into booking the trip - is all but decided? Maybe it’s a hangover from my previous trip which didn’t go exactly to plan? Maybe it’s just an increased familiarity which comes the more you visit a country? Maybe all those horror stories of death and terror on the streets of Miami that my workmates insisted on telling me were actually weighing on my mind? Who knows? Whatever, I certainly wasn’t planning on turning round and going back to my nice warm bed – no matter how appealing that seemed at the time!

    Having deposited the car in the dodgiest ‘secure parking’ that I have ever encountered – and having been ranted at in Polish by the hired help – I was ‘whisked’ to the terminal in what must be the oldest shuttle bus in existence. As I stepped onboard I could swear I could see that the words ‘Sunshine Coach’ had been written down its side in a previous life. No matter, it got us there and, having battled through all the construction work and the lines of Police at the front door, made my way to check in. Three hours later I was onboard and hurtling down the Heathrow runway. It still didn’t feel right – something was missing.

    The flight itself was a pleasure – the cabin crew friendly and professional, the food excellent and the legroom the best that I have experienced whilst flying transatlantic. I even worked some more on my plan to perfect the art of sleeping onboard a plane – I managed somewhere in the region of two hour which I congratulated myself on.

    I have a thing about wine. No, not drinking it; seeing open bottles of it standing around waiting to be spilt everywhere. It a very strange phobia, I know, but when the girl sitting next to me ordered a bottle of red wine from the drinks trolley my heart rate shot up. For twenty slow and painful minutes it sat there waiting for the first glass to be poured and then, almost immediately, it happened. For some reason, unknown to anyone within 500 meters – including herself I am sure – she suddenly decided to stand up. It was mere milliseconds before the contents of the huge glass landed in the lap of my new (previously lightly coloured) trousers. Of course she was very apologetic but that didn’t really help all that much, nor did her attempts to mop up the mess with napkins (much as I enjoyed it at the time!) and I made a hasty retreat to the bathroom to try and clean myself up. It proved to be a futile effort – people would constantly stare at me and the apparent blood stain all over my trousers right up until I arrived at the hotel – but at least it gave me valuable minutes away from the silly bint in which I could calm down to the point that I didn’t feel the need to throttle her on my return to my seat.

    Arrival at a US airport is a painful affair, there is no getting away from it, and there’s nothing that you can do bar grind and bear it. Arrival at Miami was no different but it was a strange experience to be greeted with much of the signage around the airport in Spanish with an English translation provided beneath, almost as an afterthought, for the benefit of the minority ethnic group.

    After an hour or so I arrived at the front of the queue and was pleasantly surprised to find the immigration officer to be warm, friendly and welcoming. He took a look at my passport and noted the fact I was a regular visitor to his shores and stamped it without asking any questions at all. He asked my plane and, when I explained I was in town for the race, he excitedly told me how he lived across from the track and offer advice on a couple of his favourite restaurants. I wonder if he worked part time for the local tourist board but, whatever the reason for his chirpiness, I am grateful. Welcome back!

    I picked up the car and made my way to the hotel that I had booked on Collins Avenue in the South Beach area. It took quite some finding but, when I did, I couldn’t for the life of me work out how I’d missed it. Being the tight arse that I am I didn’t want to pay 35 bucks for valet parking so found a parking lot a couple of blocks away near the Lincoln Road Mall for ten bucks a day. As I walked back through the dark streets those stories from my workmates were coming back to me and I was pleased to arrive at the hotel in one piece.

    The Contiental Oceanfront Hotel wasn’t the fanciest hotel in the area, nor did I have the best room in the hotel, but I’d have found it very hard to complain as I’d got such a bargain price online and I was made to feel very much at home by the friendly and welcoming staff. I unpacked and grabbed a well earned shower before heading out to get a bite to eat.

  8. #8

    Default Day Two

    Saturday 17th November 2007

    I had tickets with my name on waiting for me at will call at Miami-Homestead Speedway but, for now at least, they would have to wait. Awaking early I set off from the back door of the hotel to watch the sun rise over South Beach. I’d worn my walking boots which was lucky as, before I knew it, I’d walked twenty blocks along the almost deserted beach (apart from a tramp and a couple of exercise freaks) and arrived at the end of the road – South Pointe Park – and could go no further. The sun was already starting to warm the air up and I stayed there for a few minutes talking to some guys fishing from the pier before heading back towards the hotel along Ocean Drive.

    The area is famous for the people watching possibilities and the lovely old buildings of the Art Deco District – which Ocean Drive bisects – made a fantastic backdrop as I watched locals and visitors try to outdo each other in the posing stakes. I would have loved to stop and enjoy the al fresco breakfast experience myself but I had put myself behind schedule by walking so far and had to forego the posing and make do with a bag of cashews, a giant oversized Snickers bar and a can of Red Bull as I made my way back to the hotel for a quick shower and a change of clothes.

    I retraced my steps of the night before as I made my way to – hopefully – retrieve the rental car. The local characters still looked a little menacing to someone more used to the quiet streets of suburban London but started to relax after striking up a conversation with a pretty brunette as we stood waiting for the lights to change.

    The car was still where I had parked it and untouched – phew! I was starting to relax but then realised that I was being watched as I set up the satnav and, not wishing to be the next statistic, I took off without a clue as to which way I was heading. I soon found a suitable spot to pull over and was able to programme the device to take me out towards the vast Sawgrass Mills Outlet Center near Fort Launderdale, stopping off at Dolphins Stadium en route to pick up the traditional souvenir baseball which I bring back from all of my trips.

    It transpired that the only shop open on the day was the Dolphins shop and they didn’t stock any baseball merchandise at all. I managed to find one later in the day from a small independent store in Sawgrass Mills but ended up spending very little money there in the end. I spent several hours exploring the shops but only picked up a couple of T shirts in the end. Seeing I’d flown in with a very large gap in my suitcase for the inevitable large stack of bargain clothing, that I fully expected to end up buying, I headed down to Homestead somewhat concerned that I would actually need to work out how use one of those huge laundry machines in the hotel!

    It was nice to be able to cross another track off the virtual list and I was pleased to find that they had my tickets at will call. However, upon inspecting them, they had not given me what I had ordered so I was forced to join the back of the queue to speak with the supervisor. After some discussion, and a couple of phone calls, she decided that the simplest solution would be to start opening the envelopes containing other peoples orders until she found suitable pit and hospitality passes that she could give to me. I left the area promptly before she changed her mind and made my way to the vast area given over to trade stands and merchandising. I do hope those other people were able to collect their own passes without too much hassle!

    A hundred bucks worse off I made my way into the track along with my carrier bag full of goodies from the #42 souvenir trailer and settled down for the start of the Busch race. It would start around ½ hour before sunset and the low sun proved to be a real issue in trying to follow the progress of the drivers in the early laps. I have no idea how difficult it must have been from the inside of the car but I am sure that they were even more relieved than the crowd when the sun finally dipped behind the grandstands.

    Four hours later I was heading back to the interstate to return to the hotel on Collins Avenue for the evening. It was quite a drive back there from Homestead but I had booked it when I was unable to find anything closer online whilst planning the trip back home in England. It turned out to be a wise move as I passed not one single hotel or motel with a ‘vacancies’ sign out before I hit South Beach itself. Seems the race was a bigger event than I expected. And I still wasn't really 'feeling it'. hmmm...

    Last edited by UKCraig; 01-14-2008 at 11:26 AM. Reason: added photos

  9. #9

    Default Day Three - Race Day

    Sunday 18th November 2007

    It’s amazing how easily you settle into a new time zone when you fly east. I’d only been in the country for two days but the 6am (11am UK time) alarm seemed horribly early somehow. The plan for the day was to drive down to Homestead for the (last ever) Nextel Cup race and then on to the Ramada on Key Largo. Again I made the ‘walk of death’ to collect the car from the parking lot and, again, was to find the car was exactly where I’d left it the previous evening. Having left my favourite shirt in the room (as I would discover afterwards) the only thing that seemed to be missing was my brain.

    I headed out of Miami and past an impressive line of cruise ships moored alongside the road. I hit the back of a queue of traffic and decided to open the roof of the car for the first time. I’m sure that I looked like a total tourist but I was really starting to feel at home. I’d left early as I wasn’t sure what level of traffic to expect but I made very good time and was soon parked at Homestead. I hovered around the car for a while, soaking up the atmosphere created by the numerous tailgate parties that were already in full flow, before making my way to the hospitality area where it was announced our guest speaker would be none other than Mr Jeff Gordon. I’ve never been a huge fan of Jeff but I was planning on cheering him on in the race as he tried to overhaul Jimmie Johnson so I thought it was only fair he came to visit us and thank me in person for doing so!

    I like the whole hospitality package but it was had proved a particular bargain at Homestead as it also included the pitlane tour. Before we were led across the track and deposited in pitlane we had to sign the usual disclaimer that, should we be maimed or killed, we would not hold the nasty people who did it responsible. I have been signing these things for years and it’s not something that has ever concerned me – but I do confess to having some nerves when I crossed the track to be greeted by the worrying sight of Robbie Gordon revving the proverbial out of the #7 car. Given that guys record for wrecking I gave him a wide berth as I made my way down pitlane.

    There wasn’t a huge amount happening in pitlane at this time – presumably everyone was avoiding the accident waiting to happen in the #7 – so I decided to go visit the #42 pit area to see if there were any photo opportunities to be had. There were a couple of Montoya’s pit crew there when I arrived and I got chatting with them. They were impressed that I’d come all the way from the UK to cheer for their driver and, when I told them it was the third time that year that I’d done so, one of them went and fetched the other guys who were working on the car inside the garage! After several minutes I went to leave and one of them offered me a small present from the back of the hauler – a wheel nut that was on the car when they won their first race in Sonoma. It was only a small thing but I was touched – you don’t get that sort of thing in Formula One!

    I made it back to hospitality just in time to collect my lunch and find a place to stand for the guest speaker. I somehow felt rude eating in front of Jeff - I hope he understood. It was an interesting talk but, as soon as he’d finished and was ushered off stage, the fans started tearing the fixtures and fittings apart whilst the security people just stood by and watched them. Quite surreal. I really quite fancied one of the large banners that were hanging all around the marquee but, before I finally managed to sweet talk one of the security girls to lend me a knife, they’d all been removed. I helped myself to a nice length of bunting instead – it would look great in my kitchen – and then started to ponder what the hell the girl was thinking; handing out knives to random people in the midst of an apparent riot. Worrying.

    Having stowed my ill-gotten gains in the trunk of the car I returned to the seat that I had occupied yesterday and sat and enjoyed the sun. The race itself started well, the #42 running very well, but tailed off towards the end as Montoya dropped back through the field. Dale Jnr - in his last race in the iconic #8 Budweiser Chevrolet - had a disastrous day, hitting everything in sight. It seemed kind of fitting somehow – the very first time I had seen him race was just up the road at the Daytona 500 in 2002. He had lost his father after he’d hit the wall at the end of the previous years 500 and, as if to prove something to the track, he was desperate to win that day. Instead he went out and hit everything in sight but he never gave up and kept getting back in the race. 2007 had been the only winless season of his career and, as if to prove something to the people who he felt had stolen the team that bore his name, he was again desperate to win. Again he wouldn’t win but you really had to admire the never give up attitude. I can’t wait to see him in a topline car next season.

    After the race I trudged back to the car – yes, Johnson HAD won the championship… not what I had come to see – and slowly made my way back to the main road and turned south towards Key Largo.

    The road onto Kay Largo was being reconstructed and they had routed us down what proved to be a terrifyingly narrow and bumpy alternative which. I lost count of the number of times I had to take avoiding action to avoid a head-on collision with oncoming cars that veered onto my side of the road. I was glad to finally reach the hotel in one piece and made my way up to my room to discover it was a room with a view. And a balcony. After my usual diet of budget hotels, and cheap motels, it felt very grown up! I picked up some snacks and some beer from the nearby gas station and returned to my room to chill out and reflect on the last few days before promptly falling asleep in front of the TV. It had been a long day and, remarkably, I still wasn’t ‘feeling it’!

    Last edited by UKCraig; 01-14-2008 at 11:30 AM. Reason: added photos

  10. #10

    Default Day 4

    Monday 19th November 2007

    I drew back the curtains, stepped out onto my balcony and cast a glance across the beautiful boats in the Marina Del Mar. I watched the sun glistening on the water and the owners of the various boats going about their business. Suddenly – at very long last – I was feeling it. It was official: I was on holiday!

    After an al fresco breakfast I went for a stroll around the marina and was surprised to find - amongst the various tour boats, dive boats and fishing boats – that the marina was home to the original African Queen. I’m afraid to say that it wasn’t very impressive but I snapped the obligatory photo nonetheless.

    Having returned to the hotel I collected my bags and made my way to the car. I was setting off several hours late but, in keeping with being on the Keys, it didn’t seem to matter. I stopped off at Winn Dixie for supplies then headed off to my next stop: Bahia Honda State Park.

    With the roof down, and the radio turned up, the drive down was most agreeable. I would often find myself veering off the road to take a photo or two, check out a gift store or take another photo but it didn't take too long to arrive at Bahia Honda Key. I arrived earlier than the check-in time for the campground but was invited to go into the park and explore before returning a couple of hours later when my pitch would be vacant and the office fully open.

    I've never really been one for sitting on a beach but the white sand and warm clear water at Logger Head Beach was irresistible. Too irresistible it would prove for I arrive with no sunscreen and left with burnt shoulders! After exploring some more of the park - including Calusa Beach, the original Bahia Honda Bridge and a nature trail on which I was startled to (almost literally) stumble over a three foot iguana - I headed back to the campground office to check-in.

    I was very excited to find that my pitch was just yards from the lapping waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Whilst I couldn't step straight out of my tent and dip my toes in the water I was close enough to make me feel like I was camping somewhere special. This initial feeling of content was soon tested when I pulled the tent from the bag and suddenly recalled, to my horror, that I never did get round to airing it after getting back from the infamous trip to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium two months earlier. In the Florida sun the tent would soon dry out and all I could do was hope that the only lasting damage would be the nasty smell that it now had.

    I had initially planned to head down to Key West to see the sunset celebration at Mallory Square but, after several weeks of rushing around, I'd quickly settled in to the relaxed pace on the Keys and couldn't quite decide whether to go or to watch the sun set from the top of the Bridge. Eventually I settled on Mallory Square and I sped down to see what all the fuss was about. I managed a parking space right on the quay but, as I made my way towards the large crowd, I realised that I'd missed the magic moment by mere seconds. Genius! Never mind, tomorrow I'd be doing something far more exciting!

    The drive back to the campground was great fun – roof down, heating on full and some banging tunes on the radio – and I was soon turning off the highway into the silence of the park. Back at the campground I sat and soaked up one of the most memorable scenes I can ever remember. Quite unspoilt by light pollution the night sky was majestic and the peace of the island was like something I’ve never experienced; the only sounds being the rustle of leaves in the wind and the gentle sound of waves breaking onto the nearby beach. After two nights in the hustle and bustle of South Beach I soon realised that this was much more my style.

    Eventually the other occupants of the campground started returning and, the peace finally broken, I decided to head off to bed for an early night. The perfect day was rounded off by that most glorious sound of rain falling onto your tent – a welcome thing when you've been sweating in the sun all day – and, finally, one of the most exciting electrical storms that I have ever seen.

    Now I was REALLY 'getting it'!!

    Last edited by UKCraig; 01-14-2008 at 11:36 AM. Reason: added photos

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