May 9 - Florida : Sebring International Raceway

Today was the first day Taylor would be driving, so we got up nice and early to make sure we could get everything in order in the proper amount of time. 615am and we were greeted with a pretty solid view right out our window.

Nice view.

Nice view.

The hotel, Chateau Elan, is located right on the track grounds. It's situated on turn 7, "The Hairpin", and offers an awfully nice view. We lamented that we couldn't stick around to watch our fellow One Lappers navigate the course, but alas, we had too much to do to prepare ourselves.

Taylor figured the easiest way to get into the driving suit would be right when he got dressed, so we did just that. It was no problem. We had (reasonably sad-tasting) coffee and got dressed/packed/organized while Dad went to put fuel in the car for the day; we'd arrived with a pretty low tank.

That was easy.

That was easy.

Taylor and I wheeled everything down to the lobby and searched for some breakfast. The hotel offerings weren't free, so we decided to go with Clif bars that we'd brought. I called Dad to bring better coffee and some fruit, to ward off scurvy.

Game face?

Game face?

Dad came back with gas, coffee, and fruit. We chatted for a minute with fellow One Lapper, Sean, whose partner, Matt, had left him at the hotel. He had to walk to the track, which admittedly, wasn't terribly far. We offered to give him a ride, but our car was crammed full of stuff, so he politely declined.

Load up.

Load up.

Taylor talking to Sean, who was preparing for his walk to the track.

Taylor talking to Sean, who was preparing for his walk to the track.

Across the street and over the bridge that crosses the track. We signed in and found an empty parking spot in the shade near the end of pit lane. It was one of the last ones and a fortunate find- it was going to be a hot and sunny day. All three of us were really excited to be at such a historic track. Sebring sits on the Hendricks Army Airfield that hosted B-17 "Flying Fortress" training during World War II and has been operating continuously as a race track since 1950. The "12 Hours of Sebring" is one of the biggest races on the Sports Car Racing calendar and is in it's 65th year of running.

Standard track waiver being signed.

Standard track waiver being signed.

Hallelujah! Shade!

Hallelujah! Shade!

As we were unpacking, Matt and Sean (yes, the walking Sean from the lobby) cruised by our pit with some tasty looking breakfast sandwiches.

“Well hey, guys, where’d you get those tasty tasty looking breakfast sandwiches?”

“The Snack Shack is open! Head on over and order ‘The Beast’. Don’t ask questions, just do it.”

“Did you guys do that? Is that what you’re eating there?”

“No.”

“……”

Pretty sure I wasn’t going to order “The Beast”, I confirmed with Dad and Taylor that they, too, wanted a breakfast sandwich and headed towards The Snack Shack, about halfway down pit lane. 

Ye Olde Snack Shack.

Ye Olde Snack Shack.

I asked the (conservatively) 400 lb. man taking orders:

“Hi there, what’s ‘The Beast’?”

“Double sausage, double bacon, double egg, double cheese on a large hamburger bun. I don’t think it’s what you’re looking for.”

My first instinct was that I had been challenged and now I had to order it. Fortunately, I’m not 15, so better judgement quickly prevailed.

“Roger that, I’ll just have 3 regular breakfast sandwiches with sausage.”

I tell you what, I was extra glad when the order arrived that I didn’t pull any nonsense. Even the regular sandwiches were massive. 

A lot of iconic names on the "Sebring Hall of Fame" wall at this historic track.

A lot of iconic names on the "Sebring Hall of Fame" wall at this historic track.

In fact, each of us ate our sandwich 1/2 for breakfast, then 1/2 for lunch, and were full after each meal. The fruit went uneaten.

Feeding #1 from the sandwich.

Feeding #1 from the sandwich.

Nervous, but excited.

Nervous, but excited.

Having unpacked, eaten, and watched some of the fast cars make their way around, we helped Taylor get situated in the driver’s seat. He was nervous, but excited. Dad installed the new steering hand control that Taylor had designed after his last track day. Dad had machined it at his shop in California the week before last. The 4-point Schroth Racing harnesses tightened up nicely; Taylor felt pretty secure.

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Dad walked up the stairs to watch from the terrace above the pits and I hopped in the car with Taylor, along with 3 cameras. We drove up to the grid near start finish; Taylor decided to start more near the back because he hadn’t driven on this track, he hadn’t done much track time with hand controls, and he’d done 0 time with the new hand controls he and Dad had put together. It was hot outside, 93 degF, so I sat in the car with the Ed/C on with Taylor and we just chatted. It was nice and relaxing. I took some headshots of Taylor; he was not amused, but he was strapped in so tight, there wasn’t much he could do about it. Andy, the One Lap staffer in charge of ordering the cars on the grid came by to talk shop.

Taylor's turn soon approached. I started two track cameras and wished him good luck.

Good luck!

Good luck!

As he pulled away, I stood near the start/finish with Brock Yates Jr., the organizer of the event, and a track marshal that had a radio. The radio was used to talk to the corner workers who were stationed out on the track to watch for anything that might be an issue.

Taylor made it around for the recon lap, then went flying by for his first lap.

On his second lap, we heard over the radio:

"This is corner 5."

"Go ahead corner 5."

"Yeah, car #58 has gone 4 wheels off in turn 5, then continued, for the second time now."

"Understood, thank you."

We're car #58. Oops. I told Brock I'd figured out what was up when Taylor got back, but he said he wasn't worried about it, and returned to the previous conversation. He was talking about the only time he'd kicked someone off of One Lap, in 2007. I was actually participating that year. It was a guy in a Charger that kept crashing, and taking no responsibility, so he was asked to leave.

"This is corner 5."

"Go ahead corner 5."

"Yeah, car #58 has gone 4 wheels off in turns 3, 4, and 5 now, then continued."

"Understood, thank you."

I assured Brock we'd get it straightened out, but he promised me he wasn't worried. Just stay safe and have fun.

Taylor continued on to take the checkered flag and finish!

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Once he returned to the pits, Taylor explained that he couldn't turn the wheel properly in turns 3, 4, and 5 because of their design and due to shortcomings with the hand controls; that's why he went off during the morning session. The only way to negotiate those turns without going off-track would be to slow down to a crawl. We didn't want to push our luck with the officials, so we agreed that unfortunately, that's what Taylor would have to do in the afternoon session.

Even with the controls difficulty, Taylor beat the Miata he started behind- way to go!

It's a long, 3.4 mile, track and it was over 90 degrees outside at this point, so Taylor was feeling pretty wiped from the track time. Rightfully so. 

The announcers came over the track P.A. system and called for people to line up for parade laps at lunch, if they so wished. Seeing as how this is Sebring, Dad and I hopped in and hurried up to the line, while Taylor relaxed and re-hydrated in the shade.

The track is big and fast; it was cool to see it in all its glory. I've driven a shortened version of the course before, but this was the first time I'd seen it all. Dad was having a great time, and he even tried the hand controls for a spell.

Not as easy as it looks.

Not as easy as it looks.

With the parade laps finished, we cracked our sandwiches back open and finished them for lunch. I guess "The Beast" would've covered us for dinner, too?

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We did our best to cool the car before the afternoon session, as well as cool ourselves, drinking plenty of ice cold water.

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The afternoon session kicked off nice and early, which we were glad to see; we had a pretty long drive ahead of us into South Carolina.

Love this car. He's in the first run group. I don't think he's in the running for the overall win, but probably top 5.

Love this car. He's in the first run group. I don't think he's in the running for the overall win, but probably top 5.

Despite the difficulties, Taylor was still having such a good time that he wanted to go check out the swag on offer, maybe pick up a t-shirt or hat. We cruised over with him, but none of us found anything that we couldn't live without.

Couldn't find anything we loved.

Couldn't find anything we loved.

Back in the pits (which are along the front straightaway), we watched the fast cars go by and discussed the afternoon session. The car was behaving really well; good grip, power, and brakes. As mentioned before, the hand control setup still wasn't working right, but there wasn't anything we could do at the time- Taylor figures a full redesign is needed.

We took the opportunity to get Tom packed up and everything organized to leave as quickly as possible.

We started calling the U-haul trailer "Tom" after we discovered the right taillight doesn't ever turn off (unless you unplug it from the harness, of course). We suspect it has something to do with the significant body damage (evidenced by large cracks and large amounts of unsanded Bond-o) to the right rear corner. Anyhow, like Tom Bodett from Motel 6, he'll leave the light on for ya.

A looooooooong pit row.

A looooooooong pit row.

Andy came over the loudspeaker to request that all remaining cars make their way to the grid. They wanted to make sure there was no delay in getting people run on track, then out the door and on the road. Taylor piled back into the car. I jumped in with him to head up to the grid to keep him company, make sure the cameras were placed and fired, and to help with any issues that might crop up.

Getting situated for the afternoon session.

Getting situated for the afternoon session.

The line in front of us was pretty long, so Dad had some time to relax in the shade and visit with some of our pit neighbors. Taylor and I chilled (literally- Thanks Ed!) in the car, inching our way to the front of the line.

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I set up the two cameras again, but I'm pretty unhappy with the 4k action cam I bought just before the trip. The menus are finicky, the image quality isn't great, the colors are bad, and the mounts are cheap and flimsy. You get what you pay for, I guess. It's an AKASO Go-Pro ripoff that's $90 on Amazon. I set it up anyway, just in case the footage is halfway decent.

I'd find out later that the mount shook so badly that it was, in fact, totally unusable.

Waiting.

Waiting.

103 degrees in pit lane.

103 degrees in pit lane.

Finally it was our turn. I turned on the cameras, wished Taylor luck, and jogged over to join Dad on the terrace near our pit stall. It's so far that if I had walked, I would have missed the whole thing.

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Taylor and the Volvo were looking good on track! After just the first lap, he had cut the gap to the Miata in front of him by half. It was going to be interesting to see where he caught and passed. I hoped it would be somewhere I could get a photo!

Go Taylor!

Go Taylor!

On his second lap by, I tried a shot using the "Panorama Sweep" setting on the camera. I'd hoped to catch more of a stop motion look, but clearly I did something wrong. You get the idea, though.

At this point, Taylor was nearly to the Miata. The pass would be on the third lap...

When art fights back...

When art fights back...

A lot of the track was out of our sight, so we waited for him to come around the back straight, where our view resumed. We knew he would be by the Miata, the question was just by how much?

Surprisingly, and somewhat worryingly, we saw the Miata first. Taylor hadn't passed. Hopefully, Taylor hadn't crashed. Our nerves grew more on edge as time passed, and still no Taylor.

..........

There he is! 

Well, he hadn't crashed, but he had certainly slowed. Did something break on the car? He didn't come into the pits on the third lap; he continued around and finished. So nothing too bad could be wrong. Strange.

We made our way back down to the pits to finish packing so we could hit the road ASAP. By now, pretty much everyone had already left, which is never a good feeling.

Taylor made it around the cool down lap, but he was too exhausted to fight the hand controls to get around the super tight chicane they'd set up for the pit entrance. I ran down to meet him, jumped in the passenger's seat, and helped him negotiate back to our pit stall.

I asked him why the slowing on the final lap. The car was just plain too hot. With 100+ degree track temps, he was getting a coolant overheat warning, as well as transmission overheat warning. He made the right decision to back off on the third lap and just cruise around. The car cooled down quickly, so it was just a hot day and hard driving. We were glad it wasn't something more serious. The Volvo is a performance car, but at 4,000 lbs with no serious cooling/heat exchangers, it's not designed to do track days in a Florida summer. No matter, Taylor was happy with the performance and stamped the day a great time.

As he cooled off, pouring water on himself and drinking a bunch more, Dad and I packed the car.

Success!

Success!

Get in there, Pops!

Get in there, Pops!

Packed up and ready to go, we all hit the bathroom before jumping in the car to drive to our next stop 150 miles away- Grassroots Motorsports Magazine in Holly Hill, Florida. They are one of the sponsors of the event, so the organizers scheduled a checkpoint at their offices. You're awarded 50 points and a sticker to prove that you came through, plus they'd be serving pizza and drinks for dinner! It's a great magazine that supports this sort of event, so it's cool that we get to stop by and say hi.

As we were piling in the car after the bathroom break, Taylor asked,

"Has anyone seen my phone?"

Um, no. None of us had. When was the last time he'd seen it? Where was the last place? We called it, but it was on silent, obviously.

We checked and double checked the car, the trailer, our pit stall, the bathroom, the swag tent. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 15 minutes.

We were all dying. This was eating into our transit time. Which meant our sleep time! Taylor felt terrible.

After 20 minutes, Taylor made the decision. "We gotta go. I was shopping for a new phone anyway." RIP phone.

I hollered over to Dad, "Let's go! We're abandoning it!"

Dad replied, "Nah, I found it."

?!?!?!?!?!

It had been laying in the dirt on the way to the bathrooms. Dad found it. It must have fallen out of Taylor's lap while he was off-roading in his wheelchair to the bathroom during the day. An amazing find!

We were glad to have found the phone, but moderately despondent to have lost 25 minutes. Ah well, that's One Lap for you. It's a bad way to live.

This was about 30 seconds before we realized Taylor's phone was missing. Final stretching.

This was about 30 seconds before we realized Taylor's phone was missing. Final stretching.

Dad offered to drive first. At this point, I was flailing in the car to get the website up to date. I hadn't yet admitted defeat on staying current. That would come later in the week, of course.

Grinding out the updates en route.

Grinding out the updates en route.

Gas stop before the final leg to Grassroots Motorsports Magazine.

Gas stop before the final leg to Grassroots Motorsports Magazine.

There was heavy traffic on I-4 (isn't there always?) around Orlando due to construction, so both the locals as well as Google recommended that we shoot due east on I-98 to pick up I-95, then head north to Holly Hill, on the east coast, about 60 miles northeast of Disney World. So we did. Traffic wasn't too bad.

Traffic is never as bad when you're not driving.

Traffic is never as bad when you're not driving.

For some reason, the drive seemed to take forever. We were a little crabby when we arrived, but at least there were still some competitors in the parking lot. Not many. But some. We arrived around 7pm. The first competitors had gone through before 430p. Urg.

Not a real smile.

Not a real smile.

Factory Toyota team was still there. Taylor knew some of the these guys from school at RIT.

Factory Toyota team was still there. Taylor knew some of the these guys from school at RIT.

We were late enough that they were packing up as we ate pizza by ourselves in the lobby. It was as sad as it sounds; we just wanted to get on the road. The price would be paid in the morning, we could already sense it.

Not even bothering to smile.

Not even bothering to smile.

We finished our pizza, got our sticker, said goodbye to nobody because we were alone, and hit the road by 730p. A 6.5 hour, 400 mile drive lay ahead of us.

Dad took the first shift as I continued to work on the blog. He cranked out a solid 250 mile stint. We stopped for gas, restroom, coffee, and hit the road again.

Good grief; another disastrous cup of coffee. I took over driving to finish off the transit.

The route to the hotel, er, motel, took us through some serious back roads. There were no reflectors, no streetlights, and heavy trees. This was exactly the reason we added the Bulldog LED driving lights. As soon as you flipped those on, it was practically as bright as day; the difference compared to even the high beams was staggering. We saw wildlife and road debris in plenty of time- no close calls.

The same couldn't be said for our fellow transiteers, however. We came across Brock and his posse about 15 miles before the hotel, er, motel- they had hit a deer. We would find out the next day that a bunch of people had hit things in the night during the transit.

We arrived at the hotel in Lancaster, SC just before 230am, totally exhausted. This was probably our worst arrival time of the event; it hurt.

Made it.

Made it.

People were still arriving after we checked in, so we weren't the only ones feeling the burn.

Unloading into the room for the night. Tom tucked into a parking spot.

Unloading into the room for the night. Tom tucked into a parking spot.

The mood was grim as we prepared for bed. The situation wasn't helped by the fact that the track was still 30 minutes away, in Kershaw, SC. We'd have to get up a little earlier than normal to grab breakfast and make it to the track.

All things considered, though, we were still in it. And that's worth celebrating, right? Right?

Damen Hattori

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