California - Wisconsin and back
[*] Infineon Raceway, my ass.
Since Peter's back is still bothering him, we decided to drive, rather than ride, to the racetrack. This makes us posers, but at least we were comfortable posers in my air-conditioned Saturn; it was the surface temperature of the sun up in Sonoma County.
We parked in Lot 14, which is the number of light-years from the car to the grandstand, and headed towards the latter to meet up with Steph, Tony, Ceej, and David. We were all armed with our trusty T-Mobile Sidekicks, which made it surprisingly easy to find one another.
Like any good race-goer, I headed straight for the beer tent. My order caused a small drama, as my license expired on my birthday (Friday). I explained that I was, in fact, 27 years old and that I had an appointment scheduled for Monday to get my new license, which caused a considerable amount of discussion between the concession stand worker and his boss. I finally ended up just handing them my entire wallet and telling them to use whatever they found as a secondary form of ID. They eventually decided that my AMA membership card was acceptable, which I found profoundly amusing, seeing as though we were, y'know, at the AMA races. At any rate, I got my 16oz can of Heineken and all was well.
The rest of the gang was hiding out at a picnic table underneath the bleachers. Apparently, there had been some sort of hair-related discussion between Ceej and David earlier in the morning, as he was a Man on a Mission. Deciding that, by god, he was going to get his hair cut at the raceway, David set out in search of the Supercuts tent, Stephanie in tow. A short while later, the rest of us followed, and pretty much immediately lost Tony. The attrition rate was high. Ceej, Peter, and I consulted the track map for guidance.
Fortunately, Tony found the tent, and thanks to the miracle of wireless communication, he was able to direct us to the completely improbable Supercuts tent.
David's hair finally up to the high standards of Sears Point Raceway, we decided to wander around the vendors' booths. There wasn't a great variety of stuff to buy: mostly T-shirts, sunglasses, and other assorted branded paraphernalia. Peter decided to try a game of balance/luck where you pay $5 for three tries to honk a horn at the top of a ladder. We'll just say that he gave it three very valiant efforts, by which I mean that he utterly sucked.
While we were standing around in front of the Ducati booth admiring this police dual-sport, the owner came up and chatted with us. This, he said, was not his official on-duty bike; he kept this little guy in his garage, "just in case" he got called up into the hills. He was super-nice, and joked and talked for us for a little while. I got the impression that, despite being "on-duty" as a Sonoma County officer, he was a motorcycle enthusiast who was enjoying being at the races just like everyone else there. I asked if he ever worried about impaling himself with his nightstick if he ever fell off the bike. He sort of gave me a strange look and said no. Personally, I think I'd keep the stick in the saddlebag while riding, but that's why he's a cop and I'm not.
This is also the first good picture of David's hat. The hat defies definition. All I can say is that the man was adamant that he get his hair cut, and then, immediately afterwards, he puts this...purple thing...on his head. Actually, now that I look at this picture more carefully, it's a tiny bit of a miracle that we all admitted that we knew David in the first place.
After leaving the Aprilia area, we wandered up and down the rows of privateer paddocks. This was pretty neat, I have to say. I didn't realize that the guys just set up tents in rows, Burning Man style, and worked on their bikes right there. I figured that the tents/set-up would be closer to the start-finish line. I really liked wandering up and down the aisles, looking at the various bikes and tools, seeing who was doing what to their machines. Stephanie recognized one privateer, Rob Mesa, because he used to wear all-white leathers from Helimot. We talked her into asking him for a picture -- she was worried that he'd be embarrassed, but we convinced her that he would think it fucking rocked. I think he was tickled that he had a fan. :)
Towards the end of the privateer paddocks, we came upon the factory trailers and paddocks. Once again, I was totally surprised to see the factory bikes being worked on right out in the open, in front of everyone. Kickass!
Our seats were really nice. We were right behind the chicane, and had nice views of the start/finish line, the hill going up towards turn two, the carousel (turn six), and turn eight.
The qualifying laps had started by this point, so Tony and I both took a million pictures, getting used to how the cameras worked with the racers. The chicane was a great spot to practice our timing and zoom usage.
This was the first time that I'd used my S50 to photograph anything moving as quickly as a motorcycle racer, and I was pretty pleased with the results. I took some of the pictures in my usual setting ("portrait"), and some with the camera's "fast" setting. I think the camera did really well.
Eventually, I got tired of photographing people doing their qualifying laps, and went back to photographing my friends looking silly.
Tony looked so much like an adventure photographer on a jungle safari that I had to take pictures of him taking pictures. I have massive lens envy regarding his new 6-megapixel Nikon camera. *lust*
The qualifying laps were functionally indistinguishable from the practice laps. Tony promised that we would be able to tell when the actual race started. I was somewhat skeptical. I went back to photographing racers, as it beat roasting in the sun doing nothing.
I love the pace car. It appears to serve zero purpose at all, other than leading the motorcycles around the racetrack like the Pied Piper. The racers all seemed annoyed to be stuck behind it.
Unfortunately, I did not have Tony's Zoom Lens of Death, and so my pictures of the start/finish line sort of suck. If you squint, you can see them all lined up, just coming away from the start line. Yates is the blue bike in front, getting the holeshot.
Watching the race live was so much fun. I'd expected to be further away, unable to see much. I'd expected the noise to be overwhelming. Neither of these turned out to be true. We had great seats: the riders slowed down for the chicane, so it was even possible to see them and see their bikes. Very, very, fun. It was totally worth roasting alive and paying $7 per beer.
We were all moving around all over; sitting in the bleachers, walking down to the fence. It wasn't particularly crowded, so people were milling about all over. It was great, because you didn't have to worry about getting in anyone's way while taking pictures.
A little more than halfway through the race, Peter and I walked up to the top of the bleachers. We could see almost the entire raceway from the top of this hill, which made for worse close-up shots, of course, but for better angles of the raceway. There were food booths and port-a-potties up here, too, in case the walk up the hill was the last straw for your sun-addled body or mind. My favorite was a booth for some wine cooler drink that said, in huge letters, "bored with beer???" Nope, thanks, though.
Besides the great view of the track, the top of the bleachers was good for watching the bikes do all sorts of crazy stuff. For example, we were right at the braking line for the chicane. I was surprised that, even from our far-away vantage point, we could see the suspension changing and the rear lightening up under the heavy braking.
The little bump right in front of us was also, apparently, primo real estate for wheelieing. Lots of riders got some pretty good air while coming out of turn 8. The suspension must have loved the quick wheelie-stoppie transition here.
After amusing myself by watching the suspensions compress and extend -- hey, I'm a cheap date -- I took some more random photos of the racers. A breeze was picking up, I'd had a bunch of water, and the beer was starting to settle down in my stomach. My head was clearing up a little, and life was good.
Eventually, of course, Mat Mladin whupped everybody's asses and crossed the start/finish line with about a ten-minute lead. Again, I apologize for my utter lack of usable zoom, but if you look, you can see Mladin and the little dude waving the checkered flag. They're just above the CycleGear banner, beneath the row of tents.
And suddenly, just like that, the race was over. Bam! It went by super-quickly. Peter and I were sort of like, "what, that's it? Now we're done?" We wandered back to our bleacher seats and hung out with the gang for a little while as the rest of the riders finished the race. I wanted to run over to the podium to photograph the champagne and etc., but Tony and Steph convinced me that I'd never get there in time so as not to be behind the entire rest of the audience. Poo.
The supermotard race was starting at turn 7 just as we were walking past on our way to the car, so Peter and I stopped to watch that for a few minutes. I'd never seen a supermotard race before -- part racetrack and part motocross -- and it was somewhat surprising. I didn't realize that they used cut slicks for tires; I'd assumed they used knobbies, just like motocross. I was also surprised by the number of times riders stalled, and the apparent difficulty of starting their bikes back up again. If that were me, I'd be installing an electric starter, boy howdy.
Ceej informed us that Das Fetus was feeling grumpy and hungry, and that if we didn't leave Right Then Dammit, she would probably have to eat us in order to placate it. Never ones to argue with the pregnant woman, we headed towards our cars with vague directions to a parking lot in Sausalito, where we were to all reassemble.
The traffic jam leaving Sears Point wasn't too horrible, all things considered. Fortunately, I was driving, as Peter fell asleep approximately 17 seconds upon entering the car. He snored happily for the ride down to Sausalito while I dodged adrenaline-filled motorcyclists and confused cagers. We found the Mollie Stones parking lot, and were met by Ceej and David a couple of minutes later. Tony and Steph, who'd had to walk back over to the motorcycle parking area and change clothes, arrived about 10 minutes after that. We discussed food options, and decided to try a pasta/seafood place that Steph had been to on the wharf.
Dinner was nice. The wait staff was very pleasant to us, considering we were loud, dirty, sweaty, and smelled of sunscreen. After dinner, Steph and I wandered down to the docks, where she told me boating and sailing stories. It was really a gorgeous night.
We all split up after dinner and headed back to our respective homes. Because he loves me very, very much, Peter humored me and agreed to stop in the Marin Headlands on our way back from Sausalito. I'd never been to the Golden Gate Bridge at night before, and it was such a warm and clear night that I wanted to stop and see the view. It certainly wasn't disappointing.
Can't beat that for a perfect ending to a perfect day at the races. :)