Just an fyi this post is going to be different because this is a first person race diary. If you are looking for just a telling of Tony’s race day experience you can read the official Stewart-Haas Racing post race wrap-up here. — Amy
It started back in February when Misty said to me- after hearing of her driver Jeff Gordon’s retirement announcement- “I wish we could go to the race in Miami“. I responded with “Why can’t we? We can just skip Phoenix this year and head to Miami instead.” She was surprised- I remember the exact words out of her mouth were “You’d go to Miami with me?” I said “Heck yeah I would.” And so began our odyssey. I found out that there was a list you could put yourself on to buy tickets for the race in Miami and I put us on the list to buy tickets as soon as they became available to non-season ticket holders. We didn’t buy anything else or plan anything else until I got a very early phone call from Homestead Miami’s ticket office when they were going through the online list of potential ticket buyers. The ticketing agent was very helpful in getting us awesome seats (at the end of a row- our favorite spot) in our price range. As a surprise to Misty, I sprung for the pre-race pit passes because we decided back in February that we were going to this race as fans. No media center for us at Homestead because when you are in the media center there are rules- like no wearing driver gear and there was no way we were going all that way for Jeff Gordon’s last race to have Misty NOT wear her Jeff Gordon gear proudly. As a matter of fact- I had a great conversation with the ticketing agent about why I only wanted Sunday only tickets (because we wanted to spend the rest of our short time in the area sight seeing having never been to the area before). After our tickets were secured Misty took over as our travel agent securing us a Hotel right on the beach, securing our direct flight from McCarran Airport (LAS) in Vegas to Miami International Airport, securing us a rental car. She did it all. She even bought us a guide book for Miami that we both poured over in the months prior to the trip so that we could decide in advance what we wanted to see while we were there. We also knew that we were traveling an airline that charges to check bags and since we weren’t going to be there that long we (Misty) decided we could do this with just our carry-on. I am a notorious over-packer so I really had to limit myself to taking just what I thought I would absolutely need. It would also seriously hamper the amount of souvenirs I could bring home. I also decided for this reason- to only bring a point-and-shoot camera and my cell phone because I didn’t want my camera equipment taking up my clothing allotment in my carryon!
Wednesday before the race- I left the central coast of California in my Chevy Equinox and drove to Vegas- a drive I know well and make several times a year. Thursday night we left my car at the airport parking lot at flew from Vegas to Miami on the red-eye. Before (very early) Friday morning – I had never been further south or further east than Phoenix Arizona (remember I live on the central coast of California). It was all a totally new experiences for me. TOTALLY NEW. I got my very first TSA pat down (and hand swab) because apparently I look quite sketchy. My favorite part of that was the TSA agent describing where she was going to pat me in loud-whispered graphic detail (let’s just say the words left butt cheek were said). Misty (who I must add flies a heck of a lot more than I do and ALWAYS seems to be the one who gets selected for pat down and swabbing)- got WAVED THROUGH security. She apparently doesn’t look as sketchy when measured up against me.
Flying for that long and flying on a red-eye were also new experiences. I couldn’t figure out how to make my seat recline (Nor could Misty- I think we just had bum seats- because we were able to make them recline on the flight back). I should have bought a neck pillow. I didn’t sleep as much as I had hoped- despite being purposely tired when I boarded- I was just too ramped up from all the excitement and new experiences plus the plane seat was uncomfortable. We landed in Miami at 5:20 am local time (that is 2:20 am to my brain’s internal clock) and navigated what seemed to be several miles of moving sidewalks and trams at Miami International Airport until we finally arrived at the rental car station. Misty got us the economy car because why spend a bunch- we just needed a car to get us from point a, b and c…didn’t have to be fancy. We ended up with a black Ford Focus (a fact we will revisit this in a bit). We were both tired, cranky and attempting to navigate in a city that we weren’t familiar with- but we got to our hotel in Miami Beach by 7:00. Misty had arranged prior for a very early check in (we paid extra for this)- yet somehow this got missed (but not really because the agent at the desk showed us the note in our reservation after he was able to get it to pull up) so that took a bit of time to straighten that out. Turns out parking is at such a premium in Miami Beach that you are pretty much forced to valet your car at the hotel- and it’s not cheap to do so. We drug our suitcases upstairs to our fifth floor room sent texts to people who might be worried about our travels and each crashed in our respective beds. I don’t remember what time we ended up waking up but it was probably about noonish local time. We decided that first order of business for us was to visit the beach- which was right out the back pool area for our hotel. There was a long boardwalk that ran along the beach behind what appeared to be most of the hotels at the beach and at every hotel there was a ramp down to the actual beach. It was quite different from beaches around here. The sand was powdery the ocean was greener and warmer. And it was on the wrong side. But it was beautiful.
We decided that neither of us were in the mood to deal with the valet (he was rude when we checked in) so we would explore the area on foot. And explore we did. We ate at one of the restaurants on Misty’s Miami list and coincidentally we actually kind of stumbled upon it by accident because we both happened to be hungry. I don’t know if this is an east coast thing, a southern thing or a Miami thing- but a LOT of the restaurants in Miami Beach are open air. The only actual building is where the kitchen is- but dining is all outdoors under umbrellas or awnings. This restaurant was no exception. Moreno’s Cuba is a Cuban restaurant and the food was delicious. We then walked around some more and visited a shopping district that was on both of our to-visit lists (Lincoln Street) and before we knew it we had walked ALL OVER Miami beach (I have a fitbit and I walked well over 15,000 steps that day alone). We started back in the direction of our hotel.
We ended up at the Holocaust Memorial (which was also on both of our to-see lists) and decided to walk through it. It was so unexpectedly emotional. I was personally VERY impacted by it. It was just- something that everyone should experience is the only way I can put it. Here are but a few pictures from the memorial to give you an idea:
We finished our journey back to the hotel – only getting slightly lost once but we righted ourselves and ended up walking over a footbridge that gave us this awesome view.
By the time we got back to the hotel it was evening and we decided after some deliberation that we would have dinner downstairs in the hotel lounge (which was also open air) and Mojitos. It was fun.
Saturday we had plans to find the speedway for Sunday, plus explore some of the keys while we were heading south. We were able to find the speedway quickly so we would know where we were going on Sunday since we were actually staying at the beach which is north of the speedway by about 30 miles. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the keys all the way down- so we stuck to Key Virginia and Key Biscayne. They were beautiful and we saw the Key Biscayne Lighthouse which is the southern most lighthouse and was also a stop on the underground railroad- which was cool.
We also visited a shopping mall along the way home and by the time we were heading back to the hotel it was late and had been raining. As we made our way slowly north we ended up driving in the dark and POURING hard rain. Somehow we ended up in downtown Miami- in a not so savory neighborhood in the dark lost in the pouring rain. Neither of our cell phones were working to get us going the right direction. It decides of course to poor harder. Oh and I have failed to mention that lovely Ford Focus? It has been slipping terribly all day and steadily getting worse as we continued. And then our tire light comes on. There are no gas stations, no freeways, all industrial and the only other people are just some really sketchy looking people under an underpass doing sketchy looking things. It had all the makings of either a horror movie or a sitcom. But wait it gets better. We finally end up after driving around on a possibly compromised tire in a shady neighborhood until we finally found an area we recognized but ended up in the wrong lane because of crazy traffic from an international book fair and ended up in the port of Miami…as in we had to drive into the actual cruise ship port because we could NOT get over. We finally get turned around and going the right way and gently limp the car towards the hotel until we find a service station a couple miles from the hotel. We probably looked comical at the gas station trying to figure out which tire needed air- putting air in the tires (so we thought anyway- but I don’t think we actually did) and getting it to the hotel valet. Misty called the rental place at the airport (thank goodness they were still open) and they asked us to bring it in to trade it out in the morning but the only thing they had were minivans. But we didn’t care as long as it worked. This night we needed our afternoon cocktail at the hotel lounge tradition that we started the night before!
We got up early on race day because we had to go to the airport rental center to switch out cars. We got to the rental center and they were VERY accommodating and upgraded us for free to pretty much anything we wanted that they had so we picked the Jeep Liberty. It was nice and we would end up using that to our advantage during the rain delay as we sought refuge in the car during the rain delay. We stopped for breakfast and then headed on over to the track – and got there just before gates to the track opened. It was a little cloudy but more blue than clouds when we got there. We used our pre-race pit passes and I have to say that one thing Homestead Miami does that no track I have ever been to does that I LOVED is that they let pre-race pit passholders go on a ride around the track in a tram. It was FUN! I had a great time.
I also had my first experience with the Fanatics Merchandise tent format of merchandising. I didn’t like it so much. Maybe it was because I was NOT doing well with the humidity but I found the tent where you actually pay miserably hot. MISERABLY SO. I also felt like they didn’t have as much stuff per driver. I also wasn’t a fan of sloshing through the mud to get from driver to driver to do my shopping. The only good thing is that you can shop multiple drivers and make one payment but everything else seemed to be a pain in the tookus. We decided that instead of cart our souveniors around the track we would just take them back out to the Jeep- and by the time we got to the Jeep it started raining. We sat out the rain their since the other option would have been to fight for room under the grandstands. It didn’t rain THAT long though…and we just laughed and joked and watched our neighbors in the parking lot play cornhole in the rain.
It dried off and we made our way back to the track and into our seats and the race started fairly quickly- after the pre-race ceremonies and our card stunt ( we were somewhere around the top between the A and N of Thank I think):
While the race wasn’t that great for Tony because he sustained damage during a wreck involving other people relegated him to finishing laps down. The race itself though was good and thrilling at the end that had everyone on their feet!
Here are some various race day pictures:
We got out of that race track probably the fastest we have ever gotten out of a track. We sat down at a restaurant after the race- left because they didn’t even acknowledge us for 20 minutes and changed to a different restaurant and were still back at the hotel at a fairly decent hour (after getting stuck in some race traffic because we stopped for dinner).
Monday we took another quick trip to the beach. Had some Cuban pastries and coffee at the market down the street for breakfast and then checked out of our hotel and drove to the airport and flew back to Vegas. The next day I drove back home. I swear that the drive was way longer on the way home. Yet it’s not going to stop me from heading to Vegas later this week for champions week festivities.
You can see my entire Miami photo album on Flickr!
This trip was one of those once in a life time trips and I am so glad that we went. As Misty said- we can have as much fun and drama as a television show like Friends but there is only the two of us.
As a Tony fan, I am also so glad that this season is over. It was a rather crappy season obviously and I hope that the crew chief change is a step in the right direction for a positive season next year because I do NOT want Tony’s cup driver career to end on such a crappy note.
More from Champions week festivities next week!
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.