Thursday, September 27, 2007

Zippo Historics

As previously mentioned, I recently attended my very first Zippo Historics at the fabulous Watkins Glen International circuit in Up-State New York.

This most wonderful permanent road course has been on my “Must Visit” list for several years, as I’m even more disappointed now that I never got to see Formula 1 race there in anger!

As many of you may know, the track is nestled in “Old Growth” Farmlands nearby the town of Watkins Glen and the gentle rolling hills reminded me a little bit of Eastern Washington.

Although I didn’t have a chance to visit the entire track which is fairly long by today’s standards at just over 3.37 miles. Nor Did I get to visit the esses or the chicane where all ‘O dem Roundy Round boyzs like to run over each other, but I did get to experience portions of the back half of this magnificent venue.

Arriving in Syracuse, NY Thursday evening to an overly warm temperature of 92 deg f, Robert & Cili picked me up and drove me to their wonderful 1910 two story “Arts & Crafts” era homestead in Ithica, NY. Unbeknownst to me their son Marcus had decided that he wanted to camp at the race track so he could be awoken to the symphonic sounds of vintage machinery, which sounded like a great idea to me.

Fortunately I wasn’t required to participate in the early morning jousting for a “Primo” camp site location as Robert & Cili dashed off to Watkins Glen at 6AM to set up the tents, while I slept in (sort of) at Chez Sadie Manor… With the plan being to leave for the race track as soon as young Marcus returned home from school.

With supplies packed we left in two vehicles for the greener pastures of Watkins Glen late Friday afternoon. And it was amazing to me how you simply drive underneath the race track twice to access the “Back Forty,” as we were greeted to the sounds of rancorous snarling V8’s while passing underneath…

We arrived at our original campsite “just-in-time” to watch the days final open practice session which featured two AWESOME BMW M1’s circulating about, nipping at a duo of Ford GT40’s! Yet as we stood by our little tent, a nearby RV camper informed us we were too close to the track, were blocking his view and would be completely smoked out by their evening’s bon fire… So the four of us picked up the tent and carried it across the dirt road, resetting it on higher ground just below the latrine.

Hanging out at our pleasant camp site, a stiff breeze kept the mosquitoes away for the evening. Unfortunately the breeze only increased as the howling winds kept trying to blow away our rain flies… As I awoke sometime in the early morning thinking that the tent poles were possibly snapping? That was a very rough night as Cili told me I looked tired after awakening prior to the sounds of racing engines.

Saturday morning featured a variety of classes competing in their various qualifying races as we basically hung out at our campsite during the morning before deciding to head off for the pits to reconnoiter the various vintage machinery.

There Marcus pointed out to me several awesome vehicles, including a GT40 parked alongside a Lola T70, a Benetton sponsored Tyrrell and my sentimental favourites, two, count ‘em two red Ferrari 512 BBi L/M’s complete with matching rosso Ferrari semi trailer emblazoned with a giant sized black prancing horse on the tailgate!

Then upon watching the winged Formula 2 group near a pedestrian bridge, we decided to go in hunt of some lunch as I’d asked to get the Grand Marshall’s autograph if possible. So Cili accompanied me to the Pyramid shop where ex-Formula 1 winner John Watson was set to sign autographs during two sessions on Saturday.

Hanging about at a table nearby our concession stand, Marcus set off to go find his viewing spot for the upcoming Formula 1 session, while Cili returned to show me the way to the Pyramid shop. And as we began walking the skies opened up and I was treated to a typical Up State rain shower, which was fast ‘N furious. Fortunately Cili had talked me into putting my earlier purchases into a plastic bag which was most appreciated for keeping my camera & program dry on our way to the autograph session.

And standing in the crowded souvenir booth as we attempted waiting out the rain storm, Cili said; Ok, let’s go get in line; I think the rain is stopping. Standing in a very small line in front of the tent awning, a voice behind me said we’ll be glad to sign autographs if you let us in… As the Ulsterman stood patiently behind me! And then while standing in line, my timing seemed to be impeccable stepping underneath the awning as another deluge of precipitation began. While John “Wattie” Watson was being extremely friendly to each of us, taking time to engage each of us in conversation

Tomaso: Are you going to be calling the A1 GP Series this year?
Watson: Yes, we’ll be leaving for Zanport at the end of the month

Tomaso: Oh, you mean you actually commentate live, instead of from some remote location?
Watson: Yes, we do all of the broadcasts live, You get some (“Mickey Mouse”) badly chopped-up version here in the States.

Tomaso: Well I really enjoy your commentating…
Watson: Thank you and I plan to be even MORE OUTRAGEOUS this season…
Tomaso: More outrageous?

Then Cili and I walked around the pits a little more before deciding to head back to our camp site. Passing the Pyramid store once again, Cili asked me if I wanted to ask “Wattie” anything else, telling me he’s sitting alone right now… As I’m positive that the rain fall was a huge incentive for people to stay away, as I should have really gone back, but I was hard pressed for anything else to ask him as my memory of his racing accomplishments were very hazy…

Yet as we made our way back the rain dissipated and we emerged from the other end of the pedestrian tunnel to sunlight. Where Marcus and Robert were watching the afternoons qualifying action from our little tent compound.

I was amazed to notice that there was an entire race grouping of Pre War Bugatti’s motoring about. Unfortunately the rain picked up once again and we finally decided to jump in the cars and drive back to Chez Sadie Manor for the evening and the comforts of being dry!

Sunday morning saw us pile back into a single vehicle and return to our still standing rain soaked tent compound. Fortunately Robert and Marcus had put up a very much welcomed tent awning the day prior which offered us refuge from the never ceasing precipitation.

For humour I talked Marcus into showing me the neighboring burm in order to get a different vantage point. As we trekked up the steep hill, I noticed that we were the only “brave” souls to occupy the burm. Thus we were given an unobstructed sight line to the cars sweeping thru the final turns prior to launching onto the front straight. Yet it was pretty funny watching the various cars disappear into the low lying fog bank, with the growling big block Corvette’s disappearing from our view, followed next by eight Formula 2 chassis (primarily brabham’s) racing at a reduced rate as it began sprinkling.

Then Marcus said let’s go back, here comes the rain… (Marcus seems to have an uncanny knack for reading the cloud formations) as we arrived back at Camp Cili as the skies opened up “big time.”

Then things got strange… As the sun returned, this caused a temperature inversion which induced a mammoth fog bank to envelop the entire race track, as a precious GT 40 slithered around behind the BMW pace car. Noting that only four cars were brave enough to attempt tackling the changing weather conditions unfortunately the dense fog caused a safety hazard as the corner workers were unable to see from station to station. Thus forcing a Red flag condition (Not to mention the drivers limited visibility!) This was the very first time I’ve ever been to any racing event that has been stopped due to fog…

The lengthy delay caused the scrubbing of some events along with pushing back others while we waited out the fog. And then it began to lift so we were treated to some further racing as the Bugatti’s rolled out. Then the winds picked up again and the rain and fog returned, so we decided to go into Watkins Glen for some lunch while hoping the weather would clear. And while in town we saw the poor sap who’d been camping near us in his Cobra replica and trailer profusely wiping the front window with a rag. As the Canadian driver was sans top!

Returning to the track, we were bemused to notice the solid stream of traffic leaving the circuit as we seemed to be the lone fish fighting upstream on our way back to Camp Cili, where unfortunately the rain persisted. As we dived back underneath the cover of our awning, we all saw a mammoth flash of lightning with almost no lag in the thunderous boom mear by our tents. So we finally decided to give up and took everything down in the pounding rain, jumped into the minivan and joined the few remaining hearty souls exiting the venue…