Petit Le Mans 2011

The young man has been talking and thinking about race cars for at least a year, and I told him that if things worked out, we might go see some real race cars this fall.

It was with only a little trepidation that I bundled him into the car for a day-trip to Road Atlanta for Petit Le Mans 2011. I worried that he might find the noise scary (though I made sure he had the right hearing protection – ear plugs or scanner headphones on near the hot track at all times), but more than that, I figured that he’d take in about an hour of the 10-hour race and be done and ready to come home.

Boy was I wrong.

My boy was a trouper, and Mssrs. Panoz and Atherton put on a great day for him. We left pre-dawn to get out to the track before the rush, and still wound up sitting in line in the car for quite a while. Road Atlanta’s setup and infield roads seem to change every time I visit, too, so we first had a drive around the already-packed-to-bursting infield before settling on a tenuous parking spot heading uphill on the return road from the Turn 5 area. This proved a decent place to station, giving us access both to the start-finish straight, and to turn 5, albeit at the price of a bunch of footwork.

It wasn’t long before practice started, and I got the young man fitted out with some ear protection and we headed for the nearest fence. His first look at honest-to-goodness race cars – and he was transfixed. I did all I could to make it a great time for him – and a good thing I managed to get him out to the track when I did – he’s getting too big to hoist up to the fence in the way I did that day!

I thought he might be getting tired of the noise or of standing, but he wanted to stay at the fence for all of practice, and was unsure of heading away once it ended, but nonetheless, we moseyed back to the car for a bite, then on down to the start-finish straight to take in the pre-race festivities.

The American Le Mans Series (“For the Fans”) events typically feature an open grid setup where the fans can get up close and personal with the cars and some of the team and crew members. It was packed like sardines down on the grid, and my son wasn’t really happy with it until we got away from the pole position and things thinned out a little.

A couple of crew members were really great to us – one of the Muscle Milk racing crew recognized the Aston Martin shirt the young’un was sporting and said: “Do you know what kind of car this is?” (I stage-whispered that it was an Aston Martin) and he answered, and got hoisted up on the deck of the Muscle Milk car for a photo.

A little later, after we’d been looking at the Level 5 racing team’s Office 2010-liveried entry, one of the crew chased us down and disassembled his helmet so little man could try it on. I think we may have the next Stig living in the house!

Both these guys wers so great to us, and I’m ashamed I didn’t get their names to write and thank them and their organizations. They really helped make it a great day!

Finally, the PA boomed that it was time for spectators to clear the grid, and as we looked around, there was no quick way off. I suppose we could’ve joined the herd heading back the way we came in, but that looked like the long way out, so I headed for the exceedingly tall wall betweeen the grid area and pit lane.

I put the boy on top and someone helped him down the other side, but I could’t manage to hop myself up on it. Finally, with my kid out of sight on the other side, I had to make it over the wall any way I could, and grabbed for it like I was being chased by wolves. Finally dragged myself up and over at the cost of concrete rash down my arms and belly. But I had us together again at last. We could’ve just walked to the pit exit. Really.

We took in the start of the race from near the car, wandered around the nicely turned-out midway looking for interesting track food for lunch, and made it up to the hill overlooking turn 5 and spent quite a while there.

I shot a bit, but not like I do at my favorite race, Sebring. Sadly, these photos aren’t geotagged, ’cause I left the GPS at home. Oops.

I eventually hosted the young man in my lap for a nap, which was enough to refresh him and let us press on with the day. Amazingly, he made it through something like 14 hours of event, and I wore out before he did. He got souvenirs, got lots of love from all the spokesmodels, had a great time watching the cars and trying the food – really a great day out, and hard to beat.

I wonder what it will take to get him to Sebring for a few days…