Friday, April 5 - Our short Arizona adventure started early on Friday morning when we awaken at 3:15 and were on the road to Philadelphia before 4 AM. We were taking two cars as Pat was returning one day earlier on Sunday so she didn’t miss two days of work and I would be returning on Monday leaving Phoenix late in the afternoon. Things were going along well until were closing in on the Blue Route (Rt. 476) that connects the Northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-95. We came to a screeching halt as an accident ahead stopped us in our tracks at 4:50. We sat on the Northeast Extension for an hour and a half with the road reopening at 6:20. It would mean we would not arrive at the Philadelphia International Airport in time to catch our 7:10 non-stop flight to Phoenix. We checked in at one of the Southwest counters and were told we would be flying stand by for the remainder of the journey. There was a flight leaving at 9:40 flying into Chicago Midway Airport and we would have to check there for connections to Phoenix. The lady at the first check in told us to check again upstairs and we are glad we did as the young lady above was able to get us on a flight leaving in five minutes from the time we spoke with her. So it was off to Chicago Midway at 8 AM and leg one of our Friday adventure was underway. Upon arriving in Chicago we spoke with another counter person and she booked us stand by on a flight to St. Louis. She also said they would call the names of the stand bys and neither Pat nor I heard our names called and I saw the door closed to the walkway. We approached the counter again and the lady said they had called the stand by names but she was able to issue us boarding passes to board the plane. This plane was going to St. Louis and then onto Phoenix so we would not have to deplane unless the flight was overbooked. Upon our approach to St. Louis the pilot announced that there was a change of plans and this plane would be going to Orlando instead. We would have to exit the aircraft and proceed down a few gates to another plane that was flying to Phoenix. Exiting the plane a Southwest worker told us we should proceed to the gate where the flight was going to be boarding soon and we would be ushered onto the plane during pre-boarding. I was hoping at this point that there was no one already aboard and we would be able to pick our seats on this flight. With Southwest there are no assigned seats and you are allowed to pick your own. We were first onto the plane and lo and behold we were the first passengers. We chose one of the exit aisles where the legroom in front of you is large. Enough for this 6′4″ frame to stretch straight out and never come close to touching the seat in front of me. Yes, that was great as segment three was the longest we would be on a plane today. All in all it was not that bad as we arrived only three hours later than originally intended. I had booked a tour of Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, for 12:30 but was able to switch it to Saturday at the same time while sitting on the tarmac waiting to leave for Phoenix. Wow, that was close!! Finally at 12:50 we arrived in the Valley of the Sun. We had lunch at a Black Bear Diner, which is a western chain of diners, recommended by friend, Gordy Killian and we were not disappointed with the food served. I ordered a hamburger with bacon and arriving at the table shortly was a half pound monster that was bigger than the roll that it sat on and the bacon was thick cut long strips that could have been a meal in themself. Pat’s three decker BLT was massive also and we came away very impressed with our first dining experience at a Black Bear Diner. If you are in the West and come across a Black Bear Diner please stop in, you will be pleased that you did.
Saturday, April 6 - With the three hour time change we both had some problems getting a good night of sleep but arose at 8 AM to start our long day of activity. On tap today were visits to two new tracks in Arizona for us both and a visit to Chase Field for an insider’s tour of the facility. We decided to eat a breakfast before leaving for our tour and picked a U.S. Egg eatery which turned out to be another great find. The fresh pressed apple juice was worth the trip in itself not to mention the delicious egg specialities devoured. Then it was off to Chase Field where we joined a group of 14 for an insider’s tour of the massive facility. We saw up close the pool located behinde the left field fence where parties can book the area for a game complete with showers and private locker room. A visit to one of the corporate boxes gave a view of the field that not many people ever get a chance to enjoy. Down the elevators to the bowels of the building where we visited the visitor’s locker room, saw all the cables and piping used to keep the building functionable and finally to one of the dugouts where you got a whole new perspective of how a game can unfold. It was a great hour and 15 minute tour but now it was time to head to our first of two racetracks where there would only be one countable race on the day.
Our afternoon destination was the Arizona Motorsports Park, a flat 2.25 mile, 16 turn road course, located in Litchfield Park which is west of Phoenix. This track has had a storied and troubled history and it was a rare occasion to catch a countable race at this facility. The reasoning for this is that Arizona Motorsports Park has a 94.0 dBA sound limit enforced on it by the county commissioners even though Luke Air Force Base is close nearby. More on this story will follow. I had been in touch with ProAutoSports Marketing and Communications Director, Dylan Hatch, for over a month beforehand and up until Wednesday he and I were not sure if they would have any countable class of racers that would be able to meet the strick decibel limit. On Wednesday though a little past noontime an e-mail arrived from Dylan with the Saturday schedule and the lone countable race, the Yellow Group, which was an open wheel class of Formula Ford entrants. The countable race was scheduled for 3:40 PM and would be 20 minutes in duration. It would be the last track activity of the day. Breaking a few speed limits along the way we arrrived at Arizona Motorsports Park at 2:30 and signed the waiver form at the registration tent (free admission) before proceeding onto the race track grounds.
I pulled the car up near the ProAutoSports trailer and hurried off to find an official to make sure things were still on time or if they might be ahead of time. I must admit that even though we enjoy dirt tracks more than asphalt ones the road courses and the sanctioning bodies keep tight schedules and adher to them unlike the majority of the dirt races we attend. ProAutoSports was no exception as I struck up a conversation with official, John Devine, which lasted for a half hour. John filled me in on the saga of the Arizona Motorsports Park and its troubled history. It seems when the owners started out building the track there was not decibel limit and not many other restrictions. It was a series of mistakes and lies by the owners that prompted the county commissioners to place a mirad of restrictions upon the facility and even shut it down for several years. What were the owners thinking after sinking 5 million dollars into the building of the track and then doing so many stupid things to piss of the county commissioners to this extent!! So now you have a road course and cannot run any sanctioning body races with loud cars at your facility. What a nightmare!! Every car is checked as they exit the last turn and take a run down the homestretch. Luckily for us the Yellow Group was under the decibel limit and we would see racing today.
John suggested driving to the apex of the 16th turn and viewing the racing from that point. It was a good suggestion as from that area you could see virtually the entire racing circuit. Even with that on the large course turns 10, 11 and 12 were quite a distance from our vantage point. At promptly 3:40 the green flag waved on the six car Yellow Group and they were off to the races. The first lap had two cars spin in turn eight almost right in front of us and basically took those two out of the hunt for the win. About midrace Jim Edmonds got a good run off of turn four and passed Dave Purcell down the 1549 foot backstretch before reaching turn five. From there on Edmonds pulled away from the rest of the field and took the checkered flag at 4 PM ending the full day of various race groups (all the others with the exception of karts not racing in side by side action). It was an enjoyable day in the sunshine of Arizona watching numerous racers having fun doing something that they love doing. After the race ended I tracked down the top three finishers and enjoyed discussing the race with winner, Jim Edmonds who is 69 years young, and runnerup, Dave Purcell, who explained that the gear ratio he had in his racing machine was not ideal for this course but they are running Firebird West next weekend and he didn’t feel like changing them twice. Edmonds told me that he and four other Formula Ford racers from Arizona are headed across country to Montreal next weekend for a meet up in Canada. And you folks probably think we are nuts at times traveling all over but here are some dedicated racers making the long haul to Montreal to do some racing. Thanks guys for the interesting conversation and hope your future races and travels are good and safe ones!! Jeff Karns came home third and one of the first lap spinners, Tim Herbst, rallied from a huge deficit to claim fourth at the end.
So new track #1 was in the books and now it was time to grab something to eat and head over to the other new track for the evening portion of this two new track double. Check back in a day or two for the next blog on part two of our Arizona adventure.