Wednesday, June 17, 2009
At last it is over. Today is Tuesday in Paris and I am only now, at 3 in the afternoon feeling human again. Now to retrace time. I recall my last writing at some time in the early hours of Sunday. After that posting, I found an empty corner in the trailer and crashed hard only to be woken an hour later by Don coming in from his early morning stint. I think it was 4 when he came in which meant that he had been driving since 2 AM. And with a fierce cold no less. With camera on shoulder I headed to the garage to find who would be awake and in what condition. On walking through the pits, dawn bringing its first rays of soft golden light, there was a peaceful quality that I had not yet seen through all the running and urgency of the days previous. Peaceful, yet still charged with the intensity of 45 full blown race cars screaming full throttle around the oldest endurance track in the world. Exhausted drivers racing their guts out while their mechanics and crew stole whatever bits of sleep they could before the next pit stop. And the peace is short lived. At some point, I forget when, there is a bad crash. I am in the garage at the time and we are, all of us, horrified. The more experienced among us, silent in knowing concern. Crashes happen. They are a part of racing, but the bad ones shake even the hardest and callused of veterans. This was the #17 Pescarolo Peugeot, destroyed while holding 4th place in the P1 Class. Thankfully the driver is relatively unhurt, a miracle when one sees what is left of the car.
As I walk the dawn circuit I am taken by the sheer volume of garbage, mostly beer bottles I see strewn where fans once stood. And I am quietly amazed that with so many nationalities, testosterone and alcohol that there was no violence. They came to watch their teams try their hardest and meant to have a good time in the process. Our team director tells me the 24 Hours of Le Mans is an English race held on French soil and it is not until I walk to the opposite end of the track that I realize what he’s talking about. English and Scottish flags flying from 20 foot poles above encampments like I have never seen. Brand new Ferrari’s, Astons, Porsches & Bentley’s parked on the dirt or grass next to their tents and tables. They have crossed the channel with everything they will need for the week ahead. Food, drink and lodging such that once set up, they will not have to leave the track for the time they are there. Clearly they have done this before as nothing is left behind. They are completely set up, with make shift kitchens, dining rooms and of course bars with kegs and taps all under protection from either sun or rain. (At 24 Hours of Le Mans you are almost guaranteed to get both) And what struck me as so strange was the inclusion of these multiple $100,000 dollar + cars in these infield encampments. Incongruent with my life’s observations up to now. And isn’t that what is so good about experiencing new things, shaking up what I thought I knew with hard evidence directly to the contrary.
Back at the pits and Patrick Dempsy is in the car for the last 2 hours of the race. Without his financial help none of us would be here so it is deemed, (appropriately in my opinion) that he will race the last stint and drive the Ferrari under the checkered flag of Le Mans 2009. And he has driven extremely well. Carried his weight and some. Be clear that as an American celebrity movie star he was not welcomed warmly by all. Professional drivers demand you prove your mettle and Patrick was not about to be spared this task. Nudged, pushed and outright bumped on the track at over 150 mph, he stood his ground. Make no mistake about it, Patrick Dempsy can drive a race car, and he proved it to everyone.
Finally at the Ferrari tent we are all able to let down our guard. It is an emotional and exhausted group. For some there are tears, others smiles and warm embraces. The Italians have been incredible and we Americans are grateful beyond words. The entire team now realizing just what an incredible feet it was to finish this race without incident. One of Patrick’s sponsors are a new premium tequila brand and for the occasion they have brought a sampling of their wares. Thank you is all I can muster, and even then, only to myself. Tequila, as anyone who knows me, is my elixir. My after hours drink of choice. So in a small plastic espresso cup I am handed a celebratory shot. I see others drain theirs with a single motion but I, as I am want to do with the finer things in life, prolong mine, letting its subtle nuances linger. And before I know it we are all dispersed and making our various exits. The job done, each off to the next chapter of our respective lives. So in closing this chapter of mine, I say thanks for reading along, it’s been a hell of a ride and having you out there checking in has helped me live it all the more richly.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Le Mans, France. 12:07am, Sunday June 14, 2009
I am not tired. At least it does not feel that way. And like all things, this too will no doubt change. The race has been going for 9 hours. It doesn’t really feel like that long. But it is. I can tell because the words that used to come so easily are now elusive. I know they’re there, I just can’t find them, yet. And as I look around I see the sleepy and the sleeping. The drivers have it the worst. Piloting a car at speeds approaching 200 mph is exhausting. The cars are required by the rule makers to have air conditioning. What those of us not in the car don’t realize is that the AC is only required to keep the temperature below 32 degrees centigrade. That’s about 90 fahrenheit. Better than the 130 it would be without, and still hot. When a driver gets out of the car after an hour stint, his driving suit is soaked in sweat. Tonight they are doing double stints and will continue this for the rest of the race. For the next 14+ hours. And I have not stopped since 5:30 this morning. Which is perhaps why I am typing like a blind man. I’m back in the Ferrari tent, but it is virtually empty. A refreshing change from the day when it is full with media, teams members and hangers on. Lots of the latter. But now the air is cool, the engines wail in the distance and the announcer continues to find things to say. Fortunately my French is not good enough for me to make much sense of it all and the ear plugs soften things to a point where I have almost forgotten it’s there. Almost.
OK, I took a nap. 20 minutes and I am a new man. Well not entirely new, but new enough to get my ass out of my chair for a cup of espresso. I want one of these machines. It’s the kind that uses pre-packaged coffee pucks. Easy, no mess and tastes good. What’s not to love.
Earlier I took a walk and mingled with the masses. There are thousands of people here. Thousands and thousands. I’ll find out later how many, but for the time being we’ll just say a butt load. And they are partying as hard as they can. At least they are awake. I’m checking out of writing and into picture editing so you can see this, or at least my version. And to truly get it one needs to hear it. To hear it and to feel it in your chest. A most excellent sensation.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Friday, June 12, 10:21am, Le Mans, France
Yesterday was the the day for qualifying. And we did. Joe, Patrick & Don have passed their first hurdle and are now, as they say, ready to race. Today is ostensibly a rest day for the drivers. The last two nights they have not seen bed before 2 am and must be rested in body and mind for tomorrow’s 3 o'clock start. And we are in good hands. Our Team Director, Michael Due, a 30 year veteran of endurance racing has bought with him one of the best GT2 teams in Europe, AF Corse of Modena, Italy. Any stereotypes of disorganized, dysfunctional screaming Italians is, with this team, utterly misplaced. They are professionals of the highest caliber, and awesome to watch. They are, like the car they have prepared, an exquisite machine. There is no drama in the garage of the 81, car. Period.
As I write in our red and white Ferrari tent, the team is meeting , discussing last nights driving data and the beginnings of a plan for tomorrow. And then there is the media... Patrick, a genuinely affable fellow, attracts an unbelievable amount of attention and in so doing requires a full time PR man. Fortunately he has one of the best in the business according to those here who are familiar with his work. Adam Saal has been doing this for over 20 years. TV appearances back to back. Cameras, interviews, more interviews and at the end of the day, the parade through downtown Le Mans in vintage sports cars of past glory. What would for most drivers be a routine affair, is with Patrick’s celebrity, transformed into a strategically choreographed plan built around his very possibly threatened safety.
As we wait for the car to take our drivers to the parade, the TV cameras stream into the tent. It’s like a river, never ending, always in motion and yet always the same. Incessant, and yet he remains calm. Now for bed, as tomorrow is race day and I have no idea what to expect other than that I will, before it's over, be very very tired.
Le Mans, Day 2
It is a rainy morning, thankfully the Ferrari tent seems un-affected. there are no leaks, the food is hot and there is unlimited self serve espresso. I left caffeine behind years ago but always seem to relapse in France. When in Rome and all that. Yesterday was my first day at 24 hour endurance race. The race, to be clear will not start until Saturday, and like all events of this caliber, requires un-fathomable preparation. The people here are the best at what they do in the world. And this is already and exhausting experience. We are, all of us pushing to be the best we can in whatever capacity we are employed. And as much as we are being treated well, quarters are cramped. As I write, Patrick is giving an interview to a French fan club and I have been moved to the bathroom. It’s a nice bathroom, and I am sitting on a (closed) toilet writing. Last night I was up ‘till midnight working on files, up @ 6:30 to upload them to the site and @ 3:30, there are 10 hours left in my day. Practice starts @ 6:00 and runs to midnight. I should see my pillow sometime around 1:00.
An element of this team that I had no way of anticipating is the Dempsy factor. He is a HUGE star and in so being attracts an incredible amount of attention. Media as well as public, it seems sometimes to never end, like the rain. The rain that has washed everything since our arrival Monday afternoon. The good news is that it is supposed to stop by Friday night and be nice Saturday and Sunday. Time will of course tell and we are all, soaked as we are, ready for sun. In my position I am observing and in so doing find my self standing around watching everyone who truly has something to do that relates directly to the task at hand, that of racing cars.
As for the pictures, we shall see. I feel like I’ve shot a lot of the same stuff already and am looking forward to loud Ferrari’s and the smell of racing fuel. The intensity will no doubt increase and this will be good for pictures. One thing I have been amazed by is the level of patience Patrick has for the demands that are constantly being made of him. And now it is time for the team meeting, mandatory, like the rain.
We were to meet at a cafe, (11:15, don’t be late) and take a bus to Le Mans. We met, we ate, & the guy who carried my bag to the truck had raced @ Le Mans 14 times. 14 times. I should be carrying his bag, but he didn’t have one so I let it go. We toured Paris in one of those giant tour buses, (maroon) and now we 21 are headed inextricably south west to La Sarthe, the region that is home to the city of Le Mans. And we are a mixed lot. We’ve got surgeons, (at least 3) CEO’s, husbands with wives, a father & son and a guy who pulls errant 18 wheeler oil trucks out of 1200 feet of water with out spilling a drop. And there is me, mister picture. The rain has abated but I doubt for long. Our week looks to be intermittently wet and cloudy, a lot like home, only with better cheese.
Soon we’ll be at our destination, a chateau just 10 minutes from the circuit where we are to be welcomed by Don Kitch & Ross Bentley. There will no doubt be some deluxe spread of food and drink all at a big, fancy and old French house. This is a first class affair, this is France & I am damn lucky to be here. And I want to get shooting. My jet lag is waning ofter only 4 days & I would like very much to get things rolling.
After a few hours on the road we arrived at our beautiful chateau tucked deep in the country side. We got lost, a little, but finally arrived to an impressive sight of black clad Detagglio crew. Black umbrellas, lined up with the 4 black Mercedes vans, TEAM SEATTLE in red proudly marking the upper band of their windsheilds. It was pouring. As in really really wet. As each persons name was called they were met and escorted to a warm room repleat with the aformentioned snacks and drinks per my expectation. And my quarters are perfect. I have the top floor of the hunting lodge & Ross has the room downstairs. The bed is small, the sheets are clean and the mattress I think will be kind to my back. That’s a first impression, if I write more on this it will mean I was wrong... And of course I should mention that there are the two beams located precisely @ the level of my forehead. This is going to be a good trip. Don has done his homework and it is showing up everywhere. Now to dinner in town. Cheese and wine and all manner of delicious French fare. I love this part of France. Just love it.
Now it is late & I am tired. Tomorrow is an early start as we head to the track for............... Stay tuned & all will be revealed. And I should mention that Patrick Dempsy & Joe Foster were there tonight. Two very important individuals in this team and two very fast drivers according to those in the know. I have personally never understood celebrity adulation, but no one asked me. Nice guys the both of ‘em far as I can tell. If they slip up I’ll let you know but my hunch is, don’t hold your breath.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Since my last escapade with The Knife Maker, much has happened. The most interesting being my new association with Team Seattle, (teamseattle.com) led by non other than Don Kitch Jr. himself, king of speed, teacher of speedy wannabe's and generally remarkable fellow. I met him on a flight from Paris to Seattle last November and thought there could be no harm in asking him about the patch on his jacket that read TEAM SEATTLE / 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA. Well some 13 hours later most all my questions were answered and I was on the team as the official team photographer. Since those cold winter days much has transpired within the team. Don's tireless efforts have secured Patrick Dempsy and Joe Foster as the other two drivers, sadly leaving Chris Pallis and Ross Bentley out of the car. Ross will be staying on as the Driver Coach, a critical role in the team. With the inclusion of Mr. Dempsy & Joe Foster, Team Seattle was able to secure the required funds & is racing for the kids. And that is what counts. And, according to Don, Patrick is fast. And fast is good.
On Tuesday June 3rd I'll be off, arriving in Paris on the morning of the 4th. I chose to arrive a little early knowing it takes me an average of 5 days to kick the initial 9 hour jet lag punch. So Monday the 8th, the odessy begins with a 2 hour bus tour of Paris, (something that in 40+ years of going to Paris I've never done) and then off to our chateau 10 minutes from The circuit. Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday will have the team preparing and most importantly, QUALIFYING for the race. This is big. If the boys are slow, we don't go. So I am praying to every God I've ever encountered for His speed that week. Go Boys Go. What is so incredible about this whole thing is the goal behind it. To raise a million bucks for Seattle Children's. Over the last 12 years Don Kitch Jr. has been racing for the kids and winning. Here's the low down taken from the History section of teamseattle.com, a place I encourage you to visit. And don't forget to check out the Faces Program on the home page by clicking on the MY FACE RACED LE MANS link. It's in red and not easily missed.
Team Seattle began raising funds for Children’s Hospital as a result of team founder, Don Kitch’s desire to see motorsport contribute and be more than just a sport. He wanted to use racing as a means to support a charitable concern.
Each year, from 1997 to 2008, Team Seattle has raised funds for Children’s Hospital by collecting pledges from companies and individuals for each lap completed at the Rolex 24 Hour sports car race held every year at Daytona International Speedway.
Over the years, the Team has contributed over $550,000 to the uncompensated care fund, $1.1 million to the Cardiac Research Endowment, and almost $1.3 million to the Team Seattle Endowment for Excellence in Cardiac Intensive Care, amounting to a total of over $3.3 million. The Cardiac Intensive Care Unit has been named after Kami Renee Sutton, an inspiring heart patient and racing enthusiast who has been an integral part of Team Seattle since its inception.
12 Years at Daytona
It can be said that Team Seattle has “won” every race entered. That’s because no matter where the cars finish on the track, the team has ended each race with a significant cash contribution to Children’s Hospital. However, in 1999, Team Seattle finished 1st in the GT class and followed that up in 2003 with the two-car team’s astounding 1st and 2nd place finish in the SRP-II class.
If history is any predictor, Team Seattle’s effort at Le Mans in 2009 will bring excitement on the track and significant contributions to Children’s Hospital.
So that's all for now. I've included a few shots from the run up to this truly incredible effort by this amazing guy and the very special group of people he has attracted. Be sure to check back the week of June 8th for daily updates and first hand reporting from yours truly. And what the hell, since you can't join us in person, (sold out, so sorry) throw a little love in our direction and get YOUR face on OUR car and ride with us for 24 hours of the greatest endurance auto race in the world.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Blog entry # 2.
I had the rather excellent fortune recently to be invited by new friend, Arne Zaslove to meet his old friend, Bob Kramer. Bob's a knife man by current trade, and something of a good one if the 3 year wait to get a Kramer blade is any indicator. He's located himself in a trendy upscale neighborhood somewhere near west nowheresville Olympia. Right between to the chop-shop & meth lab. Seems like no one messes with a guy who makes knives sharper than razors and wields a bullwhip like a Capitol Hill dominatrix on crack. We stayed for awhile and shot and shot until it was clearly time to start drinking. And that's about as much as I remember. But there are the pictures...