Grand Experience with Grand Prix of Houston

The Grand Prix of Houston was held over the past weekend. I know this because I was there.

But more on how I was able to be there in a bit. First it is important to mention the lasting visual that made its way across the sports media yesterday afternoon.

Will Power (front) and Scott Dixon (back) each won a race during the Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader with Dixon leaving as the points leader with one race left in the season. Photo R. Anderson

Will Power (front) and Scott Dixon (back) each won a race during the Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader with Dixon leaving as the points leader with one race left in the season.
Photo R. Anderson

The race ended with a terrible last lap crash that sent Dario Franchitti to the hospital with a concussion, fractured vertebrae and a fractured ankle. The crash also injured a baker’s dozen of fans and a race official.

The fencing put in place did its job and prevented more injuries from occurring but it is once again a reminder that racing is a dangerous sport and even races on a flat parking lot can cause cars to become airborne with the right set of circumstances.

Despite the crash, the weekend started with the promise of two races in the parking lot of Reliant Center.

That’s right boys and girls they were racing in a parking lot around a football stadium and a concert hall.

When I first learned that the Indy Racing League was coming to Houston I was excited since I had missed out on covering the Champ Car Grand Prix back in 2007 when they were last here.

Dario Franchitti was injured in a last lap crash on Sunday at the Grand Prix of Houston. Photo R. Anderson

Dario Franchitti was injured in a last lap crash on Sunday at the Grand Prix of Houston.
Photo R. Anderson

I have a picture that was taken of me when I was a freshmen in high school in front of the pace car for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. I would often look at that picture and think how cool it would be to cover the race some time.

A few years ago I was in St. Petersburg for some Spring Training baseball and had the opportunity to drive on a portion of the track. Granted I was going under 50 miles an hour but I can still say that I drove on an IRL course.

So that brings us back to the Grand Prix of Houston and my thoughts that the race would occur in downtown Houston as it had previously been.

But, imagine my surprise when I learned that instead of a race course around Minute Maid Park and other downtown destinations the race would be held in a parking lot around the Astrodome and Reliant Stadium.

To my knowledge this is the first parking lot Grand Prix that has ever been run.

And it was not without its share of bumps along the way.

A temporary tire barrier had to be installed after a large bump was discovered in the parking lot road course Friday afternoon. Photo R. Anderson

A temporary tire barrier had to be installed after a large bump was discovered in the parking lot road course Friday afternoon.
Photo R. Anderson

For starters during practice on Friday a large bump on the track was discovered. After leading to a few wrecks a temporary solution of a tire barrier was added to the track to help slow cars down to avoid the bump in the road.

Friday night there was some grinding on the bump and the temporary tires were removed once the course was deemed smooth enough once more.

I spent most of Friday watching the practice from the grandstand and touring the grounds since I was “on staff” for the event. Unfortunately one thing that I forgot to do Friday was apply sunscreen.

As a result of my lapse in sunscreen application I burned to a little crisp and will soon be greeted by the post burn peeling.

Drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay (left) and Marco Andretti (right) get an update on the tire barrier construction that pushed qualifying back from Friday to Saturday for the Grand Prix of Houston. Photo R. Anderson

Drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay (left) and Marco Andretti (right) get an update on the tire barrier construction that pushed qualifying back from Friday to Saturday for the Grand Prix of Houston.
Photo R. Anderson

But with two days left in the weekend I was not about to let some sunburn get the better of me.

Saturday included an early arrival to the track and an all day marathon of walking through the Paddock and garage area as well as watching the first race.

As part of working the event as a volunteer, I was given an all access pass for the weekend. Aside from spending some time on pit road on Friday I really did not test the boundaries of all of the areas I could access Saturday and mostly stuck to the areas with the general public.

And might I add it was a very well behaved general public compared to some of the other large sporting events that I have attended.

I can’t say for sure what it was that made this particular crowd so well behaved but I can see that after three days in their midst I did not see a single drunk or unruly fan nor did I see anyone taken away by security for any reason.

Will Power (center) held off Scott Dixon (left) and James Hinchcliffe (right) in Sunday's Grand Prix of Houston finale. Photo R. Anderson

Will Power (center) held off Scott Dixon (left) and James Hinchcliffe (right) in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Houston finale.
Photo R. Anderson

Make of that what you will, but if you want to see a well behaved crowd I suggest you try an Indy Racing League event.

Sunday was the final day of the Grand Prix weekend, and as noted earlier it ended with hospital trips for a driver and some fans.

But before all of that happened Sunday was the day that I finally tested what exactly my “all access” pass could do.

Now, I knew that the pass would not allow me to say drive an Indy car, but I figured that there were some cool things that it would allow me to do.

The first of those things was to walk onto pit lane while the track was “hot.”

I spent around 20 laps walking through the pits and was close enough to the action to feel the heat from the cars as they passed.

James Hinchcliffe gives victory circle a champagne bath following Sunday's Grand Prix of Houston Indy Racing League race. Photo R. Anderson

James Hinchcliffe gives victory circle a champagne bath following Sunday’s Grand Prix of Houston Indy Racing League race.
Photo R. Anderson

I saw the pit crews in action and watched the members of the radio and television broadcast teams run from pit to pit to get their stories.

After wandering the pits for awhile I finally settled near the start/finish line and victory circle.  I remained there through the end of the race and the trophy presentations.

It was also in victory circle where I heard about the wreck and was joined by my new found Indy friends in looking on the race monitor and hoping that everyone got through it okay.

It turns out that my all access pass really did provide all access. I am sure there are some other areas that I did not get to but I am sure I will check those out next year with another all access pass.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have some more aloe to apply.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson