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

Rays Earn Boston Tea Party Berth

The Tampa Bay Rays never seem to do things the easy way.

But, based on recent results, the hard way seems to suit them just fine.

Playing in their 39th game in the past 41 days the Tampa Bay Rays claimed the American League Wild Card title Wednesday night with a 4-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

The Rays have been winning away from home for over two weeks. They finally will come back to the Trop on October 7th. Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have been winning away from home for over two weeks. They finally will come back to the Trop on October 7th.
Photo R. Anderson

For the second time in three nights the Rays went into a hostile environment faced with a win or go home elimination game only to arise victorious and celebrate on the field while the home team’s fans looked on with sadness.

Of course the showdown in Cleveland was just one of many stops on the Rays’ late season whistle stop tour.

The Rays have been on the road since September 24th, when they opened a three-game series in New York against the Yankees.

The Rays swept the Yankees.

Then it was off to Toronto, where they lost two games to the Blue Jays before winning the regular-season finale to force a one-game tiebreaker with the Texas Rangers.

The Rays beat the Rangers with a complete game pitching effort from David Price in front of a sellout crowd at the Ballpark in Arlington.

The win in Texas earned the Rays a trip to Cleveland where they once again claimed victory and silenced a sellout crowd.

Fernando Rodney, finished off the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night. Rodney  will look to  shoot some more arrows starting tonight in the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox. Photo R. Anderson

Fernando Rodney, finished off the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night. Rodney will look to shoot some more arrows starting tonight in the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox.
Photo R. Anderson

Alex Cobb took the mound for the Rays and allowed no runs on eight hits a walk and five strikeouts to pick up the win.

Despite missing 50 games earlier in the year after getting hit with a line drive and suffering a concussion, Cobb showed no signs of buckling under the pressure created by the sellout crowd of 43,579 rally towel-waving Cleveland fans.

With the Cleveland win the Rays earned another destination and more frequent flier miles.

The Rays will start the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox tonight.

The Rays and Red Sox are familiar division foes who were fairly evenly matched during their regular season match ups this year.

Matt Moore takes the mound for the Rays tonight against the Boston Red Sox. Photo R. Anderson

Matt Moore takes the mound for the Rays tonight against the Boston Red Sox.
Photo R. Anderson

Matt Moore will look to continue the strong pitching performances by Rays starters in game one of the best of five series tonight at Fenway Park.

The good news for the Rays is that on October 7 they finally get to return to Tropicana Field for a home game and some changes of clothes.

A home game would also occur in game four of the series if needed before a return trip to Boston in the event of a winner take all game five scenario.

The Rays will get to add 2013 Wild Card to their banner collection at Tropicana Field. Of course they are hoping for several more up to World Series Champion this year. Photo R. Anderson

The Rays will get to add 2013 Wild Card to their banner collection at Tropicana Field. Of course they are hoping for several more up to World Series Champion this year.
Photo R. Anderson

Regardless of what happens in Boston the Rays will get to hoist a 2013 Wild Card Champion banner into the rafters at Tropicana Field.

Of course there is room for a few other banners as well as the team has its sights set on a return trip to the World Series.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there is some American League Division Series baseball to get ready for.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

 

Rays Finally Silence Rangers in an Elimination Game

The past two times the Tampa Bay Rays went to the postseason they were knocked out by the Texas Rangers.

So on paper when the Rays and Rangers met Monday night for the tiebreaker game to earn the second Wildcard spot and a trip to the postseason it felt like deja vu all over again.

The Rays had dropped two of three games against the Toronto Blue Jays to slip from first place in the Wildcard standings to tied for the second spot with the Rangers. The Rangers on the other hand had won 10 straight games and were hosting the pivotal 163rd game of the season.

Historically Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has not been kind to the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo R. Anderson

Historically Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has not been kind to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rangers held a four games to three edge over the Rays during their regular season meetings leading to the Rangers having home field advantage for the regular season tiebreaker.

Momentum and home field advantage were clearly in favor of the Rangers, on paper.

On paper the pitching match up also favored the Rangers as David Price, the defending American League Cy Young Award winner, took the mound for the Rays.

Despite being the defending Cy Young Award winner Price had only defeated the Rangers once in his career and in previous meetings the Rangers and little difficulty scoring runs off of him.

Before the game there were many who looked at Price’s past performance against the Rangers and said that the Rays were foolish to put him on the mound in a win or go home type scenario with the whole season on the line.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon made several player substitiutiuons that helped propel the Tampa Bay Rays into the postseason Monday night. Photo R. Anderson

Rays Manager Joe Maddon made several player substations that helped propel the Tampa Bay Rays into the postseason Monday night.
Photo R. Anderson

But Rays Manager Joe Maddon is not one of those people who does what conventional wisdom says and he put his ace on the mound despite Price only having one victory in his career against the Rangers.

Thankfully for Rays fans though Monday night was not like the previous two meetings as the Rays defeated the Rangers in Arlington to return to the postseason for the fourth time in the last six years.

As for David Price, the guy who the Rangers had managed to dominate the past few years, he pitched a complete game and only gave up two runs.

I guess one could say he balled up that piece of paper that said he couldn’t win against the Rangers in big games.

The Rays face the Cleveland Indians tonight in a win or go home Wildcard game with the winner facing the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series.

Alex Cobb who finished the season with an 11-3 mark and a 2.76 ERA in 22 starts will take the mound for the Rays.

Alex Cobb will look to extend the season for the Tampa Bay Rays tonight when he pitches against the Cleveland Indians in the American League Wildcard game. Photo R. Anderson

Alex Cobb will look to extend the season for the Tampa Bay Rays tonight when he pitches against the Cleveland Indians in the American League Wildcard game.
Photo R. Anderson

On paper the teams are pretty evenly matched.

And once again the Rays will be living out of their suitcases as they face yet another game on the road.

Of course, the Rays seem to excel in the face of adversity and hostile crowds so I will place my money on the Rays winning the game.

While there is still a lot of October baseball to be played I would not be the least bit surprised if the Rays make it all the way to the World Series.

Don’t tell me what the odds are of that happening on paper are.

After all, the Rays have shown time and time again that just because it is the conventional wisdom, it is not the way the Rays play.

The Rays are a different team with a quirky manager that gets the most out of his players in every situation and once again they are in the playoffs.

Regardless of what happens in the game tonight the Rays will be remembered as a playoff contender once more.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to watch.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson