This has been some trip for me and the family! I have gone to places in America I never thought I would visit and done some things I never thought I would do. However, before telling you about the fun on the road, I shall tell you about the fun on the track at Virginia International Raceway.
The moment I saw the track I knew it would suit me perfectly. I got there a couple of days early and went out on a track walk with the family in tow. Wow what a place. Now I have another one to add to my ‘favourite track’ list. Mind you we weren’t alone on this walk as a couple of bears were watching us from the trees! That was definitely a first. Luckily I learn tracks quickly, and so it didn’t take me long to bed myself in and luckily once Bill Auberlen and myself were out in the BMW Z4 GTLM on Friday it felt like I had been there before.
Free practice and qualifying went well and I was very happy when Bill put it on the front row of the grid. I should perhaps explain that we take this task in turn. Now it is four to me and five to Bill. However, it was my turn to start the race and I can’t tell you how good it was for the first time this year to see a totally clear track ahead of me as I followed the pace car. Here in VIR we were only racing with the GTD class, so there were no other cars in front of us.
The start was, as usual, pretty busy, but I managed to hang on in there and keep our second place. I had to cope with pressure from behind, including from the sister BMW Team RLL car of Dirk Müller, but I was able to do that and at the end of my 50 minute stint was able to pass the car over to Bill still in second.
There are a lot of factors that come into play in sports car racing and strategy is key. However, the frequent full course yellows can be lucky or unlucky. Sadly for us in VIR they were unlucky. We were lying fourth behind the other BMW going into the final phase, and we knew one of the cars ahead would have to stop for fuel. However, with 15 minutes to go a Porsche stopped at the side of the track, a full course yellow followed and our hopes were dashed. Ironically it was another Porsche that was due to pit and so misfortune for one of these cars helped another of them.
At the end of 2 hours 45 minutes and 82 laps we were fourth, just a second behind the other BMW in third and 1.7seconds behind the winning Ferrari. I can’t say we weren’t disappointed, but that’s racing. We did everything we could. The team gave us the perfectly strategy, but we didn’t have a crystal ball to see what would happen at the end. Anyway this did help us in the driver championship, and now Bill and myself are tied in third place with our team-mates Dirk and John Edwards.
Now back to the road trip that got us to VIR. Once we left Road America it was off to see my cousins just down the road in Milwaukee. I was able to indulge myself in one of my passions – Harley Davidson motorbikes. These magnificent machines are made locally and, along with my son Seb, I was able to visit the local store. Needless to say I could have bought the lot.
Then it was off to the jellybean factory, something my daughter Danniella wanted to do. We came out of there with the biggest bags of sweeties you could imagine. Mind you not all of them were that wonderful. Some had the most disgusting flavours and meant the kids could play tricks on people. The person I felt sorriest for was Bill Cobb, who does the pr at the races for BMW NA. Bill is such a nice guy, but even he, someone who just hates the taste of cheese, couldn’t hide his revulsion at a mouldy cheese jellybean!
From jellybeans it was off to see the home of the King – Memphis where Elvis Presley lived. On the way the motorhome started to play up, and I was pushed to my limits of technical expertise. If it wasn’t one thing going wrong it was the other. Just to list a few failures – the engine light came on, the air conditioning packed up, the water pump broke and this was swiftly followed by the hoover, washing machine and fridge. I had to work pretty hard on all of these and have to admit I got little or no help from the family, who just laughed at my efforts.
Once at Memphis we actually pulled into the Gracelands RV Park. We were expecting everything Elvis, but hadn’t reckoned on it being the anniversary of his death. The place was full of Elvis impersonators. I felt out of place so we even bought me a pair of his distinctive style of sunglasses with thick sideburns attached. I looked the part as I tried to sing songs like Hound Dog as I drove along!
Then we were back on the road to Nashville. What an amazing place that is. I highly recommend anyone to make a visit. Here I bought myself a pair of cowboy boots decorated with the stars and stripes and learnt something new – line dancing. I think I am quite a smooth mover, but my efforts were again found funny by the family.
Then the trip down to VIR was through the lovely Smokey Mountains where we saw some of the wildlife in the form of Black Bears. They are lovely creatures and we saw one with a couple of cubs just about three or four metres away from us. We were told they were not aggressive, but I admit I didn’t try to see how friendly they were. Finally we made it to VIR and it was just amazing. I was chomping at the bit to do my track walk.
Now the family holiday is almost at an end. We are now back on the road and this time it is south to Florida where we will leave the motorhome to be stored in Tampa. Once this is done we shall then go to Orlando and it will be home time and back to school for the kids, and, along with that - reality. What a great experience for all of us. A trip I shall never forget.