What started out as a cold, wet, rainy morning in the hills around the Finger Lakes turned out to be a fun and exciting fan event, regardless of the motivation of the promoters and the home brewed photo op for Mobil 1.Ã‚Â It was what it was and the fans still turned out by the thousands to see their favourite stars of racing take a turn in a car they have never driven before.Ã‚Â Sure there was some grumbling about the weather and how wet and cold everyone was feeling, but like moths to a flame we were drawn to this spectacle of racing.
During the parade lap when both drivers were out with the pace car, the excitement was palpable in the crowd as everyone was anticipating the action even before it began.Ã‚Â The harmonic sound of the Vodafone F1 race car’s high winding engine mixed with the deep roar of the #14 Mobil 1 NASCAR sent chills through the crowd as if it were a symphony being directed by a great composer.Ã‚Â This was the stage being set for a couple of guys going out to have some fun, then trade cars and go out and do it again.
Hamilton’s first 3 laps were uneventful as expected.Ã‚Â This is his car after all.Ã‚Â The hollow, haunting sound of the lone F1 car out on the track echoed through the trees and the older fans in the crowd reminisced about the days when F1 ruled here in it’s glory days.Ã‚Â All eyes were fixed to the track, cameras were everywhere, fans and professional media alike.Ã‚Â The drone of the engine seemed to wake everyone up as all heads followed the lone car speeding its way around the legendary track.
Then it was Stewart’s turn to lap his car around the track and get a feel for the rain tires underneath him.Ã‚Â Since NASCAR has only ever had a few laps of practice turned on cup cars in the past, Stewart had never had to learn the feel of them before.Ã‚Â After the first lap however he was tearing them up and letting loose, even through the unfamiliar section of the “Boot” with a smile so wide you could almost see it from the sidelines.Ã‚Â For those who follow NASCAR we know the only time NASCAR has ever completed a race with rain tires was in Montreal during the rain shortened Nationwide race in 2009, and a few practice laps at the cup level were in Motegi Japan.
After running around in their familiar machines it was time to set the stage for the swap.Ã‚Â Stewart and Hamilton took a few minutes while the teams prepared the cars for them, to debrief each other on what to expect handling and performance wise, and where to let loose and hold back a little.Ã‚Â Neither of them could remove the smiles from their faces as they listened and prepared for what was about to happen.Ã‚Â During this time the crowd was ripe with anticipation.Ã‚Â Would one of the drivers make a mistake and put their respective car into the wall or the tires?Ã‚Â Most expected that Hamilton would be the one to do it although there were bets being made around me to the contrary.
“Tony won’t hold’er back” said one fan. “He’ll let loose and spin ‘er out for sure”
“Hamilton’s never driven a NASCAR before, Tony has driven open wheelers before, it’s going to be Hamilton in the wall right here in front of us”, said another.
Then the roar of the NASCAR engine coming back to life signaled to the crowd that history was about to be made again and the show was about to get on again.Ã‚Â Making the swap into the car was easier in the NASCAR as the Hendrick’s Motorsport seat simply had to have inserts changed for the drivers to get a comfortable fit.Ã‚Â So while Hamilton was out on the track in Stewart’s car, the engineers were busy changing the entire seat in the F1 car so that Tony would be able to fit the seat and have a more controlled ride.
Hamilton proved all the nay sayers wrong as he handled the car with amazing skill and even ran better lap times than Tony had just a short while before.Ã‚Â He showed that his remarkable talent extends to vehicles so much different from the Karts and open wheel cars he is used to.Ã‚Â And when he was done with his laps, he refused to come it and Tony was heard over the radio saying “Light it up son.”Ã‚Â Hamilton brought the car to a stop in front of the grandstands and put on a burnout show like a pro sending plumes of tire smoke into the air as he turned donuts that would make any NASCAR fan proud.
Returning to pit lane, and climbing out of the car, Hamilton’s smile was visible from the grand stands and the crowd roared their approval of his performance as he waved his thanks to them for being there.
Now it was time for Stewart to return to the track, and the crowd was growing anxious.Ã‚Â Would Tony be the one to fail and put the unfamiliar car into the wall?Ã‚Â Would we see him push the car to it’s limits or will he lay back and enjoy the ride?Ã‚Â Anyone who knows Tony Stewart knows there was no laying back planned for this excursion.
Tony pulled out of the pits cautiously but after one lap on the track he was winding it up like he had been born in that car, as he does with every car he puts out there.Ã‚Â After seeing his lap times be beaten by Hamilton, Tony went out and showed that he has
what it takes as well, beating Hamilton’s best lap time by a full 5 seconds, and that was only on the second lap.Ã‚Â Tony picked up the pace and improved by a further 3 second faster on his final lap.Ã‚Â (or at least that was what the guy standing next to me with the stop watch assured me since there was no telemetry at the track to disprove it)
All in all the day was a success, and after the racers were done the crowd filed happily out to their cars and out of the track, all of them talking about how nice it was to take a day and go watch some cars rip up the track.Ã‚Â True fans know that any chance to see your drivers on the track is a good day, regardless of the weather.Ã‚Â However there was a feeling amongst the fans that more could have been done, Maybe some autograph sessions of something to give them a little more.Ã‚Â Sure it admission was free, but it is we the fans who driver this sport and put these drivers where they are, and allow for opportunities like this to happen.Ã‚Â But at the end of the day it was still a great event and the smiles on the faces of the fans proved it.
Thank you Tony Stewart and Lewis Hamilton (and sponsors and media) for giving us a day at the track that we otherwise would have never thought could happen.