March 13, 2016
For the past five years or so, I have traveled to attend the Indy Car season opening race in St. Petersburg and this year the scheduling of the Indy Car schedule has moved up the date of the race from late March/ early April to much earlier in the month of March. This year the change worked out perfectly as the race schedule overlapped with Tampa Bay Beer week and a number of other cool events including the Gasparilla Music Festival and a concert by what may have been the strangest yet most amazing bands that I have ever seen, dubbed the World’s best food themed Black Sabbath cover band, the wild foursome that make up Mac Sabbath were playing a show at the bar Local 662 and once I heard they were playing, I just had to attend.
Actually my visit to St. Pete began with a few stops at the many amazing microbreweries that are located there. I started off at Three Daughters, before hitting Green Bench Brewing and finally a new place called Cage Brewing that ended up being my favorite. It was not so much the beer at Cage, which was quite good, the wonderous dive bar feel that you rarely find in microbreweries. It was just a great, great place to hang out, with really cool staff and patrons and featuring video games and pinball machines all fixed so that all play was free as well as foosball and pool tables and a wonderful outdoor patio area. It was here that some patrons were pregaming before going to the Mac Sabbath show and they let me know about the show insisting that I should go if I could.
I headed down to Local 662 and was able to get a ticket and make it in to the packed bar just as the headliners, Mac Sabbath were starting. Having just seen another band in disguise last week, when we saw Here Come the Mummies, I thought I was ready for whatever happened, but nothing could have prepared me for Mac Sabbath. The four piece band is a parody heavy metal band that dressed up as McDonaldland characters and performs Black Sabbath songs with the lyrics changed to all be about fast food. The band features lead singer Ronald Osbourne (Ronald McDonald), guitarist Slayer MacCheeze (Mayor McCheese), bassist Grimalice (Grimace) and drummer the Catburglar (the Hamburglar).
They have an elaborate stage show with crazy lighting, visual effects, inflatable fast food, a grill and fake hamburgers all designed around a theme of insulting fast food while playing excellent faithful versions of Black Sabbath songs. They are actually a pretty decent band musically and they have all sorts of fun while performing, it is really unlike anything I have ever seen and I am so glad that I listened to those folks at Cage who told me to go.
It was a great night to kick off race weekend in St Pete. The start of the Indy Car season is always an exciting time for me and this year once again, I was fortunate to get an Indy Car Hard Card pass, which basically allows me all access to every race on the Indy Car schedule, including access to the garage, pits, press center and all press conferences which is a really cool way to get a lot of access. Each new season brings new drivers, team changes and the return of old favorites who look to capture the Indy Car championship that was won by Scott Dixon over Juan Pablo Montoya on a tiebreaker (most races won) after they tied in points.
Max Chilton and Dario Franchitti
Some of the big story lines this season include the introduction of four rookies in the field, Spencer Pigot, Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi and Max Chilton. Chilton and Rossi both spent time driving in Formula 1 last season, while Pigot was the Indy Lights champion and Daly did a couple of Indy Car starts. All looked fairly impressive in early testing and in the initial practices. It is cool to see some cool young talent coming in to the series. I just wish there were more actual teams coming in as most of the same players from last year are here again.
It was also cool to welcome back two drivers returning after being injured, James Hinchcliffe will be in his first race back after his life threatening wreck last May at Indianapolis and Russian driver Mikhail Alesian is doing a full season again after missing all but the final race last season after being seriously injured. Both look fully recovered and looked great being back on track. The usual suspects led the speed chart as drivers from Team Penske, Power, Montoya, Pagenaud and Castroneves and Chip Ganassi racing, Dixon and Kanaan all looked great. Something of a surprise was the excellent practice sessions by Foyt drivers, Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato who both ran great in the early practices.
I was a little sad as two friends and familiar faces will no longer be around the Indy Car Paddock, my friend Jason who works for Ganassi racing has moved after years in Indy Car over to the Sports Car team that Ganassi is running, so Jason will be at tracks like LeMans and Sebring instead of the Indy circuits. Also my friend Kirsten broke up with her Indy Car driver boyfriend and has moved back to Australia. Such is the nature of things, but I will miss seeing her around and wish her well. Other than that I still have a number of friends involved with the series and I am more than happy to be back.
The practice session was mostly uneventful other than one major incident where Will Power lost control after hitting a bump in the track and had heavy contact with the wall. It was a huge hit that did a huge amount of damage to the car, though the team did an amazing job repairing the car and Power was back out late in the day setting the fastest time in the rebuilt car so it did not seem to be a huge issue. I saw the crash though and it was a big hit, so it is great news that it was not much worse than it was.