Formula 1 Fan Fest at the US Grand Prix

We returned to Austin last year to attend the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas (we last visited the race during its inaugural race in 2012).

I flew to Austin on Wednesday, and thanks to following  F1 on NBC Sports on Twitter, I managed to meet Manor F1 Driver Alexander Rossi shortly after landing! I rushed over to the food truck court while he was filming a segment for the show, “Off the Grid.” You can read more about my experience here.

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I met Manor F1 driver Alexander Rossi while he was filming a segment for NBC Sports show, “Off the Grid.”

We were staying with my sister outside of Austin, so drove downtown on Thursday to walk around, visit the Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest and then later that night attend Will Buxton’s Big Time Bash at the Rattle Inn. We parked close to the Rattle Inn, since that would be our last stop of the night. As a huge fan of Topo Chico water, Dave was thrilled to see this Topo Chico mural on the side of the their building and had to take a picture.

Sidebar: Topo Chico water is carbonated mineral water from Mexico. My sister and her husband introduced Dave to it a few years ago, and he is hooked. Topo Chico is only gradually entering the market in Los Angeles, so it has been difficult for us to find. It is everywhere in Austin – you can even order it at bars! Needless to say, Dave was in heaven – we were in Austin to watch Formula 1 AND he could drink as much Topo Chico as he wanted.

 

Austin Rattle Inn Topo Chico

Dave outside the Rattle Inn, thrilled with the Topo Chico mural on the building.

Aryton Senna Exhibit

While walking around the city, we discovered this exhibit on famed Formula 1 multi-World Championship driver Aryton Senna. It was a small exhibit, but featured some of his race suits, helmets and wings from the cars he drove in Formula 1.

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One of Aryton Senna’s helmets.

 

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Senna’s helmet, race suit and gloves, and the steering wheel and wing from his McLaren Formula 1 car.

Aryton Senna display at Formula 1 USGP Austin

The small display of Senna memorabilia

Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest

After enjoying the Senna exhibit, we headed to the COTA Fan Fest on Rainey Street. The Fan Fest is free, and listed an impressive line-up of musical acts including Public Enemy and Trombone Shorty, but since we were there to see the race, we did not stay to watch them. We knew we would be tired walking around the track on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so we decided to focus on being well-rested. That being said, the Fan Fest provides entertainment for the serious and casual race fan, and excellent live music.

The skies were threatening rain, but we walked into the enclosed area and explored some of the food and drink booths. Not surprisingly, Topo Chico was there!

Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest USGP Austin Topo Chico

We had to have our picture taken in the Topo Chico photo booth, and we took home a Topo Chico poster (Dave is that obsessed with this water that he wants a poster!).

COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest USGP Austin Topo Chico

All smiles drinking Topo Chico!

There was an Illy coffee truck, which was exciting for me since I love Italian coffee.

Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest USGP Formula 1 Austin Illy Coffee

Free cans of Illy iced coffee drink!

On the main stage, later in the evening the musical acts were set to perform. First though, our main focus was hearing Formula 1 drivers interviewed.

COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest Austin

The main stage at the Fan Fest

I really enjoyed this as we usually only hear the drivers interviewed on TV immediately after qualifying sessions or the race, and this informal interview, with four drivers at the same time, allowed us to hear their personalities more. I was thrilled that my favorite driver Felipe Massa was on the panel – he is quite funny! Joining Felipe was his Williams Martini Racing teammate Valtteri Bottas, Ferrari Reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez, and Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg. There were rumors swirling that Gutierrez would be announced as a driver for the new Haas Formula 1 team, and while he was asked about that, Gutierrez artfully dodged that question (and he was indeed announced as one of Haas’ drivers the following week).

COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest Gutierrez Hulkenberg Bottas Massa

Formula 1 drivers Esteban Gutierrez, Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa

I remember Felipe Massa teasing Gutierrez about having a long conversation with Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen (Kimi is notorious for being a man of few words).

Williams Martini Racing Valterri Bottas and Felipe Massa at COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest

Williams Martini Racing teammates Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa

Valtterri Bottas and Felipe Massa interview at COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest Austin

Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa being interviewed at the COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest 2015

Williams Martini Racing Formula 1 drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa at COTA Fan Fest

Williams Martini Racing driver Felipe Massa answers a question while teammate Valtteri Bottas looks on at the COTA Formula 1 Fan Fest in 2015

The interviews continued, but we wanted to make it back to the Rattle Inn for the Will Buxton event. We quickly jumped in an Uber (sadly ride-sharing car services Uber and Lyft are no longer allowed in Austin), and made it over to the Rattle Inn just in time to see…

Buxton's Big Time Bash at Rattle Inn Austin with Esteban Gutierrez and Felipe Massa

Blurry photo of Esteban Gutierrez and Felipe Massa on stage at the Rattle Inn with F1 on NBC’s Will Buxton

Esteban Gutierrez and Felipe Massa on stage with the evening’s host, NBC Sports’ Will Buxton!

There was a suggested donation to join the party as Will and organizer Austin Grand Prix were raising money for Austin’s Meals on Wheels and the Justin Wilson Children’s Fund. The room was packed with race fans.

After Gutierrez and Massa left the stage, we were treated to hearing Alexander Rossi. Rossi, an American driver, had only recently been named a driver for the Manor Racing Team for the last half of the season. As the first American Formula 1 driver in several years, everyone was thrilled to watch him race in Austin.

Manor Formula 1 Driver Alexander Rossi with F1 on NBC Sports reporter Will Buxton Austin Rattle Inn

Manor F1 driver Alexander Rossi on stage with Will Buxton

Some of the loudest cheers that night were for the F1 on NBC Sports television team of Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett and David Hobbs.

F1 on NBC Sports Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey at the Rattle Inn, Austin.

F1 on NBC on-air talent Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey on stage at Will Buxton’s Big Time Bash at the Rattle Inn in Austin, 2015.

F1 on NBC Sports Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey at Rattle Inn in Austin

A packed house to hear and see F1 on NBC Sports’ Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey live at the Rattle Inn in Austin.

Steve Matchett, David Hobbs and Leigh Diffey from F1 on NBC Sports

Throughout the evening, Will Buxton and organizer Austin Grand Prix raffled off prizes from some of the Formula 1 teams. Sadly, we did not win anything.

After the official program, all the fans stayed to mingle, and we managed to meet both Leigh Diffey and Steve Matchett. David Hobbs proved to be elusive!

F1 on NBC Sports' Leigh Diffey and me at the Rattle Inn in Austin

Meeting Leigh Diffey at the Rattle Inn

F1 on NBC Sports' Steve Matchett with me and Dave at the Rattle Inn in Austin

Dave and I with Steve Matchett at Buxton’s Big Time Bash at the Rattle Inn

After mingling with other fans, we were looking for a bite to eat before heading home. Luckily for us, Austin has many options for getting your fill of Tex-Mex, and the Violet Taco food truck was right next door. We ordered a few, and a Topo Chico of course, and they were really good! I would recommend stopping here the next time you are in Austin.

Topo Chico and tacos from the Violet Taco food truck in Austin

Tacos and Topo Chico from the Violet Taco

After filling up on tacos, we headed back to my sister’s to rest up for the official events at the track starting on Friday.

This year, Austin Grand Prix announced that they will be taking a break from organizing the Buxton Bash, but they are already planning for an event next year. You can read a complete re-cap of the 2015 event, with a listing of the prizes donated by drivers and teams here.

There is a Fan Fest in downtown Austin again this year on Friday and Saturday nights, and it’s a great opportunity to hear live music and enjoy Austin nightlife. There are also car displays, photos and exhibits, and it is FREE! If you’re staying downtown, you don’t have to worry about driving to and from the track like we did, leaving you more time to enjoy the fun!

Are you attending the USGP in Austin this year? If so, let me know what your plans are while you’re in town. We will be watching the race from California this year.

 

“The Race at the Base” – Fun at the Coronado Speed Festival

Coronado Speed Festival the Race at the Base

On Sunday we drove down to San Diego and Coronado Island for the 19th Annual Coronado Speed Festival. Hosted by Naval Base Coronado on Naval Air Station North Island, the “Race at the Base” features a car corral, ten different car class races on an active runway, and the opportunity to tour the Naval base and ships and explore some of the aircraft on display.

We left Riverside around 7:30 AM (after a friend’s wedding the night before) and arrived shortly before 9:00 AM. Traffic was light so we were able to drive through Coronado Island onto the base and park with no waiting. After parking, we walked to security screening, much like at an airport, except that no large bags or backpacks were allowed. I was turned around with my small backpack as it was deemed too large. Luckily I brought my fanny pack along so I stuffed that with my wallet, cell phone, extra battery and ear plugs, and I hand carried a can of spray sunscreen. The marine layer was still overhead when we arrived, but we knew it would burn off and we would need sun protection.

The Coronado Speed Festival runs all day Saturday and Sunday and is part of Fleet Week San Diego. Tickets for each day were $25 for adults, but we had a coupon from Reader City for $15 each (Active duty military personnel are admitted free and children under 12 are free; a weekend pass is $35). While we missed some of the early races, each group of cars raced in the afternoon as well, and we were able to watch all the different groups race later in the day.

The Paddock

We walked around the paddock where each car was getting race prepped. There was a wide variety of cars to enjoy; I always enjoy the older cars, especially the pre-war racers.

Morgan automobile at Coronado Speed Festival in San Diego for Vintage car racing

A beautiful Morgan automobile.

A vintage Porsche at Coronado Speed Festival

A vintage Porsche

1991 IMSA GTO Roush Mustang at Coronado Speed Festival

The 1991 IMSA GTO Roush Mustang. When we peaked inside the back, there was gravel all over the car floor, picked up from the track.

1991 IMSA GTO Roush Mustang at Coronado Speed Festival

The back of the1991 IMSA GTO Roush Mustang exposed.

Paddock at Coronado Speed Festival

Three cars in the paddock.

Comedian, podcaster, documentary filmmaker and vintage car racer Adam Carolla, who was racing in Group 8 with his Bob Sharp Datsun 610, posed for a picture with us. He said that the first two races on Saturday seemed to go well, but there was something not right with the car, and they were not sure if they had it fixed. He advised that if we saw his car moving slowly on the track, it was the car and not the driver. Sadly when we watched his group race, we knew that his car problems continued, and he did not participate in the afternoon race for his group.

Adam Carolla at the Coronado Speed Festival

Dave and I chatted with Adam Carolla before his group raced.

Many of the cars had signs that described their provenance and race history.

1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Trans-AM / IMSA GTO in the paddock at Coronado Speed Festival

1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Trans-AM / IMSA GTO – this car would be in a heated battle for first place in the last race of the day.

1952 Allard K2 at Coronado Speed Festival paddock

The 1952 Allard K2

Watching the Races

We walked over to one of two spectator stands, and when we climbed to the top, we could peer over and see the cars lining up in advance of each race. It was fun to watch the cars drive in and be directed to their place in the grid.

Group 8 cars on the race grid at the Coronado Speed Festival for vintage car racing

Group 8 cars – mass produced cars and sedans built prior to 1973 – line up on the race grid.

Sportscar Vintage Racing Association group 8 cars on the grid at Coronado Speed Festival

Looking down on the Group 8 grid from the stands. In the distance on the left is the short course for the Jaguar test drives.

Sportscar Vintage Racing Association Group 10 cars on the grid at Coronado Speed Festival

Group 10 – NASCAR Cup and Nationwide Stock Cars – line up on the grid

Pre-war race cars at Coronado Speed Festival

The Pre-War race cars line up in the grid as the NASCAR group exits the track

pre-war vintage race cars at Coronado Speed Festival

The pre-war race cars lined up in the grid (the San Diego skyline is in the back on the right)

From this perch we could see almost all of the 1.7 mile race track. Facing north, sailboats sailed by on San Diego bay and flights departed from the airport as the marine layer hugged San Diego in the morning.

Sportcar Vintage Racing Association grid at Coronado Speed Festival

Group 9 – “Wings & Slicks” open-wheel race cars as raced from 1973 – 2008 – on the grid with San Diego Bay and San Diego to the north in the background.

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Heading from the grid

Coronado Speed Festival Sportscar Vintage Racing Association

Heading from the grid for Group 7

Other Activities at the Base

Unfortunately while we were watching groups 8 and 10 race, we missed the pit crew challenge. Active duty military personnel competed in a pit crew time trial with NASCAR cars and equipment.

We were treated to some of the Naval Seahawk helicopters flying over the racetrack while we were in the stands, and we also saw some F-18s take off (they were a bit too fast to take a picture).

Naval seahawk helicopters at Coronado Speed Festival

Naval Seakhawk helicopters flew over the track during the races

During the noon lunch break, I was fortunate to take a selfie with actor Gary Sinise. Gary and his Lt. Dan Band performed on Saturday at the fest. He was the Grand Marshall for the races. I thanked him for all that he does to support our military with the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Coronado Speed Festival actor Gary Sinise

Meeting Actor and Coronado Speed Festival Grand Marshall Gary Sinise (note my hand-carried can of sunscreen!)

I realized too late that while the racing paused for a lunch time breaks that hot laps were offered – spectators were being driven around as passengers in some of the cars. By the time I realized this and got in line, it was too late. Something I definitely would like to do next year!

After grabbing lunch, we stood in line to test drive Jaguars. Jaguar is a sponsor of the event and had professional drivers there to tell us about their vehicles. We had the option of either being driven around the short course on the field or driving the cars ourselves. The line to test drive the Jaguars was long, not surprising, and I wish we stood in line for the test drive when we first arrived – the line was shorter and the sun was still hiding behind the marine layer. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the drive and accelerating these beautiful vehicles on the track. I first drove the XE and then after getting a feel for the track switched to the F-type, with much more horse power and sportier styling. Both beautiful cars, and I liked their power!

The groups all raced again in the afternoon, and while we planned to leave early, we ended up staying to watch my favorite group, the pre-war cars. Since there was only one race after that, we decided to remain for that as well, Group 10b, and I’m glad we did. The 1998 Ford/Penske Taurus Stock Car and 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Winston Cup traded places the entire race, and as we could see all of the track from near the start/finish line, it was fun to watch them battle on track for position with one car being better in the turns while another caught up on the straights. All of the cars that raced by group are listed on the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association website, as are the results from each of the qualifying sessions (from Saturday) and races.

Pre-war cars race for the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association at Coronado Speed Festival

Pre-war cars race at Coronado Speed Festival

Pre-war cars race Sportscar Vintage Racing Association at Coronado Speed Festival

The Pre-War race featured this National with two drivers.

The last race of the day proved to be quite exciting.

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These two cars traded positions the entire race. Eventually the white car barely edged out the black car at the finish line.

Coronado Speed Festival Sportscar Vintage Racing Association

This Ford/Penske Taurus Stock car and Oldsmobile Cutlass Winston fought for first place the entire race.

Coronado Speed Festival Race at the Base Vintage Car racing

In this photo, the Oldsmobile is in the lead.

Learning About Naval Helicopters

Once the racing concluded, we walked out past the helicopters that lined the entrance to the event. The pilots allowed us to peak inside and tell us about their aircraft. We saw MH-60R and MH-60S Seahawk helicopters with different configurations depending on the mission of each. It was amazing to see these machines up close, and even more amazing that they are able to leave the ground and fly.

MH-60 Seahawk Naval Helicopters at Naval Base Coronado

MH-60 Seahawk Helicopters parked at Naval Air Station North Island

Naval seahawk helicopters parked at Naval Base Coronado

MH-60 Seahawk Helicopters parked at Naval Air Station North Island

cockpit of naval helicopter MH-60 Seahawk on Naval Base Coronado during Fleet Week San Diego

The cockpit of one of the MH-60 Seahawks on display

Naval helicopter at Naval Base Coronado during Fleet Week San Diego

MH-60 Seahawk Naval Helicopter on display for the Coronado Speed Festival

While we didn’t beat the traffic leaving the base, the delays were not onerous as we sat in some traffic on Coronado Island heading to the Coronado Bay Bridge.

Overall, it was a fun day. While there are a good number of cars to see, there weren’t so many that it was exhausting. We were able to walk up and down each of the paddock lanes a few times each and see everything. Because we were only there on the one day though, we didn’t allow time for touring of the ships that were open or for touring the base.

The Race at the Base is a fun weekend event, something the entire family can enjoy. Where else can you see classic cars racing on a live naval runway with the beautiful waters of San Diego Bay surrounding you  and the skyline of San Diego to the east?

San Diego as seen from Coronado Speed Festival

View of downtown San Diego from Naval Air Station North Island and the Coronado Speed Festival

For more information on the other activities during Fleet Week San Diego, visit their website.

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Remembering at the 9/11 Memorial

Today, September 11, 2016, marks fifteen years since the terrorist attacks on the United States.

Today, we remember all those innocent people who lost their lives on that day.

I lived in New York City for three years, but at the time of the attacks, I was living in California. My uncle and I visited Ground Zero in the months after the attacks when it was unrecognizable. It is amazing to see the transformation of this part of Manhattan.

I was fortunate to visit the 9/11 Memorial twice – in November, 2014, and then recently a few weeks ago in August. I found the Memorial site to be beautiful, haunting, moving.

Here are some images of the site.

Photos from my visit in November, 2014.

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I heard that a white rose is placed at the name of each victim on their birth day.

I heard that a white rose is placed at the name of each victim on their birth day.

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From my visit a few weeks ago.

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One World Trade Center is the building behind the memorial on the left.

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Looking towards the new WTC Transit Hub, otherwise known as Oculus.

While visiting the 9/11 Memorial with my parents and a family friend, my dad told us about the sons of one of his former bosses, from many years ago. They both worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and died in the attacks. We searched for their names on one of the information kiosks and found their place on the memorial.

 

9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center in New York City

We ran our hands over their names. We paused. We reflected. We prayed. We cried. We remembered that horrible day. We will never forget.

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A Grand Train Station: Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station

30th Street exterior 2

Does it happen to you that you live in a city, visit or pass by its landmarks often and don’t think twice about it? Then you see an Instagram photo or a blog post about your city and realize that sometimes you take its most treasured sights for granted? Or don’t stop to appreciate them more often?

I attended college in Philadelphia (at the University of Pennsylvania) and after graduating I lived in New York City and then northern Virginia for seven years, returning regularly to Philadelphia for visits back to campus or to see friends. Traveling to Philadelphia, I rode the train – NJ Transit and SEPTA to and from New York City or Amtrak to and from Washington, DC. I would get off the train at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and hurry on my way, rarely stopping to appreciate the station itself.

Once I moved to California, I returned to Philadelphia several times a year for work, but my arrivals into Philadelphia were via the airport. I rarely visited 30th Street Station.

Last week I returned to the east coast for a wedding and to visit family and friends. We were staying with friends in New Jersey, and since I did not have a car, I rode SEPTA from Trenton, New Jersey, to visit Philadelphia for the day.

As I arrived into 30th Street Station, I stopped to wonder. The station has been refurbished in recent years, returned to its original glory, and it is truly an architectural and historical sight to see.

30th Street hall

The main hall, 30th Street Station, Philadelphia

The ceiling is so high with columns at either end of the station, lending to its stately presence.

The regional SEPTA trains do not depart from the main tracks in the central hall, but to access those tracks you must walk through this grand space.

30th Street Statue

Angel of the Resurrection (1952) by Walter Hancock honors members of the Pennsylvania Rail Road that died in World War II.

The hall below is in-between the main center hall and the area of the station with Amtrak ticket windows and rental car agencies. I like that it is kept simple and open. Passengers are lined up for one of the Amtrak tracks accessed from the main hall.

30th Street side room

The sculpture on the wall is Spirit of Transportation (1895) by Karl Bitter

The flipping train schedule board is in the center of the main hall. A few days after I visited the station, news broke that the sign would be replaced by an LED sign. I wish I had recorded video of the sign changing. As I was taking pictures, I heard the clack, clack, clack as the train departure and arrival information changed, and it made me smile.

30th Street schedule

The central train schedule in the main hall. Amtrak and Acela trains are listed on this board.

I found this video by director and producer Max Goldberg of five five collective that pays homage to the arrival board. It captures the sound of the board changing!

 

The station’s exterior is covered with scaffolding as apparently work is being completed. There is a modern sign in front that is new. Behind the flags in the photo below the awning covering the SEPTA tracks can be seen. The area inside the scaffolding features a food court. There is also a news stand and florist.

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Viewing 30th Street Station from the southeast corner.

Located across the Schuylkill River from Center City Philadelphia, 30th Street Station is a convenient hub for commuters and tourists alike to access Philadelphia. The building itself is worth a visit even if you are not taking a train into the city.

When I rushed to catch a train later that night, I did not have time to stop and take photos, but I did look around with wonder and appreciation of the architecture of this beautiful building.

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Atlanta Olympics 1996 – Watching Michael Johnson Win Gold and Set a World Record

Watching the Rio Summer Olympics last week and this week brings back memories of attending the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996. Tonight is the final of the Men’s 200M in Track and Field, and I remember watching the 200M final in 1996 when Michael Johnson broke his own world record and won the gold medal.

Track and field are my favorite events at the Olympics, and after entering the Olympic ticket lottery, I was thrilled that I received several tickets to the track and field events. I was even more excited that we were there to witness the 200M final.

It was a thrill to be in the packed stadium, watching the buildup to the start of the race.

Back in 1996, I only had a simple film camera (no digital cameras or smart phones back then), so unfortunately, the photos from that historic night are not high quality.

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Sitting in the stadium with my friends Jennifer and Ira for the track and field events.

I found this video on YouTube of the race shared by user renjithkadappoor. The commentator mentions Johnson’s top competitors including Ato Boldin of Trinidad and Tobago (now reporting at the Olympics for NBC) who won the bronze medal.

 

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My photo of the scoreboard after Johnson won

Even though my photos are blurry, I still treasure them and the memories of the night that they trigger.

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Johnson in triumph after the race. He was easy to spot on the track because of his gold shoes.

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My photo of the scoreboard after the race showing all the finishers and Johnson’s world record time of 19.32 seconds.

I still have this Sports Illustrated issue from August 12, 1996, showing Johnson on the cover.

Michael Johnson SI cover

Tonight NBC will air the 200M final from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Watching the race on TV, I will remember the historic race that I witnessed in 1996.

 

Team USA’s Road to Rio Tour

The Team USA Road to Rio tour visited Venice Beach, California, last weekend, and I stopped by for a quick visit. The tour has been traveling around the United States since last summer, visiting nine cities with the goal of, “giving fans access to Team USA athletes and experiences earlier than ever before, and heightening awareness and excitement for the Rio Games in the buildup to 2016,” as the press release announcing the tour stated.

As I walked along Venice Beach towards the Road to Rio tour, I saw these national flags in the sand. They reminded me of all the countries coming together to compete at the Olympic games.

Team USA flags

Team USA had a large area along the beach with a zip-line, concert stage, and several booths and trailers with Olympic memorabilia on display. Some local celebrities and Olympic athletes made appearances each day, and there were musical acts to entertain the crowd.

Team USA main stage

Liberty Mutual sponsored the tour and insures all the medals that Team USA athletes win at the Olympic games. They had a photo stand set to pose with an Olympic medal.

Team USA Liberty Mutual

Here I am posing with my “Olympic medal.”

Team USA medal Kiera 2

Another photo station had us pose as if we were on the diving platform.

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In one of the trailers, there was an area to experience different Olympic sports through virtual reality. Since I posed as if I was diving, I tried the diving demo narrated by Olympic gold medal diver David Boudia. I always have had an appreciation for the Olympic divers, but this really provided a sense of how high those diving platforms are! In the demo, David explained how divers start on the lower platforms, train there and then when they are completely comfortable they move up to a higher platform. By the time they reach the 10 meter platform, they are comfortable with the height.

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Virtual reality demos at the Road to Rio tour.

On the other side of the VR station was another photo opportunity – to pose for a high jump. I laid back on this green prop and the back drop was filled in to look like I was clearing the high jump bar.

Team USA high jump

Green screen and green cushion for the high jump photos.

Team USA Kiera pole vault

Here I am completing a high jump!

Another trailer featured displays on American Olympic athletes and Olympic memorabilia.

Team USA trailer

Examples of team uniforms were on display.

 

Another photo station posed us with the back drop of the beach in Rio. I held the torch used for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics torch relay. It weighs more than I thought! I remember seeing the torch relay run through New York City on the way to Atlanta in 1996.

Team USA torch

Here you can see how my teal shirt blended into the background because of the ‘green screen.’

I loved this display of the gold, silver and bronze medals for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. They are beautiful.

Team USA Atlanta medals

The last station I visited was the Los Angeles 2024 booth. Los Angeles is an official bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. As we stood in front of a rendering of what the Santa Monica beach and pier would look like with the beach volleyball courts and stands set for the games, we held the symbol for Los Angeles’ bid theme, Follow the Sun.

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It was a fun event, and I want to thank the wonderful Team USA ambassadors that worked at all of the stations. Every single one of them was welcoming, enthusiastic and having fun. Their attitudes were infectious. Thank you!

The Summer Olympic games begin in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 5th. I will be at home watching as much coverage as possible and cheering for Team USA!

You can support Team USA by making a donation to Team USA and/or purchasing Team USA gear in the Team USA shop.

 

The Manhattan Beach Open: Beach Volleyball’s ‘Wimbledon’

Stands south of the Manhattan Beach pier for the Manhattan Beach Open in 2006

Stands south of the Manhattan Beach pier for the Manhattan Beach Open in 2006 (in the foreground are players and 2008 Olympic Gold Medalists Phil Dalhauser and Todd Rogers).

Today qualification play begins for the AVP Manhattan Beach Open in Manhattan Beach, California. Match play continues tomorrow and Saturday with the finals on Sunday, July 17th. Known by players and fans alike as the “Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball,” this is the tournament all US players want to win at least once in their careers. Held in Manhattan Beach for the 57th year, this year’s tournament features six of the eight United States beach volleyball players heading to the Summer Olympic Games in Rio in August.

If you are in Los Angeles this weekend, make your way to Manhattan Beach to catch some of the top volleyball players in the world compete! Players who win the tournament have their names immortalized on the Manhattan Beach pier a year after their win.

MB Open Pier fog

The Manhattan Beach pier, as seen in October 2013 during the #FoggyPierPressure Instameet. Plaques for the winner of each year’s Manhattan Beach Open are embedded in the pier.

The Manhattan Beach Open's 1960 winners plaque for

The Manhattan Beach Open’s 1960 winners plaque for Mike O’Hara and Mike Bright.

Usually, the Open is held in mid-August, but since the Olympics will be happening at that time, the tournament was moved to this weekend in July. In years past, the Open was held after the Olympics and it was a great chance to see US Olympians compete after returning home from the games. Many of the players competing this weekend live in and around the Beach Cities/South Bay area of Los Angeles, so this is also considered a home tournament for them.

During the early rounds of the tournament, you can wander from court to court, and watch different matches with your beach towel or chair. There is always a crowd, but during play on Thursday and Friday, it is easier to get a courtside seat.

Olympic volleyball legend Karch Kiraly serving during an early match in August, 2006.

Olympic volleyball legend Karch Kiraly serving during an early match in August, 2006.

Karch Kiraly and Larry Witt play during the 2006 MB Open.

Karch Kiraly and Larry Witt play during the 2006 MB Open

Local papers The Beach Reporter and Easy Reader News both have articles about this year’s tournament, and more information on the schedule, draw and athletes competing can be found on the AVP tour website.

As we have been out of town the last two years, I am excited to head down to the beach and catch some of the action this weekend. If you are not local to Los Angeles, you can watch the final matches on Sunday on NBC.

MB Open big court 2006

Play on one of the large courts during the 2006 Manhattan Beach Open. In the far court are teammates Stein Metzger and Mike Lambert.

A women's match during the 2006 Manhattan Beach Open.

A women’s match during the 2006 Manhattan Beach Open.

MB Open 2006 Phil blocks Kevin Wong

The 2006 Men’s Final of the Manhattan Beach Open. (Left) Stein Metzger and Mike Lambert against (right) Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers. Dalhausser and Rogers upset top seed Metzer and Lambert 22-20, 21-23, and 15-11.

MB Open 2006 Phil blocks Stein

Another shot of the final match in the 2006 Manhattan Beach Open between Stein Metzger/Mike Lambert and Phil Dalhausser/Todd Rogers. On the elevated stage, right under the Crocs logo you can spot Laird Hamilton bent over with his hands on his knees watching the match.

 

Dinner with a Race Car Driver: Nelson Piquet, Jr.

Nelson Kiera crop

Me and Nelson Piquet, Jr. in Long Beach, California.

In advance of the Long Beach ePrix in April, I won a FoxSports twitter contest to have dinner with driver Nelson Piquet, Jr. I could not quite believe it when it happened, and remember telling Dave, “I think I’m having dinner with Nelson Piquet, Jr. on Thursday night!”

What do you do when you have dinner with a race car driver? Ask them questions, lots of questions. Nelson currently races in the Formula E series for NextEV TCR – electric car racing through the streets of many of the top cities in the world – and as a driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Rebellion Racing. In the past he’s raced in GP2, Formula 1, Global Rallycross and the NASCAR trucks series. He’s also the son of three time Formula 1 world champion Nelson Piquet.

As you might imagine, I had no shortage of questions!

We met at Gladstone’s in Long Beach – right across the street from his hotel for the race weekend. Josh Skolfield was another contest winner, and Rebecca Banks and Emma Stoner from Nelson’s PR team joined the dinner as well. I thought there would be a huge group, but it was simply the five of us.

Nelson Piquet - Long Beach 2

Dinner with Nelson! L-R: Emma, Rebecca, Josh and me at Gladstone’s right after we ordered.

I started asking Nelson questions after we ordered, and I continued peppering him with questions as we ate our dinner. I wanted to be sure I did not forget to ask anything. Nelson was very gracious and open, and he was willing to answer all of my questions – even the ones about the infamous incident at the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix in 2008.

Nelson Piquet - Long Beach

There’s a photographer that takes pictures of your table at Gladstone’s and then sells you this montage.

It was interesting to hear about the life of a race car driver – never staying in one place for too long as there’s always a promotional appearance, another race, or testing to attend. He said home is his suitcase. I asked Nelson which series he enjoyed racing the most, and was surprised that he enjoyed the NASCAR trucks series so much.

Nelson Piquet - Long Beach 4

Nelson poses with me and Josh after dinner. Credit: Rebecca Banks.

Some of the more interesting things that he shared with us include his regret that he didn’t continue racing in GP2 while he was a reserve driver for F1 in 2007. Since he was a reserve driver, he was sitting at the race tracks, not racing and it was a bit boring. He also regrets not remaining in Nascar Trucks for a third year as he instead jumped to the Nationwide series. He enjoyed Nascar and working with a radio spotter throughout the race. He said you need to have total trust with the spotter because they can see what is happening on the track, so when they tell you to make a move, you need to move.

I asked him about this favorite tracks, and he immediately mentioned Macau, Silverstone and Monaco, saying that the more challenging the track, the more fun it is to race. He hopes to continue racing for as long as he is able and will consider his next steps once his racing career is finished.

Nelson Piquet program

Nelson signed the Long Beach ePrix program for us.

Nelson was not particularly optimistic about his chances in the Formula E season this year, and after winning the series first title last year, it has been a disappointment. Still though, I am following the series, and enjoyed attending the race in Long Beach (the cars make high pitch sounds but are very quiet – it’s a bit odd to see the open wheel cars zoom by without much sound!).

Supporting Nelson at the Long Beach ePrix

Supporting Nelson at the Long Beach ePrix

I was excited to hear about his racing with the Rebellion team in the World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His team mates are drivers Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost.

We attended Le Mans this year, and I managed to capture a quick selfie with Nelson during Scrutineering. He remembered meeting me in California and wondered what I was doing in France – watching Le Mans!

Nelson being interviewed with his Rebellion Racing team mates during Le Mans scrutineering.

Nelson being interviewed with his Rebellion Racing team mates during Le Mans scrutineering.

It was raining quite a bit during the interviews.

It was raining quite a bit during the interviews.

There was quite a large crowd for the two days of Scrutineering. After the cars were inspected, the team – drivers and crew – posed for an official team photo.

I stood on my tip toes to capture this photo. It was very crowded!

I stood on my tip toes to capture this photo. It was very crowded!

After posing for the photo, the crew pushed the car along the pathway, and the drivers stopped for photos and to sign autographs. That is when I was able to say hello to Nelson again and take a selfie!

Nelson signs autographs for the fans at Le Mans.

Nelson signs autographs for the fans at Le Mans.

Nelson selfie Le Mans

A selfie with Nelson during Le Mans scrutineering.

The Rebellion team was the top private team in the LMP1 class at the race, and Nelson and his team mates were on the podium.

Nelson Le Mans podium

The Le Mans 2016 podium. Nelson and his Rebellion Racing team mates Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost are pictured on the podium at the far right for being the top private LMP1 team in the race.

This weekend, he races for NextEV TCR in the last race of this year’s Formal E season, the London ePrix. You can help Nelson’s car receive an extra “boost” in the race by tweeting or tagging your Instagram photos with #NelsonPiquet, #Fanboost and #LondonePrix – once a day until race day (although since Nelson is not in a position to win the championship this year, he would probably would not mind if you gave your boost to another driver).

Thank you for dinner Nelson. It was a pleasure meeting you, and I hope to see you again soon at a racetrack!

You can follow Nelson on all his social medial channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Have you ever had dinner with a race car driver? Who would you want to meet? Let me know in the comments below.

Celebrating Olympic Day in Pasadena

Today, June 23rd, is Olympic Day, a day celebrating the Olympics around the world. In honor of this day, local NPR station KPCC hosted a discussion panel with several US Olympians at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, California on Tuesday evening.

At the event, several Olympic pin collectors displayed the hundreds of pins they have collected by trading at several Olympic games. It was interesting to hear their stories of how they started collecting pins and their memories of attending several Olympic games. I have some pins from when I attended the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, but my collection pales in comparison to the pins they acquired through trading.

Olympic Day pins

The moderator for the panel discussion was Olympic Hall of Fame swimmer John Naber (1976 Swimming, 4 gold and 1 silver medals). Before the discussion, John introduced Gordy Crawford and he spoke about the US Olympic and Paralympic Foundation and encouraged everyone to support Team USA – even a small gift makes a difference in helping our athletes train for the Olympics!

John asked questions of each of the Olympians about their experiences at the games, what they remember and the lessons they learned. With a diversity of sports represented, it was interesting to hear their perspectives about what we can expect from the US Olympic Team at the Rio Games this summer.

The panelists included:

  • Shirley Babashoff (1976, swimmer, eight Olympic medals)
  • Dwight Stones (1972, ’76, ’84, high jumper, two Olympic medals)
  • Connie Paraskevin (1980, ’84, ’88, ’92, ’96, speed skater and cyclist, one Olympic medal, four world titles)
  • Paula Weiskopf (1984, ’88, 2012, volleyball player and coach, two Olympic medals)

Olympic Day panel

The Olympic panel with

The Olympic panel. Front row L-R: Shirley Babashoff, Connie Paraskevin, and Paula Weishoff; Back row L-R: Dwight Stones, Gordy Crawford (Chair of the US Olympic and Paralympic Foundation) and John Naber.

After the discussion, all the athletes mingled with audience members, and I spoke with Dwight Jones about his broadcast career – he will be reporting for ESPN International in Rio, calling play by play for track and field, and Shirley Babashoff about her soon to be released book, Making Waves, and the documentary about the 1976 games and the East German swimmers that she knew were doping at the time (but no one else seemed to acknowledge this) – The Last Gold. Shirley brought along her 1976 gold medal in the 4×100 relay and let all of us hold it. What an honor!

Olympian Shirley Babashoff poses with me.

What an honor to meet Shirley Babashoff.

 

An Olympic gold medal!

An Olympic gold medal!

It was an honor to meet these Olympians, and I thank them all for representing our country at the Olympic Games. I am excited for the games in Rio this summer.

Happy Olympic Day!

Plane Spotting Iron Maiden’s “Ed Force One” at LAX

Living close to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), I enjoy seeing the planes coming from the east making their final approach for landing when I’m driving on the 405 Freeway. Or when we’re walking our dogs on the Strand in Manhattan Beach, we try to guess the plane type and carrier as we watch flights depart to the west over the ocean.

When private planes and charters come to LAX, they are often parked on the south side of the airport, near the intersection of Sepulveda Boulevard and Imperial Highway (aka the 105 Freeway). I wonder sometimes who the planes belong to, or who is flying in them. On Sunday, when I saw a plane there, it was clear who was in town.

As I drove north on Sepulveda, heading to Santa Monica, I saw a 747 plane with Iron Maiden livery. Iron Maiden was in town to perform two shows over the weekend at the Forum in Inglewood. Returning home a few hours later, I decided to try to get a picture of it. It was difficult – you could see it perfectly from the streets but it was parked at a busy intersection with a highway overhead so views of it were obstructed.

I finally parked, walked down an incline, and was able to take this photo – unfortunately the 105 Freeway is blocking the full view of the plane.

Zoomed in view of Iron Maiden plane parked at LAX.

Zoomed in view of Iron Maiden plane parked at LAX.

I could see some people walking along the green fence taking pictures of the plane (pictured above in the distance, closer to the plane), so I looped around to attempt parking near them with the intention of then walking back to take photos. Unfortunately, they were parked on the side of an off-ramp, in a no parking zone, and as I pulled over to park, I noticed a police car behind me. I thought better of parking there and moved.

I next went to Imperial Avenue in El Segundo. This street parallels Imperial Highway, but instead of being on the same level as LAX, the land is hilly, so there are some spots that provide excellent views of LAX and the southern runways.

On Imperial Avenue in El Segundo looking over LAX

On Imperial Avenue in El Segundo looking over LAX. The building on the far left, with all the planes parked outside, is the Tom Bradley International Terminal. The first five planes closest to me are all A380s.

A KLM 747 taxis on the runway at LAX.

A KLM 747 taxis on the runway at LAX.

Here is a map of where the plane was parked and where I was standing to watch the runways. It is a great location for plane spotting, watching both the incoming flights from the east and then seeing planes depart to the west.

While I was too far from the parked plane to get a good photo (and it was obscured by other buildings at LAX from this vantage point), there was a large crowd gathered with several people wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts, presumably from the concert the night before. The gentleman standing next to me, Ron Monroe, had a DSLR camera with a large lens, and he was taking pictures of all the planes departing, so I asked him about the planes, identifying them, and watching them land. He said this spot usually only has a few people watching and most of the people there today were there for the Iron Maiden plane. Ron took some beautiful photos of Ed Force One departing LAX that I shared below. I encourage you to visit his gallery on Flickr (he also took photos of Ed Force One landing at LAX a few days earlier. You can see them here, here and here).

/Air Atlanta Icelandic, Boeing 747-400, "Ed Force One" Photo credit: ©Ron Monroe

Air Atlanta Icelandic, Boeing 747-400, "Ed Force One" Photo credit: ©Ron Monroe

Once the plane started moving from its parking spot, there seemed to be excitement in the gathered crowd. I learned from some of the other onlookers that Iron Maiden’s lead vocalist Bruce Dickinson pilots the plane, and the plane is called Ed Force One.

After about twenty minutes, the plane was at the end of the runway and started moving towards take off, and I was able to capture the departure on video.

Iron Maiden and their crew was headed to Tokyo for their next concerts there as part of their Book of Souls world tour. Interestingly, after I shared this post, I saw an article about an associate curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology who helped translate the band’s Book of Souls song titles into ancient Maya hieroglyphs, two of which appear on the tail fin of Ed Force One. You can read more about that here.

Immediately after the plane departed, the crowd dissipated. One woman, wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt, said, “I want to cry. It’s all over now.”

Did you see the Iron Maiden plane at LAX? Have you ever visited an airport to watch planes taking-off and landing? Let me know in the comments below!