Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Start your engines and head to NASCAR, Feb. 27, 2012

Daytona 500, Delayed Start

Today at noon is supposed to be the delayed start of the Daytona 500. But the day has been cloudy, with some wind, and then rain, with some of it absolutely pounding down. We heard around 10 a.m. that the race had now been postponed until 7 p.m. So hurry up and wait. But I am living a piece of history as it's the first time ever the Daytona 500 race has been postponed until the next day. Usually if there is some sort of rain delay, it's only for hours, not for more than a day like this time. I've decided to stay for the duration, either for the race or the cancellation. I'm in!! I may end up here until the azalea festival that Kendra is trying to get me to stay for, except that's a month away. No can do. Sorry, Kendra and Sean.

Cute little lizard.
We all just lazed around, sat on the front porch watching little lizards, an egret in the yard next door, pelicans, eagles and what appears to be loons out in the river and relaxing. It's been a hectic week so the down time for awhile is nice.

The egret was checking out flowers in the yard next door.  Fake flowers or not?
But during this time I've decided to start another blog … but don't know when I'll get it loaded as I've only just started to write it. I'll let you know, but it does have to do with Beagles. Imagine!!

Joe, Jeff and James have been working on a smoker, so I went out to admire it. It's nearly a thing of beauty and when heated up will be able to do a lot of smoked meats as it's huge.

Joe, Jeff and James showing off the new smoker.
Joe and Jeff with a different view of the smoker.
We decided to all go have a bite to eat at a Red Lobster (love those) and then Joe, Verlie and I headed to the track to get ready for the start of the race. It was a breeze getting there today, although the stands were pretty full. It appeared that not too many people left after the delay on Sunday and they, too, were here for the duration.

The 54th running of the Daytona 500. I was there. History was in the making, and that would continue throughout the night.

Mother Nature was cooperating and at 7 p.m. it was start your engines, tuck in behind the pace car, drop the flag and let the race begin. The race was on.

Start your engines.
Right into the first turn of the first lap and the action began. A six-car pile up knocked a couple of vehicles out right away. My girl, Danica Patrick, was mixed up in the fray but did some fancy driving and avoided three vehicles, driving right between two of them. Holy cow, that was exciting and some fancy driving. She went to the pit and got her tires changed and her crew tried to pull the fenders away from them, but the damage was done and appeared to be extensive and off she went to the garage for repairs. The crew had to replace a lot of parts and pieces, and it wasn't just cosmetic. Like the previous day, she was out for a number of laps, about 60 this time, but did get back into the race later. She finished but was way down in the pack.

Crew members looked at Danica's car to try to determine problems.  Check out the Bare-bond on the hood.
After a delay, getting the dead vehicles towed and the track cleaned up, the caution lights went out and the race began again. The cars ran the gears and they were running the chip (fast as they could go) or WFO!!! Excitement was in the air as the fans were on their feet watching the near-200-mph speeds, with the cars mere inches from the car in front of them. They were drafting in a different manner early in the race with the bump drafting not yet being the order of the day.

I'd wondered about the drafting and how competitors draft with each other. The spotters for the crews are the ones that tell the drivers if someone is coming up to draft with them as you have the opportunity to go faster as a team of cars rather than individually.

Drafting is a lot more interesting and strategic than I'd thought. And there are the different kinds of drafting. Mostly we just saw them close to each other, then later in the race there was the bump drafting where the cars are actually touching, with this type being done on the right rear bumper. Doing that on the left rear would knock the car up and turn it. Even doing it properly can turn a car, and sometimes drivers do it deliberately to get someone out of their way. That's called a “bump and run.” The bumper wants to get by the car they bumped, and it doesn't always result in an accident. But it does cause the bumped car to have to slow down and lose speed so the bumper can speed by them.

Then during a pit stop a tire came off one of the cars (Ryan Newman's) and went flying through the pit area. The car that lost the tire made a sudden stop and another car rearended him. There was just so much going on, and it wasn't the ordinary stuff I'd been seeing up to this point. 

At the halfway point, (100 laps in the 500) the driver in the lead collects $200,000. Martin Truex, Jr. had been back in the pack, but he made his move and got to the lead in time to collect. Then he dropped back to Number 2, and ended up finishing 12th in the race.

Lap 160 was another historical moment in the race. Juan Pablo Montoya, Car Number 42, with the Target sponsor, came out of the pit and around the track alone. Going into turn 3 something in his car snapped and broke and he made contact with one of the jet dryers on the track. Montoya spun out and wrecked his car and it caught fire. The jet dryer had been hit in the fuel cell which ruptured, caught fire and burned. About 200 gallons of jet fuel burned across the track with part of the dryer melting into it and causing what looked to be a huge gouge across the track. The fire burned long and hard, and flames shot into the air. Luckily everyone was safe although the dryer driver door had been crunched in and the driver needed assistance with his exit. The cost of the jet dryer and the truck is probably about $100,000, with the dryer piece running about $60,000 alone.

The jet dryer fire (lifted from the replay screen).

Putting out the fire (lifted from the replay).
The red flag went up and drivers were at a standstill in the backstretch. No one knew how long it would be. The fire had to be put out, the liquids cleaned up and the integrity of the track determined. Interestingly, they used the oil or speedy dry to sop up the vehicle liquids. Then they swept it off the track. It still makes me think of kitty litter or sand. Afterward they used Tide Detergent to clean the track and hosed it all down. Great advertising for Tide, and all for free. Maybe they want to be a sponsor? If they are, I didn't see it.

Soaking up the liquids (lifted).
There were 26 safety and emergency vehicles used to contain and put out the blaze, check out the drivers and clean up the area, including the fire truck I'd seen the other day with the Daytona sticker on the doors. Two forklifts were used to remove the destroyed dryer from the track.
The jet dryer is being moved off the track (lifted).

The gouge runs from the wall across the track (lifted).
So what did the fans do during the two hours and five minutes of red flag operation? To the far left of us some fans started a wave. I participated. This went on for several times. Then the announcer said they'd seen everything for this race … a flood (referring to the rain) and a fire, but no earthquake. The fans took care of that by stomping their feet … felt like an earthquake to me. Then it was potty breaks, food breaks, talking with others who were sharing in the delay.

I talked to a couple of guys sitting behind us. Four of them had come from Prince Edward Island in Canada, three for their very first Daytona 500, too. So we chatted about Canada since I'd ridden there in 1997.

From the backstretch in the Number 2 car Brad Keselowski, the kid I like who's from Michigan, was Twittering and sending photos. No one knew he carried a cell phone in his pocket, and apparently that included his crew chief. This when they try to pare ounces from the weight of the vehicle. Too funny. So you can't escape cell phones even in a car race.

Once the officials surveyed the damage the track was patched and a line of people stood on either side of the repaired area and used leaf blowers to dry the patchwork.

Drying the patch (lifted).
At about 11:15 p.m., a half hour before the work was completed, there were some sprinkles and we were sure hoping that we wouldn't have another rain delay as Joe and Verlie were to drop me at the house after the race and drive to Orlando to spend the night as Verlie was flying out Tuesday morning. They weren't going to get much sleep as the race didn't get over until 1 a.m., Tuesday.

At this point they loaded up a shuttle bus with one crew member per driver and they were led by a Harley motorcycle cop to the backstretch. Another first, by the way. They went to check their drivers out and make sure they got back into their vehicles and had everything intact, including their window nets being tight, prior to the red flag being lifted. Two hours and six minutes and the red flag was lifted, and the race went to a caution. The green flag came at 12:09 a.m. (according to my Iphone time) with 35 laps to go. Would we make it the rest of the way?

Lap 186 or 187, and then another pile up with a couple more cars being demolished. At first look one of my guys, Joey Logano looked to be the cause, but in looking at the replay he didn't cause it. But with all of his mixing it up with others, I'm thinking I might have to get rid of the orange Number 20 Logano shirt I'd bought, without a single wearing. Dammit. Possibly a poor choice on my part, but I do love the color orange, and the car really stands out in the crowd. But Danica is my Number One!! Lime green and neon orange numbers. Oh yeah!! Very easy to spot.

At this point everyone was running the chip, WFO, and cars and drivers were jockeying for position and making their moves. Things had heated up and bumps going on.

By Lap 200 it was the first green/white/checker. One time was all it took with Dale Jr. making his move, but not getting to Number 1. He finished second, and the winner (his second time) was Matt Kenseth of the Number 17 car, Best Buy. I was just there the other day.

I learned so much this week, and just in a single evening there was so much happening and I was always asking questions. So, what else did I learn? 1. Cars that spin out or crash, even close to the pit area, cannot be attended by a crew. The wrecker has to come tow them back to the pit area. 2. When there's a red flag the drivers cannot do any alterations to their cars. Tonight Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch tore off a layer of the film on their windshields and then had to go to the back of the pack.

It was a race that made history for a number of things that had never happened before. And I was there – a Monday start, running under the lights meaning a night race, a jet dryer burning up, a red flag where a crew member for each team was shuttled out to the drivers to be sure they were back into their vehicles properly, and a two-day race since it went into Tuesday. Wow!! How can I ever come back again? There's been so much excitement in this week of racing that everything after this will be dull and boring. NOT!!! Loved it, enjoyed it, plan to come back.

And it didn't hurt to be with good friends, enjoying the wonderful hospitality of James and Elaine and some great breakfasts by our personal Breakfast Chef, Joe. Having Sue and Jeff with us just added to the fun and it was like a giant slumber party for 11 days. Thank you everyone for making my first time a great time.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Start your engines and head to NASCAR, Feb. 26, 2012

The Daytona 500.

The day dawned cold, overcast and windy. There's supposed to be rain, with a 70 percent chance by afternoon. The race could go on, but in order to declare a winner half of the 200 laps must be run. If the race is rained out in less than half of the laps, it would be rerun tomorrow if possible.

Joe, Verlie and I headed to the track at 10 a.m. Good thing because it was still packed and time-consuming even though the race wasn't to start until 1:36 p.m. Traffic was horrendous, and we ended up parking a country mile away. It was more like the back 80 … not the back 40. But park we did, and we donned our rain panchos and headed down the street toward the track.

Got to the track and up to our seats, in row 42, which is high and a great seating. Then we waited. We were still wearing our ponchos but blew up our little air seats and sat them down so we were pretty dry at that point.

The driver introductions began, but it was a shortened presentation as they wanted to get the race started. There were eight jet dryers on the track going round and round to get the track dry so the race could begin.

The jet dryers continued to work throughout the afternoon trying to get the track dry so the race could begin.  Mother Nature did not cooperate and had no intention of cooperating today.
Then the rain began. Joe hung in for a bit then headed down under the stands. Verlie and I stayed in the stands since the rain wasn't too bad yet. Then it opened up and we made a run for it, heading down under the bleachers which provided some protection. We still had our rain gear on because even under the bleachers water comes down through and you catch some rain.

Rain coming down through the bleachers.
We didn't know where Joe was since Verlie had forgotten her cellphone and mine wouldn't get service and we couldn't see him on the main floor since there were so many people. At 1:30 p.m. it was still raining.

Looking down over the crowd on the main level of the track.
Verlie and I finally headed to the women's room to see if we could get in there where it would be dry. I figured it would be packed, but surprise, it wasn't. So we waited in there for over an hour, trying to get text messages to and from Joe. If I turned a certain way sometimes it would work, so we got a few back and forth. At 2:30 it was still raining. The jet dryers have continued to work to get the track dried, to no avail. We'd had a small bag of cashews each and half a Snickers bar, the provisisions we had in our bags. But we were still hungry and the Bubba burgers were smelling good.

The rest room was the driest place around except in the car ... where we rested later on.
Joe had walked to get the car and bring it up closer to the front gate. We were to call him at 3:30 and be down near the gate near the corn dog booth. We finally connected and went to sit in the car and get warm and try to dry out. We also wanted to listen to the radio to hear what was happening with the race.

We heard that the jet dryers were back on the track since it had quit raining and they were going to try to start the race at 5:30 or 6 p.m. So we went and got some food and came back to the car to eat in comfort. I had still avoided the Bubba burger, but had settled for a barbecued beef sandwich, which was actually pretty tasty. Just as we were finishing up, about 5 p.m., the announcement came over the radio that the race had been postponed until noon tomorrow. So, off we headed back to James and Elaine's house to spend the evening getting ready for the next day, hoping the race will commence as Verlie has to fly home Tuesday.

Wish us luck.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Start your engines and head to NASCAR, Feb. 25, 2012

The Nationwide. Go Danica.

The weather today is 25 degrees colder at 60 than the high-80s of yesterday, and windy. Joe, Verlie, Elaine and I headed off to the track to join 82,000 other spectators. Elaine had her ticket, but we needed to purchase ours. We ended up at the track around 11 a.m., buying scalper tickets. But we got good prices, and great seats for tomorrow's race, the Daytona 500.

Somehow or other it seemed like all of the scalpers were named James. Joe had made a call and we were to meet this guy named James. When we pulled into the gas station, we were surrounded by a bunch of scalpers. When asked if they were “James” they all said, “Yeah, I'm James.” Ha ha. We got the right one and got our tickets. One of the other “Jameses” who was actually Rasheed, was the one we purchased the tickets for tomorrow's race.

Loaded up with our hoodkies, jackets, headsets, gloves, hats, air cushions and so on, Joe, Verlie and I headed off to Segrave Section. Elaine was going up to her friend's area, in Sprint Tower, so we'd be separated for the race, but would compare notes later.

Corn dogs ... yum!!  Need sustanance to cheer for our racers.
We'd gotten into our seats, and were just talking and watching the preparation, and then there was some excitement four rows in front of us. Some young man, maybe 25 years old or so, went down. Folks around him began giving him CPR and finally the track emergency team showed up. They ended up doing a defib on him, and carrying him out. He was sitting up, so probably everything worked out for him. Glad to think that anyway.

Danica speaking prior to the race during introductions(lifted from the big screen).
Then it was time … the introductions were made of the drivers, with Danica at the post in the 43-car field. Since she was driving as part of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s team, they decided she'd take the outside as Jr. would then be behind her and they could switch off and draft each other. The cars lined up, and then the wild ride began.

After the introductions, the drivers are driven in front of the pit area so their spectators can see them.

The fly by for today.

Danica's car, Number 7, and my favorite color, lime green.
Jr. drafted Danica for several laps, and then she drafted him. It was exciting to watch the drafting going on with first this car drafting with one, and then another. Round and round they went, with the lead changing, cars dropping back, and others pulling forward.

In the beginning ...

Jr. drafting Danica.  It's hard to get a photo that's good enough to really see, but the Number 5 car is in contact with the Number 7 car, and it's amazing that they can do this at the speeds they're going, running up to 190 mph or so.  That's fast.
Then about 49 laps into the race, Danica got bumped and off she went. She missed the others, but her car got torn up pretty bad. She got to the pit, but the radiator and hoses were gone, so they pulled her back to the garage for repairs. She was hot. We had her channel on our radioes so you could hear her, and they showed some of it on the big screen. She finally got back into the race about 50 laps or so later, but was on the track at the end of the race.

You can see her car looks like someone took a can opener to it.  The damage was too extensive for repairs in the pit area.
This race was 120 laps, and there was again a lot of action. With one wreck involving 19 cars scattering every which way, the area near the pits looked like a racecar graveyard.

The last wreck had one car lifted and riding along on top of two others.

Cars were scattered all over the place, some damaged, others getting through the maze of vehicles unscathed.
But I was amazed at how quickly some of the cars are repaired. You can hear the air impact wrench remove the lug nuts, and see tires changed, and crews trying to pull the fenders out that got crunched into the tires. There's a product that I likened to duck tape, that is called Bare-bond. They used it in long strips to repair or “glue” the cars together, like we Alaskans use the duck tape. It'll fix most anything. By the end of the race there were plenty of cars that looked like they'd been through a demolition derby and sporting the trendy-looking tape.

The Bare-bond is put on the cars in strips that look to be 18 inch long or so. 

You can see the Bare-bond all across the front of the yellow car and on the red car as well.
The race continued with a number of cautions, and one red flag, where they stopped the pack at the super-stretch, or back-stretch. The race finally got to the last few laps.

Kyle Busch was part of the last big wreck (lifted from the big screen).

In the third major wreck of the race, involving 11 cars this time, the leaders were knocked out in the last lap, and one guy was in the right place at the right time, Car 30, James Buescher. Congratulations to him. Danica finished 38th.

As bikers most of us are used to riding through and smelling everything. It's nearly the same with the races. You can smell burned rubber, burning cars, smoke, exhaust, and Bubba burgers, although I have yet to eat one.

Start your engines and head to NASCAR, Feb. 24, 2012

Truck races
Even the firetrucks get in the act during Speed Week at Daytona.
Here's a twist on racing, truck races. Pick-up trucks that can go faster than the race cars that have a type of restrictor on them for speed. The trucks have them as well, but theirs are set at a higher rate of speed. And I've been told these races are fun.

We'd watched them do some practice and qualifying runs on Thursday, and who'd think they could get a pick up to go that fast?

Earlier in the day Verlie, Sue and I went to the swap meet/flea market for a while. There's pretty much something for everyone there, including a lot of junk and I was wondering who buys it. I got a lanyard to put my race tickets in so they are easily accessible, a Joey Lagano shirt and a Danica Patrick hat. I'm building my NASCAR wardrobe so I fit in a little better. Although it appears that Harley shirts are also the order of the day so I was mostly okay in that department.

We also visited a booth with lots of cookware and other kitchen things and I picked up a few things there.

Then home to prepare for the races. Joe, Verlie and I were going tonight and our seats this fine evening were in row 40, high up in the Waverly Section. Each section is named after a driver and so far we've also sat in the Keetch and Roberts sections. These seats were near turn 4, just before the trucks would come around to the pits or the start/finish line and we weren't sure if we would like these as well since our other seats were on the other side of the pits and line the other times.

The best drivers get to park their trucks that transport their cars and all up near the front next to the track.  Danica's truck is the lime green one, a few over from the far right.

Here we are, at our seats for the truck race.
We got settled into our seats, and the introductions started. They introduce each driver and then carry them around the track in a truck so they can wave at their fans, or not, as the case sometimes is. I got to boo one or two of them, although there was more of that during the car races when Kyle Busch was driving. There were 36 trucks in this field and they would run 250 miles, or 100 laps as each lap is 2.5 miles.

And then, everything was ready, two pace cars took off, each leading half of the racers. A few laps later, the green light flashed, the pace cars pulled into the pit, the trucks crossed the start/finish line and the race was on.

Setting the pace.
The trucks seemed louder to me and according to one of my NASCAR experts it could be because they punch a bigger hole through the air, in other words, they're not as aerodynamic.

Lap after lap, the trucks raced two by two around the track, with a line of trucks on the inside, and the other on the outside lane. No one was really moving much and the trucks just went round and round with the same guy leading for much of the race.

Changing four tires, wiping down the grill, and adding two cans of fuel to the vehicles is an art, with the best of them taking only an average of 13 seconds.  In addition, they may do a windshield tear-off, which means a layer of plastic film is removed from the windshield, and a chassis adjustment.   
The crew chief or the spotter asked one of the drivers for more, but he responded that he had nothing to give. Just imagine, going 190 mph with your foot on the gas pressed deeply into the floor, going round the turns and through the straighaways. Pure … adrenaline.

Two by two, lap after lap.  This is just the first group of trucks.
Then things started to happen, with trucks getting bumped and running into the wall. Other trucks were running into each other, running into the grass, and going every which way. It seemed like all the excitement had been saved for the last 10-20 laps of the race. Trucks were now jockeying for position, and it was a free-for-all. This race had a lot of rookie drivers in amongst the experienced drivers so the smallest mistake could send a truck flying off the track or into someone else.

This truck went into the wall, and repairs had to be made to it before the race could continue.
Some drivers were able to avoid the mess; others were not so lucky. In two of the accidents, trucks went airborne, one into the wall, another info the fence to our right,  fenders, hoods and tires flying everywhere.  The good thing was no one was hurt, and they'd all get out of their trucks and wave so we could clap our joy of them not being injured. Tonight's race I got photos without depending on the replay.

The truck ended up going backwards down the track for quite a ways.
There was a lot of time spent cleaning the track – removing debris, using oil dry, which seemed to be kind of like a kitty litter, to sop up liquids, then a jet dryer truck blows the oil dry off the racing surface and dries it. Of course there were also multiple wreckers towing the trucks off the track as most of them could not drive them off to the garage. There's a lot that goes into this whole process of racing. And that's not even including all the strategy for driving and winning races.

Towing time.

Clean up.

One of the jet dryers.  They're really noisy, just like a jet engine.
The two black round things are tires flying off.  This pile up was major with multiple cars involved. 
The race continued past the 100 laps to 109 laps because there were so many cautions (some to remove debris from the track after a truck dropped or lost something) that took up some of the laps, a red flag that stopped the race, and so many wrecks they couldn't finish. Three times they did the green/white/checkered flags, but the drivers couldn't finish as there were wrecks all three times., big wrecks.

After three attempts of the green/white/checker the truck that was in the lead was considered the winner as long as it could make it back across the start/finish line. Rookie Number 7, Red Horse, John King, was declared the winner. By the time the race was finished out of the field of 36 trucks, there were only 17 who completed the 109 laps. While I'd wanted to sleep for the first laps, there was no way I'd have missed any of those last ones. No food fetching, no potty breaks.

The winner.
It seems to me that race fans include a number of people types … old people (like me), rednecks (like the guys behind and in front of us who were drinking heavily and might as well have stayed home to watch the race on television since they weren't seeing it at the track) and people who think they're race drivers (due to the way they drive after the race and we're all leaving). There are other types I'd probably better not mention here, but believe me, they are there. But even mixing the bunch, we had a great time, and I'm ready for the next race tomorrow night. The Nationwide, and Danica got the pole, which is the Number One and best starting position for the race. She also gets the pick of inside or outside lane. Yee haw!

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Start your engines and head to NASCAR, Feb. 23, 2012

Duels Day at Daytona

Today everyone (except the Number 1 and 2 spots) are vying for their starting positions for the 500 on Sunday. While Numbers 1-35 have qualified for their positions through a point system, there are more drivers that will qualify today in two races called duels to add eight more drivers and bring the field for Sunday to a total of 43.

We got to the track early today, Jeff, Sue, Joe, Verlie and me. The trucks were running practice and qualifying runs for the race tomorrow night.

The pace car sets off leading the pack out of the pit area.
Then came the duels. There were two separate races, 60 laps each. While the second race was relatively quiet with no crashes, the first race had a crash that made you cringe. Danica Patrick, who I was rooting for in the lime green Go Daddy car, crashed in the last lap.
Danica Patrick in the lime green Go Daddy No. 10 car.

The pack coming around the turn.
Danica Patrick crash (lifted from the replay).
It was a scarey moment for fans who were watching as she got pushed and then went into the wall. She bounced off and the car pretty much disintegrated. She was okay, but it was a spectacular crash. She's still in the race on Sunday, as well as the Nationwide on Saturday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Start your engines and head to NASCAR, Feb. 22, 2012

A quiet day for us. We got up late since it was a long day yesterday. I worked on my blog, and then Sue spotted dolphins swimming across the river. I raced out with the 400 lens, but they were too far away to get anything worthwhile. So I bagged that. I'm hoping we'll get some on our side of the river so I can take a photo or two.

Joe continued working on the smoker James wanted, and James and Elaine had a meeting to go to. Verlie, Jeff, Sue and I went to a fruit stand and tried honey tangerines. Wow, they were good so we bought three bags. (It was a better deal and we knew we'd eat lots of them.) From there it was over to Destination Harley Davidson. I've never met a Harley shop I didn't want to visit, and I'd not been to this one before.

Elvis and motorcycle statue in front of Destination Harley shop.
A quick lunch at a Cracker Barrel, and where I bought a cup to keep at James and Elaine's so they'd know I'm coming back. It's black and white with a boy chicken on one side, and a girl chicken on the other. Then another stop at Publix to get stuff for dinner and home we went. It was a short day, a restful one, and a good thing since we have races tomorrow, the swap meet or flea market on Friday, and more races in the next few days.

At home we unloaded stuff from the car and by this time it had started pouring, the kind that soaks you within seconds, and we'd even seen some lightning. A good night to stay in for dinner and to stay in and rest up for the next few hectic days.

Start your engines and head to NASCAR, Feb. 21, 2012

Universal Studios here we come.

Up early today, early enough even to see the sunrise and had to snap a few photos. Then we had to get ready to rock and roll.

Morning view from James and Elaine's place.  Gorgeous.
A gorgeous sunrise at James and Elaine's (photo taken by Joe Hunt).
We headed out so we could arrive around 9 a.m., when the park opens. We had also made arrangements to meet with an old friend who used to work at Chugach, Carolyn Cooper, who we call Coop. But you know how the best of plans often go astray? Ours did. There was an accident that delayed us for a couple of hours, so we didn't get to the park until nearly noon.

Coop was driving a big dually, with a gas tank in it, so while we made a visual with her in the parking lot, she had to move her vehicle out to the RV parking area.

Joe met a friend as we headed to the park entrance.
We all went into the park, Elaine, Joe, Verlie, Jeff, Sue and me. It's a long walk, even from handicapped parking as we had Sue's mirror hanger, but they had the moving walkways which were great. We were on three of those before we got to where we walked and then entered the park.

When you first walk toward the entrance gates, there are shops, and music and just a general state of revelry, a party atmosphere, and fun. And we weren't even in the gate yet. It was exciting. One more day of excitement in this vacation of going, going, going, which I thrive on. No stopping and not much rest.

Going in.
Coop finally found us in the line, we got our tickets and we headed to the Islands of Adventure which is the location of Seuss Landing, the Lost Continent, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon and Marvel Super Hero Island.

Not a great copy of the map, but you can see the general layout for our day's plan.

The tower entrance to Islands of Adventure.

Let the adventure begin.
We bypassed Seuss which was one of the cutest theme parks and I do love Seuss, but didn't want to stop, and Continent and headed to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This was why I was at Universal Studios. The whole Harry Potter thing, the books, the movies, are fascinating to me, and I've enjoyed them more than most other movies.

The Grinch ride.

More Seuss land.

The entrance to Hogwarts.
We walked up to the entrance to the park and just inside was the train that took the budding wizards to Hogwarts Castle. There was even a conductor so you could get the photo. This park is exceptional and so well done, right down to every detail, including the car in the tree. The park was shoulder-to-shoulder people since this is the most popular area of the park. We were told that J. K. Rowling had a hand in all the souvenirs and the park, and would not allow things to be sold that were not child-related, meaning no shot glasses. There were also no golf balls for Harry Potter. Sorry, Tom.

The train that leaves platform 9-1/2.
Elaine, me, Verlie and Sue with the conductor of the Hogwarts train.

The castle.

The car in the tree from the Harry Potter series.
We first decided to hit the rides, and walked quickly to the Dragon's Challenge which is a roller coaster-type of ride. I wanted to be on every roller coaster in the park, and this was a good start. Yahoo. It was a blast, up, down, twist, loop-de-loop. It was a 2-minute ride, and a great way to start our park experience. Everyone went on this one.

The Dragon Challenge coaster.

From there Coop and I went to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. This was a 75-minute wait,but so worth it. As you walk along waiting to get to the ride, you go through the castle and are getting a tour of it, with Professor Dumbledorf, Hagrid, and Harry and his friends talking to you, the talking and moving pictures, the sorting hat to determine the houses the young wizards would be living in, such as Gryfindor and Slytherin. I didn't see any moving staircases, though. It was so much fun that you don't pay too much attention to the time spent in line.

The ride is supposed to be like a broom ride, but it's more like being on a hang glider. You're flying behind Potter on his broom, up and over the castle, through things, around and in and out of trees, there are the death ghosts (can't remember what they're called), a dragon that blows steam on you and you're being chased. It's an awesome experience and why I wanted to come to this theme park. While it's not a roller coaster, it's a superb ride, and so much fun to be in the experience and not merely looking on. A lot of thought, planning and engineering went into the Harry Potter world and you can tell no expense was spared. Some of the other rides were fun, but you could tell that the money spent was not comparable at all. But no matter, we had a ball.

Butter beer, the drink of Hogwarts.  It's a butterscotch-flavored drink, with a frothy, creamy topping.  Yummy!  You can also get it frozen like a slushie.

Jurassic Park.
From there we went to Jurassic Park, and the River Adventure ride. We got wet on this one, but had dinosaurs come out of the water, and they were along the banks. It was fun and we had a good time on this one, too. I was hoping we could do the Pteranodon Flyer which looked like birds flying over this area of the park, but it was for kids and their adults. I wanted to grab a kid so I could go, but didn't find a willing parent. Bad luck.

A dinosaur carving.
We also toured through the Discovery Center and there was a ton of interactive things to do. My favorite piece of this was the dinosaur being born and coming out of the egg. Lots of dinosaurs here, though, and a great place to bring the kids.

Dinosaur baby being born in the Discovery Center.
One of the dinosaurs in the Discovery Center.

Jurassic Park River Adventure.  We got wet, some of us more than others.

Another vehicle and dinosaur in the Jurassic Park adventure.
The Pteranodon Flyer ride we couldn't go on because we didn't have a child with us.  And it looked so fun.
The next stop was Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls ride. I wasn't really going to do this one since it was another water ride and it was getting late so we'd probably not get dry before we left the park, but Coop, Elaine and Joe wanted to go, so off we went. This one was great fun, and we got soaked! But that's the whole point of the ride.

Dudley Do-Right Ripsaw Falls log ride.
From there the one Coop wanted to do was the Hulk Coaster. Oh yeah. This is the largest coaster in the park and Coop, Jeff, Elaine and I went on this one. It was only about a 20-minute wait. The big draw to the park is the Harry Potter piece so everything else is not nearly as crowded. This coaster shoots you out of a chamber directly into a twister, down and up, triple-loops with twists that turn you right and left, up and down and up and over. What a rush this one was. Pure … adrenaline. What a great way to finish off a day at the park.

Oh yeah.  This is a coaster.
We were all tired, our feet were burning, and we were ready to get something to eat besides park food.

Verlie, me and Sue, with Jeff in the background.
Joe's self portrait.

I love the nightlife.  This was the scene as we were leaving the park.
Off we went for a bite and ended up at Carrabba's. Great food, but I think we were almost too tired to even know it. Then home to bed.