I did something special at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – I went as a race fan.
It was so cool; the sound, the smells, the excitement of the fans. Plus, it being the first race of the year for the Verizon IndyCar Series made it special in what is going to be a very special season.
Since I went as a fan, I did what I have told newcomers to do: pick a driver at random and then follow and root for that driver. Hold up the starting list, close your eyes, put your finger down on the list and, wherever it lands, that’s your guy.
I picked Conor Daly and he did have a day. He started 18th, battled toward the front. On Lap 20, he was in his zone! The next six laps were thrilling. Conor moved 12th to fourth in that No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda and my pick is flying!
When the first full-course yellow of the race came out on Lap 46, 17 cars pitted soon after when the pits were opened. Then I am watching as the pace car comes around into view, and Conor is in front! My pick would lead the race for 15 laps – and he had led only 12 total laps in the six Verizon IndyCar Series races he’d driven in before.
After the yellow caused by that interstate-style traffic jam on Lap 57, Juan Pablo Montoya pushed past Conor into the lead, with Oriol Servia – driving backup to Will Power – right on Conor’s tail. But Conor held off Servia for 16 laps until he pitted.
That stop didn’t go so well. Something was wrong with the left front and there was debris in the coolers from close racing. In three laps, he was in the pits again, back to clear the debris. The stop cost him six more places down to 14th.
On Lap 102 of 110, he was lapped by the leader Montoya. After that long, long day, Conor finished 13th at the checkered flag.
I loved every minute. My spirits soared and being a fan made me remember how much I love these cars and these people.