Sunday, August 17, 2014
Wendy Wallenberg invited me to the Sunstroke Melt Race at the Daytona International Speedway. She is friends with one of the drivers, Jim Kneeland, so she had full access to the inner field of the raceway as well as access to the pit area and garages. This was a sketch opportunity that I couldn't pass up. This sketch is at the starting line to the race. Two rows of cars lined up facing one another and at the start they rolled onto the race track in order of their standings. So I was sketching in an area where I might get run over if a driver jumped the line. It was nerve wracking and I had to work fast.
Jim's car, a Mazda Miata, was number 37 and he had body damage from an accident from the day before. It had been raining all day and many cars spun out on one particular curve that day. This was Jim's first race and he had a lot invested in being sure he stayed on the field. He wasn't expecting to win, he just needed to place. Jim has worked in the pit crew for other drivers and this was his chance to get on the track himself.
The official on the starting line stood near me and she made sure to give me time to get behind the line before the start. She had never seen an artist sketch the race, so she was glad to help keep me out of harm's way. Race cars don't have air conditioning so drivers get incredibly hot as they wait. Their driving outfits actually have coils with cool water that keep them from over heating. Some assistants also had fans to blow cool air into the cars.
There was no dramatic squealing of tires at the start. All of the cars rumbled to life and filed onto the track at a relaxing 25 miles per hour. They then followed a pace car to get up to speed. Wendy drove the golf cart to the curve where the cars were spinning out the day before. From those infield stands it was possible to see Jim's Mazda as he made his way around the track. The front runners went so fast that they caught up to and passed the cars at the back of the pack. Then it became confusing to figure out who was in front of who.