I've been on vacation for the last 10 days, visiting Clearwater Beach, Fla., just a few miles from the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area. Spending days on the beach, I missed a lot - including announcements from Paul Tracy and Davey Hamilton that they would be in the 2009 Indianapolis 500, along with Helio Castroneves' acquital and the Will Power "drama" that has ensued.
However, the most thrilling part of driving in Florida was competing against every other driver in the state for the same space on the highway. The last time I was in the Sunshine State, it seemed like most people drove Cadillacs and set their cruise control to the minimum speed posted. No more - not only are their those folks still on the road, but an influx of young people has also brought in a complete disregard for things like looking in rearview mirrors, signaling to change lanes and staying within 10 mph of the maximum speed posted.
The number of times I questioned whether or not Florida actually administers driving tests was roughly 53. Needless to say, driving home from Florida was probably more exciting than watching the Grand Prix of Long Beach, which for the most part was single file. Not that I don't like street circuits (I find the strategy to be pretty interesting), Long Beach seems to have a few things on its side: history of competitve races in the CART era and everything in one area (its in Long Beach for crying out loud!).
Most everything at Long Beach went as well as it could; Dario Franchitti won the race going away, while Castroneves was back in his familiar No. 3 car, finishing a respectable seventh. Tony Kanaan (my pick to win the IndyCar Series Championship) placed third. Power drove the No. 12 Verizon machine to a second-place finish.
So, while I missed the race, I think by staying in Clearwater, I got some of the atmosphere as to why Long Beach (and for that matter St. Pete) are so popular. In fact, if I'm smarter next year, maybe I'll time up that trip to Clearwater with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.