NIGHT BACK INTO DAY
After dark, the place comes alive again. As the light fades, you feel a lull come over the place – a drain of sorts. Maybe it's the long day taking its toll, the adrenaline high crashing a bit. Whatever the case, after dark comes a new energy. Not renewed – new. It takes a different kind of fan to take on the night-time challenge.
I took it on until about 1:30 a.m. when my carpool buddy left. I hopped in the ride and went to the hotel for a few hours' sleep and a shower. Sounds innocent enough but when I went back to the track for sunrise, I felt pretty guilty when I saw my friends who had hung in there all night long. They didn't have a choice. My guilt is tempered with knowing I've done my time – at the Baja 1000 and Daytona 24 – I've kept my eyes open.
Morning comes and even with my sleep I'm struggling to keep my eyes open. No Red Bull Energy Station in sight. I go for a walk.
I followed the track from the grandstands through to the Dunlop bridge. The place was deserted, and that shocked me. I expected fewer people but we're talking almost no one. Daytona and Baja aren't like that, as there's always a crowd around.
What I did see is the remnants of the night before. I was all “CSI” about it, too. Here's where U.S. and European fans diverge a bit. I saw almost as many wine and champagne bottles as beer bottles. All I could think of is the nasty hangovers that were being nursed that day. The lack of people now was making sense to me. I did see a couple folks who had obviously stayed all night – obvious is all I will say. It took hours for the place to repopulate – it was mid-morning before it started to look like a race crowd.
I wandered into the grandstands up high and jealously watched the helicopters go up for quick tours of the circuit [next year!]. The stands were filling up and getting lively again. But it was a slow build, with the crowds and the energy. Maybe they are better at pacing themselves – they know when to say when? Whatever the case, they brought the place to the frenzy it's known for in another epic Audi finish.
In the end, I learned that the 24 Heures du Mans is everything it is hyped up to be. Not one moment has been wasted or disappointing. I came away with a crazy amount of stories – only a few here, and unforgettable moments. In jest, I thought if all the world were race fans, we'd be a happier world.
It goes without saying that common interests unite us. And racing does that, too. Race fans are race fans – no matter the geography. But it goes beyond sharing a passion. Somehow, a race culture has evolved that isn't so different across the ocean.
Now if only we can get the language bit ironed out…
A BRIEF POSTSCRIPT
One last random thought – the Audi car sound. You don't hear it but you know they're coming. It's like a dog whistle for humans or something. You can't say its audible but you do hear it or maybe feel it. Cool.