We arrived there around 3PM and were informed that we - Chaz & Gael, and Kent Cartner, (who was also a house guest) were off to a bar-b-que. So off we went to Flowery Branch, to the home of Jack & Raye Jett. They just happen to live in Johnny O'Connell's neighborhood. Can you guess who the star was at this gathering?
We feel rather privileged to have been included. The Jett's have a beautiful home and were excellent hosts. The cars parked on the back lawn overlooking the lake..
..while the picnic was held on the deck.
Here we met some new (to us) and old acquaintances from the Lanierland Corvette Club.
Jack Jett has enhanced his C5 with the American Flag:
..and another guest, David Rasmussen (a Brit), did the same thing with the Union Jack on his C4. Notice the caption below the left tail-lights:
As you can see from the pictures, Johnny..
..brought some of his friends, Andy Pilgrim, Kelly Collins, Franck Freon and Ron Fellows..
..who represent 5/6ths of the C5R race team (Oliver Gavin was otherwise engaged).
It was extraordinary of Johnny to get his teammates to come say hello.
Of course these fellows can't go anywhere around Corvette owners without stopping and signing their name here and here and there.
We did hear rumors that we might be included in this gathering so we too, came prepared. Our club, Tampa Bay Vettes, is putting on a show on Nov. 16, 2002, so we had brought some C5R hats to be signed so that they may be used for some fund raising events:
The drivers are a first class act; they did everything they could to make all feel at ease around them. NEWS FLASH - Andy Pilgrim came out with a new tee shirt aptly called "The Three Amigos". They come in two different colors and are available at Andy's web site www.andypilgrim.com.
Thursday found us leaving the Cone residence and arriving in Braselton around noon. We quickly checked in to the hotel and then off to the track. First stop, of course, was the Corvette paddock area. Here, the Pratt-Miller team were busy at work turning wrenches, polishing, checking meters, etc.
Robin and Gary Pratt..
..as well as all of the drivers welcomed us. The team at Pratt-Miller does a fantastic job on our very favored C5Rs. This gave us the opportunity to once again talk to the drivers as well as the crew.
The weather was not the greatest and practice sessions were cut short for the day.
Thursday evening brought in other friends, Rick and Linda Berry from Delaware and some of their First State Club members, Jay and Penney, Chuck and his daughter Jen.
Friday morning we arose early and all met for breakfast before heading to the track. Several different races were being held..
..and of course qualifying for the C5Rs. We got smart this year and rented a golf cart so we would be able to zip up and down the great hills with ease. It certainly is not a vette!!!
Road Atlanta is a large track with many different elevations. It is a beautiful track. The day was spent walking and riding around the track. A funny little story - when we arrived we asked a security worker if the spot we chose to park in was ok, he said fine. Sometime later in the day we went to put several purchased items in the car - of course you can shop at the track - lo and behold our car and many others that were near us were gone. They had all been towed. Oh well, it took us about thirty minutes to find it, what with having to ask about six people where they thought it had been placed and driving around in our cart getting more and more upset by the minute. We were informed that someone changed their mind and decided to use the area we were in. Oh well, it makes for an interesting story. No charge (no sh-t, it was their fault) and the car was in fine shape with only a large amount of red Georgia clay found on the front tires. On the ride back to the parking area I looked like I was warming up the tires during caution laps swerving back and forth down the road hoping that I would leave some of the clay on the blacktop. We then found a new spot and headed off for more racetrack adventures. One of the races we followed closely was the F 2000 series. An acquaintance of ours son, Jeff Jones, was driving. He did a great job and made his very nervous mother, Janis, a very happy and proud parent by coming in second.
Other friends, Larry and Peg Martin arrived from KY and of course socialization continued. At 6:00PM Johnny O'Connell had an auction to benefit a home for Alzheimer's patients and their spouses to stay and get help. I believe it is called The Guest House. Well, as you can imagine he had some great stuff. He had many race suits and even told stories about them. There were a ton of posters, pictures and other pieces of memorabilia, many of which were already signed or if they weren't Johnny would say "just stop by the trailer tomorrow and we will sign it". The whole race crew and rest of the drivers showed up with the nose and hood from the car Johnny smashed up in Canada..
..and that too was auctioned off. All the drivers and the team had signed these.
Buzz wanted either one, but we couldn't figure how to get them home. Needless to say we did leave with a few items that could fit in the car. It was great to hear that they raised over $25,000 that evening.
After the auction it was off to BBS Wheels for the annual C5 Registry dinner:
As usual the Georgia Low Country Boil was delicious and the company was superb.
Dan Adavasio even asked Buzz and Larry Martin to speak about the NCM (Larry being vice chairman and Buzz being a board member).
The keynote speaker was David Hill, and he had all the slides of the C6, but no screen or projector (Yeah, right!!). He spoke about articles in several different magazines comparing the new Viper and the Z06.
Of course he predicted that the Corvettes would win on Saturday.
We enjoyed the evening and headed off to the room for some shut-eye.
Saturday morning we were up bright and early to get to the track for the start of the Petit Le Mans. We were prepared for a long and exciting day. First stop was the Corvette Paddock. Drivers were in Strategy session, while the crew was busy at work preparing for the race.
This year, instead of trying to find a seat at the Corvette Corral tent, we had decided to purchase the Mulsanne Chalet Superticket which included a place to sit down, three large screen TV's, breakfast, lunch and Prime Rib Dinner. After arriving, we found out that the tickets would also give us access to the starting grid just before the race. What a dream come true for us die-hard fans!
We were able to mingle with the drivers, their cars and crew for about thirty minutes before the race started.
As you can see the Saleen had lots of lady power, but could of used more horse power!
Every man could use a kiss for good luck!
We even managed to stop the Pratts for a Kodak moment.
Even the racecars have to be properly parked with everything in aligmment:
A view from the drivers seat, still pre-race of course:
Everyone takes some time to say "Hi!" This couple (I believe from WI) retires their helmet after obtaining Oliver Gavin's signature:
I have to tell you that it was a thrill that this old boy would remember for a long time! It was back to the tent for the ceremonies and start of the race. The view was excellent!
The actual race is for 1,000 miles or 10 hours (whichever comes first) so there is a lot of time for sightseeing, shopping, or just plain BS'ng. We did all of the above and probably more. We did get to take a ride for five laps on a small track in an Audi Quattro, and that was kind of cool. We got a chance to drive the cart all around and stop along the way and enjoy the different views of the race.
We managed to find the campsite of some of the Lanierland Corvetters that we had met earlier and of course stopped to chat. They did have an excellent spot at the 10-11 turns:
The Corvette Corral is always a place to go for Corvette talk. Buzz and Rick Berry were interviewed there for some type of television documentary for GM. It was very hard to talk as the cars went roaring by, so who knows if any of this will be understandable.
It was a long day, and we made many trips back and forth to stand behind the hot pits. While there all of the lights and monitors in the pit tent went black. One of the crewmembers yelled to Buzz to check the generator. Without hesitation he walked over to it and started throwing breakers.
Guess it worked as everything once again came alive. The crewmember then made it difficult for people to crowd the generator:
The weather was great and when dinnertime came around we were glad we opted for the superticket. Being able to eat a decent dinner and still watch the race was great!
Then we were off to the pits for the last few hours of the race..
..and it could not have been more exciting; although looking down on Gary Claudio the excitement isn't all tha obvious!
The C5Rs were following the Ferrari. The #4 car was several laps down due to some mechanical difficulties, but the #3 car was gaining. The #3 car and the Ferrari were racing hard. Ron Fellows had already clinched the individual driving title earlier in the day and was leading the GTS class by one lap when he came in for what was supposed to be a splash and go. The crew realized that they would have to change all four tires. They went to work like a well-oiled machine and did it in record time. I'm talking so great that the Audi pitcrew actually stood and applauded after they were done! As he pulled the C5R onto the track he was fourteen seconds behind the Ferrari with not too much time left. Well, Ron was on a mission and after only one lap the lead was cut down to ten seconds and he was flying! Each lap got him closer to his prey and the pits were just electric with anticipation. There were engineers staring at the computer screens, other drivers and crew staring at TV screens..
..people pacing back and forth, people praying as each lap clicked down. As quick as an eye-blink the Ferrari hit another car and got a flat tire and had to pit. Well, the Corvette enthusiasts went WILD! Linda, Ron's wife and their children were alongside us and they were elated:
What a difference a year can make! Last year Ron was disqualified from the race and lost the individual title. There was nothing to be denied this year! Andy Pilgrim with the #4 car continued to drive hard but couldn't gain back the laps.
As the cars crossed the finish line fireworks broke out above:
Jackie & I had worn our March To LeMans shirts from two years ago and they looked pretty official, so we just sort of followed Linda and other family members onto the track for the celebration:
What a joyous time for all after the long hard day. There were high-fives everywhere and hugs for everybody. I have to admit the hairs were standing up on my arms as the cars came to rest outside of winner's circle. All the drivers were elated and genuinely glad to see so many fans crowding the stage. There were hats for all drivers and trophies for the cars and of course champagne for all within range of the open bottles. I even saw Gary Pratt with a big smile after all the work and worry throughout the season. A first place for the #3 car and a third place for the #4 car was the ending to an almost perfect year for the C5R and Corvette Racing. I don't think one could have scripted a better ending.
After getting a little damp from the raining champagne and saying our "good-byes" to all, it was off to the room for a few hours sleep. We had tickets to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a Tampa kickoff rescheduled for 1:00PM, so it was up at 3:00AM and off. The weather changed as we left the hotel for home and it started to thunder, lightning, and rain like -Oh, Well this will be another story maybe.