Tuesday, February 25, 2014

#56 The Great American Race: The Daytona 500

When we were given the opportunity to spend this winter in Florida, we knew we would have try to go to the Daytona 500.  Ronnie has been a race fan for..like forever.  Me?..well my brother is a NASCAR fan too.  Because of their knowledge, I cannot help but to know a little about it's history and the competitiveness of the sport.  We purchased our tickets on our trip to Daytona Beach back in January and just kept our fingers crossed that all would work out for us to attend the race.

Of course there is a lot to tell..now that the race and the day is over.  For anyone who wishes to know if we stayed for all of the rain-delayed race or if we left out early, you can scroll down to the end of our blog to find out.
We got to Lot 7 where they offer free parking around 8:00am.  We had no issues with traffic.  We even enjoyed our ride to the track on the shuttle bus where we met a couple from Oregon.  She was a retired middle school science teacher and we kidded each other about the school bus ride being too much "deja vu".

We easily found our seats and were excited that we were finally at the Daytona 500.  This was sort of a bucket list thing for us and as you can see we were the early birds.
Our seats were located where you see the gentleman with the orange vest.  He is bending over wiping the dust from the chairs.

Since we were there early, it gave us the opportunity to stroll around and take in some of the sights.  We walked down to the track where the pre-race activities where being held.  We saw the pit areas, some track repairs and lots of excited race fans.

The race activities began on time with the Budweiser Clydesdales, the parade of Race Drivers, of course the National Anthem and a remarkable fly over by the Thunderbirds.  It was an inspiring site.
Click on the photo for an enlargement to see the Aircraft.

As the drivers were given the green flag, the sound the engines made as they accelerated was deafening.  We brought ear plugs with us but decided to rent the headphones instead. What a difference that made for our experience.  It blocked out the roar and we only heard the announcer and some of the radio chatter between the drivers and crew chiefs.  Now some of that talk was funny!

We were really having a good time until it started to rain and heavy too.  We were prepared with rain ponchos, sweat shirts, a blanket and even towels.  We were hoping for a short delay but unfortunately it turned into 6 hours.   We met Ivan and Georgina who were also standing around waiting for the race to restart.  As we shared stories, we discovered they were from England and Ivan raced motorcycles.  Ronnie and I enjoyed getting to know them and our conversations helped the time pass by swiftly.  We learned that Ivan had raced in Isle of Man TT and he is an accomplished and talented racer.  Ivan Lintin's website and driving awards can be viewed here.

Once it finally stopped raining it took about 2 hours to dry the track.  They still use the jet dryers but now the track crew also has new specialized track dryers.
Finally the race was restarted. 
These are the damp, chilly and dedicated fans of NASCAR.

Around Lap 118 the Announcer exclaimed that the drivers were racing as if it was their last lap, the radar was showing more rain headed towards the area and we could see lightning off in the distance. At that point, we knew there would be a possibility of the race ending at any time.  We also knew we had a distance to walk back to the shuttle loading area and with the possibly of waiting for it in the rain with many, many other people, we began to get concerned. So..we decided to call it a night.  That's right, we left the race before it ended and we missed seeing Dale Earnhardt, Jr win the 2014 Daytona 500 and the wrecked mess afterwards.  Yet it still was a memorable time chocked full of exciting moments and interesting people, even if there was a tortuous rain delay.  Would we do it all over again....yes!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

# 55 Highlands Hammock State Park

 Yesterday, Ronnie and I took an afternoon drive down to Sebring, Florida.  It's around 55 miles south of Davenport on Highway 27.  The weather was clear and sunny, perfect for visiting one of Florida's oldest state parks. 
First, we stopped by the Florida's Natural Orange Juice Visitor Center in Lake Wales.  They have a good exhibit of how they squeeze the oranges for juice, informative historical displays, souvenirs and free orange juice samples.

We continued south on to Sebring.
Highlands Hammock State Park is located just outside the Sebring area.  Click on the link to learn more about this wonderful park.  It opened in 1931 and has many features built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Ronnie and I thought this would be a great place to enjoy another swamp up close and personal.  We didn't explore all of the park's trails but those we did walk, were fascinating.
This is the loop drive that connects with the trails and campground.
Cypress Swamp Trail offers a glimpse of the variety plants, birds and wildlife in this Hammock.
This is a popular trail because of the elevated walkway through the swamp.
There's only one hand rail..

We saw turtles, birds and a baby alligator.

This photo is from the Ancient Hammock Trail.  Some of the trees in this park are estimated to be several hundred years old.
Now if you look right in the center you can see a BIG gator.

This is the CCC museum in the park. It has some very interesting exhibits about the lifestyle and work environments of the CCC men.  The volunteer hosting there was well informed and he shared with us some of the stories he knew about the CCC men who worked on the Highlands Hammock State Park.

For dinner we stopped at The Sunset Grill in Sebring.  It was located right on Lake Jackson.  We enjoyed this view while we downed a cold beverage..or two. What a great day!  We enjoyed a walk in the swamp, had a lake view as we dined and all this on a gorgeous, warm, spring-like day. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

#54 The Parkesdale Strawberry Shortcake

We needed to take a drive today to test the new back breaks on the Jeep.  On Sunday Ronnie noticed a burning odor coming from the rear of our Jeep Liberty.  He took it to the Jeep dealership here in the area and they found the calipers needed replacing along with the rear rotors and pads.  They too had gotten so hot they all had warped and were damaged.  We wanted to visit Zephyerhills and Plant City so off we went to explore a bit and test out the Jeep's new back breaks.  We had not really researched the areas so we just enjoyed the Florida landscape as Ronnie drove on.  Once we got to Plant City, we saw acres and acres of strawberry fields.  Then I remembered that this area had a famous strawberry shortcake served somewhere.. so I "googled" it on my cell phone and found Parkesdale Groves .  We were only 2 miles from there.  Yes, we can do that.

The parking lot was full..we knew we must be at the right place.

Ronnie got the fresh strawberry shortcake with ice cream.  We can say they serve very good strawberry desserts.

Fresh strawberries!  Of course we bought a basket..

I had never heard of strawberry onions.

These are Pomelos .
After we wondered around the market, we saw people enjoying strawberry milk shakes.  They looked so good, we just had to try one. 
It was very, very good..full of strawberry chunks.  We'll be back for more soon..maybe even before the Annual Florida Strawberry Festival held in Plant City the first of March.