December 8, 2010

Reflections on the first Korean Grand Prix

A while back I learned that Korea would be hosting a Formula One race. I assumed it would be held near Seoul. Strangely it was to be held very near the southwestern tip of the peninsula. I then found out the race was to be run a week after my contract ended. What a great excuse to renew and remain here!! Sure, there were other factors in my decision making but F1 was a huge factor in my choice to embark upon a third year.

The next step: ticket acquisition. I repeatedly checked the official Formula One website for tickets to go on sale. Tickets were not made publicly available until just two months before the race. It seemed that the track was not finished and the sport's governing body had not officially approved the race. That did not happen until twelve days before the event. Another oddity was the price difference between the F1 website and buying from local ticket agencies. I was able to acquire a seat for 167,000 won (approx 145 usd). The F1 folks wanted around $275. Thanks to my native girlfriend I was able to hand pick my seat and I was stoked!! I would sit in section G; staring straight down the longest straight on the F1 circuit!!

Another concern was the travel uncertainty. The track is located in a rural area. The nearest train stops and times were worrisome. Again the girlfriend to the rescue! I would take a train to the nearest city (Mokpo), then a taxi, a shuttle bus, and finally the sights, sounds, and smells of the track would welcome me!! I would go alone. No one I knew wanted to spend the money and I was truly pumped about the event. I bought my train tickets two weeks in advance and counted the days like a child before Christmas.

FINALLY - After nearly a year of anticipation I was on the train to Mokpo. As I rode two seriously obnoxious children screamed and fought with each other. Their parents never even gave them a glance. Eventually I befriended them and was rewarded by some information their father gave me. It appeared that there were buses waiting right outside the train station. Sure enough I was on a bus two minutes after arrival. Unfortunately, the terrorist children insisted on following me. Their father told me they wanted to ride with Tony. I sat in the front of the bus babysitting two children while their parents disappeared to the rear.

The bus driver got us to the track. I will give him credit for that. Thankfully I am lucky enough to be able to read a map. As the traffic thickened and I realized that I was quite near to my seats I requested to get off. Just like that I arrived way too early for an experience I had been craving.

After about a half mile walk I saw my grandstand. I was around five hours early so I figured I would walk around. What an absolute mud pit. Construction had obviously been going on as recently as the day before. Bathrooms were scarce and portable. Food was nowhere to be found. This may have been different nearer the start finish line but I was about as far away from the main festivities as one could be. I prayed my choice of seat was wise and continued to look around for food, beer, and memorabilia. I bought a $20 program from some Balkan gypsies but could not spend eighty bucks for a t-shirt. I was a bit bummed as only the Mercedes and Ferrari teams had set up shop in my region. Still no food. If I would have brought a pack of hot dogs and cooked them with my cigarette lighter I might have made a couple hundred dollars. The only things readily on sale were plastic rain ponchos. Rain and mud were the themes of the day. At 5,ooo won I passed on the high quality weather gear and headed for my seat.

I suppose it was three hours before the scheduled start that I entered my grandstand. My ticket had a row and seat number but the grandstand lacked such information. With general admission now the rule I chose the perfect seat!! As I plopped down the B race was beginning. I am not sure of the car type but I am pretty certain it was the Korean sports car series. This was a harbinger of the day. The cars ran one fast lap and were then escorted by the pace car for many more laps. Then, strangely, all but four cars peeled off into the secondary pits within my view. They ran one more hot lap to determine the podium placement. It was by far the most pointless and mundane racing I have ever seen.

More and more people were filtering in. Now two hours before the scheduled start it appeared that the race would be well attended. My seat now felt like a precious prize. I could not risk a piss. I patiently waited and admired my view. I counted seven (yes seven!) turns within my view. Five of them I could see extremely well. My inner grin was immense. I was in a personal bliss and my heartbeat gradually increased. Eventually the grandstand was packed. I could sense the strain on the grandstand. With all of the rain and all of the people the entire stand would sway and vibrate. I found myself listening to the English conversations around me. I gained a new disrespect for Europeans. These people came to a race and were transported for free to the event and yet still ceaselessly complained about everything. I learned during those moments that I would never spend much time in Europe. I know I am making a generalization but they honestly were the most arrogant assholes. I hope many of them missed their flights home. Korea bent over backwards to make this event accessible for them and they shat on it. Shame on you Euroracefucks. Suddenly, ZOOOOOOOM, the F1 cars were taking practice laps!!

Watching these amazing machines streak along the wet track was really exciting. I have been to several Indy 500's but this was something entirely new. First, the sound and power seemed much greater. You could here the gears shift, whine, and groan. An Indy car on an oval mainly cruises in top gear and the audible pitch is rather constant. This was totally different. Second, the racing lines were really interesting to view. Each corner exit provided a ridiculously powerful acceleration that would slingshot the cars into nearly uncontrollable braking to prepare for the next. These guys were nuts. These machines were insane. I appreciate the Indy 500 very much but this was a new world of endurance and torture. The focus required to safely navigate these automobiles at top speed around so many turns is unfathomable. Cheers to all of you who have ever done it.

Ten minutes before the start a fifteen minute delay was announced. Rain was now falling at a fairly heavy rate. I estimate the crowd was 90% Korean, 3% Foreign English Teacher, and 7% Eurofucknut. Approximately 25 minutes after scheduled green flag the pace car leads the cars around for the first lap as a normal grid start was deemed too dangerous:

The pace car leads the cars around for maybe seven painfully slow laps. I am growing restless. The Koreans don't seem to mind but I came here for speed. I came here for the thrills. Formula one races rain or shine so let's get it on. Maybe I became a Eurofuck as I begin to scream and complain audibly. The Koreans look at me like I am nuts but I don't care. I want RACING. Then, my vision provides me a horrific sight. I am stupified. THE HORROR...

Notice the red colored abomination at the left of the above photo. Are you serious?? Formula one shame on you. I had sat patiently in this seat for nearly five hours and had yet to see a lap of racing. I was sickened. I feared the worst. There had been a lot of concern about the track since it was new and I now had flashing red cause to believe the race may not happen. Time for that piss. I had certainly secured my seat. As I exited the grandstand my exit was closed. Deemed too dangerous due to the excessive mud and water. Eventually I found my way under the stands and was coated in a drizzle of mud dripping from the bleachers above. I didn't give a crap about being dirty. I just wanted a race. I was reminded of my first Indianapolis 500 in 1986. I spent a Sunday and a Monday waiting in the rain in Speedway Indiana waiting for a race which took place a week later (thankfully I was able to attend). This was different. If this race was postponed I had to work. I would miss it. Dejected I did my business and found my way back to my seat. No information was given to anyone. The track announcer seemed to have his doubts as well. I simply waited and prayed to the God of Gears. Somewhere around an hour later the pace car led the cars around for a few more laps and I was finally rewarded with speed some six hours after I arrived:

My apologies for my voice on the video. I had no idea I was speaking. Needless to say the show went on. The Red Bull cars were clearly superior. Weber had a spinout and Vettel's car blew up. It was Alonso in Ferrari who eventually won. Watching the race was a mind bending experience. My view was too good. I had so many options that it was dizzying. Every other lap someone (usually a Lotus) would overshoot a corner or have a scary moment. It was truly rewarding to have witnessed such power and speed. The last video I will share may give you some idea of how hard these cars pushed through the corners even in wet conditions!

Now with the race finished my focus was on how in the hell to get home. Thankfully I had booked a late train ticket so I had plenty of time. I walked the half mile back to the main road in hopes of finding a shuttle back to the train station. It was total chaos. The police officers looked at me with a smirk and a shrug as if to say good luck when I would ask where the bus I needed was. Finally, after talking with a few locals I found a huge line waiting for the desired transport. I waited for maybe thirty minutes and no bus even came!! For the first time in my Korean history I cut in line. I have watched countless times older Koreans just moving to the front of a line. This was my turn. So, I simply took to the street and mulled around long enough to be part of the awaiting mass of humanity. Eventually a bus came and I was two feet from the door when it opened. At that moment I lacked the desire to push and shove and lost my chance.
Two buses later it was game on. I pushed, scraped, and clawed my way onto a bus I thought was going to the train station. I have a brain so I continued to push until I found the relative space and easy exit point of the stairwell to the side door. Here I met my second group of children. A girl of eleven and a boy of seven who had come from Seoul with their father. I learned from him that the bus was going to the bus station. Oh well, at least I am moving. The children were great. We played many games and had a pleasant ride. We all shared a taxi to the train station with an hour to spare. I went to the Family Mart and bought two beers and two sausages on sticks and blissfully reviewed my photos from the day.

Thank you Korea for bringing Formula One here. Thank you Korea for your hospitality. You made extreme efforts to accommodate such an influx of people. You did a great job given the uncertainty and the circumstances. Next years' race is scheduled two days after my contract ends. I will be there!!


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