I was invited to the American Le Mans Monterey presented by Patrón held at Laguna Seca Mazda Raceway by Susan who does PR for the Extreme Speed Motorsports team. I met Susan years ago when we were both on a motorsports panel at Blog World Expo. Susan is awesome and we remained in touch over the years, so I was really excited when she invited me to this race weekend. I’ve never watched an American Le Mans Series race, maybe a highlight here and there on TV but I didn’t know much about it before we arrived in Monterey a couple weeks ago.

The “we” in question was my boyfriend and I. This was his first race period and his first experience as my photographer. He’s not a professional photog or anything but really enjoys it and I loved the idea of not having to take all of the photos myself. In the end, as you’ll see, he took a lot of awesome shots.

So arriving at the track on Friday for qualifying I quickly realized that this was a totally different than what I was used to with NASCAR. It’s similar to IndyCar but still different.

ESM field two teams of two drivers, Guy Cosmo & Ed Brown (CEO of Patrón Tequila) and Scott Sharp (Owner of ESM) & Johannes van Overbeek, who drive Ferraris. My new goal in life is to get a Ferrari. I’m not even kidding, those cars are truly beautiful. I haven’t even driven one yet but I’m pretty sure I would enjoy it. 🙂

The differences: The car doors not he race cars actually open. They’ve got a little TV screen on their dashboards that serves as their rearview mirror. There are multiple “classes” of cars all racing within the race. So there’s an overall race winner and then winners within the different classes. It costs more to field an ALMS team than a NASCAR team. When the pits are hot EVERYONE has to wear a fire suit including family, friends, PR & VIPs. I opted out of donning one and hanging in the pits during the race because it was really hot and I didn’t want to be hot plus I don’t think I’d look that awesome in one.

We checked out the pits while they were cold and each team’s area was double the size of an IndyCar or NASCAR pit because they have more than one team and there’s just more equipment.

We hung out in the team’s garage stall and watched the crew make adjustments to the cars, which have the ability to jack themselves up. Yep, they have these posts that pop out and lift them up automatically, it’s ridiculously cool. I wish my street car had that just because it’s cool.

We had lunch in the series’ traveling cafeteria where all of the teams take their meals. It was a very cool setup with a ton of food options. It outdoes any food I’ve ever had at any media center. They had chocolate dipped strawberries, you guys! That’s my #1 weakness.

In the infield there’s this huge hill that has a steep grade, but at the very top there’s a great view of The Corkscrew turn. We trekked up there but I had to stop numerous times because I’m totally out of shape and walking up the side of mountains isn’t something I do everyday (or ever). It was worth it though. On Saturday we found the way around that has a much more gradual ascent.

The crowd isn’t very NASCAR. The people attending the race don’t spend a ton of time hounding drivers for autographs, it’s much more laid back. The fans of ALMS are more interested in the cars and the racing. It’s not as personality driven as it is in NASCAR and IndyCar.

Speaking of personalities the ESM drivers were great. We met Guy, Ed and Johannes, I interviewed them (that’ll be posted later), and they were the nicest guys. They provided a lot of insight into the sport and how they handle race days.

On Saturday and Sunday we spent a lot of time checking out the paddock areas. There were the usual displays from car manufacturers (Land Rover, Chevrolet, VW) and food vendors, including something called a Frog Dog which is a hot dog stuffed inside a French baguette with mustard and ketchup. One curious thing was this high-end men’s clothing store from Carmel (think business suits, dress shirts, & khaki shorts) that had a booth featuring a woman making ties by hand, at least that’s what I think she was doing. It was weird, they had zero customers.

On Saturday we ran into Colin Braun’s wife, Melissa, and his mother. I’m hoping to interview Melissa soon about her & Colin’s love story, so be on the lookout for that. You might remember Colin from his time in NASCAR in trucks and the Nationwide Series. His team, the No. 05 Composite Resources ORECA FLM09 from CORE Autosport with Jon Bennett, ended up winning the six-hour race later that day.

Yep, you read that right, 6 HOURS! We managed to stay for three hours of it but I couldn’t make it for the rest of the way. Overall the American Le Mans Series is something you should experience. It’s a wonderful change of pace and if you can make it out the Monterey, California area you should go to Laguna Seca. It’s a gorgeous area and when you’re doing with racing you can always check out Cannery Row and the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

(all photos credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)