The “36 hours of Florida” is the unofficial name for the kickoff to the North American sports car season, with the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring comprising 36 hours of grueling endurance racing to begin both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup seasons.
Post-those 36 hours, though, a good dose of R&R time is needed. And this is where an outside-the-box idea – a cruise featuring a number of those individuals who ran at either or both of Daytona and Sebring – comes into play.
“Cruisin’ with the Racers” came to light last year under a different branding and name, but is set to feature a number of full-time sports car competitors in a motorsports-themed cruise off the coast of Florida, starting in Ft. Lauderdale the day after the race (Sunday, March 19) and returning a week later to Key West.
More to the point is the deal on offer for racers and race fans, with a special promotional offer available for car club members and those with a series membership of just $200.
“It’s a hidden gem of a vacation idea,” said Marc Miller, who drives the No. 33 CJ Wilson Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and will be part of the cruise. He’ll share that car with Till Bechtolsheimer this season.
“Essentially this started as a cruise geared for racers. It’s morphed into the promotion where we’re inviting a bunch of racers on board. There can be even more interaction with auto enthusiasts and car club members. The goal is to get as many like-minded car enthusiasts as possible on the ship.
“A lot of road racers like to have a bit of downtime. There’s a busy week of lead up to Sebring, but there’s a decent size gap between Sebring and the next race (Long Beach for the WeatherTech Championship in April, Circuit of The Americas for Continental Tire Challenge in May). We know not everyone can go, but the invite is out there.”
Miller’s 2016 co-drivers at Riley Motorsports, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating, and team principal Bill Riley, will be on the cruise as well as others such as Christina Nielsen, Katherine Legge, Marc Goossens and Alex Laughlin. Miller, Bleekemolen and Keating combined to win last year’s Petit Le Mans in IMSA’s GT Daytona class, in the sendoff for the Dodge Viper GT3-R.
The $200 rate seems a bargain considering the cost of most luxury cruises. More information is available via the cruise website, linked here.
More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.
Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.
“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.
“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”
This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.
“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.
“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”
This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.
“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”
At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.
“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”
Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.
“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”
Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.
“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.
“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”