Wherein Maestro goes culo sopra bollitore – Andersen Race Park, and Caragiulo’s

We’ll start with the easy stuff. Caragiulo’s in Sarasota FL has some pretty amazing pizza. It’s very old school Italian restaurant, and is just basically missing checkered tablecloths and cheesy music. Their menu too sometimes goes off the beaten path, and for years one of my favorite dishes was a seared salmon on a bed of spinach. But their pizzas are really the reason to go there (that, and they serve the real mints).

I have to admit straight up that I have never tasted the pizza that bears my name, but that’s because I cannot stand the thought of combining broccoli-rabe and pizza.

So I almost always go for the DA VINCI $8.95 | fennel sausage + mushroom + pepperoni. It is a steal. It’s definitely enough for one person (a serious pizza person), yet you can still leave a little for leftovers, and it heats up quite nicely. The fennel sausage is a nice touch because it mixes well with the mushroom. Mushrooms can get a little dicey in a pizza if they’re too slimy, but these mushrooms are just right, and the combo with the fennel sausage makes it taste like you’re just eating another meat.

It’s definitely a thin crust pizza, and I’d go so far as to say more of an authentic Italian pizza, which, I haven’t found a FL pizzeria yet that has the kind of stuffed pizza we have in Chicago (and I don’t mean Chicago style pizza, I just mean the basic base-level anti-NY style pizza we have).

Pizza taken care of. Now let’s talk karting. Although FL is home to about 9 serious outdoor karting tracks, I only had time to visit Bushnell Motorsports, a quick trip to Miami and I was reunited with Miami GP (check back in the future for a rundown on that one), and Andersen Race Park (which apparently is so often misspelled as “Anderson” that both spellings will eventually take you to the same website).

I’m mainly going to talk about my experiences (including a near death one) at Andersen. It became my go-to go-kart track because it was so near to where I was living and working for the last three months. The track itself is deceptively difficult. This is the basic layout:

Anderson Race Park Palmetto FL Map

As you can see, there are basically three major turns, #3, #5, and #9. And truth be told, if you can really nail those 3, then you’re golden. #3 was, is, and forever will be my nightmare. Mostly because I had already skidded out about 5 times before I realized that I was getting on the gas way too soon after the turn, so I’d always end up in the grass on the south side of the track before #4. Like all good turns, one sets up another, so if you blow #3, then #4 is not going to be good, and then you’re screwed trying to gain speed into #5. Blah blah blah. Anyway. I can get #3 now about 50% of the time, but it’s still screwy.

In the beginning I had no idea how to handle #5, but once I figured out the trick it was not that bad. #7 requires moxie, and #9 I got early enough that it was never a real problem. Until it was.

There are two reasons to go to Andersen Race Park. One is Matt, the other is Chris. They’re there almost all the time. They both teach racing, and I had two classes with Matt, who was a more than able teacher. It turns out he also was a musician and played double bass for a number of years, so he was able to relate racing to music in a lot of ways. Most of it came down to: “the way to get better is not to look for a silver bullet solution, but rather to put in a lot of time, doing the same thing over and over and over and over again.”

Basically: practice.

The one on one coachings were interesting. For the first three laps I would follow Matt. He’d go slowly so I could see the line, and immediately I picked up on the following things.

  1. you need to ride on the curb. You can’t see it so well in this picture, but in later pics, you’ll be able to discern that there is a white and red striped curb all over the place. Right out of the gate Matt was on the curb, and the idea is simple: you need to use as much available track as possible. So when you are tracking out before a turn, you have one front and one back wheel on the curb before you turn. I say “curb” and you’re all thinking of like a city curb, but it’s barely elevated at all, and it’s just a tiny bump to get on. But since you never think to drive an actual car on the curb, your mind initially rejects the idea of putting wheels on anything even remotely elevated. But it turns out that it helps enormously. Going into the turns you want to cut it as close as possible, meaning you’re going to want to get up on that curb to make it even tighter. That’s really how you know you hit a turn correctly, if you can get back on the curb quickly.
  2. you have to play psychological chicken with the wall at # 5, and yourself at #7. If you look at the track again you can see, right before #5, where google maps has written “Andersen Racing Team” in white, there is a wall along that side of the track. Like most karting walls it looks intimidating as hell, but in actuality it’s just plastic. The trick to this one was to basically look like you were going to go through the wall, kool-aid-man-style, and then at the very last second turn, even after you’ve hit the brake.
    When I watched Matt do it, it was kind of horrifying, but I learned that the later you turn, the better the turn is. So the closer you come to actual death, the better it is for your lap time!
    #7 is a little different because you don’t have to brake. You do have to come off the gas just a touch, and you have to turn in a lot earlier than you think you do. If you turn in too late your line will suffer, and if you turn in too early (something I did exactly once), you’ll go in the grass.

 

So for the first 3 laps I would follow Matt, the remaining laps he would follow me. Then we’d convene and he’d tell me where I was braking too soon, too late, where I was getting on the gas too soon, too late, etc. Just basic stuff. We did that twice, and for the last race, (each lesson is a 3 race lesson), it was all about overtaking, or passing. He said “we’ll start out like the other races, and then at a certain point I’m going to disappear. And then I’m going to hunt you down.”

That was, by far, the most fun part of the course. I started out the last race following him, and then him following me, and, like he said, he just disappeared. I kept looking for him everywhere, and he was nowhere to be found. Then out of thin air, he’s on my tail. At this point I had deluded myself into thinking that I was pretty good at this. And if you look at the times of other people there, I didn’t do too shabby (My fastest time is a low 59, but the track record is a low 57), but the people that are better are consistently better. So Matt would completely overtake me, and then he’d make a “mistake” and I’d have the opportunity to overtake him. I say “mistake” because all of his errors were completely planned, and I have no doubt that he could’ve just lapped me many times over. I mean the guy races a lot, and even seemed to escape near death around the 2:19 mark in this video:

So he was an excellent teacher. Hands down. I never took a class with Chris, so I can’t speak to his abilities, but he was a more than able track emcee.

I had a lot of down time once our show opened, so I spent a lot of time at this place. You know you’re spending too much time at a go-kart track when you run into someone you know from another go-kart track in Delaware.

My times were improving, little by little, and eventually some of my friends asked to come along. So one fine Friday afternoon, as the sun was going down, 3 of my friends and I went to the track. I think one of the friends had done this before, but the other 2 were new. Usually I take people to this kind of thing and they have some fun, and that’s kind of that. They’re not going to probably do it again. All 3 of these maniacs were instantly hooked. I hadn’t seen that kind of instant need to do this again since I took the Doc, almost 2 years ago.

So we all went out on the track, and it was great. I really started to nail the line between 7 and 10:

andersen crash 1

you can see the curbs now. are you happy?

Like I said before, 7 you gotta come up for a second and then just go hard left. 8 is no problem, but you need to set up to get #9 well. Since you haven’t taken your foot off the gas since right after 7, you’re going into 9 pretty quick, and you hit the brake at the yellow X. For the first 6 or so laps I nailed this turn every time.

Then at what turned out to be the last lap for me, and everyone else, right before 7 I heard a click in my kart. I thought maybe I had gone over a pebble. I went into 7 just as I had before, and then right after 7 I saw my friend (represented below by a terribly hand-drawn green kart), and I had to keep my foot off the gas to avoid hitting her, so I was going into #9 slower than usual. Which, it turns out, probably saved my life. Because when I went to hit the brake at 9, my foot went to the floor and nothing happened. I had about a 10th of a second to decide what to do and decided to swerve the car as much as possible and go into a fence instead of going into a tree. The whole thing kind of played out like this:

andersen crash 2

it was less fun than this looks

I truly thought I was going to die. As you can see in this ground photo I took after, if you go off the track, there is a little hill that becomes not so little when you’re going as fast AF, and I’m told I caught air. My little green friend who I passed had a front row seat to what she described as “simultaneously hilarious and terrifying,” because what she saw was a guy in a little go kart go sliding off the track, go a few feet into the air at the top of the hill, and then disappear. The whole thing kind of looked like a cartoon to her:

andersen fence 2

it seemed so much more dramatic at the time

Did I mention that I thought I was going to die? I went slamming into the fence and was immediately ejected from the kart. I was in shock, so initially I didn’t feel any pain.

Now I’ve seen people go off the track, and usually Matt or Chris will see it happen, and they’ll mosey on over in a golf kart, and get the person back on track, and it’s never really a big deal. As I got up off the grass, and started stumbling around to make sure my bones weren’t broken, I saw my little green friend stopped on the track, looking up in what I can only assume was amusement/horror behind her helmet, and I saw Matt running as fast as I had ever seen him run. I think he, like my friend, like me, thought that I had died. He came running up, and I had my helmet open and was spitting onto the ground to see if my teeth were still there or if I had any cuts in my mouth. I have no idea why I was doing this.

MATT: Are you ok?
ME: Yeah. uh, the brakes went out.
MATT: I saw that.
ME: Like totally out.
MATT: right.
ME: so should I just go back to the pit and get in another kart?
MATT: oh no, the race is done. You were on your last lap anyway.

In the meantime he had brought all the others to a standstill with the dreaded red flag, which signifies “for the love of all that is holy, STOP!”

I can’t say that I escaped without a scratch, because as I was walking or wobbling back to the pit, I noticed the my right inner thigh was really starting to hurt. But there was no blood on my pants so I figured I was ok. During the drive home, as the adrenaline started wearing off, the thigh started hurting a lot more, so I began eating ibuprofen like they were Boston Baked Beans. When I got home I noticed that I had what looked like a very surface gash on my thigh, and three days later it turned into a very extensive bruise that covered most of my upper thigh.

I’m not going to post a picture of that.

The next day, Matt wrote me and said “are you ok?” and I confirmed that indeed that I was. In fact I was more than ok. It turns out that last lap before my ridiculous accident was the best lap I ever did.

2 days later I was back on the track.

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