Charlotte's Brush With Greatness

In any relationship it's pretty wonderful when both partners have common interests.  One of the many things Charlotte and I loved together was auto racing. Of course, we didn't get to go to nearly enough races. However, we got to see a number of major events together: Two IndyCar events (when they were known as CART), five IMSA sports car endurance events, and two Formula One races.

I always said, "Look there's so-and-so, go over and let me take your picture." Let's take a trip though the years and see all the drivers Charlotte met.  

We traveled south for the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami at the Homestead Motorsports Complex March 15, 1998.  It was the first round of the 1998 CART season. This is Charlotte and Danny Sullivan. Sullivan would compete in 15 Formula One races in 1983 for Tyrrell and place fifth at Monaco. He would win the CART championship in 1988. He's probably best remembered for the legendary "spin and win" where he won the 1985 Indianapolis 500 for the mighty Penske Racing.  After I snapped this Charlotte came back and whispered to me, "I grabbed Danny Sullivan's butt". After that day she would never pass up an opportunity to brag about grabbing the butt of an Indy 500 winner. 

At that same event Charlotte met Mark Blundell. A brit who competed in Formula One for four seasons and won the 1992 24 Hours of Le Mans. He would finish 12th in this race driving for PacWest Racing. I think she had a bit of a crush on Mark. 

Here is Charlotte yukking it up with IndyCar Champion Jimmy Vasser. This was at the 2003 Grand Prix Americas held on September 28, 2003, on the streets of downtown Miami. Vasser won the championship in 1996 driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. Vasser would finish this race 11th.  He is now a super successful co-owner of  Vasser Sullivan Racing. Taking a dig at his former boss's ego Vasser said, "There's no 'I' in team but there is in Chip".

Some of you NASCAR fans out there may recognize Boris Said. When NASCAR has to race at road courses like Watkins Glen they hire guys like Said to drive. It's because their regular drivers don't know how to make right turns. Said has won the 24 Hours of Daytona twice, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 hours of the Nurbergring in Germany. This is Charlotte and Said at Sebring, March 15, 2003. Said's BMW, running in the GT class, did not finish.

Charlotte loved all things Italian. The land, the food, the art, and Max Papis was no exception. This picture is also from the 2003 Sebring 12 Hour Race. Papis would finish 5th in the JML Team Panoz. "Mad" Max Papis drove almost everything with wheels. One year in Formula One, eleven seasons in IndyCar. He drove for many years in NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and the Truck series. He even had a fifth overall at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A super nice guy. Charlotte was so shy when we saw him, I had to make her go over to get this picture. Afterwards she was so nervous she was shaking. I have to admit, she talked about Papis all the time and I was a little jealous.
Two of the most famous women in motorsports are Shirley "Cha Cha" Muldowney and  Lyn St James.  In the past few years women racers are no longer a novelty. Woman compete as equals. Here is Charlotte at the 2018 12 Hours of Sebring with British driver Katherine Legge. Legge has raced in a number of European series including British Formula Three, German Touring Car, and the European Le Mans Series. She has contested 39 races in IndyCar including the 2012 and 2013 Indy 500. At this race Legge placed seventh in class in an Acura NSX for Michael Shank Racing. In 2022 she drove a Porsche 911 GT3-R in IMSA for Team HardPoint.
On March 15, 2019 Sebring presented a race weekend that included a 10-hour race of the FIA World Endurance Championship on Friday with competitors from Europe along with the regular 12-hour IMSA race for American teams the next day. During the grid walk on Friday we got to see the cars from the European series up close and Charlotte got to meet AF Corse Ferrari pilot Davide Rigon.  Rigon is a skilled driver in high demand. He races all over the world in almost all endurance contests. He has driven the 24 Hours of Le Mans 8 times with his best finish in second. In addition, he also finds time to test drive for the Ferrari Formula One team.  
As I said, Charlotte loved Italians. Here she is attempting to be adopted by the AF Corse crew so she could return to Italy with them. I'm sorry I didn't get their names. None of them spoke English. They were the nicest fellows! In her Ferrari gear she could have been a team member. This would be a difficult weekend for the team placing 6th in class and 22nd overall. 
Unfortunately, I also had a difficult weekend. I had three sleepless nights because of the horrible mattress in our pop-up camper. My arthritis flared up and the pain coupled with the lack of sleep forced us to go home early. Apologies for bailing on my friend Rick who was there with us. This was the last race Charlotte and I would attend together. Five months later we would learn about her cancer diagnosis. 
This month marks two years since Charlotte crossed over.  Every race I go to I'm missing my race partner. I wanted to honor her memory in a happier way this year. Going through these pictures and putting this together was so much fun. I'm beginning to realize that the pain I feel is actually a gift. The pain of missing Charlotte is slowly being replaced by these memories that are like sweet, sweet honey.