Mar 28 2011

Charlie Kimball’s Big Move to IndyCar

Published by under diabetes,healthcare,travel,worklife

Yesterday was the IndyCar series opener in St. Petersburg, Florida and the first race that Charlie KImball ran in the big league series.  I’ve written before about him developing type 1 diabetes while he was racing in Europe and how my wife worked with him to manage his diabetes in the race car well enough to combine with his talent to drive into the premier US open-wheel auto racing series. The race was won by Ganassi teammate Dario Franchitti.

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Charlie squeezing into his seat before the race

Having safely driven through a crash-fill start today Charlie worked up to 11th place before he had an unplanned connection with the turn three wall after a pit stop. The Indy Light series, where he raced the prior two years doesn’t have pit stops, and the high-speed action of changing tires and refueling was one of the many new challenges in this race. He learned the hard way today how much he can push the car with the mixture of cold tires, a full tank of fuel and racing adrenaline.

The race was run on a mix of city streets and an airport runway at a track familiar to Charlie from his Indy Lights experience. That series served as a great training ground for his move into IndyCars. There is a list of important changes that Charlie needs to master, but the race environment is very familiar.

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Pre-race fist bump with proud racing engineer father Gordon Kimball

One constant is the trackside presence of his father Gordon who serves as Charlie’s low-key manager while maintaining an active motorsport engineering and avocado-farming career. Charlie’s mother and girlfriend often join them at the track as well.

This was my first time at the St. Petersburg race, but the street course track felt familiar to the Long Beach race last year. Unlike the transition from minor league baseball to the pros where there are different stadium sizes and crowds, the Indy lights and IndyCars series are run on the same tracks on the same days.

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Charlie talking in his pit control center after qualifying

In many ways this felt like Charlie’s third year in the greater IndyCar series instead of being a rookie a new racing world.  The encouraging part about the day was how well he performed while on the racetrack. He stayed out of early trouble as other drivers took themselves out through crashes plus he made on-track passes.

The rookie mistakes, like the one he made today will pass and he will progress to finishing races and being a competitive force while being an ambassador for diabetes.

Mark Harmel

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Mar 10 2011

Sea the Sky

Published by under travel,visual concepts

Now that I’ve been living in California where mountains are common sights, returning to Florida after over 20 years made me to appreciate how the storm clouds add height to the flat landscape.

After a trip to Key West I made a journey to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo where I ventured out on their glass-bottom boat tour of the reef. Returning to the dock we were greeted by a massive localized rainstorm that is common in the state. In Los Angeles we get these big storm fronts that create flat grey skies almost a day before the rain, but in Florida its common to be in the sun and see sheets of rain falling on the horizon.

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Diptych of the sea and sky returning to Key Largo

This diptych shows the flatness of the Atlantic and the height of the clouds. (Note the white sailboat in each half.) My former tennis buddy Eames Yates would always comment on the height of the Florida clouds. I needed to be away for a while to appreciate them now. I hope you do as well.

What do you appreciate about Florida?

Mark Harmel

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Jun 22 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth?

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A cluster of Mickey Mouse balloons are smiling at Disneyworld. What about the guests?

That famous Disney advertising line set expectations very high for a visit to Disneyworld – perhaps too high for most visits to the park. (I have the secret of visiting below.) With summer in full swing and many families looking for local vacations. Disney World could be a prime destination.

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In-flight entertainment with Dumbo The Flying Elephant

My agenda was different than most though. Visiting the park for me was an opportunity to do some street shooting and document a bit of Americana. When I’m in New York City or Paris I walk the streets looking for photos. In Orlando, I visit the parks.

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Even grown adults can relive youthful joy on the Mad Tea Party ride

So I wasn’t a normal visitor looking to enjoy the shows and experience the rides. I was there to document the experience. Part of that experience is the heat. This is Florida in the middle of summer. The temperature and humidity are both in the 90’s and there is lots of standing and walking in the sun. Most visitors to the park are there for a one-day visit and that can create a great deal of pressure to see everything.

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I love watching the interactions with the costumed characters. There is an unexpected mix of joy and fear

I didn’t have to navigate long lines. I could stop and rest whenever I wanted. And I didn’t have to negotiate with intricate family dynamics over what to see next or where to eat. Concerns about the special needs of Grandma or the toddler belonged to others. Too often these negotiations led to heated exchanges that were less than happy.

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There was more than normal family stress at work with this young rider

Later in the day I learned secret to visiting from a family that looked happy. They shared that they were staying in a Disney Hotel and had a multi-day pass. They would get up early and visit the park before the crowds and heat would build. They then ride the monorail back to their hotel and break for lunch, a nap and pool time for the kids.

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Take a break and return to the park for the evening firework show

After the afternoon shower, the heat and crowd dissipate and everyone is refreshed to dive back into the park and to have fun up to the evening fireworks show.

If you plan on visiting any of the parks give yourself enough time to do it in a way that reduces stress and creates that Disney happiness.

What are your secrets to visiting Disney World or amusement parks in general? Share them in the comment section below.

Mark Harmel


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Nov 18 2009

everglades, sanibel island and airboats

Update: NPR’s Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan loves Randy Wayne White as much as I do. Listen to his interview of Randy.

On my recent ranch vacation I engaged in one of my guilty pleasure reading habits – I read the Randy Wayne White book “Everglades”.  I’m a bit behind in reading his Doc Ford series, his latest “Dead Silence” was released in March. (A recent NPR interview of Randy is available.) My favorite feature of the books is the location. They are set near where I used to live in Southwest Florida. The stilt house of Doc is set in Tarpon Bay on Sanibel Island. I lived and worked worked nearby at the Sanibel-Captiva Islander in the early 80′s.

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Cypress and palm trees at sunrise in Everglades National Park

Around that time Randy was writing a number of adventure articles for Outside Magazine and a fishing guide friend Capt. Mike Fuery arranged for me to meet Randy at his house in Everglades City. The plan was to enlist Randy in working with me on a feature on airboats in the Everglades. I had made a connection with a local Cracker that agreed to be my guide. At the first meeting I received a similar daredevil experience that James Tiger gave to Doc Ford in “Everglades”. My Cracker wanted to see how a mid-western suburban boy would handle some real airboat fun. He gunned the throttle full-bore and proceeded to drag race for about a quarter of a mile and then threw the airboat in a 180 degree slide before speeding back. I could tell he was a master pilot and personally I enjoyed the speed and passed my Snowbird test. Unfortunately he punctured his gas tank on his craft and my opportunity to work on the feature with Randy passed while I looked for another connection.

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Great white egrets on Sanibel Island

My opportunity to go out resurfaced the next season. I had moved down to Naples and Gulfshore Life Magazine and an ad sales rep made a airboat connection with a local pharmacist. This was a more more civilized experience even though I still didn’t quite know what to expect would happen on a weekend in the Everglades. Would we be sleeping in tents and sharing our sleeping bags with snakes and alligators?

The reality was much different. We ventured out in a convoy of 4 airboats to a cypress head island where there was a large dock and two story cabin. All the materials were transported out by airboats a weekend at a time. There was even a stove and refrigerator powered by propane. The land was officially in the National Park, but there was a grandfathered/gentleman’s agreement that allowed the improvements to remain. In exchange the park rangers were able to use the cabin as a dining hall or over-night bunk house on their long patrols in the Everglades.

We cruised through the sea of grass in the days and gigged frogs by headlamps at night. The birds were amazing and we were visited by alligators at the dock. My best memory was the lack of mosquitos. I expected to be swarmed the entire weekend, but the slowly moving water is not the best breeding ground for the pests.

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Cat-tail shadows on fire flag plant in the Six Mile Cypress Slough

You can find tourist boat rides along the Tamiami Trail. There are the big, easy to find 30 seater, bus-like contraptions that give you a small taste. But they are no where not as good as the smaller boats that more resemble a sports car. You can also find swamp buggy rides that will take you out as well. Anything that gets you out into the Everglades is a treat worth experiencing. The best time to visit anywhere in the area is in the Fall. This is after the rainy season and before the Winter chill and tourists arrive.

I would love to find a tour company that has a weekend, or multi-day trip that operates in the Everglades area so I could make the trip again. If you know of one please contact me or leave a comment.

Mark Harmel


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