BY BRUCE MARTIN
SAN FRANCISCO – The four contenders for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship got to this position by racing fast, winning races and scoring points. But on Wednesday against the backdrop of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, these drivers traded in their high-speed race cars to ride a Trolley Car.
The INDYCAR “Trolley Tour of San Francisco” came on an open-air trolley that looked similar to the famed Cable Cars that start on Hyde Street near Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. The motorized trolley cars are able to provide much more flexibility in terms of giving tours while keeping the unique feel of the Cable Car.
Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing, second-place in the standings Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske and 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden took the tour along with a few members of the media.
For the media members that took part, the trolley cars picked up the group outside of McCormick & Kuleto on North Point Street and made the stunning and picturesque trip across the Golden Gate Bridge. With the trolley being open on the side, the force of the wind that comes from the Golden Gate area makes for quite an experience.
From the side of the Trolley, one can get a brilliant view of the city of San Francisco and Alcatraz Island, home of one of the most infamous prisons in history. Alcatraz was a maximum-security federal penitentiary from August 11, 1934, until March 21, 1963, and housed some of the most infamous prisoners of all time.
The Trolley stopped on the Marin County side of San Francisco Bay, which is home to the North Vista Point.
Shortly after arriving, the four championship contenders arrived. They posed with the Astor Cup that goes to the winning driver of the Verizon IndyCar Series with San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. After a variety of different shots, poses and combinations of championship contenders, the four drivers took the front of the trolley for the ride back into the city.
All four drivers faced East toward the city on the drive back home. A convertible driven by INDYCAR Chief Marketing Officer C.J. O’Donnell and members of the INDYCAR Photo Staff shot pictures from the convertible of the drivers, some taking part in the open-air experience.
From there, it was off to Pier 39, the famed tourist destination on the San Francisco Bay that features many shops, restaurants, arcades and candy stores. There is even a Carousel in the midway portion of Pier 39.
While the Trolley drove down a narrow alleyway, Power took control of the public address microphone on the Trolley to give instructions to the pedestrians who were in the way.
“Please make way, you have some very important IndyCar drivers on this Trolley, so please step aside,” Power joked.
He briefly played tour guide before the Trolley stopped so the drivers and media could see the many Seals and Sea Lions that lounge in the water on several rafts. The drivers were suddenly the tourists as they took Selfies and made movies and photos of the Seal and Sea Lion experience.
“Wow, those are really cool,” Power said to Dixon.
“It’s amazing to see that many of them in one place in a city like this,” Dixon said.
After that, each driver posed with an artist for a caricature. First up was Dixon, followed by Power, Newgarden and Rossi. Some of the drivers liked their caricature while others scratched their heads noticing the exaggerated feature that comes out in the artist’s cartoon.
Many visitors to Pier 39 were curious as to what was going on and some in the crowd recognized them as IndyCar Series drivers. They mingled with the fans and signed a few autographs.
The next stop was at one of the Crab Stands on Fisherman’s Wharf. It was time to teach the four drivers the proper way to crack steamed Dungeness Crabs at the Grotto. This is a long-time dining spot on Fisherman’s Wharf and each driver put on the rubber gloves, were given the mallets and were taught the art of cracking the crab.
The more crabs they cracked, the better they became. And the biggest reward of all was when all four drivers got a chance to eat what they cracked, feasting on the shellfish delicacy that is native to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Power, Newgarden, Dixon and Rossi liked the crab so much, they didn’t want to leave while there were still crabs available in the pile that they had cracked.
Once on board the bus, Newgarden lamented the fact that he didn’t get a chance to eat a hot dog at one of the hot dog stands at Pier 39. But a full-scale lunch awaited, and the Trolley headed up Bay Street and came to a stop in front of the famed Ghirardelli Square. That is when some friendly faces from Ghirardelli Chocolates met the drivers and gave each one special bags filled with the famed chocolate.
And, the media were given some bags of the tasty chocolate creations, too.
The group then made its way across Ghirardelli Square to McCormick and Kuleto, where they took part in a 5-10-minute program and were asked questions by INDYCAR’s Kate Guerra. The two Team Penske drivers realize their odds are very slim on winning the championship, so they will just try to win the race and see what happens from there.
As for Dixon and Rossi, if Dixon finishes third or higher, he wins the championship. But at a tough track like Sonoma Raceway, that’s not a guarantee.
As the four drivers and the media ate in one of the banquet rooms overlooking San Francisco Bay, out in the main dining area was Power’s wife, Liz, their young son, Beau, and Liz’s mother. Dixon left before dessert was served and when an extra plate of steaming hot Pecan Pie with Ice Cream was served, I decided to present it to Liz’s and Beau’s table.
Father Will approved of that move.
The long morning and afternoon of the “Trolley Tour” concluded.
It was a day of fun for the drivers, who greatly respect one another and are friendly off the track. Now, let’s see how fierce they race each other in Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma.