I have a really interesting problem I'm trying to solve and with which I could use some help. It has to do with a new device I'm trying to figure out how to build which would track the performance of racing cars while they are on-track, in real time.
A small team of us have already solved some of the core problems and have built a prototype of the device, but there are a number of important related problems left to solve.
And, for that, I'm turning to...maybe you.
Let me say up front that this is being done on a shoestring budget, which means I don't have a big pile of investor money lying around to pay a staff with. In fact, I don't even have a small pile of investor money lying around, so fair warning.
But, having said that, the problems are interesting and incredibly real-world, and if you are a computery car guy (or gal) like I am, you may find them rather compelling.
What I'm hoping to find are a few people with great skill sets who are willing to work with me to solve some of our core challenges. Specifically, I'm hoping to find skills in...
- Relational databases. We are planning to collect data several times per second for every car on the track (which might be 60 or more) for as long as they are on the track (which is usually less than 60 minutes but might be for as long as 25 hours or more). It's a lot of lines of data.
Given all that data, we have specific analyses we want to do both within the data coming from a single vehicle and across the data from all the vehicles. The challenges here tend to be in the analysis of the data more than its collection or organization...at least, I think so.
- Wireless data transfer. We'd like to be able to collect all of the data mentioned above on a per-lap basis, while cars are still on the track. Presumably that means from a single collection point in the pits or somewhere similar. The amount of data collected from a single car from a single lap is relatively small, probably in the range of 100K or less, but racing cars can come past in packs. With Spec Miatas, for instance, you might have 40 of them on the same straight at the same time running 4-wide, so there are challenges like that which will have to be handled. The collected data will go directly into the relational database.
- Physics and math. Ultimately, what we're doing here is related to the practical application of physics and while I was once pretty good at both math and physics, I was also once pretty young. Unfortunately, I'm no longer any of these even though I can kinda remember what each of them was about, but not at a useful enough level to be able to adequately use that knowledge.
What we need here is somebody with a strong understanding of the physics related to converting the data we can collect from a moving vehicle (time, locaton, speed, etc) into the numbers we need to come out the other end. I don't want to go into a lot of detail here as this is perhaps the most important part of the project, but there are several twists that could make this very interesting and/or challenging work.
As I said earlier, this is work I can't really pay for right now but I would be willing to consider some other kind of reasonable compensation at the back end, if there turns out to be one. To be clear, though, I'm not looking to develop an open-source solution even though I would be very happy to use open-source tools.
If this is something you think you might be interested in contributing to, I would love to have a chat with you about it. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank for considering it!
This year has been one of limited racing for me but this past Thursday, Friday and Sunday were the NASA National Championships at Mid-Ohio.
As the trophy above (on the right) shows, I was fortunate enough to win my second National Championship (the first was in 2008) in spite of spinning off the track early and having to start all over from the back of the field.
If you are bored enough to be interested, you can watch the race here: http://www.speedcasttv.com/#/races/243
The GTS broadcast starts at about 123.00 in the stream.
The cars hit the track at 128:04
Green flag at 131:20
Mine is the smurf blue car #333 with the big wing.
Thanks to Jim Child for pointing me to this excellent racing video. It's Scott Goodyear driving a 944 in the Rothman's Cup races back in the day. He starts 21st, last, because of qualifying issues but does not stay there long. Great racing. Thanks, Jim!
I got an e-mail yesterday from John Zemon of A Part Above, one of my racing sponsors. It seems that another of his customers, Seth Pogacich, had taken it upon himself to recreate my race car in Forza Motorsports, the video game. Here's a sample:
It's missing the wing (Seth says he can't get it to let him add it), but damn that looks amazingly good. Right down to all the right sponsor and contingency stickers.
Thanks, Seth, for sending these. You made my day!
Tomorrow morning early we leave for Virginia International Raceway for the Grassroots Motorsports Pirelli Ultimate Track Car Challenge on Friday. It should be interesting, a one-day see-who's-the-fastest event for a year's worth of bragging rights.
The format is NASA Time Trial (TT), which is to say we'll have one 20-minute warm-up session at the beginning of the day and then three 20-minute timed sessions throughout the day. The winner in each class is the driver with the fastest single lap. That means TT is essentially qualifying as opposed to wheel-to-wheel racing.
The catch, of course, is that some of us like, for instance, me, have never been to VIR before, so in addition to trying to put down a screaming lap we'll also be trying like heck to learn the track. Fortunately, I've been able to spend an inordinate amount of time in the evenings lately studying on-line videos so I think I have at least a reasonable starting understanding of both the track and how to go fast there.
My class is Independent Junior Varsity, which is for normally-aspirated (no turbos or superchargers) 4-cylinder cars created by guys like me in their own garages (as opposed to professionally built cars). I've seen the entry list and I'll be running against an interesting bunch of cars including the Honda that won last year, a Porsche 968, a Honda S2000 and, the ones I'm most concerned about, three Lotus Super Seven clones.
The Super Seven, a photo of one of which is above, is basically four wheels, two seats and a motor. Very light, very fast. It's also one of my all-time favorite cars. So much so that I have been giving somewhat serious thought to building one of these from scratch. The problem or, in this case, worry, about the Sevens is they are massively fast in the lower speed ranges and very good handling cars.
As you can probably imagine from the photo, they are not the most aerodynamic of vehicles so their top speed is somewhat compromised by an unfavorable shape. Also, they probably won't have aerodynamics in the form of a wing or similar tools, which should limit somewhat their cornering speeds. Regardless, of all the cars on the list, these are the three I figure have the best chance, if driven well, to beat me.
Time, of course, will tell.
My car is ready, including a new, much improved wing and splitter and sporting brand new GOODAero graphics. GOODAero is the company I am trying to start to manufacture and sell aerodynamic products for racing cars--starting with a wing like the one I'll be using Friday--and the UTCC is my introduction of the brand.
Last year's winner (in my class) finished with a 2-minute 11-second lap. The current GTS2 (my racing class) lap record at VIR is 2:12.916. My goal is at least one lap in the 2:09s and my dream is a 2:08. If I can get down in that range I think it will be hard to beat.
Regardless of our success in Virginia, Friday afternoon we'll pack it all up and make the 9-hour haul back to Mid-Ohio for a weekend of GTS racing. I'll let you know how they both turn out.
I just got the news today that I have been invited to Grassroots Motorsports Magazine's Ultimate Track Car Competition. Yay!
Happening just a few weeks from now on Friday July 23 at Virginia International Raceway, this is a national competition to see who has the fastest track (which is to say "Race") cars. I've been hoping to get into this event as my car fits very well into their Independent Junior Varsity class which is for 4- (and fewer) cylinder normally-aspirated cars that weren't built by a professional shop. Barring a mechanical issue, I'd like to think I have a reasonable chance of winning my class.
It should be interesting because I've never been to VIR but have already been studying films for the past couple weeks in anticipation of getting the invite. Should be a lot of fun except for the 8-hour tow back that night to make the NASA races at Mid-Ohio the following morning.
Crossing my fingers...
Forgot to post this one sooner...racing at Putnam Park (Indiana) a couple weeks ago in mixed conditions. Because of problems with my transponder (which is used by the timing and scoring system) during Qualifying, I had to start at the back of the GTS field.
The rain had quit only a few minutes before the race and most of us, myself included, went out on slicks in anticipation of the track drying out over the course of the race. As you will see, though, the early laps were like driving on ice. As the track dried, the speeds grew. I eventually passed (by my count) a net 28 cars. With about three laps left, I caught the BMW 318 of Paul Milligan who was leading our class (GTS2) and we went at it hard until he got together with a Miata on the final lap.
Here is video from my last race of the year. For reasons I can't quite explain, I decided both to put the camera inside the car for a change and to add captions. Anyway, enjoy...
The camera car is a Porsche 944 S2 starting from the class pole. The orange-and-white 944 ("Brad") and a black BMW coming from the back of the field ("Sean") make for an interesting race.
This weekend saw the end of my 2009 racing season. We closed with a pair of races Saturday at Putnam Park, half an hour west of Indianapolis. I ended up with another two wins but had to actually work for them for a change.
Lest my head sound even more inflated than it actually is, let me explain that statement...
I made a lot of changes to make my car faster last winter, the most important of which were aerodynamic. In particular, the big wing on the back. The cumulative result made my car nearly unbeatable by guys who hadn't done the same thing, which is to say pretty much all of the front-runners in the group I race with.
However, a couple of those racers have been looking to put an end to this situation, specificially Brad Waite and Sean Tillinghast. Brad and I have raced together for several years and usually share garages and hotel rooms. He recently added a wing and splitter to his car and his lap times show the effect. This weekend he ran within about half a second of my times which kept us in close contact.
In yesterday's second race, Brad got a terrific jump on me on the start and I spent half the race or more thinking I might not be able to get past him. Ultimately, he had a momentary fuel pickup problem which lasted just long enough for me to nip past (through the grass!), but he is now officially fast (video soon...).
Sean has moved down to GTS2 (my class) from GTS3 last year where he was one of two drivers always fighting for the win. He's been working out the kinks in a new car and this weekend he came ready to play. Sean and I had several great battles over the course of the weekend and even though I ended up winning, I think the easy wins are over. He actually set the fastest race time of the weekend, getting the lap record I was hoping for. It's going to be a battle from here on out, which I couldn't be happier about.
For the record, out of 11 starts my 2009 season ends with 9 wins, 1 second, one DNF (did not finish), half a dozen new lap records, and the Regional GTS2 Championship.
Last weekend we raced at Mid-Ohio for the last time this season. After posting a personal-best lap in Friday's practice (1:37.16 on the pro course), I qualified on the class pole both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday's race went great (I won!) but Sunday's, which started out great, ended up with a motor making too few noises of the right kind and too many of the wrong.
The video below shows the start up to the point the motor quit (4:08 into the video). All of the cars you see here--even after the motor quits--are in higher (which is to say, faster) classes.
You'll notice that all these guys all kill me down the straights (that's what an extra 60+ horsepower can do for you) but once you get past the very fastest cars I'm pretty much able to make up most of the difference under braking and in the curves.
Apologies for the Doris Day fuzz...I never seem to remember to clean the lens!
I spent the past weekend at Mid-Ohio, racing with NASA. Other than a downpour for 45 minutes between sessions on Saturday, the weather could not have been nicer.
Friday afternoon was a 90-minute Enduro race which included a mandatory pit stop to load 5 gallons of gas. Running in E1, the next-to-slowest class of cars in the group, 90 minutes of qualifying-level laps along with some excellent pit work by my friends Jim Child and Scott Berkowitz ultimately resulted in a classic turtle-and-hare finish with me winning overall and just one car remaining on the lead lap.
Special thanks to John Zemon from A Part Above for his amazingly quick delivery of the fuel filler neck that made my fast fueling possible.
The video above is from the first 15 minutes of the Enduro and gives you an idea of the back-and-forth racing going on.
Saturday and Sunday, though, were the really good parts of the weekend.
Read More . . .
Unfortunately, I don't have video from my Sunday race (described below), but here are the highlights of Saturday. I had a terrible start but the BMWs that come by are from a faster class. The red Porsche is Mike, the white and orange one Brad, and it took me a while to work my way back to the front.
Last weekend I raced with NASA at Putnam Park, a 1.8-mile 10-turn track in the rolling hills of Indiana, about 30 miles West of Indianapolis. Conditions were dodgy Saturday morning following several overnight inches of rain. Although showers came and went several times during the morning, somehow the track managed to be dry every time we went out.
Saturday I qualified on the GTS2 pole (8 cars in class) and won pretty easily with a 17 second margin over second place. That, after losing several positions on the start when the car in front of me was a little slow to the throttle at the green flag (video coming soon). Sunday I ended up second but that fact is not as interesting as how it came to be.
I had tweaked my wing before qualifying Sunday to take out a bit of downforce to see if that improved my turn-in in the faster corners. It turned out I went a bit too far and now the car was a little too loose so I couldn't really lean on it for a fast lap. Ironically, it was also tending to push in the slower turns as it had on Saturday so pretty much everything was going the wrong way. I ended up qualifying second in class behind Jim Child (black 968), the 2007 GTS2 National Champ.
Starting in a mixed class with my wing re-adjusted and two more clicks of rebound in the front shocks, I was ready for action. Jim started 4th overall while I was 5th, a row behind and on the inside. I got a great start and pulled even with Jim on the run down to turn one. Neither of us was willing to give way in the braking zone so we went through turn one door-to-door, then through turns 2, then 3 the same way--neither of us giving the other a chance to move ahead.
Finally, going into the left-hander turn 4, I was able to come around the outside and force my way to the front. Jim and Mike Ward (in a red 968) and I ran nose-to-tail-to-nose-to-tail behind the 2nd place GTS3 qualifier, a next-class-up BMW M3 that was going just a teench slower than us but too fast to actually get around. The four of us stayed like that for several laps until the M3 made the wrong choice while trying to pass a back-marker and Jim, Mike and I freight-trained him, sending him from 3rd to 6th in the space of about 50 yards.
Clear of the Beemer we picked up the pace a bit and I was able to put a modest gap between Jim and myself while he, in turn, gapped Mike (who was eventually passed again by the BMW). Just as I was starting to feel comfortable with my lead I got caught in lapped traffic and Jim closed right back up on my bumper to the point I had to make a couple of really deep runs into turn 1, the fastest turn at the end of the main straight, to keep him behind.
Eventually, after several hard laps, I was able to open up another 5-or-so second gap and things were going pretty much according to plan.
Until I hit the oil.
Read More . . .
FINALLY, I have a little video from my car to offer to the Net. This, after spending untold hours studying the videos of the guys I race with. I actually HAVE some footage from last year but the quality is so bad (very shaky) that, well, you don't want to see it.
You may not want to see this either, but here is it nonetheless.
The footage here is from the start of the race on Easter, a couple weeks ago. YES, I KNOW the title page says 2008. It's 2009, I just can't proofread. And, YES, I KNOW I somehow managed to edit out a small part of it midway through the race. Chalk both up to learning how to edit videos (or at least trying to learn how).
I skipped qualifying on Easter to hunt eggs with my kids, so I had to start near the back of my class. Except for the blue BMW (which is in the next-faster class), all the cars you'll see here are my competitors. At the end of this clip I pass my friend Brad (white and orange car) for the lead.
Before passing him, I had a little "moment" at about 5:40 into the video which was a lot bigger deal in person than it looks like here (I thought I was going to spin it).
Over the course of this past winter, I took the time off to do some tweaks on my race car. I've not mentioned it here because, quite honestly, it was a secret. I was experimenting and, if it worked, I wanted to have the edge, at least for a while.
Well, last weekend was the first race of the season and I can tell you now that my winter's work did not go unrewarded. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First, I need to set the stage.
You may have noticed, in the photo here, the teeny-tiny little wing on the back of my car. OK, not so teeny-tiny. That's new. Thanks to my friend Charlie Burke and his boys for helping me build it in his amazing wood shop.
The frame is oak. The skin is aluminum, but it's riveted into the oak. Old school, baby.
I've talked to a lot of guys who "know" about what you can and can't do with race cars like mine and--without exception--they all agree that these cars don't have enough power to be able to use a wing effectively. Every one.
The problem is, I've also read a few too many books on race car aerodynamics and they all say wings make you faster without equivocation. So, after months of deliberation, I trusted the books.
The books were right.
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OK, so the bad news is this guy is clearly losing time in the tight turns.
The good news is, I don't think it matters very much. OMG.
Thanks, Jerry Carter, for finding it.
Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson have announced that they will start (immediately) a US-based Formula 1 team with the objective of racing beginning in 2010. This is really interesting news for those of us who love F1.
There haven't been many US Formula 1 teams. Dan Gurney did it, as did Roger Penske, but both those efforts (I believe) were US-owned, England-based. This one is going to be right here in the US. Is that a first? Might be.
Peter was on Dave Despain's Wind Tunnel talk show last night and had a lot to say about it but kept a few things under his hat in deference to tomorrow's announcement on Speed (February 24 at noon, EST).
They will be headquartered in Charlotte which makes more sense than you might think. While the World Championship used to be primarily Europe-centric, today races are pretty much everywhere...Austrailia, Malaysia, China, Bahrain, Spain, Monaco, Turkey, England, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Not being located in Europe is a lot less of a handicap than it used to be.
Being in Charlotte, thanks to NASCAR, USF1 will be literally in the heart of the US racing industry, with access to state of the art wind tunnels, composites fabrication, etc. Interestingly, Windsor said that the bulk of the technology in F1 for many years now has been American but that the teams did not say that very loudly.
I think this is terrific and wish them the best of luck. Until then, though, I'm still a Lewis Hamilton fan.
For my one reader interested in this (hi Dad!), below is the video from my NASA National Championship race last September (it was just released today).
The winds were so high that afternoon, gusting to 70 mph, that the video production company pulled most of their cameras about halfway through so there's not a whole lot of footage of my car but there is some terrific racing in this, especially with the next-faster GTS3 class.
It's that time of year, when thing get slippery on the roads. I love driving in slippery conditions but apparently most people don't. So, what follows is a quick primer for those of you who don't disable the traction control as soon as the roads are covered in snow.
"Slippery conditions" can mean all kinds of things. When we're racing, it's usually rain but sometimes dirt or gravel thrown up onto the track. Lately, around here it's been snow and/or ice. Even if you're not racing--not trying to go fast--driving in slippery conditions can be tricky. A couple weeks ago, we had an ice storm. I ventured out (had to go to Lowe's!) and, because of the traffic back-ups on the main roads, took a back way, a mile or so of which was through a subdivision.
While the main roads were quite passable thanks to salt or whatever it is they put on the roads these days, the subdivision had not had the benefit of any such de-icing concoctions. It was, literally, sheer ice even though the road pretty much looked the same as the other roads.
The first hint that things are getting slippery usually comes from either your hands or your eyes. It's often easy to see the slippery parts. You can see standing water on the road, for instance. Also, snow and, usually, ice. When it's raining, you can see differences in the surface. The slicker spots are almost always shinier than those with more grip. Visual clues abound, but they aren't always available.
The moment I got onto the ice in that subdivision, I couldn't see any difference but immediately knew it was slippery because I could feel it in my fingers and in my butt. When things get slick, the wheel gets easier to turn and, usually, there's less vibration--in both the wheel and the car in general. You go from your car feeling like, well, your car, and then suddenly it feels...smoother.
Smoother, in this sense, is slippery. Beware.
The thing is, you have to pay attention to the clues. In these days of mostly front- and four-wheel drive cars, it's very easy to be going a lot faster than you should on slippery roads. Rear-drive cars are harder to drive straight ahead on slick surfaces because the rear tires are more likely to spin and make the tail slide. Even a ham-handed driver can figure out that things are getting slippery when they're looking down the road through the side window.
Rear-wheel drive cars give bigger clues, but F/4WD cars--which most cars are these days--don't. You may not notice any control difference in these cars or trucks until you need to turn or stop (at which point it's too late to adjust your speed much).
When you know it's slippery, you need to pay a lot more attention. You need to monitor more inputs than you do in normal driving. You need to feel and look for clues. Hang up the phone. You'll find that the lighter you hold the steering wheel, the more you can feel what's happening at the tires.
When we race in the rain, I hold the wheel with just my fingertips. Also, I'm also constantly looking for the places with more traction. In moderate rain, the best place to be in any particular corner can change with every lap. The only way to go truly fast, then, is to keep searching and adjusting.
While you may not be trying to lower the lap record on your way back from Kroger's, the same thing is true on the street. When it's slippery you should be paying attention and constantly looking for higher-traction places to put your car on while, at the same time, watching for the idiots who don't know what they're doing.
Good luck out there.
Yesterday, in the most-dramatic fashion possible, Lewis Hamilton became the youngest-ever Formula 1 World Champion by a single point, and this after losing it last year by--again--a single point.
What was otherwise an interesting but not spectacular race changed course dramatically when, with four laps remaining, it started to rain. Lewis, who had to finish at least 5th to win the Championship, dropped to 6th position with two laps remaining. It wasn't until about two turns from the end that he made the pass which got him back to 5th.
It was a nail-biter and a very exciting (and surprising) finish.
Way to go, Lewis!
I spent the past weekend at Putnam Park, a fun little race track in Western Indiana with all the guys I normally race. It was, in total, a great time.
Jim Child (2007 NASA Nat'l Champ) is back in form and he and I had two days of close hard racing. Saturday he beat me to the checkered flag by half a second but not without having to work his butt off to do it (if I may say so myself).
Sunday I beat him by about the same margin, but not without being in the grass four (count 'em, FOUR) times.
At the start, I got bum-rushed. I started 3rd overall, first in class, but before we got to the first turn I had already been passed by my friend and (fellow Skid Marks Racing Team member) Brad, by Jim and by a GTS3 BMW (next faster class) who'd started behind me but had a ton of acceleration.
So much for getting a good start.
Brad was again in the car he'd had to rent for the National Championships but this time it was with a better chassis setup, the motor running right and his trick gearbox, and he was flat flying. The four of us ran nose-to-tail for several laps (the BMW in the lead, then Brad, then Jim, then me) until the three of us freight-trained the BMW coming out of Dead Bear, a tightly-banked 180-degree climbing left-hander.
The BMW was much faster down the straights but couldn't keep up with us in the turns. By the time we got to the front straight, two turns later, he was too far back for acceleration alone to make up the ground we'd pulled out in the two turns previous.
Brad, Jim and I were running particularly close together because (I think) Jim was a little faster than Brad, and I was a teench faster than Jim, but nobody had enough of an advantage to actually get a pass done.
About 15 minutes into the race, Brad's motor (or the turbo or something) let go and Jim and I found ourselves in an absolutely impenetrable white cloud. I now understand why the military uses oil smoke as a smoke-screen. You can't see ANYTHING including, in this case, the front of my own car. In trying to slow down (and guess where to go), I hit Jim in the rear (result: a fixable dent on his bumper, some fiberglass work/replacement for me). I have never seen anything as dense as this smoke. I literally couldn't see Jim's car until it was bouncing on front edge of my hood.
Jim and I both bailed into the grass on the left of the track (that's one on the count of in-grass outings, if you're keeping track) until we got to where we could kinda see and then eased back onto the track just as the damned BMW came back past us both.
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Ex-Formula 1 driver Riccardo Patrese takes his (unsuspecting) wife for a ride around the F1 track at Jerez, Spain...
I don't speak Italian, but I'm pretty sure I know what she's saying as he sits there serenely behind the wheel. Of course, even I, with no language skills, can pretty clearly get the gist of "por favore" and "MAMA MIA!".
Thanks to Volker Weber, who found it first.
The NASA National Championships are over and, following races in the rain (Friday), bright sunshine (Saturday), and under threatening skies with 60+ mph winds (Sunday), I am now officially the 2008 National Champion for GTS2 (yea!).
The weekend was not without its share of drama, however.
Friday, the first of three days of racing for the Championship, was rainy. Really rainy. My friend Brad, who was running in both GTS2 and 944 SuperCup started on the pole for the SuperCup race only to have the wet track bite him.
During an aggressive 2-3 shift on the start, his car suddenly turned sideways and straight into the wall at 60+ mph. As you can see from the photo below it was, for all intents and purposes, totalled, hitting three of four corners and bending the tub before it came to rest.
A problem for a lesser soul.
But Brad, by mid-afternoon Saturday, had located, negotiated, rented, picked-up and begun to prepare a replacement car to use for the remainder of the weekend. He and the guys from Steinel's did Yeoman's duty getting it ready.
Normally raced in GTS3, a faster class, the car had to be de-tuned by more than 40 horsepower, the transaxle changed to get back to stock gearing, and the suspension completely changed over to Brad's preferred ride-height (much lower), spring rates (much stiffer), alignment settings (much more camber), etc., to get it ready to race.
The net result was Brad took a car in which he had less than an hour of seat time and finished second overall in SuperCup after threatening for the lead. All things considered, a remarkable result in the face of adversity.
Fortunately, things were going a little better at my end of the garage.
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If you have any interest, (or, I guess, even if you don't), the NASA National Championship races are at Mid-Ohio this weekend. I, and all the friends I regularly race with, will be trying to put one over the top and win the 2008 Championship.
I mention this because if you're in the area and so inclined, you may want to come by. Here's the scoop:
Starting this Friday, September 12, there will be three days of great amateur racing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (an hour North of Columbus), culminating in Sunday's Championship races.
Friday and Saturday will each have Qualifying races. These are 20-minute races, the results of which are then combined to determine Sunday's Championship race starting order. So, in other words, if you win both the Qualifying races, you'll start first in your class on Sunday but other than deciding where you start, the qualifying races have nothing to do with the final results: You have to win on Sunday to be crowned National Champion, no matter where you started.
We run in the German Touring Series's GTS2 class, which will pit us against other Porsches, BMWs and probably an Audi or two from all across the country. We've been running in GTS2 all year with terrific success. I have won 6 out of the 8 races I've run this year (the seventh I won but was then disqualified after the race for passing under yellow). My good friend Brad has won one and finished 2nd or third in pretty much all the others but has gotten much faster in the last few races.
What that means is he and I should be strong contenders for the National Championship this year.
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Back when I started racing (this car), I bought first one, and then a second set of wheels for my dry tires. Both sets were from CCW, who make great--and reasonably-priced--forged wheels. The second set was polished and looks almost like chrome. More importantly, brake dust, of which there is a lot, falls off almost effortlessly.
But the first set was not so lucky. You can see it in the lower photo in this post. For reasons I won't go into, the first set were shot-peened to a rough surface and then brite anodized (yes, that's the right spelling) a somewhat drab silver. They have never been as pretty as the polished ones but, more importantly, they are miserable to get clean.
Well, I was whining about this the other day to Bryce at Wheel Medic, one of my racing sponsors, and he said, "well, let's just powder coat them." He then proceeded to explain to me why you can't chrome plate racing wheels and probably shouldn't chrome plate any wheels: It makes them brittle. Also, chrome is prone to chipping off.
But it turns out there are new powder coating techniques that can give your wheels a polished- or chrome-like finish but without compromising the strength of the wheel. When Bryce suggested using that I said, "yeah, but my wheels have this rough surface on them. Won't that look like...you-know-what?"
He said, "No problem. It will fill that in." To be honest, I didn't completely believe him but he's the wheel refinishing expert so I took his advice. This afternoon I picked the wheels up and he was right: They are beautiful and smooth and, well, look like jewelry.
That's the upper photo in this post.
It's a little amazing.
While mine are a chrome-like finish (except, I think, maybe just a teench darker and prettier), they will have a black chrome color as early as next week and can also tint the wheels so you get a colored chrome look (like, blue or purple or whatever).
It costs less than chrome, looks as good or better, is more durable, and doesn't make the wheel brittle. It's pretty amazing and they can do it for cars or motorcycles or probably any other kind of wheel you can think of. If you want to know more, call Bryce at 800-826-5795 (and tell him you read about it here).
Really...they look spectacular.
Our most-recent weekend at Mid-Ohio found a friend, Scott Berkowitz, starting from the back of the pack in a very fast car for Saturday's race. This video is of his full race but of particular interest is the first lap. Heck...the first straight. By my count, he gets by 15 cars before the first corner of the race.
When he finally becomes Mortal again, he's just a few cars back from me (in the blue car) but that doesn't last very long either, try as I might. (But--hey--I at least eeked out a full lap...nearly...before he got me!)
Running in GTS3, the next-faster class from ours, Scott finished 2nd overall. Great drive.
Located in Racine, Ohio, deep in the Southeastern part of the state, IFC makes excellent fiberglass parts for Porsches. I first found Mike via, of all places, eBay, where he had listed a replacement panel for the front of my car (to cover the area where the headlights used to be).
The price was very reasonable but even more impressive was (a) the part itself and (b) the way it was packed. By way of comparison, I bought an expensive fiberglass hood (which later delaminated at about 100mph on the front straight at Putnam Park) from a well-known Porsche fiberglass source in the middle of the country. That hood arrived literally jammed inside two sheets of corrugated cardboard...and with no other protection.
Even worse, the expensive hood from the well-known source didn't fit. The attachment points on the underside of the hood were not even close to being in the right places so rather than bolt on as advertised, the whole thing had to be reworked to get installed on the car in any semblance of the right position.
IFC's nose panel, on the other hand, was a perfect fit and came nestled inside a wood-and-cardboard box that very clearly had been built specifically for the delivery of that part. More recently, a replacement fiberglass hood from IFC arrived the same way--in its own carefully-constructed container. And, I have to say, the quality of the parts is excellent.
If you're in the market for fiberglass parts for your car, give IFC a look. You can find them at www.allporscheracing.com. They have an ever-growing list of available components and if they have what you're looking for, I can assure you, you'll be impressed.
We were racing again at Mid-Ohio this weekend. Saturday was an easy win with a 7-second margin over my friend Brad, who finished in second place with a 14-second margin over third.
Sunday might have been more of the same, but the operative word in that statement is "might."
I qualified on the class pole with a 1:38.7, my first-ever Mid-Ohio lap in the 38s. Even more encouraging is that it was sloppy; I know for sure I can go faster than that and am now dreaming of a 37....
So I was feeling good. Brad qualified second, also with his personal best Mid-Ohio lap (a 1:39.421...the only other car in our class under 1:40).
During qualifying, my brakes had felt a little soft. So, before the race I took the time to bleed them to make sure I didn't have any soft-pedal issues during the race. After all, we had all the time in the world between our 11:30AM qualifying and the 4:30PM race. Had to do something.
I took my time with the brake-bleeding and other routine maintenance I was doing, trying to be more methodical than I usually am, and savoring the available time. So, I don't really have any excuses, but somehow I managed to not tighten one of the bleeder valves quite all the way when I was done.
You can see where this is going, I'm sure.
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Another weekend at Mid-Ohio, another two wins. The facts are accurate, but as is often the case, the actual story is a bit more interesting as Sunday's win was by no more than a few feet.
Saturday's was easier.
I qualified on the class pole Saturday by a margin of 1.69 seconds over the 2nd place car. My third qualifying lap, at 1:39:15, was easily the fastest lap I've ever done in this car at Mid-Ohio. Previous best, a low 1:40.
I might have been able to get into the 1:38s as the previous lap, a 1:39.5, had included one quick pass on the approach to the Carousel and there was still enough clear track ahead I could probably have got in another clean lap.
But when I saw the 1:39.15 come up on the lap timer, and knowing nobody but me had been under 1:41 in the morning warm-up, I thought, "that's good enough...if they can beat it they can have it," and slowed down to save the tires for the race.
Which, as races go, was pretty boring. I led flag-to-flag for the win with a final margin of about six seconds over second place and never really saw any of the guys in my class except way back in the mirror. They, however, as the post-race stories recounted, were having a hell of a battle for 2nd, 3rd and 4th while I was biding my time hanging with the mid-pack GTS3 guys (a faster class).
Sunday, though, was a little more interesting...
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Last weekend were the NASA Races at Putnam Park, a fast, fun track in Western Indiana. My friend Brad (orange car in the photo) and I were there along with most of the usual suspects.
The short version of a long story is Brad and I ended up first and second in both races (me first, him second) although as of this writing there is some question about whether his Sunday race will be disqualified because of a pass under yellow which some claim to have seen.
As it turns out, I had this happen to me on Saturday's race back in April, when a pass I don't remember making while racing with a guy from another class--meaning it had nothing to add to the outcome of my race--cost me one of my two wins from that weekend.
The most exciting part of the weekend was about halfway through Saturday's race when, running down the front straight at 100+mph with Brad a few car-lengths back, my hood delaminated, tore itself loose and went flying about 40 feet into the air--over Brad. Fortunately, it both (a) ended up off track and (b) was fiberglass and so a good deal lighter than a metal one. Quite a surprise though, and all the more so they didn't black flag me.
So, for the year, that's four-for-four (minus one DQ). A good start!
I dropped the Cayenne off at Midwestern Auto Group for some warranty work last night and Jeff, my Service Tech/buddy, says "so, would you rather have the Cayman or Cayman S as your loaner?"
Be still my beating heart.
In fairness, it's a trade-off. The "regular" Cayman has a stick, the S is a Tiptronic (this is, by the way, the kind of trade-off I like to have to deal with).
I tried the standard car on a previous visit and it was great, but could have used a little more power. Given the opportunity to choose, well of course I picked the S.
Even with the slushbox, it's a nice ride. The S has more of everything. More motor, of course, but more suspension, more tire, more brakes.
I am willing to go on record saying this is without a doubt the sweetest-handing street car I've ever driven. My old Boxster S was a great car (with a great added-on suspension) but this is so much more solid, so much more responsive. The down side is you can't put the top down but man oh man can you feel the extra stiffness the hard roof brings to the party.
But I sure wish it had a six-speed.
The sharp-eyed among my two readers may notice that the sidebar along the left side of this page now includes links to two sponsors.
Yea! We love sponsors!
A Part Above is a great source for used 944 (and other late-model water-cooled Porsche parts). I have worked with John Zemon, the owner for a while now and he is great to deal with, to the point he has even met me a few times halfway between Columbus and Cleveland to get a part handed-off when time was short.
If you're driving (or even better, racing) one of these older cars, I highly recommend you consider John as your source for just about any parts you need. He has a big warehouse now, filled with Stuff You Need and his prices and service are absolutely excellent.
Wheel Medic is pretty much what the name sounds like: They can fix your bent, scratched, dented, or otherwise damaged aluminum wheels. I'm sorry to report I've needed to use their services numerous times over the past several years but am thrilled to let you know they've done an absolutely great job every time.
It wasn't many years ago you had to throw out damaged aluminum wheels...an expensive proposition. The things Bryce and his guys at Wheel Medic can do with damaged wheels is nothing short of amazing.
The Round House is the name under which these same folks sell new wheels, body kits and the like, and they'll do it for anything. Case in point: The last time I was there, the 2nd Audi R8 in Columbus was already up on the rack getting suspension, wheel and body upgrades.
Give them a call for all your wheel/bodywork needs.
Thanks to both A Part Above and Wheel Medic/Round House for joining my racing team. Welcome!
FINALLY, after a couple years of effort, I logged my first win since Back In The Day (1991) on Saturday, yesterday, at Mid-Ohio. To add icing to the cake, I won again in today's race, this one over my good friend--and fellow SMRT member--Brad Waite.
After a winter's work on weight reduction (mostly on the car, unfortunately, as the driver could use a little weight reduction of his own), and after a full season last year chasing new settings in my then-new suspension, my car is finally, at least for now, awesome.
Saturday's race was in the dry. I qualified on pole for our class by a touch over 2.3 seconds. For the record, that's a lot. We race in a mixed-class group so I started 5th for that race, behind 4 other cars from faster classes. At the beginning we (the faster-class guys and I) literally ran and hid from the rest of the field. I thought it was going to be a cake walk until, about 3 laps from the end, Jim Child and Carl Picelle were suddenly a little too close behind...and closing.
Ultimately I was able to hold them off and notch my first-ever win in this car (and, for that matter, this millennium), but it wasn't without a few moments of concern. But Sunday's race? Sundays race had the real concern.
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I'm not completely ready for this weekend yet (of course...that would be too easy), but thanks to my friends Brad and Eric, I'm a lot closer.
As you can see, the car is painted and mostly re-assembled, which is good, and with their help we've managed to get it put back together enough I'm sure I can make it in time.
The paint job, not that anyone really cares, is excellent as long as you stay 20 feet or so away from it--just about right for a race-car, in other words. But, our reassembly work was not accomplished without a certain amount of amicable controversy...
The reassembly debate
During our somewhat frenzied wrenching on the car, we got into a which-is-better? debate. We race in a class organized around power-to-weight ratios. Weigh the car, put it on a dyno, do some division, either you're legal or you're not. In our case, we're shooting for no less than 14.5 pounds per horsepower.
What that means is if you have a 100hp engine, the combination of car and driver can weigh as little as 1,450 lbs. If you have 400hp, your car will need to weigh at least 5,800 lbs (or you'll have to move to a different class).
So, the question is, which should be faster on the track, more power or less weight?
Given otherwise equal cars and drivers with identical power-to-weight ratios, it seems to me the cars should be pretty much dead even on acceleration in the lower gears since that, after all, is what power-to-weight ratios are all about.
In the higher gears, like at the ends of the longest straights where aerodynamics come more into play, I expect the car with more power to have the edge as that's more about overcoming air friction than moving weight.
On the other hand, the lower weight should have an edge in braking and cornering because it has less weight to stop and turn. Personally, I would really like to think lower weight will result in an overall faster lap time but it became obvious last night we don't all agree on this.
So, I'm wondering if anybody knows the real answer (if there is one). Inquiring minds want to know.
Here we are, Friday April 4, and the first race of the season is just one week away...Drivers' Meeting at 7:30AM, first track session at 8:00 sharp, next Friday, April 11th. The only teensie-weensie little problem is, I'm not exactly ready for it yet.
The picture you see to the left was taken in my garage this morning, today, on my way to work. Don't mistake the gray for silver...it's primer. The car is supposed to be blue with lots of colorful graphics. And, with a little luck, it will be come next Friday.
But there are a few long days of work between here and there.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. I wasn't supposed to be running right to the edge on time and preparation. I was supposed to be done early, with plenty of time to sit back and plan out my first racing weekend.
But then the winter disappeared.
In fairness, I've done a lot of work on the car over the winter, some of it to recover from the unfortunate events at last year's NASA Championships (see the photo below for evidence of Incident #1...of 2), but most of the winter's work was done in an effort to get weight out of the car.
I've replaced all the glass with Lexan; gutted, stripped, and painted the interior; replaced several body parts with fiberglass; removed unneeded heavy things under the hood (air conditioning, anyone?); and so on. Really, the get-a-bunch-of-weight-out-of-it initiative has been pretty successful...the car is down about 250 lbs--which is a lot--and that ought to show up on the track in the form of lower lap times.
And, there has been plenty of mechanical work, too. The boys at Steinel's had it for a couple of weeks fixing all manner of broken and/or worn things and doing a few go-faster tweaks I'm hopeful about.
So, it's in really good shape for the racing season...except for the darned paint. Oh, and all the glass--well, Lexan--is out of it except the windshield. And, it still needs reassembled. And, the graphics still need to be both cut and installed. And, there are mirrors and trim and...well, you get the idea.
If you need me, I'll probably be in the garage.
I found this elsewhere but am no less amazed each time I watch it. By my count, not including re-passes, this guy moves up 12 positions in 2 minutes. Amazing. (But there will be a little bodywork needed before the next race).
"Dad, what's your favorite car?," was the entirety of an e-mail the other day from my oldest daughter, Corey. Not that I've done much to hide the fact I'm a gear-head, but I'm a little surprised how often I get asked this.
Of course, it's not actually as easy as that.
I mean, there are a lot of different kinds of cars. My immediate response was, "My favorite race car or my favorite street car?," if for no other reason than to start sifting the list.
"Whatever," she replied, "favorite car."
Not a lot of help, that one. That leaves too much open ground.
I mean, should I pick the one I find the most beautiful, or the one I'd most like to drive? Do I have to consider maintenance and insurance costs? Is this to be my only car or can I ignore practicality? There are too many questions to answer--too many cars to pick from--to just say "favorite car"...I need some guidelines.
As it happened, that night I met up with a handful of my equally-gear-headed buddies to watch in-car videos from this year's racing season. Over a couple of beers, I popped the question to them (no, not THAT question) with, of course, enough qualifiers to get a proper answer.
Specifically, the question to everyone was this:
You can have any two cars, no strings attached. One street car, one race car. These aren't daily drivers and you don't have to pay for maintenance, upkeep, insurance, garaging--anything. What two cars would they be?
The answers were interesting....
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This past weekend was the NASA National Championships at Mid-Ohio, a four-day racing extravaganza. At the beginning of this season, my goal was to win a National Championship at this race. Well...the best laid plans...
I've spent the season trying to find the perfect setup for my car after adding what amounted to pretty much an entirely new suspension late last year.
I've tweaked ride heights, spring rates, shock absorber bump and rebound settings, sway bar adjustments...you get the idea. There are a lot of possible combinations and, to complicate matters (which were too complicated to start), I've also spent the season trying aerodynamic tweaks, all in the effort to find a winning edge.
My good friend (and on-track nemesis) Jim Child has been the gold standard against which I've been measuring progress. He is absolutely consistently always at the very front of the field and is always the guy to beat. While I have occasionally been ahead of him during races this season, he has always come back past and pulled away in the later stages.
After entirely too much analysis of this particular state of affairs, I'd decided the issue was that while I might be able to push harder in the earliest stages of a given race, as the race wore on his superior setup meant his tires didn't go away like mine did and he could leave me like a bad habit.
Well, FINALLY, Friday morning, the first day of Championship Qualifying Races, I got there. A last set of suspension tweaks had transformed my car and I was consistently putting down laps a second or more faster than I'd ever done at Mid-Ohio. I was peaking at exactly the right time.
And, I was racing in two classes...that meant two potential National Championship trophies. I was already mentally clearing space for them on the bookshelves. But then the wheels started to come off...literally.
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Another weekend spent at Mid-Ohio with NASA. Races on both Saturday and Sunday resulted in a pair of third-place finishes. Not bad, but I'd like to be a bit higher on the podium. The good news is I'm sneaking up on a suspension setup that works...in Sunday morning practice I was the fastest in class (though I managed to give it all back in qualifying).
Saturday's race started with a very disorganized run to the flag. After the first 5 or 6 rows nobody was lined up when the green flew (we run in mixed classes so my group started in the upper teens in a full field of 50 or so cars). I started 22nd overall, fourth in class, but quickly moved up half a dozen slots. That's "quickly" as in "by the first turn," thanks to being so far behind the leaders that I got a full run off the Keyhole coming to the green flag.
My friend John Graber shot this great video of his race, much of which was with me. The video starts right at the green flag and you can see what a disorganized mess it was. If you watch his mirror, you can also see the kind of run I got as I swoop from left to right, slicing through traffic, to ultimately pass him into the first turn (John started several rows ahead of me).
Later, if you're interested, around 6:30 into the video, I start lurking in his mirror again and come back past shortly after. He and I have a good race through the rest of the film even though he and the black BMW you'll see throughout are both GTS3 cars, a faster class than my own GTS2, so passing them neither helps nor hurts my in-class position.
Sunday I started and finished 3rd but had another terrific start, going from 19th to 15th on the run down to the first corner. Four or five turns later I made past Jim Child into 2nd place in class, pushing hard on the leader, Carl Picelle, but after a couple of laps my not-quite-right setup had me overheating the front tires and Jim got back past (then pretty much left me for dead).
This weekend we'll at Putnam Park in Indiana with the Porsche Club. I'm hoping a new set of rear springs will get up up onto the top step for a change (fingers crossed).
Lewis Hamilton continues to amaze. It's not so much that he's good--even the worst driver in F1 is mighty good--it's that he is so good, and so fast. And, so composed.
He's now, 7 races into his F1 career, never finished off the podium and never finished in a position less than his starting position. That's not just unusual, it's entirely unprecedented. I'll say that again: NOBODY has ever done that.
At Monaco--you watched Monaco, didn't you?--he "only" finished second, to Alonso, his teammate. Afterward Lewis complained they wouldn't let him go for the win. He'd never raced F1 there, of course--it's his first F1 season, after all--but he's been there before with several other series. He had never not won in Monte Carlo. Ever. They should have let him go. Mind, I can appreciate why Ron Dennis didn't want his two boys taking each other out trying to win...
...but DAMN it would have been fun to watch.
At the USGP, Alonso was always behind but had one shot at Lewis at the end of the main straight, mid-way through the race. Lewis, typically, was cool as a cucumber as the reigning Formula 1 World Champion took his best shot. Unsuccessfully. And, as always watching him race, I learned a little more about racing technique. In this case, about protecting my position.
In both the Canadian and the US Grands Prix he won from the pole. On tracks he'd never seen before. I can't tell you how impossible that actually is. Track knowledge is a valuable commodity at any level of racing. There are nuances of any track you simply have to get to know to go completely fast.
Apparently this rule does not apply to superheros.
Actually, I'm sure somewhere he's been playing video games or, more to the taste of an F1-sized budget, spending hours in a VR simulator but, still, the pole and the win without ever seeing the tracks before?
(Thanks to Kevin Mort for this terrific shot he took at the end of the USGP qualifying)
I arrived in Los Angeles Saturday, two days ago; a day before the start of the Advisor Summit conference in Anaheim. With time on my hands in one of the great car cities of the world, I took the opportunity to visit the Petersen Automotive Museum.
The Petersen, if you've never heard of it, was created by Robert Petersen, the Chairman of Petersen Publishing Company, the publisher of Hot Rod Magazine, among many others, as a tribute to the automobile. It's a place I've wanted to visit for a decade or more so Saturday I finally went.
It is very well done. They have beautiful and interesting cars there. Everyone visiting--men, women and children--seem truly happy to be there (it is LA, after all). But here's the thing: It left me flat. I love cars (as my regular reader can easily tell) but I don't think I like them in museums. Not here in LA, not in the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, not at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas, not at the Indianapolis Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, not in...well...not in any static collection I can think of.
Don't get me wrong; I love seeing them, but I guess I think of cars as...cars...not as objects d'art meant to be admired only in clean rooms with perfect lighting. I want to see them move and hear their engines. I want to see them outside in the real world, in the world they were built to be in.
Cars in museums seem dusty and old, even if they're spotless and new. Old, dusty cars outdoors seems spotless and.... Hm. Maybe the problem is cars in museums seem sad. Cars out in the real world are living their lives, doing their things. Museum cars are kinda living in the old folks' home, waiting to wither and die, or being propped up by their caretakers.
I'm sure I'll keep going to automotive museums, but I'd rather see those old guys running around in a rally or bar-hopping or taking a turn on the track like they were built to do.
I spent the weekend at the Mid-Ohio race course attending the weekend's races with NASA, the National Auto Sport Association. Saturday and Sunday's races were my first with this group but I can assure you I'll be back.
While I greatly enjoy racing with the Porsche Club of America (PCA), by comparison to NASA, PCA is a little, well, Germanic. They (PCA) are exteremly well organized and the events go off without a hitch, but as a competitor you're little more than a cog in the wheel. PCA events feel a bit like they're being run by IBM with the primary objective being to make sure things are well organized.
By comparison, NASA seems more like a bunch of racers who got together to stage an event with the primary goal of having fun. A subtle but important difference.
A quick example: We race in mixed classes. In my race Sunday, for instance, there were probably 40 cars on the track at once, from 6 or 8 different classes. My group, GTS2, was the next-to-fastest of the groups in our race. Saturday, because of an accident that prevented us from qualifying, the race was gridded by class based on times from the morning warm-up. So, all of GTS3 went first, then all of us, and so on.
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Oh, my goodness, this kid is good.
If you're not much of a race fan, or even if you are, for many years now Formula 1 racing has been a bit of a snore. The cars were so dependent on technology that whoever had the greatest bit of software dominated.
F1 races at that time were mostly boring two-hour parades. I'm a fairly die-hard fan and didn't really enjoy it...imagine the rest of the world that cares less.
Anyway, thankfully, a few years ago the FIA, the governing body, changed the rules to bring more parity to the series and, along with it, more competition. Whining from everyone involved notwithstanding, these changes worked and F1 is once again a great show of racing.
But the best part of the show is clearly Lewis Hamilton, an attractive and massively-talented 21-year-old black Briton phenom. During the first race of the season, after watching him pass three cars, including his teammate a 2-time World Champion, on the outside of the first turn of his first-ever F1 race, one of the TV commentators said, "Lewis could do for racing what Tiger Woods has done for golf."
I can believe it. He is absolutely riveting to watch and, even in just these two races has shown that, rookie or not, he is there to win. Watch him.
It's that time again, the time I both love and hate in more or less equal measures. It's time to be looking for a new (to me, at least) car. The lease on the Boxster is about up and my family has declared a need for a back seat.
"For what?," I ask, "There's room for the golf clubs in the trunk." But they are persisting with this crazy notion that they should be able to ride in the car with me.
So, the search has begun. This is the part I love and hate. With an unlimited budget, this would be easy. Sadly, I am not so unfettered. Looking for The Right Car is a balancing act, an exercise that's a combination of lust and logic. For me, at least.
The kids and Sarah say Back Seat. I say Fast and Fun and Convertible. Manual Transmission. Great, not good, Handling. And Pretty. Oh, yeah, and at least moderately Affordable. It turns out, there's not much intersection of those particular planes. But I'm looking.
The thing is, there's either not a lot to look at or my imagination has run out. The current short-list is...
- Porsche 911 Cabriolet
- BMW M3 Convertible
- Audi S4 Convertible
- Mercedes CLK55 Convertible
Mind you, I'm only looking at used cars here. Bought used, all of these can be had for only a modest King's Ransom, as opposed to the usurious rates charged for new ones. The thing is, I know I like the 911, but it has the most worthless back seat of them all and is probably the most expensive, even for a 5-or-more-year-old car. But that's a car I know I will love more or less unconditionally. In fact, pretty much everything else has to be looked at through the how-does-it-compare-to-the-911 glasses.
I drove an Audi S4 Convertible the other night and while it was faster than all get-out (twin-turbo V8 in a little car), the suspension was only so-so and the feel through the steering wheel was fair at best. I've pretty much crossed that off the list but am still willing to re-consider should I come across one that's been worked over a bit by a tuner.
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I'd never been to CMP before. It is a very nice track, about the size of Mid-Ohio, but with a strange combination of corners. From turns One through Nine it's open and fast. From 10 to 14 (the last turn), however, it's all autocross stuff...down to second, up to third, down to second, up to third, down to second, up to third, up to fourth, down to second....
The tightness of this section makes it very technical but, really, I like the faster stuff better. Plus, all that second-gear stuff really feels like you're flogging the car (okay, you are flogging the car but it's more obvious there).
Turn 9 is a gut-check turn. A kink in the middle of the longest (which is to say, fastest) straight, it's possible to take it flat out (at a little over 100 mph in my car) but just possible because you have to run over a small curb right in the middle of the turn to do it. That curb upsets the car and throws it all the way out to the edge of the road. It's great when you hit it right but a bit of a sphincter-tightener when you're a little off.
Turns 5, 6 and 7 are the "Carousel," a continuous 180-degree right-hander which my car was incredibly loose in, requiring long powerslides to get a decent exit speed.
In all, it was a fun track and a really nice group of folks. I ended up 4th in the Sprint race and 3rd in the Enduro. I've only now learned my (very new) adjustable shock absorbers were set much too stiff, so hopefully I can be a little farther up the results sheets next time.
Today is the first day of June and the first day of summer (at least in my mind). Summer is vacation time and, at least around my house, vacations mean driving trips. This summer we’re driving both to Colorado and Canada, long trips, each.
Long trips give you a lot of time to think about things. One of the things I think about a lot is how to get through traffic with the least fuss, the least disruption of other drivers, and the best average speed. Mostly, this is a matter of identifying The People You Don’t Want To Be Behind.
You know the game. It’s the same thing you do all day long driving around town. Should I pick this lane, or that one? Is that guy going to hold me up, or is he the one I want to follow?
The problem is, you usually have to make your decision based on what little you can tell from looking at the back of the car in front of you. So, what are the clues? How do you decide which cars are Go and which cars are Slow?
I'm glad you asked.
Sometime last year, during yet another long-distance trip, Sarah and I realized there are visual clues we use sub-consciously to help decide which lanes to choose and which to avoid. We started trying to figure out the logic of our categorizations and to refine the process. And you, fair reader, are about to learn these hard-wrought Inner Secrets.
This, alas, is the place where I will probably begin to offend people.
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This weekend saw my first two races in more than 15 years and let me just say: it's about time. Boy, have I missed it.
I was at Mid-Ohio with Brad Waite, my good friend and fellow Skid Marks Racing Team member. The two races were Brad's third and fourth ever and his results are all the more remarkable for that fact.
A funny thing about this is everyone--even Mario Andretti, were he to join us--is considered a rookie by the Porsche Club until they complete four races without an incident (which is a nice way of saying wreck). All the rookies have to put X's on their cars so the experienced drivers can know to be a little more cautious around them. Accordingly, I've got this big bright orange X on the front and back of my car (you can't see it in this photo).
But what the more experienced guys aren't counting on is getting passed by the guys with the X's.
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I spent the weekend at Mid-Ohio, a scenic, hilly, snake-like racetrack an hour North of Columbus. I've written about Mid-Ohio before. Not only is it the closest road race course to where I live, it is truly one of the best and most beautiful race tracks in the US. This weekend it was even better because just two weeks ago they put down the final layer of new asphalt for a complete resurfacing.
It's now wider, smoother and faster, but that's not what this is about.
This is about left-foot braking, a driving technique that doesn't get enough coverage. There are places it's used a lot. Rallying, for one. Formula cars, for another. And of course, go-karts where you don't really have much of a choice. But even in those venues (karting probably being an exception), you don't hear a lot about it.
Well, I'm here to tell you it's the fast way around. While I'm certainly not Michael Schumacher (or even Bobby Rahal, for that matter), I have spent an inordinate amount of my life learning how to drive cars smoothly while going really fast.
An incredibly important part of that has to do with what you do with your feet, which you may not expect, because when you're really running at the limit of adhesion it's the smoothness of the transitions from brake to gas and gas to brake that make it possible for you to ratchet the speed up another notch. The smoother your transition between the pedals, the closer to the edge you can get without actually going over it.
Left-foot braking lets you get closer, lets you go faster.
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I spent the weekend messing with my race car; fiddling with the intake, re-attaching the splitter (chin spoiler) I'd torn off last season, adding a seat brace, tweaking the mirror...puttering, mostly, just to have something gearhead to do while I'm waiting for the season to start up again.
In any case, after I was done I drove it down to a local car wash and then pretty much had to take it out on the highway to get it all dried off. And, of course, you can't really get onto a highway without following an entrance ramp.
YES, okay, I admit it already: I really like entrance ramps and this car is great on entrance ramps. But you'd expect it to be. After all it's a racing car. That's what racing cars do. Road-racing cars, anyway. So, that's not news.
What is news, or struck me as news, anyway, was how Jekyll-and-Hyde racing cars can be.
Mine, after all, is mostly stock. Welllll...sorta. It has mostly the stock interior (plus racing seats and steering wheel, fire suppression system and a big mutha roll cage), the motor is stock (but the intake and exhaust are not), and the rules won't let you do much with the body. It's stock-enough that it's licensed for the street and mostly street legal (a catalytic converter here or there notwithstanding). But, see, the thing is, it sucks on the street.
It's a fish out of water.
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This weekend is the Daytona 500, which, in most people's minds, is NASCAR's premiere race. If you are a racing fan, you may very well have been watching five years ago when Dale Earnhardt crashed in the last corner of the last lap of the race.
I certainly was.
As someone who watches a lot of racing—NASCAR, IRL, IMSA, American LeMans, F1, Champ Cars, Touring Cars, you name it—I see a lot of racing crashes.
As wrecks go, Earnhardt's didn't look all that bad. He turned up the banking from the middle lane, hit the wall, got whacked in the side by Kenny Schrader, and skidded to a stop.
It was nothing like some of the topsy-turvy bouncing-flipping-sliding-spinning wrecks you see so often in NASCAR. It was nothing like some of the terrifyingly destructive crashes you see with formula cars where the engine, wheels, nose, tail and everything except the cockpit tear off in a brutal shimmer of carbon fiber and fire.
It wasn't dramatic at all, except in the sense of the drama of the story because of when it happened in the race. It was interesting as a part of the story, of the show, but somewhat disappointing as a wreck. It looked trivial, and yet it killed him. So you have to ask yourself why, especially if you're even an occasional racer, such a seemingly-benign event ended so catastrophically for Dale Earnhardt.
It turns out, he died because he was killed by his safety equipment.
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Actually, I created the site mostly as a place for my SMRT buddies and me to get a t-shirt or two, but you're welcome to join in with us if you like.
Perfect for drying off the dog, cleaning tar from the fender of your Oldsmobile, or anything else!
I always knew racing included the possibility of danger, but I wasn't quite prepared for where the danger actually lay. In my case, it wasn't on the track or in the pits. It was, instead, on the way to the race. On the highway.
Yesterday I told the story of my friend Brad and his first race. I should have been in that race, too, but it didn't work out that way. I'll explain that in a bit but, as it turns out, I was lucky to be there at all.
The irony in all this is the logo you see here. I have a group of friends who all love doing these track events, whether racing or Driver's Education events. We all met last year and not only travel to the events together, we regularly get together socially here in Columbus.
Well, when Brad bought his race car and then I started looking for one, it wasn't long before somebody or other started talking about calling ourselves something and having our own "racing team." A few beers and a lot of brainstorming later, we came up with the name Skid Marks Racing Team (we're still debating logos, but this is the one I like best).
I had no idea how ironic the name would turn out to be.
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Big kudos to my friend Brad Waite. Brad today completed his first race (pictured here in action during the race). He has been working toward this moment with dogged determination for the last two years.
Last Spring, Brad brought his street car, a 911 Carrera 4, to Mid-Ohio for his first Driver's Education event. He and I met at that event, and started what's turned into a great friendship. Brad not only enjoyed the event, he loved it. Consequently, he did 3 or 4 more DE weekends last year. For the last one, he brought along his son Brady in his Acura RSX. Brady loved it, too.
At that point, completely smitten with driving at speed on the track, Brad found a race prepared 944 (shown here) which he added to his stable. That's when he really started to get serious.
This year, he's done something like 12 DE weekends with the 944, most of them with Brady driving, too. He has spent a lot of time, money and concentrated effort learning how to drive a racing car. Finally, it's paid off.
Brad and I went to Putnam Park this weekend for what was to be each of our first race weekends. Well, really, it was Brad's first race weekend ever, my first one in 14 years. (My story, not as happy as Brad's, I'll tell tomorrow.)
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Man, I'd forgotten how much there was to do to start racing again. It all sounds so easy: Get a car, sign up for a race and go. Oh, don't I wish.
You don't want to build your own race car. I do know that. People who build their own cars end up selling them to people like me for a big loss. So, you buy one that's already ready. But then, when it's time to pick it up, you realize you need a trailer.
Oh yeah, a trailer. Crap.
So, you get the trailer and bring it home and start doing research. Hm. Well, this car has 16" wheels but the fast setup is with 18" wheels. So you need a couple of new sets of wheels plus one of the old sets for rain tires. Oh, and you need the tires for them.
Since I last raced, cars all have transponders. You know, little radios that tell timing-and-scoring systems embedded in the actual race track when you pass over it. I don't have a transponder. Well, didn't. I do now.
There are all these things you need to have. A new fire suit (too fat for the old one). A new helmet (wrong certification in the one I had). New fireproof shoes (the old ones were just too damned ugly).
New fuel containers. New stickers with my name on them to put on the car (ok, sure, I could have forgone those but they were really cheap and look cool!). Peel-and-stick tiles and paint for the inside of the trailer (makes it a lot nicer).
Oh yeah, and you have to get a license. To get the license, you have to get a physical. Then you have to fill out a bunch of paperwork and send in some money.
Then you have to go through Rookie Orientation. To do that, you have to go to a race that's offering it. To go to the race you have to fill out more paper and write more checks.
There's a lot of check-writing involved in this process.
Got the new tires. Oh, but new tires need to be heat-cycled. That means you have to run them slowly up to temperature over 5 or 10 minutes, do one hot lap, then stop and let them cool for at least 24 hours. So, crap, you really have to do it before the race weekend. Have to find a big abandoned parking lot.
You get the idea. My first races are the weekend of September 17-18 and I can't wait if for no other reason than getting there means I've made it through at least the first full round of check-writing.
Beats the heck out of not racing, though.
Well, it's finally happened; I've bought another race car. My two regular readers will know that it's basically been a downhill slide ever since a student of mine at a Porsche Club drivers' education event let me drive his race car. I blogged about it here after it happened but, basically, since then I've spent more or less every waking hour scheming how to get back into a cockpit of my own.
So now, it's a done deal, more or less.
The car above is at my house (it got there sooner than the garage it's supposed to go into) and waiting for the next track event to stretch its legs. It's funny but I haven't yet driven it farther than off the trailer and up my driveway. No test drives for race cars, but it was recommended to me by Eric Steinel of Steinel's Autowerks, a highly-respected mechanic in the Cleveland area.
The car runs in F-Stock for the Porsche Club (ITE in SCCA), which means it is kind of stock. The motor has to be unaltered from the air cleaner to the exhaust port (no fiddling with the chips), but you can do more or less whatever you want with the suspension. It has a full interior but also a full cage, racing seats, six-point harnesses, and a fire-suppression system.
Most importantly, it runs in one of PCA's most competitive classes, so the racing should be close and good. My first race will be September 17-18 at Putnam Park, near Indianapolis. I can hardly wait!
This past weekend was the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). Yes, the same IMS where the Indy 500 is run except the Formula 1 guys run clockwise and use an infield course which only touches the main track for two straights and one turn. But oh what trouble that one turn caused.
The story, if you haven't heard it already, is essentially this: There are 10 teams in Formula One, each running two cars. Three of the teams—Ferrari, Minardi and Jordan—run on Bridgestone tires, the others are all on Michelin. After a couple of scary accidents, Michelin discovered that the tires they'd brought for their teams to use were unsafe on the fastest turn of the track. It's turn 13 (aptly) on the F1 course, turn 1 on the Indy course. For the F1 cars, it's a 170+ mph turn, not the kind of place you want your tire to pop, which is exactly what happened to Ralf Schumacher, causing a massive crash into the wall on Friday.
In any case, Michelin said the tires (and the replacements they built in France and flew in Saturday night) were unsafe on that corner unless they added a chicane—barriers to make the drivers slow down and do a couple of quick turns (right-left-right)—to keep the speeds down.
So, this makes for a classic rock-and-a-hard-place scenario. Formula One is notoriously political. All of the Michelin teams, which is to say all of the top-level teams except Ferrari (Minardi and Jordan are always the slowest two teams...OK, almost always the slowest two teams), said, in essence, "If Michelin says the tires are unsafe, we can't race unless you change the track." To race on tires specifically described by their manufacturer as "unsafe," besides being against the F1 rules, would open the teams to litigation and potentially criminal charges should one of their drivers be hurt or killed. Can't do that.
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The story of this past weekend's Indianapolis 500, in case you just crawled out from under a rock, was Danica Patrick, the 5-foot 1-inch, 100 lb beauty who has taken the racing world by storm.
Starting fourth (the highest ever for a woman at Indy), she finished fourth (the highest ever for a woman), and along the way lead 18 laps (the first time a woman has ever lead any laps there) but that's the least of the story.
First of all, Danica aside, this was the best Indy 500 in a long, long time. With 27 lead changes and lots of close racing, it was a barn-burner all the way. Danica's story and performance was the extra spice that took it from great to spectacular.
Yes, as a driver for Rahal Letterman Racing (whose shops, located here in Columbus, I drive by regularly) she had the best equipment and was backed by one of the best teams. Surely, she has the best package any of the four women who've ever driven at Indy ever had. On the other hand, not to say they didn't, but she deserved it.
She made at least one Rookie mistake. During her second (I think) pit stop, while running fourth, she stalled the car, costing precious seconds while the team backed it up, connected the starter, and got the engine re-fired. When she returned to the track, she found herself in a disappointing 16th place.
But, then she went to work.
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Yesterday I saw Stan Ross in his Porsche Carrera GT. Stan is a HUGE automobile enthusiast around these parts with, apparently, an equally-large budget. I didn't know he had a Carrera GT but it's not that surprising given his spectacular stable. Anyway, there he was, piddling along Henderson Road in new silver Carrera GT (a $400,000+ car).
It was beautiful, of course, but the most amazing thing was the sound. I've read a number of accounts of driving the car and they all talk about the sound. Now I understand why. It was...well...amazing. I've never heard a car howl like that. I can't think of another word that comes close.
I don't know how you could keep from burying the throttle at every possible opportunity just so you could hear the music from that motor over and over again.
I had forgotten how much fun it is to drive real racing cars. That may sound strange if you're a regular reader of this blog as I've often written about track driving but, although I raced Formula Atlantic for a while back in the 90s and did some shifter-kart driving a few years ago, most of the track driving I've done in the last dozen years has been in the context of high speed driver education events at which I'm an instructor.
My regular car is a Porsche Boxster S. It has been the beneficiary of quite a bit of suspension work but at the end of the day it's just a street car. A fun, reasonably fast, street car, but a street car nonetheless. A toy, in other words, in comparison to The Real Thing.
Thursday and Friday of this week saw another of these driver education events at Mid-Ohio, one of the most scenic and challenging race tracks in the US. The event was held during the week because this weekend the Porsche Club was having races there.
I was assigned as instructor to Michael Vong an enthusiastic, effusive, highly-engaging Chinese-Canadian who, along with his wife and cousin, had driven in from Toronto Wednesday night with two race cars, one of which is pictured here. As an A-group racer, Michael was allowed to forgo my assistance but, with no prior Mid-Ohio experience, he asked me to help show him the fast way around. So, out we went with him driving, me riding and instructing as best I could over the noise of the car.
After the first session and a little struggling with lines (Mid-Ohio is a very technical course and a lot to learn all at once), he looked at me and said, "Next session, I want you to drive my car and I'll ride. I want to see how fast I should be going."
This was going to be a good day.
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As Spring blooms, a boy's thoughts naturally turn to, er, cars. Sorry, dear.
It's so nice to be driving with the top down again. Soon, we'll be back hurrying around racetracks having fun. I started thinking about this today as I drove back from lunch. And, of course, as soon as I start thinking about (real) driving, I start thinking about the fiddling I need/want to do on my car.
Of the short list of things I want to get done before my first track day, the thing I really want to make sure I get done is a good corner-balancing of the car.
"What's corner-balancing?," you say? Glad you asked, because it's kind of cool and absolutely helps your car handle better.
Here's how to do it:
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A group of us, gearheads all, spent the better part of the evening last night at our local indoor go-kart track. It's called Speeds, and not without good reason. The karts there hit 40-45 mph on a twisting, turning half-mile track. If 40 mph doesn't sound fast to you, try it from an inch off the ground on a polished concrete floor and you may feel differently.
I go to this track three or four times a year and, as always, it was a lot of fun. Since my last visit they had reconfigured the track making it a little faster and maybe a little longer than before. But what I really liked in the new arrangement was The Timer.
In the past, the only real feedback you got about your speed (besides the people you passed or who passed you) was after your 10-or-so laps were finished. Getting out of the karts they would hand you a printout with all your lap times. That was nice, and it was always fun to compare your times with those of your buddies, but it was hard to know what made one lap better than another.
Well, no more.
Just past the Start/Finish line is a timer you can see from the track. Just before you get to it, your time for the previous lap pops up for you to review. It's great because you can instantly see what effect different lines or techniques had on your lap time. Then you can immediately change whatever did or didn't work and see if it gets better or worse on the next lap.
You still get the printouts at the end so you can still argue or brag about it over a beer (yes, a kart track with a bar!), but the instant feedback is excellent.
I think I need to figure out a way to do this at real race tracks. The last time I was at Mid-Ohio, for instance, I think I was slowing myself down by trying to go too fast, but this is an opinion in retrospect. If I'd had a stopwatch in the car (and could read it--a real concern with bifocals at 100 mph or so), I could find out what works better and what doesn't.
Hm. Have to look into that.
I was reading an interesting note in Panorama, the magazine of the Porsche Club of America, yesterday, which I feel compelled to share.
David Murray, a well-know road-racer, had written an article on driving techniques. In it, he'd made the comment that taking your foot too quickly off the brake could cause oversteer--the rear end of the car to start to come around.
In a letter to the Editor, one reader suggested he'd said it backward because when you stop braking, some of the weight transfers back from the front tires to the rear tires giving them more, not less, traction. The reader surmised, as I would have, Murray had really meant to say something more like "applying the brakes too quickly can cause oversteer."
Be he was wrong. Murray meant what he'd said. That perked up my ears. Here's how he explained it:
Imagine you're trail-braking at the limit into a turn. (Trail-braking is a technique where you continue braking as you start into a turn, easing off the brakes as more and more traction is needed for turning.) A great deal of weight has transferred to the front tires, giving them some additional traction, but they are usually sliding a bit because they're over-burdened.
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Heel-and-toe double-clutch downshift. For those of us with manual transmission cars, this is just about as good as it gets when it comes to shifting. The thing is, most people have never even heard of it. Of those who have, a lot still can't do it.
Just this morning, I was reading an article in AutoWeek about several NASCAR drivers who recently spent a couple of days at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving trying to learn more about road racing. As opposed to their usual roundy-round racing.
The comments which surprised me were along the lines of, "I'm getting the hang of it, but the footwork is a lot different...I'm gonna have to go home and buy a cheap car with a manual transmission so I can practice on this." Maybe it's not so surprising; there aren't many NASCAR races where those guys--many of whom are great drivers--have to downshift, except when they're coming into the pits. It's not an important skill to them.
But to road racers and, I venture to suggest, many enthusiasts, it is an important skill. So what is it I'm talking about? I'll tell you...
In a response to a question to one of my other blog rants, I explained how heel-and-toe downshifting works. You can read that post if you like, but the short version of the story is this:
It's quite possible in most cars to operate the brake and throttle at the same time, with the same foot. If you do it right, you can blip the throttle to get the engine up to the correct speed for a smooth downshift while, at the same time, braking for, say, a corner.
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This weekend, on my way to Lowe's, I got stuck on a highway exit loop. Well, OK, not exactly stuck, as I had driven 10 or 15 miles out of my way to get to it, but stuck in the sense I went around the whole cloverleaf (four ramps) without ever really exiting.
The beauty of a cloverleaf is you can run it more or less perpetually. If you just stay in the exit lane you can loop off going North, which takes you West, then loop off West to go South, then loop off South to go East, then loop off East to go North again, then start all over.
And, unlike most other places where you want to go fast on the street, because you can run the loops more than once you can take a bit of a reconnaissance run the first time to make sure there aren't unsettling bumps or dirt or slippery bits before getting a good run at it.
Although there are a several excellent cloverleafs to choose from around Columbus, this was the one at Routes 270 and 161 in Dublin, my personal favorite. All four of the ramps are smooth, clean, and nicely banked, making for excellent fun.
The key to a fast entrance ramp is throttle control or, more specifically, steering with the throttle.
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I had a D student at a Driver's Ed event I wrote about back at the end of July. That's not to say he was almost failing but, rather, that he was in Group D, the group usually made up of the folks newest to driving events.
This, as it turned out, was his first school ever and he attended in a new 911 C4S, a beautiful and spectacularly fast car. Jeeva, a gentle and engaging Sri Lankan Dentist from Dayton, was as new to driving on race tracks as you could possibly be. He knew he had a fast, wonderful car and somehow figured out he should go learn about it at the track but, truly, he came with a blank slate.
This was interesting--no, amazing--to me as racing is something I've always kind of lived and breathed. Back in 1968, at the tender age of 11, when my Dad first gave me a subscription to Road & Track, I was convinced someday I'd be the Formula 1 World Champion (BTW: jury's still out but it's not looking good).
Long before a driving permit ever touched my sweaty and anxious hands I'd read countless books about racing techniques. Concepts like the Right Line through a corner, apexes, braking and turn-in points...all that...they've been integral parts of me for almost as long as I can remember.
But there was Jeeva, new to it all.
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Pickup drivers can drive. I don't know if you've noticed this but, on the whole, rednecks (or, really, whoever it is) driving pickups are often good drivers. I was reminded of this earlier today while driving back from BeaveRun, a race track near Pittsburgh. Good luck and poor choices combined to give me a wonderful drive across State Route 22 in Ohio from Stubenville to Zanesville.
I chose the road mostly for expediency's sake: It was about as direct a route as I could find back to Columbus once I'd gotten lost enough to start looking. As it turned out, Route 22 was a twisty, undulating, deserted strip of smooth, dry, blacktop.
On a cloudless 50-degree morning, with the top down, the heater up, leaves changing color, Miles Davis on the stereo and a Porsche in hand, Route 22 was just about as good as a drive can get.
But I digress.
If you've done any fast driving in the country--that's "country" as in cows and barns not nuclear proliferation treaties--you've spent some time on two-lanes following, well, somebody. What I've noticed is, of the folks you encounter on the road, those who drive pickups aren't the problem. On the whole, they don't hold you up. People in pickups make time. The know how to go. They're drivers.
Maybe it's because they're locals and know the roads. Maybe they're always in a hurry (seems unlikely). I don't know why, but whatever the reason, I know that when I'm behind a pickup on a windy road it seems like very rarely are they heading a procession. Instead, they're carrying a good solid pace; fast enough I'm happy to follow. Pickup drivers move.
Now if we could just do something about the folks in Buicks and Cavaliers.
In my last entry here I was trying to describe how it felt to drive a car really fast. After finishing another weekend of track driving I re-read that post and, well, it just doesn't convey the experience. So I'm going to try once more.
During this past weekend at Putnam Park (a race track near Indianapolis) we had both sunny and rainy weather.
Personally, I love driving race tracks in the rain because it's something not everybody does well and for which I seem to have a knack. Going fast in the rain is more about car control and feeling the limits than it is about horsepower. Wet tracks level the playing field to some extent, which I find fun.
In the rain, on most tracks, you have to drive the parts of the track you don't normally use when it's dry because the dry line is slippery from all the wear and oil there. Instead of starting on the outside and cutting to the inside, in the rain you start on the inside, then find a place to cross over to the outside, missing the apex area. It sounds strange (and feels even stranger the first few laps) but the difference in grip is Huge, and grip equates to speed.
The dicey little bit in all of this is when you cross over the dry line, because that part is slippery. Really slippery. So, to go really fast there's only one way to do it: You have to simply commit the car to the turn at a speed much higher than the slippery parts can support then sit there twiddling your thumbs while the car does a four-wheel slide through the slippery part.
Eventually, usually, it starts to get some traction. That's good but involves a bit of sphincter-tightening at first because the grip tends to be right at the outer edge of the track.
The thing is, you're going very fast when all this happens and it's totally a leap of faith.
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I'm off, this weekend, to teach racing at Putnam Park race track, near Indianapolis. This is something I've done on and off for the past 15 or 20 years and it still surprises me how much I enjoy it.
Driving fast--really fast--is an art. I'm not talking about driving down the highway with the throttle mashed. Anybody can do that. I'm talking about driving a car at its limit (not your limit) on an undulating, slithering, race track.
If you've never done this, or if you've never ridden in a car being pushed to the limit by somebody who truly knows what they're doing (read: racer), you won't really know what I'm talking about. The first time most people ride in a car being driven at racing speeds they find it, well, unnerving.
The problem is, until you actually experience it, it's almost impossible to believe how hard you can brake and how fast cars can actually go around corners. And, while you may have driven a fast entrance ramp or two (isn't it fun!) the real fear / excitement / thrill comes from the combination of maximum acceleration, maximum braking and maximum cornering, all kinda at once.
Here's what I mean
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Summer is here and with it comes vacation time. When we go on vacation, it's most often by car. The Goods are experienced long-distance drivers.
But just so we're clear on this, I'm not talking about your drive-across-town-to-Mom's-for-dinner kind of trip, I'm talking about the Real Deal, like hopping in and heading to Colorado. Or Florida. Twentyish-hour jaunts.
We've done this a lot of times for a lot of years and, along the way, have learned a thing or two about travelling this way.
Oh yeah, I know, you're a great driver. Yeah. Whatever. Get over it. Any idiot can drive a long way by themselves. I wouldn't presume to waste your time. I'm talking about travelling with a car full of ankle-biters. Rug rats. Munchkins. And all the mess, paraphernalia, and aggravation that goes with em.
That's real travelling.
Too many people crammed into a car for too long with too much crap. That's what I'm talking about.
In case you're tempted to try such a trip yourself, here are a few pointers you might want to remember:
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He also liked cars, but he was quiet about it. He didn't ever really talk about it, just always had something fun to drive. I remember the MGA he had when I was really small (like, 3). You had to reach inside and pull a string to open the doors.
Later, he had an early Mustang fastback ('66, I think), then a GTO with the big motor ('68), then a Porsche 911 in 1971. That, more than the others, was the car that got me hooked.
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You don't know drifting? Wake up. This is the Next Big Thing. Honestly. And, for once in my life I recognize it as it's starting (not that I've done anything with this bit of fine knowledge).
Drifting is all about driving cars fast, but sideways. You can buy the book but at least watch this video. There's some talk and instruction and whatnot in the video, but wait for the driving. This is not some hormonally-charged teenager spinning the tires and doing donuts for his girlfriend, this is a spectacular level of car control.
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