Friday, December 22, 2006

Why I hate traffic so much...

"Head-On, apply directly to the bumper!"
"Head-On, apply directly to the bumper!"
"Head-On, apply directly to the bumper!"

Please, people, pay attention out there. I almost got plowed three times this morning, just getting out of my neighborhood - and those who ride with me, know I'm about as transparent and easy-going behind the wheel as a monk with a license. Lucky, I didn't get hit. I'd hate to have to call someone to bail me outta' jail on a rainy Friday.

Monday, October 30, 2006

AJ Racing going on "hiatus" from ALMS...

No, not me - Alex Job Racing has announced they won't be back in ALMS next year.

The #23 AJRacing Porsche

[from] Alex Job Racing closed the American Le Mans season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and will take a leave of absence from the series in ’07. The team has run every race in the ALMS series since its inception.

Since 1999 Alex Job Racing has amassed 39 wins, 46 pole positions, 79 podiums, and entered 94 cars in the American Le Mans Series. The team also posted three series championships, and two 24 Hour of Le Mans wins. The team boasts six, 12 hours of Sebring victories with a record of 18 consecutive years participating in the March classic.

Note -- Alex Job Racing was one of the first teams that I got to introduce M&mdash to, back in 2004. One thing I know she'll never forget, is Sascha Maassen and yours truly, clowning it up after his victory in the Petit Le Mans. Sascha is now with the Penske Porsche RS Spyder team in P2 class - or, now the 2006 ALMS P2 Champion Porsche RS Spyder. Oh, how I wish we still had the pictures from that...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Home, cold and wet...

(The downhill run into Turn 12, after Thursday's rain)

I am now back from Road Atlanta, and my latest article is posted at (link corrected to reflect permanent mirror link for the article - ajm). This was my fifth time covering Petit Le Mans, and my third with Mylia accompanying me. The trip gets to be more fun every year, as she and I both get the biggest kick in the world out of the road racing at the (decreasingly) rural circuit in Braselton, GA.

The article covered only about 60% of what I wanted to discuss this time around, but it was already approaching record length and I didn't want to stretch things out too far. Had I an extra day to edit the thing, I might've produced a more compact and concise report, but oh well.

The above photo is from the gallery I put together - at least one of the pictures (a Courage C65-Mazda (LMP2) at speed) is quite the money shot - so feel free to peruse the pics, as well as the AE article, and let me know what you think.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Saturday morning practice session, Road Atlanta

It's 08:50, Saturday morning, and we've just finished the mandatory photo meeting (well, mandatory for anyone with a photo vest). The entire ALMS field is on the track for AM practice. We'll have the Panoz Racing Series on the grid at 09:30 - 10:15, then some fancy-pants pace car rides... then at 10:45 we begin gearing up.

I'll be suiting up for both trackside and pit shooting today, only the second time (the first was Sebring this year) that I've done work in the "hot" pits. It's incredibly exciting, and some of the most fun I've had in my life. Well, next to the quick ride I got in the GT3 RSR Porsche, that is.

In qualifying yesterday, Audi did NOT get the pole - that went to Nic Minassian in a dark blue, lightning-quick Zytek. The Audis will probably play their usual game of start fast and finish faster - it's not a question of which team will win; only which of the two Audis. My money's on McNish & Company.

Yesterday was quite a blast - especially if you're Mylia. She met with the owners and drivers of several SPEED World Challenge GT teams and they've agreed to do interviews with her for some features she's going to write - could anything ever be that cool? You'll get to read it here first :) We also scored some neat free swag from both Autosport Design Aston Martin and Bob Woodhouse's Viper team. Both teams in SPEED GT were great to hang out with, and I'm looking forward to Mylia's write-up.

Bummer of the week: My old bud Lonnie with Flying Lizard Motorsports is no longer with the team. Lonnie was one of the first guys on a team in ALMS to really show me around and make me feel welcome. I haven't heard from him, or seen him here... Only heard from a team member that he parted ways with the team not long ago. I hope he's back at the track, soon.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A ride in a Le Mans-winning Porsche!

"I am Jorg Bergmeister!!! Well, not entirely. OK, I'm not."

No, I'm not -- but that didn't stop me from getting a ride in the #31 Petersen/White Lightning Porsche 911 GT3 RSR today! ALMS decided to invite "select members of the media" (that being me and two other lucky blokes) to each have a hot lap around Road Atlanta, riding with owner/driver Mike Petersen.

After nearly an hour-long wait (the time it took to get corner officials back to their spots after lunch), the three of us each got a turn in the bolted-in passenger seat as the car took to the course at speed. This was my first time doing a complete lap at Road Atlanta on the track itself (I've walked the entire 2.54-mile infield inside and out, but never driven the actual course), and it was quite a definite "hot lap" to boot. I've watched these cars run at this track for years, and have run the course in Infogrames' Le Mans 24 Hours game on the PS2 a few hundred times -- (note: LM24 is exceptionally cool in that it features Road Atlanta in both Short Course and Grand Prix formats, and the rendering is dead-on accurate) but this was my first run on the tarmac itself.


The car accelerates just like my '96 Neon, only a hell of a lot faster. It brakes like my Neon, only a hundred times quicker. It corners like... hell, who am I kidding - this thing's a pure racing car. Not just any racing car, but the Porsche that's been damn near unstoppable anywhere it's raced in the last 3-4 years.

I would've loved to have gotten behind the wheel and run the ass off of it myself, but somehow I doubt Mr. Petersen would've approved. Nevertheless, he's quite a damn good driver, and he hustled the car around the 2.54 miles quicker than I could have. Probably. ;)

Mylia almost got a ride in the car too, but it turned out they only had time for the first three of us. I had told her, when we were waiting to find out if she'd get a run, "if you pee your pants, I promise I won't laugh." Well, not much, anyway. I'm quite sure that all three of us were quite experienced when it comes to high speed driving - though I'll never make for a good passenger.

Honestly, though, I found it almost relaxing. I was in the car with the guy who owns it and drives it for a living, was wearing proper safety gear -- it wasn't my first time wearing a racing suit and helmet, but it was my first time wearing a HANS device. I've seriously got to get one of these things for Mylia [grins]. It was impossible for me to move my head very far forward or back, and side-to-side motion was set at just the right limit.

Of course, because it was my first time wearing the device, and I couldn't move my head the way I normally do, I managed to bonk my helmet against the upper roll bar above the door. That had to look even less graceful than it really was.

It felt great to get back into a race car, even if I was sitting on the wrong side of the thing. The Porsche is so balanced and just so "right" on the track, I could easily imagine driving one myself. Competetively. Plus, with their durability, there's no wonder why there's so damn many of them in racing.

The pics Mylia shot of me getting suited-up and ready to run are right here.

I don't have any video available yet (I don't have a proper cable to get it from the Sony camcorder onto my notebook - and apparently nobody else does at the moment), but for now the pics are at least some prima facie evidence of the thrill ride. Just... keep in mind that the suit isn't form fitting, and the camera adds like 50 lbs!

If anyone's got skill getting good video captures from an old Sony Hi8 Handycam, drop me a line?

Anyway, back to the racing for me. More later...

Road Atlanta logs, Wednesday/Thursday...

Or, more specifically, Braselton, GA. I arrived at Road Atlanta promptly at 0630 this morning, some 2 hours and 44 minutes after leaving friends in Charlotte. 205 miles in 2:44 was about as much as I really wanted to push on a sleep deficit and a possibly leaking left outer CV boot. Must check on that...

South Carolina has cheap gas: $1.93 for regular is the norm, not the exception. I filled up the white Neon for $2.23, 93 octane Shell gas. Wow. I know the gas price drop is only momentary, and there's any number of conspiracy theories out there surrounding it, I'm not complaining this week: My gas budget was calculated over a month ago at $3.30/gallon, so I might just get home without being completely broke! (Wait, no, that means I might be able to afford an extra t-shirt...)

Elsewhere, I'm encouraged to hear that Richard Hammond is on the mend. For anyone who's been under a rock for the past week, the Top Gear presenter and host took a devil of a crash while attempting to break the UK land speed record. I wish him a speedy and complete recovery.

The downside to splitting the trip between two nights this time? My sleep schedule's turned upside down, and I'm currently awake for the past 27 hours. Wednesday is just a testing day at the track, but a testing day at Road Atlanta beats a "super" day working back in DC. Once I was South of Richmond, there was simply no traffic to speak of... and very little in the way of speed enforcement. Some speed limits I'd expected to still see at 70 in NC and SC had dropped to 60, for some reason, but it didn't affect the 80-MPH flow of traffic much.

Not only did I average about 74.5 MPH throughout the trip, but notched 37.8 MPG, owing in no small part to pulling a draft off of whomever I could. Minivans and lowered SUVs are excellent for this; 18-wheelers, not so great.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

That's a wrap.

My Sebring write-up has been published at Feel free to direct any comments, criticisms, applause, or what-have-you to me directly to me. If it reads a bit rushed, it was. You'd think after nearly five years of interpreting my initials to stand for "Automotive Journalist," I'd have more of a system worked out, but I end up wingin' it every time.

For the first time, I decided "why not get a photo vest and a fire suit, and check out the pits during the race?" The results are on my photo page. (Note: A couple of the photos on Page 6 might be not-safe-for-work, but the rest ought to be just fine)

Back in high school in North Carolina, my best friend was this guy named Tim. We've kept in touch over the years, and this year I signed him on as my right-hand at the track. While we were down there, he discovered the joys of blogging and set up his own. It's a rather entertaining read, I think, and he managed to include mention of a couple of things that were left out of my article for one reason or another.

I'd like to think I'm getting better with each effort, but I'm also my own worst critic -- all I see is everything I could've said better or wanted to say, but pushed out what I could in stream of consciousness. I'm still recovering from the trip -- and I miss the smell of the orange trees surrounding the track.

I wanted to say something about the fantastic cars they had in the SVRA races -- the 100-car enduro they ran, and how great it is, in the NASCAR era, to be able to see literally dozens of different body styles from dozens of manufacturers, all on the same track.

I wanted to talk about the Speed World-Challenge series, and the new additions of the Aston Martins and Nissan Skyline... And Mike McCann's thrilling win, about an hour after I was in his pit talking shop with one of the guys. Any Viper win, is a good win.

Among the interesting conversations I had at Sebring -- I caught up with Jeff Roselli from Dodge Motorsports, and more/less cornered him (politely, yet firmly) to ask why I hadn't heard anything from them in a year. The guys at the track DO want me doing their PR, but no chance in hell of getting higher-ups to sign off on a freelance guy when it's not in the existing contract with ClearBlue -- and ClearBlue doesn't know jack shit about racing. At least, a year later, I have some sense of why it all happened -- that helps.

I do think, as time goes on, I'm getting better at certain aspects of this whole thing. I finally gave in and got myself a fire suit, so my freedom to go where I want is just that much better now - it certainly helps to be able to roam the hot pit. I'm getting better acquainted with those in and around the series, and I get the sense I've created some good relationships there. I've always wanted to represent you and AE in the best light possible, while at once keeping in mind my mission: I'm turning in the article for, but I'm writing for myself. This is what I do. This is what I'm about, from one day to the next.

My sweetie recently mentioned where I said a few years ago that I was going to make it with the writing (or something in racing) or I was gonna' die trying. Pretty sure I'm about halfway there now - though I'm not certain which direction.

Even though I had a much nicer spot to sit this year, I nevertheless got surrounded by a group of arrogant French bastards. Ah well, keeps my French sharp, I guess...

What I'm learning in this, they never teach in any school.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Back to life as we know it...

A couple thousand miles later, I'm back in MD. Actually, back in VA, at my 9-5. I'll have stories to tell, but it'll all have to wait until I get my deadline knocked-out -- that comes later today.

Just found this in my email:
Saturday, April 8th 8:30PM
Shannon McNally supports The Derek Trucks Band
9:30 Club
Washington, DC 20001
Call 202-265-0930 for more details

Shannon, on a Saturday night... Don't think I can pass that up. We'll see.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Post-race, Saturday night!

I just introduced Tim, my redneck buddy from back in high school... to Joe Cartoon.

Everybody, stand back. Please.

Wanna' know what's even worse? Earlier today, introduced him to the concept of blogging.

And all this, while he was taking in his very first American Le Mans Series race.

Homie ain't never gonna' be the same. I am a bad influence!

As for the post-race wrap-up, just sit tight. I've got a lot of writing to do, and a massive load of photos to sort through.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

At 2:45 running...

Those Audis are FAST. And quiet - I'm sitting barely 70 feet away, and I cannot hear the car as it passes by at full speed.

They also spew some rather fragrant fumes from the diesel powerplant.

The Audi R10 is Silent but Deadly.

More to come...

EDIT: During a caution-flag pit stop to change the front end of the Audi, a cat -- yes, a cat, as in meow meow, walked across pit lane. SPEED channel didn't show this, because NASCAR Busch series qualifying is more important to them. SPEED TV sucks.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Up one minute, down the next...

Whoa, I just saw Andy Hall! That probably only means anything to one person reading this, and if Mylia does remember who I'm talking about, she's sure to squeal with glee. Andy was one of the first people in ALMS to welcome me in and really help set things going. He left the series over a year ago, is doing quite a bit of other stuff these days. I think he's doing some PR work for Dodge Motorsports -- well, it's nice to know someone is doing that... Heh, that buzzard stole my job! It's good to see him back, even if he's not the go-to guy anymore. Anyone who's responsible for running a media relations office in racing, could learn a bit from watching Andy.

The network here at Sebring is in total shambles - I'm writing this offline. Some of the others in the office are having no trouble at all, but neither my iBook nor Tim's Win2k notebook can pull an IP address to save our lives. Signal strength is over 90% (should be, since we're only a few feet from the antenna) but the damn router just won't play nice. It's not just my machines, either -- fully 2/3 of the media here, ain't got no link to play with. I may have to file my dispatches to Autoextremist via carrier pigeon. Or worse, dialup.

When I checked-in yesterday morning to get my press credentials, I was handed a pair of tickets to the big Sebring Gala. First time for me. The town of Sebring holds a big bash every year, yummy buffet and open bar all night. Lots of music, right on Lake Jackson. They had the Budweiser clydesdales last night, beside the civic center. I got to chat with the clydesdales' handlers for a while, and came away with the impression that these giant animals are very well cared-for. The handlers genuinely seem tuned-in to the clydesdales and look after them in the best way possible.

As for the rest of the party? Music, booze, and... cuties everywhere. The place was just packed to the seams with hot chicks, left, right, and every which way. Tim (best friend from high school who's along for the trip as my assistant) took advantage of the free booze. I, for the most part, didn't. I might be down here to have fun, but it's also with the single-minded determination to make something out of the trip. Besides, I had to drive the 4-5 miles or so back to the track afterwards.

There's some new drink called Tilt, that takes the "let's mix some alcohol with Red Bull" idea and puts it in a can. If you like Red Bull, Tilt will get you, well, quite tilted. If you don't, well, don't bother.

I slept in the car last night. After telling myself that, no matter what, I'd have better accommodations this time around, I was left with no alternative when I got back here at 0130 than to just pass out in the driver's seat. Tim didn't fare much better.

Sebring notes, Wednesday.

The following post was written yesterday, March 15 at 1:40 PM. Before the internet connection here at the track bit the dust. It's back now, for... *zap* a few minutes...

I'm in Sebring now; got here early this morning. I've got a new assistant this time -- an old friend from high school who's never been to anything like this before. It's also the first time I've actually had a right-hand to help me out at Sebring, woo-hoo! I've got somebody to hold my drink!

For anyone who ever watches any races on SPEED, that fat shit Greg Creamer is even fatter sitting across the desk from me right now than he is on TV. I think Fox uses some kind of special lens or a trick camera to make him look thinner. The dude's a freakin' whale. With an attitude, too. Know what Oscar Wilde said about how it's unfair to be a monster without being a myth? Yes indeed.

And... I'm really tired. Drove from MD to Charlotte yesterday, which I can usually do standing on my head. Except, this was after a full day at work and some after-work nonsense to take care of. So, got up at 0600, but didn't get on the road until close to midnight -- and didn't pull up in Charlotte until 0630 the next morning. Wiped.

Got a brief nap, met up with my dad for lunch at Quaker Steak & Lube (cool place, really) for some good foodstuff, and eventually hit the highway last night around 1030 PM. Drove straight-through from Charlotte to Sebring, making only 3-4 stops for gas/restroom/tasty beverages. I expected it to take about 10 hours; it took 10:38 by my clock. Bah.

Neon finally turned over 170k. He's now due for an oil change, but it'll wait til he gets home. 10 year old econobox, still get appreciative smiles from the girls. Well done.

Dodge has a greatly increased presence here at the track this year. I wonder if they'll bother to tell anyone about it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Warp ahead one week, Scotty...

In one week, I'll be 1000 miles away from the 9-5, (as well as the 5-12,) and all the stuff that passes for a boring existence up here. I'll be back in Sebring! This place, once you've gone there once, you really do have to keep going back. It's not Spring time, until Sebring. I didn't get it before I went, but I sure as hell get it now. Now, if only I had a small plane I could fly from here, and land at the track... (There's an airport right nextdoor, and Sebring itself is an old air base) Wouldn't that be cool?

Unfortunately, I can't take Mylia with me this time, so I'm bringing along an old friend from WAY way back in the day. In high school, this guy was the Beavis to my Butthead. We're still great friends, and the trip ought to be a blast. Tim and I haven't done a proper road trip since... Bush 41 was still in office. Damn, it's been a while. I wonder how he'll handle Friday night in the Green Park.

I'm packing my camera, though I don't know how much longer my old Elph is gonna' keep snapping. She seems to be more and more battery-hungry these days, and the expensive Li-Ion cells she takes ain't cheap. I've got one that works OK, and two cells that hold a charge when they feel like it. I'm probably gonna' get myself a new cam some day soon. Definitely staying close to the form factor of the Elph, though. Very concealable and easy to work with one hand. More optical zoom is all I really need. At least 4x would be great. I've got 2x right now.

I might not have to sleep in the Neon this time! After crashing in a very cramped car the last two Sebring trips, I'll have (hopefully) a friend there with an RV or a camper of some sort. Worst-case, I've got a tent. I think Tim's got one too. You can do lots of things in a Neon, but sleeping is not one of the things I'd recommend. My knees aged about ten years each night I slept in the car.

Anyway, I'll be posting here (and a few other places I write) so you'll get the scoop...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Luscious Metal: My first test drive of the year.

Sometimes, life stops sucking just long enough to remind you why it's worth it all. Yesterday was one of those days I was glad to have gotten up. Only one day prior, my VA site had a big pizza & beer party (four or five different kinds of beer, too) for a big teleconference regarding some good business we just got into, so the mood was still pretty much "up" around the typically low-key and all-too-quiet site.

Anyway, to the meat of it: A co-worker of mine, one with whom I always enjoy discussing cars (one of our favorite subjects) and Canada (I love the country, he's an ex-pat) dropped by and said "look out your window." So I did, and... Whoa, that's one gorgeous BMW M5. (The car in the pic on that link is the same color, too.) Word was already spreading around that $coworkerguy had acquired some truly luscious metal, and they were climbing on him like flies on shit trying to score a ride in the car. "C'mon man, you gotta' take me for a ride in that," I heard no less than four people say within a minute. I glanced at $coworkerguy and said quietly "later on, when the time's right, I'd like to get a closer look if it's OK with you..." He smiled and said "oh yeah."

So, once he'd gotten back from taking the guys out to lunch (they seemed to enjoy the ride), I was outside taking in some sunshine, caffeine, and nicotine. The other guys went right back into the building, so I hung around for a minute while $coworkerguy was checking out his new ride. They got to be passengers. I'm a terrible passenger. There's about a million things I don't do well and never will. Being a passenger in a really sweet ride is one of them.

It's a 2000 model, but in better-than-showroom condition. 10,000 miles on the clock, comprehensive maintenance records (nothing but the best in this ride), and... well, it just looked DAMN good. No "iDrive" bullshit to mess up the experience of putting the driver in touch with the road. This is BMW when they really meant business. Paint on brand-new 2006 models doesn't look this good. The engine smelled new. I was impressed. I was infatuated. I was... wanting more.

When it was just the two of us admiring the car, $coworkerguy hands me the keys and says "want to get in?" But of course I would. The moment my ass hit the perfect leather seat (whereas I usually don't care for leather seats, these are works of art) and my hands gripped the wheel, I said "oh, I'm in looooove..."

He points to the ignition, indicating I should start her up. I do. The engine awoke from its brief slumber the same way I do -- ready to kick someone's ass. With a smile on my face, I ask $coworkerguy "shall we putter around for a bit?" He grins back and says "sure." We both buckle up.

Now, my VA site is located in a rather dense traffic area. So I stayed off the main road, and had a little fun on the side streets. Open road is wonderful. Point-and-shoot games with slow-moving SUVs in a car like this, not. "Go ahead and open up the throttle" he said. Did this guy know what he was asking for? Apparently he did. "I thought you'd never ask..." I cracked it to about half-throttle... and immediately pinned us both to the seat, as I expected. $coworkerguy didn't freak out, so I was encouraged to continue.

Near our building, there's a nice straight stretch of road the runs a little more than 1/4 mile. Perfect. I took a nice soft launch, and at about 5 mph I decked it -- rocked us both back, and the tach climbed to 5000 in about half-a-breath. I immediately caught second gear, and felt the ass-end kick itself to the side just a little, as any proper rear-wheel drive car should when it's really putting power to the ground. Power is good. "M Power" is... VERY good.

Looking over at the car's owner, he was all-smiles. Apparently he knew somehow that I knew what to do with his car, and also what not to do with it, so I was complimented by that. Trust like that is important, you see.

On the way back to the office, he decided to show off the car's different suspension settings (apparently we had been set to "touring" at first), so he engaged "sport" mode, and asked me to light it up again.


This time, the car somehow seemed just a tiny bit quicker, probably abetted by the stiffer suspension settings that eliminated all possible "squat" when you nail the Go Pedal. When you're used to maybe 150 horsepower in a daily driver, 400 angry German horses under the command of your right foot is quite the change of pace. I didn't need another cup of coffee for the rest of the day.

The buzz still hasn't worn off. It was like riding every ride at the amusement park, in 10 minutes.

Of course, not to be outdone, I have another coworker at my MD site who drives a nicely-supercharged Z06 Corvette. Says it's a bit more than 500 hp at the wheels.

He just asked me if I'd like to test-drive it some time...