Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ciao, Emanuele.

ALMS finished up the season at Laguna Seca, and I still didn't get to go. Am hoping I can make it there next year.

The only real story of note was Emanuele Pirro leaving the Audi team. To many of you, you're probably thinking "Emanu-who?" but Pirro has been one of the most lively and interesting characters I've had the pleasure of getting to know these last few years. He's taught me a thing or two, and definitely made me laugh.

A few years ago, I was in the pits at Sebring with Lug and Gladys from the "Speed Freaks" TV show. We had just met, and were basically showing each other around the pit area. After they'd introduced me to Terry Borcheller (nice guy, good interview, and a damn fine racer in his own right), I saw Emanuele Pirro walk by and I asked "Emanuele, do you have a minute?"

I introduced him to the Speed Freaks, and we all got to talking shop with Pirro and Alan McNish. Alan was getting ready for a stint so he had to leave, but Pirro stayed with us. I like to ask the questions nobody else thinks of, so I put it to him: "Emanuele, I have a question - Ron Fellows said when Johnny O'Connell re-upped with Corvette, that 'he might as well, since we've been pissing in the same seat for so long'. How often does that happen?"

"Oh, it never happens - never! No no, never.... .... OK, one time it happens," he tells me "I am driving the car, early in my stint and I have to pee. I call on radio to my crew chief, I say 'I have to pee!' and he says 'it's OK, you go in the car.'" (We're all starting to fall apart laughing at this point) "I tell him, I can no pee in the car, I am driving! How can I pee while I am driving! He says too bad, you pee in the car or you wait. So I try and try, and I cannot pee... All the time, I am driving as fast as I can! IT TOOK ME 8 LAPS!"

When he got to "8 laps", I was literally clutching the fence wall to keep from falling down. He just delivered the story so matter-of-factly, so damn funny... It was one of the funniest moments I've had at the track, and I wish I'd been recording it at the time.

I took this shot of Emanuele last year at Atlanta, on the grid just before the start of the race:

Thank you, Emanuele, for being such a great driver, a fantastic interview, and a good friend.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Remembering PL Newman

With the death of Paul Newman (known in the racing community simply as "PL", the tributes to the beloved driver, team owner, benefactor and award-winning great American actor have been as astonishing in number as they have been deep in sentiment. When Newman died on September 26, the racing world didn't just lose a popular team owner -- everyone here lost a friend.

Lots of Hollywood-types have been known to make appearances at big races, some even suit up and get behind the wheel, but few have fallen in love with racing and devoted themselves to the sport in quite the way PL did. He had said that racing was "the first thing that I ever found I had any grace in," a statement that echoes like a song to those with Racer's Blood in their veins.

While the mainstream media reported (rightly so) that Newman had raised and donated huge sums of money to children’s charities and other causes, his generosity and leadership throughout the world of motorsports was and still is one of the greatest stories to be told about the man. And at no place was this story told better during the week than at the Mazda Atlantic Championship Series Awards banquet held on Friday night. Numerous racers and teams in the Atlantic series had the benefit of PL’s involvement, and his presence in that series – as with all the others in which he participated – will be missed for a long time to come.

All over the track, any series that competed, it seemed every car had a sticker remembering a racer modestly called PL Newman.

[excerpted from tomorrow's AE article]

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Road Atlanta 2008: The Gallery!

The story's not yet written, but the photos are in the can.


Comments, as always, are much appreciated. I think I've learned a couple of things about shooting with a little old pocket econocam - and I think some of the shots look quite good. That said, some of you are better at this than I am, and I'm always looking for criticism: I don't mind at all if it's harsh, really, I just want to learn more.

And... speaking of comments - I laced most of the pics with a goofy comment here or there. If it makes you laugh, then I did it right.

Enjoy. And watch for my article on this Wednesday.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Caption contest!

I took this shot about 85 seconds after it happened, right in front of me. Have fun in the comments.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Quote of the Day...

"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu." -- American Le Mans Series President/CEO Scott Atherton, issuing the challenge to other racing series to follow the lead of the ALMS into the age of Green Racing.

More later.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

FBI invades Road Atlanta? Day 2.1

Super-famous multiple Indy 500-winning driver Helio Castroneves (yes, the smiling Brazilian dude on "Dancing With The Stars") has just been arrested here at Road Atlanta. I was having a yummy catered dinner at Peugeot's hospitality suite when I got the news. Four big black Suburbans rolled in and took Castroneves, his sister, and his lawyer into custody. [edit: All I have been able to verify is that Helio is wanted on a Federal tax evasion charge, and later events have confirmed he was taken to Miami to appear before a judge, make bail, and get himself back to Atlanta. However, the original source for the info above, may not have been 100% reliable. If I did in fact get any of this wrong, well, shit...]

However, he is, as I write this, IN THE RACE CAR AND ON THE TRACK. He's listed on the leader board, and it's definitely his helmet visible just 50 feet away from where I'm sitting. Guess that lawyer of his really is quite good.

I may have inadvertently flirted my way into a job offer. Team Peugeot Total has a serious presence here in ALMS, and their team PR manager (a really cute French girl named Cecile, who speaks just enough English to order a burger) wants to know (1) how do I get an American on-board as liaison for the company in the US, and (2) do I know anything about racing? I won't get too far ahead of myself, especially with my rusty hold of the French language and my small-if-impressive contacts, but this is an interesting twist.

Of interest probably only to a friend at home, but since she never reads email I'll post here anyway:

Marco Andretti nearly ran me over with a golf cart, but was so humble and apologetic afterwards. He's a great kid. David Brabham and I got to talk shop at a conference earlier, before I visited the Patron hospitality suite. He's doing great, and I expect he'll kick serious ass on Saturday [Update - his car fell out of the race before Brabs ever got to turn a wheel. Damn!].

Lord Drayson is a total freakin' hoot. We spent about 20 minutes discussing Top Gear, E85, Tony Blair, Saturday Night Live, girls, and more Top Gear. If you watch the race on Saturday, the incredibly awesome Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT2 is his ride, and it's just a gorgeous machine. Far better than the DBR9, I think.

Tracy Krohn may just stick to Grand Am series next year. Too damn expensive to run here and there at once. Similar rumors about Penske/Porsche, but I'm not qualifying them as anything but rumors at this point.

Amanda Stretton is said to be here at the track. I still have my permission slip, too! :) [Update - I haven't been able to find Ms. Stretton. Oh well...]

Earl Fannin is not in good health. More cancer than a lab rat - bone cancer in his leg, a tumor on the back of his neck, the latter is inoperable. Talking with him is such a reality check, a reminder of just how damn tough I don't have it, and how damn easy I've gotten along this far. I wish him the best; the man is like a favorite uncle to me.

Road Atlanta in fast-forward, Day 2

Just back from the "Green Challenge Round Table Forum" being held in the administrative offices here at Road Atlanta. I met one to one with representatives from the American Le Mans Series, General Motors, Sebring Raceway, Mazda, as well as drivers David Brabham and Lord Drayson - the latter of whom insisted I just call him "Paul." I won't bore the crowd with too much minutiae, except to say that the cars you will drive in just a few years' time, will be powered by the technology that's being proven right now at the track.

At this year's Petit Le Mans, Audi's unstoppable R10 turbo diesel seems like old news at this point. Peugeot is back with their fantastic and amazingly fast 908 HDi racer, also running on diesel.

Chevy's two-car Corvette Racing team will be running on cellulosic E-85, which is ethanol NOT derived from corn, but from other biodegradable waste. The exhaust fumes from a race car running on E-85 will give you a nice buzz, too.

Wait, trick fuels aren't enough? How about a hybrid race car? Zytek has brought out a racer with an electric pack that might not win this endurance outing, but is quite the laboratory on wheels. It's fast (everything from Zytek is fast), it looks good, and it's the first racer I've seen that uses a partial-electric powerplant. We will see many more of these in years to come.

I have to give a nod here to Mazda and their sponsorship of the Atlantic open-wheel series. The series is celebrating its 35th year. They also fed me a very nice lunch. I thank everyone who feeds me :)

More stuff later, probably after Night Practice.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The road to Atlanta: Day 1.1

Braselton, GA --

Gas pumps everywhere with bags on the nozzles. People searching for gas and running the tank dry. Long lines leading to a dismal supply being tapped out in a few hours. People sleeping in their cars at gas pumps in order to be "the first" to get some petrol. This is the Southeast of America in the Fall of 2008. You'd think it was a page from the original script from "Mad Max."

Having heard from a friend in Georgia that there was a severe gas shortage following hurricanes Gustav and Ike (both of which were piddly thunderstorms when compared with Katrina in 2005), I set out from my home near DC with a pair of 5-gallon gas cans, loaded at $3.47 per gallon.

I'm glad I did.

Traveling down I-85 into North Carolina, prices visible from the highway start to creep upwards towards the $4/gallon mark and beyond, then... nothing. Most gas stations are open for snacks and coffee, but don't bother stopping if you need gasoline. It's the same in South Carolina and Georgia; there's just too little fuel to go around.

I found a Wilco station with regular unleaded for $3.63/gallon as soon as I crossed the border into SC, so I stopped to fuel up. I don't want to touch the 10 gallons I have in reserve unless I have to. Still, I've been averaging from 38-41 MPG in my backup car during the trip, which beats the pants off of most of the things we Americans still drive. Nice lady at the Wilco station refused to charge me for the 1L thermos and 16 oz cup of coffee I filled, too.

I'm still trying to understand the wisdom behind the idea of driving around on an empty gas tank and running out of fuel, during the process of aimlessly searching for a good supply in what is otherwise a vast desert of "NO GAS."

So, having managed the fuel situation well enough for the start of it, I headed South. As I often do on my way to Atlanta, I stopped in NC to visit with my dad. He was overjoyed that I'd brought along a new hard drive for his laptop -- the old Win2k image on the Dell I gave him a few years ago, just lost the registry, and became a big doorstop. The new drive is imaged up with XP, and his "old" hard drive is now in a USB enclosure to be used as external storage.

I arrived at the track this morning at 0330. Amazingly, there was a live person at the registration trailer who was able to get me credentialed-up and into the infield. I parked by the office, got cleaned up, enjoyed some coffee and watched the sunrise.

It's a damn good thing there are racecars all around me, because there's no internet here. No, wait, there is for some of the people here, but not me. Neither by iBook (which I'm writing this on) nor my trusty XP laptop will obtain an IP from the network here. Reason? Apparently neither of them supports WPA/AES cryp. Uhh... AES? WTF??? Yes, AES is stronger than TKIP. And no, it isn't workable under either of the wireless cards used by my laptops.

The meatball who's been put in charge of the network here, told me "uhh, see, I had read a website where it said that AES is faster than TKIP..." He apparently didn't read the rest of the article. I should be able to walk into this office with a 386 running Win95 and be able to connect to the network. It's a fucking media office at a race track, not the Pentagon! Too bad nobody else seems to realize this.

So, now that the racecars are done with their testing and practice sessions for the day, and since I don't have a hotel room to go to yet, I'm sitting in the office... offline.

[update: At 17:12 EDT, the meatball finally got himself out here, and switched the cryp on the router from WPA to WEP. Yes, the same WEP that Munchkin could break in 5 minutes if she wanted to, but I finally have signal!]

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Road Trip: Summer 2008, in a nutshell... (Part 1)

Ten days on the West coast brought more smiles and memories burned into my soul than I can count. With the better part of a week in Vegas, a long an exciting drive out to Avila Beach, CA, and then another long and super-exciting drive up Highway 1 to San Francisco, it was really a 3-part holiday - each of which would've been outstanding on its own.

I don't have the full story tonight, just the first leg of it -- a quick recap of some of the highlights, with more detailed stuff to follow when I've got all the photos compiled (done) and uploaded (in process).

We started out with a flight (on United, which was pretty decent) to Las Vegas - my first ever, in fact. What I found in Vegas was astonishing: A super-sized playground in the desert for America to come and dispense with its inhibitions and hard-earned cash. I can understand why the place is so controversial. That 113F heat really is the Devil breathing down your neck, or at least I can see why some see it that way. I just took it in stride, and realized it's stashed out in the desert for a reason.

[Note: Credit where it's due -- While I still find "Airport Security" to be one of the most laughable oxymorons in the English language, the TSA seems to be getting at least a little better at getting people through the line, and NOT pissing me off too much. I had no trouble carrying my Zippo lighter in my pocket, plus my backup Zippo in my carry-on, plus three more Bic-style butane lighters I always have in the same bag that I never clean out. My Leatherman Wave in my checked bag was just fine. I'm also quite certain that my checked bag was not opened by any screeners - everything was perfectly in position, and the tamper-evident floss I'd left inconspicuously threaded on the zipper was intact. So, still not a fan of the TSA and all the "we're looking out for YOUR security" nonsense, but at least they're less of a hassle than the last few times.]

Starting out at the airport, I hopped into a '08 Chrysler Sebring Convertible and headed directly for the Strip. The car itself, for a rental, had some of the usual wear & tear I'd expect: At 28,700 miles, the driver's door speaker was blown (which left only 7 good ones), the 2.4L "Dual VVT World Engine" was sluggish below 4000 RPM, the automatic gearbox... well, it was a typical 4-speed OD box - as exciting as waiting in line at the Post Office. The front-end suspension needed some maintenance, as I later found the driver's front side would howl under light cornering. The brakes would squeal a bit when hot. And, under the circumstances, the car was absolutely perfect. When you're doing a week and a half out in the Devil's Playground, nothing beats a drop-top with some extra room. I had open-air motoring, a half-decent suspension setup for the highway, and overall 28 MPG on the drive from LV to CA.

Fry's in Las Vegas is truly Geek Heaven. I needed a simple dual-1/8" plug so I could use my iPod in the car, and found lots more than I was looking for. K&mdash also found more than she was looking for, though I will most likely defer to her modesty and not post any videos on Youtube of her playing on her new Wii Fit. [grins] Besides, she also found Mario Kart there, and I wanna' play!

We had some fun at the casinos (Bellagio, New York, New York, Paris), lost a little bit of cash on the tables, but made up some of it on the slots. I never understood the draw of slot machines beyond the appeal of a Skinner Box for humans, but turning $1 into $15 in a minute isn't a bad thing in my book. It does, to be certain, beat losing.

Knocking back free drinks on the casino floor is something I could get used to, and am glad I won't.

To kill an afternoon, we drove down to Hoover Dam, where the temperature was just slightly higher than the oven in my house on Thanksgiving. K&mdash, normally as good with the elements as I, was nearing heat stroke on the bridge over the dam. I parked her in the Visitors Center, got her some water, and ran up the hill to fetch the car. On the way home, we saw what was clearly a huge thunder storm. It never got close enough to us to put any rain on my car, but looked quite ominous.

We saw a few other kinds of shows, too: The first was Zumanity, which is Cirque du Soleil's hotter, hornier, more naked side. I want that fishbowl in my house, too. Cirque is always a dazzling group, but Zumanity really takes the brilliance of all the acrobatics and rope-work and kicks it up several stunning notches. A midget flew right over my head - twice!

We also took in Blue Man Group, which I'd expected to find entertaining... and was still quite blown away. Nothing I'd seen of these guys in various media could've prepared me for the live show - and their backup band was quite good, as well. The description of "how systems become interactive" is worth the price of admission on its own. After the show (which is beyond description, so I won't even try), we had a surprise encounter with one of the Blue Men. I believe this was Ninja Blue Man, because he was quite good at stealthing up behind me, staring over our shoulders as we gazed a the artwork on the wall, and then smudging K&mdash's cheek with a dot of blue before disappearing back to the dressing room. Cooooooooool.

Beyond the casinos and the shows and the Bellagio (yes, we stayed at the OMGWTFthisissodamnnice Bellagio), we took a gondola ride at the Venetian, ate at so many wonderful restaurants I lost count of them all, and... got room service on our last night in town, before taking in what was absolutely the most intense show of all.

[Description of last night in Vegas redacted]

Well, shit.. I guess what happens there, really DOES stay there.

The next morning, we got up, got showered and dressed, loaded up the convertible, and hit the road for the California coast...

Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Waking up in San Francisco...

Poking head up from a week's absence from all things online. Behold, first Internet access in a week -- no, I wasn't ignoring anyone, I was just in Las Vegas.

Arrived in San Francisco last night, and am now looking out from the window of what has to be the most spectacular room ever. Just let me get some coffee in me before I go out today [grins]

Driving up the PCH from Avila Beach yesterday, was... incredible. I have lots to tell there.

Anyway, I'll have more time to sit on my ass and blog LATER. For now, I'm getting cleaned up and looking forward to seeing some things.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gettin' outta' Dodge... upcoming travel plans!

Tomorrow morning (Friday), I'll be wheels-up at 0822 hrs and bound for Las Vegas, with my K&mdash in tow, for what the Top Gear guys would call a Fly-Drive Holiday: From 1 Aug to 5 Aug, I'll be in Sin City, looking for a drag race with the devil, who may or may not look suspiciously like Gary Oldman. We'll be checking out some shows, some of which I may blog about, and others you might have to loosen me up with a few drinks to get the dirt. I'm my usual sketchy self when it comes to itinerary stuff, but K&mdash has the details down. This'll be my first time on the ground in Vegas - and looks like it'll be fun.

(Question for those who fly often: Is my Leatherman Wave likely to make it through if it's in my checked bag? I know R&mdash has had a few stolenconfiscated by the TSA, and I'm not keen on losing mine. Same question for my Zippo lighter - I know a plain butane Bic lighter is OK now, but my Zippo should be fine in a checked bag... right? I needs to know.)

Sometime on 6 Aug, we'll be gearing back up, stealingrenting a car, and hitting the road again. Driving from LV to the California Coast. A night in Avila Beach (at a really awesome hotel K&mdash found), and then it's back on the road for a cruise up Highway 1 to San Francisco.

All my dear SFO friends, I'll be in town from Aug 7 until early on Aug 10, and would love to get coffee or a bite to eat with any and all of you. If you're reading this, you most likely have my email (morningaj-at-gmail-dot-com) and my phone (as well as that of K&mdash will be on for most of the time.

August rocks -- I get to travel. If you add up all the traveling I'm doing this month, plus the two American Le Mans races I usually cover, I'll have almost as much domestic travel down as J&mdash does in three whole months, or R&mdash does in a typical hour.

Once I'm back on 10 Aug, it'll be a day to rest and recoup, then it's on to the business of starting a new 9-5 grind. I still have yet to attract a well-founded media outlet to hire me on for keeps, so it's gonna' be the same old Standard Hire Information Technology... for the time being. We might be in the 3rd quarter of '08, but I'm not letting up on the writing, dammit.

More to come...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Auto. Extremist.

The pic of me in that OMGWTF Audi R8, is here:

A few other pics were taken, and those will be forthcoming in some gallery or other.

I cannot begin to tell you just how bad it sucks to be home. The weather is cold (not that I mind the rain, but the chilly weather blows - quite literally), and the goddamn traffic... Every time I come home, I ask myself "self, why did I come home?" Then my dog looks up at me with his reddish-brown eyes matching his coat, and I forget what I was grumping about. I just wish the traffic up here was a little less... traffucked.

Anyway, if you know me, you know I'm in the middle of my usual week to ten days worth of hating life after a racing trip. My Sebring 2008 article's submitted, the PHOTOS ARE UP, TOO, and now I have time to just get back to the business of... what passes for life when I'm not Doing What I Do.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Home from Sebring. *sigh*

After a 17h 14m drive, which began with brunch at Denny's, a brief stop on the sand at Daytona Beach, and then playing through literally 1/2 of the songs on my iPod, I arrived safe at home at 0545 this morning, exactly 12 hours ago.

I've had a good bit of sleep, but I'm still quite knackered. I also have a deadline, so I probably won't be responding to many emails over the next 24 hours, but as of 1800 tomorrow, I should be back in circulation.

LOTS more, later.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sebring Saturday: Mid-race hyper-ness

Let me tell you a little something about Sebring: There is simply nothing else like it in the world. No, I'm not talking about the Green Park, with its Animal House antics and bizarre culture unto itself. And I'm not talking about the cars, teams, and drivers, because these are all the same people who race the rest of the season here as well as Le Mans. I'm not even talking about the weather, because I've seen more rain at the 24 Heures du Mans in recent years than we've had at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

No, I mean the track itself. As one team guy told me earlier today, "this is the exact opposite of the Daytona 24 we just ran. Daytona was 24 hours of heaven. This is 12 hours of hell."

Why is that, you might ask?

It's because this track is one hyper-challenging, unforgiving, mean-spirited bitch. She doesn't cut you any slack, and if you're lucky enough not to demolish the car when you go off-course, you still end up shoveling half of the dirt in southern Florida as you limp back to the pits.

Such is the case with today's race, just about halfway through. It seems as if nobody wants to win this one. The fastest car on the track all week, that being the Peugeot 908 HDi, suffered mechanical crapitude and is now running down in back. The lead was then inherited by the #1 Audi R10 TDI, who just fifteen minutes ago retired to the pits with some kind of engine failure (yes, an engine failure in an Audi, rare that may be). Many of the Big Dogs are just dropping like flies, be it an error in judgment or just plain bad luck.

Though, if I'm honest, maybe it's not just the unforgiving heartless bits of 3.7 miles of bumpy tarmac. Maybe there's more to it.

On my fifth trip to the historic race, I'm still discovering so many little things that all make this such a great event. Not just the parties in the infield, but the people there. The big fat smelly ocean of humanity, the no-shirt-no-shoes-no-problem beer-guzzlin' rednecks, and the prim wine & cheese crowd with nary a hair out of place. The people who drive in from 1000 miles away, and the locals who live just down the road. The ones who have been coming here for more than 50 years (yes, I've met quite a few), and the ones who are experiencing not just their first Sebring 12, but their first ever auto race. The people from so many different countries there aren't enough translators in all of Florida to make sense of it, the people with southern drawls so thick, they need their own translators...

It all comes together, and it all blends beautifully.

What makes this race so great, I think, is what has made our country the greatest place in the history of the world. It is where everyone else comes to be the best, and to challenge for the win. In Sebring, there is no McCain or Clinton or Obama. There are no pollsters and no breaks in the action - except for a caution flag or six. This is the greatest road race in North America, and international diplomacy played out on tarmac. The French, the Germans, the Brits and the Italians, the Swiss and the Aussies, the Kiwis and the Scots, and us, the Americans. Somehow, we all just get along and have the best damn time in the world.

Some people wonder what it is about motorsports that moves me so. What about it wakes me up in the morning and literally drives me to sacrifice so damn much, just to see a bunch of cars going fast on a road circuit. If you've read this far, I hope you have more of an idea now.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sebring notes, Thursday, Part 1

Yesterday left little time to post, given the 13-hour drive down from NC the night before. That, and the fact that I was positively knackered by the time the sun rose over the historic 3.7-mile road course here in Sebring, FL. Along with my "crew" (that would be Tim and his wife), we were all wasted from the trip and desperately in need of showers and sleep. By early afternoon, we'd decided to use what little coherency we had left, and retreat to the hotel.

Before we got going, however, I was offered a lap at speed around the course in an Audi R8. This ride, for once, is not a race car but a proper road machine, and I totally agree with Clarkson, it is STUNNING!

The Red Carpet Inn on Rt 27 certainly isn't the worst place I've stayed, but when I have to call the front desk to have someone come up and plug in all of the electrical things (alarm clock, microwave, mini-fridge, hair drier, etc), well, that's just odd. I have my own room, though, so I can sleep. The shower is nice n' hot, the A/C works, and the TV... well, they have good wireless, at least.

Anyway, cleaned up and rested, we were off to the Sebring Gala. For some reason, I'm still among the few of us media types who knows this party exists -- which is amazing, considering "free open bar" usually attracts everyone in the room. I was self-appointed Designated Driver last night, not wanting to overdo it and have hell to pay on Thursday, so my company took advantage of the free booze. Patrón is entering racing in a big way this year, both as a series/race sponsor as well as full sponsor of David Brabham's P2 Highcroft Racing Acura. So, to underscore their commitment to the American Le Mans Series, they saw fit to have their own Tequila bar at the gala, and do their best to get everyone annihilated. I had one small "Le Mans-arita" and a couple sips of a "Brabham Bender," their term for a straight shot of their agave silver. Good stuff, even if tequila isn't usually my thing.

This time, they weren't serving Tilt, so I didn't get "tilted" like I did last year. And I'm not rooming near Aunt Nancy, so I'm not getting attacked by the Grey Goose, either.

Time for GT-class combined qualifying -- either Jan Magnussen or Max Papis should take the pole.

More stuff later, as time permits!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Getaway in Appalachia - Days 1-2 of Sebring 2008

Mopars DO love mountains!

I'm currently in Burnsville, NC, way up in the Blue Ridge mountains. I started out on the drive on Sunday down I-81, but the sheer number of speed traps (15 in less than 100 miles) and the traffic incidents seemingly caused by people slamming on the brakes to avoid cops...

Well, it all got to be too much, so I diverted off I-81 onto Blue Ridge Parkway. Now, I've driven some of the most amazing roads in North America, but there is absolutely nothing that compares to this. I now have a very clear understanding of the term "breath-taking." I had to remind myself to breathe, it was that impressive.

As luck would have it, after about 200 miles of heaven, I ran out of road -- Blue Ridge Parkway is closed right near Boone, NC... so I had to re-route my course. This is where the road atlas came in handy: In the time it would take to re-program a GPS to map out a new course, I was able to duck into a Quik Stop, get coffee, check the atlas, and find Route 221 which leads down down to where I was headed.

What I didn't expect was for Route 221 to be the tightest, twistiest, least-forgiving ribbon of asphalt I have ever seen! This was like the Nürburgring, in North Carolina! I left probably 1/3 of the tread from my Falkens on that road, over a span of about 150 miles.

Where I'm from, if you take a curve too fast, you might hit some guardrail, or maybe a tree. Up here, you either eat a boulder the size of a small house, or... you fly off the side of the mountain.

Back home in DC, you might have to dodge a raccoon, a possum, maybe a fox or even a coyote. Up in Appalachia, the skunks are the size of small bears. I don't know what they eat, but I damn sure wasn't gonna' stop and ask.

Anyway, I'm rested-up, and will be getting back on the road to Sebring in just a few short hours. I'll probably be in touch sometime tomorrow, with a dispatch from the front stretch.

"there's more to life than gears and horsepower
not much, admittedly, but you get the point..." -- Road Kill

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

DC Auto Show 2008

Went to the DC Car Show (er, s'cuse me, The Washington Auto Show today, to take in the media preview - which consists of lots of press conferences, lots of picture-taking opportunities, and a pretty good catered luncheon.

I got to meet with some of the top brass from GM and managed to charm my way into them letting me drive one of the way-nifty hydrogen-powered Chevy Equinox vehicles.

For those who don't know, Hydrogen power is the King Badass of all green automotive technology. Screw hybrids, be they petrol or diesel, only hydrogen (and plug-in electrics) give absolute zer0-emissions. Plug-in electric cars are neat, in a glorified golf cart sort of way, but the advantage of a fuel cell vehicle is range.

I was offered a drive (not "ride", but drive, as in they gave me the keys and off we went) following a press conference this morning. Motoring around the streets in downtown DC, it drove... just like a car. It accelerates, brakes, corners, and handles the road, just like its petrol-powered counterpart. The only thing missing, really, was engine sound. The vehicle is almost entirely silent.

I pulled up at a stop light next to a Prius, and stuck my tongue out at its driver. Felt good.

There's more stuff to tell, but I'm compiling photos and writing up a bunch right now. Whatever doesn't make it onto AE soon, I'll post here.

In other random notes...

Heath Ledger just joined Brad Renfro on the list of actors who Just Couldn't Handle Themselves. Tragic, I think. I didn't really care for either one as an actor, really, but tragic when anyone ODs and dies. Apparently, Amy Winehouse isn't far behind, with her Homemade Crack Testing Kit all over Youtube. And so far, in 2008, at least 10 people have been killed while crossing railroad tracks.

Evolution, it seems, is a very slow process... But a sure one.