Friday, September 28, 2012

Nissan Juke NISMO Revealed...

At the Paris Auto Show, in the "flesh" as it were and production ready.  As Nissan begins to roll out its reinvigorated NISMO line of upgraded cars and SUVs the Juke is the first to get the treatment.

There is no huge spike in performance here but an additional nine horsepower (taking the Juke to 197) and 184 ft. lbs of torque (up from 177) is always a good thing.  Additional tweeks include a 10% stiffer spring rates and comparable adjustments to shocks and steering.

The body gets a functional aero kit and performance tires while the interior gets sport seats and upgraded fabric amongst a host of changes.  The NISMO edition Juke will be available in 2 and 4WD variants and pricing will be announced closer to its actual release as a 2013 model.

2013 Nissan Juke NISMO...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Second Car: 1988 Ford Escort GT

Ahh, my second car.  After the 1984 Cutlass Ciera that got me through the last year of high school and the first year of college (and no farther) I was desperate for a vehicle to get around with as a budding adult.  Getting to work and back and forth to my new college friends' houses was a necessity to me, not an extravagance.

So it was that my parents went to Southern States Auto in Lee, MA and purchased me a 1988 Ford Escort GT.  It was my first manual transmission vehicle (thank goodness it forced me to learn this skill every man should have), was a two door hatchback and was clad in copious amounts of grey plastic and a rear spoiler to make it look like that era's 5.0 Mustang GT (if you squinted really hard and had drank a few too many beers you might mistake it for one).  Unfortunately its performance was decidedly Escort like.  Slow, wallowing and prone to rust and electrical issues.

The best features in the car were not to be found on regular Escorts (wider wheels/tires and fog lights to give it more of that Mustang look) but it was more the vehicles inability to start on a regular basis that was its most memorable character.  It would start or not seemingly at whim.  Diagnosing this issue was something that could never be solved by any host of repair shops and would plague it until it was disposed of.

A cardboard covered with felt lid covering the truck area of the hatchback was decidedly cheap and another detracting factor in my feelings regarding this vehicle.

The car served me in a pedestrian manner--when it ran--over the approximately two years I drove it.  One of its final acts was something I would always be thankful though the car was on the whole was something that has put me off of Ford ever since.  On a most miserable night where I was to go home alone after a miserable few hours of viewing what had become my ex-girlfriend without me and leaving the place I was at I had no one to call or to give me a lift home other than this said ex if the Escort failed to start--who would undoubtedly think my unstarting car was a ploy by me to try and weasel my way back into her life.

Sitting in the driver's seat and turning the key the Escort did its usual thing--click, click, bzzzzzzz.  The dash lit up but no effort by the engine to start.  My god, of all nights I thought.  What are my options??  Walk the 12 miles home?  Call a cab?  Go to the ex and face that disaster?  Oh, god, just please somehow start when I try this again (turning the key a second time)...Vrrrmmmm....Elation!!  And off to my apartment I went.  The car would be gone a few months later as its electrical problems and unreliability were too much for me to take and I begged my parents to take it away and replace it.  What happened exactly to it I can't clearly remember.  Was it traded in for the next car?  Was it left at a shop as it couldn't be put right?  I'm unsure.  I never missed not driving the Escort GT and there was virtually nothing about it that I'd want it in any car I'd choose to have but I will remember it.

Book Review: No Easy Day

Early on in Matt Bissonnette's (nom de plume Mark Owen) recap of both his own life and the Special Ops mission that resulted in the death of UBL he states that he hopes the book will someday inspire another individual to dedicate his (or her I suppose) life to being one of the select few to be willing and able to go into harms way in order to do the dirty jobs that the real world requires but that few civilians give thought to.

At the very least he gives readers an excellent view into the life that is that of a Navy SEAL which should serve as both a goal and a warning to those who may want to take on a similar role.

The book moves along at an extremely rapid pace, written in plain spoken English and a straightforward timeline that traces Bissonnette from his Alaskan roots to his missions around the world.  The most revealing thing about the book is the casualness with which it states the operators would roll from one mission to the next here there and everywhere.  With each operator having participated in hundreds of missions and dispatched assumed scores of targets around the world, you get the feeling that SEAL teams are on the move and undertaking various tasks at nearly all times but rarely in the news.  How they keep their operations so quiet is what I came away wondering about the most.

Regardless, it is the story of the raid that killed UBL that most people will come here looking for.  Find it they will as it is laid out, if not in detail, with enough background and color to give you an idea its complexity and audacity.  Luck, you come to realize and as is noted by the author, plays a far larger role in events than most people care to admit.  Something like the pair of bolt cutters you have strapped to your back that keep a piece of shrapnel from cutting your neck open can mean the difference between life or death, success or failure.

UBL's final moments are an anti-climax to the whole book as there is no firefight, no suspense, no danger, no looking into a dying man's eyes, nothing that would even approximate drama.  UBL's underlings at least stood to fight.  UBL spent his last moments cowering with his wives, an AK and a pistol within reach, unused, trying to peak around a corner only to take a bullet to the skull, the shooter not knowing who he had killed at first.

Politics play a fortunately small role in the book and where they do appear only minimally disparage the Office of President and Vice President stating that none of the SEALS were fans of Obama and joking that they had just got him re-elected after killing UBL while complaining that the President never made good on his promise to share a beer with the SEAL team at the White House.  Small stuff but you get the feeling the SEALS don't like being used as political toys no matter what the party.

Not an in depth book regarding SEAL training or tactics or military procedure, No Easy Day is very worthy of your time if only so that one can learn the true details regarding the end of one of a figure who loomed so large over world machinations at the beginning of the 21st century.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Film Review: Touch of Evil

As with many classic films, there is no way this film gets made today.

Charlton Heston in "brownface" (is there such a thing?) as a Mexican anti-drug officer?  No chance that makes it through the studios today and is only one of a host of items that would be seen as unpalatable to modern audiences (an obviously retarded night caretaker at a hotel??).

The film is a near brilliant film-noir concerning a Mexican based bombing on American soil.  The international politics, racial stereotypes, suspicions and back and forth are as well done as any modern film and likely better.  Internal Mexican strife over the drug trade is front and center here as is the oil money derived from the American side of the border.  The issues portrayed here are just as poignant today as they were in 1958 when the film was made.

The opening shot of the film, over two minutes without a cut tracing the lead characters from one side of the border to the other, introducing both them and carrying the suspense of a bomb placed in the trunk of a car is one of the most well known in all of film and has been aped over and over again.  Its influence in cinema is near par with that of Eisenstein's baby carriage.  For that reason alone you should see the film.

Orson Welles is genius as usual, fattening up to near explosive levels to play the role of dirty cop Hank Quinlan.  The closeups of his stubbly face are incredible in portraying his porcine features.

Janet Leigh is wonderful as Susan Vargas the independent minded wife of Heston's Ramon Vargas.

While the conclusion of the film is not quite as biting as one may like, it is still solid and forceful enough to stick in your memory as a classic work of one of cinema's auteur's.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Getting Air!!

OK, its not much but I'll take it!  This was on a narrow bridge that we ran across in one of the early stages at BRS this year.  As always, you'd never know the truck left the ground as it just feels like a big pillow going over things like this.  If only we'd made it to Goose Pond and gotten to really fly the truck!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fast Food Review: Burger King Chicken Parmesan Sandwich

Once again I was out and about at lunch today running some small errands (selling some CDs back to Newbury Comics, picking up a CD, getting some deep sockets for working on my engine) and needed something quick to eat.

As usual my route took me past a local Burger King which was advertising their new Chicken Parmesan sandwich.  I'm a sucker for a good chicken parm and have been all my life.  My favorite has always been the one produced by Papa Gino's but I was willing to give this one a try.

Ordering the "meal" (small of course at BK as "small" here really means "medium" and "large" means you'll be peeing away the rest of the day after downing the enormous soda that would be provided) with sweet potato fries and making an Arnold Palmer to drink I was presented a medium sized sandwich that was seemingly "right sized" for most appetites.

The wheat bun, as usual, took up most of the visual space with most of the chicken hidden underneath (not looking much like the stock photo).  On the good side the sandwich was clean to eat.  Not a lot of stuff falling out or slopping around.  No danger of covering yourself in sauce or melted cheese or needing a basket full of napkins to eat it.

On the down side, it could have used a bit MORE sauce.  What sauce was present appeared to be a bit dried out and was fairly bland to begin with.  Certainly there were no big chunks of tomatoes nor zest to the flavor.  The cheese (as was the sauce) was located on both the top and bottom of the chicken and was a supposed mix of mozzarella and Parmesan though I really tasted more of a sharper, Swiss cheese flavor and texture.  No real complaints here though.  The more cheese the better in my opinion.

Lastly the chicken itself.  This was no "patty" or cheaply breaded chicken sandwich of BK past.  This was a seemingly real chicken breast with good breading.  The chicken was lean with no gristle and a firm texture while the breading was just the right bit of crispy.  The breast is likely the best part of the sandwich.

All in all?  A solid 6.5 on a scale of 1-10.  Slightly above average and a good quick meal if you don't want to feel bloated.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

BRS 2012: +1 Cat, -1 Truck

So I've come to realize that the most interesting stories to come out of racing are those of failed attempts and not those of quality finishes.  Maybe I should have known that going in but I got a great reminder of this fact this past weekend.  Bottom line result at Black River Stages 2012 for the NISMO Stuff Racing, team??  DNF.  The truck's first DNF in seven events and was bound to happen eventually.  On the positive side it was not due to mechanical failure or the vehicle's fault in any way.  Pure driver error and lack of talent/experience.

To be honest the weekend was a shit show from near the beginning and not being fully focused is likely a contributing cause to the end result.

And away we go...

Failing to have the Nissan Frontier in my possession due to needing an alignment done in the last few days before leaving meant picking it up the Friday morning I was to leave and proceeding to pack it at that point with my gear and tools.  Nothing out of the ordinary and not so bad.  Just about ready to leave when I get a call from my codriver saying we now need to wait to leave an extra hour and a half so we can pick up a race volunteer in Springfield on our way.  Again no biggie, just meant getting a bit later than anticipated.

Then things start to fall apart.

Arriving at the Charlton, MA rest area at about 1:30 to meet my codriver and put the truck on his trailer I proceeded to lock the key to the race truck inside it with no spare, windows rolled up and no obvious access or tools on hand.  By happenstance my codriver had just picked up some new brake line tubing for a car he is working on and was carrying it with him.  First we tried the passenger side hole in the firewall, then the passenger side hole in the floor of the cab, then the passenger side rear of the cab window which could be pried back.  All failed.  So we moved to the driver's side where there is no hole in the firewall.  The hole in the floor failed, the attempt from the rear of the cab window failed.  We then tried going into the top of the driver's door and failed.  By now the brake line looked about as twisted as a hill climb road.  One full hour later we were able to push the lock mechanism open with the brakeline by attempting again through the cab's rear window that could be pried back enough to fit our arm into a little ways.

So we got the truck on the trailer and proceeded to Springfield feeling we had gotten our bad luck out of the way.  We picked up the volunteer at WNEC (engineering student of course) without problem and headed out to upstate NY.  Dinner and driving was fine until we got heading North from Utica.  First the rain starts rolling in, making driving interesting and then we get rearended at a light by a small car.  No damage to the trailer but enough for us to get out and get wet to inspect it.  Moving on we got to our cabin we were to share with Don Kennedy and his son for the weekend, unloaded our gear and watch the pumper trucks go back and forth on the little road we were located on for a while as they raced to save (failing) a cabin just a quarter of a mile further up the road that was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.

Up the next morning, grabbed some donuts, registered, got tech'd and things are looking good.  Gabbed a bunch with fellow racers, took a quick nap, listened to some tunes and off to the service park to set up any gear we had.  More walking around and chatting fellow racers up.  In the middle of this I notice a small, scrawny, dirty, white cat that is limping around.  The poor thing was trying to beg whatever food it could and wasn't more than a few weeks old, obviously abandoned.  With a big soft spot for stray cats I knew what I had to do immediately.  I picked her up and proceeded to call my parents who were going to be spectating for the day to find a cardboard box and some cat food to house and feed the cat for the day while I was racing.  The crew for a partner team agreed to look after the poor thing till I got back.

Feeling good about rescuing a poor animal who would have survived another week in all likelihood we were soon strapped into our vehicle and ready to go.  First stage of the day felt very sloppy and loose with my tire pressures being way too high for the road conditions.  Felt like I was driving on ice.  Dropping the air pressure improved things dramatically but still felt like I was fighting myself all day.  As the race rolled into the darkness our speeds felt faster but the times didn't show it as the nighttime slowed our times a bit more.  With all the carnage of the AWD vehicles which saw numerous early DNFs we had moved up to 12th overall in the event out of 27 starters.  Then came the last stage of the day.

A very short stage at only a little over three miles the Tidd Rd. stage should have been the cap on a decent day of racing.  It would turn into a long night and longer following day.

About half way into the stage was a short watery section where the road divided two beaver pond/swamps with a bit of water flowing over the road from one side to the other.  With no cautions in the route book we took the straight road at full speed with my foot on the floor.  At some point I made the error of getting my wide front driver's side tire just over the edge of the road.  When this occurred the tire began heading down the sharp berm that fell off the road into the water.  You can imagine the road like a built up railroad bed that sloped off sharply on either side into the pond.

With one tire off the edge the truck was completely sucked down into the water and off the road in a blindingly fast fashion (to be honest I don't really remember it).  Turning the truck sideways and down, a huge sheet of water came up over the hood and the truck started to roll over toward the passenger side.  The truck settled down in the water, floating to a stop and water began to pour into the cab through the doorsills and floorpan. Coming to a stop the engine was off but electronics were on.  I hit the kill switch and began exiting the vehicle along with my codriver.

Opening the doors the pond water rushed in and filled the cab up to the gear shifter.  Stepping down into the cold swamp water up to my waist and being handed the OK sign by David Dennis, my brave codriver I began to head down the road with a triangle to try and warn others so that they didn't clip the rear of my truck which still jutted out onto the side of the road.  Eventually all the cars behind us passed by (there was no hope of ANYONE pulling us out) and we awaited the sweep vehicle to arrive.  A bit later it did arrive but we were to discover that it was only 2WD and though it gave it a brief try, could not budge our truck.  The sweep had to head to the next stage so that it could be run for the other racers and thus we were left to wait for a friend of the sweep driver to arrive and give us a lift back to service where we would gather Dave's truck.

Unfortunately the sweep's friend had only a regular cab truck with which to transport us with and already had a passenger.  So, soaked to the bone and in 40 degree weather we rode in the bed of the truck some 20 miles back to service down the highway.  Cold is a bit of an understatement.  Back at service I found my new cat in fine condition as we jumped into Dave's truck, cranked the heat and headed back out to the stuck race vehicle to see what we could manage at near midnight.  Powered by the Dodge Magnum V10 we certainly had some power on hand but were only able to drag the race vehicle a few feet along the berm.  Extraction would not be possible this evening.

Asleep by 1AM and then back at the truck by 8AM we tried and tried to get it out.  Pulling one way, then another, snapping a tow strap, digging tires out, jumping into the water to change the location of the attachment point.  After about 4 hours, at about noon and with the assistance of another truck pulling in tandem with David's Dodge, the Nissan Frontier was finally yanked from the pond.  As water poured out we assessed the damage.  Cosmetically it looked OK.  A few torn sections in the areas where the fender liners are riveted to the fenders and the fiberglass in the front seems to have been popped forward from being tucked under the headlights--but all in all not bad.  Electric system still seems to work and it looks like it landed softly in the mud not damaging any suspension components.

The big issue is that when we looked at the air intake the air filter was wet and there was some water that had gotten to the throttle body.  Not daring to try and start the truck it would have to wait till I can pull the plugs and do it at home to see what damage may have been done.  So the truck got on the trailer and soon enough we headed home.

Oh, did I mention that we ran out of gas on the way home, 1/2 mile from the service area in Lee, MA on the Pike??  And that arriving at the service area after walking there I was informed that it is now illegal to fill a portable gas container on the Mass Pike?  And did I mention that after buying a Poland Spring bottle, dumping it out, drying it in the bathroom, filling it up with gas, walking back with it to the truck, using a cut up Gatorade bottle as a funnel that the police showed up at the exact moment we were getting back into the truck?

Luckily the cop was nice to us and let us go without any further delay though he could have ticketed or whatever us for illegal gas refueling on the Mass Pike. 

Arriving home the race truck was rolled off the trailer and pushed into the garage where it now sits, awaiting its plugs to be pulled.  The cat (as yet unnamed) is in good shape after a visit to the vet where it was found it had fleas, ringworm, an upper respiratory infection and a broken growth plate in its left front leg.  It now has a nice, warm, dry and loving home.  Which is the best news to come out of the weekend as the DNF put the team out of the running for the 2012 ARC championship and unable to compete at Charlevoix in a month from now.  The offseason prep work begins now with lots of lessons learned and hopes for a great '13 season to come.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Big Wreck at Black River Stages 2012: Jerdan Falls Road

Displaying why stage rally even at a grassroots level can be a brutally dangerous game comes from this past weekend's Black River Stages 2012 event held in upstate NY.  Motorcycles and cars were racing in this NASA event and it contained a spectacular wreck by the Polish team of Peter Malazsuk and Dominik Jozwiak in their Subaru.  The team lost communication between driver and codriver showing just how integral that relationship is to this sport and were claimed by a boulder that has seen a number of unlucky competitors over the years.  Both drivers were as fine as one might hope after such a wreck--a testament to their cage builder.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New Nissan Juke Exhaust...

Milltek announced today its release of a new aftermarket exhaust system for the Nissan Juke.  The fit and finish of this system look fantastic and it boasts a lower weight than the OE unit as well as increased power.

Milltek is a well respected UK outfit and also shows a new exhaust for the 370Z as well on its website.


NISMO Leaf RC In Its First Race...

I guess I'm coming around on this whole electric racing idea.

I'll definitely miss the smell and sound of petrol driven vehicles but racing is racing right?

And here we have what is the NISMO Leaf RC's first real race.

Taking place in Japan this isn't exactly a apples to apples fight.  The NISMO Leaf RC is a purpose built race car that bears no resemblance to any vehicle you can buy at the local dealership.  The Tesla coupe however is stock in nature and not much different than those that came off the assembly line.  The Tesla ends up winning the race but not by nearly as much as I thought it might given that the Leaf still was only powered by the stock motor, simply moved to a more race-oriented placement.

Glad to see the Tesla win in this case as I'm rooting for that company, of any in the EV market, to make a name for itself and be successful.

Off to Black River Stages 2012!

On to my last big stage rally race for '12.

This will also be the first event I have raced for a second time as this was my first ever stage rally race when I took part in it out in North central New York during 2011.  I will have David Dennis on board as my codriver for the third time this year.

Standing 5th in the Atlantic Rally Cup series for '12 and with the #1 team to be absent from this event and very close point standings, a move up to a podium position for the year is certainly possible with a solid run.  The weather looks to be good for the event vs. some nighttime rain last year and more confidence in the big jumps present for this event should make for some great pictures.

This year's event takes place on Saturday and Sunday so results really won't be posted here until Monday but you can always follow along on the Black River Stages website which will have updated standings and by signing up for event text messages.

Black River Stages website...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Next Generation Xterra Revealed?

So is this the future of the Xterra?

In the distant future...perhaps.  Or at least Nissan seems to be indicating so.  The TeRRA concept vehicle has been revealed today prior to the Paris auto show.  It is a fuel cell electric vehicle--meaning not a plug in electric like the Leaf or Volt.  It gets its electricity from onboard fuel cells, likely hydrogen based.

With its big wheels and tires, high ground clearance, pronounced wheel arches and hidden rear door handles it certainly looks like a future version of the Xterra.  The question is, just how much in the future this would be.  With regular electric vehicles struggling (particularly Nissan's Leaf) moving on to a fuel cell powered unit seems very distant.

If it keeps the Xterra in the Nissan lineup I'm all for it and I'm even starting to come around on the idea of electric offroad vehicles.  I'd love a high performance offroad machine that doesn't require drums full of gasoline.  If the performance and cost structure is there, count me in as a TeRRA customer!

Nissan TeRRA revealed!!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Great Australian Rally - 4WD World Border Ranges Rally

 Australia seems to have a wonderful rally scene in general and a great historical rally scene in particular.  A great example is the recent 4WD World Border Ranges Rally.

While this race was won by an Evo XI and your usual WRX and three EVOs (two XIs and one XIII) made up four of the top five results, its further down the field that the real interesting cars were contained.  For my tastes I enjoy the sixth place finish of Mike Bailey and his Nissan GTi-R.  Additionally there were seven "classic" Datsun/Nissan entries out of the 57 total entries and all seven finished the event.  The models entered included the aforementioned GTi-R, a Nissan Stanza, two Datsun 1600s, a Datsun Sunny and a Datsun 180B.
For Ford fans the remarkable turnout included 10 old school Escort that have always been viewed as an excellent classic rally vehicle.

August 2012 Unemployment Report...

So THAT'S why Obama said the path isn't easy and he needs more time in his acceptance speech last night (since he KNEW what today's jobs report would say before anyone else did last night--Presidents get this info 24 hours earlier than the public).

The economy only created 96,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1% because people are giving up on even LOOKING for work not because more people are employed.

AND the June and July figures were revised DOWNWARD by another 41,000 jobs compared to what they were first reported. Worse news?? Only 63.5% of those of working age are either employed or even LOOKING for employment, meaning that near 40% of the people you meet EVERYDAY are just sitting at home, doing nothing...

Epic fail via demonstrable facts...not opinion.

August unemployment report...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What Fix-A-Flat Looks Like Afterwards...

So I went and replaced the tires on my lovely 2002 Toyota Camry.  In one of the tires I had injected "Fix-A-Flat" when it had developed a slow leak.  That was about a year ago.  In theory you should use FAF only as a short term solution and then replace the tire but I was too cheap and held air after that injection and there was no need to then change the tire.

In disposing of the tires (I can save $12 from the tire mounting location by disposing of them myself as my town accepts used tires at no charge) I noticed what the FAF had turned into inside the tire.  While the Slime substance I had previously injected into my racing truck tires had remained a liquid and happened to spray all over Keith at Dube's Customs when he went to change a tire the FAF substance turns solid, into an almost crystalline substance that dries and just slides around the inside of the tire.  This makes it easier for the tire to be swapped--or at least cleaner.  I found it interesting that the shape and substance of the dry FAF ended up the way it do.  Call me simple....

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Album Review: Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem

OK, I know I'm supposed to like this album.  After all Nick Hornby loves The Gaslight Anthem.  They're frequently compared to and often cite being influenced by Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  They're supposed to be a mix of old school punk and passion mixed with heartfelt songwriting and a blue collar ethos.

Unfortunately the album is a decided bore after the initial track.  45 is a great track and the impetus behind my purchase of this album.  Its rapid lyrics, gravelly vocals, buzzsaw guitars and varied drumstrokes are what great, straightforward rock music should sound like.

After the intro however the album reverts to the cliches,monotone and repetive boredom that the worst of Tom Petty's music finds itself in.

Sure the music SOUNDS great.  The vocals are crystal clear, the guitars and drums are crisp.  The production value in this album is fantastic.  With Brendan O'Brien on board it can't help but SOUND good.  Having produced the last 10 years or so of Springsteen albums, a number of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Incubus, The Killers, Rage Against the Machine and other big time rock albums, O'Brien is more accomplished than those he is working with in this case and a producers magic can only go so far.

As clean and clear as the music sounds, the lyrics are dreadful 80's hairband mush and there is nothing here beyond 45 that is any better than your local Springsteen/Petty wanna be bar band.