Thursday, September 26, 2013

Australasian Safari 2013--Vehicross, Forester and Sidecar Oh My!

The 2013 Australasian Safari has an additional reason for hype this year as one moto and one "car" entry will win a free entry into the 2014 Dakar based on their performance.  Outside of this, the largest offroad rally in Western Australia is one of the longest and toughest in the Southern Hemisphere. The event has drawn a number of entrants from around the world over the years including ORMHOF (Offroad Motorsports Hall of Fame) member Rod Hall and his team of Hummers in recent years.

While one of the world's classic offroad races, due to its remoteness, like the Taupo 1000 in New Zealand it does draw a number of grassroots and more obscure competitors in addition to those at the top of the industry.  Along with these more grassroots entries comes some of the more interesting vehicles out there racing today.

Example #1--The 1998 Isuzu Vehicross of Andrew and David Travis.  The Vehicross is an iconic SUV of which few were produced, so to see one out racing is remarkable.  I believe this is only the second one I've ever seen in offroad competition and that it is doing so some 15 years after its production is awesome.  Coming into the last day of the event (Leg 7 of 7) the bright yellow Vehicross is sitting 3rd in the event some hour and 20 minutes out of first place.

Example #2--The 2008 Subaru Forester of Robert Herridge and Sam Hill.  The Forester is not exactly your typical offroad racing vehicle but it seems to be holding its own, sitting in 4th place in the event, 2 hours and a half hours out of the lead (25 entries in the "car" class this year).  Given how rocky and sandy sections of this course are, the fact that a Forester (a supposedly "road" oriented SUV) has done this well is impressive.

Example #3--The KTM 525 GPR of Max and Sam Hutchesson.  Yup...a KTM sidecar.  The only sidecar in the event the pair seem to have a great deal of experience as a quick Google search of them picks up numerous photos of them racing and of their various race results in enduros and other offroad motorcycle events around Australia.  Their entrance ends a 17 year absence of sidecars from the Australasian Safari.  They sit some 10 hours adrift but are still in the event and putting on a fantastic show.

Lastly we'll throw in a couple of Nissan Patrols to represent the Nissan's in the field.  There are two Nissan Patrols remaining.  One sits in 6th place three hours and eight minutes adrift and the other sits in 12th, 17 hours back.

One day of racing remains before the event's conclusion.

Condolences are due to the family and friends of biker Ivan Erceg who lost his life on 9/25 during the first stage of the day.  Vaya Con Dios Ivan.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Nissan Sentra at Black River Stages 2013...

Unfortunately I did not make Black River Stages this year.  I have a soft spot for the event as it was my first stage rally back in '11 and was also the site of my only DNF in '12 as well as the location where I picked up one of my rescued housecats.

At least there was one Nissan present at the event though.  The Nissan Sentra (SE-R I'm pretty sure) of Nicholas Martinez and Jeff Hagan entered the event and though some internet postings by Jeff seemed to indicate that this was Nicholas' first stage Rally, he and his Sentra have been at other stage rally events (I believe I've even met him before) such as Rally West Virginia and Sandblast.  So unless there is a 2nd Nicholas Martinez racing a Sentra SE-R he did have some experience.

Regardless, Nicholas and crew avoided being one of the 15 DNFs out of 39 entries and finished 10th of 24 2WD entries and 18th of the 39 overall.  The "in action" photos here are of the Goose Pond stage and one of its many jumps.  The black duct tape contraption is an improvised air duct to divert the air coming in the roof scoop to the windshield which was fogging badly given the cool and wet weather!!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Nissan Wins the Taupo 1000!

Well, a Nissan engined vehicle at the least...

In truth Nissan may have won a number of classes at the Enzed Taupo 1000 two weeks back but the New Zealand racing sites don't post the type/engine of the vehicles involved like most sites/series do.  Still, the winning buggie of Clim Lammers was powered by a Nissan V6 as many of the buggies in both New Zealand and Australia are.  The event drew a record 125 entries and were an exceedingly eclectic mix of near the equivalent of Class 1 and Trophy Trucks to your more typical Class 9 buggies to a stock Subaru car and stock Kia Sportage/Suzuki (??) and a number of "Rock Racer" style, short wheelbase SUVs and pickups.

Of particular interest to me were the number of Nissan Patrols entered (still wish we had these available here) and the modern V6 Cooper Tires Nissan Pathfinder of Jared McGilvray.  Really up armored and impressive for its heft and "stock" nature, Jared and his Pathy would finish 4th in class and 31st out of 125.

Also of note here is that despite these photos, which were all taken near the finish line, the course was actually single track for the majority of the race, heading through tight forests and mountain paths.  Truly beautiful territory.  And one to which I have a standing invitation to race in during the 2015 edition of the Taupo 1000 (an event held only once every two years).  World class in nature the Taupo runs 1000 kms for the top competitors and is recognized as being in the same class as a Baja or Dakar or similar top flight event.  The Taupo Facebook page is where the results and TONS more photos and videos can be found.  Video shown here is a cool, rearview shot so you can see the conditions and terrain.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Orbital Launch This Morning...

Only about an hour and a half till Orbital Sciences begins its attempt to be come the second private company to launch a docking capsule to the ISS.  SpaceX performed the feat about a year ago and is continuing to do so on behalf of NASA while Orbital has taken a different tack and is just now completing its final demo flight.

The Antares rocket to be launched this morning at 10:50 AM (hopefully) will carry with it about 1/2 its "normal" payload and contain only non-essential items.  If this launch and docking is successful, NASA will clear Orbital to begin full missions later this year.  This would give NASA (and the US) two separate options for getting equipment/supplies/experiments to the ISS and one (SpaceX's Dragon system) for returning items safely.

The differences between the two systems is striking.  Orbital uses a Russian derived rocket that is propelled by only two engines while SpaceX's design uses nine.  The SpaceX design allows for the shutdown of two of the engines and can still complete its mission--not so with the Orbital design.  In fact, the design of the Orbital engines dates back to Russia's ill fated attempts to compete with NASA's Saturn rockets.  Additionally, while the SpaceX system can actually dock and return items safely to Earth, Orbital's design is not reusable and is designed to burn up on reentry (though this does allow for garbage disposal missions from the ISS).

Two very different ideas but one goal--to get the US back on a regular scheduled with the ISS.  I have one favorite company in my heart and one favorite company for my bank account (I own some Orbital stock) but I'm rooting for both of them to succeed.  Photos here are of (above) Orbital's Antares rocket on the Wallops Island site preparing for today's launch and a rendering of Orbital's capsule approaching the ISS.  The launch can be watched on

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Old Xterras Never Die They Just...

just get sold for $1100 to a new owner and then spray painted, sold to a used car dealer and sold for $6000...

Or at least that's what has happened to mine.  I sold my 2000 Xterra about one year ago for $1100 to a private buyer who said he wanted a winter vehicle for his girlfriend.  At the time it did not drive though it did run.  I estimated at the time that it needed about $3000 worth of work to really get it on the road and inspected again.  The work required would be new brakes, rotors and drums all around, new tires all around and some serious alignment work.

A year later (I have grown to believe in some kind of purpose driven fate as I've seen too many instances of random happenstance result in a seemingly predestined outcome) I am picking up Chinese food for dinner and the order is delayed so I sit down and randomly begin perusing one of the free auto flyers listing local dealership inventory.  Flipping through, on the third page (I would never have seen it if the ad was on the 10th page as my order was ready fairly quickly) I spot a black 2000 Xterra for sale for $5995. has big has a winch has fiberglass front fenders....Hey!!  That's my old truck!!

Looking it up online at the given dealership it appears to have received a small amount of work to get it inspected and up for sale and it "looks" really good--shiny with good paint and great offroad setup.

I assume the brakes have been repaired as the rotors where broken and the pads shot and truck undrivable at the time I sold it.  But outside of that, little has changed.  The tires on it are still the old ones that I had on there that are COMPLETELY shot and exhibiting massively uneven wear.  It does look like someone has spraypainted the wheels and rear bumper to hide the rust on the steel, have added blacked out corner lights on the fenders, put in a new passenger side front seat (as I had removed mine and tossed it) and removed waterproof seat covers as well as adding a high lift mount on the hood.  So I'd estimate that they've put some $1500 worth of work into it and are now trying to sell it for some $6000.  With some 146,000 miles and a TOUGH life having gone to Labrador, Kentucky, the beaches of North Carolina and numerous HARD offroading trips (as well as some significantly "custom" suspension work, I would have a very hard time paying more than say $1500 for it as you are going to near immediately have to dump another $1000+ into it for new tires.

Good luck to whoever buys it (if someone buys it) and I'm glad to see it still out there and running...but this just shows me the ridiculous nature of typical used car dealership pricing and  reinforces my decided lack of sellers remorse.

My Old Xterra For Sale...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook

File:Silver Linings Playbook Poster.jpgWell I guess this makes three of the 2013 Best Picture nominees that I've see so far along with Zero Dark Thirty and Argo.

Silver Linings Playbook is certainly the most cliche of those I've seen so far.  It contains all the usual Oscar tropes that you would expect.  Everyone is damaged in some way--from Bradley Cooper's unemployed bipolar-ism, to Jennifer Lawrence's character who has lost a husband tragically to Robert DeNiro's anger problems and sports obsession.  The true message of the film seems to be that everyone is damaged in some way and we all have to deal with it the best we can.

The film is well put together and well acted, it just follows many of the same plot lines we've seen over and over and over and over...Boy loses girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl again, boy realizes he's been with the wrong girl, boy gets back with the right girl who has been there all along, they live happily ever after.  Seriously after watching the first ten minutes of the film (or even just the previews) who didn't know how the whole thing would unfold?

Direction wise, David O. Russell has likely inked a number of deals on the back of this film due to it being such a huge financial success but it really is unremarkable from that aspect and I haven't truly liked what he has put together in his career other than Three KingsSilver Linings Playbook is a decent throwaway film destined for endless reruns on TNT or other cable outlets as its so harmless and retread as to equate to baby formula.  Watch it with your wife/girlfriend...she'll likely enjoy it, and forget about it two days later.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Of Dice and Men

The additional part of the book's title is "The Story of Dungeons and Dragons and the People Who Play It".  This should give a better idea of what the work is about.  I had to very clearly enunciate the "d" in "dice" when asking my local book store if they had a copy on the day of its release for fear they would think I was looking for Steinbeck's work and send me off to the classic literature section.

I did procure my copy without issue (it was located in the role playing games section in with all the rulebooks and manuals) and read it with ease.  Owing much to a Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis style of reporting, its author also writes for Forbes magazine as his "day job".  David Ewalt (the author) is about my age and so many of his cultural references hit home and his exposure to Dungeons and Dragons mimics mine in large part (though I've never returned to its gameplay outside of videogame versions after I turned 17 or so).

I am admittedly a geek by nature though not by intellect so I enjoyed this book but didn't love it.  Those not familiar with or with an interest in Dungeons and Dragons would likely put the book down out of lack of interest and insider jokes about half way through.  For those who do have an interest in the subject the book provides a humorous look at the development of the game, the wranglings between its creators and owners and its place within the history of games.  D&D's influence on culture, movies, literature, TV, the internet, etc. is wide and deep and this book gives the reader an idea of the reasons behind this.

Alternating with the history of the game, Ewalt covers his own experiences with the game covering his discussions with various founders and developers as well as his own role playing campaigns and brief foray into LARPing.

In all I came away from the book more knowledgeable about the game, its history, its influence and am more aware of its place within the world of "games" (I didn't know about Kriegsspiel and how it influenced D&D and Steve Jobs until I read this book) across the globe.  The book was worth it to me and was entertaining to me as a geek.  How much it might really resonate with people outside the geek community I'm just not sure.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Where Old ICBMs Go to Die...

This was the first launch for Orbital Sciences Corporation's Minotaur V rocket.  Launched from Wallops Island off the coast of Virginia it was visible over much of the east coast.  Like many of Orbital's rockets it is derived older military rockets of both US and Russian design.

The Minotaur V is a derivative of the Peacekeeper ICBM and uses many of the ICBM's parts in these current rockets--recycling at its finest.  The Minotaur V can put almost 1,000 pounds into Lunar orbit and looks to have done so successfully with the LADEE NASA probe.  It is on its way to the moon (arrival date scheduled for 10/6) to study the Lunar atmosphere (really??) and dust conditions on the surface (again....really??)  Ahhh...leave it to NASA to spend billions looking for answers to questions that don't need answering...Regardless...nicely done by all parties involved.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lac-aux-Sables Rallye 2013 Results...

 Once again, its been a few weeks since the event and I'm just now getting around to recapping it.  Its not that I wanted to avoid writing about it, its a combination of wanting (hoping?) some more photos and video might come out of the event and also just trying to let it all sink in.  Honestly when I get back from a rally it takes me a bit to decompress and figure out the good and bad.

For Lac-aux-Sables 2013 I would be partnering with a new co-driver, one Anthony Burden who I had come to know through other rally events.  Traditionally a driver only, Lac-aux-Sables would be a new experience for Anthony as well who was looking to see things from the silly seat side of things.

The truck was in great shape having actually taken it out for an extended shakedown just one week prior to the event and all systems seemed to be operating as normal.  We actually got a good start on the trip mid morning on Friday, go the truck loaded and were on our way.  The rain New England had been seeing for about a week tapered off as we headed north and Anthony's big Ford van towed everything with ease.  We arrived in the early evening in the tiny town where tech and the start of the event would take place (several hours North of the St. Lawrence seaway and way out in the middle of nowhere), got tech'd with no problem and then headed off for our "hotel".

Our "hotel" (graciously set up for us by the organize of Lac-aux-Sables) turned out to be someones house which had been turned into a bed & breakfast of sorts.  Beds (or should I say "bed") were provided while breakfast was not.  Fortunately the hardwood floor of the bedroom was clean for Anthony to lie upon (as were the sheets where I, the driver!!, slept) and the hosts were friendly.  Still, it was a bit odd for me--we rally people are generally smelly, dirty, and prone to drip vehicle fluids wherever we go--staying in a place with doilies on the bureau and a decor like my grandmother's.

Race day dawned bright and pleasant and we scrounged up some food at a local grocery store (one thing I think my co-drivers have come to realize is that on race day I generally live on a meager amount of food consisting of a couple granola bars and that's about it beyond a one gallon jug of water) and we were off for recce.  I've come to wish more and more for a second vehicle in which to do recce as I hate using the race truck for "practice" on race day--gods forbid something goes wrong to a perfectly running vehicle while we're just trundling around making notes, but we completed the run through and prepared to begin.

Of the 32 entries in the event we were relegated toward the back given my relative slow finishes at the first two events of the year.  This doesn't have much impact on us as we're not concerned about debris being stirred up or anyone needing to "sweep" the road in front of us.  It was evident early on that this event would suit the NISMO Stuff Frontier more so than the prior two events in '13 with two vehicles dropping out on the first stage and a third on the second stage--in fact (though we didn't know this at the time) the first three cars to DNF on the day were all ahead of us in the standings for the year).

Vehicles continued to drop out all day long with 2WD cars taking an especially hard beating.  We offered assistance where we could, spotting a vehicle on fire at the end of one stage and Anthony leaped into action using both of our vehicle's fire extinguishers to put it out (no one was hurt fortunately) and coped well with the roughest terrain I've seen so far in the Quebec series (I love it!!!).  Some sections reminded me of a Baja style goat trail with lots of softball size rocks littering the course and a section where the cars had to route around a particularly rough area while we just pinned it and straightlined it up the hill.  Perhaps not my favorite "roads" thus far in Quebec, but by far my favorite terrain.

This is not to say we escaped unscathed.  On that particular rough section, one of the aforementioned rocks is thought to have been kicked up and clipped the right, rear brake line.  I would have thought the stainless steel braided line to be able to fend off such a blow but I was soon smelling what we first thought was an overheating engine.  Shortly we realized that we would only smell this odor immediately after pressing on the brakes and theorized that a line was squirting the brake fluid onto the hot rear brake area where it was being cooked off.  A full push on the brakes confirmed that we had lost pressure and would be challenged to bring the truck to a reasonable stop.

Finishing the stage at about 70% normal speed I was generally comfortable with pumping the brakes multiple times to create pressure as a similar experience when a banjo fitting had come loose at Rally West Virgina had prepared me.  This time however we (Anthony really) was able to cobble together a solution via some borrowed vice grips and some zip ties by which he pinched off the line and mounted the grips securely underneath the truck.  We would have three points of brakes for the remainder of the event but at least we were still running!

We also ran into some timing issues of our own creation that would turn out to bite us harder than we would have first imagined.  Suffering two minutes of penalties by the end of the event due to checking in early on one stage in combination with becoming lost in our notes and running most of the stages for long sections without their benefit didn't keep us from finishing but did keep us from finishing on the podium.

Perhaps the most unique stages of the event came right at the end of the day were, as dusk is rushing on, the event runs a kind of "super special" down a fast, two mile section of road with multiple train track crossings at which the whole town seemingly turns out to watch the vehicles jump.  Having spectators this close to the race course was a new experience and hard to ignore.  I am not sure the tracks were abrupt enough, nor the speeds obtained, high enough to overcome the trucks near 18"s of suspension travel but we sure did try!

The NISMO Stuff Racing Frontier, sponsored by would finish the event in 19th position of 32 entries and finished 4th of nine in the John Nichols Cup class.  Third place and our first podium of the year eluded us by only 32 seconds, far less than our two minutes in penalties (the team ahead of us had none).  We were so close.

Regardless, we had a good run, put in some good work and finished yet ANOTHER rally.  Most notably is that with this respectable finish and 4th place points the team moves up into a tie for third overall on the year in the John Nichols Cup standings with one event remaining in October.  Consistency is always my friend running this truck.  So in the end it was as most rallies are--a bit of good, a bit of bad, a bit of what might have been.  But when you bring the vehicle home in one piece, you had a good time and you experienced a bit of adventure that is so absent from modern life one can't really complain...

Ride Apart's Honda Grom Review

OK so this bike looks juvenile, silly, perhaps a bit stupid even.  From the moment I saw it however I wanted one.  A small bike I could throw around, get back and forth to work on and get 130 mpg for under $3k?  Sign me up.

These are evidently in BIG demand too.  Saw a new-ish (50+ miles) one for sale locally for $4k this weekend, a 33% markup from sticker and from reports there is a waiting list for them and they sell practically as soon as they hit the floor.  I'm also betting there will be a huge aftermarket for them as well.  Anyone buy up that "" website yet?

Ride Apart's Review of the Honda Grom...