Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Intro to Antonio Narino the Only American on a Bike in 2015 Dakar

The 2015 Dakar is upon us…

While American entrants have always been few and far between in the world’s most prestigious offroad race the ’15 edition is especially lacking in riders and drivers flying the red, white, and blue.  While Tony Gera was able to win a free entry into the event via his 2014 SCORE Desert Racing performance, it is only SoCal resident Antonio Narino who will be present on a bike from the US in this year’s event (as rider #164).

Originally from Columbia, Narino moved to the United States where he enrolled at Duke University to study business, a background that would result in his employment with Hunter Industries (a major irrigation company).  Like many in our world though, Narino had his priorities “straight” and one of the first things he bought upon arriving in America was a motorcycle in order to continue the passion he had picked up racing numerous enduros in his home country.  

This passion (Narino says he has never considered himself a real racer) lead him to build up his Rally-Raid and ADV resume over the past decade.  His travels (many solo) included two wheeled trips through Cambodia, Patagonia, Bolivia and Alaska.  On the racing side Narino ran in events such as the ’07 Por Las Pampas Rally, ’10 Rally dos Sertoes, and the ’07 Baja 500 and Vegas to Reno races as well as recent NORRA Mexican 1000 events and ’14 Baja Rally.  With this history as well as various desert training sessions including a visit to Morocco this past year and trips in both ’09 and ’12 to follow along with the traveling circus that is the Dakar, Narino is taking his first shot at entering the pinnacle of offroad racing this year.

While Antonio’s “nothing worth doing is ever easy” attitude is a major asset, as is his long term mountain biking and weight training regimen, he is participating in the ’15 Dakar as a Marathon/Malle-Moto entry.  This “pure” type of class allows no engine changes during the event (per Antonio the ASO reserves 20 spots per year for the Malle-Moto entrants for which you have to apply and be accepted into) and requires an individual to perform all their own maintenance and service—no crew, no mechanic, no assistance of any kind (not even to cook your food).  For the “privilege” of running this class the ASO provides you a “trunk” in which you have to store all your gear, spares, tools and equipment and will transport it to each bivouac.  In order to maintain absolute focus on the task at hand, Antonio has left all family and friends at home so as to eliminate any distractions.  Having seen racers at prior events bring their wives along and watched the drain on attention that this can bring, he felt his focus needed to be maintained on the race.
As of this writing, Antonio will have already arrived in Buenos Aires and unloaded his bike and be proceeding through scrutineering where each of the never ending checks administered by the ASO will be finished with a stamp, he has already completed a dream.  Just arriving at the start is a major accomplishment for any racer while an actual finish in the event is near unthinkable.

Having met and picked the brains of fellow American riders such as Andy Grider, Jonah Street, Kurt Caselli and Kellon Walch, Antonio believes he has picked up a few strategies that may get him to the finish.  In seeing the heights that the course reaches one might think that power loss might become an issue though Antonio has seen that the fuel injected nature of his bike largely mitigates that concern.  Communication issues can also present a problem with the ASO speaking all French, the spectators and many entrants speaking Spanish and practically everyone else attempting to get by on butchered English.  Fortunately Antonio speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese easing his communication with nearly everyone present.  Navigation should also be something Antonio has buttoned up having participated in and conducted training with Dave Peckham and Rally Management Services for a number of Dakar competitors who sought to perfect their navigation arts.

The real key to his success Antonio believes is to just keep moving.  Keeping up a minimum pace despite everything the Dakar will throw at him he knows will be a brutal proposition.  Breakdowns and errors are bound to happen, its dealing with them in an efficient manner that will keep him in the event.

Hopefully keeping the repairs to a minimum will be a combination of both Narino’s skills and the quality inherent in his chosen bike.  The 2013 Husqvarna 449 he will be riding will not be his own.  While he has been a long time rider of Husqvarnas, the logistics, expense and hassle of shipping and prepping his own bike from SoCal was actually more of a pain than his alternative plan.  Buying a fully Dakar prepped (Sentinal system with light and noise notification, navigation tower, etc.), yet very light and nimble (comparatively) Husqvarna 449 in Portugal and having it shipped to Buenos Aires along with the vast majority of other Dakar racers drastically simplified the process.

While most of us won’t be part of the millions following the 2015 Dakar in person, Antonio should be able to bring back some his experiences, lessons, tips, and stories for release either here or another publication TBD.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Baja Rally 2.0 Video

Here is the recap of Baja Rally 2.0, a RallyRaid style event for motorcycles in Baja that announced today that it is partnering with a second RallyRaid event to be held in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca and organized by the Rally Playero Entertainment group to form the Mexican National Cross Country Championship.

These events will also include ATVs and UTVs and are thus targeted squarely at the RallyRaid community participating in events like the Dakar and the European Cross Country Championship.

More info here:  Mexican Cross Country Championship...

How Do You Know the Dakar is Big??

When you can sell out a stadium simply to watch a Dakar winner's bike do a backflip...not the actual guy who won the Dakar...just some standin on the bike that won the Dakar...

Book Review: Annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer is the first of three novels that make up the Southern Reach trilogy.  I have only read this initial volume and so I don't yet know if the series comes to a satisfactory resolution or if it trails off into boring drivel.

I do know that this first work is an excellent piece of "weird fiction".  There is certainly a Lovecraftian feel to the entire novel both in its use of language, style and content, though its differences are more than significant enough to stand on its own.

The story surrounds an ill fated expedition that is following in the footsteps of previous ill fated expeditions to an location dubbed "Area X".  The first person speaker relaying the novel is the biologist assigned to this four woman expedition and she recounts her travels around this Area X and all the strange things we encounter.  There are dolphins with human eyes, large lizard creatures waiting in the weeds, nefarious team members, microscopic parasites, strange lighthouse keepers, indescribably beautiful/horrifying/powerful creatures from seemingly another world, etc.  No real explanation to many of these observations is given leaving the reader with the disquiet feeling that they only have a small insight into what is going on.

The locale of the tale is within a Southern "transition-land" between the swamps, grasses, forest and dunes bordering the ocean.  The author's favorite Southern hikes taking place in the St. Marks National Wildlife reserve in Florida is the inspiration for much of the book's geography and gives the tale a great feeling of "being there" as the voice coming out of the novel has a great tone of authenticity.  There is a bit of lengthy Lovecraft-like wordiness to the work which sometimes gets in the way of the story as you can be lulled into lethargy by paragraph length sentences at times, though luckily these are relatively rare.

I'm very interested in seeing where the groundwork put down in this work leads in the next two and hope the author didn't use up all his great ideas, mythmaking and mood creation on this one novel as he's certainly composed a world worth exploring further.  I'll label it as my favorite fiction work of '14.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

NISMOStuff TV Review: Black Mirror

I think this may be only my second TV review that I've done on my site out of the near 1500 posts I've put up on here.

Black Mirror is and was broadcast in the UK but has made its way over here to the States on Netflix.  The series is only two seasons long and each season is only three episodes long.  I am only through the first "season" but I have no problem recommending it as highly as anything I've seen on TV, perhaps ever.  The show is completely episodic in nature with each one a wholly contained world and story that is wrapped up within that single edition.  Each episode is fully formed and rich in detail and characters feeling like each one lasts much longer than its less than an hour length and much more like a feature film than a TV show.  Every show changes its cast, storyline, world, characters, etc.  There is nothing connecting one to another besides the artists behind the camera and the quality in front of it.

In fact this is where I would quibble with other critics of the show.  Others have compared it to things like The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents or similar while I find it much grander in its scale.  I find it more comparable to something like a Fincher or Ridley Scott film with a healthy dose of social satire thrown in.  The show focuses neatly on the intersection of near term technological developments (media, internet, consumerism, entertainment, Artificial Intelligence, etc.) and how they change our place in such a rapidly changing world.  How our modern world impacts our romantic relationships, our governments, media, etc. are all covered here and in ways that will make you laugh and cringe (say the forcing of the UK's Prime Minister to have sex with a pig on live TV/Internet?) in ways I didn't think possible.

The satire, dark humor, insigh,t and skewering of ourselves is at a level I've rarely seen or felt.  Watching a future of ours that is only seconds ahead of where we stand today, unfold and twist our conceptions of what is right and wrong, good and bad is some of the most perverse fun I've had with TV in a long time.  This isn't necessarily "light" fair...I'm as much for some gratuitous violence and nudity as the next guy and blowing away endless hordes of zombies is always a good time but this won't fit in those requires a bit more thought, attention and emotional investment but in terms of intellectual and emotional rewards, I have seen little like it.  If you have Netflix or the ability to watch this series, I could not recommend it more highly.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Road To Dakar Part 1

Yup, posting another link to another video...its the holidays and I'm lazy.  Doesn't mean this video doesn't deserve far more views than it has seen so far.  This was originally broadcast on NBCSports channel and the second episode of this will air Xmas eve.  It goes into a lot of the preparation and testing and packing that is involved in an effort of this scale.  It is stunning the investment involved and time required.  Many don't like Robby Gordon but its hard to question his dedication or investment in this effort.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ryan Tuerck (Derry, NH native) Drifting a New England Hillclimb Mountain

So we'll post another video here...

Burke Mountain is a local ski area in Burke, VT topping out modestly at a bit over 3,200 feet.  The road to the top of Burke is part of the New England Hillclimb series.  Here however is professional drifter Ryan Tuerck who hails from Derry, NH (right next door to where I live) and who started out in motocross.  The video is a good look at the roads and some of the speeds the hillclimb series sees with some professional photography.  Good to see Burke, Tuerck and hillclimbing getting some good video out.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nameless Performance, Chris Duplessis and a GT86 in the Desert

This video came out about a month ago and definitely deserves some more views.  The vehicle is a Toyota GT-86 and it was run formerly in a few Rally America events but has now been completely reworked to offer even more speed and RWD insanity.

Filmed in Jean, Nevada during the Seed 9 Rally there this past early November.  The Toyota was taken out on the 4th stage of the event likely due to a broken axle but set the third, third and second fastest stage times on the first three putting over a minute of time on the nearest 2WD competitor in each.  I love seeing a car like this rallying out on the desert roads of the Southwest...little better...

Nameless Performance is a rally oriented aftermarket company that has recently teamed up with the famous Cosworth company out of the UK and is now using this GT86 as a promotional tool and is likely going to be the most recognizable rally vehicle in the US in 2015 as they run a full national series.

Nameless Performance website...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

AJP Motorcycles Introduces its Rally Bike... LOOKS like it belongs at the Dakar...

As with SUVs in the 90's and early '00s motorcycles are appearing to go through a period of expanding "adventure" models.  As every SUV was marketed as being tough and ready to go mountain climbing at one time so it is that motorcycle manufacturers are pumping out ADV models left and right.  Not to make you think that suddenly the US consumer is interested in the Dakar or other Rally-Raid events.  No...but the ADV market (generally larger bikes that can be used both on and off road for long distances) is motorcycling's fastest growing in terms of unit percentages.
Many companies though are putting some extra plastic cladding, some bigger lights and one inch more suspension travel and call it a day.

AJP at least has a history in producing Enduro bikes and exclusively Enduro bikes so their move into the ADV segment makes sense.  They bring some interesting ideas to the table with the newly introduced PR7 660.  On the "small" side for an ADV or Dakar bike it should be exceedingly agile, particularly given their Enduro heritage where their bikes are more designed to maneuver single track through the woods vs. wide open desert terrain.  The bike is also really light.  Listed at 155 kg this is only 341 lbs.

That said some concerns have been brought up as to the size of the gas tank which at only about 4 1/2 gallons is not likely to cut it for more than the shortest of rally-raid stages.  Furthermore, while the positioning of the gas tank under the seat makes the bike's center of gravity nice and centered and low, it also means you have to get off the bike and lift up the seat to refill it.  For quick refills you don't want to be getting off the bike, releasing the seat, undoing the fuel cap and then repeating the process in reverse--not conducive to fast times, ease of access and ability to mount items on or around the seat.

The bike will be available in late '15 via your local AJP distributor and imported from Portugal where they are made.  Their US distributor is a bunch of great Vermont based check them out.

AJP USA website...

AJP Worldwide website...

How Interconnected the World Is...

I've been real lazy of late and haven't really posted anything in quite some time.  Busy time of year made busier by some some outside factors.

Regardless, this story struck me as instructive of just how interconnected our world is these days.

A plumber in Texas with deer heads on his office walls and with a decidedly redneck tone to his voice ends up getting harassing phone calls from other Americans because he left his company's logos on a Ford F250 he traded in almost exactly a year ago and said truck somehow ends up in the middle of the Syrian Civil War with an anti-aircraft cannon mounted in its bed.  Someone posts a picture of this truck on a "terrorist" Twitter feed, the phone # for his company is visible...and so the calls begin.

To me its shocking that such a truck would be found profitable to sell who knows how many times over and be found desirable enough to ship overseas.  Also given the length of time that the Syrian Civil War has been going on I'm betting it was imported to the area specifically for this purpose.  Generally Syria is a complete friggin disaster and I don't see too many common Syrian folk looking to rapidly import an American heavy duty truck and then leaving someone's English language logo on the truck to drive around downtown Damascus.  ISIS is about the only people in the MidEast not caring what negative attention they draw to themselves.  What's that mean then?  It means the truck was likely purchased at auction in the States, moved to Mexico and shipped to the MidEast with the specific intent to act as a support vehicle in the conflict.  I would wonder if there isn't a big stream of American trucks heading over there.  ISIS is flush with millions of stolen and oil derived dollars.  They are likely shut out from the typical arms markets but shipping big American trucks doesn't draw near as much attention and from the years of video we've seen of airstrikes in the Mideast we've seen if there is one thing we know they aren't short on over there its anti-aircraft guns and ammunition--so seeking to mount a bunch of these cannons that are useless against a generally non-existent air enemy is a logical move.

Just gotta make sure my Nissan doesn't end up over there!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Weekend Offroad Sports Stats....

Adding to my ongoing reference of major broadcast TV ratings for various offroad racing events I think I'm going to try and begin referencing recent offroad racing events (primarily desert racing and stage rally) and look at some key items such as entry lists, entry costs, length of race, $ per racing mile cost and what, if any, major media coverage was present or forthcoming.

The first of these comes from this past weekend when you had both Rally America and NASA Rally with smaller, regional style events and you had the season ending BITD Henderson 250 out in Nevada.  All were geographically distinct enough not to draw competitors from one another, though at least one Show Me Rally competitor had originally entered the Rally Florida event before switching events.

The Show Me Rally saw a fair amount of change over its comparable '13 event.  Moving to a later date, changing locations and name, new roads and more still saw similar entry numbers to last year, while overall stage mileage and a $100 increase in entry fees (in all cases entry fees are based upon the LOWEST possible fee at each event) were also present.

The NASA event was the new Rally Florida down at the flatland of the FIRM and drew 15 entries (nearly half of which DNF'd which I found surprising given the assumed lack of major trees and rocks there!)  at 60 stage miles in length this was a full single day event and hopefully sets the stage (pun intended) for the FIRM to host a full points paying event in '15 as stated on the facilities website.  I just hope that FL isn't too far away from the majority of Rally drivers in the US and can draw a higher entry count...still, the $5400 minimum in entry fees (likely significantly higher as certainly not all entries here were of the "early" variety and thus qualifying for the lowest fee) is on par with what the Perryville Farm and Forest Rally brought in the year before and should bode well for the continuation of this race.

Lastly there is the Henderson 250.  The desert event saw UTVs move into the same race as the more limited cars, trucks and buggies vs. being thrown in with the bikes and quads as they were in previous years.  Regardless, the entry numbers for the more limited racers appear to have declined from '13.  Without access to the supplemental forms from '13 I can't determine if there has been a price increase that might have caused this.  Moving forward we'll try and track race to race and year to year trends for the various series.  At $600 a pop for the more limited classes you have about $33K in income for BITD from just the two lap (each of 80 miles) classes.

If you have any recommendations as to other simple info items to add to this breakdown or other feedback I'd love to hear it as I'm not racing the overwhelming majority of these events and don't know what info might be most useful to racers/participants.

Rally America:
Show Me Rally 2014--22 entries, $350, 47 Stage miles in length, No TV or Internet coverage, $7.5 per mile

(somewhat comparable event with similar organizers, location, sanctioning)  Perryville Farm and Forest Rally--23 entries, $250, 36 Stage miles in length, $6.9 per mile

NASA Rally:

Rally Florida at the FIRM--15 entries, $360, 60 Stage miles in length, Spike Channel's Offroad Extreme program was there filming the race for an upcoming broadcast, $6 per mile

(no comparable historical event, new event for 2014)

BITD Desert Race:
Henderson 250--$600, 55 entries in the classes running two laps, 160 Race course miles in total length, Broadcast on MavTV on 1/19/15 at 9:30PM Pacific, $3.8 per mile

2013 Henderson 250--61 entries in the classes running two laps

Much of the drop in the limited class entries is attributed to the competition of a MORE Toys For Tots desert race in Barstow, CA this same weekend and drew 70 entries itself--though this occurred in '13 as well when there were 54 entries at the MORE Holiday 200.

So if anything, you might say that there was a shift in the limited classes AWAY from BITD and TOWARDS the MORE series event.  In 2014 it appears that the limited class racers PREFERRED to run the MORE event vs. the BITD race.  In all however it was a net gain for the limited classes between these two events with 115 entries of this type in '13 between the two events and 125 entries in '14, an increase of near 9%.

Flim Review: Snowpiercer

During my time in my youth as a clerk at the Canyon Ranch Resort in Lennox, MA I had the unfortunate pleasure of bumping into one of the Weinstein brothers of film and TV fame.  Whether it was Harvey or Bob matters not.  They (he) was a fat dink then and he's a fat dink now.  Only now they own The Weinstein Company vs. Miramax which they founded and sold to Disney.  In either case the Weinstein slobs have a habit of requiring major edits to Asian films they acquire the rights to or drastically curtailing their distribution in the West.

So it was with Snowpiercer.  Though an English language film staring Chris Evans, it was directed by a Korean and was based off of an early 80's French comic.  For whatever reason the Weinstein's chose to play games with this most excellent movie.  They demanded major edits of the film with additional voiceovers at the beginning and end of the film likely in an attempt to make it more suitable for American tastes...which is odd given the number of decidedly independent and quirky films the Weinsteins have backed in their career (Clerks, Pulp Fiction, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Kids, Heavenly Creatures, etc.)  Fortunately the Korean director, Bong Joon-ho, refused their demands and kept the film as is--which is likely why the Weinsteins then refused to give the film the wide release it deserved, limiting it to some 150 very small, obscure theaters in its initial release and then sending it on to the Home audience via NetFlix and DVDs.

Thankfully a few people in the sci-fi world saw the film and have been singing its praises since.

It took me about the first half hour of the film to warm (pun intended) up to Snowpiercer.  It begins slowly and the special effects are initially not the best that money can buy.  That said, the premise of the film is what drew me in.  Not to say that its realistic, but it sure is interesting.  Virtually the entire population of the Earth has died out due to man's attempt to reverse global warming that has lead to a ice encased planet that is now too cold to live on.  All that remains is a few hundred or thousand individuals aboard an ever moving train that circles the earth once every 365 days.

Aboard this train the population is stratified by class.  The wealthy and powerful live in the front cars of the train and exist in comfort and ease.  The poor and unwanted live at the rear, existing on jello "protein bars" made from well, its not people but its supposed to be just as revolting.  The plot then revolves around an uprising lead by Chris Evans' character "Curtis" who along with his fellow rear train inhabitants have tired of being told what and how to exist.  Watching the progression from the rear to the front of the train as conditions improve and both the rear-trainers and the audience learn just what comforts those in the front have been partaking of is great theater.  The action scenes are excellent and you don't get the "claustrophobic" feeling you might get expect from a film that takes place in such a tight environment (just the opposite in fact, you end up forgetting the action takes place entirely within a train at times).  The story also has a few nice twists to keep it from being a straightforward thriller and makes you reassess the motivations of a number of characters.

There are traces here of your classic futuristic dystopian films and books--1984, Brazil, etc. but the material is definitely fresh and does not feel derivative.   Tilda Swinton is nearly unrecognizable and will get a good deal of Best Supporting Actress buzz for her role as "Mason" the train's second in command and will be the most memorable part of the film for most, I spent much time wishing that she had MORE screentime despite the "evil" of her character.

No self respective fan of Sci-Fi should miss this film.  Its worth nearly every moment.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Nissan Returning to Super Bowl Advertising Showing Titan and Murano

For almost 20 years Nissan has been absent from advertising during the Super Bowl.  It has now announced plans to return with one produced by advertising powerhouse TBWA/Chiat/Day for the '15 edition of the Super Bowl in early February next year.

Why now?  Well, because Nissan has its three flagship vehicles with redesigns/introductions coming to production in the '15 model year.  For crossovers you have the new Murano which has seen a very recent introduction as a '15 model, for sedans you have the '16 Maxima which is to be introduced in the first half of '15 and of course and perhaps the focus of this ad you have the production of the '16 Nissan Titan diesel for trucks at the January NY Auto Show.  Though none of these will be Nissan's sales leaders (the Rogue, the Altima and the Frontier will likely still lead their category sales in '15) these are the top offerings in each segment and represent the models Nissan hopes its customers aspire to when buying the less expensive models.

Nissan Returns to Super Bowl Advertising...