Monday, June 30, 2014

TV Review: True Detective

This is likely delayed from when most people actually saw the series, though without subscribing to HBO I had to wait till it came out on Netflix.  Given all the publicity the series got I am surprised I was able to stay away from any spoilers so I'll try and return the favor and not give away anything too much here.

Not that this series is one of those with a big twist at the end or a significant change in direction.  It doesn't.  In its simplest sense, True Detective is a fairly standard police procedural with two mismatched homicide detectives at its center.  From there however it moves in less typical directions.

The pacing, which is likely what has been criticized the most, is deliberate.  Not slow mind you but deliberate as a film like Silence of the Lambs is.  This may be too slow for people expecting a CSI like pace with the story wrapped up neatly in an hour.  Though I shouldn't necessarily disparage all viewers with such a broad brush as there are many quality long form dramatic shows in existence now--something that couldn't have been said 10 or so years ago.

The story itself centers around a number of murders seemingly connected by religion, politics and the Louisiana coastline.  If there is a third main character in this series it is Louisiana itself.  Hot, humid, decaying, trashy, destitute, racially charged storm ravaged, Louisiana exerts its influence in every scene.  From old, overgrown, 300 year old forts to sprawling industrial refineries to trailer parks buried deep in the woods, there is no scene here where you don't know you are in Louisiana.

Matthew McConaughey is the star here despite Woody Harrelson's extremely good work.  McConaughey is a nihilistic cop with a dark background including a long time undercover position and the death of a young daughter.  His hard turns had laid waste to his outlook on life leaving him viewing humanity as more of an accidental virus in need of extermination than anything worthwhile saving.  No matter how dark his outlook, you suspect that there is some glimmer of light at his core--afterall...if your outlook is truly that dark and your true view of humanity is of that as a committed anti-natalist then you should be first in line for carbon-monoxide sleepy train.  McConaughey has put forth some great performances of late and this stands right with Dallas Buyers Club.

Structure wise the series moves back and forth between the present and past as McConaughey and Harrelson's characters are interviewed by current investigators interested in a recent murder that bore similarities to the ones that they had thought solved more than a decade earlier.  Then when the interview concludes and brings the viewer up to date, it moves forward from there staying in the present.

There are numerous "cool" scenes in the series--the six minute long single take of McConaughey running through a series of Texas projects, the numerous stick figure paintings and models left behind by the killer, the whole "Who is the Yellow King?" meme, etc.  The initial season will live on as an influence on both TV and Film for quite some time as it helps continue to show that smart, dark, long form media is a viable product.  Just don't believe anyone who says that Rust (McConaughey's character) is a true nihilist.  While he might spout the dialogue worthy of one, the writers leave you with a great glimmer of light in the last two lines of the film which, if you really listen to and understand, recasts Rust's dialogue as of one of profound hurt and emotional anguish vs. one of a true pessimist.

If you have not seen this series and you at all consider yourself a consumer of intelligent fiction of any kind you are missing out and would be well served by viewing this eight episode series.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Film Review: Flags of Our Fathers

This is about as ambivalent to a film as I get.  Well crafted, well acted, a good story that educates its audience and questions authority in a way that you hardly notice it.  So what's wrong with it?

Well, there's no real tension in it.  We know the flag on Iwo Jima was raised, we learn early on in the film that those in the famous photograph are not the ones who originally raised it and were just "re-raising" it on a series of silly orders from a commanding officer.

Watching the surviving soldiers be paraded in front of the American public on a cross-country, whistlestop tour promoting the sale of US Bonds to fund the war effort just isn't a story that draws me in--though certainly portraying the US as being on the verge of bankruptcy and about to sue for peace with Japan because we couldn't afford any more equipment is something that I am unfamiliar with.

I do remain interested in watching the "sequel" to this film "Letters from Iwo Jima" which tells the story of the battle from the Japanese side.  On the face of it, the story of an overwhelmed force defending the island to the death and the courage showing the battle movements and how it unfolded greatly interests me.  Maybe this is what I missed in Flags of Our was far more about the generally mundane events surrounding a promotional tour driven by a photograph than it was about the battle itself.  Perhaps I was looking for more "action" and didn't get it as what battle scenes there were seemed rather dry.

I have no major complaints about it and no great praise for it.  It stirred no emotion or excitement.  I can't really spend any more time talking about it as I don't have much to say...its like elevator music...its just, there.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Nissan S/T

This was the magazine advertisement for one of the first "Nissan" trucks sold here in the US.  It had "luxuries" like cloth seats and power steering and 15" wheels!!  Please note that this was right at the changeover in the Datsun/Nissan name--so much so that the advertisement directs consumers to go to their local Datsun dealer in order to purchase this Nissan.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

NORRA Mexican 1000--Part 2(c) we are off to our third day of racing.  The good news is that with the prior days success and 175 stage miles under the tires of the race truck we know that a full tank of gas will get us through any stage without pitting.  The lack of any mechanical issues during the events longest stage gave us great confidence as to its ability to operate in this environment.  With a night's sleep in A/C, a clean and modern hotel and some decent breakfast in our stomachs, things were looking up...

Of course an hour or so of an improving mood was too much and we are back between the grindstones in short order.  While our General Tire A/Ts looked almost brand new we noticed a large screw in the tread of a rear tire and knew we needed to make a change.  So off comes the bad tire and a front tire to swap to the rear.  The spare that was being placed on the front was mounted on a different wheel than what was on the rest of the vehicle--no biggie...except that the difference in offset and wheelspacer on the spare wheel/tires require open lugs in order to seat against the wheel...and....I didn't pack any open lugs so we can't put the wheel on truck and we are left with the option of trying to run on a tire with a giant screw in it or try and track down some open lugs.

Elliott I can tell is about at the end of his rope with my and my nonchalant planning/preparedness and wanders off, likely to keep himself from throwing a punch at me.  Tim retreats to the inside of the van to leave the disaster to me to handle and Paul remains his usual upbeat self, not letting anything shake him.  Me?  I am in period of self loathing, asking how I could be so stupid and feeling like I had let everyone down.

Fortunately Elliott and Paul track down a local auto supply store a few blocks away and run off to grab a few sets of open lugs (the front bolt thread pitch is different from the rear so having a couple sets of proper open lugs is best) and I try and prepare the truck to quickly swap the tires upon their return.  Paul and Elliott return with the lugs and we get the proper wheels/tires on and Elliott and Tim take off in the race truck to find the start of the second of the day's stages (again, due to the late arrival and last minute obstacles we have decided to only try and run the later of the day's stages).

Paul and I take the "screwed" tire to a local shop and get it plugged so that we keep our # of spares sufficient.  We head out of town shortly after looking to meet the race truck at a road crossing about 1/2 way through the stage.  We have a loooong day of driving ahead of us just to reach the road crossing...we're talking like 6+ hours just to get to the half way point of the second stage.  The day is again filled with lengthy road construction resulting in near brownout conditions from the dust and seemingly endless straightaways.  We do however reach the aforementioned road crossing in fair shape and sit down to await our drivers with some burritos from the roadside family shack located here.  We watch other vehicles cross and wait...and wait...

Then we begin making inquiries as to if anyone knows what has occurred to our team hoping someone has had radio contact with them.  "Hey" says a course worker, "I think I took some photos of that truck when it crossed the road a while ago!"  Sure enough, looking through his digital files our drivers had actually passed the road crossing BEFORE we even arrived!  Here we are sitting here eating our burritos and relaxing while our guys went through the area an hour or more ago and were out there racing.

Well, Paul and I take this as good news...the race truck must be running well if it made it here that quick and just kept on going.  We hop in the van and begin sprinting down the road hoping that we can catch our guys as they come out on the other end some hour or more down the road.  By the time we reach the other end of the stage the sun is about to set and none of the course workers here have seen our truck.  Then we begin hearing radio transmissions from race controllers that there are up to a dozen or more vehicles stuck in a series of silt beds shortly after the road crossing we had just left.  We wait, and wait and then find out that our truck had stopped in that silt bed area and ceased any movement.  Oh, boy...with a giant van with only 2WD and a trailer we have absolutely zero way to get to them, let alone retrieve them.  Remember...this is Mexico and Baja racing...driving out onto a hot race course is perfectly fine here.  No need to wait till the course is deemed "clear", afterall these are public roads that are never shut.

So we are faced with a dilemma, we are a tad low on gas and the nearest gas station is over an hour away, in the opposite direction from the road crossing we hope to get back to.  Do we spend more than two hours just getting gas before we even begin looking for our guys or do we risk running out of gas in the middle of nowhere (there are NO gas stations for multiple hours in the direction the road crossing requires) but begin looking for our boys right away.  Paul and I decide to take the risk and figure it out as we go and head after Elliott and Tim.  It takes us about an hour to get back to the general area of the road crossing where we hope to pick up the race course and get as close to them as possible and discover what has happened.  We find a couple of roadside stores/houses/shacks that have their lights on and we pop our heads in with Paul using his Spanish to inquire as to the particular road the course is located on.  We grab some additional water and supplies and ask if there is any gas around (as we are running very low now).  We are directed to a local farmer down the road who is known to have some gas in containers for his personal use.  Upon arriving at his house Paul inquires as to the availability of gas and the farmer agrees to supply us with some at a somewhat inflated price.  Gas siphoned into van by blowing into the top of a large container of gas held higher than the gas tank and now tube running to it, we are just about back on the road when a truck with some gringo faces hanging out the windows pulls up.

Come to find out, these NORRA workers had been told to look out for a big Ford van as it might be a couple guys looking for their race truck and drivers.  They had passed us while we were fueling up roadside with the farmer, noticed the van and swung back on the off chance they could talk to us.  Turns out they had left Tim and Elliott just a little while ago a little further up the road where they were located with the race truck!  Paul and I speed off down the highway, our hopes rising now knowing we won't have to search the desert in the dark for our compatriots, nor have to worry about somehow recovering the race truck.

We arrive on scene to find Elliott and Tim waiting and smiling--thank god.  The hood of the truck is off and obviously not running.  We greet and embrace looking to hear just what had happened.  Yes, they had been running well, crossed the road and kept going as they had plenty of gas.  The roads had been beautiful and fast, stage rally type roads that they had made great time on.  Things went downhill quickly however when they hit the silt beds.  Running down a small incline and into the silt a huge wave of the fine powder crests over the hood and windshield of the truck, blotting out all visibility and rapidly pulling the truck to a halt.  In the process of the rapid deceleration the Nissan's engine somehow throws its serpentine belt which rapidly becomes chewed to pieces in the fan.  Without a spare and deep in the silt things looked fairly hopeless--that is, until "luck" takes over and located at this spot (obviously aware of the likely result of numerous vehicles trying to run through the silt) is an individual with a tractor.  Words are exchanged between Elliott and the tractor owner and the tractor pulls the truck out.  Without a serpentine belt the engine isn't going to be doing much of anything.  Some redneck engineering places a series of shoestrings in place of the shredded belt and gets the truck a short distance before that fails as well.  I am a tad fuzzy on the remaining details on Tim and Elliott's remaining trip back to the main road but I believe another competitor's crew or similar flat towed the race truck back to where we now found it.

I may not have supplied the race truck with a spare serpentine belt itself but we did carry one in the van so we conduct some quick field repairs and in short order the truck is back running just fine.  We joke that they can go back and try the silt again and finish the stage but we know that this day too is over for us from a racing perspective.  Driving on the highway with the race truck behind us we travel a few more hours, getting into La Paz quite late again...11??  Midnight??  Later???  We park our vehicles and again crash into our hotel room.

Get Me This Cessna!

Normally when I think of Cessna I don't think of sexy military planes.  This new offering changes my perspective.  In truth its not really a Cessna, its made by Textron, the parent company of Cessna and is being marketed to countries like Switzerland and others with aging fleets of expensive fighter jets that may not have much of a purpose.  When you are only doing border patrols, disaster response and recon with very limited military applications (as is the case with most Northern European countries and other minimal conflict first world countries) you don't need upgraded F-16s or near current generation fighters--nor their associated cost.

So what is developed here is a low cost, low maintenance airframe that will do (reportedly) 90% of what a high end Western fighter jet will do including air to ground operations.  Dubbed the Scorpion Multirole Jet, its air to air capability appears limited without air to air radar and A2A missile capability though I'm sure in the future that will be an "option".  To me it looks a bit like a fixed wing version of the F-14 with the large canopy, dual seating and canted stabilizers.

Regardless, I could see a big market in countries like Columbia, Brazil, and most of South America and Africa and Southeast Asia as customers as well.  Counter insurgency and other low impact conflicts would seem custom made for the application of this jet.  Put a few of these together with a few Super Tucano's and you've got the start of a great little private air force....

Scorpion Jet....

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Film Review: Dallas Buyers Club

A film about an oil working, drug using, rodeo aficianado, man whore who contracts AIDS through his promiscuity and then partners with a cross-dressing heroin addict to bring unapproved drugs to the primarily homosexual community in Texas during the mid 80s in an attempt to both prolong their own lives and turn a dime seems like an odd effort for me to enjoy.  But...well...there it is...

Dallas Buyers Club mixes a bunch of great elements to create a truly enjoyable film.  Foremost is Matthew McConaughey's performance.  He is truly skeletal in his appearance having lost a ton of weight for the role and he is perfect for an obstinate Texas redneck who is a better person than he gives himself credit for.  Yeah, this kind of the "hooker with a heart of gold" cliche, but it works here, likely because the situation and story is unique.

Jared Leto nearly steals the show in his supporting role as Rayon the transvestite.  He owns the role and deservedly won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for it.

Both of these actors have an enormous amount of charm and charisma which keeps you from thinking about any of the unsavory aspects of the story which remain below the surface throughout.  Which is also a great credit to the director.  It could have been a brutally depressing tale of death, disease and failure or it could have been a tedious examination of the reasons for and against the importation or slow approval of various drugs to target the AIDS virus.  Instead its a relatively uplifting story under quite depressing circumstances.

The only major negative in the film I found was the performance of Jennifer Garner.  She plays the role of both of the male character's doctor and confidant.  Unfortunately she is too pretty, too modern and too soft spoken to fit the role.  When the camera turns on McConaughey I believe I'm looking at an AIDS ridden cowboy.  When it turns on Jared Leto, I believe I'm looking at a drug addled transvestite.  When it turns to Garner??  I immediately think of her as Ben Affleck's wife who appeared on the cover of US Magazine recently and who looks like she just stepped off the set of her latest Cover Girl makeup shoot.

In the end maybe others have critiqued it for glossing over the ugliness of the situation the characters found themselves in--facing a wasting death, harsh discrimination, lack of medical options, etc. but not all films can wallow in the dark and sometimes being the attractive sister is the best way to get your message out there.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mexico Route 1 "Euro" Stickers

Introducing the first real product from NISMOStuff Racing.  Not exactly a hardcore fabrication product but after racing down the Baja in this years NORRA 1000 I knew I had to have these made.

Anyone who has driven Mexico 1 down the Baja Peninsula knows exactly what I'm talking about.  Military checkpoints, agricultural checkpoints, scores of dead bodies both animal and sometimes human, rampaging 18 wheelers, never ending construction zones, incredible roadside taco stands, friendly locals, slide-rule straight sections of highway, non-existent breakdown lanes, mangled guardrails, turquoise blue waters--there is nothing like it.

When I got home I knew I wanted something on my daily driver commemorating the trip and representing the difficulties involved in just traveling that road.  So I looked online...there a handful of places that sell similar Mexico Route 1 vinyl stickers for vehicles but none seemed to use the correct font or design to appear authentic.  So the above was designed and I had the result printed at a local car wrap facility using quality 3M vinyl.  The stickers are 5"s by 3.75"s.

I am selling them at this point for $5 inclusive of shipping to anywhere in the continental US.  The simplest way to purchase one or more is simply send me your mailing address along with an appropriate Paypal payment to:

They will ship the next business day after any order.  If Paypal doesn't work for you, just drop me a line at the same email address and I'm sure we can work something out (Square, Venmo, paper check, etc.)  Get your Mexico Route 1 vehicle sticker now--either for yourself or to hand out to the ever rabid Baja "steeker hunters"!!

Throwback Thursday: Jumping 510

I know the photographer of this photo sometimes comes by the site so perhaps he can ID who the driver of this car is and where it may be now.  Likely Jerry took this at an upper midwestern stage rally about 5-10 years ago.  The road is either a VERY smooth dirt road or a tarmac event which would be rare I think in the Rally America series.  Regardless...great car...great shot.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dakar Vets Bring New Electric Tesla To Pike's Peak...

After finishing the '12 Dakar and becoming the first electric (at least in part) vehicle to do so the OSCar eO team turned its attention to North America.  In '13 they brought a custom electric hillclimb car and did not have the best of luck...You can see the recovery of the vehicle in the video below:

Not willing to give up on finishing Pike's Peak, they have returned in '14 with a new vehicle.  This time the platform is that of a Tesla Roadster--a car known more for looking incredible than performing incredibly.  The OScar eO team has replaced the stock Tesla driveline with a more powerful, liquid cooled, electric motor but remains RWD and is now motivated by a 360kW twin motor system (equating to 500 HP) and a 40 kWh battery pack and an overall weight of 1060 kg.

This will be the Tesla platform's major motorsports debut though it is not likely to take a win within its electric vehicle division as it will be running in what is essentially an unlimited class due to the drivetrain change. The class itself seems to be growing annually and now is up to seven entries including two production models (Honda Fit EV and Toyota Rav4 EV) and multi time Pike's champion Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima.  The team website can be found here:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

NORRA Mexican 1000--Part 2(b)

So we left the team and I on a beach in Bahia de Los Angeles on the East Coast of the Baja peninsula the morning after our first race day that ended in a broken tierod and upper control arm after 95 miles.

Not reaching our "hotel" and bedding down till after 2AM and feeling utterly exhausted, we knew we would be in no condition to begin racing that following morning and so we decided to take the day's first stage (136 miles in length) off and try and recoup ourselves physically and mentally to tackle the event's longest stage of 175 miles in the afternoon/evening.  It was already apparent that we were woefully underprepared in terms of our chase/recovery vehicle, scheduling, spare parts, mental reserves, etc.  Our goal now had changed from finishing the entire event to merely trying to finish a single stage each day, using the morning hours when we should have been racing to make sure both our vehicle and ourselves were as prepared as we could make them.

So while the other teams had gotten out on the race course, we sat down with our maps and tried to plan out where we could refuel the vehicle during the stage and grabbed some food and water from what seemed to be the only store in town.  Now Bay of LA is not exactly a bustling metropolis.  If you want to make a call you should probly have a satellite phone as cell service is non-existent.  There are no banks, no ATMs and no locations (either gas or otherwise) that take credit cards for payment.  Not good for a group of guys who were running low on Pesos and had a full day of travel to somehow get through.  The single grocery store in town filled us up on bottled water and snacks for the day and look!  Low and behold, behind the counter was what looked like a little swipe machine!  Too bad the woman at the counter had never used it before as the device was brand new to the store.  She fumbled through the transaction, I signed a piece of paper and we left.

Sitting at a table discussing our plans a few blocks away, our conversation is interrupted 20 minutes or so later by the counter worker arriving in a fast moving SUV.  She jumps out and runs over to me saying something in Spanish.  After some minimal translation I understand that what I signed at the store was actually a rejection receipt and not a confirmation and she and the store's male owner were under the belief that I had been attempting to "steal" the $30 worth of supplies we had taken.  I agree to return to the store and settle up using a different card and the more knowledgeable male swipes me through correctly this time.

On the move again we head out of town in separate vehicles.  Myself and Elliott in the chase van and Tim and Paul in the race truck.  Just the transit to get to the start of the second stage of the day is an adventure.  Massive construction zones, road stoppages for cliff blasting, and beautiful ocean views all pass before we get near the start in San Ignacio.  Along the way we realize that there is no physical way for us to service the race truck at any point on the 175 mile stage.  There is simply no road that the van can traverse that will reach the race course.  If we had started out as the chase team about a half a day ahead of the racers we could have transited around the Southern end of the course and approached it from Western side where better roads were present but at this point, time did not give us that option.

So plans change on the fly and as 175 miles is outside of what I considered the range of the vehicle under stage rally what to do??  Well, we do the only thing we can think of...we ratchet strap two five gallon race jugs into the bed of the truck and wish Tim and Paul well (after a delay at the San Ignacio gas station when they experience a power loss for a period of about a half hour...).  We express to the drivers on this day that they are on their own, without a net.  We're out of or never had significant spare parts, we'll be out of contact with them, night is falling while they are out there and due to our late start, there likely won't be many peoples behind them coming along--other than that, go out there and have fun!

Elliott and I have a great time wandering our way down Route 1, marveling at the near suicidal downhill, canyon carving it does into Mulege, disgusted by the oceanside landfill blowing its refuse in a constant stream of plastic bags into the ocean, loving the incredible roadside tacos (again) and stunned by the ancient volcanic landscapes and endless unpopulated valleys.  We arrive at the end of the 175 mile stage and park.  The only thing we can do now is wait and hope our boys come out the other end.  The sun is gone and we can see the lights of each vehicle from miles away as they approach the finish.

After a wait of about a half hour I return to the race truck to make my first attempt at communicating with Tim/Paul by radio.  I am stunned when on my first attempt I get a response from Tim saying they are only a few miles from the finish!  Truly after my disaster the previous day I had little hope that the truck would finish the longest stage of the event.  But there they are a few minutes later, crossing the stage finish.  At 175 miles it was longer than any FULL stage rally even in the States and they had done it non-stop, unsupported over some incredible terrain.  They had passed a number of vehicles on stage at speed yet taken their time, stopping for some 15 minutes to perform a driver change so that each individual would get some time behind the wheel.  They had taken incredible care of their equipment, babying it through the rocks and ruts.  We are all rightfully proud of this run--but its late...again.

We transit into Loreto finding that because of our late start time and generally slow speed of our vehicle that while we finished, the daily party was already over, the food and drinks all gone, most of the racers retired to their rooms.  The team sits for a moment, grabs a drink and then moves to our room, once again not bedded down till after 1AM.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Film Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

I seem to have a love-kinda uninterested/bored relationship with Mr. Scorsese.  This is probably a sacrilegious statement to most film critics who consider Marty to be the best US director working today and for the past few decades.

I'm torn on his works however.  I never cared much for Goodfellas but loved Taxi Driver and The Departed.  Maybe its the voiceovers of the amoral characters in Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street that I couldn't enjoy.  Unlike Taxi Driver where you are merely watching the loathsome individual from the outside, in Wolf and Fellas you are asked to partner with and empathize with the protagonist who in each case is a fairly poor excuse for a human being.  Because of this I felt little interest in either and certainly wasn't invested in what happened to either main character.

Wolf is a well put together film as all Scorsese films are and there is no nitpicking that.  Its a sharp and beautiful film for what it captures on screen. Problem is, much of it is derivative and done better elsewhere.

For portraying scams and trading penny stocks on the backs of retirees, I prefer Boiler Room while the abusive, drug using husband, we can again go back to Goodfellas.  We also have the now getting tiresome use by Scorsese of various popular songs and music artists to key us in to moods, locations and timeframes--OK, we get it're know good, modern music.  You've been bashing us over the head with your musical tastes for 30+ years now, its getting old.

DiCaprio is his usual solid self and certainly brings energy to the role of Jordan Belfort, a phenomenal Wall Street salesman who built a fortune on the backs brokers he trained to sell high commission garbage stocks to those who could least afford to buy them.  His cocaine, booze, hooker, cash fueled lifestyle was legendary through the 80s and 90s and he nearly got his firm mainstream.  He eventually went to jail for his deeds.  In the middle of all this he fathered some kids, got divorced twice, did a ton of drugs, had a ton of sex, and blew a ton of money--whooopeee....I seriously don't care.

Jonah Hill has the secondary role here and got much of the praise coming into the film.  He is more annoying than anything here and mostly a coke fueled version of his usual schlubbly self.  He got his lifelong wish to act for Marty but I don't see this gaining him many more quality roles.

So all in all??  A pretty film that is quite flashy and has a good deal on the surface but nothing of import underneath...Much like the cliche of what the 80s (where the majority of the film takes place) were in general...

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Lego 510

We've featured a number of Lego creations in this blog in the past and we've done a few Throwback Thursday postings in the past.  Now we've combined the two!

A beautiful Datsun 510 in BRE livery with accurate decals and logos.  Lego has announced that it will produce in a real world kit form, the original Mini.  It would be cool if they made a limited run of other cars as well--particularly this one!

BRE Lego 510...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

June 11th...The Next Era In Nissan Trucks Arrives...

Nissan has begun hyping its pickup history of late and it has revealed that they will reveal the next generation Nissan Frontier on June 11th.  The video below every so briefly covers Nissan's 80 year pickup history and closes with the shot of the new vehicle under a sheet.  You can see the new LED headlights and the standard Nissan "V" grille.  Also seen are a roof rack system of some kind and an almost bowtie shaped shadow on the lower front grille that I am unsure of...

The big news is that it will be in showrooms (at least Australian showrooms, manufactured in Thailand I do believe) either at the very end of '14 or the very beginning of '15.  Hopefully that means it will be here in the States at the same time as well.  My poor '09 will no longer look like a "modern" Nissan truck...oh, well...maybe I can tow it around with a new Cummins Diesel Frontier!

Monday, June 2, 2014

NORRA Mexican 1000--Part 2(a)

Ah yes, where were we??  Oh, yes...just prior to the start of the race...Did I mention I gently ran the van into a pair of stanchions in the garage underneath our hotel in Ensenada when being yelled at in Spanish that I couldn't park where I just had, denting both the side of the van and the driver's door making the window exceedingly difficult to raise or lower??  Or that we spent quite a bit of time running around Ensenada trying to find a 2GB or smaller flash card with which to download the GPS files for the race course and were finally gifted such a card by Dennis Chairez, an Ensenada resident known to our most experienced Baja racer, Paul Hartl.

So Elliott Sherwood and I are up relatively early and geared up and ready to go on race day while Paul and Tim Meunier are off in the van with the extra gas and gear and heading down the road to try and find the part of the race course where it comes back and hits Highway 1 after 100+ miles in order to provide any service we may need.  We aren't in radio communication at this point as we are quickly separated by miles and terrain too large to broadcast over.  We start the day near the tail end of the 130 or so "car" entries of the event.  I snicker to myself as I see some other competitors in the garage still working on their cars right before the race..."Ha, at least I'm not breaking out the grinding wheel already!"  Sooooo stupid....

I share a few words with Darren Skilton and David Bensadoun, both driving Dakar spec vehicles and men with whom I have little business being alongside.  Within the race are other drivers I have no business sharing a race with including Walker Evans, Andy Grider, Bob Gordon, Bruce Meyers, Tim Herbst, etc., etc.  Multiple time Dakar entrants, multiple time Baja 500/1000 champions...yup, I'm here...a know nothing "kid" from New Hampshire, ready to show the world what I've got...

Uhhhh, yeah, not so much...The transit out of Ensenada is simple enough and just like a really long transit in a typical Rally back home...except here Stop signs are merely a suggestion, red lights more like yield signs and the city roads strewn with dead animals (and dead people on occasion) and locals seemingly playing a game of chicken with every passing vehicle.  Still, with the race started I am a lot more relaxed.  This at least I am familiar with...dirt roads, rocks, trees...this I can deal with.

A quick piss on the side of the road--no way I'm making it 100+ miles without pissing my pants after drinking this much water--and we're off.  The notes for the stage are a ridiculous, never ending stream of triple and double cautions.  Oh and that cliff of death??  That doesn't rate even as a single caution or even a notation.  Drive what you see becomes the most common direction given as you can literally go miles between notations pointing out the next intersection--all those ditches, rocks, cacti, cliffs, dropoffs, inclines, washouts??  Make up your intentions as you go....make a decision on the move, no prior notice given.

Oh, and yeah, about the may be a "race" course in name but in truth its an open public road on which you are doing things you would NEVER dare think about back home.  Take your dumbest moments "testing" your vehicle on your local backroad thinking "Hey, I can run this road at speed, I've run it 1000 times and there is never anyone on it except old Bob and I know old Bob goes to church at 10AM every Sunday so I know I'm not going to meet any other traffic..."  Now take that and throw it out the window cause you don't know anyone here and they don't care that you are racing on their local roads and most certainly their livestock doesn't care that you are racing on their local roads.  So right away Elliott and I are shaking our heads as we are rounding corners at my maximum speed into oncoming cars and trucks...after a couple times it seems somewhat normal and you give it little thought that back home they'd shut down the whole damn race if a single car was seen on stage at the same time as a racer....As they say....Its Mexico....its just different here.

The roads themselves are spectacular.  Truly.  Nothing back home comes close.  Long flat gravel straights lasting miles followed by 180 degree turns down a 45 degree washout into a sharp uphill battle through a streambed followed by a three mile run down a single lane road paralleled by 10 foot high fence posts strung together with barbed wire (seriously??  I'm doing close to 70+ down this road where a three foot twitch of the truck would have me picking rusted steel out of my skull for the next year??  Its beautiful but I can't believe I'm doing this...)

Ah, and then there's the ocean...the racecourse runs out to the ocean and parallels it for long sections running only yards from the crashing sea.  The scenery becomes so distracting that Elliott and I are spending more time oooing and ahhhing about what we are seeing that actual stage notes.  Our site seeing is interrupted by other racers on occasion...we sit in the dust of a class 9 buggie for what seems like forever but what was actually only a mile or two (in Stage Rally if you get caught you kindly pull over immediately, not so much here) as we close and then back off a number of times trying to give them the hint that we'd like to pass...but our nice style of passing from back home (with the car being passed pulling over, nicely out of the way and to a near full stop) just ain't gonna happen here and we pass at full speed on what felt like a single lane road running the driverside out in the ditches and brush trying not to punt the little buggie off into the cacti.  Damn this is crazy...  We do our best to pull way over and out of the way whenever we are caught--those old Broncos that catch us are HUGE and all soft fiberglass there.

We settle into what feels like a nice pace and reel off the god, we've run 90 miles already??  That is as long or longer than some of our full races back home and we're not even close to 1/2 way done with the first day!

Then disaster...or as near to it as I have ever experienced in stage rally to date.  At about mile 95 we turn left around a rather casual bend at a fair speed and right there is a kid on a bike riding towards me down the course.  I point the kid out to Elliott and we both focus trying not to hit him and suddenly I notice what is surely his younger brother walking down the course towards us on the left hand side with seemingly no interest in jumping out of the way.  We slow, but do not stop having gotten used to seeing people, animals, and vehicles on the course, now taking it a bit in stride.  There is a right hander coming up and our focus is still on the kids on the left.  We pass them safely but before I can feel relief, I have missed noticing the very large, very rough and rocky ditch on the inside of the right hand turn and drop the front passenger side wheel into said ditch.  Before I can blink or even notice what I've done, that ditch grabs and twists that wheel sharply back and to the right.  There is a large bang and the truck plows straight forward through the sand without steering response and quickly comes to a halt.  A flat?  Nope.  The front passenger tie rod has separated at the socket (which is still attached to the steering rack) from the ball (which is still attached to the "rod" and the wheel/tire).

A few expletives and Elliott's inquiry as to if we have a spare tire rod ("Yes, Elliott, we do...its in the service van of course!") and we are left trying to figure out what to do.  Ratchet straps and some manual force do not do the job of either securing the wheel into a stable position and our spirits begin sinking.

As I would find to be the case whenever and wherever we broke during the event, the locals (while the cause of some on course trouble) are more than happy to appear like ghosts out of the ether and lend a hand without fear of getting dirty or putting in hard work for little to no return.  In our case here it appears that the two young boys were part of an extended family who had come to spectate at the right hand turn where we broke.  Amongst them are three adult males of various ages (Grandfather, father and son?) who begin chattering away and trying to converse with Elliott in broken Spanish.  One of them quickly retrieves his family SUV, drives out onto the course and backs it up against the broken tire/wheel on our race truck.  The idea here being that if we can line up the ball and socket on the tie rod and exert enough force we can POP them back together in an opposite fashion to how they came apart from the ditch.  Cranking the wheel as hard as I can to the right and backing the SUV up into the wheel does the trick!!  It pops back together like Mel Gibson and his wonky shoulder in the Lethal Weapon movies!  We're back at it!  We take some photos with our new "heroes" and set off again in hopes of completing the last 16 or so miles to the highway where we can make a proper repair.

200 yards later from just a crawling speed and a bit of sand??  POP!!  That same tie rod performs its magic trick again and comes apart, now leaving us separated from our heroes and buried up to the lower control arm in some very soft sand.  Now we're screwed....I begin digging out the broken wheel from the sand by hand (nope, no shovel) and Elliott grabs some ratchet straps.  Going forward is no longer any thought in our mind...our hopes only surround being able to get out of the desert somehow.  Its about noon, very hot and very dry.

Somehow our "heroes" must have continued to watch/listen to our progress as a few minutes later as we are attaching our straps to the frame, the eldest of the three adult males and his likely grandson, show up on scene via a quad while other locals and their dogs begin arriving as if from inside the closest yucca plant and chitter away over our shoulders.  The eldest male, for some reason, carries with him a big old pot of grease of some kind (huh?!?!) and he begins slathering it all over and inside the socket of the tie rod.  Once stuffed like a thanksgiving turkey with grease we employ all our strength on the ratchet straps and crank on the steering wheel once again.  Again the tie-rod pops back together!  Now, however, we are resigned to our DNF for the day and just want to somehow limp the vehicle back along the access road this family had come in on and get in contact with our chase team with whom we have been unable to relay much of a message too.  The "Weatherman" flying relay in the sky knows that we are broken and trying to limp out but we have not received a message back from Paul and Tim.

We very gently back the race truck backwards down the course to the access road at some 5-10 mph and begin the slow ride toward the highway where we hope to figure out just where we are and what to do.  Oh!  Hey!!  Look!  The temp gauge on the truck is spiking and there is steam coming from the engine!!

Quickly we kill the engine and exit the vehicle to the sound and smell of superheated coolant spraying all over the engine bay and a pool of green in the dirt.  Well, well, well, now that went from bad to worse...So now we can only go a couple hundred yards at a time before the engine begins overheating and has to be shut down to cool.  We are quite crippled and are both wishing we had packed more personal water...

In the middle of this slow process up drives the 18 going on 50 boy who had assisted us twice already that day on his quad again.  This time he is alone but carries with him a large hammer and chisel (what?) which he immediately runs to the tie-rod with and promptly proceeds to smash down the socket around the ball.  Now we have a margin of comfort around the ability of this suspension component to stay together for the last few miles to pavement.  He and his grandfather make out with a handful of (unasked for) pesos, and a pair of (unoffered) vice grips and wire snips but its a small price to pay for their assistance.

Hope rising further still as a group of Idaho surfers driving a 4Runner and heading for town in search of some tacos for lunch come sweeping by our pathetic scene...  Using full surfer lingo "We were mobbing this and mobbing that!", they kindly offer to tow our vehicle to the highway where they remember a small auto repair garage being present.  Huzzah!

These searchers of the Endless Summer pull our vehicle in front of said garage and leave to find their tacos and waves.  Here we pull the hood and diagnose the coolant system with a large crack in a plastic fitting as the cause of our heating issues.  A hack saw and some metal tubing scavenged from unknown source in the garage proprietor's backyard along with a couple small hose clamps and purchased coolant solves this issue in full.

And look!  Its our chase team!  They got the relayed message that we were heading out to the highway and given there is only one highway they figured they were bound to find us and so they have.  The garage owner kindly allows us to pull the race truck into his shady outdoor facility and get to work on our suspension repairs.  A bit of work later and we have the new tie-rod installed and the truck looks like it can stand on its own...turning the wheel however reveals a problem as it binds and will not turn to the left hardly at all.  I immediately know what the issue is as I had the same problem when I tore the same suspension and tie-rod from the vehicle during a hill climb event a few years back.  The upper control arm on that same side has taken the full force of the ditch impact once the tie rod gave way and twisted badly causing the bind.

Wow!  What luck!  We have proceeded to break on Day 1 the only two parts on the vehicle for which I carry spares!  So off comes the UCA and on goes the new one.  Without a spring compressor we resort again to ratchet straps and without a spanner wrench we resort to a hammer and a flathead to turn the spring adjustment ring.  Much swearing and cursing is had and my frequent exclaims of "its in there!" when asked if we have a particular tool or not begin grating on everyone's nerves (as I don't actually know where the requested tool is, just that its in a bag or box or van in general).  We manage to get the job done with the help of some more locals who use a BFH with great effect on getting the new UCA and bolts back in its now slightly tweaked frame mounts.  We have a functional race truck again!

Our race for the day however is over as its now late afternoon and we have hundreds of miles to our hotel in Bahia de Los Angeles that need to now be covered in dusk and dark.  We stop at a roadside taco stand run by a great little family (seriously, why don't we have these every other block here in the States?) and have a great meal, well deserved all around.

Covering the remaining hours to Bahia de Los Angeles is no easy feat however, even with the trailer unloaded and the race truck driving separately.  This first experience with driving Highway 1 at night while being completely exhausted is something that will never leave me.  Multiple times I thought I would die from oncoming tractor trailers moving at 60+ mph and passing so close to the van or race truck that their compression wave would lift the windshield wipers right off the glass and audibly compress the driver's side window pane.  Somehow we made it to Bay of LA by about 1AM and some of the NORRA staff including Ed Pearlman were still awake tracking down missing race vehicles (of which I am glad we are no longer one).  We get some directions to Larry and Raquel's beach camp and arrive to a place where we can hear the waves crashing on the beach and feel the soft sand under our feet as we exit our vehicles.  We never do meet Larry or Raquel (who I learned had been gunned down in a highway driveby some years earlier) and merely crash into the first room we find with an open door and no one inside.  I feel fairly safe however as some other big teams (Aldo Racing for instance) are here and their crew are still working at this hour (sweeping sand from their tarps underneath their giant EZ Ups at 2AM...)

While the rudimentary room we have acquired has air conditioning and beds, I ask myself if I will ever again find myself on the Sea of Cortez under such a sea of stars as I find overhead.  I find that the answer is unlikely and proceed to grab a pillow and a blanket and head to the beach to sleep on the sand, the sound of waves in my ears.  I would return to my "hotel" room at about 5:30, my body now bereft of adrenaline and the air quite chilly...but glad I had fallen asleep staring up (literally, no joke) at some shooting stars and constellation patterns not quite where I am used to...