Monday, September 21, 2015

Volkswagen Scandal--Buying Opportunity??

Volkswagen got their hand caught in a VERY big cookie jar this weekend.  As the largest automaker in the world, VW certainly has the ability to shake off nearly any bad news or just pay bad news to go away.  It may not be big enough to make this disappear.  We've seen lots of recent bad news for automakers including the near bankruptcy of the entire US based segment, the shortage of production from Japan after the earthquake/tsumani, Toyota's massive recalls, and most recently, GM's coverup of airbag deaths.  All of these have represented buying opportunities for these companies' associated stock.

VW, if you haven't heard, purposefully installed sophisticated software in its US diesel vehicles to detect when emissions evaluating equipment is attached to the vehicle and then modify the data it produces to fool the emissions equipment into thinking it was up to 40 times less polluting than it actually was and then returns to normal data output when the emissions equipment is removed.  The difference between the items mentioned above and VW's case is that all of the above started with a mistake or natural disaster.  Even GM's woes are, at their core, starting with an engineering/design mistake, and by some low level associate at that.  With VW, modifying software to fool testing equipment is not likely to be just the flaw of a single engineer.  More likely is that it was a collaboration between sales, marketing, engineering, management, etc...a far more reaching "scandal" than the others. Mary Barra at GM has been barely touched by the deaths of some 150 people in the airbag issues....With VW, though no one has died (directly, though some might argue for "environment" deaths from additional pollution I suppose) management is unlikely to remain unscathed.

Already today there is talk of outright banning VW sales in the US, direct arrests of VW management, and the potential to fine VW up to $18B for this incident.  VW's stock has been brutalized this morning, falling some 20% and $6B in marketcap.

On a motorsports related item, VW has recently announced its purchase of the Red Bull F1 team in '16.  Given that buying and annual budgets for an F1 team are a multibillion dollar investment, might that end up on the chopping block?  VW has been a big backer and funder of WRC and has taken the championship there (at the cost of hundred of millions) for three years in a row, is it time to bail on that effort??  Might its US oriented support of teams in the Red Bull Global RallyCross series be in question??  When your company loses $6B overnight, its executives are potentially walking away in handcuffs, sales in one of its largest markets are likely to take a major hit and you face billion dollar fines and years of legal costs and wrangling, motorsports kind of fall into an area that is easily cut to focus on core operations.

Lastly, with the stock down 20% and the other companies above all representing great buying opportunities at the lows of their problems, is now the time to buy VW stock in hopes that the story doesn't have as big of a bite as it looks at first?  The stock was already off its recent high of $250 a share as recently as April of this year so this $33 decline to $130 at the moment just continues a recent trend and likely puts the stock into the oversold category.  The risk is that this isn't a localized issue, that these conspiracies have occurred elsewhere in VW's lineup or that the US government takes drastic action against the company or its management.  VW's primary market at this point is China, and China doesn't really care about pollution or what VW does with the US market but China's economy is slowing and won't provide as much support as it otherwise might have.  I'd stay away at this point.  I don't think this issue will be localized or not end up with VW executives on the nightly news doing a perp walk while VW sales in the US were already off more than 2% this year.  I don't think the stock has too much more of a downside but additional bad news is likely to prevent a significant upside.  Stay away.

Friday, September 4, 2015

NORRA Announces Dates, Payment Plan, New Classes and More...

NORRA (National Off-Road Racing Association) has sent out invitations to prior racers and announced a number of changes to vehicle classes amongst other changes.  Some of the racer beneficial changes include a payment plan starting this month so you can stretch the cost out over a long period of time.  One of the class changes includes the elimination of a "rally" class and now includes three Rally-Raid classes (I would imagine "Rally-Raid Production" would cover most stage rally vehicles) and divides vehicles into a number of categories based on age and eliminates an "overall" winner (though adds an "overall" winner for each age category).

I don't know (OK, I'm pretty sure I won't) if I will return to this race in '16 but it was such a great/horrible/wonderful experience for me as a racer I can't help but recommend it to any rally/offroad racer out there.  Nowhere else in North America will you have a chance to race some 1000 miles in a single rally event.  Kudos to NORRA to continuing to make changes that benefit racers and not remaining static.

NORRA 2016 Announcement

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Why Did Jimmie Johnson Leave Desert Racing...

Saw this the other day and thought it was well researched.  I have known the stories about how Jimmie had a bad crash in the Mexican desert and was stranded there for a long time and this experience scared him sufficiently to never race offroad again.

His lack of return to the desert is always viewed as even more of a shock given some of his close friends include longtime desert racers and bikers like Ricky Johnson (no relation).  Often times casual desert racing fans will scoff at Jimmie Johnson and consider him a bit of a wuss for having given up the sport after a single wreck...after many SCORES for wrecks has he been in during his time in NASCAR?  And in offroad racing, whether you crash or not is far more a result of your own doing and responsibility than it is the numbskull's next to you like in NAPCAR...

Regardless, Jimmie never returned to desert racing and here is the story why...

Why JJ never returned to desert racing...

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Gimmick Racing Socks...

Must be a trend...came across these two sets of socks targeted at racing enthusiasts in recent days.

First up are Blipshift's "3 Pedal Socks"for $17 a pair.  They look good for casual or business casual use.  I have one Blipshift shirt already and its quality was solid so I would imagine these socks are near the same.

If you want a pair, you can go here:
3 Pedal Socks...

The second set are Robby Gordon's Speed Energy Drink socks...I like these a tad better as they have a sense of humor about them.  To date they have only sold them at various Speed Energy Drink related events and not over the Internet.  Hopefully if enough people harass Robby Gordon and Speed Energy they will make them available to a wider shopping audience.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ledwidge Lookoff Rally Spectator Stage

Only a few days till we take off for the Ledwidge Lookoff Rally in Nova Scotia.  Its not much but the entry list is up to six entries.  Three 2WD and three AWD.  Hopefully there will be one or two last minute entries to bump this up a bit but regardless we're going to have a good time, see some new roads and meet some great people.  The first day's spectator stage is unique in that it takes place entirely within a quarry and the roads on which it takes place are nice and wide and flat.  These little sprint stages aren't favorable to the NISMO Stuff Frontier sponsored by Bedard Pharmacy, particularly when they appear so smooth.  We'll do our best and look forward to the longer stages of Saturday.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Lots of Nissan 200SXs for Sale in New England Right Now

So tempting to get one of these...many look in good condition, a couple are the turbo models with the oh-so-awesome hoods.  All would make great hillclimb, rallycross, stage rally vehicles.  Or at the very least they would make an epic daily driver.

First is a Black, 1986 model up in Hebron, NH.  This one is the most heavily modified with numerous  engine and suspension mods.  It has a KA24DET swap and presently is not really drivable given its blown turbo and bad exhaust.  Body is in good nick but it will take some work and money to really get on the road in a legit fashion.  Price is listed at @2,500

Second is an '87 200SX notchback.  I like the hatch version much better than the notchback and this one is in a decidedly ugly gold color, is an automatic and has evidently had an attempt to turn it into some sort of drift vehicle with a welded rear diff.  It does still have the cool pop-up lights though!  This one is in Plaistow, NH and is going for $1,200 though with the welded diff, it won't really be pleasant to drive on a daily basis.

There is also a 1987 200SX SE-V6 for sale in Southern Maine that would be a nice little car given it has the 300ZX's engine and driveline but the poster doesn't present a picture and says it has a good deal of exterior rust and hasn't been run for a few years.  He's asking for $2,000 which is pretty steep given the many multiple thousands necessary to really get it running again.

There was also a beautiful, manual, turbo 200SX in Providence, RI that I had intended to post here as well as it has been around a few times now but not purchased...alas, its listing has expired.  It was in good shape with no rust, good engine, etc.  The owner stated it needed some new plugs, wires and brakes but otherwise was in fine condition.  It would be the best of the lot so keep an eye open for a relisting.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Next Step in an Improved Towing Experience...

First step was actually obtaining a trailer.  That was done recently.  Now on to sprucing it up and making it more user friendly.

When I got it the four tires on the trailer, 225/75d15s, were all in very good condition.  No real wear of any significant kind.  But given the heavy weight of my race truck on the trailer, frequent poor road conditions, long travel distances, etc. I wanted a couple spares.  So a couple brand new mounted spares we now have.  As long as I'm not heading back to Baja, two spares should cut it one would think.

Then on to how to get the truck ON the trailer.  The prior owner had been using wooden planks to get his smallish car on the trailer and that worked just fine.  I wanted something a bit heavier duty while being light as well.  So it was aluminum ramps that were acquired.  With that the trailer is ready to go to its first event just one week away.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ratings for Mint 400 on NBC 7/12

The Martelli Bros. produced Mint 400 race has now become an annual TV production on NBC.  Its not quite as good (OK, not nearly as good) as watching the event live but it sure beats bass fishing or Bar Rescue reruns.

This year the event which was broadcast on Sunday 7/12 for a total of two action packed hours grabbed a 0.5 rating.  So approximately 0.5% of all the 115.6 million TV households in the country were tuned into the race--though this 115.6 number is an old one from the '13-'14 TV season, the number of TV households in the US likely went up between '13-'14 and '14-'15 so this figure is underestimated if anything.

Based on this year old estimate of US TV households, there were some 578,000 TV owning households tuned into the event.  Figuring 1.1 viewers per household that would put some 636,000 pairs of eyeballs on the 2015 Mint 400.

For comparison, the TV show that came on following the Mint was a broadcast regarding Pastrana's Nitro Circus and grabbed a 0.6 rating.  At the same time over on Fox you had the women's US Open golf tournament which had a 0.7 rating

Of note is that last year's Mint 400 race had a 0.4 rating meaning that '15's ratings were a 25% increase.  Hard to attribute ratings increases in such a small sample size to much but at least it is moving in the right direction.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Nissan and Dos Santos Perform Well at Baja Espana

I hadn't realized until now that Ricardo Leal Dos Santos actually had won a stage at the Dakar in '12 as a Mini driver so its good to see him driving a proper car in a Nissan now.

Entered in his first FIA cross-countrry rally in '15 behind the wheel of a T1 Nissan Navara, Dos Santos picked up a fifth place finish at this past weekends Baja Espana.  A great initial outing and from what I am reading he does plan on contesting Dakar '16.  Dos Santos had a successful Dakar '15 finishing 25th overall and the highest Nissan in the event.  The Portuguese driver has teamed with a Brazilian co-driver and should be getting in some practice in other cross-country rallies the remainder of the year.  Hoping for an even stronger result in Dakar '16...

Doing Things Ass Backwards...

So some five years ago I bought a brand new truck that I turned into a stage rally, hill climb, rally cross, desert racing, all around toy.  At the time I had no vehicle to tow it with and no trailer to tow it on.  Typically its good to have those before embarking on such a path.  In that time I've begged, borrowed and paid for transport of various kinds to and from events and occasionally driven the race truck to and from the event itself just crossing my fingers that nothing bad would happen that would prevent me from driving it home.

I've now finally remedied one of the above noted absences.  My frequent co-driver David Dennis recently had the opportunity to downsize his trailer by buying a lighter trailer from a brother of his that would suit his purposes just his full deck trailer on which we have towed my truck a number of times became available.  So I bought it.  As trailers go she ain't pretty but she gets the job done and with a bit of work can be spruced right up as her bones are solid.  I also like the full deck as while it makes the trailer significantly heavier it also helps prevent frame twisting that I've seen when my 4000 pound truck is put on an open deck. First up for modifications?  A new jack for the front including a nice fat caster wheel attachment to help it pull around my yard with my Pathfinder since I don't have a truck with a hitch...yet.

With the new jack in place next up is a new winch for the deck and some new ramps.  Oh, and if you need something like a new project car towed around and don't have a trailer?  Let me know, she's always available for work if you need her and can provide the vehicle to tow her and your stuff with.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

SandBlast Rally Makes Cover of ADV Moto Magazine

Available digitally or at your local Barnes & Noble its good to see stage rally get coverage in a quality magazine here in the US. With the explosion of Dual Sport riding and motorcycles here in the US over the past few years this is great coverage for NASA's Rally Moto program. Besides the cover there are a number of pages devoted to additional photos and story. Of course everyone's favorite cowboy hat wearing Rally organizer/enthusiast/motorcycle rider made one of the shots...just a glutton for the camera lens...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Officially Announcing a New Sponsor!

Beginning now the NISMO Stuff Racing effort is primarily supported by Bedard Pharmacy and Medical Supplies out of Maine.  A personal connection led to this relationship and it will serve the team extremely well in the coming months.

Bedard has over 100 years in business and serves all of your standard pharmacological needs including prescriptions and flu shots as well as medical equipment rentals and supplies.  An independent, locally owned business they are your #1 source for serving all that ails you in the Auburn and Lewiston, Maine region.

Maybe we'll stop by on our way to Nova Scotia and the Lookoff Rally next month...they have Food Truck Fridays so maybe they can add "Rally Truck Tuesdays"?!?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Emil Khneisser and his Nissan Patrol Take Third in Baja Italia

Not bad for a debut effort.  Not bad for a 47 year old driver.  Not bad for a full time corporate exec.  Not bad of this first time in Europe.  It was well done over all and a podium finish despite a flat and a small off is a great result.

Baja Italia was round five if the FIA's Cross Country World Cup and saw 12 entrants in Khneisser's T2 class (production vehicles, not the top of the line custom T1 entrants).  Two of the top three finishers were in Nissan Patrols which are Infiniti QX80 here in the States.  The Patrol has become the deficit go to race vehicle for the rich middle eastern customers looking to go compete with the big boys without going to a full T1.

Story on Khneisser's performance here:

And an early video on the introduction of the T2 Patrol below:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book Review: The Water Knife

This is the second novel I've read by Paolo Bacigalupi I've read with the first being "The Windup Girl".  Unfortunately I should have taken my feelings from that first novel and remembered them more clearly before picking up this one.

We are once again in the near future, though this time it is the very near future instead of a hundred or more years away.  While in "The Windup Girl" we were concerned with rising oceans and the absence of oil, here we are concerned with a lack of water, competing water cartels in the desert Southwest and the breakup of the United States

In both cases Bacigalupi writes in a style more attuned with his young adult novels where he got his start.  The language and rhythm of the writing is juvenile and simple.  Cormac McCarthy this is not.

Nor is this William Gibson.  The novel is almost "cute" in its portrayal of its dystopian future.  We have all the queues we see in our daily life just drawn a bit farther out--shiny Teslas, Chinese investment in American real estate, Google Glass like devices, drought ridden California and the Southwest in general, mentions of well known brands like Camelback, REI, Aquafina, etc.  Its like Bacigalupi just threw a bunch of New York Times articles in a blender and put the resulting mush on the page.  He isn't creating much or providing much insight here, he's merely regurgitating what we already know.  And that's the difference between someone like Gibson and himself.

Gibson will create things out of his own mind that do not exist yet and show you a vision of the future you hadn't thought could exist.  Bacigalupi shows you a future that's already been predicted and that you know won't happen because the world just isn't that easy to forecast.

"The Water Knife" is a good novel if you don't want to think and just want to say "Yeah!  Right on!  I think we're going to hell too!"  Sorry but I need an author to show me something I don't already know.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Dave Grohl and Friends Cover Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl

This is from this past weekend.  Dave Grohl his friends and his broken leg show up and do a pre-concert show as part of a motorcycle rally in Washington DC.  He performs a solid cover of Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl.

Of particular interest is that behind the drums is Pearl Jam's very original drummer Dave Krusen.  Krusen provided all the drum work on Pearl Jam's first album Ten and likely lives comfortably off those royalties (if he was smart).  He left the band somewhat voluntarily before PJ ever even really became big due to his substance abuse problems and put himself into rehab at that point--a good move given the number of substance related deaths in the bands around him.  Other members of this "band" are former members of Blind Melon who had their own issue with substance abuse seeing Shannon Hoon (their lead singer) die of an overdose and Grohl himself saw Kurt Cobain commit suicide.  Ahhh...such happy tales...

Regardless, enjoy...

Monday, July 6, 2015

Rubber O-Rings for A Watch Band Holder

I have a relatively cheap Timex Ironman digital watch that I use as my bang around watch and spare clock for rally racing.  It has treated me well though is an obvious tell to others that I am not exactly a fashion plate.

Unfortunately its one flaw is its watch band keeper.  Made out of a thin rubber and exposed to salt, sand, dirt, sun, sunscreen, solvents, oil, etc. it seems to breakdown pretty quickly and after a year or so had split and left my watch band flopping around and the watch unusable.  Timex doesn't seem to sell just the watch band loop and I didn't want to buy replacement straps for near $20 just to get the little loop.  So what is one to do.

Well, Home Depot solved the problem with their plumbing isle.  A little box of 10 rubber O-rings about 9/16 in diameter, in black for less than $3 is perfect.  The O-rings might even be better than the original as they are likely made to stand up to all kinds of chemicals and substances given their plumbing application.  The O-ring is comfortable and its matte black finish fits perfectly with the Timex rubber.  Perfect and problem solved.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Nissan Frontier, Xterra, Pathfinder, Titan Headlight Retaining Ring

Finally tracked this little sucker down.  After using a bit of duck tape to hold in the passenger side headlight for a couple months I picked up a couple of these tonight.

I was afraid I might have to buy a whole light assembly for like $200 to correct the issue but that is not the case.  I had lost the retaining ring/clip somewhere and now I will have it back in working order.  Kind of an obscure part.  Diagrams show only the whole light assembly but not this ring.

The part # is 26029MB and should be applicable to all the '04-'15 F-Alpha platform vehicles.  Courtesy Nissan out of Texas sold me mine, they have been great to me for well over a decade in finding parts and getting them out to me in short order.  Don't let your dealer tell you they can't get it!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

2015 Nissan Sentra vs. 2015 Hyundai Elantra vs. 2015 Ford Fiesta

So I've had a chance to drive all three of these in recent weeks on various business trips.

The Fiesta (a hatchback, auto) I drove around Key Biscayne, FL for four days, the Sentra around San Francisco for a week and the Elantra around New Hampshire for a week.  At the end of the period I'm shocked at what a difference there can be between such budget minded vehicles.  I would have thought that the drive to cut costs would have homogenized the experience across brands.

The Sentra was by far and away the best of the three in nearly every capacity.  While none of the three were particularly quick or sporty the engine on the Sentra is at least willing, capable and dependable.  The CVT in the Sentra is acceptable given the good MPG it returns (30 and 38 I believe in city and highway driving) and its 130 HP is well managed.  The transmission does have a "sport" and "eco" mode but neither one made any noticeable difference to the performance of the vehicle.  The engine in the Elantra was just there...a bit loud, though the whole car was loud compared to the Sentra with seemingly far less sound deadening included.  The Fiesta was the real disappointment.  Like the Sentra it had a "sport" mode but whether in Sport or regular mode the automatic transmission had no idea what it was doing.  Hit the gas and the car didn't respond right away.  Then when it did respond it behaved like a drunk looking for his next bar--up, down, high, low, over revved, under revved.  Truly the engine management was a complete disaster.  There were numerous times during my week with the car that my wife and I thought it was going to break down and cease running because the engine performance was so erratic.  A massive disappointment.

Interior and overall looks wise the Sentra again takes the win by a large margin.  From the outside the Sentra looks like a baby Altima or Maxima.  Enough curves to give it a  sporty appearance without making you look like a boy racer.  Interior on the Sentra was also well done with quality interior components and a well laid out dash and comfortable seats.  Again the Elantra's interior was seemingly just there.  Nothing different, nothing noticeable, nothing to really remember...functional.  That is except the radio/speakers.  The audio performance of the Elantra was so ungodly bad that I thought there should be an 8-track player in the dash.  I've never heard an audio system sound so cheap...cost cutting gone way too far...tissue paper woofers and tweeters shouldn't exist these days.  The Fiesta's exterior was nice and was the only hatchback of the three.  Its dimensions made it easy to maneuver wherever we went and I wasn't COMPLETELY embarrassed to drive it...just a little bit.  The Fiesta's interior though is a complete disaster.  I've never seen so many buttons in all my life, nor in such a horrid layout.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the positioning, only a desire to completely overload the driver/passenger and to try and impress upon them that this is a "high tech" doesn't work.

Easy grading here...Buy the Sentra...ignore the paid shills who have been reporting over the past two years that the Fiesta is a great, sporty little car...the platform may make a decent rally car once its been gutted, caged, engine reworked or upgraded, in the ST version, etc.  As it comes on a dealer's lot in its stock form?  Its a dog...And the Elantra?  Forgettable...which might be better than my impression of the Fiesta...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Alternative to Project Loon and SpaceX and others...

There is a lot of effort from various hi-tech companies (SpaceX, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Virgin, etc.) to bring access to the internet to the great unwashed of the world.  Whether you believe this is being done out of philanthropy, as a way to build communications systems for off planet enterprises or out of economic greed it is certainly an ambitious effort.

Google has Project Loon which works via balloons broadcasting LTE coverage over 40 square KMs (a REALLY dinky area) from their position floating in the stratosphere.  Elon Musk wants to put micro satellites in very low Earth orbit to handle this same task (so low that they are going to be built with the intention that they burn up after a very short lifespan).

I'm sure that someone smarter than me has already thought of this and must have a million reasons why it wouldn't work but...why not use already established, cheap, technology to solve the vast majority of this problem by ship...

More than 40% of the world's population lives within 60 miles of the coast and is growing bigger all the time.  An even higher concentration of the world's wealth lives within that coastal zone.  So rather than spending the money and effort on space or near space efforts to reach 100% of the world's population, why not part some boats in international waters with satellite connections to the free world's internet system and broadcast that signal inland...Hell, if you want to spend money of the effort, make the ship a nuclear one so it can sit there and provide coverage indefinately.  It makes these ships a major floating target for beligerant militaries but...its seems to me to be an overlooked option for these companies looking to tap new markets quickly and cheaply...

Edit to add:  After thinking about this for a couple days...why bother with a ship?  How bout just lay a cable across the ocean floor, chain a floating transmitter to the ocean floor just off the coast of Akra and call it a day?  Seems like a lot simpler solution than thousands of micro-satellites in constantly decaying orbits...

Monday, June 1, 2015

Back Under Power...

This took place a few weekends ago.

For the first time in about a year I actually raced the "race" truck.  It was up at the Team O'Neil Rally School in Dalton, NH where the SCCA put on its first stage rally race in some ten years.  Many of my fellow entrants were racers I've known for years through the SCCA Rallycross program, including a couple of my prior codrivers.

The weather conditions were was dry and warm and my codriver this day was Tim Meunier who also ran as a driver and codriver in my little Mexican adventure last year.  I was admittedly dramatically out of practice and my times showed it.  I was pleased by my constant improvement from stage to stage and by then end of the day I felt like some of my pace had begun to return, though far from where I would want to be.

The mileage run on the day was pretty minor--under 20 miles--but it was a good shakedown for the truck to ensure that everything is still up and running and working properly.  For the day we finished 20th out of 25 and finished every foot of every stage which would place me 16th on the day if the stage DNFs were viewed as true DNFs and not just a time penalty.  Regardless, its a good first step to getting back and used to driving at speed.  We'll see what's next.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pearl Jam then, Eddie Vedder Now...

So Eddie finished up the musical performances on the David Letterman show last night by playing a "solo" version of Better Man.  Seeing their performance from back in '96 and seeing Ed now makes me realize how I've aged right along with the band.  Awesome to see them still together and playing music after this long, some near 30 years in.  Beatles didn't do it, Stones and Aerosmith had turned into shells of themselves to the point of parody and laughter.  As PJ and Ed Ved would want, the only comparable to their longevity and relevance is Neil Young.  Enjoy the comparison and contrast between the two performances below.

The second performance is from Eddie's first visit to the Letterman show which occurred after weeks of Letterman making fun of the final chorus of Black and Eddie's "do, do, do, do, dutta,, do, do, do, dutta, do" singing and where he comes out to sing just that part with an exceedingly/overly long hold of a single note...its not a serious performance but you can see the shyness in Eddie that is rarely (ever?) present today.

Women of Off-Road Racing...

I saw the original article a while ago and now they have come out with Part 2.  While I love women in bikinis (who doesn't?) it was cool to see this article with all of these hard core women in off-road.

I have actually met two of these women personally--Judy Smith and Nicole Pitell-Vaughn and both are extremely impressive in their own rights and accomplishments.

Both articles are worth reading for realizing the depth and breadth of female competitors in off-road sports/racing.  I just with they had included perhaps a female stage rally racer in here as well--perhaps Nathalie Richard?

Women of Competitive Off-Road Racing Part 1...

Women of Competitive Off-Road Racing Part 2...

I'm Back...

Holy crap its been a while since I've posted or linked to anything but a new job will do that to you.  Also have decided to focus more on slightly different things than I have previously.  It will be a subtle change but a change nonetheless.  I will also be posting less as I simply don't have the time I did previously...We'll see what we can do...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Film Review: Chef

Streaming Netflix is both a blessing and a curse.  On one hand it makes it easy to watch an endless amount of media.  On the other because of its limited menu (covering only a limited number of top flight films vs. the mail version of Netflix) you end up scouring the internet for "Best .... on Netflix".  Best horror films, best scifi, just "best films", best "new" films, and on and on and on in an attempt to try and find something worth watching...

So when something like Chef ends up on a number of "best of new films on streaming Netflix" you end up trying it.

While Chef isn't a bad film, it doesn't live up to its billing and certainly not its casting.  Here you have Jon Favreau, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr.  With a cast like that you would expect a great film with great performances.  Not so.  What you get is a film that will likely show up on TNT or TBS or the like and be run several hundreds of times due to its positive and completely inoffensive nature.  Seriously, this is like a movie you show to kids in fifth grade to put them to sleep on days when you have a substitute teacher.

Its not completely boring--I could watch Sofia Vergara dust a single mantlepiece for two hours and find it entertaining but, the film tries so hard to be positive and carry a "things will be a all right if you just try hard enough and are a good person" that it is sickenly saccharine.  Take that and the fact that the film ties itself in to so many current "trends" like food trucks, cooking being a metaphor for life, etc. that it plays like a hipster's mishmash of ideas--something Favreau who wrote, directed and starred in this film, should be too old for.

A completely forgettable film, if you're on an airplane feel free to take it in.  It won't offend your neighbor and it might put you both to sleep.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

If You Aren't Following Classic J-Tin on Twitter...

You're missing out...

Especially if you have an interest in potentially purchasing a classic piece of Japanese automobilia.  It appears to be a Twitter account that searches Craigslist ads across the country and then posts some of the best and most interesting Japanese vehicles.  I never imagined the variety of vehicles that are still out there waiting to be bought, loved and restored.  The best thing is that since these are from Craigslist you generally aren't talking about $50,000 spotless masterpieces.  These are often rusty, broken, used and most importantly--cheap.

If you like classic Zs, Celicas, Supras, Datsun trucks, old Landcruisers, 35 year old Subarus, etc.  This is a great account to follow.

Classic J-Tin Twitter Profile...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

State of United States Stage Rally for February 2015

So it was a busy month for developments in North American Rally now comprising four separate organizing entries in the US alone...

On the ugly and disappointing side of things is the USRA.  Formed only in '14 and coming out with a number of announcements and expectations early in '15, it has fairly well thrown in the towel for the year.  First off, as stated in last month's report you had the Waste Management Winter Rally which "should" have been one of the USRA's first events with organizers of the event also being party to the new Rally organization but was foiled in this attempt by supposed contractual obligations and remained with Rally America.  Then there was the Matthew Noble-Mark Memorial RallySprint which also should have been an USRA event.  For whatever reason (not disclosed to public by organizer) this event was cancelled outright.  Lastly you then have Denise McMahon (a listed board member of the USRA) out in the Southwest announcing that "The USRA at this time is not ready to put on a rally program but should be able to take over in 2016 of what the Organizers HP RallyGroup has already in place since last year" seeming to indicate that we will not be seeing ANY events put on by the USRA in '15. Denise did announce that her own group, HP Rallygroup LLC, will be putting on the Bilstein Southwest RallyCup series that includes:

Desert Storm Rally - April 11th in Blythe, CA (coefficient 3)
Mendocino Rally - July 18/19th, in Ukiah, CA (status TBD) (coefficient 2/3)
Rally Utah - August 7/8th, in Cedar City, UT (coefficient 2/3)
Arizona Extreme Rally - September 12th, in Kingman, AZ (coeff3)
Seed 9 Rally - November 7th in Jean, NV

This is pretty darn impressive for a small (one woman?) organizing effort, many people struggle to put on a single event, let alone five, and without a National organizing/sanctioning body behind her? Going forward we will replace the USRA with updates on the HP Rallygroup events unless the USRA has anything of note to mention.

USRA grade for the month: F

Then you have the reentry to US Stage Rally of the behemoth that is the SCCA. Exiting stage rally in the early 'oughts for numerous reasons while continuing autocross on dirt for the past decade or so, the SCCA is now officially dipping its toe back in the stage rally waters. Rumored to be happening on a "test" basis for a while, the very first SCCA RallySprint was announced in late February and is to take place at the Team O'Neil facility in New Hampshire. Documents show this to be a two stage (each of some 2.5 miles in length), run multiple times event. Supposed top speeds will reach 70 mph and there will be no cones...this is a real stage rally event presenting all the risks seen at a non-sprint length event, just shortened up a tad. It will be interesting to see just how much mileage is done in the event. The entry cost is under $200 and the # of competitors is to be capped. Additionally, the individuals actually running the event are long time SCCA Rallycross and NEFR Stage Rally contributors who know how to run events pretty well. I have entered the event as is very close to me and at the price its hard to go long as we aren't sitting around trying to tech the vehicles all morning it should be OK. I encourage the organizers to not take a real "lunch" break and just build in a brief "service period" as a normal stage rally would have. The absolute minimum amount of down time possible should be built in. I know of no other official SCCA RallySprint events that have been announced yet though I'm sure there will be soon. The SCCA has stated that it will be running RallySprints only in '15 though given most national Rally America events have deep roots in the SCCA, if the USRA isn't pressuring events to move to them in '16, I wouldn't be surprised if the SCCA was...All that said the SCCA doesn't seem to be putting much effort into promoting the RallySprint efforts with no info on it on their site, nothing broken out separately from their RallyCross or RoadRally programs, nothing in their forums...if you weren't keyed into watching websites like Jalopnik or in close contact with SCCA Rallycross staff in the New England, you might not have any idea that such a series of events is coming to fruition.

SCCA grade for the month: B

Rally America saw two events in February. First up was the aforementioned WMWR in Pennsylvania. Though the primary Rally America site provides little to no info on the event, the stand alone web page for the race reveals 14 entries (double the 7 entries seen in '14) with three Open Light Impreza's on the podium, led by Jon Kramer taking the win by a bit over five minutes and a time of 1:15. The event even generated a 7+ minute long video and interview on a Wellsboro, PA news website to be seen here:

Continuing with the "winter theme" after Sno Drift and WMWR Rally America is usually done with the snow but not so this year.  With the deep freeze the US has seen this year, 100 Acre Wood was more a snow/ice rally than the very high speed gravel/dirt it typically is.  The 2014 version of the event included nationally known (even outside the Rally community) racers like Pastrana and Block as well as National level competitors like L'Estage, ACP and Matt Johnson and 25 National entries.  The 2015 version saw growth in the overall number of racers from 50 (25 National, 25 Regional) in '14 to 58 this year, it saw a substantial drop in National entries (from 25 to 17) and an exit of all of the aforementioned names except ACP.  David Sterckx provided David Higgins only competition and finished 5:42 back of the winner.  In equal vehicles and tires a Sterckx/Higgins contest would be a great thing to watch.  Jim Beaver again provided nearly live radio coverage of the event, much as he did at SnoDrift.  Rally-America posted "full" video coverage of SnoDrift about 10 days after the event and had posted very nice daily recaps of the event just after the finish of action each day.  Rally America completed the same nice recaps for 100 Acre Wood as well.  Rally America did generate a bit of negative press for itself when it reversed an earlier decision to grant Bill Caswell's "Build Race Party" photographers media access to the event, likely as a result of comments and articles from BRP asking where the National level competitors have gone and if Rally America is really being run properly--questions anyone with a brain would contemplate.  Because of this action, Caswell revealed that his group had gone unpaid for an extended period of time in '14 after being hired for photo coverage of an event.  Eventually he was paid he stated but not after months of collection efforts and pressure from a third party.  Not exactly the way a racing organization should be run but it continues a long established pattern with Rally America.

Views on YouTube for SnoDrift Rally--17,200
Views on YouTube for 100 Acre Wood--10,600

Facebook Likes--30,556 (up from 29,748 last month)
YouTube Subscribers--10,334 (up from 10,033 last month)
Twitter Subscribers--20,000 (up from 19,700 last month)
Instagram Followers--5,296 (up from 4,246 last month)
Alexa rating of,292 (down from 139,632 last month)

Rally America rating for the month: B

NASA Stage Rally saw one small event happen and picked up a second event as it was announced to be the sanctioning body for the RallySprint test day that was organized in the place of the failed USRA Matthew Noble Marker event.

The California Rally Series Rally School event saw 53 participants looking to learn more about the sport and get some tips from organizers and current drivers/codrivers.

The Washington Test Day #1 was put together in very short order to help accommodate the plans that a number of racers had made but were in danger of going unfulfilled due to the cancellation of the USRA event.  A small turnout was expected in early March as entries are capped for the NASA test day program that was introduced this year.

NASA also released their updated version of their Android Rally Clock app to run on your phone or tablet just as NASA uses on their NOOKs.  Additional NOOK developments included some online training/education on how to use their NOOK timing system via their YouTube channel where they posted a series of videos such as the one below:

NASA Stage Rally staff also attended the North American Motorsports Expo in Charlotte, NC as an outreach to educate/promote the NASA Stage Rally Program and showing off some Stage Rally vehicles to boot.

Facebook Likes--3,031 (up from 2,615 last month)
YouTube Subscribers--238 (up from 232 last month)
Twitter Subscribers--319 (up from 301 last month)
Instagram Followers--458 (up from 378 last month)
Alexa rating of 290,220 (up from 526,968 last month)

NASA Stage Rally rating for the Month: B+

As always, comments are welcome as would be a recap of events/developments of Stage Rally either North or South of the border...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

TV Show Review: Attack on Titan

Finished up watching this series last night.  Its certainly not for everyone.  Its Japanese, its a cartoon, its subtitled, its got naked giants without genitalia eating people.  Its anime which if you don't already know what it is, you probably won't like it.

That said, its about as good as anime gets.  Its weird in all the best ways.  Humanity has been stuck inside three concentric walls since it was almost exterminated some 100 years earlier by these giant "Titans" of which there are different kinds but all of which love to wordlessly eat people--lots of them.  Besides the enormous walls the only thing standing between humanity and extinction are teams of military like individuals who use waist mounted devices to swing from building to building or tree to tree with their reloadable swords to slice the Titans apart.

So you have the classic Japanese anime with lots of people flying through the air showering each other in oceans of blood.  Behind it all are the questions of what exactly are the Titans?  Where do they come from? Why does the royal family get to stay inside the safest circle and get all the resources?  How do we kill more of the Titans?  Why can Eren turn himself INTO a Titan?  Has a Titan who can transform into a human infiltrated the group?

It started off as a manga (comic) in Japan and has quickly spread across the globe with novels, films, video games, etc. with millions of editions in print.  The english subtitled anime series does not carry it all the way through where the manga has gone and leaves much unresolved and unanswered and thus a bit dissapointing that more answers aren't given and so I'm waiting for the collection of episodes (this first "season" was some 25 episodes long).  The translation is fairly good though a bit too literal vs. conversational as is typically the case with anime but there is definitely a bit of info lost in translation and there are gaps in information that leave you asking if you missed an episode or part of an episode that I attribute to the move from Japanese to English.

The series has been a bit controversial in Asia with those in Hong Kong and Taiwan seeing the Titans as stand-ins for invading China and South Korea calling it a reflection of Japan's recent militaristic turn.  I doubt its either but the fact that it has gotten a lot of people all riled up over it shows its now widespread influence.  If you've given things like Akira and Ghost in the Shell a chance in the past and enjoyed them (as I have, though I am only a VERY small anime aficionado, knowing only the largest of titles and series), I would recommend some binge watching to include Attack on Titan for a current look at the top level of work coming out of Japan.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

First World Gadget...

In a world where probably a billion or two people light and heat their hovels by burning yak butter candles and ox dung bricks it says a lot about me that I get such glee at such a simple gadget...but there it is....

The SnapPower SnapRays Guidelight is a brilliantly simple device.  Consisting of little more than your standard plastic outlet cover a couple tabs on the back to contact with the positive and negative terminals on your standard outlet connected to three small, white, LEDs, and a light-sensor the Guidelight replaces your standard outlet cover providing you a built in nightlight that allows you to ditch either the plugin incandescent bulb you likely have in your children's bedrooms and get that outlet back for use or the more expensive and time intensive to install versions that leave no outlets in their place.  Maybe its the Dad/Father/homeowner in me that thinks this is really neat but it just seems so natural an invention and one that screams "cool".

I know...kinda silly to get excited for this...but it is such an elegant and simple design and seems that I grabbed up a bunch and put them in my kids' rooms and elsewhere around the house and now my house is nicely lit with a dim little, comforting, white light in the kitchen, living room, kids bedrooms and upstairs bathroom...Oh, and they're energy efficient too!!!  Spending $12 a piece to replace a .50 cent outlet cover...ahhh...America...

SnapPower Website...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lords of the Atlas -- Icon Raider Film of Triumph Tigers at Mexican 1000

Another well produced film of the race I ran in last year...kept looking to see myself in it, but no...not in there.  Can imagine trying to manhandle big bikes like this in that terrain and heat...Film is well shot and quite clean however.  Worth the brief 20 minute watch for a look at the terrain and race conditions.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Another Death in the Whites...

With every Winter comes a similar story here in New Hampshire.  The death(s) of hikers/climbers attempting to tackle various summits in the White Mountains.  While big events like losses of entire climbing parties on mountains like Rainier, Hood, and others typically make the evening news, the constant drips and drabs of hiker deaths in the Whites is rarely noticed though on a gross number basis, the Whites are likely the deadliest mountain range in the States.

This past week however the death of Kate Matrasova made it as far as being covered in the NY Post, NY Daily News, Bloomberg, and various blogs/websites that cover finance and technology and general gossip due to Matrasova's daytime job as a trader for BNP Paribas, her husband's job as a VP (one of thousands) at JP Morgan Chase and their (reported) million dollar mid-town Manhattan apartment.

Matrasova was attempting a Northern Presidential Range traverse.  She was not attempting the entire traverse but sought to top out on the peaks of Madison, Adams, Jefferson and Washington followed by a descent to the base of the cog railway.  A challenging effort no doubt, especially in Winter but not one that was beyond her skills.  What has not been generally reported on her is her extensive climbing/mountaineering background that includes summits of McKinley, Elbrus, Aconcagua, and Kilimanjaro amongst others and was an avid marathoner leaving her in peak shape.  With her extensive income she also had top of the line gear with her.  Bottom line is that she was more than qualified and competent to make the attempt.

Many will question her choice to make a solo attempt, I generally don't.  I don't have near the experience that she had but I have completed solo winter summits of Washington (NH), Marcy (NY), Greylock (MA), Bear (CT) and Mansfield (VT) as the highest peaks in each of these northeastern states.  I certainly understand the thought of doing these things solo.  No one else to rely on, go at your own pace, no one to irritate you, good or bad its all on your shoulders, etc., etc.  There is something about accomplishing something hard on your own that interests a good number of people, Matrasova was evidently one of them and attempting the Northern Traverse was not outside her capabilities as a solo mountaineer.

Her chosen route was generally conservative.  Taking the Valley Way Trail up to a col in between Madison and Adams was about the easiest route she could have chosen.  If she was trying to bite off more than she could chew she would have chosen the much steeper Kings Ravine Trail or more exposed Howker Ridge Trail.  The path she chose would be amongst the most protected ways to get to the ridgeline.

So that pretty much leaves us with the weather.  Going into the hike weather reports disclosed that peak conditions had temperatures of about -6 F and winds of about 40mph.  Pretty brutal for those used to living in the valleys and plains but near balmy (no joke) for the Presidential Peaks in Winter.  During my Winter climb of Washington the conditions were similar though in my case the sun was shining and no significant changes in weather were forecast.  Encased in a standard mountaineer's bubble of down, Gore-tex, mountaineering boots, crampons, goggles, etc., Matrasova would have been quite comfortable in that weather--likely sweating profusely in fact when faced with strenuous exertions required of climbing in deep snow.  Unfortunately, the forecast was wrong and conditions deteriorated to levels where no one could survive.

Matrasova would have KNOWN that deteriorating conditions were predicted for the area and was likely pressed to complete her climb and return to work (this was a Sunday afterall).  She wouldn't be getting a second chance to do this a day later (though being young, wealthy and having a supportive husband she could certainly have returned in a week or two...)  By the time Mastrova set off her emergency beacon around 3PM the temps had dropped to -21 and the winds increased to 77mph.  She had succeeded in summiting both Madison and Adams but turned back after reaching Adams peak in an attempt to get lower.  She missed her bailout opportunity some 2 hours earlier.  After sumitting Madison she would have had to pass both the Madison Spring Hut AND the Valley Way Trail she had come in on as the direction she chose required retracing the path up to Mt. Madison before continuing on to Adams.  At this point the temps would have already been dropping and the wind picking up.  It would also have been obvious at this point (about 1PM) that there was NO way she was going to complete her traverse.  She had started out at 6AM and some 7+ hours later she had only completed a single peak with an uphill climb the rest of the way (Madison being the lowest of the four peaks she had intended on completing that day).  With the Sun going down around 5PM or so and no mountaineering tent or overnight supplies with her (at least as has been reported) she stood ZERO shot at getting to Washington and down even in the BEST of conditions.  There should have been a single choice on her way back down from Mt. Madison towards the trail she already knew and had traversed earlier that day.  Bail and head down.  She'd have been back on tarmac before the Sun set with ease.

Instead, here is my speculation.  Matrasova was obviously experienced and driven and had succeeded in nearly everything in life having been born in (literally) Siberia and having made it to the top of her profession and the rest of the globe.  If she wasn't going to complete what she had set out for, she'd at least put in a good faith effort, challenge herself and grab one more peak before heading down.  This would, after all, make for good training for the rigors to be demanded of her in her future attempts at Everest and Vinson (looking at her list of summits, completing the 7 Summits was definitely a goal of hers).  At only 1 in the afternoon, she couldn't imagine herself bailing out NOW...that would have been a waste of a day.  So her intent was to push herself a little bit, bag Adams and THEN head down.  Which she completed.

Unfortunately the winds picked up beyond what she had ever experienced and literally blew her off the ridge.  Sometime after she initiated her distress signal the peak winds were recorded to exceed 140 mph.  Well above what it would take to sweep a fit girl of at best, 150 lbs. off her feet and down the mountain.  Her body would be recovered a few hundred feet off the trail, still above treeline but on the lee side of the ridge.  Given the scrapes on her face and removal of her pack she was either blown there or tumbled there, came to a rest and expired after having lost the will or ability to fight.  After having traveled the world, summited peaks in the most remote locations some three or four and five times the height of the Whites where only pressurized jet liners play, pushing on to summit Adams looked like a simple one dies in mountaineering accidents five hours or less from NYC in little podunk New Hampshire right?

It was a simple mistake of hubris.  She shouldn't be vilified or made fun of nor her husband chastised for letting her go alone.  She could have made a better decision and turned back earlier (such is the story of 50% of mountaineering accidents) the other 50% being morons who don't belong up there in the first place.  But she didn't.

My only question here is--what was the delay in getting up Madison in the first place?  Someone so fit, and so experienced, should have FLOWN up her chosen path and gotten there much earlier.  Was the snow deeper than she expected?  Did she have snowshoes?  Did she get lost in the woods BEFORE ever reaching the ridge?  Something slowed her down early on and may have been the driving force behind why she was pushing to summit Adams, despite the deteriorating conditions, blaming herself for a silly error earlier in the day that eliminated any chance of the stated goal of the Northern Presidential Traverse.