Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer

Haven't posted anything here in a while but wanted to for this book.

This work recounts the author's time in the German army during WWII.  Involved in the initial stages of Germany's retreat in the East all the way to the end of the war, the author experienced the worst of what the conflict had to offer and describes it in full detail.

The blood, the cold, the depravity, the cowardice, the heroism, the anger, hatred, frustration, disillusionment, starvation, mutilation...its all here.  Sajer doesn't shy away from his own failings and the work comes across as a beautifully honest recount of his service.  Which isn't to say the book should be taken as a pure academic recap of the German effort of WWII in the East.  It isn't.  It has inaccuracies as others have pointed out.  That's not the overall point and Sajer has been one to say so.

Its more of an emotional synopsis of his experience and the reader comes away with the feeling that no one should have survived what he went through and certainly no one sane could have.

This work is not one to delve into the issues behind Germany's efforts, there is really little mention of Hitler and zero mention of the Holocaust or other well known events of the war and its evils.  If you are looking for that or for Sajer to fall on his knees and beg forgiveness for having fought on the losing side, this is not your book.

If you are looking for an epically honest depiction of the German grunt's viewpoint of how it felt to be driven backwards by the unstoppable masses of Russian soldiers over a period of years through the worst of living conditions, then this is more appropriate.

I have not read a more vivid description of the obscene nature of ground warfare anywhere.  Nowhere else have I felt it better shown the indifferent nature of combatants as to their superiors motives or overarching goals, rather these are purely men fighting for the man next to them and merely in the hope of living to see another day.  Politics and preaching are absent you come to realize, they are in all trenches.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Headed to the OiLibya Rallye du Maroc

Yup, headed there in three weeks.  Will be covering the event for an online publication (I think?!?!) and trying to give readers a feel of what the event and major international Rally-Raid is like in person.

I will be getting schlepped from location to location by the organizers and also staying in a tent with the rest of the media during the desert bivouac that marks the highlight of the event.  The list of racers is not out yet but is expected to include all the best racers from the top flight teams including Nasser Al-Attiyah, Giniel de Villiers, Yazeed al-Rajhi, Stephane Peterhansel, etc.

Let me know if you have any questions or photos you'd like me to ask or take while on site.  I should have consistent internet access so I will be posting info on a daily basis.

OiLibya Rallye du Maroc

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Second Largest Exposure to Stage Rally in the US Was...the November Issue of DirtSports and Offroad Magazine?!?!

So a little while ago I posted that the RAV4 Virtual Reality display from Toyota featuring Ryan Millen and his stage rally SUV at Supercross events across the US was arguably the biggest exposure to this type of motorsport in the US this year.

On the heels of that comes what I would argue is the second largest exposure of stage rally to those of us in the US this year.  Written and shot by Cole Sprague for DirtSports magazine which is available both digitally and in print (see your local B&N), the article really doesn't cover anything ground breaking and only sounds like Cole attended and shot from the spectator locations (shocker that he didn't get any real proactive support from the series to put him in the thick of the action) but Team O'Neil gets a mention for their support of one of the racers as does the usual Higgins and Pastrana Subaru crew and, again, Millen's RAV4 showing and being mentioned prominently.

It would have been nice of Cole to have dug deeper into Bryan Bouffier's effort given his unique car but at least it gets a photo as does the classic Volvo of Derek Knight.

While print's circulation numbers aren't what they once were and DirtSports is not half the magazine it was a decade ago (its merger with "OffRoad Magazine" has resulted in far too much pandering to the mall crawler, bolt on accessory crowd) but stage rally coverage (three full pages with lots of photos!) in a magazine that has a reader count safely in the tens of thousands is a pretty good thing and positive exposure for the sport.

Sooooo...the two arguably largest exposures to stage rally in the US this year were...Supercross event displays and an article in a largely desert racing/offroading magazine.  Nice work Rally America...nice work...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Half Way Through the Silk Way Rally and Jurgen Schroeder and His Nissan are in 16th Overalll

In what is one of the longer, more difficult rally-raids the Silk Way Rally is often viewed as a precursor to the Dakar where the big boys come out to play and test their machines.

With Cyril Depres, Sebastian Loeb, Stephane Peterhansel, and Yazeed al Rajhi all present the leaderboard is stacked with potential Dakar 2017 winners.

Jurgen Schroeder and his son Max are piloting their South African built Nissan Navarra V8 across Russia, its former territories, and all the way to Beijing.  They have run well so far with a few navigation hiccups today that cost them some 10 minutes or more and leaves them in 16th place overall and one hour, nine minutes behind the leader, Cyril Despres.  The Nissan shop in South Africa run by Terence Marsh for Red Lined Motorsport has sent some mechanics to assist but otherwise this is a pure privateer effort.

Silk Way Rally Nissan Results through Stage 6

16th  Jurgen Schroeder, Nissan Navara, 1:08:54 adrift
20th  Sergey Uspenskiy, Nissan GForce Proto, 1:36:48
21st  Miao Ma, Nissan Pathfinder, 1:42:08
37th  Sergey Fomin, Nissan NP300 Pickup, 3:14:48
53rd  Rong Zi, Nissan Patrol, 4:45:21

Monday, July 4, 2016

Largest Exposure to Stage Rally in the US in '16 was...the 2016 Supercross Season???

Been meaning to post this for a while but just getting around to it now.  Never saw anyone else in the rally scene mention this so either most rally people in the US don't go to Supercross events or they just didn't think it was a big deal.

When you are involved in a sport that generally attracts a few dozen to a few hundred spectators over the course of a weekend event and there are constant hand-wringing sessions over what can be done to improve the visibility of the sport and get more people at least AWARE of it so there is some potential for new blood to be brought it, getting the sport in front of the eyes of tens of thousands of people in a short period of time is a huge deal.

The setup was pretty simple.  You hop in one of the four seats, the Toyota rep helps you put on a set of VR goggles and off you go with Ryan, racing down some dirt roads, keeping up with dirt bike rider racing the same terrain.  Using VR you can look around the interior of Ryan's Rav4 seeing the cage, gaze out the window at the dirt biker, look across at Ryan, examine all the buttons on the was a REALLY cool experience.

In combination with Ryan Millen and his stage rally Rav4 and Toyota, what you see photos of here went traveling around to the 17 some odd Supercross events in the first half of '16.  With total attendance for Supercross events pushing over 3/4 of a million individuals and a constant stream of people throwing on the VR goggles and riding along with Ryan Millen in the Rav4 down some dirt roads in California, it would have done a Stage Rally organization a great deal of good if it could have partnered with Ryan and/or Toyota to put some kind of "For more info about Stage Rally, go here: XXXX" or "If you want to get into racing cars in the dirt like Ryan and his Rav4 see this: XXXX", etc.  At the very least it could have gotten a lot of eyeballs on the sport and let them know that the sport is out there.

For any rally organizer looking at this...Supercross does have one more event in '16...the season finale at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas in mid October...The opportunity to pull some new eyeballs and competitors/fans into the sport still exists...somebody get on it....

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Now This Is My Kind Of 240Z!

Modified to take on the Peking to Paris rally for pre 1975 cars.  This 240Z was rotisserie restored before being modified to handle offroad roads.  Not some garage queen, this was put on a boat and off to China for a 10,000 mile race that combines TSD and Special Stage style racing with a reported 50/50 mix of offroad/onroad terrain.

The host in the video is a bit of a goober but if you can make it past him, the owner/driver of the vehicle seems cool and down to earth and knowledgable about the history of offroad 240Zs which includes Baja and the East African Safari.  The R&T article and the team's Facebook page are linked to below.  They are currently in the middle of their race passing into Kazan, Russia yesterday and were busy cleaning off the Mongolian dirt.  You can see their progress, trials and tribulations in their posts...amazing that quality internet access seems to be almost EVERYWHERE now...

240Z Peking to Paris page...

Road & Track Peking to Paris 240Z...

Friday, July 1, 2016

Yours Truly on the Nissan Nation Podcast!

Yup...interviewed about the NISMO Stuff Racing Frontier, its history, its present and its future.  Great working with Daniel Grooters (who has his own Nissan racing effort underway) and David Boyd to do this.  Keep up the good work boys!

Scroll down here to play episode 37 of their podcast where my long segment is.

Episode 37 of Nissan Nation Podcast!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hellwig Introduces 2016 Nissan Titan Sway Bars

For lifted and stock height Titans.  Good to see some aftermarket support for the new Titan...hope it keeps coming and gets more varied...

Hellwig Sway Bars for 2016 Nissan Titan...

Monday, June 27, 2016

Top Nissan Finisher at Italian Baja--Diesel Pathfinder

Before being stopped by a stalled engine due to a deep water crossing, Hector Oliveira and the VM Tecnosport team finished 12th in the Italian Baja this weekend.  Prior to the water injestion the team was running in the top 10. Given the Portuguese nature of the team one could expect them to show up at the Baja Portugal event later this year and run the Pathfinder there as well.

45 Entries, 13 Retirements (29% DNF rate), 8 Nissan Entries, 2 Retirements (25% DNF rate)

Nissan results for the event:

H. Oliveira, Diesel Pathfinder--12th
L. Lechowicz, Navara (Frontier) D40--22nd (2nd in T2 class)
A. Rossi, Pathfinder--25th
F. Crozzolo, Navara (Frontier) D40--27th
T. Piec, Navara (Frontier)--28th
A. Abdulla, Patrol Y62--29th
L. Traglio, Patrol Y61--Retired
A. Toro, Patrol Y61--Retired

Italian Baja Website...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

V8 Navara Takes Third in South Africa...

In the Donaldson Cross Country Motor Racing Championship.  This was in Production Class T and driven by Luke Botha and codriven by Andre Vermeulen.  The event (Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race) brakes down into two races, each of near 500km and is a brutal test of some of the best Rally-Raid drivers this side of Dakar.

The Red-Lined Motorsport team consistently fields four or more V8 powered Navaras (Frontiers) in the Donaldson series and also sends a handful of cars to the Dakar the past few years.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Nissan Patrol Running Well at Italian Baja...

Abdel Abdulla came into the Italian Baja in 2nd place overall for the year in the T2 class of the FIA Cross-Country Rally standings and is holding that place through the first two days of the three day event.

Currently having finished Stage 3 of the race, Abdulla is in second in T2 (production vehicles) about 2 and 1/2 minutes behind Seaidan and his LandCrusier who Abdullah is chasing for the '16 championship.

Tomorrow will present two more chances to catch Seaidan, each another 74 kilometers in length along what is a gravelly and water crossing filled course.  Abdulla sits 21st overall out of 45 entrants and is the second placing Nissan so far.  No Nissans have DNF'd to date and other sit as follows:

9th--Oliveira, Looks like a diesel Pathfinder...but unsure of real engine...Running in T1 class
21st--Abdulla, Patrol Y62
27th--Lechowicz, Navara (Frontier) D40
30th--Rossi, Pathfinder LR50
31st--Crozzolo, Navara (Frontier)
32nd--Toro, Patrol
33rd--Piec, Navara (Frontier) D40
38th--Traglio, Patrol

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Nissan Patrol Closes in on FIA T2 Class

The FIA's World Championship for Cross-Country Rallies is dominated at the highest level of the sport by your well known Dakar entrants and efforts with Nasser Al-Attiyah, Carlos Sainz, Jean-Luis Schlesser, etc.  These entrants are in the T1 class for "prototype" cross-country vehicles.

The T2 class however is for production based vehicles and it is here where Nissan is leading the pack with a Nissan Patrol (known in the US as the Infiniti QX80).  Driver Adel Abdulla had taken a win in Abu Dhabi and had a 4th Qatar earlier this year and enters the 4th event of the season in Italy this weekend 12 points out of the T2 lead behind Yasir Seaidan and his Toyota LandCruiser.  With Yasir having two Dakars under his belt, he certainly has the experience to take the overall win...though the change in terrain from the deserts of the Mid-East to the tighter, rockier terrain of Italy may be an equalizer.

You can follow the Italian Baja here:

This event will also include American Bryce Menzies behind the wheel of a XRaid Mini as he continues to prep for what is anticipated to be a Red Bull backed effort at Dakar '17 under the Mini banner.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Kind of a Nissan GT-R at this Weekend's Pikes Peak Hillclimb...

Body of a Ford Focus (kinda) and the heart and soul of a GT-R.  Well, this Australian effort comes out of Pace Innovations who works in a number of different genres, ranging from Australian V8 Supercars, to Rally-Raid style trucks, to hillclimb cars to side by sides.

This car has over 800HP and weighs just over 2,000 pounds and was originally designed to break hillclimb records in Australia.  Now it has bee brought over here to compete in one of the oldest and most prestigious events we have.  It will be competing against about 11 other competitors in the Unlimited class including another Nissan GT-R.

It doesn't appear that anyone is set up this year to challenge Sebastian Loeb's all time record set in '13 but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Electric Vehicle (modified) record of 9:07 fall to Rhys Millen and the Electric Vehicle (production) record of 12:55 fall to Blake Fuller and his Tesla S P90D.

Oh...and I'm so hoping the Jeff Denmeade's Time Attack 2 class Mitsubishi Evo effort blows up or is totaled in some catastrophic fashion.  Not enough bad things could happen to him in this event for my liking.

Pikes Peak International Hillclimb page...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Moeckel Pond Fishing...or Lack Thereof...

Well as part of Father's Day after a number of other dissapointments my son and I decided to run over to Moeckel Pond for some fishing.  I had been there about three months ago and there was a fair amount of shallow water in the "pond" and figured it would be a decent spot for some small, freshwater fishing.

Not to be.  The super dry weather and general draining of the pond due to the breaching of the dam has left almost nothing left for a fish to swim in.  There is currently a VERY small "puddle" just below the Moeckel Dam in which you can cast a line...we caught one small bluegill in said puddle and a good sized muskrat swam within 10 feet of us on his way up to the dam...but that's it.  If you have thoughts of heading to Moeckel Pond for some fishing...skip least until the Moekel Pond Dam Association raises enough money to repair the dam and refill the pond.

Mocked Pond video about its history and effort to revive it.  I think I will head over to their donation page and contribute towards its restoration...far better that than another housing development at this point.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Get Your Refunds from the Boston Grand Prix Now

I should've known.  We just can't have nice things...

I bought two tickets and pit passes for the announced Boston Grand Prix Indycar race for Memorial Day weekend in Boston earlier this year.  There had been various wranglings back and forth between the event organizer and various permitting bodies but I always thought that for the benefit of the city a deal would get done and the event would happen.

I was wrong.

Today the organizer pulled out due to yet another last minute permitting hurdle that was put in front of them by the city or city hangers on (  Complaints about noise, traffic, disturbance of the landfill dirt that some of the roads were built on, and on and on and on...there were certain left wing NIMBYs who were determined that this event would never happen no matter what its benefits to the city.  Shocker right?

So here we are...the event cancelled, the organizer saying there are other of which is in the Northeast...What are the chances they can pull off the event on short notice somewhere else?  Do I want to go to Providence for the race?  Will it be a shadow of its original proposal and not worth the money paid up front?  Will the organizer collapse and leave me with useless tickets as they work their way through bankruptcy?

Best option for me at this point is to get my money back and see how it shakes out?  So how to do it? I've already emailed (no response yet), called (no answer) and searched in the articles and websites about the event and its cancellation for info on how to get my money back.  Nothing yet.

So best option?  Call my credit card company and charge the purchase back.  Its one of the nice things about using a credit card to purchase something.  If you don't get what you paid for, Visa and MasterCard hold the company that processes the transaction liable for bringing the end merchant (the entity that failed to deliver the goods) into the card system.  That company (the processor) will try to pass that liability on to the original company but if that company goes away (bankruptcy or the like) the liability rests with the processor which is almost always a multibillion dollar company that is forced to make good on these charges by Visa/MC.  So if you/I don't get our your credit card company and charge the tickets back and use the money to go see F1 up in Montreal...

UPDATE:  Received an email this morning that refunds for the tickets will begin on Monday and occur in the order they were purchased.  This is good news as it means either Vendini (the company the organizer used for ticketing and box office management) held the funds back in the case of an occurrence like this, or the processing company did, or the organizer itself did...I would watch your accounts to make sure that the money is returned in short order but at least it appears the buyers will be made whole which is different than similar circumstances.  So what should I do with the $493?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Removing Handlebar Endweights on Honda CB500X

Started my first modifications on the CB500X ADV bike this weekend.  As always its a learning experience.

In order to install a set of Barkbusters handguards the handlebar endweights have to come off so that the aluminum guards can be attached in a wraparound fashion, attaching where the weights once were.  Looking at the endweights you see the Phillps style screw holding them down.  The weights however just spin and spin so that won't work on its own.

Then you try and hold the weights while using the screwdriver...nope, you can't get a good enough hold on the smooth and round weights to exert enough torque on the screw.  The trick to getting them off?  Duck tape.

Taking duck tape you put down 3 or 4 layers with 1/2 the tape width on the weight and 1/2 on the grip  itself which does not spin at all.  Doing this nearly immobilizes the weight (it may move a cm or less but essentially freezes it in place).  Then get out your ratchet drive.  Nope, a simple Phillips cannot get enough torque on the screw even with it held still.  The ratchet wrench connected to a Phillips drive is enough to get the job done and with a little effort the screw will break free and as soon as it does it spins off by fingers with ease.

This trick should work on any Honda as it is apparently quite common for newbies with bikes (like me) to be stumped by this one looking to make some initial modifications.  My screws were not Loc-Tite'd in place (some have stated that their Honda's had Loc-Tite on their weight screws) but you can see in the photo that the screws are machined to have flat spots in them, locking them in place.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Movie Review: Bone Tomahawk

I was EXTREMELY reticent to watch this movie.  I am not a fan of "torture porn" or movies that seek to go to extremes in order to try and out-gross or out-offend its audience.  While knowing the details of such infamous films as "The Human Centipede", "A Serbian Film", "Cannibal Holocaust", "Salo" "The Green Inferno" and others of their ilk I have little desire to see them and find the idea of them to be nauseating--which I suppose might be part of their point though you'd never know it from how stupid the plots, craftsmanship, dialogue, and acting typically are.  Still, I prefer my films to have at least a bit of thought beyond--"How can I most profoundly disgust my audience and degrade the human race?"

I was afraid Bone Tomahawk might fall into this category given the notoriety a particularly violent scene within the movie had gotten.  While this one scene involving the violent, manual, nude, dismemberment of a male character is extremely graphic and crosses the line of what I will normally watch, the rest of the film is smart, funny and thoughtful enough to make up for it.

A mashup of both horror and western genres the film contains some excellent actors--Kurt Russell, Matthew Fox, Patrick Wilson and others who do a fantastic job of creating nuanced characters, each distinctly different from one another with their own motives, charms and perceptions.  Russell in particular is great here.  Always a fantastic anti-hero, he is the moral compass of this film, leading his small band of men in the attempt to track down the troglodyte Indians living in the "Valley of the Starving Men" and rescue their kidnapped friends.

The horror comes into play with the capture of one character's wife and another's employee by cannibal Indians.  While the film tries to separate these cannibals from "true" Indians, its pretty clear that these are meant to only a different branch of the same tree.  I'm honestly a bit shocked that the film hasn't received a great deal more politically correct criticism given all the "good" characters are white and all but one, male, while the cannibal Indians are dirty, primitive, dark skinned, unable to use language, etc.  In fact, one major characteristic of them is that we never really see their faces, making them truly faceless, persona-less, evil.

The real violence doesn't take place until the film's third and final act (the first two acts staying firmly in the Western genre with all its tropes present and accounted for, with the last transitioning into the realm of Horror) and if you didn't know it was coming it would be a major shock as first hour and 45 of the film did not contain anything worse than your average Tarantino film (to whom Zahler and his dialogue is drawing comparisons) and in fact is far LESS violent than most of those.  While hard to watch, at least the 30 seconds or so of horrific bloodletting carried the proper emotional weight, was properly placed in the film and wasn't overly focused on for the sake trying to sicken the audience.  The violence was simply part of the story--not indulged in, heightened, glamorized, or pushed at the viewer or wallowed in by the director like I feel even something a film like "Straw Dogs" does.

The director here, S. Craig Zahler is one to watch.  He comes out of a literary background having crafted a number of very well received Western and Sci-Fi novels, is a NYU film school grad and has a number of film scripts that have been snatched up for production by both Martin Scorsese's company and by Leonardo DiCaprio.  One would do well to watch this man's career as early returns indicate a very bright future in both the filming and writing of genre fiction.  Seeing this film now, I am sure I will be looking back in five to eight years when he has some blockbuster of a film and is being paid tens of millions of dollars to direct more mainstream fare that I will say to myself, "Yup, saw that coming" much like I did with Peter Jackson and "Heavenly Creatures" (which too had its controversy with violence and bloodletting).  Take a dramamine, don't eat a big dinner and you should be fine to enjoy what is going to be an extremely well known cult film and director until he hits it big time which should be in short order.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Nice Morning Drive/Red Barchetta--Stunningly Prescient

As a fan of the band RUSH since I was a youth I was quite familiar with the song Red Barchetta in which the protagonist escapes a city to enjoy the experience of driving his own vehicle through the countryside before being chased by the powers that be since such individual pleasures have become outlawed and ends up eluding his pursuers to relax at his uncles farm by the fire.

It was only later in life that I became enamored with vehicles and driving myself and learned that the aforementioned song was inspired by a short story printed in Road and Track Magazine back in 1973.  Likely driven by efforts of individuals like Ralph Nader and the auto industry as a whole as it moved into vehicles that were heavier, more feature laden, slower, less aesthetically pleasing, etc. the short story forecast numerous things that have come to pass.  Red Barchetta continued that path with its cyberpunk/dystopian images of the future where driving had been outlawed and individuals seeking to escape the soul deadening cities.

I had never read "A Nice Morning Drive" until now as I picked up a copy of the November 1973 edition of Road and Track off of Ebay the other day.  With the current focus on the EPA and its clarification of the illegality of vehicles that have been modified for racing use, the coming AI driven motorcars that will soon be shepherding us all around and the very real possibility that human drivers will be outlawed shortly thereafter as being too dangerous both the story and the song deserve revisiting.  A nice sidebar to this is that the author, Richard S. Foster, is a big time BMW motorcycle enthusiast who at one time met up with "Red Barchetta" author and RUSH drummer Neil Peart for a joint trip around the roads of West Virginia which you can read a recap of here: Neil Peart WV Motorcycle Trip with Richard Foster

Both works contain a strong streak of individualism, a disdain for the current (and future) state of the government's role in our lives and a spot on look of where we would stand some 40 years after these were written.  They are similar in tone and impact to and remind me much of Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451"

Both "A Nice Morning Drive" and "Red Barchetta" are included in their entirety below:

A Nice Morning Drive
by Richard S. Foster

It was a fine morning in March 1982.  The warm weather and sky gave promise of an early spring.  Buzz had arisen early that morning, impatiently eaten breakfast and gone to the garage.  Opening the door, he saw the sunshine bounce off the gleaming hood of his 15-year-old MGB roadster.  After carefully checking the fluid levels, tire pressures and ignition wires, Buzz slid behind the wheel and cranked the engine, which immediately fired to life.  He thought happily of the next few hours he would spend with the car, but his happiness was clouded--it was not as easy as it used to be.

Dozen years ago things had begun changing.  First there were a few modest safety and emission improvements required on new cars; gradually these became more comprehensive.  The governmental requirements reached an adequate level, but they didn't stop; they continued and became more and more stringent.  Now therefore very few of the older models left, through natural deterioration and...other reasons.

The MG was warmed up now and Buzz left the grace, hoping that this early in the morning there would be no trouble.  He kept an eye on the instruments as he made his way down into the valley.  The valley roads were no longer used very much; the small farms were all owned by doctors and the roadster somewhat narrow for the MSVs (Modern Safety Vehicles).

The safety crusade had been well done at first.  The few harebrained schemes were quickly ruled out and a sense of of rationality developed.  But in the last Seventies, with no major wars, cancer cured and social welfare straightened out, the politicians needed a new cause and once again they turned toward the automobile.  The regulations concerning safety became tougher.  Cars became larger, heavier, less efficient.  The consumed gasoline so voraciously that the United States had had to become a major ally with the Arabian countries.  The new cars were hard to stop or maneuver quickly, but they would save your life (usually) in a 50-mph crash.  With 200 million cars on the road, however, few people ever drove that fast anymore.

Buzz zipped quickly to the valley floor, dodging the frequent potholes which had developed from neglect of the seldom-used roads.  The engine sounded spot-on and the entire car had a tight, good feeling about it.  He negotiated several quick S-curves and reached 6000 in third gear before backing off for the next turn.  He didn't worry about the police down here.  No, not the police...

Despite the extent of the safety program, it was essentially a good idea.  But unforeseen complications had arisen.  People became accustomed to cars which went undamaged in 10-mph collisions.  They gave even less thought than before to the possibility o being injured in a crash.  As a result, they tended to worry less about clearances and rights-of-way, so that the accident rate went up a steady six percent every year.  But the damages and injuries actually decreased, so the government was happy, the insurance industry was happy and most of the car owners were happy.  Most of the car owners--the owners of the non-MSV cars were kept busy dodging the less careful MSV drivers, and the result of this mismatch left very few of the older cars in existence.  If they weren't crushed between two 6000-pound sleds on the highway they were quietly priced into the junkyard by the insurance peddlers.  And worst of all, they became targets...

Buzz was well into his act now, speeding through the twisting valley roads with all the skill he could muster, to the extent that he had forgotten his earlier worries.  Where the road was unbroken he would power around the turns in well controlled oversteer, and where the sections were potholed he saw them as devious chicanes to be mastered.  He left the ground briefly going over one of the old wooden bridges and later ascertained that the MG would still hit 110 on the long stretch between the old Hanlin and Grove farms.  He was just beginning to wind down when he saw it, there in his mirror, a late-model MSV with hand-painted designs covering most of its body(one of the few modifications allowed on post-1980 cars).  Buzz hoped it was a tourist or a wayward driver who just got lost looking for a gas station.  But now the MSV drive had spotted the MG, and with a whoosh of a well muffled, well cleansed exhaust restarted the chase...

It hadn't taken long for the less responsible element among drivers to discover that their new MSVs could inflict great damage on an older car and go unscathed themselves.  As a result some drivers would go looking for the older cars in secluded areas, bounce them off the road or into a bridge abutment, and then speed off undamaged, relieved of whatever frustrations cause this kind of behavior.  Police seldom patrolled these out-of-the-way places, their attention being required more urgently elsewhere, and so it became great sport for some drivers.

Buzz wasn't too worried yet.  This had happened a few times before, and unless the MSV driver was an exceptionally good one, the MG could be called upon to elude the other driver without too much difficulty. Yet something bothered him about this gaudy MSV in his mirror, but what was it?  Planning carefully, Buzz let the other driver catch up to within a dozen yards or so, and then suddenly shot off down a road to the right.  The MSV driver stood on his brakes, skidding 400 feet down the road, made a lumbering U-turn and set off once again after the roadster.  The MG had gained quarter mile in this manner and Buzz was thankful for the radial tires and front and rear anti-roll bars he had put on the car a few years back.  He was flying along the twisting road--downshifting, cornering, accelerating and all the while planning his route ahead.  He was confident that if he couldn't outrun the MSV then he could at least hold it off for another hour or more at which time the MSV would be quite low on gas.  But what was it that kept bothering him about the other car?

They reached a straight section of the road and Buzz opened it up all the way and held it.  The MSV was a CB set.  The other driver had a cohort in the chase.  Now Buzz was in trouble.  He stayed on the gas until within a few hundred feet when he banked hard and feinted passing to the left.  The MSV crawled in that direction and Buzz slipped by on the right, bouncing heavily over a stone on the shoulder.  The two MSVs set off in hot pursuit, almost colliding in the process.  Buzz turned right at the first crossroad and then made a quick left, hoping to be out of sight of his pursuers, and in fact he traveled several minutes before spotting one of them on the main road parallel to his lane.  At the same time the other appeared in the mirror from around the last corner.  By now they were beginning to climb the hills on the far side of the valley and Buzz pressed on for all he was worth, praying that the straining engine would stand up.  He lost track of one MSV when the main road turned away, but could see the other one behind him on occasion.  Climbing the old Monument Road, Buzz hoped to have time to get over the top and down the old dirt road to the right, which would be too narrow for his pursuers.  Climbing, straining, the water temperature rising, using the entire road, flailing the shift lever back and forth from 3rd to 4th, not touching the brakes but scrubbing off the necessary speed in the corners, reaching the peak of the mountain where the lane to the old fire tower went off to the left...but coming up the other side of the hill was the second MSV he had lost track of!  No time to get to his dirt road.  He made a panicked turn left onto the fire tower road but spun on some loose gravel and struck a tree glancing blow with his right fender.  He came to a stop on the opposite side of the road, the engine stalled.  Hurriedly he pushed the starter while the overheated engine slowly came back into life.  He engaged 1st gear and sped off up the road, just as the first MSV turned the corner.  Dazed though he was, Buzz had the advantage of a very narrow road lined on both sides with trees and he made the most of it.  The road twisted constantly and he stayed in 2nd with the engine between 5000 and 5500.  The crash hadn't seemed to hurt anything and he was pulling away from the MSV.  But to where?  It hit him suddenly that the road dead-ended at the fire tower, no place to go but back...
was quite a way back but not so far that Buzz couldn't distinguish the tall antenna standing up from the back bumper.  Antenna!  Not police but perhaps a Citizen's Band radio in the MSV?  he quaked slightly and hoped it was not.  The straight stretch was coming to an end now and Buzz put off braking to the last fraction of a second and then sped through a 75-mph right-hander, gaining ten more yards on the MSV.  But less than a quarter mile ahead another huge MSV was slowly pulling across the road and to a stop.  It

Still he pushed on and at the top of the hill drove quickly to their end of the clearing, turned the MG around and waited.  The first MSV came flying into the cleaning and aimed itself at the sitting MG. Buzz grabbed reverse gear, backed up slightly to feint, stopped, and then backed up at full speed.  The MSV, expecting the MG to change direction, veered the wrong way and slid to a stop up against a tree.  Buzz was off again, down the fire tower road, and the undamaged MSV set off in pursuit.  Buzz's predicament was unenviable.  He was going full tilt down the twisting blacktop with a solid MSV coming up at him and an equally solid MSV coming down after him.  On he went, however, braking hard before each turn and then accelerating back up to 45 in between.  Coming  down to a particularly tight turn, he saw the MSV coming around it from the other direction and stood on the brakes.  In sheer desperation he pulled the handbrake as tightly as it would go and rammed the gear lever into 1st, popping the clutch as he did so.  The back end locked solid and broke away, spinning him off the side of the road and miraculously into some bushes, which brought the car to a halt.  As he was collecting his senses, Buzz saw the two MSVs, unable to stop in time, ram each other head on at over 40 mph.

It was a long time before Buzz had the MG rebuilt to its original pristine condition of before the chase.  It was an even longer time before he went back into the valley for a drive.  Now it was only in the very early hours of the day when most people were still sleeping off the effects of the good life.  And when he saw in the papers that the government would soon be requiring cars to be capable of withstanding 75-mph head-on collisions, he stopped driving the MG altogether.

"Red Barchetta"

My uncle has a country place
That no one knows about
He says it used to be a farm
Before the Motor Law
And on Sundays I elude the eyes
And hop the Turbine Freight
To far outside the Wire
Where my white-haired uncle waits

Jump to the ground
As the Turbo slows to cross the borderline
Run like the wind
As excitement shivers up and down my spine
Down in his barn
My uncle preserved for me an old machine
For fifty odd years
To keep it as new has been his dearest dream

I strip away the old debris
That hides a shining car
A brilliant red Barchetta
From a better vanished time
I fire up the willing engine
Responding with a roar
Tires spitting gravel
I commit my weekly crime

In my hair
Shifting and drifting
Mechanical music
Adrenaline surge...

Well-weathered leather
Hot metal and oil
The scented country air
Sunlight on chrome
The blur of the landscape
Every nerve aware

Suddenly ahead of me
Across the mountainside
A gleaming alloy air car
Shoots towards me, two lanes wide
I spin around with shrieking tires
To run the deadly race
Go screaming through the valley
As another joins the chase

Drive like the wind
Straining the limits of machine and man
Laughing out loud with fear and hope
I've got a desperate plan
At the one-lane bridge
I leave the giants stranded at the riverside
Race back to the farm
To dream with my uncle at the fireside

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Revisiting My First Meeting With Dave Mirra...

With the extremely sad news of Dave Mirra's suicide today came the memories of my first meeting with the BMX and Rally star some eight years ago.  It was my first time attending a Rally event but wouldn't be the last.  Reading through what I wrote about him then remarkably matches up with what everyone seems to remember about him.

Also funny is the people that I didn't realize I had run into at that time that I would get to know much better later on in life--Vittorio Barres and his Audi for instance.  Regardless, it makes for a nice remembrance...only wish the memories would have stayed buried and not dredged up due to Dave's death.

OK, so Dave Mirra's performance at the “Team O’Neil Rally” probably wasn’t as good as he hoped...

Errrr…well, it definitely wasn’t as good as he (or his fans) had hoped, but Mirra’s entrance into the first stop on the Rally America Eastern Regional Championship did create a “Mirra”cle of sorts. In conjunction with his fellow racers, Dave Mirra brought real racing excitement and economic benefits to a small, sleepy, (decidedly blue collar) New England town that doesn’t share in the benefits that winter snows bring to nearby ski resorts.

Coming into the weekend it was known that Dave Mirra would be entering his freshly prepped, Monster Energy Drink sponsored, Vermont SportsCar Subaru. The onetime BMX superstar and holder of the record for most medals won at the X-Games, Dave Mirra is following the path of other crossover stars like Travis Pastrana, “Cowboy” Kenny Bartram and Boris Said in trying his hand at Rally Racing. Having started his rally “career” only a few months prior with a four day class at the Team O’Neil Rally School, located in Dalton, New Hampshire, Mirra returned to try and show off his early progress. The “Team O’Neil Rally” would mark only his second full rally race ever. His only previous race came back in November of ’07 at the “Rally of the Tall Pines” in Ontario, Canada where he finished 22nd in a field of 34.

Coming up from his home in comparatively balmy North Carolina, Mirra might have been questioning his sanity coming through the permanent snow storm that hovers in the mountain pass of Franconia Notch; the entrance into what New Englanders call the Great North Woods. Noting the N.C. plates and large Monster emblazoned support truck and trailer it was to miss Mirra’s arrival, early Friday evening before the Saturday race.

Though traveling with a logistical support team larger than any other team at the race, Mirra comes off as being humble and low key. Stepping into the Dalton, NH town hall Mirra does not demand half the attention the graphics on his race vehicle do. Short, lean and compact, Mirra comes off as perhaps more of a Golden Glove caliber boxer than one of the best known Gen-X “extreme” athletes around. He carries none of the bravado or “look at me” demands that we associate with that scene. But despite his understated stature and ego, Mirra still attracts attention wherever he goes.

Unfortunately for the Applebee’s waitress attending to Mirra and crew after the driver’s meeting, her corporate policies forbid her from asking for an autograph or picture with him that she would have loved to get - but was reduced to watching Mirra walk back to his hotel and talking about her brush with fame with the rest of the waitstaff. Fortunately, freelance writers and not bound by a like set of corporate policies and I was as giddy as a little schoolgirl to have my picture taken with Mr. Mirra!

Saturday morning arrived clear and cold, with little wind. Great conditions for a winter rally, not only for the racers but for the marshals and other course workers who would be standing outside most of the day, marking start/finish times, keeping the locals from getting run over and monitoring radio traffic, etc. As one of the workers assigned to the far end of the course I got to drive its length and see just what the racers were up against.

The course was broken down into three basic sections. One being a tight, heavily forested, twisty area where the one lane road surface consisted of mostly hardpacked snow with some small icy patches. A skilled driver could speed though this section, sliding through corner after corner without fear of any major damage. Going off course here would mean high-centering your car in a snowbank or at worst, crashing your car into a relatively small tree (nothing outside the ordinary for a rally racer).

The second major section of the course was the most interesting. Coming out of the forest, the course quickly transitioned into the working property of Chick’s Sand and Gravel. Almost like a mini Pike’s Peak, as a number of people described it, the road would switchback its way over and over down a very steep hillside. The road was a frozen gravel, providing decent traction and lots of flying debris as the cars tried to avoid skittering off the outside edge of the road. Much like Pike’s Peak, a mistake here could mean the end of your vehicle and possibly your life, as the dropoffs were literally heart stopping.

The third and final section held the highest speeds of the day. When exiting the gravel pit, the road widened into long sweeping turns and straightaways, access roads for the large dumptrucks and construction equipment. As one competitor commented, this course was exactly what a winter, regional rally should be—A relatively short course over mixed terrain, meant to challenge but not frustrate the competitors.

The vehicles attacking this course were an eccentric mix of new and old, high end and home brewed, running the gamut from a pair of vehicles born in 1987 (an MR2 and an Audi 4000) all the way up to an ’03 Impreza STi.

In theory, rally races start the fastest car first with the rest of the field following in intervals to minimize the chance of any vehicles coming into direct contact with one another. Rally racing is not as much a car vs. car sport as it is a car vs. course sport. While this sounds good in theory, throw in the vast differences between 2WD cars and AWD cars, experienced and inexperienced drivers, and intervals that may have seemed sufficient at the starting line become non-existent in reality.

More than once during the day a pair of cars would come roaring by the snowy straightaway I was at. They traveled so close that if this was desert racing, I would have expected the faster, rear-positioned car to come up and punt the slower car out of the way. As a low key regional event however, no inter-car shenanigans took place and all competitors ended the day on good terms.

The morning session of runs produced a number of strong and close results with the Subaru STi of John Cassidy and Dave Getchell grabbing stage wins in two out of the first four stages, placing a close second in the other two. Cassidy’s STi seemed well prepared for the slick, twisty sections. Whenever his competitors’ speeds slowed, Cassidy’s times rose to the top of the leaderboard. Dave Mirra put together a very consistent morning with a third, two fourths, and an eighth place finish in the first four stages.

With no major carnage in the morning sessions, all ten competitors were ready to go in the afternoon with just a quick inspection of their vehicles and a bite to eat. Many of the afternoon runs would take place on the same sections that were traversed in the morning, but run in the opposite direction.

Instead of running down the mini-Pike’s Peak gravel pit switchbacks, the drivers would now be going up it. While this took much of the major danger out of the course (momentum and gravity would now be working with the racers, keeping the vehicles from going over the edge,) it also meant that traction and horsepower would be the deciding factors on the steep road and loose gravel. This being the case, it’s no surprise that the Subaru STi of John Cassidy and the Mitsubishi Evo VI of Enda McCormack dominated the afternoon time sheets. Cassidy won both the stages, running directly up the mini-Pike’s Peak with McCormack finishing in second each time. Cassidy also finished second behind Christopher Duplessis and his surprisingly strong 1990 VW GTI in the other two afternoon runs.

While there was little damage in the morning runs, the afternoon was a different story. Whether the limited amount of sunlight melted some snow and greased things up a bit or the competitors were getting tired is unknown. What is known is that a couple of the competitors would not finish the day.

First on the chopping block was the mid-engined Toyota MR2 of Jim McCelland. Struggling all day with the slick conditions, the game little MR2’s traction finally gave out and off the track and into a tree she went. Some minor damage to the MR2’s headlight and front fender was the result but McCelland was able to get the Toyota back on the track and cross the finish line. As Tim O’Neil (founder and owner of the Team O’Neil Rally School and five-time US and North American Rally Racing Champion) said, “Many racers at that point would have cut their losses and called it quits." McCelland didn’t. He pressed on and with a giant grin on his face, finished every stage thrown at him and the little MR2 that could.

Murphy’s Law’s next victim was Dave Mirra and his really shiny Impreza. Again showing off some solid driving skills for someone so new to the sport, Mirra continued finishing in the middle of the pack during the first three of the afternoon runs. However, on the very last run of the day, Mirra lost control of his machine, sending it careening into another of New Hampshire’s finest (trees that is), and taking out a good portion of the front passenger side of the vehicle. Deciding that they could not extract the now mangled Impreza in a timely manner, Mirra and Edstrom (who as the regular co-driver for Travis Pastrana must be used to such accidents) ended their day with a DNF.

Last but not least was the experienced team of Vittorio Bares and Kristin Chute in their ’87 Audi 4000. In their case, the mini-Pike’s Peak hill climb proved too much for the Audi’s fuel pump as it gave up the ghost on their final run of the day. They needed a tow by one of the sweep vehicles back to the O’Neil Rally School’s compound, resulting in the other DNF of the day.

With the day's racing finished, the competitors and workers retired to the “Folk House” restaurant (which was only staying open through this event as a favor to Tim O’Neil and was closing its doors permanently afterwards) where the beers flowed, racing photos were examined, and stories of the day were swapped. Dave Mirra left the festivities early (but not without saying goodbye to about 50 of his newest friends) as he was off to the Vermont SportsCar facilities to prepare for the following weekends Rally America Sno*Drift event in Atlanta, MI. Mirra will be moving from regional events into Rally America’s premier series, against the big names in American rally racing like Pinker, Foust, Block, Bartram and reigning Rally America champion Travis Pastrana. Here’s hoping the boys back at Vermont SportsCar can get Mirra’s car back in one piece after this weekend's brawl with a tree in time for the Sno*Drift Rally.

Shortly after Mirra’s departure, the final results were posted. Coming in third in the ’07 Team O’Neil Rally, with three stage wins and a total time of 56 minutes, 12 seconds were Christopher Duplessis and Catherine Woods in their very feisty VW GTI. Second place went to Enda McCormack and Bernard Farrell, with a single stage win in their Mitsubishi Evo VI and a total time of 54 minutes, 42 seconds. Winning four stages on the day and taking the ’07 Team O’Neil Rally crown with a time of 52 minutes, 36 seconds was the Impreza STi of John Cassidy and Dave Getchell.

The spoils of Cassidy’s dominant victory? There are no gold medals here and no wads of cash - but something just as valuable, to rally racers, anyway.

With the win, John Cassidy and Dave Getchell secure themselves a free entry into the New England Forest Rally (July 11-12 2008), the sixth stop on Rally America’s current schedule, valued at well over $1000. Held in the Bethel, ME area near the Sunday River ski area, the New England Forest Rally is only New England stop on the circuit for North America’s top rally series and generally brings out fans in droves from across the Northeastern United States and Canada. The free entry will now ensure Cassidy’s ability to compete against the big boys of American rally racing and show them that it’s not just the better known names that can hammer down.