Category: Trackday Diaries

By on February 9, 2014

impy2006

When I returned to driving, I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect, but I did everything I could to tilt the odds in my favor. I kept my trips to a minimum, during daylight hours, when traffic was light. I deliberately didn’t buy another child seat and I made it plain that I wouldn’t be doing chauffeur duty for my clone until I was considerably improved. I avoided high speeds, crowded freeways, and when it snowed I stayed indoors. Statistically, I set myself up to succeed. I was particularly cheered by the fact that I often went a fairly long time between experiencing anything that even threatened to turn into a collision situation. The odds were definitely in my favor. Hundred to one.

But the tricky thing about hundred-to-one situations is this: there’s still that one.
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By on January 22, 2014

ms

It helps to set goals. The other day I agreed to do some coaching and maybe a little driving in a very fast car at a reasonably fast track, fifty-five days from now. In-between now and then I have a lot of rehab and maybe two additional surgeries to knock out, but I’m confident I can do it. Better to agree to something and then work hard to get there than it would be to rehab without a goal and then agree to do something when I’m completely ready, whatever that means. Right now I’m in the kind of pain that makes me swear randomly during phone conversations:

“Well, I don’t think that the Milgauss will always commmand this kind of pricing MOTHERF*&% GOD DAMN IT TO HELL AARRRGH MY LEG forever, it’s the watch of the moment but in the long run it can’t be worth any more than an LV, it doesn’t cost as much to make.”

Regardless of that, however, I’m improving. Ten days ago I couldn’t lift my right foot off the ground; today I can lightly kick my son’s toy airplanes out of my way when I’m walker-clomping to the bathroom. It can only get better.

Michael, on the other hand, isn’t getting better.
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By on June 24, 2013

Picture courtesy the author.

There was some mild consternation among the Best&Brightest when I admitted to left-foot braking the Focus SE in traffic. To a man (or woman), our readers were not pleased at the thought that I might be bumbling along a freeway at ten miles per hour or so, alternately pressing the brake and accelerator with one foot per pedal. One wonders what they might have made of LJK Setright’s famous assertion that he occasionally drove cross-footed, pressing the accelerator with his left foot and the brake with his right, “to ensure that driving is a conscious, not unconscious, activity.”

In any event, I would suggest that there is one scenario where you may left-foot brake, one scenario where you should, and one where you absolutely must not, and I’ve detailed them below.

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By on April 16, 2013

I sing the coupe eccentric;
The doors of those I love engirth me, and I endure them;
They will not let me park till I deal with them, wrestle with them;
And do not ding them, and close them with solid sound unknown by Kia Soul.

It wasn’t that long ago that I recorded my generally favorable opinion of the outgoing Nissan Altima during an impromptu trip to Nashville and parts south. That car was obsolete even as I was reviewing it, supplanted by a zoomy and flame-surfacey new sedan. As of yet, however, the corresponding new Altima coupe has only appeared in renderings and rumors. Therefore Nissan has returned the old two-door for a very limited 2013-model-year engagement. It’s available in one trim level (S), with one drivetrain (2.5 four-cylinder/CVT) and at a relatively steep price ($25,230).

As a child of the Seventies, I have a not inconsiderable attachment to the idee fixe of the mid-sized coupe. The Altima Coupe is the natural successor to the Cutlass Supremes and Monte Carlos that prowled the neighborhoods of my youth. For some time I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to rent a new one; that quest came to a successful conclusion when I stepped off the plane in Houston Friday night and found a 2013 Altima Coupe with just 1,400 miles in my assigned stall.

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By on March 4, 2013

“So, I ordered myself a Jeep.”

“Awesome! What did you end up getting?”

“Loaded Sahara Unlimited, Gecko Green, tan leather, six-speed manual, just like you suggested.”

“Well, that is what I suggested alright… but…”

“But what?”

“I didn’t think you were actually going to do it.”

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By on February 25, 2013

“Say, Rodney,” I inquired via phone, “I wonder if you might be interested in helping me look at a Town Car in Pataskala for a guy in Czechoslovakia.”

I wonder,” Rodney responded, “if you might be interested in bringing a pair of motherf**king McChicken sandwiches over to where I’m staying at so that it might lubricate my willingness to perform this inspection. And remember, I said two McChickens, you cheap cracker.”

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By on February 20, 2013

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul… you know the rest, right? If you don’t, find your high-school English teacher and ask for your money back. Ishmael had his berth on the Pequod, but I had a narrow-pitch seat on Southwest Airlines’ egalitarian 737, and my no-particular-purpose destination, chosen in a fit of pique and self-pity, was Los Angeles.

I had no purpose in my trip save for escape. I left no calling for this idle trade, no duty broken, no father disobeyed. In my haste to leave Ohio, I neglected to consider the fact that many of my Los Angeles friends would be missing due to the Chicago Auto Show; once that sunk through my head, I promptly stopped calling people and in doing so missed out on some friends who hadn’t gone to the show after all. Oh well.

At least I had a place to stay: the notorious dating blogger Melisa Mae had agreed to let me crash on her couch for a few days. That much, at least, I’d planned out. My flight arrived past ten on a Friday evening, and by the time I’d driven to Burbank and stocked up on vodka at the local Ralph’s it was way past midnight. Melisa met me at the gate to her house, nodded approvingly at the brown paper bags, then directed a considerably less cheerful glance at my $23/day rental. “That,” she pronounced, “is, like, the crappiest little car ever.”

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By on February 15, 2013

Chrysler’s Pentastar-powered minivan is, truly, madly, deeply, one of my favorite vehicles. My first meeting was with the high-buck Town and Country, followed by a very long drive in a Caravan SXT. Great vehicles, both of them, and worth the money.

Unfortunately for Chrysler’s profit margins, however, the economic outlook in this country for actual working people continues to nose-dive. The company’s fighting back with a $20,000 (after incentives and discounts) “America Value Package” Caravan. That’s right: for the price of a Honda Civic EX, there’s a 283-horsepower, seven-seater van with keyless entry available. To get a sense of whether such a proposition holds any interest for those of us without five children and a slim budget, I rented a 2012 Caravan with slightly less equipment than what you’d find in the 2013 Value Package, and took a little thousand-mile Tennessee excursion.

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By on February 6, 2013

There is a level of distracted driving that exists far above that enjoyed by the texting teen or harried housewife haranguing her husband via shattered-screen iPhone 4. It is the level where one’s mind is in the grip of an idea so compelling, so overwhelming, that the task of driving the car has to be handed off to the not-quite-conscious mind, the dream state of anxiety and anticipation and frustration that caused me to accidentally steer my thirty-seven-thousand-tired-mile rental Altima to Lexington (via Route 75) when I had every intention of traveling to Louisville (via Route 71). Every three minutes and twenty-seven seconds, my right hand reached out to my iPod and reset it to play The Stylistics again. Fifty times, maybe, I listened to the song, driving in the wrong direction, animated by the single thought:

I will see her tonight.

Betcha, by golly, wow.

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By on June 28, 2012

I come to bury Motor Trend’s Scott Evans, not to praise him. Scratch that: Jalopnik’s Matt Hardigree already dug and filled Mr. Evans’ grave with a double sprinkling of schadenfreude. It’s old news. Not that I don’t personally chuckle every time GM deliberately stacks their event with yes-men and useful idiots, only to see one of those puppets smash the Chinese wheels right off one of their press-trip whips, but it’s happening often enough now that it’s no longer particularly interesting.

Rather, I have a more noble purpose in mind: I want to make sure that the average TTAC reader won’t ever trash a car on the street the way Evans did. We’ll examine Scott’s version of the events, consider the likely truth of that version, and explain how he could have prevented the accident.

Before we do any of that, however, I have an extremely unusual story to tell: it’s the one about the journalist who backed off from the edge and didn’t wreck the car.

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By on June 27, 2012
YouTube Preview Image

The inimitable Ross Bentley likes to say that every driver, at every level of wheel-to-wheel competition, is a team leader. It follows, therefore, that auto racing is a team sport. In any team sport, a good system beats a great talent at least nine times out of ten, usually more. Michael Schumacher won because he built great teams, not because he could do something behind the wheel that others couldn’t. The same is true of Jimmie Johnson in NASCAR, or of the Audi efforts at LeMans.

When I’ve been drinking, or when I am trying to bore a woman into a state so comatose that she no longer has the will to resist, I like to tell the story of how I once drove from the Solo Nationals in Topeka, KS to Flat Rock, MI nonstop, jumped in my team’s Toyota Supra, and in the course of a three-hour stint promptly took us from third place to winning the 24 Hours of LeMons by 57 laps — the greatest margin of victory in series history, as far as anybody seems to know.

It’s a fun story, if you’re easily amused, and like any other story of endurance racing it’s chock-full of little dramas — the thugs from Car and Driver putting a previously-retired car back on track just to try to hit me, a failure of radio communication, Tony Swan’s mental failure and subsequent wall-smacking after I stepped on his throat with some horrifyingly aggressive but contact-free racing. It was a great victory and I’m still pleased to remember it five years after the fact.

Our team really didn’t win because of anything I did, however. We won because they were planning and executing a strategy while I was still packing up my brother’s RX-8 in Topeka. That strategy won the race, and I keep trying to share it with people… but nobody really wants to listen.

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By on May 21, 2012

In his uneven but interesting book Guitar: An American Life, Tim Brookes notes that acoustic players “pick up a guitar in order to meet college girls but wind up talking to other middle-aged men about their fingernails.” I started racing so I could put my merciless, Edward-Green-shod foot on the neck of other competitors in the twilight zone that separates victory from certain death, but I’ve wound up spending my weekends telling other middle-aged men to unwind their steering wheels at corner exit.

This past weekend at Summit Point’s Shenandoah course, I preached long sermons from the Book of Corner Exit to three of those middle-aged men: a novice in a Panamera Turbo, a prodigy in a C6 Vette, and my own crumbling self, piloting a Coyote-powered Mustang GT in an ultimately futile attempt to outpace a colleague in a new 991 Carrera S. Together we pursued the discipline of the Quality Exit, with varying results. To misquote the poet: “O you who turn the wheel and look to chiclets, Gentile or Jew, click the jump to find out how we did.”

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By on April 29, 2012

It was thirty-eight degrees F outside, with a light misting of rain, as I pulled my newly-purchased 1975 Honda CB550 up to the stoplight, next to my ex-wife’s 2012 Edge. My son waved cheerfully from his monstrous child seat.

“We only have eighty-two miles left to go,” I shouted through my chinbar, “and I want to beat the worst of the rain. I think I’ll be okay taking the freeway.”

“It’s fine with me, either way,” she replied. This didn’t suit my opinion of the risk I was taking by chucking an unproven, thirty-seven-year-old motorcycle into high-speed tractor-trailer traffic at near-freezing temperature, so instead I pretended that she had given me the response Trinity gives Morpheus when he suggests taking the freeway: “You said it was suicide.”

“Then let us hope,” I told her, ignoring the completely confused look on her face, “I was wrong.”

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