Trackday Diaries

Getting Dirty During the Alcan 5000 -- Part One

The Alcan 5000 Rally might not be what you think of when you think of rallying a car. It’s not an event chocked full of sideways-sliding Subarus or overpowered hatchbacks catching air over hills as hundreds of fans gaze as rabid drivers hurtle through the woods in search of the fastest stage of a gravel rally.

Read more
On Decisions, Consequences, and Being 'That Guy'

We are constantly making decisions as we all hurtle through this life toward a destination unknown.

Sometimes these decisions turn out to be the “correct” decision, however “correct” is defined within the relevant context. Sometimes it’s the opposite.

The problem is that while the outcome of our decisions is sometimes obvious – I know when I order that one more beer that I’m kicking a payment of minor pain down the road to tomorrow – sometimes, the outcome isn’t foreseeable. Especially when you’re making a decision that feels correct at the moment (and defensible in hindsight), and yet a nasty surprise is just seconds away from smacking you in the face.

In other words, sometimes you make a decision that seems correct, seems low risk, one that others would agree with – and it still all goes to hell.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: I'm Already Scared

The speedometer on the little two-seater was already past 90 and climbing as I watched the grey-haired fellow to my left put both his hands on the left side of the steering wheel and start to tug at it. There was a curve ahead, a long blind left-hander with a line of Jersey barriers on the shoulder. What was on the road after that was a complete mystery, both to him and me. Neither one of us had ever been here before.

He tugged on the wheel at the same time as he stomped on the brakes. Various lights flashed on the instrument panel ahead of him. The car slewed then caught itself. There was a hot metallic smell as the stability control and ABS clamped all four corners of the car in rapid-fire pulses. The right front tire groaned in protest as we gradually sacrificed momentum down to about 30 mph.

“Let’s pull over here,” I said in what I hoped was a flat and judgment-free voice, “and stop for a minute.” We came to a halt in a small parking lot. A minivan pulled in behind us. I got out of the car and walked over to the minivan, where my photography team was waiting. We were all here to do a story on this relatively rare and exotic car and its owner, whose bacon had just been saved along with mine by the very best efforts of an Italian stability-control engineer.

“Move something,” I told the photographers, “I’m riding in the van now.”

“I GUESS HE DON’T WANT TO RIDE WITH ME!” the owner yelled. “I DRIVE AT THE EDGE!”

“He drives over the edge,” I spat, stepping into the van and finding a recently-cleared seat in the third row. “Over the edge of idiocy.”

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Pull up to the Bumper, Baby

“Mr. Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” Thus spake Auric Goldfinger — and I’m starting to think he had a point.

About this time last year, my 2014 Accord Coupe was smacked on the rump by a cheerful part-time weed dealer in a battered Mazda2. It could have been a lot more hassle than it was. The kid was willing to wait for the cops, his insurance company was slow to act but friendly enough once they got started, and the insurance-selected body shop actually did a half-decent job of installing and painting a new bumper.

I should note that part of the reason everything went so well was my determination to not get agitated about the incident and its repercussions. As long-time TTAC readers know, I’m very fond of my Accord, but it’s fundamentally a cheap little car built right here in Ohio by a bunch of teenagers.

Had it been my 911 or my old Audi S5 in that little fender-bender, I would have raised all sorts of hell and insisted on using my own body shop and having a third-party inspection and so on. Or at least that’s what I did every time one of my “nice” cars was damaged by someone else. Hell, when my 1990 VW Fox was dented on a downtown street some time in 1994 I contrived to have the repair done by the only Lamborghini and Ferrari certified shop in Ohio. It was too nice. The paint on the repair was deeper and glossier than the Brazilian factory spray.

If last year’s Accord injury was happenstance, then what happened to me yesterday was coincidence. Once again my car’s been damaged by an utter idiot — but as you’ll see, this time there’s nothing I can do but grin and bear it.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: All Those (Not So) Stupid Rules, Explained

“Why can’t we have coolant in the car when we’re racing?” It was getting close to midnight and I was still trying to get the undertray off our MX-5 Cup car so I could drain the distilled water and get coolant into the radiator. There was a bit of a time factor involved; the temperature was scheduled to dip below freezing in the hours to come, and if the water froze in the engine block we would have serious problems. Danger Girl understood perfectly well why we couldn’t let our little Mazda make it through the night without coolant in the engine, but she didn’t quite understand why we didn’t have coolant in there to begin with.

In her honor, and for the enlightenment of every would-be track rat who has been afraid to ask why such-and-such a rule exists, I’ve picked seven slightly opaque trackday or racing rules and explained them below. Even if you never plan to set foot or tire on a road course, this might still of be of interest… or not. What can I say? I tried to get you to click the jump. Click the jump already!

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Sometimes the Light's All Shinin' on Me

There’s a great scene in Clear and Present Danger where Harrison Ford says, “Where are you taking me, Marty?” in that great post-Han Solo angry growl of his, and Marty replies, “It’s you who have taken us here.” And so it was with me and the B&B. Just over a month ago, I asked you to help me pick a pickup. One of you read that article and promptly broke my wife’s heart by making us a fair but not overly generous offer on her Tahoe.

I have to say that for all of Danger Girl’s well-known bravery in the face of pain and suffering — this is, after all, a woman who managed to get her SCCA comp license and a couple of race starts less than 18 months after having three pounds’ worth of external titanium scaffolding unbolted from her — she did not cope very well with the idea of not owning a Chevrolet truck of some sort.

I don’t think she made it plain in her story, but with one six-month exception she has had nothing but either half-ton Chevrolet work trucks or Tahoes since the day she turned sixteen. (The truckless interregnum? A fleeting romance with an Equinox.) Two of those trucks — count ’em, two! — were totaled at high speed by the unlicensed-and-undocumented crowd out in New Mexico. The others she drove until the engines called it quits. This happened more than you might think. At one point in her life she had a 210-mile daily commute. Things really are different in the Southwest.

“I don’t see why I can’t have just a plain white work truck again,” she told me, which made me cringe at the molecular level like Jeremy Irons in Reversal Of Fortune contemplating his attorney’s food-stained 50/50 “dress” shirt. No member of my family has ever actually owned a full-sized pickup of any type. Twenty years ago, one of my uncles bought a Toyota T-100 to tide him through a few years of home renovation; to this day, my grandmother acts like he got a Confederate tattoo on his neck and spent 20 years on the open road pushing a Kenworth between Amarillo and Anchorage. I didn’t relish letting anybody see me in a plain white work truck. Although I’d been looking at the Silverado LT All-Stars for a while, I was pretty sure that when push came to shove I was going to buy a Sierra Denali, put a cap on it, and tell my relatives it was a Yukon XL.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Pick a Perfect Pickup

And did you know desire’s a terrible thing
The worst that I can find
And did you know desire’s a terrible thing
But I rely on mine

“Can’t Be Sure” was The Sundays’ brilliant 1989 debut, introducing all of us to the lovely Harriet Wheeler and her ability to sing the most heartbreaking lyrics possible in the voice of a spoiled British child. I took the above stanza to heart the minute I heard it, because it took something that had long animated me and put it into a few simple words. It’s no wonder that the Zen philosophers preach a detachment from desire, because it drives our worst and most selfish behaviors. Virtually every regrettable or repugnant episode in my life has begun with me looking at something (or, more often, someone) and pronouncing, like Henderson The Rain King, “I WANT!”

Yes, desire is a terrible thing — but I rely on mine, as I’ve recently been reminded. You see, I need a full-size pickup. But need is in no way synonymous with desire, so I’m absolutely stuck in the mud trying to figure out what I should do next.

Read more
How a Single O-Ring Almost Ended a Race Weekend

Our race weekend at New Jersey Motorsports park was months in the making and the MX-5 Cup car known as Marylin finally felt solid. We arrived late, so the plan was to pull the car off the trailer, complete an ABS calibration, and then head back to the hotel to get a little rest before the afternoon qualifying session.

The MX-5 had other plans and started steaming from the back of the cylinder head after the ABS test.

The qualifying session was just a few hours away and the leak appeared to be coming from an unreachable spot between the cowl and transmission bellhousing. Online diagrams showed an O-ring at the joint that was leaking but the closest Mazda dealership had none in stock. If we were home in North Carolina, the move would be to go to the sole local mom-and-pop store and raid their case full of various o-rings until we found the right one, but a quick Google search showed that all we had around us were national parts chains.

These stores had no such case and their computer system showed no rear water outlet o-ring for the MX-5. Time was running out. We had to qualify. We put the car back together and sent it out on track. When it came back, the bit of steam had turned into a waterfall coming down over the bellhousing and our race weekend looked like it had come to an end.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Veni, Vidi, Vici, Amavi

I don’t Netflix and I don’t chill. I live my life in the first person and I take my stories through my own eyeballs so I can turn around and tell them to you. So here is a little story for you, about a girl I happen to know. You can call her a woman, if you like and if it suits your politics. She calls herself a girl.

Once upon a time, this girl was a pilot. She was still a teenager when she soared off into the New Mexico sky on her own for the first time. When she landed, her instructor cut off the tail of her dress shirt. This is a thing, if you did not know. She was tall and blonde and very serious. She grew up to own a few businesses and she became very much her own girl. She was independent. And if she did not always have things her own way, at least she always had the sky waiting for her.

This girl met a very bad man. He was bad in the way that men in the movies are bad, that violent, intemperate, dramatic way. And he was also bad in the tiresome little ways that men in real life are bad, the forgetting and the wandering and the way he was too slippery to pin down, like oyster meat under your fork or tongue. And one day she woke up to find herself fuzzy-headed in the hospital, bolted together inside and out, very far from home, stuck with this bad man like Belle in the castle of the Beast.

She wanted to fly home, but there was no way to fly home. There was no more way to fly at all. She was broken in ways that might always keep her from flying. I am sure she thought about giving up. But she put her head down and she worked on unbreaking herself. They say you cannot unbreak yourself, the same way you cannot un-ring a bell. But she unbroke herself.

“If I cannot fly,” she said, “I will race.”

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Snitches and the Boiled Frog

“How do you like the Camry SE?” I asked.

“Oh,” the fellow replied, in a thick South Asian accident, “it is very nice, I do prefer it to the LE that I had before, you are much more connected to the road. I am driving at least four thousand miles a month with Uber, and it is very reliable.”

“Grounded to the ground,” I suggested.

“Yes, that is exactly right. Well, here we are. Thank you!”

“No, thank you!” I replied, and I meant it, because this particular driver was not only nice, he was quick. The drive from my hotel to the Las Vegas Eaglerider had taken about half as long as it normally does. I stumbled out into the daylight and walked through the smoked-glass front door into the showroom. It was empty save for a few ladders and one construction-type dude doing precisely nothing in a corner.

You idiot, I realized, you gave him the wrong Eaglerider. The old one. About this time last year, my friends at the Las Vegas Depot moved four miles down the street. Furious with myself, I checked my phone to see what I’d requested. Damn it. The mistake wasn’t mine. I’d asked for the correct Eaglerider. He’d taken me to the wrong one, presumably out of habit. I turned around and ran back out the door. The white Camry SE was a quarter-mile down the road. Gone, man.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Stuck In The Middle With You

“Moving on, and getting over,” John Mayer just told us on his new EP, “are not the same, it seems to me.” I’ll second that emotion; I can think of a half-dozen times I’ve broken up with someone then spent months, or years, thinking about them afterwards. But when it comes to cars, some of us can’t even manage to move on. I should have sold my 2004 Boxster S five years ago, but it’s still taking up space in my driveway. I have two motorcycles — a CB550 and a VFR800 Anniversary — that I never ride because I have a CB1100 and a ZX-14R to do their jobs. Don’t even get me started on Danger Girl’s Tahoe Z71; now it’s being used solely to take me and my son to the skatepark once a week. Other than that, it doesn’t move. We could duplicate its functionality with a bike rack, thus saving ourselves all of the expenses that come with a 5,400-pound white elephant of an SUV.

Not everybody’s quite as sentimental and/or dilatory as I am, however. Take my old pal Nick, for example. About six months after my first wife and I took delivery of our 2004-model SRT-4, he bought one of his own. And he did it right, putting on the Stage 3 package almost immediately. When I sold our SRT-4, I made him a deal on all the goodies, including the Kosei wheels. It’s led a relatively charmed life in his possession, and it’s carried him through some of the best (and worst) years of his life, but now that his kids are married or off in their own careers, he’s decided to just let it go.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a particularly interesting decision; “Man Sells Neon So He Doesn’t Have To Put Any More Money In It” is one of those completely unsurprising stories, right up there with “Dog Bites Man” and “New GM Product Wins Motor Trend Award Of Some Type.” But this isn’t just any Neon. It’s a low-production, one-owner car that makes 339 horsepower at the front wheels and was equipped with all the right stuff from Day One. In other words, it’s the modern equivalent of a Superbird or Charger Daytona. Which leads us to a bit of a dilemma.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: The Intervention

Forget what T.S. Eliot once wrote: January is the cruel month. At least in Ohio, and at least this year. One day it will be eight degrees Fahrenheit and snowing; the next day it will be sixty degrees and raining. And the moment the salt washes off the roads and makes me think it would be a good idea to take my CB1100 out for a spin, the temperature drops and the existing water on the roads freezes solid. Wednesday morning, walking out to the Accord, I ended up falling on my ass and then sliding all the way down to the end of the driveway. It would have been great fun if I hadn’t ruined a set of pants in the process.

I wonder if this is part of the oft-discussed “climate change”. Believe me, I’m no science denier. I mean, of course I deny all of the scientific research about IQ and heritable characteristics. Recently, my son asked me why one of the kids on his football team was “so stupid.” I was tempted to explain to John that while he is the descendant of multiple WAIS-pegging generations, his teammate’s father is a 300-pound mouth-breather whom I occasionally see just starting at the wall with his lower lip quivering slightly. Instead, I said that all human beings were of equal intellectual potential, regardless of their genetic history. My son snorted at me in response. I worry about him. How will he get into Yale if he can’t learn crimestop now?

Any way, climate change is totally real. What I’m confused about is this: Is there such a thing as “good CO2” and “bad CO2”, like there’s “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol”? And if so, is that why the Chinese are building two coal plants a week while the average London businessman is forced to drive a 1.2-liter diesel due to CO2 regulations? Like the Chinese CO2 is the good stuff, maybe? But I digress.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: The Agony Of The Seat

If dying is easier than comedy, then surely driving a race car is easier than building one. Which is why I’m thrilled to have outsourced the management of my Neon and Danger Girl’s MX-5 Cup car; I might be able to win a race now and again, but my attempts to handle the vehicles myself amounted to one long and unmitigated disaster. Since 2014, the Plymouth has been in the capable hands of Jon Shevel at Albany Autoworks. He’s directly responsible for said Neon’s transition from a car that hadn’t started since 2009 and couldn’t pass tech to a podium finish in both SCCA and NASA for 2016.

DG’s MX-5 is now with The Boost Brothers. Check them out, watch their YouTube videos, learn all sorts of stuff about fixing crash repair, welding cracked tubes, swapping out hubs, that sort of thing. Bozi and Bojan have been pulling quite a few overnight shifts getting the car ready for the 2017 American Endurance Racing season. Even better, they’ve made pretty much all of the decisions as to what goes on the car and how everything goes together.

The only major choice that has been left in my hands should be simple enough: we need an FIA-legal race seat to replace the battered UltraShield that came with the car. But when it comes to racing seats, as with so many other things in this world, nothing’s quite as simple as it should be.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Cash Or Prizes?

$99,180. For a four-cylinder, two-seat car. This isn’t unprecedented; Lotus charged eighty-one grand for its Esprit S4S way back in 1995, a pricetag that would be equivalent to $129,000 today. But the Esprit was a sleek supercar that could run with Ferraris on the road and beat them in SCCA races. The 718 Cayman S, by contrast, is a squat toad of a car, suspiciously similar in appearance and performance to the decade-old Cayman S that your down-the-street neighbor has had listed on eBay for $17,995 since June, with no takers.

And yet I’ve voted for this car with my wallet, so to speak, having purchased a couple of entries in the Porsche Club of America’s Fall Raffle. I did this because I didn’t read the rules very carefully, as you’ll see below. But there’s still a chance for me to make lemonade out of a lemon — assuming I win said lemon.

The question is: take the car as they’ve built it, or take the money and run?

Read more
Trackday Diaries: The Final Flurry After The First Flurries

For the time being, we can still call it “Indian Summer.” Maybe not for much longer — my alma mater, Miami University, bent the knee to social-justice pressure on this issue a few years ago. We had been the Miami Redskins, but after a prolonged siege by the forces of manufactured outrage the university agreed to change us to the Miami Redhawks. It is worth noting that the Chief of the Miami Tribe in no way objected to the old logo or name; he thought it was used in a reasonable and dignified manner. But when faced between the choice of respecting the opinion of an actual Native American or listening to the incoherent babble of their own privileged white-girl hearts, Miami’s students of course chose the latter.

I kind of like the bird they chose — it looks angry, although to my mind it is not distinct enough from the Bowling Green Falcon, and that’s a shame because BG is an emphatically third-rate university and Miami is only second-rate. Angry is good. It’s easy to picture such a red hawk flying above the muted palette of the Ohio late fall forest, two-lane roads with orange and red leaves disconnected from stems by a killing morning frost then resurrected in impromptu whirling whorls set to spinning above the tarmac by the Vettes and ‘vertibles of all sorts, the lumbering Harleys and white-trash sportbikes and adventure-cuck bikes taking brief but permitted nonsense trips to nowhere. We can get these magical weekends every once in awhile, right at the end of the season, and this past Saturday was the perfect example — 76 degrees and a panoply parade of pleasure vehicles out for the last sorties of the year.

Now it’s 28 and I’m the only bike on the road to work this morning, flash-frozen on the freeway, every joint hurting and the tires chilled to a sort of bitter truce with the road surface, chittering at the hint of a lean.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: The 'Flat Out' Guy Is Real and Living Near Our Nation's Capital

“Corvette in the tire wall outside Turn 2.” Maybe over the tire wall was more like it; the front tires were six feet in the air, the back bumper had dragged the muddy ground behind it smooth of grass like a knife across cake frosting, and the driver looked like he was going to have a very hard time getting out of the thing. In under thirty seconds, there were black flags out all the way around the course. Two minutes later, most of the other cars in the group, including the 2004 Boxster S driven by Danger Girl with yours truly sitting in the right seat, were filing back into the paddock.

One man continued alone, still out there on the track, still driving flat out. He blew by the thirty cars lined up for pit entrance, oblivious or uncaring as to why they were all pulling off at the same time. Ignored every black flag that waved at him, first nonchalantly and then with increasing urgency, as he flew past the long corner into the back straight. And his Cayman GTS was at the eleventh tenth of grip as he came screaming around Turn One and found himself faced with two emergency vehicles, a forklift, and several people standing on or near the track surface. He panic-braked. Realized there had been a major incident on-track, perhaps three minutes after it had happened, and nearly two minutes since he’d passed Turn 2 in his previous lap, somehow without seeing the Corvette up in the air some thirty feet from the track’s exit curb. Came to a sheepish halt. Made the drive of shame, two miles to pit out, with dozens of people pointing at him and wondering what his major malfunction was.

Naturally, none of this was his fault.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: A Slight Injury to the Narcissistic Area

The forecast, to misquote Robert Cray, called for rain — but I saddled up the Anniversary VFR anyway. There’s no lane-splitting in Ohio, but there are still real and tangible benefits to riding a motorcycle on my daily commute to work. The first is time. I save between 10 and 20 round-trip minutes every day that I leave the Accord in the driveway. I can make better pace on the road, particularly downtown. The second benefit is financial: it’s $50 a year to park the bike but it’s between $9 and $18 a day to park a car. The last, and most important, is hassle. It’s an easy three minute walk from my bike to my office. From the nearest available parking garage? Ten minutes if I’m lucky, 20 if that garage is full, plus 10 flights of stairs each way on two legs that ache and crack in any weather below tropical.

Put all of that together, and it’s no wonder that I won’t drive unless there’s heavy standing water or ice on the roads. But I won’t lie; I’d ride even if it cost more. I feel less like a replaceable cog in a massive and directionless corporate cluster-bang when I’m on two wheels. And that’s why I was in a good mood when I heard the BLEAT! of the horn next to me.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: And He Shall Not Depart From It

He was delivered to me in a sealed plastic box, a wrinkled three-pound homunculus too exhausted and sick to make a single sound. Handle him with these gloves, they said. Don’t breathe on him. Eventually you can take him out of the box, out of the post-natal ICU, out of the hospital. But not soon. Everything was up for grabs. He’d arrived dangerously early. Thirty-eight states in this union would have permitted me to break his neck the moment I saw him; at just under twenty-four weeks of age, his life was legally forfeit. He wasn’t my son, wasn’t a child, wasn’t a person. He was tissue. He was a choice.

His mother and I made the choice to give him a fighting chance. The rest was up to him.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: A New Life Awaits You In The… Other Sports Beckon!

I’ve been doing this racetrack thing for sixteen years now, and I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Mustangs on fire off the shoulder of Shenandoah. I watched Xenons glitter in the dark near the Thunderhill gate. All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

As you might imagine, I’ve been exposed to pretty much every sort of idiocy that is possible on four wheels, and pretty much every sort of idiot who can squeeze or fold himself behind the wheel of an automobile. When I started my trackday career, under the tutelage of a private instructor who kept me on a very short leash and deliberately prevented me from indulging in the typical foibles of the novice driver, I was extraordinary contemptuous of the mishaps and mistakes I saw happening all around me. As the years have passed, I’d like to think that I’ve become a bit more accepting of my fellow track rats.

This past weekend, however, I believe that I observed the ne plus ultra of on-track stupidity. After a decade and a half, I’ve finally seen the worst, most dangerous, and most idiotic driver out there. There can be only one, you know, and this guy is the Conor MacLeod of open-lappin’ jamokes. If I saw this dude pushing a shopping cart towards me in the Kroger, I’d drop my Ketel One and run for the nearest exit. I think he should be nuked from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. But since I’ve renounced the use of violence in my personal life, let’s focus instead on what we can learn from him.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Taking Yourself For a Spin

I didn’t race this past weekend at Mid-Ohio, but it was still useful to me for a couple of reasons.

The first one was that I got to have an argument with the nice but very naive fellow who banned me from competing in the event. That was primarily amusing because his wife kept sticking her face in front of his and screaming at me. And this dude was totally cool with that. Preferred it, I think.

Intellectually, I realize that in $THE_CURRENT_YEAR there are a lot of full-grown “men,” probably raised in a fatherless environment, who need women to defend them from super-mean, scary old cripples like me. But it still makes me feel like Tommy Lee Jones in that movie where that one guy with the great hair kills people with a pneumatic cattle gun. I’m already irrelevant. Already a relic. The national conversation has moved on. It’s okay. I will adapt. In the future, if you have a problem with me, take it up with Danger Girl. She’s much younger and stronger than I am.

The other useful part of the NASA race was that I happened to be holding a camera when a young Miata driver looped his car. I caught the whole thing. Click the jump and I’ll show you how he spun — and how you can avoid a spin like this, both on the street and on the track.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: My Stupid Mouth

“Should I start racing with NASA, or should I build a car for SCCA?” That used to be the most common question that I heard from would-be novice racers. Nowadays, though, those two sanctioning bodies aren’t even in the picture. Today’s novice racer is looking at LeMons, Chump, WRL, and my personal favorite, American Endurance Racing. It’s easy to understand why. If you start racing with the SCCA or NASA, you’ll either need to be capable of doing everything yourself soup-to-nuts, or you’ll need a crew, whether volunteer or paid.

With the new endurance-racing series, you get five other dudes together (or, in the case of my AER team, four other dudes and one chick) and — PRESTO! — you’ve got a team, a crew, and a way to split the expenses six ways instead of, uh, one way. I know a fair number of people who have left NASA or SCCA to focus exclusively on street-tire enduros, but I’m not ready to follow them just yet. I like sprint races. I like being solely responsible for my success (or failure) on the track. I hate not being able to split the costs but I also like the fact that cars last a lot longer when you run them two hours a weekend instead of twenty.

This weekend, NASA is holding a race at Mid-Ohio. Danger Girl will be there driving her Fiesta in HPDE since her race car is still being prepped in Memphis. I’ll be there as well, to help her out a bit, say hi to people, and serve as random crew for people who need a hand. But I won’t be racing, because I’ve been banned. And, I have to say, it was my fault.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: The True Cost of Racing

Moneymoneymoneymoney … Money!

“GO RACING ON A BUDGET!” It’s the go-to headline of a thousand magazine covers. When you see that headline, you can be assured of several things: the cost of labor will never be mentioned; nobody’s time is worth anything; nothing ever breaks, fails, or requires early replacement; and certain costs, like transportation and storage, will simply disappear without comment from the final accounting.

Today, I’d like to change all that. I’d like to tell you what this past weekend cost me, and what I got for my money. I’m doing this because I think some of you are interested in going racing, and the rest of you are simply amused when I suffer, whether physically or fiscally.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: So Very Tired

“Hey!” Across the parking lot, my brother was yelling at somebody. “HEY! DO YOU HAVE A FLAG AT THAT CORNER? YES? YOU DO? YOU REALLY HAVE A FLAG? ARE YOU SURE? ABOUT HAVING THE FLAG? YES? THEN WAVE THE FUCKING THING NEXT TIME, YOU IDIOT, SO NOBODY GETS KILLED!”

It was ninety-four degrees at noon, with no shade available anywhere, and tempers were flaring. My son was sitting a hundred feet away in Bark’s Fiesta, making a waving motion at me that I interpreted as If you don’t leave your corner station and get me water, I’ll die in this hot car like a dog. But then he gave me a thumbs-up, which my paranoid mind interpreted as I just want to let you know you’re a great dad… before I die from the heat.

This was shaping up to be the worst autocross ever. For some of us, anyway. For my brother, who had already said that he wanted to go home at lunch. For my son, who was dying of heatstroke. For me, too; my leg hurt like hell wouldn’t have it and I felt sick to my stomach. Most of all, for the thirteen extremely annoyed men in their M3s and STIs and whatnot who were being taken to school by Danger Girl. For her, it was the best autocross ever. But it would get worse.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: How Fast Can We Go For $1800?

Almost 25 years ago, I walked into a small-town gun shop looking for a surplus Chinese SKS rifle. At the time, the gun market was flooded with SKSes and the steel-cased 7.62×39 ammunition that they used. $99 for a gun, $0.02 a round for the ammo; it was pretty much the official rifle of Ohio rednecks for a solid year. If I had a nickel for every afternoon I spent with a bunch of worker’s-comp-addicted ex-bikers shooting at abandoned cars, ovens, and “empty” propane tanks, I’d have my very own Viper ACR already.

Most of the shops I’d visited in pursuit of my own SKS had tried to foist off recent-production stuff made for the U.S. market as authentic ’60s ChiCom army stuff. I was sick of it. You can imagine my relief when the fellow behind the counter at this particular shop had the right gun at the right price and was willing to go over every component of said rifle to make sure it was correct. He even helped me get the Cosmoline off the thing. I was impressed by that dude. So impressed that I ended up shooting competitively with him and traveling all over the Midwest to ride mountain bikes with him. He was the best man at my first wedding, and we stayed close even when he left the shooting world to start a mortgage brokerage firm.

Over the past couple of decades we’ve pursued all sorts of stupid ideas together, from riding bicycles off loading docks to running a Neon in NASA’s Performance Touring class. Our latest idea, hatched during a dinner in which we celebrated his divorce was this: How fast can we go for virtually no money at all?

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Auto(Cross the) Heartland

It’s a plotline straight out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, albeit one with some help from Garth “The Art Of Racing In The Rain” Stein: A single mother in her early 30s meets a dashing, selfish, adrenaline-junkie on a blind date. A few months later, they’re in a terrible car crash that NEARLY KILLS HER, but she tirelessly rehabilitates for two long years so they can GET MARRIED IN THE DESERT right before running off to her debut in SCCA Solo II Autocross. Her husband agrees to return to autocross with her even though he was BANNED FROM ANNOUNCING IN A TRAGIC FEELINGS INJURY and hasn’t competed in FIVE YEARS. So he TAKES THE CAR COVER OFF HIS OLD PORSCHE JUST LIKE SWAYZE IN ROADHOUSE and follows her to the event.

But then there is RAIN. But she WINS HER CLASS anyway! And her husband SNEAKS INTO THE ANNOUNCER’S CHAIR! And then he WINS A THIRTY-CAR CLASS DESPITE HAVING NOT AUTOCROSSED IN A LONG, LONG TIME. And then they go home so they can OPEN THE GARAGE DOOR, HAND IN HAND, and GAZE TOGETHER at his SON’S NEW 50CC RACING KART and you JUST KNOW that EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE.

That was the plan, anyway. And it was going very well, up to the moment when my OLD PORSCHE decided to EJECT ITS HEADLIGHT FOR NO REASON.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Eyes Up, Mr. Outlaw

You really can’t ask for a more pleasant, harmless example of schadenfreude than the recent, and well-publicized, decision by “outlaw” Porsche painter/sticker-applier/Vimeo-movie-star/used-clothing-retailer Magnus Walker to crash into his own car hauler. Nobody was hurt beyond his own sore back and no one besides Mr. Walker himself had any monetary loss from the incident. Heck, with the extra publicity it might be a net gain for the dreadlocked whiteboy from the United Kingdom.

Which leaves us, the viewers, absolutely free to laugh and/or gloat about the whole thing. But if we want to take a minute to be thoughtful about it, there’s a more important lesson to be learned, and it’s not “OMG THE 911 IS DANGEROUS EVEN FOR THE MOST TRAINED RACING SUPERSTAR”.

Read more
TTAC Goes Karting, And So Should You!

One of the great secrets of TTAC is how little we, the writers, know each other.

I have met our fearless leader, Mark Stevenson, exactly once. I have met Sajeev exactly once — and he was wearing a judge’s robe and a headdress. I have met Murilee exactly once, and he was berating me for driving over the blend line at Carolina Motorsports Park. I’ve met Steve Lang once, and I was mostly drunk. I’ve never met Cameron, or Aaron, or Ronnie, or Tim, or several of the other contributors.

So when the opportunity arose to go karting with noted wheelman and TTAC author W. Christian “Mental” Ward this week in Atlanta, I eagerly accepted.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Civics Lesson

Trust me on this: You will start your trackday career because you love cars, but if you are any good at it you will end up hating cars.

Allow me to explain.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Benny Blanco From the Box.

“Well, I’m glad we got off-track without anything terrible happening,” I sighed, with no small amount of relief. “You did a good job of controlling the situation. A lot of people really panic when their brakes go away at ninety-five miles per hour or so. If the pedal comes back up you can probably nurse it home, as long as you’re careful. How far do you have to go?”

“Well, I live in New York,” he replied, “but if you’re okay with trying another session, I sure am.”

Oh.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Oh No, Not Again.

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.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Dreams of Michael.

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.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: The Idiot's Guide to Left-foot Braking.

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.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Couped up in the Palace of the Snow Queen.

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.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: He Wrangled 'Till The Butcher Cut Him Down.

“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.”

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Have to See a Man About a Dog.

“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.”

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Double Clutchin', Not Granny-shifting Like I Should.

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.”

Read more
Trackday Diaries: You Should Buy a Minivan.

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.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Continuously Variable Emotion.

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.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: How'd That Cadillac Crash, Anyway?

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.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: I Can Tell You How to Win a Lemons Race, but You Won't Listen.

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.

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Consider Phlebas.

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.”

Read more
Trackday Diaries: Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Probably Better.

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.”

Read more
  • Buickman what about EMFs from riding on a giant battery?is there a vax for that?
  • ScarecrowRepair $1.2M at $1K per car is only 1200 cars, and if you spread that over 5 years, 240 cars per year, roughly one per work day and one more every weekend. Sell another every weekend for the interest. That seems plausible to me.
  • FreedMike There are the guys charging $20000 over sticker for a F150 Lightning. They won’t go broke.
  • CKNSLS Sierra SLT Some sales people I have met at Ford dealers don't appear smart enough to answer questions about EVs. They can't answer questions about payload, towing capacity and axle ratios when truck shopping.
  • Dukeisduke The E23 here is wearing steelies - so is it because it arrived at the yard wearing winter shoes, or because someone swapped the factory alloys for steelies (either before or after it arrived)?Fun fact - the turbocharged 745i was called the 745i because it used the 3.2l six with a turbo, and at the time, F1 was using a 1.4 multiplication factor for turbocharged engines to arrive at a computed displacement. So, 3,210 times 1.4, divided by 1,000 equals 4.5 (rounded up from 4.494). The 745i was way cool, with its big 7" round low beam headlights paired with the 5-3/4" high beams.