March 30

Racing again.

We started prepping the car in December with an entirely new suspension setup and new rims with pretty aggressive tires. Most of the team worked on it at every opportunity, and today we got the alignment done. I’m leaving quite a bit out as I normally do; this hasn’t been an easy journey. I’m just happy to be this far along and on-target for a successful run.

Double Deuce nearing completion.
Double Deuce nearing completion.

This year we’re going to be competing in both LeMons and Chumpcar amateur series events in three states. Choosing which events to enter is always a problem, and scheduling work-time on the car is never easy when every member of the team is both working a full-time job and managing a household with family obligations. Our most experienced driver AJ had to bow out for the April race in Arizona, and Larry is going to miss the December event at Laguna Seca in California. Thankfully we found a paying stand-by for AJ’s slot in April, but for the other two events we have at least 1 seat open.

We’ll be doing our best to stay on the track and stay competitive for the two LeMons races coming up. Hopefully we have good weather and no mechanical issues. I’ll try to update with our status when I get to the paddock next week.

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October 23

The most suitable moments.

Travelling long distances to new places has been part of my life since I were just a child. The first very long journey I recall clearly was the vacation to Pinellas Park Florida with my family in 1978, and I’ve traveled many a weary mile since then.

Last week I flew once again to San Jose for a training class and to meet up with some co-workers in the region whom I rarely get to chat with in person. I had an early morning direct flight from PHX to SJC on American Airways and in typical fashion I arrived at the departure gate well before boarding had begun, and so I quickly scanned the waiting area for a free chair.

Some recurring themes came to mind as I looked about the room, and I began to tick them off as I came upon them. Observation 1 is that the airport waiting chairs are typically the same type. A row of 6 or 8 seats attached together on a shiny metal frame, with wider than an average leather-like seat-cushions which put an additional 2-3 inches of room between waiting passengers. Even with the extra room it’s obvious that complete strangers still do not want to sit side-by-side and so it is customary to see several passengers sitting on one of these benches with an unoccupied seat between each of them. As additional passengers arrive at the gate and find seats available but not contiguously, they will typically choose to stand with their bags rather than squeeze between *two* complete strangers and occupy one of these remaining seats.

After looking past numerous inconsiderate individuals, you know – those who have their ass in one seat and their bag in the seat next to them instead of on the floor in front of them where it should be – I spotted a seat between two nerdy looking fellows in the corner near the boarding ramp door, and made my way over and took a seat without compunction. No one complained, and so I wondered why the others preferred to stand rather than have a rest.

Being the conscientious individual that I am, I placed my backpack on the floor in front of me and tried to take up as little room as possible. I put my prescription distance glasses on and waited for the cattle line to form.

At every airport the story is the same. You listen for the barely intelligible announcements made by speed-talking-operations-crew, who sprint through their sentences with the pronunciation agility of an auction barker who has become completely bored out of their mind from having to babble the same information every day of every week, repeatedly and, seemingly ad infinitum.

“Attention all passengers, American Airways flight 667 with service from Phoenix to San Jose will now begin boarding at gate B-Seven.”

More instructions are given that First Class, Preimum, Executive, and upgraded passengers are to board first. Then any passengers with disabilities or small children. Then they board the remaining cattle in three groups. Tickets marked Group 1 will board when they call for Group 1. Tickets marked group 2 will board when they call Group 2. My ticket is marked Group 3. Guess who boards when they call Group 3?

At any rate as soon as the first call comes up that boarding will begin, approximately 75% of the sitting passengers will stand up immediately. People who are First Class etc will start filing toward the gate attendant with ID and boarding pass to be scanned, and then they trundle on down the jetway to the flight attendant waiting by the open aircraft door. People in groups 1, 2, and 3 will start jockeying for position and before you know it, there is a relatively steady stream of cattle being scanned in at the gate door and lining up down the jetway as traffic backs up in the tiny aircraft aisle.

This is where it gets fascinating to me as I remain seated, watching the procession. People moving in baby steps. Inching forward, shuffling one step at a time. Shuffle forward, pull the bag, adjust the purse, fish out the ticket, hand it to the lady, get it scanned and read it two or three more times to remember your seat number. Shuffle forward into the jetway. Stand in line. Wait. Step. Wait. Step. shuffle on down the line and wait.

Eventually they get through the important people, the infirm and young, then groups 1, 2, and 3. Just after Group three they start making final preparations to sign off on departure.

The whole time I sit there watching them until the last one goes through the door and the gate attendant starts checking to see that they have all passengers checked in. In my mind, I’m calculating how far down the jetway the last passenger is. The gate checkers know I’m not on the plane, so they can’t close the doors and they have to wait. I stay calm. I wait for them to say “Final Call for flight 667 with service from Phoenix to San Jose.”

This is my most suitable moment. Now it’s time for me to go. I stand up from my comfortable seat, discard my coffee cup and walk toward the gate attendant and hand her my boarding pass. I walk slowly, but freely down the jetway without a soul in sight. No waiting. No rushing. No anxiety and best of all, No standing in line for me. I get to the jet door, step in and greet the flight attendant, turn to the right and walk to my seat with very little delay. A few passengers are still getting situated and one guy is apparently trying to stuff a carry-on the size of a large dog into the overhead compartment. I dodge around them and get to my seat at row 21. But I have the middle seat so the aisle guy has to stand up, but I don’t care and neither does he. I stuff my bag in the overhead, grab my soda, purse, and fleece jacket, then dive into the seat and strap in for the trip.

I haven’t delayed us. I haven’t made us late. There is still lots of work for the flight attendants to do when the door is closed and they set about getting it done without delay. I was simply the last person to board, and I boarded well before departure was scheduled. I didn’t get anxious or nervous or jockey for position. I knew we had a scheduled time to depart and I used all of my available time until that point to read a few more paragraphs of a book, without wasting of my time in line.

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April 12

Home from Sandy Eggo

I got a 2015 Mazda 3 sedan as a rental from Avis with about 25K on the clock and headed out on the I10 around 11:30 AM on Monday.  The drive was uneventful save for seeing the aftermath of a jack-knifed truck just south of Beaumont California as I was passing through.  A few miles before, I had seen a freeway warning sign saying there was a “truck jackrabbit incident” on the 79 at Beaumont and puzzled over what a “jackrabbit’ incident might be.

Anyway, I think I’ll stop taking the 79 as a short cut toward San Diego because that drive through San Jacinto valley & Hemet always annoy me half to death.  Coming down from hours of 82mph driving into 35mph traffic can be rage inducing when one hasn’t been properly caffeinated.  I may even consider switching to the I8 because the drive is much more scenic than the I10.

I had planned to stay in California until Thursday but we wrapped up meetings a little early on Wednesday so I checked out & started back home around 3:30PM & decided at the last minute to take the I8 east to the 85 through Buckeye & then hook up with the 10 back into Phoenix.  There were far fewer trucks on the 8 & the drive is absolutely beautiful the entire way.  The I8 winds through large rocky mountains down into a desert of drifting white sand before climbing back up to the Northern Sonoran Desert just as you roll into Gila Bend Arizona.  Someday I’ll make this trip in a convertible.

The car was…not my favorite.  It felt cheap and plastic everywhere, the road noise was horrific, and the automagic transmission does not suit my tastes at all.  I really don’t like how an automatic car will immediately lurch forward when I take my foot off the brake.  I’m quite accustomed to keeping my foot on the clutch or shifting to neutral when I stop at a traffic light, but I simply could not get the hang of it in this car.  I also did not like the lack of visibility at the rear quarters which felt quite dangerous to me in close-quarter traffic and those famously narrow California parking spaces.  With these modern designed vehicles it’s of little wonder to me that the backup camera has become nearly ubiquitous, and is in fact a mandatory safety feature in 2017 or 2018 model vehicles.

I got back home around 8:45 Wednesday evening and ended up being awake until nearly 2AM so I could finish up emails & incidents from when I was away.  I feel as if I should post a few photos but have just been too busy with other things to sit down and upload them.

The block walls in the back yard are going to be replaced starting next Monday at 6:30AM and I need to get some work done.

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April 2

It’s never too late for coffee.

I uploaded a video to YouTube of me driving the race car out of the paddock & onto the track.  Sharp-eyed viewers will take note of several mistakes being made right off the bat which culminate in my spinning sideways & leaving the track.  This resulted in a black flag & pit stop for safety inspection.  The HANS clip which came loose was fixed before I rolled back out of the paddock & the rest of the race was completed without incident.  See it here:

There are lots of video clips of the race available on Youtube from other driver perspectives if you just search for 24 Hours of LeMons Inde 2016.  You may even see our car #419 show up in a few of them.  Here’s a few good scenes by Jesse Cortez:

Last weekend Hal & I took the motor out of his 1997 MX5 and started the tear down.  The oil control rings were completely gone on all of the pistons and so we’re fairly sure we’ve located the root cause for the burning oil.  The cams are a bit worn & the HLAs weren’t spinning at all so there’s little divots in the tops of most of them.  Typically if you replace cams you replace the HLAs too, but he really wants to keep this car as close to factory as possible & finding “OEM” cams does not seem likely at this point.  This puts us in a bit of a pickle because if you have to grind the cams & replace the HLAs it will typically result in idle changes because the subtle difference in cam lobe angle, and will necessitate adjusting timing to compensate.  Every after market cam I can find changes the cam angle to some degree but the more severe the change, the more the ECM will have to compensate.  The OEM engine control module cannot be reprogrammed and so if the changes to cam angle & timing deviate too far from the limits of the factory programming, the ECM will have to be replaced with an after market module and a custom engine tune will need to be uploaded.  Some of the after market cams can’t even be used with the factory ECM at all.  Swapping that out & tuning a new one is an entirely different level of tinkering than we’re in the market for.

Monday April 4th I’m driving to San Diego in the morning for business meetings on Tuesday & Wednesday.  I’ll stay just a few miles from the office and come back home either Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.  Either way I’m working from home on Friday.  I’ll probably make a post from San Diego to critique the rental car and driving experience through the empty desert between here & L.A.  I’m taking the I40 to L.A. & then driving south to San Diego because the border patrol checkpoints on the I8 always delay and annoy me.  I plan to download an audio-book for the road from Librivox to listen to on the drive.  It’s such a brief trip that I likely won’t have time to see my friends Conquistador Marcos & Eve unless we can get together for dinner on Monday or Tuesday night.  We’ll see.

I guess the most interesting thing I can note in this post is that Hal & I pre-ordered a Tesla Model 3 on the 31st but probably won’t see it for at least three years.  I want a blue one.  :)  On my longest commutes & most circuitous travels around the metro area I drive maybe 100 miles, so for 90% of my driving an electric car with a 200 mile range will be plenty.  I know it’s a bit of a gamble to hand over $1000 now and wait three years for just the option to buy a new car, but I like the idea of an all electric vehicle and I’m very happy that an American company has taken the lead to develop something like this for the general masses.  When that battery plant is fully operational in Nevada, the Tesla will be the most “Made In America” car on the market.  I like the cut of your jib Mr. Musk.

The weather has been so beautiful in Mesa the last few days that we’ve gotten lots of work done around the property.  Pulling weeds and sweeping up, setting up a nice work area on the back patio so we can work on the cars under the shade and just generally enjoy being alive.  I worked my butt off earlier today so I had a nap and woke up just a little while ago.  I think I’ll go make some coffee and tinker with my robotics stuff.  Sure, I’ll probably be up all night now but it’s never too late for coffee.

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March 18

We made it.

This far.

We had tech inspection this morning at 11AM and flew through with only one recommended change.  The kill-switch needed to be relocated so that it would be within reach of the driver while belted in with arm restraints intact.  This required moving the switch about 2 feet from its original position and fabricating an entirely new mount for it.

There was also a mandatory track/facility driver meeting today at 12:30pm to go over basic rules and directions and then the track was opened at 1pm for pre-race testing.

We elected to get the kill-switch modification out of the way before we took the out for testing so we didn’t really get to drive until about 2:30pm.  The team moved like greased lighting with Cope & Lawrence leading the charge to get the wiring modified while AJ fabricated a new mounting bracket.

The team insisted I be the first driver so I took her out for the first four laps, marking my first time on an unrestricted track in a modified vehicle in full safety kit.  I have to confess that I was not prepared for the rolling nature of the car under heavy cornering and the first couple of laps really rustled my jimmies.  I was absolutely the slowest vehicle on the track and was overtaken by at least ten different cars while trying to make my way around the first couple of times.

By the time I’d gotten through with lap three my heart was racing so much I had to bring it in and do a driver swap.  Chris was ready to go so I let him take over and drank some water to settle my nerves.  The car handled beautifully except for the tendency to lean dramatically in the turns.

The poor handling is caused by the nearly OEM suspension from 1996 on the car having covered more than 170,000 road miles with nothing more than shock replacement.  We did the shocks in prep for this event but didn’t touch the springs or sway bars which is something I regret now.  We sailed through tech and BS inspection without any question or investigation of our suspension.  I could have installed a VMAXX kit on here without issue and nobody would have suggested I was over cost limits.  Lesson learned.  For Colorado or Button Willow, we will have a fully modified suspension setup.

My next five laps went much better.  I was able to push her hard through the turns and take it just to where I was sure traction was going to break loose.  When she steps out, she remains very controllable and rolling off the throttle a little bit will bring her right back in line.  I definitely didn’t set any speed records but I certainly felt much better by the time I rolled her back to the paddock for another driver swap.

So the highlight of the day is that every driver got a turn of at least four laps on the track and we didn’t spin out, leave the pavement, get shunted off, or otherwise experience rapid unscheduled disassembly of the vehicle.

Tomorrow is the real thing.  There are not less than 55 teams participating in the event and we will have a very crowded track.  Instead of going for a target number of laps, we’re going to break it out into 30-45 minute stints depending upon driver fatigue and vehicle handling characteristics.

The first hour is all about survival and I’m slated to take the first 30 minute stint.  Wish me luck.  :)

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October 25

Please adjust as necessary

One of my leading goals in life is to own my home free and clear, so I need to pay my mortgage off as soon as possible.  I focus on this perhaps obsessively and to that end, I recently changed employers in large part for the earnings increase and substantial bonus potential.  This has resulted in a need to readjust my perspective on some personal things.

 

Not being a fan of T.S.A.’s “x-ray or sexual assault” security theatre, I haven’t flown on a commercial airline since 2010.  My new employer requires my presence in Cambridge UK, so I’ve had to apply for “pre-check” clearance in order to avoid having some government goon groping my girly bits without my consent.  I figured since I always like avoiding lines and long waits, I also applied for Global Entry so I can speed my way through re-entry.  I’ll try not to be too smug as I stroll past the suckers waiting in line while twirling my cane.  ;)

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July 31

It’s not about the weather.

where i'd rather be today
ready to go

 

I think it’s more a matter of planning that stops me from heading to Flagstaff this weekend rather than any sort of issue about the weather.  If we left early in the morning I’m sure we could be out of the high temperature zones within 50 minutes – and when the altitude goes up the temperature goes down.

The problem for me is that I don’t want to have to deal with the planning or execution of making a journey out of town at this time.  Each of the last four excursions out of Arizona have been at my pleasure, and have been entirely my responsibility.  My stress level has been hovering around 9.4 for the last couple of weeks and, I just don’t think I can do it again so soon regardless of how much I really want to get a break from the heat of the summer.

I really would go along as long as I didn’t have to manage the entire process.  Perhaps Hal will have enough energy left to take care of the details, but I’m doubting it.  Even if by some stroke of luck we ended up going anyway, it would probably be a good idea for us to take a car instead of the bikes.

 

 

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