Sunday, August 5, 2018

Ridin’ the storm out …

To begin with, our outing to High Plains Raceway (HPR) was anything but a routine track weekend. While this is the tenth year of going to road courses and trying our hand behind the wheel of one car or another, we were returning to our home track after three plus years. Not entirely of our own doing, mind you, but being homeless last year with all of our cars in storage while we lived out of our company command center, our comfy RV, afforded us little opportunity for weekends at the track. In the years before becoming homeless, Margo had undergone complex back surgery that limited her appearances more or less anywhere there were cars. And then of course, our grandkids decided to show up, but that did leave us with twin boys that have proved to be a lovable handful!

But no longer do we have to put stops to our plans; we pulled the RV and the red Corvette out of storage, hooked up our trailer to the RV and loaded the Corvette having applied the appropriate numbers and decals mandatory for such an outing. The weekend of track time was organized by the National Auto Sports Association (NASA), with an open lapping day Friday preceding the more formal weekend program NASA typically runs. Open lapping was just for those who had signed up for the NASA weekend, so it wasn’t terribly crowded. Even as we were pretty pumped to get behind the wheel of the Corvette we considered it more than prudent to get out there the afternoon before the NASA event proper so as to reacquaint ourselves to the track. Although, after nearly a decade visiting HPR and racking up probably a thousand laps, it didn’t hurt to give it one more look as you never know, HPR Manager, Glen, may have made changes in our absence.

The plan was to run four 30 minute session Friday afternoon and to make it even more livelier we invited good friend and former Tandem Computers colleague, Jim Miller, together with his wife Dale, to join us with the option for Jim to be a passenger in the Corvette for at least one outing. The plan was to also put up the grill and cook a nicely marinated tri tip steak supported by appletinis – our traditional “end of sessions” beverage whenever we are trackside for the evening. Nothing could possibly go wrong, now could it? The Corvette, a C5 Z06 that is completely stock save for a few beefed-up components like brakes, suspension and drive train along with more temperature-tolerant fluids and oils, remains an ideal choice to run on this two plus mile road course. And for the majority of Friday afternoon, everything went to plan. 

However HPR management, concerned about how the weather was developing, elected to simply throw the track open to anyone who cared to finish the day with “just a few more laps.” Having already completed three thirty minute sessions I was feeling very confident about the way the Corvette was running and with my own progress over the course of the afternoon. While muscle memory was helping me out a great deal, the first session had really been an eye-opener as I was hesitant to push the Corvette as hard as I knew I was capable of doing. However, as I left the pits and entered the track for those last couple of laps, little did I know what would lie ahead of me. The clouds looked ominous, true, but how bad could it get?

After two laps I was just settling into a rhythm – this is, after all, a track that rewards a smooth driver – and heading into turns four and five that led to Danny’s Lesson, a tricky tight decreasing radius horseshoe turn, I came eye-to eye with a tornado that was on the ground just on the other side of the main road paralleling the track. Wow! As I had never seen a tornado before I was curious and took a good long look at it. The sky had darkened considerably doing little to mask the menace the tornado represented. There was no moon in sight, mind you! Just an eerie sense of imminent doom!

Unfortunately, my passenger Jim didn’t share my interest in the twister and implored me to get back to the infield as quick as I could. The track at HPR is now bordered by electronic boards in lieu of flags and at each flag station bunker, they would flash yellow, red, etc. lights in much the same way as flag marshals would – but of course, there are no black lights. In the place of the black flag, HPE has programmed the lights to alternate red and blue (emulating a police cars lights) and when I encountered this pseudo black light, I knew everyone else was taking the tornado very seriously.

So how close did the tornado get to our car? Pulling into the pits Bob, a racer with NASA, snapped a photo and when I saw it, I realized the tornado had been only a hundred yards or so away. Needless to say, no sooner than I had pulled up to the RV than the heavens opened and the rain came down in bucket loads! All I could think of was that old 1970s song by REO Speedwagon: 
Ridin' the storm out, waitin' for the thaw out
On a full moon night in the Rocky Mountain winter

This was a far from a routine event. To say there was a moment or two where I began to question my decision to take the Corvette out to HPR was an understatement. But then, in a matter of just a few minutes, it was all over and the clouds began to part and before long, we had blue sky overhead once again. Forget the moon, the sun was out! That’s not unusual for storms like this – they appear suddenly and just as quickly, they are gone. Fortunately, it all happened before dinner so we were able to shake a couple of martinis and grill the tri tip steak! And enjoy the company of Jim and Dale for the evening.

Saturday was a whole different ball game as NASA began its two day event for HPDE drivers and racers. The early morning driver meeting went smoothly enough coming as it always does after a couple of slow laps around the infield looking for where Tech Inspect has set up its desk. Yes, for HPDE, each car is checked for roadworthiness, safety and each time the Corvette is checked out I am always just a bit nervous as I am never sure what has changed from the previous outing. Given the three plus year break, I was sure to be hit with something and it happened! The life of my safety harness was coming to an end and I would be required to change it shortly, but for this weekend, I would be good.

The driver meeting quickly wrapped up and we all headed for our cars. We were the second group on track and we were all pretty keen to see what the track looked like after the torrential downpour that followed the brief appearance of the tornado. Key issue for me out on track was, yet again, my lack of sustained concentration together with quickly falling into bad habits. In many ways, I started the day in cruise control, braking too early and for too long and not getting on the gas quickly enough (or hard enough) as I rounded each corners’ apex. All rookie mistakes to be sure which left me giving “point by” passing to everyone on track!

When NASA Rocky Mountain puts together a weekend program for HPDE drivers, it usually involves combining HPDE 1 and 2 groups, running a separate HPDE 3 group and then another combination but with the much more experienced HPDE 4 group running with those drivers pursuing Time Trials or TT. Not so this weekend. I am currently a HPDE 3 driver and for the Saturday sessions, HPDE3 would be combined with HPDE 4, with the upshot being that there would be forty plus advanced drivers on track.

Compounding the situation was the addition of those drivers looking to gain their competition licenses to oud expanded group and they would be doing some very interesting drills while on track, including running off-line and far away from what the HPDE drivers viewed as the racing line. Should be fun, we were all told as fleeting glances were exchanged among the group. Lining up in the hot pits meant there were two lines of twenty plus cars snaking around the concrete wall all the way back to the RVs parked on the infield. 
Having spent Friday on track for as much time as I had circulating with mostly racers prepping their cars for the weekend, I wasn’t too fussed to be in such a large group and as the day progressed, I was able to work on a couple of aspects of my driving. I was clearly rusty following time away from the track so in many ways, it was like being back in HPDE 2 as I gradually came up to speed.

With Saturday’s lunch break came even more cars to the event to where parking space was hard to find and gradually, the only places left to park were on the grass well away from the infield. Even with my mid-morning arrival on Friday, I was relegated to the very back of the infield, barely visible among the other transporters and spectator vehicles. However, on track Saturday was notable for two items – the hold session was held under full coarse waving yellow flags as the moisture left behind after Friday evening’s storm gave rise to very foggy conditions, so much so that on Saturday morning there were bunkers with flag marshals that couldn’t see the next bunker. 

Observing flags is very important even when they are electronic flags depicted on LED light boards. Yellow means no passing; maintain your position and yes, drop back the speed just a tad. Run at eight tenths. So it was a surprise to hear during the post-session download that five or six cars passed under yellow and that at eight tenths, a couple of cars managed to get four wheels off the track. Put it down to first session nerves but at our level, this was unacceptable. It was a muted group that returned to their cars to prepare for the next session.

The second session was memorable only because the fog started to lift and we were able to pass pretty much everywhere on the track. Of course, we were cautioned about dive bombing corner entries and there was to be no passing once into the braking zones. All went well and then it was time for the luncheon adjournment. I took time to refill the Corvette with 98 octane gas and tried to relax; after lunch, that dreaded “third session” would be held and if history told me anything, this was the session where it all went to hell in a handbasket! And what a session it turned out to be …

If has become popular of late in competitive cooking shows for a commentator to throw in a surprise ingredient that has to be integrated into the meals being prepared and this is known as the “curve ball.” And NASA proved to be not all that different to one of those shows, announcing that the combined HPDE 3 and 4 groups along with the Competition folks would be waved off under a green flag. What this involved was driving around the track, under yellow, in single file at about seven tenths speed and then, after covering about three quarters of the circuit, bunch up into three groups with drivers pairing up behind a designated “pole sitter” who would then control the speed of the group. It was this driver’s responsibility to accelerate when the green flag began waving and for the dive into the first corner, there wouldn’t be any necessity to point-by anyone! 

It was on; given that the first turn was tight and could only really accommodate two cars, it was surprising to see this group manage their spacing and positioning in such a way where there was no NASCAR style door banging. Everyone behaved! Talk about the highlight of the day and as another curve ball, just I was about to pull out onto the track, a NASA “coach” jumped into my passenger seat to take a good look at my driving skills and after that start and with a couple of laps under our belt, he proved very helpful.

He immediately noticed how early and gently I was easing onto the brakes and then how cautiously I rolled onto the gas at the apex. A little more encouragement later and I had cut my brake point in half and powering on as I reached the apex really did the trick. At last, I was getting someone and the number of point bys I provided declined significantly. As the day came to an end it was time to fill the tank with gas and get it back into the garage.

I could do more of this and as the day came to an end, well, of course all I could do was think about the next outing which immediately brought a sizable frown to Margo’s face. Oh well … after so much fun, for me, I guess this will have to wait till next year as our calendar for the remainder of the year is already shot to pieces, but then again, I doubt we will be caught ridin’ out the storm any time soon! What an experience! And yes, extremely thankful to be able to park the Corvette, unscathed, in the garage once more.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Strange roads and even stranger sights – yes, one more summer road trip is in the books!

It was barely a week that passed before we were packing our bags again and heading back out onto America’s highways. For this trip, we had the BMW i8 back in the garage following its minor traffic accident in Plano, Texas, so it once again became the chosen mode of transportation. Our BMW M4 was given time off following its trip to Las Vegas for the HPE big tent marketing event, HPE Discover 2018. It continues to surprise us how well the i8 is suited to grand touring and there is ample room to fit our soft bags along with a couple of soft suit carriers. With summer prices for gas skyrocketing, having a hybrid that only needs a top-off of its miniscule gas tank every three hundred miles or so, it proved an advantageous choice once we crossed into California and saw how expensive gas had become – almost $5 at one gas station!

This trip would take us back to Las Vegas and then on to Simi Valley, California, before we turned north to Half Moon Bay for a week of meetings over the other side of the hills and much deeper into Silicon Valley. We elected to drive to the west coast using the backroads that took us through Capital Reef, Dixie National Park, and we then kissed Bryce National Part before heading into Las Vegas. We have driven this route a couple of times now, but as with any trip we embark on, the time of year and the prevailing weather meant that it provided a different vista for us. And the roads had been upgraded, too!

This post is a story of differences – different routes, different hotels and different people. The true value that comes from travelling by car soon becomes obvious – there are no real schedules and no lines to join. Business continues to do well and it offers us more opportunities to plot our own course and it is this newfound flexibility that, for Margo and me, is a true testament to “luxury in modern times.” Not to put down any of you good friends who head to the airports and fly from town to town as we have both lived that lifestyle, but to be able to spend time together is, as they say, priceless. And a lot more – we have gone out of our way to have cars we enjoy driving so they rarely stay in the garage long and this past week and a half in the i8 more than doubled the pleasure of being together, enjoying the ever-changing scenery western United States provides.  

Las Vegas, for the July 4 holidays, wasn’t our original intent and we didn’t see any fireworks – why is it that so many cities now put on their fireworks displays the evening before? July 3? What have we missed all these years? But Vegas is always Vegas and having only just returned from spending a week in Vegas for HPE Discover it was a lot more relaxed this time, with no meetings to attend. On the other hand, we are now into our second year of publishing the digital magazine, NonStop Insider, and as it so happened, we spent a goodly bit of time hunched over our laptops editing the final submissions. 

Fortunately, our colleagues in Scotland helped out a lot and we were able to go live July 12 and if as yet you haven’t been following us on this new undertaking, check out the link: Margo is the Managing Editor and it is proving to be a lot of fun working with the HPE NonStop community even as we continue to grow the readership so yes, if you visit the site, make sure you click the button and become a subscriber. Vegas meant more than work, of course. We have been dining at Mastro’s almost from the time it opened and we make sure each time we stop by The Strip we take the time to enjoy one of Mastro’s finest steaks. And the martinis as well – this is the home to the smoking appletini served over dry ice!

While the price for fine dining seems to be creeping skyward with each visit, we did save a lot of money even as we tucked into another great steak. Directly across from the entrance to Mastro’s Ocean Club is Christian Louboutin, and a visit there never ends well. But not this time – Margo finally found the pair she had been looking for, with a discount she appreciated, but the fit just wasn’t comfortable. So no, not this time. No Prada purse and no Jimmy Choo shoes! So dinner was a pleasant escape from what otherwise could have been a more costly outing. We finished our July 4 evening at the Paris hotel in the bar where there were the dueling pianos and that too has taken on an almost ritualistic air as we stop by whenever it’s late at night and we are down at that end of The Strip.

With a shorter day’s driving ahead of us we skipped breakfast electing instead to drop in on the 1950s dinner, Peggy Sue’s. An attraction on the interstate, after you pass through the agriculture gates into California and alongside a massive Marine Logistics base, the food can only best be described as average but  it’s always a heck of a lot of fun to check out the small print on the photos and other memorability plastered all over the walls. After eating lunch for some unclear reason we elected to finish with a slice of banana cream pie and that was a huge mistake. We both looked at each other as we continued our drive into Simi Valley and asked each other, what have we done? 

The coastline of southern California, just north of Malibu, is one of the most spectacular coastlines anywhere in the world. Coming from an Australian who happened to grow up spending a lot of time on Sydney’s fabulous beaches, this is really saying something. As the photo above attests to, the isolation is complete even if just around the tip of this particular section of coastline lays the bustling masses of humanity that invade Malibu around the clock. 

This is one more reason why we do the driving that we do – add opportunities to find peace and quiet to the list that includes flexibility and choice of roads. If not now, at this point in our lives, then when? Those following us on Facebook know we are finishing the lower, walk-out, level of our Windsor home for exactly the same reason. If not now, then, what are we waiting for and, isn’t it a lot better to be able to enjoy our home while we can? Returning to old haunts and checking out all the sights we grew to love so much reinforced the decision we elected to make years ago to get out there to join our friends as often as time allows.      

What drew us to Simi Valley this time was a combination of work and social interactions. We were able to catch up with a former client even as we took advantage of our good friends’, the Kenny’s, swimming pool.  California is all about backyard grills and time spent in the pool. It’s also about dropping in on fishing ports and sampling seafood right off the boat. Our destination this time was Brophy’s at Ventura and the day provided perfect weather even if it was a tad hot – on this day, it was hotter than Las Vegas and that rarely happens along the coast. While we were in Simi Valley temps climbed as high as 118 degrees, so spending time by the water or in the pool shouldn’t come as a surprise. As this road trip was primarily business focused, I have to admit we did feel a little guilty spending the weekend in this fashion. On the other hand, there are many roads that lead to California and taking one less travelled seemed to us to be more than enough compensation for taking time away from home.

The Saturday night proved memorable as our hosts, Brian and Jan, threw a small dinner party that saw us rekindling friendships with folks we had gotten to know so well when we lived in Simi Valley. Even though we returned to Boulder in 2011, time has been very kind to all of us and the conversations picked up pretty much from where they left off. There were some new faces, of course, and when the Kenny’s friend, Maurice, turned up in his newest car, a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, it proved to be too much eye candy to ignore. But once outside, guess which car then attracted the most attention – yes, the i8 and it came as a surprise to Margo and me to find out from Maurice that only the V12 Lambos came with scissor doors! One surprise came when our former client remarked, on arriving for the evening, when he and his wife said, OK so that’s the Buckles new car and it’s yellow, again! There have been stranger sightings through the years …

There is no question whatsoever about the best route from Simi Valley to Half Moon Bay is via the Pacific Coast Highway and then up 101 for a short spell before crossing over to the coast and driving California Highway 1. Well, almost no other option, if you want to experience California coastal living at its finest! Unfortunately, after passing Cambria, it all went downhill for us and even though the bridge near Big Sur has been fixed, a new landslide had closed the highway so it was back to good old highway 101, one more time. We did manage to get back to highway 1 at Monterey and then continued all the way up to Half Moon Bay, but somehow, we felt robbed. I guess we have to leave it for another time.

Margo’s niece, Asia, and her husband Jens live in a development that is part of the Ritz Carlton complex a little south of Half Moon Bay proper. Although we did manage a fish dish port side in Half Moon Bay it was all too tempting to eat at the hotel and so yes, we did try out a different restaurant each night before wrapping up our stay returning to the kiosk we visited the first night. Listening to the mournful sounds coming from a bagpipe made the setting of the sun experience rather special, more so than the piper pointing out a pod of whales that happened to be passing by close to shore. And yes, I was able to see three separate whale spouts thanks to our friendly piper. 

Following our business pursuits that took us to nearby Palo Alto, the trip home was one that followed a very familiar course, at least for me. We had made plans to pass through Yosemite – with a side visit to the park itself also part of the plan – cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Tioga Pass (some 9,900+ feet), swing by Mono Lake before taking the craziest road on the planet – California Highway 120. Staying overnight at Tonopah (yes, Queen of the Silver Camps) we then took the Extraterrestrial Highway that swings thought a number of air force “protected areas” before picking up Interstate 15 outside Cedar City.

There is a reason why this route was familiar to me, if not to Margo. It was back in 2004, as I recall, that Margo allowed a small group of her Insession management team to leave the ITUG event in San Jose to ride motorbikes back to Boulder. You read that right – myself and colleague, Andrew Price, rode our big motorcycle cruisers for all of the 1400 miles it took to get us back to Boulder. Riding sweep was Peter Shell and Neil Coleman in our Cadillac Escalade. Talk about your extreme team building then this just has to be one of the better examples you could ever find as we put in 400+ mile days for four days. This may be a story for another time but I cannot leave it alone before referencing how well Andrew rode our bike from Durango to Boulder while suffering from one of the worst bouts of food-poisoning we had seen: Don’t eat the fish in Durango is all I can add!

Fast forward almost fourteen years and Margo and I elected to stay in the very same motel that our group had stayed in all those years ago.  I just don’t happen to recall the additional signage pointing to where motorcycles could park but then again, maybe our small cavalcade may have started a tradition for the motel. Tonopah would be as far as we would go as we followed that previous route as we headed east to drive the Extraterrestrial Highway. Then again, all those years ago, we had headed south to Las Vegas where some of us swear we saw strange sights indeed that could only be best described as other worldly.

More correctly identified as Nevada State Route 375 (SR 375), the Extraterrestrial Highway stretches for almost 100 miles before you come across anything remotely representing civilization, although the township of Rachel does everything it can to get you to stop (but no gas, mind you) and there are plenty of stylized images of aliens plastered on decaying buildings along the highway. But again, this was a road we just had to take and if folks think US Highway 50 is the loneliest highway in America, think again. SR375 has it all over that busy thoroughfare. On the other hand, residents sighting our i8 gliding noiselessly down the highway may have thought they had seen one more tangible piece of evidence that aliens are among them. Surely the i8 is otherworldly enough to start those still living out that way talking to each other! 

We did pay a price for this latest business trip. It wasn’t the gas, as we barely touched a drop, but rather, we wore the tires down to where there wasn’t any tread left. Fortunately, in today’s internet world, we ordered a replacement set and they were ready for us as we walked into our garage. Perhaps it was symbolic after a fashion – how often do we say we drove the doors off this or that car? This time, it wasn’t the doors, but the tires. Oh well – small price to be paid, in reality. But tires weren’t the only thing waiting for us as we quickly unpacked the i8. Headed to the kitchen and there we were able to round up the first martini for the night. 3,000 plus miles to see strange sights? Priceless!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Pulling the pieces together; from technology to recreational, it’s all good!

These past few weeks it’s all been about the miles we have covered. Road trips took us to Dallas and then after just a few days back in the office took us to Las Vegas. As we work on this post we are looking at yet a third road trip, this time to southern California and then on up the coast to Palo Alto in northern California. It’s summertime so it’s not all that bad even if the temperatures have been scorching hot, but that’s the nature of travel at this time of year. It hasn’t been totally incident free, mind you, but the time out and about on America’s highways still beats standing in line waiting to pass through TSA security even as we hope our upgrades come through.

Dallas proved to be a fun place to visit. Actually, our conference was well north of Dallas as it was held in Plano. This has become a regular part of our summertime routine as we have been to this part of Texas a half a dozen times already in just the past couple of years. In a manner of speaking it has also kept us quite distracted as one group  of contractors after another have been walking through our basement as the work to complete our walkout basement continues. Plans call for a media room, bar and wine cellar, new offices for Margo and me, a number of bathrooms / powder rooms and yes, one more guest bedroom. And it will all open out onto a patio where we will be building in a grill and a fire pit.

Hopefully, as we just passed inspections covering HVAC, plumbing, electricity and framing the dry wall will go up while we are away and when that is complete, we will have a better idea of what we will be facing when it comes to furnishing and decorating. In the meantime we have been in no hurry to live our life in pieces as we watch construction happening all around us. However, the curtains have been chosen so at least the basics will be covered. There has been a lot of additional wiring made to ensure multiple speakers can be fed with soundtracks and music even as we are beefing up security. Getting our offices off the main floor wasn’t our original intent but after working as we have from a third bedroom on the main floor, we really needed a lot more space! So yes, we will be moving offices yet again.

Our most recent road trip took us to Las Vegas where HPE really looked after us. As participants in HPE’s independent bloggers program, we were HPE’s guest for the week and they did it right. First night’s welcome reception saw Margo and I join with other members of the social media community to participate in a fun night of golf – swinging clubs and hitting gold balls into the night from the top floor of a mixed entertainment facility. Not all that certain about just how much fun this would be we were pleasantly surprised by just how congenial everyone participating proved to be and yes, we can recommend a visit to Topgolf, Las Vegas – part of the mixed entertainment located at MGM Grand.

It was a perfect introduction to what turned out to be a pretty intense week as HPE really stepped up its game in terms of reassuring its customers that the R&D being spent was delivering the products and services that they needed. And by all accounts, HPE did exactly that. Ever enjoyed a convention where you had mirrored rock bands performing? By this, the main entertainment at the end of the conference was provided by One Republic, but in the build up to the keynote address the day before, they had a One Republic cover band playing for the audience as we waited the arrival of HPE CEO, Antonio Neri. As we saw at the HPE Discover event in Madrid last November, once again we had race cars on the exhibition floor – not quite as many as in November but still an attraction that pulled in a steady stream of attendees wanting to know what was up with a prototype race car being a part of a tech show.

Golf parties, rock groups, race cars and some great restaurants – HPE certainly pulled out all the stops for us. But for this trip, we resorted to driving a different BMW as the i8 that made the trip to Plano was involved in a very minor traffic incident that required some tender loving care once back in Windsor. It wasn’t a big deal, but it did mean we had to take the M4 to Las Vegas and it was quite a surprise. The heritage of the M4 suggests a brutal track-focused car, but not really these days. Competent enough on the track as it continues to be, it proved to be a pretty good touring car and neither Margo nor I were in a hurry to let the other take over driving responsibilities. Of course, too, once we had the i8 back in our hands we had to give it a thorough cleaning and our neighbor and good friend was quick to demonstrate how a leaf blower can become an effective drying appliance!

In the post of May 20, 2018, Friends – it’s all about time and timing! I wrote of how our good friends’ (the Kennys) grandson (Colton Herta) had managed a clean sweep of all three races at Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Never been done before and it catapulted him to the top of the Indy Lights series ladder. This month, it was off to Milwaukee and the Road America course – a massive four mile lap with elevation changes and just a mess of corners to master – where Colton continued on his winning way. He won the first race on Road America making it four in a row before working hard to fight off other drivers to secure second place in the second race. All of which is to say that he extended his lead in the series. 

The team has been doing very well – Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, a marriage of two royal families – is paving the way for a great career for Colton, but he still has to win and to date and, unlike last year, he is proving that his sophomore year is less about what-ifs and could-haves and better populated with podiums. For grandparents Kennys it is still all a whirlwind of activity as they plan their attendance at different events around the country, but now with a plane, the game plan has changed somewhat. The pieces most definitely fell into place for them this year and they are taking full advantage of the opportunities a quick flight in their plane now avails them -   our next trip that takes us to both south and north California will include a stop at the Kennys home so we fully expect to hear even more about their grandson. 

Two years into the Indy Lights program, Colton has only just turned 18 – his first win of the series last year occurred prior to him turning 17. Last year, when he turned a lap of the Indianapolis Speedway in excess of 200 mph, his dad, Bryan Herta, was being interviewed and when the journalist pointed out Colton’s average lap speed exceeding 200 mph you could tell Dad not only caught he breath but smiled as he muttered something like, “that was quick!” Now, it is really impressive and it shows that with raw talent and abundant opportunity, Colton has taken to open wheel racing unlike any other racer I have seen and he is certainly looking at an exciting future unfolding for him.

This summer I have been posting more about Kenny’s grandchild than our own grandkids, but with nannies and nurses now lined up and the whole family travelling in a car for a week to Minnesota to visit the other Grandparents well, we have not been spending very much time babysitting. Suffice to say our grandkids are growing and it is fun to watch them play together with trains, bikes and yes, cars! As for time with family, on this upcoming road trip, our stay in northern California will be very short this time but we are looking forward to seeing Margo’s niece Joanna and her husband, Jens, even if for a very brief time between meetings back down in Palo Alto!

After two futile attempts at picking up our RV, the day finally arrived when it looked like we would be getting our company command center returned to us … after five months of being in the service bay. Well, almost; getting back into the driver’s seat, the steps once again wouldn’t retract. Unbelievable! Fortunately the problem was quickly diagnosed and even though the RV repair place didn’t have a spare part in inventory, fully aware of its history with us, the service manager pulled a working component from a new RV on display and facilitated an eventual departure back to our new storage facility. Utter relief and as we drove down the highway, it certainly felt wonderful to be able to read all the gauges and to see everything reporting normally. Later this month we will take it out onto the highway for an overnight test of all the systems and really, we can hardly wait to return to our former gypsy’s life!

As it so happens, we have a National Auto Sports Association (NASA) event scheduled for the end of the month so we pulled up the sight and registered for a return to HPDE 3 on the last Saturday of the month. We also took advantage of the events location at High Plains Raceway to book time on the Friday afternoon as it is an open lapping day for all NASA participants. With a little luck we will be able to have a client join us for the Friday affair and so fingers are crossed that this comes to fruition. As for the Corvette, Margo and I have now both driven it on nearby streets and it feels better than new. Suspension upgraded as were tires, brakes and a whole lot more – stiffer drive shaft, for instance, and a more reliable clutch. Only outstanding issue now is whether we make the grade. The car is the sum of many parts and with the pieces all back together again, it will be up to us to make it all work. Again, can’t wait to be back on track after nearly four years of absence – we both think it was late October, 2014 when last we were on track.

Our RV shop did do us the courtesy of washing our RV and, if you recall earlier photos, the difference is pretty remarkable. It is shining and the windscreen has never looked better. We still consider ourselves fortunate to have found a storage facility that is heated through the winter months very close to where we live, so no, there will be no more need to winterize and then summarize our RV. Translation?  Any good weather that comes our way during winter gives us an option to take the RV for a weekend vacation. We have so many parks just north of us – Yellowstone, Glacier and even further north into Alberta that we simply haven’t driven to so just in our conversations this week, we have more or less decided to look at heading up that way next year. 

This summer has seen us attending events where we have caught up with the HPE NonStop community – looking at how NonStop users will be piecing together solutions from a raft of new NonStop product offerings. We have picked up the pieces of our cars that we “scratched” and have them all back on the road including our beloved RV and Corvette. Glistening like new, washed and pampered as they all have been it’s finally dawned on us of how fortunate we are to be able to get out onto America’s highways and go wherever business and  leisure time takes us and we know that this is not always an option for many we know.

For as long as I can recall, we Aussies have always been told we are from the “Lucky Country” but you know, I don’t think we are doing it all that bad this far from Australia’s shores. Margo now prides herself as being an honorary “New Australian” but living as we do in America, getting out and about as often as we do, we can’t help but be thankful that so many moving parts – all those scattered pieces that make up our lives together – do on occasion come together and it’s all good! So, for those we are about to meet, we look forward to the occasion and for now, it’s back to packing our bags, pulling out maps and checking hotel bookings! Yes, Mr. Joe Walsh, Life's been good to (us) so far …

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Time in Leipzig provides time on track …

Leipzig; the home of Goethe – who knew? According to Goethe, “Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” I think that this has to be one of the better quotes of all time but Goethe didn’t stop there. He also said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” How cool – for years I have always thought about my high school motto, “Know Yourself” which dates back to Socrates who famously declared that the unexamined life was not worth living. When asked to sum up what all philosophical commandments could be reduced to, he replied: “Know yourself.”

Leipzig; located in former East Germany, it has morphed into an attractive city transformed in more recent times to were today it’s a wonder it doesn’t sit further up any travelers list of must-see cities. Did you know that the game of soccer, as administered today by the DFB (Deutscher Fußball-Bund) was founded on 28 January 1900 in Leipzig? Margo and I had the opportunity to spend a week in Leipzig and while we were relatively naïve when it came to its history, all the same, ultimately working with clients, it was something we just had to do.  As Goethe so rightly observed yes, “Willing is not enough; we must do!”

When is a church not a church and when is a university a church? There was a church on the site of the university but unfortunately, the former Pauliner Church (which apparently was undamaged during the second world) was demolished by the East German government. Following reunification, it was the University of Leipzig that chartered new territory by creating an entirely new building, in the style of a church, to better connect with the past. The University of Leipzig is the second oldest university in Germany and this new campus structure it is certainly worth taking a look and it’s just a short walk from the city center.

This highlights one of the amazing sites across the city of Leipzig, reconstructing the past and repurposing former architectural gems has given the city a new lease on life and for the moment, it was the site of cranes pulling the city up out of the past in a way that purges much of its recent history that gives it the sense of truly knowing itself. Did you know Leipzig was at the heart of Germany’s coal mining industry – mostly brown coal that fired its furnaces and powered its economy – but the city took the decision to close it all down and turned all of the mines into lakes! Leipzig is now surrounded north and south with a network of lakes that you don’t really realize are present until you fly out of the city.

Margo and I were visiting Leipzig for a HPE regional user conference for the ecosystem of companies involved with HPE NonStop systems – consultants, vendors and yes, users. As much as many people may have forgotten about the former Tandem Computers systems of the late 1970s on through the 1980s, they live on as NonStop Systems wearing the HPE logo. Every time Daimler Benz builds a new manufacturing plant for its fabled Mercedes Benz cars, at least two NonStop systems are deployed – all those manufacturing robots are connected to NonStop systems and their every instruction is overseen by a NonStop computer. And they aren’t alone – Porsche very much relies on NonStop systems to this day. And the much ballyhooed Deutsche Bahn, the German Railway – yes, ticketing is done via NonStop last time I checked!

The city center is surrounded by restaurants and bars and on select days, becomes an open market. When the opportunity presented itself, after the activities of the day wound down at the conference, we found our way to one venue or another and perhaps the occasion that affected us most was that at 1:00 am, suffering badly from jet lag, we simply went to the city center and was able to sit down and order a meal. Try that in Ft Collins or Boulder and yet, for Margo and me, that is the quintessential characteristic of old European towns. We love it!

The conference in Leipzig follows other conferences in Germany that Margo and I have attended. Dating back to the early 2000s, we spent a week in Berlin in 2005 when I was the Chairman of ITUG, the International Tandem User Group and then again in 2009 for the NonStop Symposium. In 2009 I made a solo journey to Darmstadt for a similar conference just as I was setting out on the adventure that eventually led to the creation of my new company, Pyalla Technologies. Finally, in 2012 both Margo and I made it to Dresden for the same conference and these trips do not include the time we have vacationed in Germany or the many times we transited through Munich or Frankfurt.

Today we have a fondness for Germany and whether it’s the pork knuckles in Munich, the sausages in Frankfurt or simply the beer everywhere, the times we have spent in-country have always been warm times for both of us. When it came to Leipzig, however, there was a special treat install for us as one of the participants at the conference underwrote an “optional tour” of the Porsche factory in Leipzig that included a couple of laps around FIA-approved circuit with a Porsche factory racer behind the wheel.

Once again, a clear sign that Leipzig was a lot different to when it was part of the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). Just imagine it – a Porsche factory in a land that only knew the infamous cardboard-finished Trabants! OK, so it has been elevated of late to almost cult status, but honestly, there is no getting around it. The Trabant was a terrible car. But fast forward to today and Porsche builds Panamera and Macan cars where once there was nothing. While you cannot take cameras or smartphones onto the manufacturing and assembly lines there is no denying how close to ballet the process has become.

However, the true fun for the day was the ride in a new Panamera Turbo – all 500+ hp. For some reason, understanding we were from the U.S. the pro took to drifting at every opportunity so much so that entering a “bus stop” corner sequence, his approach was such that we close to entering the sequence backwards before a very rapid steering correction saw us exit perfectly. Impressive car control to say the least but when I mentioned he was giving up ground to the Porsche ahead of him, he quickly accelerated to finish up right on its bumper!

Cool cars? Oh yes! But would we buy one? Well, now that you mention it there was one Porsche that Margo and I kept going back to and even though they are made back up at the original Porsche factory outside Stuttgart, it appears you can have any of the 911 range shipped to Leipzig for customer delivery and oh yes, time on the track in an equivalent car (not yours, mind you) just for fun. Sitting in front of the entrance to the Porsche customer center, pictured earlier in this post, was a new Porsche GT3. Not the more famous GT3 RS model but just the regular GT3. Now there was a proper car!

On the other hand, it always comes back to “instead of what” as with limited garage space, what car would we give up? Having just leased a new BMW M4 (with the competition package), and finally in our hands following the mandatory BMW break-in period that limited us to just 4000 rpm, its proving a blast to drive. The i8 remains our go to car for touring but what the heck, the M4 may shortly share that role when it comes to business trips not quite so far away. But looking at the picture below, you just have to love the color scheme? 

Knowing yourself in our family means knowing what next you will find fun to drive and we do know enough about ourselves to know that we derive a lot of pleasure from the many drives we take. But then, there’s always time on the track that provides us both with even more fun. “Knowing is not enough; we must apply,” means that writing about it is only satisfying up to a point but doing it is a whole lot better.

Our club, National Auto Sports Association (NASA) will be holding a track weekend at our nearby and yes, favorite track, High Plains Raceway, at the end of July and we are making plans to participate. I have now become a columnist for the NASA publication, Speed News, and my first column appeared in the June 2018 issue of the magazine – look for it if you are a member of NASA. I am writing from the viewpoint of a HPDE Driver – that is, someone who participates in the High Performance Driving Event program and hopefully, each column will prove entertaining reading.

However, with our time in Leipzig including our time with friends and colleagues who joined us for the conference and our time dining out every opportunity we had, our time on track was a mixed blessing as it only added spice to the conversation about just how soon we would be hands-on ourselves. The Corvette is now fully prepped, we have (finally) our RV back in our hands after five months in the shop and we have a trailer in excellent condition. So, yes, surely it really has become time when as Goethe encourages us all to do; “we must apply!”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Friends – it’s all about time and timing!

You know who your friends really are when after you leave your former residence in Southern California to return to Colorado, they go and buy a plane. Yes, for them it is a pleasant one day flight with stop overs in Sedona for a late breakfast and then a final fuel refill in Santa Fe. Yes, they did that and they have come across to spend a week with us as they head off to Indianapolis for the end of May racing calendar that culminates with the running of the Indy 500. Good friends indeed and ones we cannot see often enough. And the timing couldn’t have been any better since we too will be heading for the airport this weekend as we take off for Germany.

Through the years we have spent vacations with them in Europe and in Australia but it’s now been quite a few years between drinks, so as to speak. Fortunately, we will be opening calendars to check dates in 2020 – it really needs that much planning to pull off.  Their business has really taken off and Brian being the sole proprietor of a general contracting business he remains very much hands-on so there can’t be too many days spent out of the office even if his office is a GMC Sierra truck! On the other hand, flexible options when it comes to time management means he can take time for a visit and we really do like to entertain them when they are here – did we ever mention in the past that these were the folks who introduced us to the nightly ritual of green (apple) martinis?

If you happened to be wondering whether we managed to squeeze in a flight with them then wonder no more. The weather proved favorable and one morning, Brian returned to the airfield and retrieved his Cessna from the hanger where it was being parked and with no additional encouragement required, we were quickly lifted into the sky – what a fun flight. Brian and Jan have been flying for years and as two people experienced in all that is needed for a safe flight we couldn’t have wished for anything better.

The highlight for us was a flyby above our home in Highlands Meadows where the unmistakable layout of the golf course was hard to miss. Our new home is in the middle of a construction zone but all the same, it was really a nice sensation to see just how our home presented itself even as the new homes were being completed – our soon-to-be next-door neighbor just happens to be a family that owns the largest GM dealership in Ft Collins. Serendipitous, you think? Well, that new Corvette ZR1 might be in the mix if we play our cards right. From the air, though, the biggest revelation was just how many lakes and ponds there are along the Colorado Rockies front ranges. I guess we weren’t prepared for that surprise but surprising it turned out to be – no wonder there are so many boats parked in storage facilities flanking both sides of the interstate from here to the Wyoming border! 

I guess the only sad report to make here is that it was only a matter of a few weeks back when they sold their track-focused Corvette (it’s just a coupe, Brian used to say about the car, as it had its flanks enlarged and many components beefed up) and after almost ten years of track outings we shared with them, we know our own Corvette is lonely tucked away, as it now is, at our offsite storage facility. But I am sure that will change as the weather improves and already we are looking at our own calendar sorting out when we can head to the track for open lapping days as well as to at least one track weekend with NASA – the National Auto Sports Association. As for the vehicle we rely on to tow our trailer and Corvette, our RV that we use as the company command center, well fingers crossed. We should be able to pick it up in a week or two as the end draws now to a major home overhaul. 

On the other hand, one very practical outcome from having good friends visit is that it motivated us to finish a couple of projects. In this case, with no indication that there would be any more snow falling any time soon, it was time to finish furnishing our main entertaining deck – it’s always been our plan to be able to support evening dinners for six in an al fresco environment. Big lanterns with candles, a grill and yes, even a cooler-on-wheels (loaded with drinks), all that was missing was the sound of waves crashing on the shore. Unfortunately, here in Colorado, there’s no such luck and we will just have to settle for the cheers and yelps of joy coming from the golfers sinking putts on the 17th green we overlook.

However, what we have now achieved is support for that six-place setting that we excluded from the original design of our main floor. Yes, we kept a formal dining area but that was it. And who needs a formal dining room anyway these days … OK, so we struck some common chords here lessening the formality and adding more capacity to serve wine. Who could argue with that? But outside – well it soon became a question of ownership. Did we own our outside deck or did the mosquito? Unprepared to forfeit valuable real estate we fought back – yes, we sprayed every surface with something the mosquitoes didn’t like, turned on the overhead fan and installed candles everywhere and so far, it looks like we succeeded in reclaiming our own backyard!

Contrary to popular belief there is more to life than golf and, for Margo and me, it more often than not comes down to enjoying the simple comforts life affords us. Maybe we will tackle that maddening game at some point in the future but for now, watching a game unfold in front of us more than satisfies any imminent urge to go and play the game.  And yet, when it comes to simply observing like many of you, I suspect, we watch a lot of home shows on television that highlight how best to decorate and, for the most part, we switch off. We have our own ideas and our own creative juices and you have likely followed the progress we have made through the posts to this blog. Bottom line? We go our own way, right! 

The ultimate accolade though came this week – the developer of the entire estate dropped by to ask if they could bring a couple to our home to show what could be achieved with their floor-plan. Wow! When it comes to new homes, apparently most folks need gentle prodding to better visualize outcomes as their newly purchased home finishes being constructed and to imagine how best to fill the empty spaces that inevitably develop during the construction phase! Even more interesting is the surprise over how effective a little splash of color can prove to be and in this regard, when it comes to our home don’t ever go looking for beige or pastel! 

Brian and Jan didn’t just fly to see us. They were on their way to Indianapolis to see their grandson Colton race in the Indy Lights series and in the days that followed their time with us, Colton would be on track both Friday and Saturday circulating not the big oval everyone associated with Indianapolis but rather the infield road course first developed when Formula One came to Indy. Now, the year to date for Colton had produced mixed results and he certainly hadn’t been too thrilled with the outcomes of the four races to date. With grandparents watching from the Andretti VIP pavilion, the pressure was certainly on Colton to pull something out of the hat. Well, actually no, not really – there really isn’t any way to put pressure on Colton as his fellow competitors are quickly coming to appreciate.

Lagging in the Indy Lights standings and sitting mid pack, the weekend proved eventful for Brian and Jan as yes, first race and first corner, Colton was pushed all the way back to second last. No worries as he stormed through the field to win! As for the second race well he was once again pushed back on the first corner but this time only to fourth so it was only a matter of times for him to work his way up through the field. And oh yes, with three laps to go, he made a phenomenal pass to take and then hold the lead. Two races and two wins and no the standings have been turned upside down.  With promotion of the last race in May at Indy for the Indy Lights competition it was good news for us all to see Colton featured front and center of the advertising now being released by Indy.

In two weeks’ time on Indy race day, he will compete one last time in May at Indianapolis but this time, it will be on the big oval. Always a challenge but somehow, it’s hard to imagine Colton letting the pressure get to him and while Brian and Jan had to fly back to California and will miss this race, I am sure we are going to hear all about it as the race unfolds. Finding time is always tricky to manage when you have a business and working the calendar to find opportunities to get together seems to be getting harder and harder to do. And yet, somehow the timing does sort of work out and we do enjoy time spent with friends. Shortly we will be heading out of town but that is another story for another time and oh yes, while Brian and Jan were with us, we signed the contract to complete the basement – maybe they should stay away as these quick visits of theirs is costing us a lot of money. Just kidding, as they will always be welcome to bring a little bit of California with them and to stay at, dare I say (at this time of year) – our own Windsor Castle!