Friday, November 30, 2012

It was an ill wind ...

 
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We looked forward to November for a number of reasons. It would be our last Great Adventure of The Year in the RV. Acquired just this year and earmarked to become our home away from home when we returned to California on business and as a hospitality suite on weekends we were at the track, we were certainly taking full advantages of all that it provided – this would be our fourth major excursion to California. Margo has done a tremendous job in turning the RV into an office and a home and over the course of the year we have come to enjoy overnighting in WalMart Supercenter parking lots across the western states.

Our adventure called for us to do an early winter crossing of both, the Rockies and the Sierras, and we had been apprehensive about what we might face, but fortune smiled on us and while our drive across Wyoming was windy, as were parts of northern Nevada, the temperatures remained mild and we didn’t encounter a single snowflake. When I had made inquiries about having to carry chains for the RV I was politely reminded that if we happened to run into conditions calling for chains then we should just pull off the highway and ride out the storm – after all, we were brining our home with us! What more could we ask for? Pulling into an RV campsite in Morgan Hill, northern California, late Monday afternoon we wasted little time in setting up “mobile command center” – out came the laptops the printer and the network hub. We were in business, but not without drama even as we were looking at our business schedule.

Readers of my business blog postings may recall how during the drive to northern California, I managed to spill my martini over my laptop, effectively killing it. As I was to later report, I successfully demonstrated how the WinTel architecture is ill at ease with Apple – in this case yes, it was an apple martini that was spilt.  As the party at fault it would be me this time getting the hand-me-down while Margo purchased a new laptop – something you can read more about on the business blog as well. Check out the post of November 23, 2012, “
Things are not always what they seem to be…”. On Friday, we were once again breaking camp and heading for southern California for a weekend of on-track sessions with National Auto Sports Association (NASA), Southern California, for the very last event of the year. Joining us would be Brian and Jan Kenny, our friends from Simi Valley, and likeminded Corvette aficionados. The picture atop this post was taken shortly after arriving at Buttonwillow, but once again, that night the winds returned to buffet the RV.

 
We have always enjoyed sessions with NASA SoCal and we have been made to feel welcome from the very first time we rolled a wheel onto the track. It was at Willow Springs, back in 2008, and with the conclusion of this last of the 2012 event it would bring to an end five years of participation with NASA across the western states. For four years we had toyed with different cars. Firstly we ran with our C6 Corvette automatic coupe that we later supercharged, but we even spent weekends in our Viper as well as the Infiniti G37S coupe we owned but briefly. We still have the C6 coupe and we still have the Viper but it was the other Corvette we elected to use during our fifth season and we couldn’t be happier. The brief outing in the Viper taught us a lot about the control afforded from having a stick-shift manual transmission, and with the high torque cars we have driving the manual not only gave us the control we were looking for but just as importantly allowed us to spend laps, learning a course, with just a few shifts – usually just rowing between third and fourth gears. That was it!

Margo now enjoys her time on track as part of the NASA HPDE2 group. The big difference between HPDE1 and HPDE2 is that she no longer must have an instructor with her – she’ expected to know how to communicate and cooperate, and without someone in her ear uttering encouragement she has settled into driving, and while there’s still anxieties she has reached a skill level where she is capably holding her own. Indeed, as noted in earlier posts to this blog, on tracks where she feels more at home – Colorado’s High Plains Raceway (HPR) and the big track at California’s Willow Springs – it would take few additional outings before she could easily circulate with HPDE3 drivers. The picture above is from early Saturday morning as she mixes it with other HPDE2 drivers as they begin to work out the best way around Buttonwillow’s Course 13, running counterclockwise.

While it was now a lot easier for me to watch Margo driving by herself in each of Saturday’s sessions, we did miss the collaboration we enjoyed during open lapping days at HPR. During each of the four sessions Margo would be on track at HPR I would be her passenger, and then for my four sessions she would be my passenger. We spent many days at HPR and with each outing, the conversations saw us encouraging each other and working as a team. This was a huge difference from former times – readers may recall a time when, at Laguna Seca, Margo pulled into the hot pits and ordered me out of the car! But no longer. For me, it made me take a good look at how Margo was driving and to just quietly point to places on the track where she needn’t brake as hard or turn-in as early, and improvement came pretty quickly. As for me, Margo was never shy on letting me know when I had missed an apex. Or two – consistency is still my main problem as keeping focused (and shutting everything else out) is something of a struggle for me.


The time I spent on track Sunday was also enjoyable, as being a part of HPDE3 I can take passengers. First it was Brian riding in the passenger seat and then for the third session, it was Margo. Engaging Margo into the day’s activities helped keep her connected with what was happening, something she really likes to do, and yes, there’s a difference now between the two of us and it’s not just the speed involved when running in HPDE3, but equally as importantly, it’s a first-hand look at just how well the C5 Corvette Z06 performs on track. Running completely stock except for upgraded fluids and brake pads (but with street tires) the level of grip provided comes as a shock to many, and on more than one occasion I had fellow participants stop by enquiring about what we were running. Come Sunday evening as we packed up the RV and headed south, back to Simi Valley, and to further business pursuits, we still had one more race weekend ahead of us and it was to really open our eyes on just what skill is all about. Yes, we would be dropping in to Las Vegas and to the Rio hotel to watch the SuperKarts. It was the weekend of the SKUSA Supernationals, essentially a global karting event and twelve year old Colton Herta, the grandchild of Brian and Jan, would be participating.

Two years ago, in the posts of November and December, 2010, I wrote of how we had finished the year with NASA at Buttonwillow and of how, while joining Speed Ventures for a cold and wet outing with Brian and Jan on the Roval circuit at the Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, their attention was focused further up the interstate as young Colton was participating in the SKUSA Supernationals and that following two wins, Colton had indeed earned the trip to Italy to compete with the best of Europe. Well, now we would be witnessing firsthand all the excitement karting truly represented. And we weren’t to be disappointed. However, two years on and Colton even as a twelve year old was juggling multiple programs, not the least being the transition this year to driving open-wheel racecars. Having competed in his first race in a formula car just a few weeks before, where he competed with much older teens – fourteen and sixteen year olds - Colton had surprised many by finishing second in his very first outing. However, this weekend it would be all about karts and whether this would be the last time we saw Colton in such an event or not, we knew that no matter what happened, he would be competitive.

We were not disappointed with what we saw. Perhaps an even better way to describe it was “unbelievable”. Margo and I had been to ALMS and IRL events in Long Beach as well as to a F1 event in Monte Carlo, and the atmosphere, while not on the same scale of course, was every bit as electric. It was far more approachable – marquee tents had been erected by teams and sponsors and Colton’s kart was surrounded by technicians and a truckload of parts and accessories. This was the real deal. Carrying the number 26 on his kart, a number favored by his famous dad, Bryan Herta (yes, that Bryan whose team won the Indy 500 in 2011), the late night picture inside the pit tent of chassis maestro, seven time karting world champion, Danilo Rossi (of Italy), provides yet further evidence of just how professional the sport has become. With Bryan Herta in the background, left, pictured here are Troy, a Honda Racing Technician, Phil, the Owner of Pits karting, as well as “THE” Danilo Rossi, the multiple world karting champion and owner of Danilo Rossi Karting.



I managed to drop in on the Saturday for qualifications, but unfortunately, the flu bug or whatever that had ailed Brian had just claimed Margo as another victim. Whether it was the winds that kept buffeting us or simply a result of morning temperatures that were definitely beginning to drop, Margo now joined Brian in his state of discomfort. What I saw on track was remarkable – the intensity of the drivers as they battled one another was inescapable. Brian knew exactly where to site and we managed to catch Colton drive his way into contention in a qualification race. However, dialing in these karts is so precise that in the late afternoon Colton’s early competitiveness was mitigated in the later laps as the sun moved behind the hotel effectively cutting off heat from the track. Yes, it mattered that much, and Colton’s kart began losing “grip”, but even so, among a competitive group of racers from all over the world, he held on for a top 10 finish. Colton had moved up the ranks following his success two years ago and just as he now faced in his open wheel racecar events, he was in a group of much older competitors among whom were some from pretty wiley drivers fully aware of Colton’s potential. All the same the picture above captures Colton driving aggressively having just passed another competitor through a series of turns.

Margo wasn’t quite as ill for Sunday’s main event and the winds had died down considerably. Sitting in the grandstand with family members all around us, we were quickly caught up in the excitement. In another heat before the final race, Colton had been hit and punted off the track eliminating him from the results even as the white flag, indicating just one lap remaining, came out.  Yes, he was well-known among the other karters, and as a result he would be starting the main race near the back of the field – something like 25th or 26th. With the wave of the starters green flag, the field exploded down the main straight and as a group they all dived into the first turn – a sharp right-hand hairpin.

Brian had been telling me that the biggest concern that the team had was making it through this first turn. There was a collision in the first turn with karts heading in all directions but as the contestants came back into view, Colton was no longer in 26th, but in 6th with none of the family sure about how he had managed to achieve such a result. He would lose sixth place later in the lap, but as the race unfolded, with only three or four laps remaining, Colton began picking off one racer after the other – moving from seventh to eventually place fourth and at one point, according to the arena announcer, was turning the fastest lap times. Brian had also been telling us of how, in the moments surrounding an event Colton disappeared into “The Zone”, as he mentally prepared for his time on track. From that moment on, nothing distracts him and the picture below captures Colton in the zone, focused intently and oblivious to everything around him, as he walks back from the race.

The drive back to Boulder, Colorado, began early Monday morning. By now I too had caught the very same bug as Brian and Margo. Business meetings had gone well. The weekend at Buttonwillow had proved enjoyable and the weekend watching karts, amazing! As soon as we cleared the border city of Mesquite, Nevada, and climbed up the Virgin River canyon, we once again faced difficult windy conditions. Gusts kept trying to pull us off the road so the speeds came down and our expectations for making it home in one day were put aside. We had been buffeted and we had been sick – and perhaps it had been an ill wind after all - but for the last leg home, we saw nothing but blue skies. So much for winter and yet snow will come, and probably before Christmas. By that time, we will have surely shaken off the ills that have beset us even as we winterize the RV in the full knowledge that our next outing will not be till the spring of 2013.

And we just can’t wait!

 



 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

That was fun to read..How exciting!!!
Cheers and Merry Christmas and a healthy New Year
Jan girl

Richard K Buckle said...

And now, at just 12, Colton has a contract to drive! Check out:

http://www.pr1motorsports.com/colton.herta/