Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Three weeks to remember ...

It was a welcome change of pace to find ourselves back at High Plains Raceway (HPR). After our last outing we had the brake and power steering fluids replaced and upgraded to fluids more suited to track outings, and I was very interested to see if we had rectified the suspicious brake “pedal to the firewall”, a momentary heart-stopping syndrome Margo and I both experienced the last time we were at the track. More importantly, we wanted to see whether the fun we both had behind the wheel of our older Corvette, series 5, or C5, Z06 would continue, or was just a one-off following so many frustrating weekends behind the wheel of our newer, Corvette series 6, or C6, supercharged coupe.

The picture at the top of this post is of “the rig” we drive to track events now. Whether it’s just a day’s outing or a weekend affair involving several days of driving just to get to the track, we are now totally sold on the value of bringing home with us. There’s still some teething troubles and a few worrying issues, but overall, our new Allegra 38’ plus RV and the FeatherLite car trailer are proving to be an enjoyable tandem and have become our first choice as we consider business as well as social outings to the far corners of the United States and Canada.

The program was pretty straight forward – Margo would again do the four sessions in the morning and I would do the four in the afternoon. I would be Margo’s passenger just as she would ride along with me when it was my turn to take to the track. This way there was always plenty to talk about when we returned to the RV for a 25 minute break – and I am beginning to warm to being Margo’s observer and am becoming less inclined to give her advice with every turn she attempts. More importantly, my reduced commentary is also a reflection of just how much she has improved from three outings to the track – this time, picking up almost where she left off, her confidence was much higher than at previous outings, particularly in - the very first session. She is now beginning to really remember the layout of the track. 

Weather is always a factor at HPR and it raised its stormy head briefly before lunch – while we were preparing to go on track for the third session rain started to fall and then for a short while, turned to sleet. In early May, no less! The track became slick and all Margo felt comfortable doing were a few quick laps before returning to the paddock. However, the fourth session was completed without further incursions by the weather and then it was my turn. But first, it was a very enjoyable lunch that Margo had prepared the night before in our slow cooker. What a change from hamburgers, hot dogs, and taco’s.

Historically, the afternoon sessions always seem to bring out the more aggressive drivers and Friday was no exception. “Why didn’t you let me pass – I am much fast than you,” one driver came over to me, complaining, after all “I am driving a Ferrari F430!” The group of Audi drivers next to us could barely contain themselves and a pro, driving a BM 3 series in NASA GTS category, who had been on a track behind me at the time, quickly comforted me when I said that I wasn’t sure where he was going or what he was trying to do “don’t worry, nobody was sure where the Ferrari was going either!”

It had occurred late in my second session as I prepared to take turn one. Braking at the end of the main straight, and turning in to take the turn, the Ferrari powered through me to take the apex except he had nowhere to go, but it proved to be the second time that session where I was entering a turn with two other cars – three wide – with me in the center each time. The C5 Vette is proving to be so nimble that there wasn’t a moment’s nervousness as I kept my eyes on the turn even as my peripheral vision monitored the antics of the others. These moves weren’t so much a case of being aggressive as they were typical of the mix of skills you find in drivers participating in an open lapping day, and very reminiscent of the time Margo and I spent on the Nurburgring amongst teams of professional racers.

However, strange as it may seem, while we welcomed the opportunity to spend a day at HPR, it wasn’t the real highlight of the month. Only two weekends before, our good friends Brian and Jan had come across from Simi Valley, California, to give me further tips on driving and maintaining the RV. As a pilot, Brian is very pragmatic about the need for lists – departure, arrival, storage, etc. and had prepared such lists specific to our RV. So we found ourselves alongside the reservoir outside Estes Park the day after they arrived, having spent time adding diesel (almost 100 gallons), topping up the fresh water and refilling the propane tanks.

If you take a look at the RV above you will notice only the passenger side slide-outs were deployed. The weather looked nice but the winds proved anything but friendly and snow was falling on the peaks of the continental divide. Our plans for a barbeque were quickly shelved and we curtailed our excursion such that we returned home earlier than expected. With the house standing between our barbeque and the north westerly winds that were blowing, we elected to continue with our barbecue plans, but this time, outside next to the pool. It wasn’t long before Brian and I were deep into conversation about our cars and the times we had been on track.

The afternoon before we had visited our local Corvette showroom, and spent time with the owner, Rollie Purifoy, looking at the ZR1s, Z06s, Grand Sports as well as a new Calloway special. The array of colors was dazzling but the talk had quickly turned to what customers could expect to see as the next generation of Corvettes made their first appearance – sometime next year. There was a special edge evident in the exchanges as only a few weeks earlier SRT had taken the wraps off the fifth generation Viper, and in the paint scheme worn for the unveiling, it looked eye-catching gorgeous. So the pressure on Corvette has to be significant.

However, as we fired up the barbeque and began to clean, I suggested to Brian that there was another dealer nearby that would be fun to visit. Further down the local highway is the local Jaguar, Aston Martin, Lamborghini and soon to be, Maserati dealer. It took no time at all to turn the gas of the barbeque down a few notches, extend an invitation to Brian’s wife, Jan, to join us, and to be walking the showroom floor. Of course, Jack TerHar, president of Sill-TerHar Motors Inc. and fresh from the golf course, was only too happy to see us and with his salesman, Steve, gave us the run of the place. In no time at all, Brian and Jan spotted an Aston Martin Vantage V8 they liked and the rest is now history.

Already covered in the post to my business blog of May 9, 2012, “Predictions you may regret!” the picture above does the Aston Martin more justice – it is definitely a thing of beauty. It is one of the finest examples of rolling artwork to be found, anywhere! I have grilled many times on our barbeque but never before, in the time between cleaning the grill and throwing on a slab of meat, has anyone gone out and bought an Aston Martin. But of course, they didn’t come to our home with this intent to purchase this fine automobile, and had left their check book behind so next weekend, they would be back!

No time to waste, the moment they came out of the airport this second time it was off to see the dealer, and in less than an hour, they were driving the Aston Martin back to our home in Niwot. Celebrations all round and many photos snapped and emailed to friends. The excitement was palpable and this time, the early evening barbeque became a far more relaxed occasion. And talks soon turned to where we would go the next morning and for me, there wasn’t any doubts – we would drive the Peak-to-Peak highway that traverses the front ranges from north of Golden to Estes Park and a favorite two lane ribbon of highway I had driven and ridden many times.

The photo above, taken at the same time as the earlier photo of the Aston Martin, gives the game away. When you have an Aston Martin on hand, you couldn’t be talked into taking the SUV – no, this called for the fourth generation SRT/10 Viper roadster.. After taking on gas we drove south of Boulder towards Golden before taking highway 72 that brought us up to the Peak-to-Peak Highway, a little to the south of Nederland. Before the intersection however, we pulled over and Jan took the wheel of the Viper while Margo took the wheel of the Aston Martin. No two cars could be further apart in many respects – the refinement of the Aston Martin and the primeval brutishness of the Viper, and yet, driving these narrow twisty mountain roads proved to be both their forte.

Stopping for coffee at Nederland we again changed drivers with Brian behind the wheel of the Viper and with me sitting behind the wheel of the Aston Martin. And then we were off – 42 miles of driver’s heaven as we first completed the run on highway 72 before turning onto highway 7 for the run into Estes Park. At about midpoint along highway 7 we came to the old church featured in the above two photos and just had to stop. After our adventures together in Europe in 2010, just seeing this setting reminded us all of some of the highlights from that trip.

The Aston Martin is now safely ensconced in Simi Valley, after having been driven back on the Sunday. But we hope to see it again shortly as we head back to Simi Valley ourselves for a weekend with SoCal NASA at the track at Willow Springs, outside Rosamond, California. Brian and Jan taught us so much about our RV and we are extremely grateful for the time they spent with us. Pulling the car from the trailer and seeing it alongside the SUV and the RV as depicted below was a simple reminder of just how many trips we have made these past couple of years, since returning to live fulltime in Niwot. But we do need more, and bigger, garages.

On the other hand, HPR did provide us with one more lesson, and one we will not soon forget. Our trailer comes with detachable wheel covers – they come off easily so that after you have driven any low-to-the-ground car onto the trailer, you can open the door and get out of the car. But on this past weekend, there were a lot of participants and traffic by the RV was heavy, so in a stroke of genius, I “stored” the aluminum covering underneath the trailer – just ahead of the wheels themselves. After completing the third of my afternoon sessions and with the Ferrari driver somewhat placated – he did give me a point-by prior to our cool-down lap – we decided to pack up and head home.

The ripping, screeching sound of twisting aluminum was inescapable and coming to a quick halt, I knew immediately what had created all the ruckus. Just as all of those standing nearby came to realize as well – I had run over my own trailer’s wheel cover. Since taking delivery of the RV I have managed to bring down branches from trees lining the driveway, causing so much damage that we had to have the landscapers seriously prune them all. I have also managed to ride up over the Cadillac SUV’s front bumper without even being aware – pushing the front of the vehicle down hard on its suspension. And now I have run over the trailer’s wheel cover.

But I am getting there – it’s all under control. America has to be unique in letting anyone with a driver’s license go out and by an RV, connect up a trailer, and then venture onto the freeways, highways and pretty much any arterial road in 60’ (18.4 meters) of articulated vehicle all without any additional endorsements on their license. I guess it’s just a rite of passage then that I manage to run over things around the house. With each adventure however, the sense of achievement is undeniable and the sigh of relief when I pull into the driveway and apply the exhaust brakes with nothing more having happened is pure bliss. We could have bought an Aston Martin, you know, and the thought has crossed our minds several times since Brian and Jan returned to California. Looking around the RV however, and seeing in it our second home and our ticket to freedom, there’s no buyer’s remorse at all from having acquired the RV.

Then again, the Aston Martin is such a thing of beauty, perhaps replacing one of the Corvette’s may not be an unreasonable consideration. An Aston? A Maserati? A Lamborghini? Mulling on the prospect only brought a wry smile to the face of Jack TerHar – yes, he has one of each of those. Would you like to come back and drive them all?