Monday, December 24, 2012

‘Tis the season to be jolly!

When I wrote my final post for 2011 “Memories? Fuggedaboutit!”, you could be forgiven if you came away thinking I was about ready to give up on track weekends. After all, we had a dismal run of luck and as much as we prepared for every event, it turned out to be nothing but one frustrating session after another. However, as we really looked under the hood of our wonderful, supercharged Corvette – the C6 Z51 “auto” coupe, the more we came to realize that, perhaps, this wasn’t going to be the car that would allow us to progress any further. While we had tamed it somewhat and pulled horsepower and torque back from earlier levels, even at the altitude where we most often ran, it still wasn’t a satisfying car with which to tackle track days. The picture above? From a tuning day, just as 2011 came to an end.

Today, the C6 ‘Vette, or Big Blue, as we fondly refer to it, has undergone a remarkable transformation under the watchful supervision of Curt at Corvette Spa, in nearby Longmont. To Curt, it always comes back to durability and so, following the replacement of the shock absorbers (all round) with a little stiffer Bilstein HDs, a new set of brake rotors and pads (Hawk High Performance Street), and where we finally had the brake calipers powder-coated red, a revised alignment to better suit the street and considerable reworking of elements within the cockpit – gear shifter now operates smoothly and the heads-up display has been reinstalled – the ‘Vette runs great. So much so (and yes, even more horsepower and torque was pulled out of the engine program), we now run with “just 500 rwhp” the car has turned into a very pleasant daily drive, and one I often selected for summer and fall evening runs!

Fortunately, if you looked back even further to other end of season posts you would have seen that the final post for 2008, our inaugural session, “
Looking back on '08”, you would have seen the reference and photo of that other Corvette we had in our garage – the C5 Z06. And what good fortune it was to have this ‘Vette available for track weekends. Apart from replacing the original 2003 tires, upgrading the fluids and brake pads, this ‘Vette needed very little attention and yet, proved to be a more than capable car when it came to lapping our favorite tracks in Colorado and California. The single biggest difference was control and, to a lesser degree, finesse. With a manual transmission we were able to select gears we wanted to be in, and being a much lighter car, it just went where we pointed it with the rear end never once stepping out on us. There was never any anxiety about Frankenstein, or perhaps more accurately, Dr Jeckyll’s Mr. Hyde suddenly appearing without an invitation.  

It was also Margo’s year. With a reliable, predictable car to drive Margo’s confidence grew in leaps and bounds and as we spent many a Friday (and the one Monday) at our local track – High Plains Raceway (HPR), east of Denver – with as many laps as Margo was able to reel off, her consistency and speed rose accordingly. Already a seasoned National Auto Sports Association (NASA) HPDE 2 driver, allowing her to be on track now without an instructor, she more than held her own on open lapping days where there were no restrictions on overtaking and where her communication, and indeed predictability, was much welcomed by other participants. On some occasions Margo shared the track with racers preparing for an upcoming “One Lap of America” event while at others, she was in the mix of Radicals and open wheel formula cars.

This confidence manifested itself during her outings with NASA that followed – running consistently as one of the top three drivers at the early summer NASA Rocky Mountain event at HPR, pretty much uncatchable at the mid-year NASA SoCal event at Willow Springs, and able to come to turns with a very unfamiliar track configuration at the year ending NASA SoCal event at Buttonwillow. The big difference with driving the C5 Z06 was that with the manual transmission and the tall final drive that comes standard with the Z06, the first couple of laps in the early sessions would see her comfortably lapping in just third gear – with little to no “bogging” coming out of turns. The ability to manage the torque well enough enabled Margo to remain competitive for much of the session.

The picture above is of Margo running Buttonwillow track configuration 13, counter-clockwise, and shows her exit from the Buttonhook having passed the section of track called I5 and the I5 off-ramp. As for my time on the track, I felt a lot more at ease behind the wheel of the Z06 than of any other car we had taken to the track – it was all about predictability and being able to place the car exactly where I wanted to. As the year progressed, consistently hitting the apexes became more routing, as did letting the car “flow” and not be pinched as I tried to get just that little more from it. In time, I found myself not braking quite as hard and able to roll onto full throttle a lot earlier and the more I worked on smoothing everything out, the faster I was able to go. Again, the instructions from my first outing with NASA SoCal were never far from my thoughts as no matter the track – and yes, I spent a day at Pikes Peak International Raceway for the first time ever, running it too in the opposite direction; clockwise with the oval turns all right hand turns – determine each turn’s exit and then work backwards to where you locate the apex, then sort out your turn-in and finally, figure out just the amount of braking you need to make this all flow!

With five years of weekend track sessions under our belt, there has been another constant as well. The social aspect from joining others with a like-minded passion for driving cars fast and safely has led to many friendships being created. Whether it’s a young driver putting on a helmet for the first time and introducing themselves to Margo and me or an old-hand we have seen many times before, seeing friendly faces everywhere we go now has become a big part of why we enjoy the activity as much as we do. For us, it’s still far removed from being a sport as we are not interested in the competitive side of driving fast, but rather and yet, being able to simply hang-out with those who do take it seriously and, occasionally,  have them ask for a ride-along with either one of us, is all the reward we look for. When we arrive at HPR we are asked about the “line” we prefer and more often of late, entertain requests to participate in a couple of lead-follow laps to better observe the line we prefer!    

However, this year proved more enjoyable than many of the outings of previous years for another reason. During the offseason we bought an RV and a trailer and this has now become our command center when we participate in business trade shows and other user group events as well as our entertainment center when we marketing our company during promotional outings at the track. No more “making the best of it” at nearby motels or having to face long drives back home each evening just to turn right around before dawn to head back to the track. Plenty of seating, too, to more properly entertain the business clients we have had join us, as has happened more than once this year. And to work from as well, as the picture of Margo above so clearly portrays. The evening’s martini somehow proving to be a lot more enjoyable when served this way rather than being imbibed directly from a mini-bar’s miniatures!

Simply acquiring the RV has been a bigger life-changing event than we had ever considered – yes, we had watched others driving the freeways of America even as we mused on how much fun it would be to do something similar – the freedom that comes from being able to go anywhere at any time, pull over and rest should the weather prove inclement, and have a platform from which both of us can work has proved more beneficial for us than we could have ever surmised. And the picture below,  showing us pulled over in the truck rest area atop Donner Pass, California, as we headed to California for the last time only five or six weeks ago, and with snow clearly visible on the surrounding peaks.

However, it would be remiss of me to talk about life-changing events without referencing the upcoming transition Margo and I will undergo when in the coming spring we will become grandparents. Our daughter Anna and her husband Erich are expecting their first child, and we couldn’t be happier. Obviously the downside here is that any plans we may have harbored for returning yet again to Willow Springs for the NASA SoCal weekend event early in May have been shelved. There’s a much more important priority. Fortunately, the RV we elected to purchase is a bunk-house coach with a couple of bunks in place that will be perfect for grandchildren, and with Anna already talking of the possibility of a second grandchild, it looks like we may yet become the “fun grandparents” to spend time with. Should the grandchildren ever express any interest in karting, you just know there will be one set of very supportive grandparents waiting in the wings!

There’s also been another turn of events that has us drawing a little closer to Corvettes that involves just a little more than simply showing up at the track on weekends. Curt and the Corvette Spa have done such a great job with preparing our two ‘Vettes – returning Big Blue to civilian life and equipping the Torch Red Z06 for track duties, that Margo and I have begun a small business undertaking that will further strengthen our ties to the Corvette Spa. Capitalizing on the recognition we are receiving at the tracks in Colorado we attend, we have completed negotiations with A&A Corvette Performance of Oxnard, California, and will be selling the Vortech supercharger package that Andy and the team at A&A have spent many years fine-tuning. Much publicized in features in ‘Vette magazine, we see an underserved marketplace stretching from the Canadian border through Montana and Wyoming all the way to the foot of Colorado for this product.

The RV entertainment center has again helped pave the way for this new business adventure and with Pyalla Technologies “Track Days” decals becoming available (and liberally plastered to our track car and trailer) we are keeping our fingers crossed. If you haven’t already been following the posts to our latest blog, “
Day at the Spa”. Take a look, as I will be keeping everyone informed about our progress. Should you be interested to know the scope (and costs) of these packages, then check out the specific post, “Business Meetings! The packages unveiled ...” Links to this blog are now on the web site of Corvette Spa and hopefully, will soon be on the web site of A&A Corvette Performance. Diversity is good, or so we have been told, and with our consulting business flourishing and keeping us both extremely busy it seems only natural for Margo and me to take on even more work and those readers who keep close tabs on us via LinkedIn will know all too well how really busy we have become of late!

Looking back, if 2011 was frustrating and a year to forget, 2012 proved to be the complete opposite. It was the first full year where Margo and I worked fulltime for our consulting company, Pyalla Technologies. There are still a lot of people who now find it very amusing that given we only need to walk down two flights of stairs to be in our office, we have five vehicles parked in our garages (and driveway – there’s just no room for the Escalade). We still have a pair of cruising motorcycles in addition to the RV, but sometime next spring, there may be something squeezed into the garage that will replace both motorcycles. Anyone for a trike? How about a CanAm Spyder?

Seriously, it has always been a difficult task predicting what will transpire in the coming twelve months. There will continue to be weekends spent at the track – we now so enjoy the C5 Z06 ‘Vette that we see no other role for it than being our track car, visibly promoting our new business interest, Pyalla Technology Track Days. However, we will also be spending more time in northern California where our primary business interest lie, even as we elect to spend a lot more time at home given the arrival this spring of our first grandchild. Southern California will continue to attract us as that is where our many friends live. It would be remiss of me not to call out just how much fun it has been this year sharing many trips with our very dear friends, Brian and Jan Kenny who we met over a Starbucks in Simi Valley, California, several years ago. And yes, with our business interests in Australia beginning to turn the corner, there will be a trip to Sydney late in the year, with Brian and Jan, even as my daughter Lisa, living in Sydney, makes plans to be with us here in Boulder for Christmas, 2013.

And talking of Christmas and the traditional Christmas dinner, the picture above was taken just a short time ago as the turkey came out of the oven. A glorious magnum of Wynn’s 1993 John Riddoch cabernet sauvignon had just been decanted (and about time, too) and the meal that followed a few hours later with the family proved enjoyable. With the year being better than expected and the coming year looking even more promising, Margo and I wish you all the best for the holiday season and look forward to catching up with many of you out on the track once again! Yes, Happy New Year!