Wednesday, December 11, 2013

From the Holen-Buckle family – a holiday season update and greetings!

It’s the holiday season, once again, with a new year’s looming. For us both 2013 had many highlights, perhaps none that shone brighter than becoming grandparents for the first time. We welcomed Ella into the world in the spring and nothing has been quite the same since. We are doing our bit with babysitting, of course – more Grandma than Grandpa we have to admit – and are watching (as all proud grandparents do) all the signs of Ella growing and becoming more in tune with her new world.

Travel was once again high on our list of activities but perhaps our trip back to Australia was the highlight. After an absence of four years (unbelievable), we managed to spend time with the family including Lisa, as well as with Richard’s Mum (Mom). However, another highlight was just being able to drive to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania where Richard’s Dad spent several months in 1965 learning electronics, a pursuit that in all likelihood influenced Richard in ways he didn’t immediately recognize all those years ago.

The other trips to both coasts as well as to Canada included participating in events by Margo, whose’ encore-career is now developing traction as she settles in to the routine of organizing events for 1000 plus participants. Fortunately our trips weren’t simple point-to-point as we took time to catch up with old friends and to not simply loose the many friendships we have. We are slowing down, naturally, so keeping with people we really do like, and whose company we enjoy will likely become more of a priority in 2014.

We began mastering our RV but continue to change the cars in the garage. But that’s less exciting than simply having the option of going anywhere we like on short notice no matter the season. With only a couple of exceptions, we didn’t fly this year and that’s a pattern that will only become more evident in the coming years – although, this year, Margo passed the 1 million mile mark with United on her own merits. The motor cycles definitely took a back seat, so as to speak, and we will be revisiting whether we continue having adventures on them in 2014 – perhaps we need three wheels the next time we hit the highways! Our beloved Vette, pictured here, is gone… All for the better!

Christmas trees still need to go up and be decorated. Additional yule time trimmings need to be brought out and displayed. Food and drink brought in and menus planned. Appropriate music needs to be dialed in and festive lights lit. With no plans this year to spend the time between Christmas and the New Year somewhere warm, as has been our custom over the past couple of years, it will be definitely a time to relax and watch old movies – something we like to do.

Until next year, we wish you a very merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2013 in review – looking back on what really mattered …

It’s so easy to finish a year and simply acknowledge that yes, it flew past and already it’s the next year that will be important. However, for Margo and me the adventures that were pursued in 2013 really did count for something. Several significant milestones were passed, as were numerous personal relationships that blossomed. Buckle-Up may have started out as a place where we chronicled our adventures in a race car, just a place to capture memories from trips abroad, but it has developed into more than that – it’s where we ensure all those with whom we interact know just how much their presence in our lives means to both of us.

The picture above dramatizes the impact friendships have had on us in perhaps the most tangible, indeed recognizable manner. Before meeting Brian and Jan Kenny, we wouldn’t have considered driving a race car at Laguna Seca, for instance, nor put plans together to drive Der Nürburgring Nordschleife and share a simple lunch together at the German track’s famous Grüne Hölle restaurant. Before we met Brian and Jan, would we have ever considered buying an RV and or join them with an almost matching red Corvette, as depicted above? Nevertheless, from the time we walked from our Corvette into our favorite Starbucks coffee shop, in Simi Valley, where out of nowhere a voice asked us, “do you race that Vette?” life hasn’t been quite the same for us. On the other hand, not for the Kenny’s, either, we suspect. I sometimes wonder what if we hadn’t responded, “yes, in fact we do!”

Catching up with an old school friend after decades without any communications turned out to be a highlight of 2012, but this year it developed further in ways that Margo and I were pleasantly surprised to see – who knew? It was David Roberts who, during a trip early in 2013, convinced us to buy the yellow Maserati we so love to drive. When we were in Australia this year, it was David who secured the services of a real racecar driver, and a red Ferrari, for a drive around the new Sydney Motorsport Park track that, as from 2014, will be the venue for the Sydney round of the Aussie V8 Supercar races. Can Iife getter any better than that?


In 2013 we didn’t enjoy quite as many opportunities to be on track – life found a way to step in and change our plans. For the better, we both admit. We became grandparents for the first time!  When we did manage to get on track, we found ourselves battling conditions unlike any other previous occasion. Being on track on a nice sunny day proved a rare occasion, but we still managed to enjoy a couple of warm summer days as the picture above of Margo clearly depicts. Just look at the concentration being exerted as Margo heads out of the hot pits at Colorado’s High Plains Raceway (HPR), our “home track”!

Among the many highlights from 2013 was just how confidently Margo had become driving solo – she was now a regular participant in National Auto Sports Association (NASA) HPDE events as a Group 2 participant. There were times where she didn’t enjoy the trains of cars that formed, but on tracks she knew well, HPR and Willow Springs (outside Rosamond, CA), she always circulated in a group of two or three cars at the very front of the group.

For these tracks, it’s only a matter of time before she is approved for Group 3 and it would be a huge boost for her confidence when that eventually happens. On the other hand … maybe not? At the time, I made it to Group 3 in Colorado, you may recall from a blog posting of the time,  after informing Margo of how, “I was a three!” without even blinking, she simply responded, in her best Polish accent, “so what, I’m a bush!”

As for Brian and me, the time came for us to hit unmovable objects – something everyone who takes their own cars to the track dreads. My big “off” happened early in the season, at Sonoma in northern California, where descending the esses I spun and backed the Vette into the wall. It turned out to be just an “informal kiss”, and less than a thousand dollars later the Vette was all ready to go again. However, this wasn’t the case for Brian. Leading a group of time trial (TT) cars at a joint northern and southern California NASA outing at Laguna Seca, and having just set the fastest time, on the slowest corner of the circuit – turn 11 – he had his Vette come around violently, spinning him into the protective wall alongside the pit entry. It was a huge incident and his Vette is yet to return to track duty, but I am sure Brian is looking forward to 2014!

Brian is now a participant in NASA HPDE events as a Group 4 / TT participant, and finally I am participating in Group 3 with NASA SoCal, NoCal and Rocky Mountains. I have to thank all those at NASA who have helped me develop as I have – it is much appreciated; and as often as I let them down with some of my off-track antics, it’s always good to eventually get there. I cannot leave this brief update without mentioning how, for the past two years now, when it comes to open lapping days at HPR, there’s been business clients who have braved the conditions to ride-along, as passengers, with us both. We hope that they have enjoyed the opportunities as much as we have enjoyed having them come out to the track. 

In 2013 we travelled to Canada and Australia as well as enjoying numerous trips to both coasts. Early in the year it was back to back trips to northern California, but come summer, it was to Las Vegas and Minnesota. With the arrival of fall, there were trips to Mississauga, Canada (just outside Toronto), Atlanta and then finally to Orlando. With the obvious exception of Australia, we drove everywhere and whenever the weather conditions allowed it, we took advantage of the RV – our mobile office after Margo added multiple cell hubs that kept us connected no matter the mobile service on offer.

Margo is warming to her new vocation as an association Chief Meetings Officer and a byproduct of her responsibilities is taking a hard long look at potential future conference venue sites. Independently, we have now looked at Minnesota (enjoying our time at the Mall of the Americas even if it is no West Edmonton Mall); Mobile, Biloxi and New Orleans along the Gulf of Mexico; and Dallas, Houston (if briefly) and San Antonio. Verdict, for those interested? San Antonio tops the list and as for the gulf, then perhaps Biloxi – of course, we found time to stop by Jimmy Buffett’s latest inroads into the casino business, stopping by Margaritaville Casino & Restaurant Biloxi.

The picture above is of Margo and Fiona, at a recent meeting held for Margo’s association, the American Congress of rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM) here in Boulder. It looks like we will be hosting another gathering of volunteers and staff in January and we have to admit, the more involved we have become and the more we travel in support of their events, the more I agree with this major career change of Margo. Yes, a lot of driving is involved and a lot of stress is generated as she endeavors to ensure these events go off without a hitch, but all the same, with both of us now working out of our Boulder home  proved to be one of the more positive life altering events we have experienced to date.  

Returning to Australia after an absence of four years certainly was a highlight for us both. We visited with my family, and even though it was sad to see my ailing mother, I am very glad we were able to see her. Fortunately, we were able to pursue our business interests in the first week that allowed us to relax and enjoy the two weeks that followed. Even though we continue to squeeze in business during those additional weeks, there was still more than enough time to enjoy the sunshine we were blessed with and to take the walks along the coastlines and bays we so enjoyed doing on previous visits. The picture above is of Margo on M
anly Beach’s famous Corso – a pedestrian mall bordered by restaurants, bars and ice cream parlors. Looking as “new Australian” as possible, I was pleased to see that even with the packed itinerary I had put together, there was still time for Margo to truly relax; you just have to love the hat, right?

Our business interests continue to grow in Sydney and we enjoyed dinning out with a business colleague, David Hughes of HP, with  whom I worked back in the 1980s; Dieter and Chris Monch, who have been true friends as well as business associates for several decades, and indeed, in the case of Dieter, someone I consider as part of a small cadre of mentors I have trusted for many years; Sue Bradshaw of IR who so enjoys rescuing Greyhounds, as does our daughter, Anna; and Peter, Neil and David of Infrasoft, a true technology start-up in the best traditions of Silicon Valley start-ups. That’s right, doing everything on a shoestring budget even as they ship their first products.

However, the break in Sydney was more than just business combined with a working holiday. While I was able to keep writing and Margo stayed in touch with her events team, it was also a time to say good-bye to the city of my birth. I have siblings in this fine city, as well as a daughter, but it’s no longer home for me. For all the years I have spent living in the US, it was finally time to admit that with Margo, I had moved on – we have a grandchild! The upside of course is that Australia is a great vacation destination and we know the language and customs! It’s not that we will never return, but I suspect future trips will be on cruise ships out of San Francisco or Los Angeles as our love affair with long flights is definitely over. 

Friendships have flourished this year as already stated, and business continues to take off in unexpected directions. Networking has always been strength of both of us as we have enjoyed the technology and association cocktail circuit for years. Well, at least some of us have. This past summer, driving back from a client visit that took me to the Denver Tech Center, I took a call from young teenager, Colton Herta. I have covered Colton’s progress up the ranks of racers for a couple of years now, but getting the call was a bit of a surprise, although I have to admit, I had a premonition that I might get the call. While Colton was enjoying a highly successful rookie year in open-wheel formula style racecars, he wanted to return one more time to karting – he needed sponsorship for the upcoming SKUSA Supernationals event in Las Vegas.

What did he need the most? Already he had located a chassis and an engine but what were in need were sets of tires – for qualification and for the race. So yes, Margo and I were up for that, and for the first time Pyalla Technologies became an official sponsor for a Colton Herta race and we couldn’t have been any more proud than had it been one of our own children. In the picture above that was emailed to us on the day, you can see how generous Colton was in ensuring visibility for Pyalla Technologies and somehow, I have the sense that this could be the start of a longer relationship between us all – while we are a miniscule business entity in the grand scheme of professional auto racing, we enjoy it so and I have to believe, in the end, every little bit counts.

We were overcommitted for the month of November and couldn’t make the event but Colton performed extremely well given a year’s absence from karting. As for how Colton performed, perhaps it is best to simply quote Colten’s maternal grandmother, Jan Kenny, who told me, “After not competing in Karts all year, since moving up to Formula cars, it was fun seeing Colton back at the Supernats. After qualifying in the rain for two days, he made it into the final group for the Sunday event. I am proud of his achievement, he got everything out of the engine that he could.”

From a field that started out the weekend 80 strong to a final of 40, and where Colton qualified in 8th position, to a competitive finish where Colton was only 2/10th of a second off the leader, it was left to Brian to report on how “he could pass in the draft but not gain any ground otherwise. A lot of fun; a lot of people!” I think we need to get Colton even better tires next time out! Yes, that’s Brian pictured above alongside the tires prior to them being shredded in the race. In many ways, this was just how the year went for Margo; it was all about friendships. Although the strength of our own friendship was really tested severely when David didn’t get seat time for Margo in the Ferrari; but there will be other days.

It’s now the holiday season. Thanksgiving is behind us with Christmas and the New Year looming. There will be gifts and much to eat, just as there will be ample time for even more story telling. Plans for 2014 will take form as we check the calendars – we hope to see David back here early in the New Year and we wish safe travel to Brian and Jan as they head to New York. We are limited to just one car for now – the winter weather turning nasty and relegating us to depending solely on the Jeep, summer tires and all!

Already our thoughts, however, have turned to spring and for 2014 to be a time for further exploring of the Americas. It’s dark when we get up and dark well before we have dinner. Thoughts of summers in Sydney aren’t far from our minds, particularly as I pay close attention each evening to the developments in the cricket contest for “the Ashes” under way in the Antipodes. The RV is in storage and the cars are on battery tenders, but soon we will be back on the road where once again, it will be a time to Buckle-Up! 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Two golds and a red!

It is not every day that you get an invite via email to lay down laps, as a passenger, in a very serious Ferrari. “I've wangled two rides in a race (Ferrari) F430 on Wednesday with a quick driver!” was the first email from an old high school mate, David Roberts. “Nathan Antunes will be the driver. He is an ex Red Bull ‘Young Gun’ who raced in F3, Formula Renault and Formula BMW, in Europe. Fantastic young man and a great steerer!”

The circumstances that led to this were not ideal, but the sight of this email more than compensated for what was happening around us. It was early October and we were in Sydney on a business trip to spend time with the company we are deeply involved with, Infrasoft. As it so happened, on this trip we were joined by Brian and Jan Kenny, business associates from Southern California, who have become good friends and who have now been featured in many of these posts, simply because they share the same passion we have for cars and for time on tracks. It was with Brian and Jan that we spent the day on the Nürburgring (Nordschleife), back in September 2010.

For this trip, the plan had been to head to the Blue Mountains, to the west of Sydney, but Mother Nature intervened at the last possible moment. As we drove our rental car towards the foothills, all we could see were plumes of smoke, and following a quick call to the hotel we were advised not to drive any further – the highway was being cleared of all traffic to make way for emergency vehicles. In what was later described as the beginning of Red October, as one local Sydney newspaper dubbed them, these fires made headlines across CNN and even NBC ,although the later didn’t quite master the geography involved.  

However, fun in a very red car, even as Red October unleashed its deadly fires, was only a part of our own October story. The track outing in the Ferrari made up for us missing out on doing a parade lap around Bathurst’s famous circuit at Mount Panorama only days after the Great Race for Aussie V8 Supercars had raced for 1,000 kilometers. I was still coming to terms with being on the wrong side of the car and clearly, as the picture at the top of this posts depicts, I was doing some pretty animated “air driving”!

I was very appreciative of the effort David made to get Brian and me the ride in a Ferrari and to get a good, close up view of Sydney Motorsport Park, formerly known as Eastern Creek. Starting in 2014 it will be the Sydney home for V8 Supercars, following less than spectacular support from all involved for the temporary street circuit set up each year around the site of the 2000 Olympic Games. From our very first outing on a track with National Auto Sports Association (NASA), Margo and I had continued with our “hobby” with the intention not so much to master a handful of tracks but, like golfers everywhere, to see just how many tracks we could visit.

David has visited us in Boulder a couple of times, and on his last visit he came with me for a couple of parade laps out at High Plains Raceway that was the subject of the February 18, 2013, post to this blog Roads less travelled … If plans develop, as he hopes they do, then there’s every likelihood we will see David once again in Boulder in the new year. It’s not every day that friends can pull a red Ferrari, literally, out of their hat and I have to believe our friends at NASA will be surprised.

This October’s road trip up and through the north east of Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, gave us opportunity to showcase this part of Australia to Americans that had never been down under, and proved to be a real treat for Margo and me. The program was simple enough, as it included a casual drive to Queensland’s Gold Coast where we spent a couple of days (and where we walked a good part of the closed streets being prepared to host the V8 Supercars for the Gold Coast 600) before returning via the northern tablelands, that are a part of an area called New England. The picture taken of Margo and me was early in our visit to Surfers Paradise. The Gold Coast may harbor detractors down south, in the capital cities, but taken in small doses, it still holds a lot of appeal and it would be remiss of me not to include such a photo.

The Gold Coast still has many good restaurants and following an early evening brisk walk from our hotel, the world’s fifth tallest residence – the very James Bond like Q1 – to the Mirage Marina, we selected one of the restaurants overlooking the marina. We enjoyed the food so much that on our last day in Surfers Paradise we elected to return for an early evening dinner. The picture above is from this second visit to the restaurant. The first evening’s brisk walk is probably something I will not live down with Brian, Jan and Margo, as I was telling them it was only four or five blocks from the hotel. However, 4.8 kilometers later, we made it to the marina. Did I mention that it did give us the opportunity to check out the back straight of the street circuit that was ready for the following weekend run of the Gold Coast 600?

The drive up to the Gold Coast in our rental had seen us overnight at Terrigal and at Coffs Harbour. It may be a cliché, but even as I write this post, it seems just a few days ago that we were walking the main street of Terrigal looking for a café. For an early evening in October, the weather was already trending to the warm side and the afternoon we arrived in Terrigal we had to abandon plans to walk the rock shelf on nearby Avoca Beach, as the winds were at gale force – an early indication that Sydney was going to do it tough this fire season, a point proven, all too harshly, in only a matter of hours. However, before there were vacations to the Gold Coast, from the late 1950s and into the early 1960s, Avoca Beach had been our summer vacation destination – if only our parents had bought that block of land they had often talked about!

For me our trip back down the New England Highway brought back so many memories from my childhood. It was common in the 1960s for Sydney families to make the trek north and our family was no exception, but today there’s little to remind me of either the journey or the destination – the Gold Coast looks nothing like the swampy marshes from those times and there wasn’t a four-lane highway (almost) all the way to Queensland. However, the motel outside Grafton where we stayed was still there, as were the “milk bars” and cafes along the main streets of Tenterfield, Glen Innes and Tamworth. The stud farms of Scone and Muswellbrook were just as visible, although some of the dwellings looked palatial compared to what had been standing there in the past. 

Our trip up and down coastal New South Wales was certainly a break from what we had been doing, although at times, Margo was as distracted as we had ever seen her over her upcoming November conference in Orlando. Growing substantially from earlier events of two to three hundred and then last year, six hundred, this year’s event would be attracting a thousand participants from a variety of medical practitioners. All the same, Margo tried her best to unwind and there were moments where I could see that she was – perhaps not as Brian and I jumped into the red Ferrari, but that was obviously a very special and somewhat unusual, if not unexpected, occurrence.

For Brian and Jan there were distractions as well – it was only a matter of hours after picking them up at the airport that Brian received calls about fires from recent electrical work and flooding from just-completed plumbing. Each incidence was handled remotely and ended up not being too much of a distraction, but mixing work with just a couple of days out of the office is always a tough to do. For me, it was always a case of finishing each day at the keyboard as on my return to Colorado, I had a series of back-to-back user conferences before making the drive to Orlando. Yet for Brian and Jan there was yet another distraction – their grandson Colton would be wrapping up his first year of open wheel, formula racing. 

I covered some of this in the post of November 4, 2013, to my business blog, Real Time View. In the post The real deal - NonStop supports x86! I wrote of how Colton, the son of Indy Racing League (IRL) team co-owner, Bryan Herta, had raced this year in two programs for open wheel racecars. In doing so, he managed to win the major series (in an F1600) while narrowly missing out, as we heard while travelling, on winning the second series (Skip Barber formula) by a margin of two points even though conflicts with the F1600 series meant he missed many Skip Barber events. The picture above is becoming all too familiar these days – even as other drivers have to get used to it – with Colton, surrounded by his sister Caly and little brother Caden, scooping up all the trophies.

How well is Colton doing? As the picture below depicts, his collection of trophies is becoming quite impressive, the more so as what he now has on display are only those for first place. In turning to open wheel racecars Colton is making the first moves to follow in his father’s footsteps. He is also moving on from a very successful karting career, having won several titles in spectacular fashion, as already noted in prior posts to this blog. So it should come as no surprise that Colton, from his own marketing to everyone he could reach, will once again compete in Las Vegas in the karting SuperNationals against the best in America and places further afield. Last time I saw him race I walked down a lane of karts from Australia. 

However, while we were in Australia, Colton participated in a charity karting event in Indianapolis. This was not a race per se, but rather an event in support of the Dan Wheldon Foundation. When you put a collection of highly skilled combatants behind the wheel of very competitive karts, the prospect of a fun time for all for the sake of charity quickly goes out the window. Mixing it up with well-known Indy drivers – including this year’s overall season champion, New Zealand’s Scott Dixon – Colton demonstrated enough skill to not only pass his father but former Bryan Herta Racing driver, Tagliani, as well as Dixon.

As his father, Bryan told me in a recent email, “I don’t really know how to describe the joy and pride I feel watching Colton race and start to have his own success. Certainly the normal parental pride is there, but more than that I think the fact that he is doing this thing I dedicated my professional life to, and doing it very well, makes me feel like a little bit of me is out there along with him. And last week was a real highlight for me, to see him competing on the same track as Alex Tagliani, Scott Dixon, and nearly a dozen successful professional Indy car drivers and seeing him right in the mix, at 13, really I don’t have the words.” 

The leaves in Boulder have turned golden and have started to fall. Winter is not too far away. The Gold Coast, Colton’s gold medal performances and the red Ferrari, too, are now just fond memories. Next year’s travels and events are already taking shape. As I walked down my driveway, where I took the photo below, there was no escaping how quickly this year had gone by and yet, I have never dwelt too much time on the past. I have not enjoyed quite the business success Brian has experienced and I will never experience the thrill of winning the way Colton has, but it is contagious just being around such people. 

The aspens in our yard all communicate in ways we don’t fully understand. As the leaves on one tree turn golden, the others quickly follow suit. It’s this network that separates Aspens from all other trees and it’s the network of friends that Margo and I have around the globe that brings color to our lives. Yes, we have golden trees, and yes, we have golden sunsets. We also have a red Corvette – not a Ferrari, mind you - that we enjoy driving every bit as much as I did driving the Ferrari. To our friend David in Sydney and to our friends Brian and Jan and to all those we came into contact with during October,  we thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to spend with us. We are so much the richer for it and we look forward to seeing you in the near future!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Time spent on the track and on America’s byroads …

Earlier this month, I spent the day out at High Plain Raceway (HPR) driving solo as Margo had commitments she simply couldn’t ignore. Being a new grandparent, opportunities to spend time with the granddaughter are not invitations easily turned down, so I would be spending the day, trackside, and alone. The picture above best describes the conditions but also my mood. As much as I really looked forward to spending time on the track, it’s a lot more fun when Margo is around, participating, and sharing in the adventure.

And an adventure it remains – every time either of us gets behind the wheel, pulls the straps of our safety harness tight, fires up the engine and heads to the grid, the adrenalin kicks in and it all gets serious in a hurry, but in an anticipatory, “wonder what’s going to happen?” manner, as we look to see who will be joining us on track. Will there be aggressive drivers prepared to steal our apexes? Or, will we be left alone to circle at our own pace? No matter; for this day, it will be a team of one and with nothing to share it will become a time to strengthen the brain’s memory-muscle paths as I drive numerous sessions with as consistent a lap time as I can muster.

The plan was for three 30-minute sessions in the morning followed by three in the afternoon for a total of three hours on-track time. This is aggressive and ambitious, as at organized events we typically drive four 20-minute sessions. As much as this sounds rather simple, the mental aspects of driving quickly during these organized events soon drains away the adrenalin we may have experienced earlier and the 20-minutes is as much as we can mentally handle under most conditions. Unfortunately, this outing at HPR was to be anything but routine!

Just getting to HPR that Friday morning was an adventure; for readers who have been following the storms that hit Boulder County, they will know just how serious this once-in-a-hundred-year storm proved to be. It was chaos, all around us as swollen streams and creeks became raging torrents that swept aside all they encountered. Our former offices alongside Boulder Creek were ripped in half, and yes, there was loss of life even here, in Boulder proper. On Thursday morning we had several exits out of our estate but by Thursday night, only two were left. Hooking up the RV and trailer and getting the Corvette strapped down, watching over my shoulder the whole time as rain continued to fall and thunderclaps echoed out of the mountains, I was left with this feeling of “what the heck am I doing?”

The video above, as short as it is, gives you a hint of what the conditions were like trackside. It was wet. It was windy. And few other drivers made it to the track – just two other cars on track for the morning sessions and three other cars for the afternoon. Fortunately, my client made it for the afternoon sessions by which time the track had dried out. The winds were brisk but warm and for the most part, only two small pools of water remained by the time we went out on track.

This is the second time I have had a client venture out to see firsthand what being a part of Team Pyalla Technologies “Track Days” is really like. Last year, it had been Margo’s turn to entertain a client and this would be my first time. The track was in wonderful condition with the rains and then the winds having completely cleaned the surface of the track so there was little to concern us and after the three outings, we called it a day. We were safe and we did get to see the difference between a Corvette and a couple of
Porsches, although the Carrera 4S was in the hands of someone new to the track, but the older, Carrera 2, provided some fun for a couple of laps that kept me honest for a brief period as I separated the Vette from what proved to be a well-driven Porsche.

September is perhaps the best time of year to explore Colorado. As the month began, we took the SRT Viper out for a couple of days driving along the byroads of western Colorado. The intent had been to take in the golden colors as leaves begin to turn with the onset of Fall, but this year, given the snowfalls that continued well into Spring, the time for Fall colors is still a fair way off and it will be mid to late October before any meaningful displays can be observed. Hopefully, we will find the time to check them out for ourselves.

Before this post appears, Margo will more than likely have added a post of her own on that trip to the western fringes of Colorado so I will not cover that excursion. However, the picture above of Margo was taken in Aspen, at the rugby field, leaning against the goal post, a few blocks from the center of downtown Aspen. Every year there’s a competition that draws players from all over the world but the loudest accolades are always reserved for the local team, The Gentlemen of Aspen. Through the years I have played and followed Rugby, never before have I ever heard of a rugby team mentioned in the same breath as gentlemen so at some point, Margo and I will make time to watch a game or two as the competition comes around.

In just a short period, we had driven to Atlanta and back and with the drive to western Colorado, we added yet another thousand miles to the Viper’s odometer. However, by no stretch of the imagination were we done with our cross-country travels. If the year had begun with multiple trips to the West Coast in our trusty Escalade, then the closing months of 2013 will be best remembered for our trips east. As much as we really enjoy track days, and our time out west, each time we head east it’s a whole new adventure as we find new roads to explore. No sooner had we returned from checking out whether the colors of Fall were on display then it was time to prepare for the drive to Ontario, Canada.

A client had asked me to present to the Fall meeting of the Canadian users of HP NonStop systems. It had been several years since I had last travelled to Mississauga, Ontario, and so there was no way I would pass on the opportunity and to make the experience even more enjoyable, we would take our Grand Tourer (GT) out for the drive. The garage continues to see its fair share of cars pass through its doors but the GT, well, it’s something else and whereas all our other cars are slightly track-oriented, the GT shifts the focus a little more towards comfort. We just had to see how it performed on what would become a 4,000 mile adventure.

The route across was straight forward – get to Mississauga as quickly as possible. Departure was originally planned for the Sunday following my track outing to HPR but the experience of getting the RV and trailer off the ridge where we live made us pull forward our plans. And a good thing, too, as more rain was forecast for Saturday night. Checking out the street closures noon time Saturday, we found we were down to just one route out of town so we headed back home, threw together the belongings we would need, and headed for Kansas immediately.

The route back home? Well that was another story. Being as far east as we would be, we just had to drive past Niagara Falls and the road would then take us down through New York and Pennsylvania making a visit to Wellsboro, PA, impossible to ignore. The picture above is of us both fronting all the falls – from left to right, the American Falls with the Bridal Veil next to it and then further to the right, the Horseshow Falls denoting the Canadian side of Niagara. All of this was captured by Margo in the video below. Before we headed to the falls, a colleague had suggested we take a short side excursion to the city of Niagara on the Lake and this we did – and what a bucolic village setting this turned out to be. A definite must-see for anyone visiting these parts!

Why Wellsboro, PA? Even the hardiest of travelers will be hard pressed to find this town on a map – it’s not even the county seat. However, back in the 1960s the Mergenthaler Corporation maintained a factory and educational center in support of their new “Line of Film” electronic printing systems. The replacement for older, lead-slug centered Line of Type mechanized systems, the transition to film revolutionized the printing industry and my father became the first Australian user to be educated in the system. When he returned to Sydney he brought with him a slide deck he then showed to many audiences (in his formative years in the newspaper industry, he have been a press photographer) and the images of this town stayed with me to this day.

Even as so much has changed in the years that have passed – almost 50 years have passed – the town itself had changed little. The hotel he had stayed in was still there as was the diner and the picture of me below shows me at the town’s major intersection with that diner in the background. As for the factory, unfortunately with the passage of North American free trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mergenthaler moved the whole operation to Mexico (as did Corning we were told) and the town took a big hit. Before Margo and I drove back to the main road, I did buy a tee shirt and I will wear it to my next family outing in Sydney when next I get there.

As for the last stages of our trip, we elected to skip the freeway and once we had passed Indianapolis, we picked up US Highway 36 that runs uninterrupted from Indianapolis to Estes Park, Colorado. For long stretches at a time, all you can see is corn under cultivation but every so often, the rad dips and winds and takes you to places unexpected – I didn’t realize that the town of Hannibal, central to the life of Mark Twain, really existed, but it does. And it has a great gelato shop, too! Looking out across the dark waters of the Mississippi, the adventures of Tom Sawyer didn’t seem all that far fetched. Perhaps that was the most surreal experience of the entire trip.

There will be more days on track, of course, even as there are more miles to be covered by car. Already there are plans in place to drive to Orlando for Margo’s big end of year event. On the one hand you can argue about how educational travel really is, even as you can persuade others of the immersion of the senses that naturally occur. It’s still just driving down roads you have no real understanding of where they will take you even as you try to stay hydrated all the time. Modern smartphone technology means you have a camera with you at all times, and that too, is a good thing.

Nevertheless, there’s still a great sense of adventure about taking these journeys and just having the opportunity to do this – a girl from Poland and a boy from Australia – is reward enough to generate the desire to keep on doing this for as long as we can. Without delving into clichés this is definitely becoming a journey without end and for that, Margo and I remain extremely grateful that we have been given the opportunity to drive and to keep on driving! There’s still so much more to come …    

Friday, September 27, 2013

Traditions and peaches! … But not this time!

Labor Day weekend is usually sunny and warm here in Colorado, and for the past several years we tried to spend it in Grand Junction – the views are great, the Palisade peaches are fabulous, and there are several wineries making pretty decent wine there. And yes, there’s always the chance to see the Colorado Aspens begin to turn golden.
This year we took the Viper for the trip – roof down; not so much fun when we passed feedlots, but otherwise pleasant – and something that has also become part of our Labor Day tradition. Pictured above, on the streets of Aspen, it looked right at home in this mountain town.

As we try to do every year, we stopped for lunch in Vail. This time we stumbled upon a restaurant we had never visited before; lunch was great, and the place had a really nice atmosphere. It was called La Tour. If you are looking for somewhere nice to eat the next time you visit Vail, I strongly recommend the place. In the photo below, I am clearly enjoying the salmon salad! This restaurant is just off the eastern entrance to Vail and not that hard to find.

Each morning we headed into Palisade for breakfast and each time we looked for a peach dish but found one only once. However, on Sunday, there was a farmers market and peaches were available from almost every stall. These peaches did not disappoint, and as you can see in the photo below, Richard was admiring some.
The plan had always been to drive through lesser-known canyons and to explore some nearby mesas, or elevated tables, that you can see clearly everywhere you look in Grand Junction. As we explored, we really came to enjoy Highway 141, which takes you deep into a canyon that runs south of Grand Junction. We liked 141 so much that after Richard had driven it in one direction, I took the wheel and drove it the other way. This time while on the highway, we made a discovery –a car museum at Gateway. It is set up on the grounds of a hotel complex, and it turned out to be quite interesting.

It is the scenery that sets this place apart – see below the photo Richard took as we began to explore the place:

As for what the car museum contains, the car pictured below was bought at an auction for a cool $3 mils! Just so it can be on display? Whatever… It is an Oldsmobile F88 and the only one ever built. Claimed to be the world’s rarest car, it was built as a concept car and displayed as GM’s Motorama “Dream Car” of the 1950s.

As always, we made a detour from Highway 141 and took the Highway 145 exit to Telluride. It is a great village, and when we first went there, back in 2003, I did not know that it is quite famous – I just really liked the views… Back then the town was nearly empty, but this time, as it was the holiday weekend with the annual film festival under way, the place was full of tourists.

Before heading back to Boulder, we enjoyed another great trip that took us up and over the Grand Mesa … and back into Grand Junction via Delta. We took Highway 65, and while we had seen signs on the interstate marking the exit, we had never before been on this road. Now it’s something we are keeping in mind for the future, as the views from the top of the Mesa were spectacular.

The sad part is that we never bought those peaches. When we looked at them we were still digesting lunch and didn’t feel like eating another thing; then the market closed and there were no peaches to buy! We didn’t stop by wineries, either. Just ran out of time. Next year?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tails of Dragons, Plates of Gumbo and Streets of Bourbon

Like-thinking people tend to flock together, forming clubs and associations. In the past we have been involved with computer user groups and served on their boards as volunteers. We have chaired Program committees, and Richard led Regional User Groups’ (RUGs) development programs while I chaired the Finance Committee.

Yes, there is a pattern here … RUGs development involved travelling around the world and a lot of socializing, while the Finance Committee job involved a lot of lengthy spreadsheets and analysis of revenues and expenses. I see it as fluff and stuff, and I am sticking with this view.

We have also been members of car clubs – again what took us there was a passion for a particular vehicle and an opportunity to spend time with like-minded people. For many of us, and for various reasons, we join associations and therefore there is the huge business of association management, and the professionals managing associations have their own association, ASAE – the American Society of Association Executives.
If you go to the ASAE web page and look at “who we are” you will read: “ASAE represents more than 21,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations. Our members manage leading trade associations, individual membership societies and voluntary organizations across the United States and in nearly 50 countries around the world.”

As all associations do, ASAE has its annual conference, which this year was held in Atlanta, GA. As an association professional, of course I was planning to attend this meeting. Its location opened the door to another adventure and gave us the opportunity to travel roads we know and like as well as new ones!
Richard is the Chief Adventure Planner in our family, so off he went to draw a route for us with exciting stops along the way. This time we took our Nissan GT-R, after all GT stands for Grand Tourer, and the less said about the R, the better.

Our first exciting stop on the way to Atlanta was Bowling Green, KT, where the Corvette factory and museum are located. National Corvette Museum is an incredible place, and we spent quite a few hours looking at Corvettes of all colors and ages. Here I am, sitting in front of the Museum awaiting the opening of its doors – we arrived early to have time to see it all.
The displays were pretty spectacular; I took a snap shot of one that I particularly liked:
We then proceeded to drive on a road we drove once before, the Tail of the Dragon (Hwy 129), this time driving west to east. Last time we drove in the opposite direction, which does not give you as many great views, and we were driving the heavy Escalade.  Taking the turns in the Nissan GT-R, and there are so many on this road, was so much better than last time [See October 28, 2011, Taming the Dragon? ] Yes, let’s be honest, last time Richard was driving, and this time I took the wheel, so that may have something to do with me liking it so much better J

Here I am, at the Deals Gap again, having completed the drive without any incidents.
So, the purpose of this trip was to actually attend the conference and spend some time with the people from my organization, ACRM – the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine, who were also attending the event. The expo floor was split between hospitality industry representatives who were promoting  their locations and facilities and providers of tools and technologies that help with the management of associations. The intent of the hospitality industry representatives was to encourage the attendees to book their future conferences with them.

As our next stop on the adventure tour was New Orleans, we stopped by the New Orleans booth to see what it had to offer. ACRM was thinking about considering New Orleans for our annual conference, and I was curious if it really recovered from hurricane Katrina. The booth proved to be among the biggest of the cities represented and lived up to the New Orleans image, complete with live entertainment!
 Shortly after visiting this booth, we were off to the real New Orleans for Gumbo and Bourbon … Here I am on the corner of Orleans and Bourbon streets, perhaps the most famous intersection in the French Quarter – and yes, it was oppressively hot!
However, before we arrived in New Orleans, we overnighted on the Gulf, just outside Mobile, Alabama, where rebuilding after recent hurricanes was still in evidence. Groups of new resorts surrounded by sections of vacant land – they have a long way to go before fully recovering from all the storms.

Visiting New Orleans’ live entertainment venues proved a tad disappointing – the music was more modern rock than the expected jazz and blues, but it was fun all the same. Bourbon Street closed to traffic at night to allow for street performances – Richard plans to write about the most exciting street performer in his next post to the Nonstop community blog, Real Time View, so I will skip that part.

I have to admit that I now totally get the song by Jimmy Buffet, “I will play for Gumbo”. What a great dish, and one of the places where we went for lunch served a particularly delicious version of this New Orleans specialty!
Here is a picture from the New Orleans bar:


Unfortunately, I did not feel that New Orleans would be a good venue for the ACRM conference; while the French Quarter recovered nicely, the areas outside this little touristy spot were not inviting, and there is much work that needs to happen before the town returns to its former glory.

We took a route back home via Dallas, where we met with our friend from ACI, Carla Hughes, and her family – the girls have grown so much; if we did not keep up on Facebook I would not believe it!

Finally, the Nissan GT-R made it back into the garage, none the worse for wear. Did it prove itself as a Grand Tourer with or without the R? Well the short answer from my perspective is that while this car is proving popular with the young street racers around the world, for me, it is almost the perfect tourer as it can drive almost anywhere, on any roads, in any conditions.

Labor Day weekend is approaching and we are taking off in our Viper this time, roof down We will try to spot the first signs of fall and  see if the leaves are changing. Also, let’s be honest, we need to check if Colorado peaches are still as delicious as I recall from last year …

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mid-Summer Madness!

July began with frequent trips to Corvette Spa as Curt gradually brought the broken Corvette back to life. After stripping the rear end back to the frame, the damage I had caused from backing into the wall at Infineon race track proved superficial. From my perspective, hovering over Curt’s shoulder, it was ample proof, once again, that in choosing the C5 Z06 Corvette as our track car, we had opted for a “package” that was less costly to maintain. Pictured above is the Vette, mufflers dangling beneath the bodywork, as the last of the fillers are sandpapered smooth prior to a new coating of “Torch Red” paint being applied. The C6 Z51 Coupe, supercharged and all, had provided many memorable moments but it had also seriously damaged the family savings.

Would our good fortune hold up for the entire month? Would July deliver on the promise of summer and delight us all, or would it see return visits to Corvette Spa? Perhaps more worrisome still was that as I looked at the calendar, July was just back-to-back activities with few days open for supervising repairs. Of course, the family looks forward to a fun weekend each July as our club, National Auto Sports Association (NASA), takes over the High Plains Raceway (HPR) track outside Byers, Colorado, and when combined with a Friday open lapping day, gives us the opportunity to use up all the tires, burn through the last of the brake pads and leave with every fluid overheated, the red Vette just crackling and popping as the heat of the car dissipates.

July along the front ranges is always very hot and there’s every possibility that afternoon thunderstorms will develop, interfering with any evening plans under consideration. For our weekend at the track we would be taking the company command center as we would be entertaining business colleagues flying in from California. Brian and Jan Kenny have become part of the family these days, but it’s Brian’s business acumen I have to value the most – Brian may be in construction, but like me, as a contract wraps-up and the deliverables all approved, it’s a case of working the phones to find additional business opportunities.  
However, before we headed back to HPR there was the July 4th weekend trip to Minnesota that needed to be undertaken. The first with our new granddaughter, and her parents. To say I was apprehensive was an understatement as I had committed to clients to complete a number of opinion papers and it would be challenging to work around the “approved family schedules” I would encounter. In truth, with the distances involved, it would be more like the July 4th week as we would be driving two days to and from Minnesota, and the lakeside log cabin of our son-in-laws’ parents. For all involved this was going to be a learning exercise as we had never driven such distances with passengers before or had our family attempted camping like this. It would be a great test of our humility and patience.

In her post of a few weeks ago, Family vacations with grownup kids? Margo provided plenty of insight about how it all turned out so I will not retell the story. The upside was that with the RV set up as it is now, I was able to continue to work from the road – an objective or ours from the first time we took the RV on the road – and the inconveniences of close quarter living didn’t turn out quite as dreadful as I had initially thought. That’s not to say there weren’t times when all parties questioned the sanity of travelling like this and for those who thought it would be a vacation, well, air travel looks a lot better with this adventure behind us. From the picture above, it’s easy to see that I did find a few times where I could just sit down, look at the lake, and take it easy and for that, I am extremely thankful to all who did give me just a little space to chill!

On the other hand, don’t let anyone – particularly family – tell you that times spent alongside the marshes that skirt the lakes of Minnesota aren’t without its downside. Critters of every size inhabit the reeds and these denizens of the lake include everything from annoying Mayflies and Mosquitos to turtles, loons, and stalking cranes each trying to outdo the other in the ways that can annoy you. Whether it’s the pesky Mossi’s stings or the quacking of the crazy loons, the background hubbub was a constant presence, 24 X 7. Then again, high in the trees alongside the lake, there were American Bald Eagles nesting and their occasional majestic flights overhead were magical to witness.

With 2,000 plus miles covered in just the first week of July, the miles I really wanted to do were atHPR and so, only the day after returning from Minnesota, we welcomed the Kenny’s. Re-reading my previous post, Getting much needed seat time – but will it be enough? it occurred to me that I may have inadvertently “put the mockers on” Brian. Readers may recall how I made the comparison between HPR’s prairie corkscrew and it’s more famous bigger brother, THE corkscrew at Laguna Seca. While we were by the lakes, Brian was on track at Laguna Seca participating in a joint Northern California – Southern California NASA event. Limited to racers only, drivers in HPDE4 / Time Trials were permitted to participate and Brian had worked hard, only a few weeks earlier, to graduate to this level, the highest attainable in the NASA HPDE program. Brian also had to get his red C6 Coupe Corvette checked out and certified to participate – a much more complex procedure than the “Tech Inspect” we had been used to in previous outings with NASA.

Laying down a couple of blistering times that easily moved him to the top of his group, Brian slammed into the concrete barriers protecting the pits as he exited Laguna Seca’s turn 11 – the last turn before coming onto the main straight and the location of the start / finish line. The impact was so severe that it pulled out the red flag effectively ending the session for all involved. Apart from a few aches and pains (that still persist), Brian suffered few aftereffects but it was a big hit all the same. Sharing commiserations of our almost back-to-back infringements with the walls of famous tracks, Infineon and Laguna Seca, had never been part of the plan but here it was, the much anticipated HPR weekend and the Kenny’s were without the Vette.

Not to worry, Margo and I informed them. We have more than one car in the garage so how about the Viper? At first, I thought about letting them both drive our Vette while we drove the Viper but previous outings by Jan and Brian two years earlier clearly demonstrated their liking for “the snake” – so Margo and I would continue with the Vette. And no, it took little extra convincing on our parts that this would be a wonderful alternate plan as they looked, a little worried of course, at the healing process their own Vette would be going through in the weeks to come. As the photo above captures, the thunderstorms did come late Friday afternoon and the downpour was torrential. I was just about to fire up the BBQ when it hit us hard but after it passed, there was ample time to relax with a traditional trackside martini!

As for our time on track it followed the usual pattern for our weekends at HPR. Friday saw both families sharing their respective cars as all parties worked on the seat time. He track throws many challenges at you all of which are well known to us and yet, each time we visit the track, it takes more than just one session to become reacquainted with all of its nuances. In time, brake points recede a little as we all tried not to over-brake and the never-ending torque from both cars allowed us to cut back on gear changes that, at times, only succeeded in unsettling the cars. Watching Brian from turn one, late Saturday, I caught a glimpse of him attacking other cars while in the Viper and the way he went about dispatching them was fun to see – clearly, no evidence of any hesitancy on Brian’s part following the incidents at Laguna Seca just the week before this outing.

The weekend at HPR was eventful for one reason. After participating at NASA events with the Rocky Mountain region, I finally passed evaluation to participate in HPDE Group 3 – the group just below HPDE4 / Time Trials. I had already been participating in HPDE3 events of NASA in Southern and Northern California but I had made a mess of earlier opportunities with the Rocky Mountain club and it took me two years to recover. The instructors involved, fortunately, were extremely kind hearted and gracious (even as I had to learn humility in face of my own stupidity), and coming off the track that final time, with approval to run with HPDE3, I tore into the command center and in my broadest Aussie accent, I informed Margo of how, “I was a three!” Without even blinking, she simply responded, in her best Polish accent, “so what, I’m a bush!”

We are not the only folks on track in July as the Kenny’s were anxiously tracking the results of their grandson, Colton Herta. To suggest he is a phenomena or a gifted natural is too early an assessment to be making, however the early signs are that he is way, way, past the skills either Brian or myself possess. Graduating into open wheel racecars at just 13 and campaigning in both the F1600 where, at last count, he has won six of eight events as well as the Skip Barber program. Even as I wrap up this post, news comes from Lime Rock Park of how Colton, running in the Skip Barber program, came away with a second on Friday followed by a first on Saturday!

In both contests Colton he is up against drivers much older than him with a lot more experience. The photo above was taken of Colton in the team garage, on scales, as the engineers work on fine-tuning the setup looking for that little extra something that will translate into a wining advantage. However, it was this latest outing at Buttonwillow that may prove to be a significant tipping point in Colton's career as he made it into a “best upcoming youngsters” segment in the nationally televised program on Speed TV, Wind Tunnel. A small video clip was played for viewers and you can check it out for yourselves by following this link, dubbed The Pass.

Watching the video clip it’s not hard to imagine how the nickname of the “little assassin” came about – the two cars he passed after waiting for a mistake by one of them, was to move him into the second place. You do get a brief glimpse of the leader at one point in the video but it didn’t take Colton long before he caught him and then passed him on the last corner before the start-finish line even as the white flag came out, signifying one lap to go. Taking the lead this late into a race has become a well-known trait of Colton’s dating back to his days in karting.

This winning pass can be seen in the clip, I call The Exhale (see above, inline). Pretty much everyone watching is now growing accustomed to Colton winning and yet, so many breaths were being held as Colton approached that final turn. Yet it was inevitable. He passed, he won, and everyone exhaled. Colton didn't win every race this weekend but overall, his winning percentage at this stage in his career is outstanding. (The videos came to me courtesy of Brian and Jan.) Once again, and somewhat surprisingly given his commitments to formula racing, Colton expressed an interest in participating at this year’s SuperNationals karting event to be held in Las Vegas in November, but needed a little sponsorship help so Pyalla technologies “Track Days” was very pleased to help out. The story will continue I am sure of it!

Minnesota! HPR, Byers! Moreover, the month was only partially behind us but more was to follow. Readers may recall how Margo had written in her post of June 2, 2013, Clubs that Accept Me as a Member about our participation in an event organized by the Rocky Mountain Maserati Club. When it had come time to drive a fun-filled three-stage rally, we came dead last by miles. More than 200 miles, as I recall. Joining the club once again for another fun-filled rally seemed too hard to pass up on, so we registered for a weekend gathering that would test our rally skills yet again. The event would take us to the mining town of Leadville, Colorado, where we would overnight in a restored hotel, heavy with the atmosphere of years past. The Delaware Hotel was more of a period piece than what you would expect from a hotel with every single piece of furniture available for purchase.

Across the street was the Manhattan Bar. Extremely fortuitous as after a hard day behind the wheel, trying our hardest to solve riddles and name sites, we came last, again. Fortunately, this time it wasn’t by 200 miles and in fact, we tied for last with folks in a glorious Maserati Marek SS. Definitely nothing to be ashamed about and the opportunity to be that close to something very famous more than made up for our own misfortune. After taking an RV to Minnesota, then being on track in the Corvette, it made perfect sense to us to seek out a little downtime behind the wheel of a “grand tourer”, savoring the sites at a much more leisurely pace and without the interruptions family life so often produces.

Was so much time spent on the road confirmation of true summer madness? Did the time behind the wheel more than compensate for the other distractions of the month? July proved to be a crazy time for us, no doubt, but looking at the calendar for August (and indeed, September) it only looks to be getting worse, not better! However, the Vette is in one piece and very straight. No damage done, this month, with tires and brakes in good shape and capable of supporting a few more outings. The regular touring cars are all looking good (we do need to drive the Viper somewhere far away) and the RV remains a delightful way to move between points A and B even if it does mean we are “on business”. Ahhh, I love the smell of high octane gas burning early in the morning as the sun makes its first appearance above the horizon. We may indeed be crazy, but if that’s the case, leave us be. There’s still so much more to enjoy – out there, on the highways and back-roads of America!