Sunday, April 28, 2013

In this race, family took first place

Finally, the weather has turned, and it’s a return to backyard BBQs – two to date with more planned. The grass has greened a lot, but we are still waiting for the trees to blossom. Alas, with the heavy spring snowfalls of the past three weeks, the buds looked burnt, so I am not sure what we will see. Perhaps nothing at all! Ouch -- and we look forward every year to the snowberries that look so cool even as they festoon our driveway with the remains of their small white flowers.

We were making plans for  our 2013 track events well in advance – the idea was to mark our calendars and plan other activities around them, so that when we get the chance to drive fast and meet with our friends and business colleagues, we can do so without affecting other plans and obligations. It worked well in the past few years,  and  we were able to carve out time to play.

Not so much this year … …. In the fall of 2012, our daughter invited us to lunch. This is not something we had experienced before -- an invitation to lunch during the work week. Not really! Well, as we suspected, there was a reason for this sudden urge to see her “’rents”:
So, we found out that her family of four (the two of them and two of their cats) is soon to become a family of five!
I admit, we talked about this being great news, and we started making plans on calling her little boy Enzo and taking him for donuts (in his little driver suit and helmet, not your usual donuts, mind you).
When we found out it was a girl, we still did not lose faith, as our daughter was determined there will be no pink color anything in the nursery – our granddaughter will be raised to become a smart and independent woman who will not be a girly-girl! OK, maybe there are donuts in the future, after all.
Our daughter’s neighbor and good friend was deeply disappointed with the “no pink” rule, so when the new parents arrived home from the hospital, they were greeted with a very pink greeting sign:
After a few days of seeing Baby Ella and getting the sense of what it really means to be grandparents, it dawned on me that our carefully made plans for the year might need altering.
Next weekend our calendar shows a driving event at Willow Springs, our favorite track in Southern California. The Pyalla Command Center (our motor home) stands on the driveway, getting ready for the trip. Participation is all part of our ongoing marketing campaign, as so many current and former HP engineers continue to show up for these events each month – if you remain a part of HP, are an engineer and like to fly planes, then there’s every chance you will also share our enthusiasm for track weekends!

The Corvette shines, all tires pumped, all fluids changed, new brake pads installed - the car is ready! Richard is making his shopping list, even as he continues to  prep the motor home. So far, that sounds familiar. Well, except I am not quite ready to jump into the motor home and miss out on Ella growing up! I just can’t imagine not seeing my girls for a whole week!
 I think it all started with me picking up this little bundle and looking at her face that is so much like my daughter’s….
And so it looks that Richard will do the trip without me.  Monday is back to work, and I just do not want to give up my next weekend and be away from Ella!
That’s the third event this year I will miss because of the changes to our family. Last week, while Ella was born, I missed ACRM Mid-Year meeting in Baltimore – I really appreciated that ACRM management gave me the freedom to skip this meeting, despite my role as their Chief Meeting Officer. The ACRM Staff stepped in, and I am sure all went well, but even so, this just goes to prove that family won! And it will win next weekend, no matter how fast Guman will drive (Guman is Grandfather in Sydney Aboriginal dialect -- with so many grandfathers, one will be Grandpa, one will be Dziadek ,Grandfather in Polish, and Richad will be Guman). I remain Babcia (Grandmother in Polish), and I enjoy my new role!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Beatings will continue …

It was a little over a week ago that I truly believed spring had arrived. Out of the garage came the roadster, with its ragtop folder out of sight, and the motorcycle. Under a bright blue sky we found time to take a drive through the mountains followed by a quick trip along familiar back-roads on the bike. The smells, the temperature, familiar noises of spring – yes, spring had finally arrived.

The picture above was snapped just after I returned on the bike, and it’s clear to me that I need to wash and polish both, the car and the bike. Missing from the picture is Margo’s bike, which I also rode and now it too has to be cleaned, but it’s not altogether clear to me that there’s any further interest by Margo in adventures on her bike.

After a nasty spill the year before, that took an inordinate amount of time to heal, she isn’t all that keen to step back on the bike, despite the wonderful set of leathers she has. Something about it being not the grandmotherly thing to do – although as at the time of this writing we are not grandparents quite yet, but it’s now only days away.

Missing, of course, are the flowers and the new, fresh green leaves on the tress that the picture highlights, but buds are beginning to appear and it was just the overall sense that winter was finally over that added to the moment. Out on the highways, it was apparent that we were not alone in our belief that we finally done with heavy coats, boots and gloves. Or, so we all thought!

The picture above is how the same scene looked only a few days later – the snow returned with a vengeance! A weekend spent under the shadows of Pikes Peak, and then Monday night snow started to fall and didn’t let up until late Thursday. Even as I now type I am not all that certain we have seen the last of the snow, and there seems to be another weather system headed our way. A much weaker system, but all the same, projected to be carrying more snow.

It’s no secret that we took a beating as we rode out this latest storm. On the glorious sunny day depicted at the top of the post, we elected to have our RV de-winterized and we turned on the water to our outdoor kitchen, the roof of which can be clearly seen in both of the photos above.

With the break in the weather and temperatures forecast to climb back up into the mid to high 50s we will venture back to the outdoor kitchen, turn on all the taps and then stand back to assess how much damage the recent freeze produced. With temperatures dropping into the low teens, Fahrenheit, more than once, we are expecting the worst.

However, the weather hasn’t been the only thing beating us up. Very much like cars, homes too need maintenance and this year, the price of winter has proved to be particularly high. We enjoyed the process of designing and then building our home and with the input from our architect we are very pleased with the way it turned out. However, after thirteen years and with more than 60 mechanical / electrical items (each with five years “mean time to failure”), it’s almost as if each day something fails. Yes, the (financial) beatings continue … 

For many years I frequently wore a t-shirt, purchased a long time ago on the tourist resort of Hamilton Island that was a part of the Whitsunday Islands in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Little did I know that the message “The Beatings will continue till Morale improves” applied so eloquently to all that went on at a car circuit come a racing weekend … but sure enough, it seems as though it does. And there it was! The same message applied as a decal to the front of a Lotus 2-Eleven (click on the picture and expand it a little to see it better), and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I just had to take a picture.

In Margo’s post of just a few weeks ago she explained that with the imminent birth of our first grandchild, and with our son-in-law called away for the weekend, Margo gave up her opportunity to drive the track car. While she would be staying close to daughter, Anna, it was up to me to pack the RV, connect the trailer, and load up the Corvette C5 Z06, that has become our favorite track car, and make the 150 mile trek down to Fountain, Colorado, and to the Pikes Peak International Raceway (PPIR).

Unloading everything upon arrival and then firing up the faithful grill, grabbing some really well-prepared lamb cutlets and then sitting down with a cold beer as I watched over the BBQ seemed rather empty in comparison to all other outings. I had the iPhone and the iPad with me and ended up spending much of the evening texting Margo, as well as good friends Brian and Jan Kenny, back in southern California.

Compared to Friday nights at southern California National Auto Sports Association (NASA) events, it was very quiet. RVs and car transporters did begin to trickle in and it gave me the opportunity to check out the cars where I ran across the Lotus, a couple of Corvettes and the usual mix of Mazdas and Porsches. However, as soon as dawn arrived Saturday, it all changed. This was a track weekend with sessions starting early in the morning and the track’s infield had filled in considerably during the night.

For as long as I have been attending NASA events I have always made it a practice to walk through the garages and engage in small talk with the participants. The equipment brought to the track is as varied as the tracks themselves and there’s always a surprise or two. In this case, I ran into one driver who had brought with him a Fiat 500 “Abarth” and another driver in an older generation Porsche 911. While I wasn’t aware of the histories of both participants, they seemed a lot more experienced than they let on, but were new to the club, or so it appeared, and come track time Saturday, they both proved to be very good drivers. So much so that the driver of the Porsche was only in the novice HPDE 1 group for one session before being elevated to the much more intense, intermediate HPDE 3 group.

The circuit as PPIR includes an original NASCAR style oval course but with a short infield road course added – what is referred to as a ROVAL. Similar, but much shorter, than what we were used to driving in Fontana, California, at the Auto Club Speedway. NASA Rocky Mountain region threw in another twist. Just as we had experienced at the end of last year, the course would be run clockwise, with the NASCAR part of the track tackled by turning a very non-NASCAR way. Yes, we would be turning right the whole time. PPIR was to become RIPP!

Margo has already posted how much I enjoyed the weekend, even with her back home with Anna. Yes, I returned home all smiles having loved he track and loved the way the Corvette performed. As this was the very first time I drove for an entire weekend, all eight sessions, my comfort level with the track grew significantly and my confidence in the car, the track, and those driving with me proved to be a heady mix. The only downside was that I ended up being a little too aggressive for some of the newer drivers in the group – a situation I only became aware of late in the weekend.

This was definitely something I had to watch, even as the experience was new to me – I cannot ever recall being asked to ease up as I approached other drivers and not “present myself” as aggressively as I had been doing in the approaches to the passing zones. Now in my sixth year with NASA nevertheless, there were drivers who were enjoying their very first time on track. While it was far from a beating, all the same it was good feedback and I began correcting the way I conducted myself on track during Sunday’s final sessions, but as for having fun – driving fast and safely – it couldn’t have been a better weekend!

The wind began to pick up Sunday afternoon, an early indication that the weather was about to change, but even so, it’s hard to imagine from the picture above, that in 24 hours or so the snow would arrive. Winter would return and what we thought was the beginning of spring, vanished overnight. Rising above the hills in the foreground, you should be able to make out the snow-covered summit of Colorado’s famous Pikes Peak.

After the weekend, the Corvette was returned to the Corvette Spa, here in Longmont, for a complete checkup, but the only perishables changed were the brake pads, and that wasn’t entirely unexpected. Making sure the brakes were up to snuff is important as the next track weekend will see us back in southern California, joining NASA SoCal for their seasons outing at Willow Springs International Raceway, or, as it’s more affectionately called, Big Willow! The fastest track in the west! Pyalla Technologies command center will be making the trip west and this time we will be joined on track by Brian and Jan Kenny.

Recall how surprised we were to hear from Brian and Jan how grandson Colton set an unofficial lap record at Thunderhill for Formula 1600 open wheelers during his first practice session? Well, in his first race at the track, only a few weeks later, he scored a P1 (first place). After a P1 at Laguna Seca, driving the less-tech Skip Barber formula car, the month before, he gained this latest P1 in a much higher spec open-wheel race car. Margo and I can’t help wondering just how far he will progress in the field of motor racing, even as we realize, in a moment of sobriety, just how far from being competitive we both are as we look at just how well Colton is performing. Ah, sigh, the folly of youth!  

However, coming as we do from Poland and Australia, where simply owning a car was a dream for all of our youth, being able to own a track car and enjoy outings with other fellow car enthusiasts is a godsend for us both. Who knew! Of course we will keep cheering for Colton even as we lay down laps at a much more genteel pace. And yes, we will smile as cars pass us by – the beatings will most definitely and quite unavoidably continue even as our morale stays very high!

Monday, April 8, 2013

You have been passed by Grandma

We were all ready to take the car to the track; our first outing in 2013, car all prepped, the Pyalla Command Center (our motor home) all filled with food and drinks, but then I found out that my son-in-law had a commitment and would not be home Saturday night.

The important part was that my Granddaughter, Ella, is about to arrive – there are still three weeks left to the doctor’s estimated due date, but baby is growing fast and by my own estimate could decide to arrive at any moment. I find it very strange that not only do we know that it is a girl, we know her name, and we know what she looks like!

Same time of year, some years ago, I was waiting for my child to arrive – she did, April 27, and only then did I find out she’s a girl! Technology has advanced … so, here is Ella, captured just a few months ago:

Yes, I have always been an overprotective mother, so why should I change now? It wasn’t even a choice; of course I stayed to keep an eye on my very pregnant daughter and to be ready to get her to the hospital should anything happen. After all, it was a weekend about driving fast, so I was prepared to drive fast if there was the need!
I have to admit that I was keeping my iPhone handy to check on Richard’s track progress – as I said, I have overprotective tendencies, and I asked that he text me after each session so that I would know he and the car were both intact. Turned out, they were just fine.
I missed being on the track, I missed the opportunity to drive fast and to learn more. I will keep it up, even if I am a Babcia now (that’s Grandmother in Polish; the other grandparents will be Grandma and Grandpa, I will be Babcia, as my Mother was before me).
OK, enough of this family excitement, I talk about Ella way too much! Back to the car stuff: I think we made the right decision retiring Frankenstein, our supercharged, blue, 2006 Corvette, and switching to use the proper track car, the Z06, even if it is a 2003 and simply red! The car is manual, so you know which gear you will be in when exiting the corner – what a refreshing change after having been upshifted and downshifted (behind your back) by the Frankenstein! It also feels way lighter and now that we put in a proper harness our behinds no longer slide all over the place and our knees are not ruining perfectly fine Bose speakers!
Richard went to Pikes Peak International Raceway (PPIR) this weekend while I was playing Babcia, and he came back all smiles! He loved the track, he loved the car, and the only thing that perhaps kept him from being fully over the moon was that the leadership of NASA suggested that I might make it to HPDE Group 3 before he does!
No, he is not competitive with me, says he, but somehow he did not manage to hide “the look” – but he did proceed to tell me that he is my biggest fan, provided I stop letting everyone pass me just so that they can enjoy their weekend! He asserted that with any future move to group 3 it would be my obligation to enjoy myself out on the track and in turn would be an encouragement to stop constantly looking into my mirrors to see if I should make someone else happy. There’s a fine line between staying focused on the track and watching everyone behind me – maybe I just need to prioritize just a tad. Hmmm!

As for right now, yes, I’m guilty as charged in this respect. I do let the boys pass me, but perhaps with the new license plate frame we plan to order it might be a little different for me next time on track. The frame will say, “You have just been passed by Grandma”!