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!

No comments: