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!