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!