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! 

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