Monday, December 1, 2014

Nothing sidelined us in 2014 – track time was down but road time was very much up!

As I wrapped up the last post for 2013 I made the observation that with the onset of winter we were limited to just one car, that being the Jeep, summer tires and all! I also made reference to how our thoughts were already turning to spring and for 2014 to be a time for further exploring of the Americas. How little did I know and how central to our plans the Jeep became. Contrary to what some of you thought, this red Jeep of ours has been the go-to vehicle for most of our travels and oh yes, if I were to sum up 2014, it was a year where we explored the Americas “to the extreme”!

However, before we dig into that a little further, we have celebrated Thanksgiving and are preparing for Christmas. The snow has already made its presence felt and by all accounts, the ski fields in the mountains to the west are going to provide a splendid playground for all those so inclined and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we saw a few more visitors drop by than in previous years. While the house has been on the market for over a year, there have been no offers and Margo and I are resigned to the fact we will likely remain in the village of Niwot for quite a while – not a bad second prize, I have to admit.

We returned to Boulder from California only a week or so ago and we timed the trip perfectly ducking between serious winter snow storms such that we had more sunshine overhead than clouds, although not entirely unexpected, the winds across Wyoming were fierce so much so that light, high-profile vehicles were prohibited from being on the interstate. Even so, we passed two big rigs on their side – a reminder that the winds of Wyoming are unforgiving at this time of year. In retrospect, looking back at 2014, while it was a year that yes, passed quickly, we covered a lot of ground literally and figuratively and there was very little that sidelined either of us.

A short time ago I had cause to visit the garage and there’s been quite a change this year – gone is the Viper SRT/10 but in its place, the Jeep SRT/8 looks every bit as beefy as the Viper. When I consider that the price of the Jeep was only a tad shy of $10K less than the price of the Viper (back in 2008), it does make me realize that the price of toys is just going up and I suspect we are now on the slow, gradual, slide that leads to compact cars and minivans. Not! No, there’s little chance that will happen but future purchases will be measured against that old stalwart expression, “instead of what”?

But the picture above is very symbolic of 2014 – there were wonderful times on track in the Corvette about which much has been written even as most of our seat time on America’s highways was behind the wheel of the Jeep. In the other garage sit the Maserati GT-S and the Nissan GT-R, both on battery tenders and pretty much left to wait the arrival of spring, that saw use only on major summer treks including to Las Vegas and to Los Angeles where they both felt very much at home.  Compared to the Jeep, absolutely luxurious to drive and vehicles that brought smiles to our faces with every outing but with winter, unfortunately, they have been pushed out of sight to be totally ignored until conditions improve.

We sold the Viper and for a good price it turned out to be – a matter of a few weeks later Dodge dropped the price of new Vipers from $15K to $30K chipping away considerable value from the previous models. But the bigger story is that for the first time in goodness knows how many years, all of our vehicles, motor cycles included, fit into our garage - all that is except the RV and the car trailer. While none of the neighbors ever complained, it was against the policy of the home owners association to keep a car on a driveway and we are now breathing easier – there’s nothing more uncomfortable than being nervous about answering the doorbell on the off chance it’s one of the association’s board members coming to ask us to move a car, or two.

This year has seen a lot of road time for sure, but it’s also been a time where Margo and I did a lot more together than I can recall ever doing. Margo headed into back surgery late July and it was a difficult but necessary procedure – Margo had reached a point late in 2013 where she experienced difficulty walking with both nerve and bone causing her considerable pain. The good news is that the surgery went spectacularly well and she is completely over all the pain she had previously experienced. However the down side was no opportunity to spend time in the race car so her time on track was zero and our enthusiasm for attending track events somewhat diminished. 

If I were to summarize our many trips across America this year, the picture above tells the story. Out in the middle of nowhere we would find a Starbucks and take the time to stop, relax, and smell the coffee. As I said, the Jeep became almost a second home but having an opportunity to stretch our legs, take a look around, and simply let the stress seep from our bodies, was a priceless experience (to paraphrase that popular commercial’s message). If the Jeep always looks clean, it’s a trick of photography as it took a pounding – we drove it to the south, to the east coast and to Canada and several times to California and Nevada, and it never missed a beat.

While the days of 750 plus miles didn’t happen this year, we still did more than our fair share of 600 plus miles – sometimes, back to back. When you take into consideration that we drove from Boulder to Chicago in two days and then just a day and a half to get to Philly, you get the picture. As for Toronto to Boulder – well, that was an easy three day excursion. Margo once told me to be careful what I wished for, in case it came true, but we have become strong advocates of driving versus flying even though both of us passed the million mile mark with one carrier, United, several years ago and in so doing, enjoy many flying perks with Star Alliance.

Fortunately, being careful about what we wished for definitely has its upside and this was especially the case this year. The company command center is becoming a staple in our routine travels – when any business opportunity comes up where driving the RV becomes an option then we jump at the opportunity. While we will never become professional race car drivers, we enjoy to participate at track events and it provides for us the opportunity to market our company – many HP engineers, for instance, race cars and it has helped cement our relationship with HP at certain levels. As for clients then the chance for a ride along is rarely ignored and this helps differentiate our company.

Being in business together, as is the case with Margo and myself, while enjoyable in and of itself is a lonely experience all the same. While we know our jobs, there’s much about running a business where we remain novices and so, enjoying the support and fellowship of other likeminded business folks even if they aren’t in the same marketplace, is something we have come to value highly. On our last outing to Nevada in the command center we were able to enjoy a weekend with such folks – Brian and Jan Kenny. Even deep inside a national park, there was still an opportunity to share a bucket of ice cream (and yes, an apple martini or two) and talk business.

Brian and Jan are a familiar site at race tracks we visit, indeed early in the year we share calendars and pick events where we will all be participating. In the last couple of years, Brian has advanced considerably – yes, the advantage of youth – and is now “racing” in NASA’s Time Trial division. At a joint Northern and Southern California NASA event at Laguna Seca he recorded the fastest time for his group and that was a bittersweet moment as the previous year, at the very same track, having recorded the best time in his first session he had an on track encounter with the wall that negated that time. That particular incident sidelined the Kenny Corvette for almost a year so being back on track with Brian at Colorado’s High Plains Raceway was certainly a highlight of 2014. 

Tidying up the garage with the approach of winter and checking that the cars are all on battery tenders gave me the opportunity to snap the photo above. Nothing out of the ordinary, perhaps, and yet to the keen eye there’s one more track decal applied. For me, the opportunity to participate in the Dodge SRT program and run laps at Road Atlanta was a highlight. Even if I felt the SRTs on hand weren’t a match for the Corvette, the fact that the SRT line-up included a Jeep SRT identical to ours, meant that I came away with a couple of sessions driving a Jeep on a race track and given the wet conditions and poor visibility on an unfamiliar track, the fact that I recorded my best time in a Jeep speaks volumes about its capabilities.

Would we like to run our Corvette around Road Atlanta – with the experience already gained, you bet! But as happenstance would have it, there is now more likelihood of a weekend in 2015 spent on a track a little further north, at Watkins Glen. Business colleagues of ours turn out to be also members of NASA – real racers, not HPDE participants like us – and late in April, 2015, there will be a weekend for NASA at Watkins Glen. And this really goes to the heart of what we like doing these days. Not for us spending time at just one or two tracks and becoming “experts”, but using the opportunity to visit other tracks as an excuse to see more of the country not unlike what others interested in golf may elect to do!

Before closing this post, I have to add a couple of comments about Brian and Jan’s grandson, Colton. Nothing sidelined Colton this year and while he outdrove others in similar cars in the formula he pursued this year, the win on Malaysia was a stand-out performance the likes of which both families didn’t really expect. Having Brian and Jan at our home while this all transpired and getting the updates, lap after lap, was exciting to be a part of. 

What’s next for Colton in 2015 I can only speculate about at this time, but with F1 drivers now only 17 years old, turning 15 next year means Colton will likely be taking another step up an inevitable ladder leading to something similar and our best wishes go out to him and his family. It’s not like Margo and I are making reservations for Spa in 2018 (2017?) but who knows, these days, and we have always liked that part of Europe! Sneak in another session on the Nürburgring Nordschleife on the other side of the Eifel forest and it could be the perfect week!

The Jeep saw more usage this year than we had anticipated even as our Corvette spent fewer days on track. A lot of this had to do with Margo recovering from her surgery about which I can say  a lot more – it’s just so good to be able to write about the progress she has made and the absolute out-of-sight improvement in her wellbeing. She will be back behind the wheel of the Corvette in no time soon and that’s something I am looking forward to – it’s been a bittersweet experience having an opportunity to drive other tracks but without being able to share the experience with Margo first hand, it’s all been rather a hollow! I miss being in the passenger seat while she nails apexes just right!