Monday, September 7, 2015

Moving on and yet, no lessening in our desire to be mobile!

On a long and lonesome highway, (west) of Omaha
You can listen to the engine moanin' out its one note song ...

This past month was very much about motion. And mobility! Or, sometimes, the distinct lack of motion, as on one occasion I walked into the garage only to find it empty, except for a couple of motorcycles. As I wrapped up last month’s post I ended with the observation on how, only a short time ago, we had more cars than garage spaces and that perhaps we had culled the herd just a little too thinly, even as the highway beckoned. But yes, we still had the motorcycles, right?

Well, not exactly. Taking the big Honda VTX 1800 (that’s 110 cubic inches for the metric challenged) out on the road for just the second time this year I only made it down to the local gas station before it too came to an inglorious end. No manner of coaxing could get the big twin to fire up so it too was hauled away on a flatbed trailer. As coincidence would have it, the driver of the tow truck was the same operator who retrieved the Maserati a few days earlier and his bemusement over our misfortune was hard for him to hide – ouch!

Taking this all in good humor, I had the tow truck deliver the ailing Honda to the local Mini dealer where on Monday Margo and I walked into the showroom and picked out a nice, clean, used 2012 Cooper S Roadster by Mini – the rather curiously shaped Mini that looks quite good with its ragtop retracted but yes, a little odd with it in place. Chili red, so the description of its color read, and that pretty much sealed the deal and now, once again, the garage is full once more but this time, with three of the four vehicles being red whereas only a matter of months ago, three out of four were black! 

And whether it’s a sign of the times or not, the net horsepower inside the garage has taken a huge hit along with the changes, but for now, the Mini Roadster is proving to be a delight to drive and it is front-wheel drive that, with a good set of winter tires, should prove to be more than suitable go-to car once winter arrives.

However, this really has been a month of almost continuous motion and the addition of the Mini Roadster represented only the prelude to a series of acts that followed. Business took us west once again and with dreadful fires raging up and down the west coast it wasn’t all that clear which vehicle we would take, but that decision had essentially been made for us when we put the program together several months earlier as following meetings in southern California, including impromptu meetings with investors as well as in northern California with clients, the weekend that followed would be spent in Sonoma. Not wine tasting this time, but rather, to take in the spectacle of the final event of the season for the Indy Cars.

For first time readers there is a back story here that has been developing over the course of several years. From previous posts, way back in 2009, around the April timeframe, we first met good friends Brian and Jan Kenny. Pulling into the parking lot of the local Starbucks coffee shop in Simi Valley, a voice called to me from one of the outside tables, “Do you track that Corvette?” Without pausing for too long, I responded, “Yes, I do!”

And with that simple exchange, we have been good friends ever since enjoying numerous vacations together, all well documented in posts to this blog.
  Furthermore, there has barely been a track outing that hasn’t been attended by both families and our decision to buy the company command center was influenced by the Kenny’s, once we saw how comfortable track weekends became with adequate air conditioning on hand.

And so it was that we would be heading out west in the company command center and would be relying on it for all of our transportation needs. It seemed like it was only a few weeks earlier that we had driven through this part of the country with the Corvette on a trailer, but this time, there would be no car behind us – just eight days in the RV. But what made this a very special occasion for us was that we wouldn’t just be hanging out with the Kennys, but rather we would be experiencing life first hand on the perimeter of a real Indy team, Bryan Herta Autosports (BHA). 

In 2011, Herta’s team had won the Indy 500 so it was quite the opportunity for us to see just what all the hoopla surrounding the Indy series was like – up front and very personal. Bryan is Jan Kenny’s son-in-law (and yes, father of Colton Herta, whose adventures in the U.K we have been following), and turned up at one of our cookouts with his driver, Gabby Chaves. 

Having been to several F1 events – the last being Monte Carlo in 2004 to watch Mark Weber drive for Jaguar (long before either his stints at Williams or Red Bull) – Indy is so much better in terms of being fan-friendly. For car enthusiast like Margo and me, it was a real treat to be able to interact with teams and drivers and the Saturday “meet the drivers” program, where any race fan could chat with any driver, was certainly a refreshing change from the anonymity that surrounds F1.

For me, there was no way I would miss an opportunity for a chat with former Indy Series champion, Wil Power so after a short wait, I was able to walk up to him and no sooner had I said, “G’day mate!” the response from a fellow Aussie was immediate. Later in the day, I was able to go to his pit and see him preparing for his record smashing qualifying drive and although he didn’t finish the weekend with the results he wanted he certainly proved entertaining on track!

You may be able to afford the price of entrance to an F1 event, but there’s just no way to get close to the teams (for mere mortals such as ourselves) and yet, with Pit and Garage passes firmly in hand, we were able to wonder among the race cars and chat with the teams. For me the real highlight was when Bryan Herta invited me to come to BHA Race Control during final testing session. Like many racing enthusiasts I have seen the video of engineers hunched over monitors but never really knew what they were looking at nor did I really have a sense of the attention to detail that was spent on every single component making up a race car.   

Handed headsets I was able to step up onto the podium where team members monitoring the telemetry streaming in from BHA race car #98 could be seen and I could listen in as engineers discussed the fine tuning that needed to be done to keep improving the performance of the Chaves’s car.

The afternoon before Margo and I had been just a few tires distance away from legendary Roger Penske, the “captain”, as he followed the progress of one of his drivers and so to be right in the mix of the organized mayhem, up and down pit lane, that is final testing as I had been, courtesy of BHA, was something I will not easily forget. 

As for BHA’s driver, when it came time to race Sunday afternoon, Wil Power wasn’t the only driver providing entertainment early in the race. As the green flag dropped to start the race, Chaves was almost half a lap behind the field as he experienced difficulties in firing up the #98. Even with the rest of the racers slowing down for the rolling start, Chaves was driving flat out and only a couple of laps into the event, Chaves was recording lap times better than Power and several other drivers. It was unfortunate to see Chaves fall victim to some untimely yellow flags but overall, Chaves is proving to be a driver to watch – and yes, as the season ended, BHA driver Chaves won the Rookie of the Year award!

There were moments back in 2008 when Margo and I turned up for our first track outing with our club, National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and had the opportunity to take our road car out onto circuits dedicated to racing and where it all became very serious very quickly as we realized just how fresh a novice we were and how with each new track, the tinge of excitement didn’t diminish in any way. But nothing truly prepares you for that step over the line from amateur to professional and that tinge of excitement was quickly replaced by awe.

These were very special people gifted in ways I barely comprehended. Yes, corners still need to be approached on the same basis as we do on track days – brake, turn-in, apex and exit – but the combinations of mechanical grip and aero packages allow Indy cars to essentially defy physics and the brutish nature of acceleration and braking is indescribable and must be viewed to be appreciated.

Our campsite was immediately behind, but a little further up the hillside from the hospitality suits, but it still gave us a great view of the drivers as they exited turn 1 and then swept by turn 2 before disappearing around turn 3. We could also view the big sweeper, or carousel, as turn 6 is called, as they drove up the “drag strip” to the hairpin. From there we could watch drivers come back down through the esses before tackling turns 9 and 9a before disappearing behind the grandstands. 

I only mention this as it is a sore point for me as my only time on this track, during the second session, I didn’t make it out of those very same esses, backing the rear of our C5 Corvette Z06 into the tire barrier between turns 8 and 8a. Was I able to learn anything? As Margo reminded me, more than once over the weekend, this is not a novice-friendly track and the many concrete barriers aren’t vehicle friendly either, so no, this really is a track for the very experienced driver and not one for the meek of heart to tackle!

Barely had we made the campsite comfortable than it was time to pack up. Through the experience of the Kennys and our association with Bryan Herta Autosports, we were able to come in a little earlier than other spectators and stay through Sunday night so we didn’t have to battle with the traffic and when it came time Monday morning to head back to Colorado, the departure was uneventful. And once again, we chose a less travelled route where at this time of year, the vistas were picturesque. With overnight stops once again on the parking lots of WalMart Super Centers in Elko, Nevada, and Rifle, Colorado, we were able to cover the 1,300 miles return trip without a mishap – something we continue to relish as we click off many more miles on the company command center.

Margo and I have really begun to settle into this lifestyle where the RV is giving us opportunities to go pretty much anywhere in North America. This is our fourth summer of RVing and one thing we had told ourselves was that for this to be fun, we wouldn’t be letting the RV sit for long in storage. All the while, the miles tick on by and after only four summers, the odometer is about to pass 40,000 miles. What would be the point? For the same money, perhaps even a lot less, we could be staying in five star hotels but that would involve flying and the skies over America are no longer the friendly skies of the past.  And that is very much the point, today. We have our office with us and we have a packed wardrobe that allow us to conduct business and we have the food and drink we like – it is truly our home away from home and of late, it’s been just a little sad to see each journey come to an end. But would we give up the opportunity to being mobile and to be able to go pretty much anywhere we want? Not likely!

It would be remiss of me to finish this post without just one more mention of either our grandchildren or the continuing adventures of that other Herta, Colton, the grandson of our friends Brian and Jan. Our preemie sub one-kilo identical twin baby boy grandchildren, Aiden and Even, are now well on their way to being healthy normal boys.

Aiden is home with the family and the progress being made by Evan suggests he too will be home shortly. That isn’t to say there hasn’t been drama along the way, but getting the whole family together under the one roof is going to make life for the parents so much easier and that’s a circumstance everyone involved is looking forward to. 

As for Colton, well the tables are turning and turning fast. After recording how young Colton scored his first podium in the MSA Formula championship being held in the U.K, he then scored another before the mid-season break where he spent time back home in California. I can only imagine the discussions that must have taken place between Herta senior and junior, and first week back not only did he score a couple more podiums but two 1st place finishes.

This proved newsworthy and was the focus of a Racer magazine article by Robin Miller, Another high-speed Herta This was only the start, as the following weekend he took the checkered again only to be dinged 5 seconds following cautions for wheels off the track (I think those “whingeing poms” are at it again), but still another two 2nd places. And then again this weekend as I write this post, Colton lands another 1stand 2nd. The picture above shows just how close the finish was with Colton (low side on the track) beating his teammate (and overall series leader) by “0.250 seconds, the closest finishing winning margin so far this season”. After three weekends of racing, following the break, he is now threatening to take over third place in the championship and he’s the youngest driver in the series even as he races on unfamiliar tracks!

Yes, this past month has been all about motion and for Margo and me, it was pretty much perpetual. The garage looks a lot different and not having had an opportunity for track time hasn’t proved as distressing as I had thought it would be at the beginning of the year when we made the decision to take a year-long hiatus from such adventures. You could say we have more than made up for it with where we have been and that too is pretty much the point. As a full time writer and blogger, it’s mandatory to be observant and with all that we were exposed to in August, the stories will only keep on coming and that’s movement at an entirely different level, but for Margo and me, every bit as enjoyable!