Sunday, January 3, 2016

Ho! Ho! Ho! Lots of Christmas cheer!

It wasn’t so much that the year wound up being a typical night in for us, but after spending time babysitting our daughter’s family Margo returned home exhausted so it was more the case of sipping a dessert martini than popping the cork from a bottle of champagne. And yet, to say it wasn’t a cheerful time for either of us would be missing the point entirely – how can you be anything other than happy with a couple of grandkids bouncing in your lap. If nothing else had happened during the year we would be every bit as thankful for the twins having survived the way they have to this point! 

Exercising at the fitness center gives me time to scan the many TV screens which are nearly always tuned to news services. Today, when the weather maps were displayed with forecasts being given for different cities, all I could think of was time not being spent on the road! Yes, temperatures at this time of year plummet well below freezing, but for Coloradans this is to be expected and few will sympathize with you should you begin to complain. However, being a car-oriented family, this is just one more occasion when you can guarantee there will be something between the car’s rubber and the road and you just have to suck it in and adapt. Not much to be cheerful about when you are relying on your handbrake as an additional steering aid. In traffic!

Christmas, on the other hand, did see us venturing onto the highways. For Margo and me, Christmas officially starts with Christmas Eve, where dinner is followed by the opening of presents, and with an extended family on hand chaos ruled with a brood of small children, mostly on your lap. Having successfully cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving we executed a repeat performance and it turned out great. Nevertheless, with snow falling and the roads icy, it truly felt like Christmas, but for this Sydney boy, as pretty as the scenery may be, it’s just too darn cold. When the opportunity arose to drive to Denver on Christmas Day, well, what can we say? We jumped at the chance.

Ho! Ho! Ho! No to snow!

Deciding to pull an overnighter as we would be staying for dinner, we checked into the very same hotel we had stayed at two years earlier - if you missed it, this was referenced in my post of July 6, 2014, to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View, I feel the need for speed … and yes, we stayed on the same floor again, just one room removed from the one we had on the previous occasion. Casting a furtive glance out the window at the ice and snow it seemed all too ridiculous to read that famous quote by Maverick and Goose, “I feel the need … the need, for speed!”

Stopping by a railway station may not be on too many readers’ lists of things to do Christmas Day, but that’s exactly where we headed late in the afternoon. Denver Union Station has undergone a dramatic transformation and only recently reopened. When we tried to visit the premises a few weeks back, we had to abandon our plans as there was absolutely no place to park, but it was only a few blocks away from our hotel so we walked. In the cold, with just a whisper of snow blowing around us, we covered the dozen or so blocks and Margo found the best seat at the station – yes, Santa’s seat.

After posting this picture on Facebook, we should have added that we must have upset Santa as our restaurant host managed to spill a glass of Henschke Henry’s Seven all over us and yes, that’s a great drop of red! What really struck me was just how enticing and indeed rather intimate the setting proved to be with small groups conversing around craft beers served through the window of an adjacent bar and given how Denver Union Station was to become a new feed for the airport this coming Spring, how would this atmosphere be retained? We will just have to see but with no service connecting any of this to Boulder and beyond, reliance on our cars will continue.

Ho! Ho! Ho! No flow!

If you recall what I wrote in the post this time last year, you will read of the concerns I had about having just one winter car. In part, such misgivings were fueled by there being only the Jeep SRT/8 as our sole ride for the winter – yes, we still had the Nissan GT-R at that time, but nobody would ever consider Godzilla a winter ride. Sadly, it wasn’t too deep into 2015 when mighty Godzilla was sold and coming so soon after selling the Viper SRT/10 there was an empty spot where once the Snake had occupied that now was begging to be filled. It seemed unnatural and after several years of being unable to park all the cars in the garage, had to be “corrected.”

As we entered fall, it didn’t take too long for this situation to be remedied and we swapped out one of the motorcycles – yes, my Honda VTX1800 – for the Cooper S Roadster, by Mini. Being another red car, it seemed to fit right in and for Christmas, with a gift needed for our two and a half years old granddaughter, Ella, buying a toy car she could ride seemed every bit as natural a choice as the original purchase. And it made for a picture perfect complement inside the now-filled garage. Margo and I are pleased to report that the gift was well received by Ella, who having received a toolkit as well, promptly turned the Mini on its side and proceeded to attack it with every tool she had. Perhaps there’s hope for Ella’s “track days” after all!

All of this is to say that we miss our time on track. Looking back at the year, we certainly missed the outings and the friendships developed through the years. Following Margo’s surgery at the end of 2014, time in our track Corvette was forbidden and so we elected to sit out all of 2015. Our last weekend at any track was at the end of 2014 when we travelled to Georgia for a visit to Road Atlanta but it was only me who had the opportunity to drive the vehicles on hand – all Dodge and Chrysler SRT/8s. Margo is now completely healthy and all these winter snowstorms confirm for us is that spring isn’t too far away and there’s a Corvette that needs attention.

Just a little love and tenderness and she will be “pulling like a bull in springtime.” And yes, a new set of track tires not to mention attention being required following the appearance of  the Check Engine light, together with the scrolling message, “Service ABS, Service Active Handing System, Service Traction Control System” that seem to blight every Corvette C5 Z06 owner at some point and carry a sizeable cost to repair. Could see our cheers turn to tears before our next track weekend. Ouch! Nevertheless, itching to hit the track once again, you can almost hear the mechanical cheers resonating from under the hood of the Corvette!

Ho! Ho! Ho! No go! 

More snow for the year than on previous occasions – one recent snowfall setting a record for Denver for this time of year. For once, looking out on our driveway, I welcomed the extra ground clearance of the Jeep and not being someone who likes to shovel snow, I relied on the weight of the Jeep to wear down the snow that lay between the garage and the street. Lest any of you cast doubts on my commitment to the community at large, I did take a shovel to the snow between our front door and the driveway and cleared a passage so our guests could safely traverse the path that leads to our front door. 

Time on track is always a learning curve and there’s something new to learn with every outing. Several years ago I was on track at Willow Springs International Raceway – Big Willow – as rain was coming down in sheets. I wrote about the experience I had in the post of February 20, 2010, Rain dancing ... Seeing pools of water on the main straight, “I wonder what effect this will have on our cars as we all get onto the gas as we accelerate hard on this section of the circuit.” Well in truth, you don’t get onto the gas, nor do you accelerate hard. Now the lessons learnt that weekend have proved invaluable for handling the conditions winter has dealt us.

There’s a rain line around a race track that’s very different to the dry line – forget about late braking and taking late apexes. No value in braking late and hard to eke out a few extra tenths of a second. To the contrary, place few demands on the chassis and keep revs low while staying in a higher gear than you would normally select – in other words, shed as much torque as possible. That means, on vehicles like the Jeep SRT, staying away from first and even second gears! And this is exactly what we now do when we face winter conditions. And at traffic lights that change, “Danger, Mr. Robinson,” as already on one occasion this winter, I slid ever so gracefully through the intersection! 

Ho! Ho! Ho! No slow!

Returning home, early one morning, with the temperature reading 21F (as depicted below) it was hard to make out our home through the early morning murkiness. There is an ever so slight rise before I need to turn into my street and one more lesson from the track makes a big difference. Use the upward change in elevation, as slight as it may be, as your place to brake as anywhere else you are too light with your suspension “unloaded” and braking becomes next to impossible. And there’s nothing to be cheerful about should you skid off the road and into a ditch – something I have done only once but the memory is still very much with me. Yet another experience that led to the post of January 17, 2010 (just a month before the post from Willow Springs), where the title said it all - Hollow wheels go nowhere!

Our house continues to be for sale but the market across the front ranges (of the Rockies) is very soft – ten years of inventory for homes in our price range. Having said that, we are very much determined to sell the house and begin a new chapter of our lives. We may not stray too far from Boulder with grandchildren on hand, but we are planning to have a second retreat for winter somewhere where the weather is much, much warmer. Even if that means setting up the company command center, our trusty RV, at a campsite for the winter. But for now, if only we were able to say we have a steady stream of interested parties viewing the home. Not!
Ho! Ho! Ho! No show!

Then again, temptations do arise and having the Corvette close at hand has its benefits. Glen Conser, the GM of our local road course here in Denver, High Plains Raceway (HPR), emailed us to let us know that as a customer appreciation day, between Christmas and the New Year, he would throw the track open for a free open lapping day to all previous participants. Unfortunately, only a couple of days later, he emailed us to tell us he was withdrawing the offer given the weather forecasts – not so much the snow that may fall but the track temperatures were way too low for any serious consideration for those willing to forego the comfort of their fireplaces. Of course, still without usable rubber on the Corvette (and a bunch of error codes) this was never going to be an option for us, but all the same, it was just one more expression of Christmas cheer.

HPR along with Big Willow and possibly, given the right track configuration, Buttonwillow, remain Margo and my favorite tracks. Whereas I really like the “Roval course” at Fontana and enjoyed the time I spent on track at both Laguna Seca and Sonoma, HPR just stands out for me and I have now probably driven some 1,000 laps around the 2.55 miles, “full course.” Even with the experience I have gained and the cheering from my small group of fans – mostly, just Margo – I have a ways to go to crack the 2 minute mark, but getting down to 2 minutes 10 seconds is my goal for 2016 and should that happen, you will hear the cheering all the way to California! And the subsequent posting to this blog will be epic!

Ho! Ho! Ho! Now glow! 

On the other hand, as of right now, I thought it would be a good time to conclude with a picture that was taken just as autumn’s colors were ending. With the deluge of leaves that fell during October I was forced into cleaning the garages as winds had driven a covering of leaves under the cars. Having an opportunity to pull the cars onto the driveway is always a good excuse to grab the camera and, as you can easily tell, the lineup is a repetition of the colors of fall resplendent, as these cars are, with reds and yellow. Long gone and yes, still sorely missed, are Godzilla and the Snake. However, from the Corvette to the Mini to the Jeep to the Maserati, there is a much more colorful lot on the driveway and coming so soon after the majority of our cars were black, it’s taking us some time to get used to.

With just twelve weeks to go before spring returns, these colorful works of art are a reminder to us both of sunny days ahead. I may not have taken as many trips out to the grill as I wanted to nor have I spent all that much time in the yard, but as the colder weather breaks and warmer temperatures return I still believe there will be much to cheer about and, who knows, this may even be the last Christmas we have in our Niwot home.  I feel the need … the need for speed! Wishing everyone the happiest of New Years, even as we all look forward to even more enjoyable times to come; from Margo and me, all the very best in 2016!