Monday, October 14, 2019

Fall is coming … winter to follow, shortly!

What else can we say; bathed in sunlight one moment and then, in a matter of hours the temperature nosedives fifty degrees Fahrenheit and just like that the chill winds from the north arrive and snow follows. When we built our Windsor home we made sure we had fireplaces on both levels – real gas ones and not those decorative electric showpieces. Their backup batteries work just fine should we lose power, but fingers crossed in that regard; should we have had a couple of gas lamps installed while the contractors pulled all the lines?

Margo and I enjoy living in Colorado as it’s not just colorful but you do get to experience all four seasons and contrary to popular belief, when the snow falls it rarely accumulates to any extent and as a storm front passes we know with a certainty that give it a couple of days and it will be sunny again. Any reminders of the snow that just fell will only be visible in mounds piled high by the graders clearing shopping center car parks. I think the last memorable snow incident was way back in the winter of 2006 when three blizzards in a row hit Colorado’s front ranges and the accumulation saw snow piled higher than the roofline of our former home in Niwot.

I was reminded of this as it was one Christmas that my daughter Lisa spent with us and on her very first day, having picked her up from Denver’s airport, we drove to Niwot village only to be greeted with snow flurries. Let’s be quick about it, I said at the time as I have a bad feeling about this. Sure enough, by nightfall the first blizzard had arrived. Margo was in Simi Valley, but after three blizzards hitting us all flights to Denver were cancelled and with Christmas only a couple of days away, she rented a car and drove back weaving her way in-between storms across the Rockies. She made it in time. Yes, Fall is coming and winter will follow shortly.

Now, look at the difference – snow overnight changed the landscape completely. From eight degrees Fahrenheit to barely twenty! We had business to attend to in Boulder and elected to catch an earlier dinner nearby in order to get home before havoc was unleashed and yes, even as we were seated and prepping to dine, the wind changed direction and picked up velocity. You just knew something was about to happen! 

With each fall we tend to spend time enjoying the foliage as it changes color but all too often we forget that these colors are just a harbinger of more dramatic changes ahead. That night, around midnight, we were awakened by lightning and heavy peels of thunder – yes, we were witnessing that much talked about thunder snowstorm or simply, thunder snow, as the locals refer to it – the initial rain turning quickly to snow as the lightning flashes continued!  

We are about to pack our car and head over to the east coast. This has been something we have talked about doing for some time. When we had the company command center, we had planned to take it across country with the thought of using the RV as base camp for two HPE NonStop events but ultimately, talk subsided even as we sold the RV. Now, free of the financial overheads that come with owning an RV, we can stay in hotels. 

By itself, that proved incentive enough for Margo to look at her schedule and as it’s been some time since we last caught up with the Rosens – Robert and Randy – it seemed like now would be the perfect time. A weekend outside Washington D.C. seemed like a good way to enjoy the last remnants of fall. It’s also the ideal opportunity to see how our Jaguar F Type performs as a grand tourer, given how our BMW M4 left a lot to be desired in this respect. As for the Range Rover - well, how about next trip!

Some of you may recall I moved offices this year – from the second (main) level to the first (lower) level. Some of you may even recall that in the process of building the first floor, we decided to locate the bar, wine cellar, “high-tops” pub and media room but this is purely coincidence. What I have been doing is slowly going about the task of decorating the room which has turned out to be a fantastic place to work and it’s introduced a new discipline. 

A clean desk; well, occasionally, as I respond to the urge of simply resorting to chucking everything away. But the result is pleasing as it’s also representative of me clearing out my mind, emptying it of all distractions, right? Naturally enough, this is something I routinely do – cleaning my desk, that is - and to be honest, terrifies Margo as we have no clue as to what made it into the trash can.

What has transpired this week prior to the arrival of our first snowfall is that our friendly and indeed reliable handyman we turn to for help doing almost anything inside the house, re-mounted and re-positioned some of our artwork, put up a new clock on the main floor deck, installed new hangers for towels and yes, installed shelving inside the media room that will house part of our DVD and CD libraries – remember them?

Little silver disks that hold lots of data, right? Not going to discard any of them as some simply cannot be found on streaming services. Freeing up space in my office also means that I will shortly relocate my library of Road and Track magazines – thirty plus years of them –to the office although not sure I have the shelf space. Started rereading older stories from journalist Peter Egan; what a hoot!

When I began posting to our business blog, Real Time View, I suggested in the post of September 24, 2007 What did you have in mind, eh? that:

“As for the style of writing you will find in this blog – consider it as lying somewhere between Peter Egan’s columns in Road and Track (Side Glances) and Cycle World (Leanings) …
“I am a huge fan of the anecdotal style of Peter Egan …”

Not much has changed on that score and returning to the many columns Egan contributed to various magazines, not to mention the books that followed, I was reminded rather coldly that my own blogging life started back in 2007. So long ago! The good news for Margo though is that I am finally out of her office and that has warmed the cockles of her heart. Yes, fall is coming with winter not far behind. 

There has been some discussion as to when we last passed through Washington D.C. and our best guess was when we attended one of the HPE Regional User Group (RUG) meetings held in former offices of EDS in Virginia. It was 2015 as we can best recall and we drove there in the RV. It was at a time when we drove from Santa Barbara to North Carolina’s Outer Banks with just a stop to repack in Colorado being the only break in our travels. We both agree that this was the last time we had seen the Rosens and as we worked our way through calendars, it soon became time to realize just how rapidly the passage of time is progressing.

We did pass through this part of the country again in 2016, this time towing the Mini as we planned to catch up with former colleagues at IBM, but the meetings didn’t go off as planned. Margo often asks me, how many times did I fly somewhere to meet someone only to be informed that day that the meeting would have to be rescheduled? With hindsight, more times than I care to recount, but then again, that is business life on the road. Airport lounges, hotel lobbies and business foyers - looking back at my business travel rarely did anything go to plan. Sitting in my new office makes me smile as I look back to those times not because I miss it all, but rather, because I don’t miss it.

This year has been tumultuous in that we flew back from Sydney, Australia at the beginning of the year. We then flew to Munich in March, Edinburgh in May and Amsterdam in July; three separate trips to Europe on business where much of the time was spent waiting. Separate trips in the US to Las Vegas, San Jose, Atlanta and Dallas where only the trip to Atlanta involved flying and it’s not all that difficult to imagine that 2019 has turned out to be a lot different to what we expected. Has Pyalla Technologies, LLC., become a “lifestyle company?” Not really …

However, what Pyalla has done for us has allowed us to enjoy business again and as we continue to celebrate the company’s tenth birthday – more of which you can read in the post of October 2, 2019, Ten years, and counting … working in “bizcations” when they make sense has definitely added to the enjoyment that being sole proprietors entails, giving us ample time to simply enjoy dinner out on our deck makes up for the multitude of sins that the passage of time has witnessed! Working too hard? Pushing the envelope and trying to accomplish the impossible? For Margo and I while we cannot complain there have been times when we wondered out aloud – what are we doing? Fall has arrived!

Unfortunately, even as we see the early signs that winter is only a couple of weeks away, oftentimes arriving in Colorado ahead of the calendar, the preparation for our roadtrip back east involves cleaning the Jaguar that was left outside. Looks like it did just fine and dusting away the little snow that the wind has left behind should be no problem at all.

Our state promotes itself as being Colorful Colorado and it never disappoints at this time of year. But there is a sense of melancholy all the same; another trip around the sun is about to be completed. “Remember all those things you were saving up to do well, the time has finally arrived,” Margo reminded me just a short time ago. “What are we waiting for now? It’s time to do those things we always talked about doing, so let’s put some adventure back into our plans for 2020!”

We had been talking about fall coming for so long as summer this year had been particularly hot and the prospect of cooler weather holding some appeal for us both. But as with anything that’s longed for particularly over an extended period, it passes by all too quickly. Margo and I continue to enjoy an evening martini and a glass of wine with dinner but it looks like these will be enjoyed in our downstairs pub setting. Nothing wrong with that mind you – the conversations remain lively, naturally enough – but as with all previous occasions when the snow first falls, it isn’t just a reminder that winter is around the corner, but rather musings on when exactly can we expect to see spring again?    

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Quite the year for Indy rookie, Colton Herta!

I cannot recall a time when I have thought about devoting a whole post to our Buckle-Up blog to just one individual, but now the dust has settled on his first year racing as a pro in the Indy Car series and Colton Herta deserves to bathe in the spotlight one more time this year. Oh yes, wouldn’t you like to know what is being talked about between father and son, above, but there is no denying the family dynamics have swung 180 degrees in a matter of months. No longer Bryan’s son, but now, when it comes to Colton, then it is Bryan who holds the distinction of being referred to as Colton’s dad!

And come a long way, the family has indeed managed to do in an amazingly short period of time. Our good friends, the Kennys, befriended us over coffee at a Starbucks in Simi Valley’s Wood Ranch shopping center. We did not realize at the time how close to royalty this new relationship would take us because at the time, the relationship was borne out of a shared interest in red Corvettes. Both our families drove their respective Corvettes and enjoyed many weekends out in the California desserts doing our best to imitate real race car drivers. Little did we know that it would be Jan Kenny’s grandson that would steal the show in only a few years’ time!
Of course, like every grandmother we know, stories began circulating that young Colton was a karting champ with an instinct for the winners circle. Indeed, as the family tells it, it would be Colton holding down second place during the final laps of his kart races until practically the last corner of the last lap at which point, he simply swooped past the other car to win, giving no opportunity for the car now in second to recover.  It would be a couple of years later, at the road course at Buttonwillow where Colton executed a last lap pass (with a nudge) to win and where Racer magazine reporter Robin Miller called Colton “the little assassin” to which Colton famously responded, on film that was televised, “I won’t always be little!” 

Royalty Check #1

Colton’s dad, Bryan, is indeed close to royalty status among the Indy family. It was Bryan who practically owned Laguna Seca, winning numerous races on that road course. Bryan dominated the Indy Lights series, was crowned champion and went on to win four Indy races. However, he may be best remembered by “the pass” when on his first outing at Laguna Seca and starting from pole, I recall, on the very last lap, Alex Zanardi passed Bryan as they entered Laguna’s famous corkscrew. Now it’s all in the past but for me, completing the pass by leaving the track just doesn’t count, but enough said, the results stand and Bryan’s fame only grew. Through into this Brian’s move to team owner and his choice of driver, Dan Wheldon, giving team Herta its big win in the Indy 500 which a short time later the team repeated, this time with Alexander Rossi as its driver and you see the status level Bryan maintains across the Indy family today.   

The most impressive part of Colton’s early career came shortly after he began driving open wheel race cars – racing in the Skip Barber F2000 series back in 2012 when he was still only 12 years old. Out of the blue and while driving home to Boulder, Margo and I took a call from Colton soliciting our support for an upcoming kart race. Even as he was driving in the Skip Barber series, the opportunity to go karting proved too tempting to resist and all he needed was just a little extra sponsorship money to make it all happen.

So yes, of course we were in and supported him to where his tires that weekend were courtesy of Pyalla Technologies “Track Days” – a reference to our own efforts and to this blog. Were we even thrilled to see our decals on his kart and have referenced many times since! But even then, all those years ago, Colton was fine-tuning his skills when it came to seeking out sponsors and gaining financial backing for his racing pursuits; today, I suspect the funding needed to get decals like those above plastered on his Indy car has gone up immeasurably!

However and here’s the thing; looking at him being “fitted” for his Skip Barber F2000 stead for the winter series 2012 – 2013 and then again back to the photo I shot of him walking to his kart prior to a big race in Las Vegas, he looks like a kid you would expect to find taking swings at a T-Ball game. But his goal of becoming a full-on racer has never wavered and the progress he made at an early age was as remarkable as it was inevitable.

Colton persisted and battled tremendous odds to make it out of karts and into the junior open wheel events. What was his record first up in F2000? With the Skip Barber series, he was very much finding his way and following twelve races he won just once but experienced four podiums. The following year, 2013, stepping up a class to Pacific Formula 1600 he participated in fifteen races, winning ten of them while adding six poles, ten fastest laps and winning the series. Yes, all while still only 13 years of age!
And yet, as you look at the photos included so far, it’s still all so innocent looking; being fitted for that Skip Barber ride, Colton barely looks able to drive such a vehicle let alone take it on track to compete with other drivers much older than him and yes, let alone attacking and winning on unfamiliar tracks. Margo and I have been discussing the age old “nature versus nurture” argument but ultimately it comes down to a very deep desire on the part of Colton to just go out and win. From the earliest exchange we had with Colton his career goals were very simply – to become a full time race car driver and to compete at the highest level.

Margo and I also discussed me writing this post as there were multiple story lines playing out. When he began competing in the F2000 series he had to sit out the first race as he wasn’t old enough to compete and for the remainder of the series, he just didn’t have a competitive car. Remember that, at this stage, there is no free ride and his program was being run on a shoestring, even as he was getting an opportunity to learn tracks that would later set the stage for much greater achievements.

It was during this time that he got an opportunity to fly down to Sepang, Malaysia, for a weekend racing in the AsiaCup Series. This was his international debut and the weekend proved to be a turning point as, in an unfamiliar racecar up against 20 year old racers at mid point in their season, he scored a win and a second on the Saturday followed up by two more podiums Sunday. Apparently, he then told family he needed to buy another bag to bring home the trophies! 

However, what followed can only be called extraordinary. For the following two years and at the tender age of 15 and 16, he left the US for England where he gained a ride with the Carlin group. To put it all in perspective, Colton drove for Carlin Motorsport – the same outfit that nurtured the early development of both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. Not only did he adapt to living by himself in a foreign country, although there were many family visits to help ease the transition, he started winning races; four of the last eight races to finish third overall. 

As for his competition, some of them are becoming better known to the rest of us as he began winning – having turned 16 he won 7 races, took 7 poles and was on the podium 14 times beating out the likes of Lando Norris (currently a McLaren F1 driver) and taking home the winner’s check.   

Royalty Check #2

Returning to the US for 2017 and an Indy Lights campaign, he connected with none other than George Steinbrenner IV – grandson of legendary Yankees baseball team owner, George Steinbrenner. George is a little older than Colton but not by many years and few people realized that the grandson had a real interest in race cars with a number of his relatives competing in the sport.
Colton and George had developed a friendship dating back to Skip Barber days so with George’s help a team was put together and Colton campaigned for two years in Indy Lights, finishing runner-up in the series at the end of 2018. His most memorable month was May, 2018, when he won all three races at the historic Indianapolis Speedway – two on the grand prix road course and yes, the Freedom 100 on the big oval itself!
As the end of 2018 rolled around and the Indy Lights program concluded and Margo and I having already booked the weekend at Sonoma to watch the final Indy race of the year, who just happened to get a ride in the big leagues but Colton! We just happened to time it right to see his very first race in Indy and yes, he was only 18 years old. 

We had parked our RV alongside the Kennys where a Herta compound of sorts had formed and on numerous occasions it wasn’t unusual to walk into Colton lounging on chairs, consuming lots of protein, playing video games and in general being indistinguishable from any other teenager present for the race weekend. And yes, we had the opportunity to be introduced to George as well - before he cut his hair.
A normal teenager that is, until they called for the drivers to participate in meet-the-fans to sign autographs! Yes, it was beginning to get very serious and with the help of George Steinbrenner IV, a deal was cut with Harding team owner to put a team together to race all the Indy races in 2019 – Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Originally, the plan was to field two cars but ultimately it came down to having Colton as their driver and did he deliver!
On the second event of the Indy schedule, a first time appearance at the Course of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, Colton surprised the world to win his first Indy race at 18 years of age! This was only a few weeks after he drove a BMW M8 GTE car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona race that is part of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where as one of four drivers he won the GTLM class beating out the Corvettes, Porsches, Ferraris and Ford GTs. And oh yes, he set the fastest time during the race for his class.

What did Bryan Herta have to say following Daytona? “You always worry because that’s the nature of it, right? You have no control so all you can do is worry,” said Bryan Herta to Indy reporters. “But this was just such a huge opportunity for him to be part of this program with BMW RLL, and you know this was just a chance for him to grow and learn to continue to evolve as a race car driver. To win the race was more than you could really dare to dream, so I’m just very happy for him.” As for the win at COTA, it was Bryan talking to Racer again who said, “It’s amazing. Really super proud of him. Colton won the race — feels like Christmas to me.” 

Unfortunately, as for his Indy team during the rest of the year, they simply didn’t have the financial wherewithal to effectively compete with the major teams and he suffered from a number of Did Not Finish (DNF) results – six DNFs meant he only finished 11 races. However much of that was forgotten on the Sunday afternoon of the season’s last race at Laguna Seca where Colton had a perfect weekend. 

Colton had topped the practice time sheets, secured the pole position and, starting from the front led all the laps (except when in the pits for tire changes and gas refueling) to finish the winner. This was at the track where his father Bryan had achieved so much success, but when television asked Colton if the track owners should name some part of the track after the Hertas, Colton responded, “why not all of it!” Tight from the get-go, Colton had to fend off a pack of swarming bees and he did just that much to the chagrin of his fellow racers all waiting for a misstep to be taken. 

In summary for his rookie year, Colton won twice, secured three poles (probably most important of all), had 3 Top 5s, 8 Top 10s and led 144 laps, all as a rookie. He finished runner up in the Indy Rookie stakes and if it wasn’t for the DNFs – the most memorable was his last lap heroics on the Texas Speedway – who knows how the season would have finished. But it does beg the question when so many bonus points are handed out each weekend for things like pole, fastest lap, leading a lap and yes, leading the most laps, shouldn’t a rookie score a few extra points for winning as a rookie and securing poles as a rookie – after all, he only missed out on winning the Indy Rookie prize by 5 points!

Royalty check #3

Enter Mario Andretti. “The kid’s fast,” was one comment Mario told an interviewer after watching Colton become the faster Honda qualifier for the Indy 500. There is no question about the Andretti name or the heritage of the family. Under son Michael, it’s all been arranged. Colton will be a part of the Andretti team racing under the new banner of Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Racing and starting next year while still 19 years old, the future looks very bright for Colton and the entire Herta family.

Bryan Herta continues to be part owner of the Andretti Herta Autosports Indy team, where Bryan fields Marco Andretti so it’s hard not to notice the many connections with racing’s royalty. Whether you consider Bryan or even George part of Indy racing royalty as yet, you cannot deny the presence Mario has whenever he walks into any venue and oh yes, my time in the back seat of a Honda two-seater Indy Car was with Mario behind the wheel. Margo and I have not made any plans yet to see Colton race in person but then again we have never been to Indy so who knows what might transpire late May of 2020. In the meantime, if you lost track of the events and of the wins and podiums, this summary (that doesn’t include his time on track in Malaysia) may be a great ending for this somewhat unusual post!

Perhaps it’s fitting to return to Colton and to Mario when in a recent broadcast Mario left his script to talk about Colton. And potentially, F1 – seriously? I don’t believe that is on the agenda for now as I understand that Colton really likes being at home and having home be his base.

But then again, in racing, nothing is ever set in stone and who knows, maybe we see Colton and Lando going head to head in F1. As 2019 came to a close one thing we can be assured of though, Colton is no longer little!