Sunday, April 27, 2014

Other People's Cars

Here is a short report from autocross #2 at Michelin today:  We drove, we had fun, we beat a few others, and a few others were faster than us too!  Also fun, with things running so smooth and the course being so fast, we each got 6 runs in today!  Before we get the official results later this week, here's a look at some of the cars that participated today, with more photos at our Flickr site: NMS on FLICKR
 What was really fun today was the large open course that resulted in faster than normal driving speeds, but that also made the braking a bit trickier. Several Pontiac Fieros were spotted.
 It was fun to see so many cars, about 126 drivers today, in cars ranging from the pair of 60s Corvettes to new Subarus, Ford Focus STs, etc.
 While some cars are basically in stock condition, many are highly modified to do well in autocross, like the #97 VW Rabbit above.
 Here's the Corvettes that were driving in the Classic American Muscle category. It was great to see cars like this competing and not just living their lives as "trailer queens" that only come out for car shows.
 Like I said, almost anything goes in autocross!
 I liked the vented covers over the front wheels on this one. 
Here is Brian in his #86 , one of two Mazdaspeed Miatas running today. 

Fun to see the Lotus Exige today!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cars and Coffee, Coffee and Cars

Today was the monthly Cars and Coffee get together in Columbia SC, and it was a great day weather wise too!  These are informal hang-outs, not car shows with judges or anything like that, so if you find one near you I recommend you check it out.

 I ran into another Fiat, so we set up a massive Italian section of TWO!
 My favorite of the day was this Lincoln, V-12  with big ol' whitewall tires.  I'm not sure, but my best guess is it is from around 1941.
 There were a lot of contemporary Mustangs, and this 1977 Mustang II with V8 power. Not a lot of these driving around every day!
And for the Chevy faithful, along with a lot of Corvettes and at least one 60s Stingray, this BelAir was looking nice in the morning sun!

You can find out more about the Columbia SC Cars and Coffee on their Facebook page, and look for the May edition on either the 24th or 31st.  More photos from today are on our NMS Flickr page at the link over there on the right.

Tune in again in the very near future and we should have a report on the Autocross #2 at Michelin Proving Grounds tomorrow.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Who Does #2 Work For?!

As the days count down to the points event #2 of the 2014 season at the Michelin Proving Grounds, the team prepares mentally and performs final equipment checks to show who #2 works for and dominate the driving at Black Lake!

If you haven't seen the movie, Austin Powers, please go watch that now.

Current forecast shows no signs of rain and ambient temperatures in the mid-80s which will be a welcome change from last weekend's cooler temps where the team struggled to get the tires on the Fiesta ST up to temperature on the short runs in the wet.  

Per Rolex's latest ads, we now know that careful polishing of a car can gain .0001 second per lap.  This prompted a detailed cleaning and waxing of the #86 car to evaluate the new aero effects while the #77 car will run a standard "mostly clean and lacking any particularly big bug chunks" exterior as a baseline aero configuration.  Competition will be tight in ES with no fewer than 4 closely matched Mazda powered cars and and then a very tough challenge again in GS with multiple Focus STs competing against the Abarth.  

With an early release of the course design, the drivers have been in discussions on strategy and technique for several days and are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to drive the course and execute their strategies. There's still time to register and it's going to be a really great Sunday for driving.  Hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fun With Some Fords

Yesterday the NMS team rode up to Charlotte, NC to the Zmax Dragway parking lot to attend Ford's EcoBoost Challenge.  Contrary to predictions earlier in the week, the weather took a turn for the worse and dumped rain and chilly temperatures on the area for the full day, but that wasn't going to stop US!

The event was designed to showcase a number of Ford vehicles against their biggest direct competitors as well as get a chance to take a Fiesta ST for a spin on a short autocross style course. Additionally, Ford is celebrating 50 years of the Mustang, so there were a LOT of Mustangs on the roads and on display in the area.  At the EcoBoost event, they had one of the three pre-production 2015 Mustangs to look at.

Overall it was a fairly small event with three main areas to showcase the different sets of cars with three small courses laid out with cones, similar to an autocross. The first of three stops was to compare the C-Max versus Toyota's Prius V.  Generally the NMS team seemed to favor the Ford, citing slightly better acceleration and generally induced lower levels of dry heaving while inside.

The second stop was to check out the Fiesta ST challenge.  Unfortunately the staff felt it wasn't safe/wise to set up the timing equipment to time our laps, but generally it was pretty fun, but again 3 short 30 second runs was tough to really get a feel for the car.

The third stop was three comparisons in one; Fusion vs Camry, Escape vs CRV, and F150 vs Silverado.  This gave you a chance to sample the range of cars, SUVs, trucks all at once.  Unfortunately at this point the team had been out in the elements for a bit long and this portion was not organized too well so the decision was made to make lunch plans and conclude the outdoor events for the day and forego any further driving (read: waiting in line and getting rained on).

No one voted to go right to the nearest dealership and purchase any new cars, trucks, or SUVs, so it looks like the team will be back with more Fiat and Mazda action next weekend (4/27) with the next SCR autocross at Michelin!

Friday, April 18, 2014

What's an Average Autocross Day Like?

Before getting started, Happy Birthday to Andre Goncalves yesterday on April 17!
In our NMS vast experience of exactly one year of autocrossing (it's a joke, OK?), we've had a lot of fun driving with our South Carolina Region of the SCCA.  A typical autocross day really is a full day, so let's just take a look at what all is involved. We've posted about the car prep, driver training, so assuming the car is in good shape and work doesn't get in the way of the next event on April 27th, here's what that day should look like.

Like most events in our region, the location is over an hour away, so it's going to be up early and hit the road around 6:30 AM or so.  Brian and I have a top secret rendezvous spot on I-77, so from there we'll head north up to the Michelin Proving Grounds for this one.
After an hour on I-26, which we could claim is to warm up the car and tires, but that would be a bit of a stretch, we arrive and make our first stop.  A friendly member of the SCCA will be standing by with one of the signs of power, a CLIPBOARD, and ask us to sign the waiver form and get an arm band. The arm band gives drivers magical powers, namely the magic power to participate because it proves you signed the waiver form!
From there we drive around to the parking lot, errrr, I mean the paddock, and prep the cars.  Unload everything that isn't needed, put the magnetic numbers on my car, set up a chair and our spiffy awning for any down time to sit out of the sun or rain, check the wheels for torque and air pressure, and see who else is around too. 
7:30-8:30 AM Registration:   We walk over to registration (easily identified by being  the big SCR Van, see how easy this is?), and confirm that we pre-registered on line. I've already gotten a bar-code sticker on my helmet for this year, so since this is Brian's first points event this year he gets a cool sticker for his helmet also.  Again, the sticker contains magic powers that enable the starter to scan your code before each time you drive, so the electronic timers credit the right driver with your blazing fast times!  One really good thing about the bar code, is that in accordance with the Laws of Speed, every decal on your car or body makes you faster!  Plus it's easier than having a chip inserted into your brain!
7:30-8:30 AM Tech Inspection:  All righty then, now to make sure the car is set up and safe.  Like the driver bar code, I've already got a tech inspection sticker on my car good for the year, so Brian will drive over to the Tech area and other friendly SCCA members will make sure he is good to go. Then he will be issued another sticker for the windshield (obviously also making the Miata faster, refer to the Laws of Speed).  By this time we've probably run into other friends we know, and maybe started drinking some water or more coffee. At least coffee has water in it, so it's got to be good for you. Even if you are in good physical shape, or if it's not really hot outside, just by being outside all day can dehydrate you, so drinking water is a good idea.
7:30-9:00 AM Course Open for Walking:  Now we're getting to the fun stuff, and hopefully the friendly course-setter-uppers have finished laying out the cones to define the course. Here at Michelin this is a BIG job since it's a huge paved lot.  Walking the course is how you start learning both where to drive and thinking about HOW to drive it.  Theoretically there is one ideal driving line that will enable you to get around the course the fastest, and I think this is about as important as just raw driving ability.  Figuring where to go really fast, as well as where and how much to brake is what gets you into the details after you see the layout of the course.  I'm sure the NASCAR, INDY, and F1 drivers have to think about this a bit also, but they won't be doing it only 4-6 times in a competition, so we really want to get it right without the luxury of repeating the course say 60-200 times in a race!  After walking the course once, we'll walk it again as much as we can. At the last event I blew my first two runs by not having the course in my head, so I don't want to do that again!

8:30/8:45/9:00AM Novice Course Walks:  For the first timers or anyone else that wants to hear someone else's take on the course and how to drive it, our region offers these Novice Walks, where an experienced driver will walk the course and point out the basics.  This is one thing that really impresses me is that besides being so much fun, autocross is all about helping others have fun too.
9:15 AM Drivers’ Meeting:  We've been here for a couple hours already and now we're getting into more good stuff.  As you can imagine, any event with 50-200 people driving cars near the limit (at low speed in 2nd gear) needs a bit of coordination and some safety rules. That's what the Driver Meeting is all about, just to make sure everyone understands what is going to happen the rest of the day. Also this is where we will find out how the field of drivers will be split into run groups.  As I've mentioned, friendly people have been working hard all along to register, inspect, set-up, etc, and for those of us that haven't worked yet, we'll find out what group we drive with, and then what other group we will work for in support.  When you think about it, it's an amazing system that works well thanks to the region leadership that makes it all a smooth operation.  For this example, let's just simplify it and say there are three run groups for the rest of the day, and we'll be driving in Group 1, then working Group 3. 

10:00 AM First Car Off:  This is run group 1, and so it's our turn to get in the car, put on the helmet, fire up the engine, and then line up in the Grid area.  As we're waiting there, friendly workers are doing the starters job, watching the course for any cones that get knocked down, running the timing, and keeping the  grid line moving .  Maybe we'll get 5 runs, so all the cars in our run group take a turn on their first run, return to grid, and then repeat for a total of 5 times.  The run group will likely take an hour and a half, so in between runs you have time to get out of the car, chat with the other guys, or in our case find out how much faster Brian is going than me!  Some folks like to shut the car off in between runs, others keep it running and prop up the hood to help cool the engine compartment.  That's what I usually do, and if you ever take a look under the hood of the Fiat you'll see there is not a lot of space in there and it gets pretty hot!

 11:30AM Run Group 2:  Like I said, for this example we drove in Group 1, work in Group 3, so during this time we will likely eat some lunch we brought with us, and maybe go sit and watch this group drive.  Watching others is another good way to learn what the fast drivers do, and maybe see what mistakes we made.  Overall, I like NOT being in Run Group 1 just for that reason, so that I can get some tips from the first group to help me decide how to attack the course.
1:00PM Run Group 3:  OK, time to work.  We're probably out on the course working at one of the stations to pick up cones that get knocked down, and then one corner captain has a radio to call in to the scorers what car just knocked down how many cones.

3:00-4:00PM Fun Runs (time permitting):  As stated, if the run groups finish early enough, every driver can go out and do some more driving unofficially.  If the run groups take more time, then the event ends when the final group finishes. 

After that, there is one last meeting for everyone to announce the winners, and then for everyone to help round up all the cones and call it a day.  From there it's time to drive home and call it a day and start looking forward to the next event in May!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Brake Pads and Oil Changes

What could be more fun than a Sunday working on your car?  Driving it, eating pizza,  or maybe landing on the moon of course, but  it was time for some auto maintenance, and I can't find a Saturn 5 rocket to fit my budget anyway.

Oil change wise, not a big deal, but an important part of keeping your engine happy. In this case, it was new oil time for the Fiat 500 Abarth and the family Camry, so I ordered up a bunch of synthetic oil from Amazon (free shipping makes it cheaper than just about anywhere else), some filters, lined up some tools, and headed for the garage.  Both of these cars use synthetic oil and  go 10,000 miles or so before needing new oil, and being all modern they even have little lights to remind you when it's time to do so. Also, they both share the oil filter cartridge thing, and require special tools like the 27mm socket on the Fiat and a special  socket for the Toyota. Since I've already bought those, no good reason to buy more tools this time. For the Fiat I went with some Pennzoil that even has a Ferrari logo on the bottle, so it must be good for Italians!

Speaking of modern conveniences like having the dash board light up to remind you to change oil, figuring out how to turn OFF the light after you change the oil is something that Fiat just might want to put in the manual!  The Toyota folks have it in their manual, but while I'm thinking about it, why don't they just put one more sensor on the car that can tell when you've drained and replaced the oil, or at least removed the oil filter?   My other good idea of the day would for someone to invent an oil filter re-location kit for the Fiat, just so it would be easier to remove.  Right now you have to remove some hoses above it, and then use a long ratchet with extensions and a swivel to get down to the filter cartridge.  Maybe someone smart could relocate the battery and put the filter there, or just replace the regular battery with a smaller one, and then put the oil filter in the empty space.

Brian also changed all four brake pads on the Miata, so that was pretty fun to do for the first time, and discover the secret location of the 4mm allen bolts on the rear brakes.   Here's a few shots from the garage. Hope you had a fun weekend too!

Get ready to jack up your car, have some jack stands handy to be safe. 
OK, now we're jacked up, and ready to go after those brake pads. 

Just might have to take the wheels off first!
Brian doing all the dirty work!

   Putting some brake grease lubricant on the slider pins. 

                                                     And getting the new pads put in place.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ford Eco-Boost Challenge, Coming to a Town Near You.


You might have seen the Ford Eco Boost Challenge TV ads, where real people are given the chance to test drive Fords and then compare them to other brands. Well, they are going to be offering this at locations around the US in the next few months, so NMS has signed up to drive some Fords on April 19th up in Charlotte NC.  Last year we did a similar event with Jaguar and had a blast, so we'll see how Ford compares this time.

You can see the full schedule, check out a video, and sign up for this at the Ford link HERE

4/12/14 Phoenix
4/18/14 Charlotte
4/19/14 Charlotte
4/26/14 Miami
5/03/14 Orlando
5/10/14 Los Angeles
5/17/14 Dallas/Ft. Worth
5/31/14 Seattle
6/07/14 Houston
6/14/14 Columbus
6/21/14 Chicago
6/28/14 San Francisco
7/19/14 Indianapolis

I've had a few Fords in the past, (Mustang, Aerostar, Escape, Taurus, Focus, still have a Ranger) so I'm looking forward to driving some of the new ones.

Here is Brian at the Jaguar Alive event a year ago, same location at Charlotte Motor Speedway as the Ford Eco Boost Challenge will take place:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

British Car Show, Featuring British Cars!

You  might have noticed we have a link to our Flickr website for photos, so if you are a fan of British Cars you might want to check out some photos I took yesterday at a local car show. Thanks to the British Car Club Midlands Center here in Columbia SC for hosting this big event once per year.  This weekend their show was held in conjunction with the Tartan Day South, so along with looking at cars I got to see a whole lot of folks wearing kilts, food, displays, dancing, music, dogs herding animals, and etc.

My favorite two cars were a Sunbeam LeMans hard top, and a particular Austin Healey that had a two tone blue and white paint job. In addition to those, I loved seeing several MGB GTs, Triumph Spitfires and Triumph TR7/TR8s, old and new Jaguars, and all the rest. There was one recent Aston Martin, an old Austin Limo, a lot of MGs, one Lotus, and some new Jaguars and Land Rovers on display from the Columbia Jaguar dealer as well.

I have to thank my brother Brad for the interest in British cars, and his Triumph Spitfire and the new red TR7 that he had.

Here is the link to the British cars:  British Car Photos

And here are my two favorites:

Friday, April 4, 2014

How Can I Start Autocrossing?

One of the best things about autocrossing is that it is easy to start, you just have to start somewhere!
For the next event in our South Carolina Region, it's as easy as 1-2-3.

1. Go to this website to register:  Motor Sports Registration

2. Follow the instructions and sign up.
You don't have to pay yet, and you don't have to be a Sports Car Club of America member yet. 

3. Show up on April 27th with your car and be prepared to have fun! 
Once you are at the Michelin Proving Grounds, you will find workers who will ask you to sign the waiver form. After that, you will find the registration folks in the big van who will help you finish registering and then paying to enter.  You can pay with cash on site, and if you are not a SCCA member you can also pay for a weekend membership so you can drive.  Then you just have to have the Tech inspection to make sure that you and your car will be safe, so they will check for things like tires, seat belts, wheels are fastened securely, and that you have a helmet. If you don't have a helmet, there will a bunch of loaner helmets you can borrow for free.

If you get thru steps 1-3, then you will be attending the driver's meeting to cover any important rules for the day, and then you should join the Novice track walk where one of the experienced members will talk you thru the course as you walk it. After that you can walk the course on your own and get a picture of it in your head so that you can drive it later and not get lost!  In the photo above you can see Andre in the black hat listening to the Novice talk.

As of right now, here is a partial list of driver's signed up, so you know that NMS will be there at Michelin on April 27th.

 [ES] E Street 2 entries

Nixon, Brian
Mazda MS Miata
Nixon Motor Sports
Columbia, SC
Ray-Smith, Kyle
Mazda Miata
Panic Motorsports
Greenville, SC

 [GS] G Street 1 entries

Nixon, Robert
Fiat 500 Abarth
Nixon Motor Sports
Blythewood, SC

How much fun is it? I don't think you would believe me if I told you, and since a picture is worth a thousand words, this short video (really a Tire Rack commercial) shows how much fun it is to be an autocross driver!

Tire Rack "This Is Kenny"

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Hey everyone, we've been online for just a few months and we've already hit 3000 page views!

Thanks for all the site visits and positive feedback.  We're off to a great 2014 so far and we've still got 8 months to go!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Evo School Day 2

Sunday was another full day of driving and learning.  Luckily the weather dried up a bit, but the wind was turned up to 11, so it wasn't a whole lot of fun to stand around and pick up cones, but the reward of seat time was fantastic.

This class ended up about 12 students, compared to the 17 or so on Saturday.  We had cars ranging from the high-end Porsche 911 turbo to a 10 year old stock Honda Civic, which just goes to show, it doesn't matter what level of driver you are or what level of performance your car is capable of, they'll teach you how to make the most of it.  I still think this is one of the best parts of autocross; it doesn't matter what car you bring, just that you are driving it with the most skill.

The Phase 2 class really focuses on emphasizing the techniques learned in the Phase 1 class.  The way they approached the teaching was great and it really was a challenging experience.  I don't think I was really implementing all of the techniques yet, but it really drove home the understanding of what I needed to be doing and really gave me an understanding of how to self-critique and make improvements at all the future events.

I know I'm going to need a lot more practice, but I feel confident I have the tools I need to make big improvements and build those skills. This should be a really exciting season for me!

The school has a fantastic curriculum for teaching performance driving and the instructors all had great positive attitudes that taught the skills in a really fun way.  I would highly recommend checking them out to see if they're doing any classes in YOUR area of the country.  Their website is