Monday, June 29, 2015

Independence Day Weekend Plans!

Pungo Start Line, March 2015
Independence Day weekend is quickly approaching, and in addition to celebrating that the USA won the war with Britain long ago and that we don't have to speak English anymore, I hope you've all got some fun plans and perhaps time off of work. Here at NMS North, with a day off of work I can't think of anything more fun and car related than heading out bright and early Friday and going to the Department of Motor Vehicles and giving them some money! Shoot, in exchange for my money I just might head home with some shiny brand new Virginia license plates now that I live here and my South Carolina tags expire at the end of July. If there's a more patriotic way to spend the holiday then please let me know!

Grid at Pungo, March 2015
Also this weekend will be the Formula 1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, so that means tuning in to NBC Sports Network on Friday morning and watching practice 2, then again Saturday morning for Qualifying on CNBC, and then the race bright and early Sunday morning on CNBC too! I mean come on, what could be better on Sunday of Independence Day weekend than watching a bunch of European guys in Britain driving carbon fiber cars, turning both left and right, and going really fast?


Here's the TV and App info for F1 this coming weekend, times are Eastern:

7/3 5:00 AM        F1: Grand Prix of Great Britain (Practice 1) NBC
7/3 9:00 AM        F1: Grand Prix of Great Britain (Practice 2)
7/4 5:00 AM        F1: Grand Prix of Great Britain (Practice 3) NBC
7/4 8:00 AM        F1: Grand Prix of Great Britain (Qualifying)
7/5 7:30 AM        F1: Grand Prix of Great Britain (Race)

FIAT at Pungo, April 2015
What's more fun than watching fast drivers?
How about driving the FIAT in another autocross!! That's what I'll be doing Sunday, competing with the Old Dominion Region (or ODR) of the Sports Car Club of America at Pungo Virginia. I've done two events at that location this year, both with the Tidewater Sports Car Club, so this will be my first event with the ODR SCCA folks. Believe it or not, a lot of the same drivers compete with both clubs, so I have a feeling that it will feel like a great event on familiar turf with familiar faces.

ODR Autocross LINK

Leaf Blower Cleans Course at Pungo April 2015

This Sunday will be the 4th event of 2015 for ODR, so certainly I'm in no position to compete for points, so my diabolical plan is to just have fun and drive as fast as possible and see what happens. Here's a quick look at the registration so far. There are only 21 drivers, so maybe I can finish in the top 20! To be honest this looks like a lot of cars and drivers that are all faster than me, so believe me when I say I'm driving for fun this time, and my realistic goal is top 21!

Old Dominion Region SCCA
July 5th Firecracker Solo at Pungo Airfield
Heat 1  (4 Drivers)
 # Driver Name    Car Make and Model Class    Sponsor/Team
07 Calvin Jilek [ 6 ] 2008 Ford Mustang GT FS  TorqueSpec
10 Peter French (PD) 1969 Chevy Camaro CP  
11 Robert Bauer (PD) 1989 Acura Integra EP  
68 Ben Moore [ 7 ] 2015 Subaru WRX DS  
Heat 2  (5 Drivers)
 # Driver Name    Car Make and Model Class    Sponsor/Team
21 Jason Lisner [ 7 ] Ford Focus ST GS  Title Examination Corporation
27 Melissa Fehr (PD) 2010 Porsche Boxster S SSL  
30 Alexander Patchin (PD) 2002 Mercedes-Benz SLK 32 AMG SSMN  
31 David Patchin (PD) 2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK 55 AMG SSMN  
40 Philip Hinton [ 5 ] 2005 Subaru WRX STi ASPX  
Heat 3  (4 Drivers)
 # Driver Name    Car Make and Model Class    Sponsor/Team
42 Thom Perry (PD) 2001 Porsche Boxster S BS  
47 John h Sheally ii [ 7 ] 1970 Morgan Plus 8 FP  
60 Bobby Smith [ 4 ] 1988 Porsche 911 CS  
118 David Oconnell [ 7 ] 2011 Porsche 911 4S SS  
Heat 4  (8 Drivers)
 # Driver Name    Car Make and Model Class    Sponsor/Team
71 Tony Mester (PD) 2011 Mazda 2 STF  
75 Jack Swayze [ 6 ] 2008 Subaru WRX BS  
76 Stephanie Humphries [ 4 ] 1991 Mazda Miata STS  
77 Robert Nixon [ 0 ] 2013 FIAT Abarth GS  Nixon Motor Sports
78 Mark Spencer (PD) 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe STU  
87 Steve Fehr (PD) 2010 Porsche Boxster S SS  
176 Brian Wells [ 4 ] 1991 Mazda Miata STS  
818 Greg Warden (PD) 2005 Mazda Miata CS  
Total number of drivers entered: 21

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Miata Update

When we last left the #86 Miata, it was stranded in Virginia after having a major engine issue last Sunday right in the middle of the first autocross run in Virginia Beach. After sitting all week and resting, getting some sun and sand by the beach,  Brian and his friends Kyle DeGennaro and Harlan Williams returned from South Carolina with another friend's Excursion as tow vehicle and a U-Haul trailer to get the Miata back to NMS-South in Columbia SC and one step closer to returning to the road, likely with a replacement motor. 

I'm sure we'll have more updates to follow as the saga of #86 develops, so in the meantime here's some of the scenes from Friday afternoon.

One thing I learned today is on the left side of the U-Haul car trailer, the fender over the two wheels easily slides down and out of the way so that you can still open the driver's side door, just in case you need to climb in or out of the car while it's on the trailer.

With some straps to go over the front wheels and a chain for the front and another for the back end, the trailer should have the Miata safely home by now.

If things work out, Brian will be auto-crossing on Sunday June 28th in a different car, and then we'll find out more about the fate of this Miata and how soon it will be back on the road.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Doctor Confirms: Car Magazine Addiction!

After experiencing some odd medical symptoms (dreaming of French cars, delusions of grandeur such as buying used Formula 1 cars, etc.), I visited my doctor this week and after extensive testing  he has diagnosed me with a Code Red (actually Ferrari Red) addiction to car magazines. There is no cure, but with time, sufferers of this malady can lead normal lives. In other words, I'm going to keep blogging about cars and car magazines until I overdose and take up Himalayan goat herding. Since that day hasn't arrived yet, let's look at some magazines on sale now.

Warning: The word "FIAT" will not appear for the rest of this blog, but "Miata" articles will appear in half of these magazines.

Forza is all Ferrari all the time, cover to cover Italiano, and includes reviews of new cars like the California T on the cover, the LaFerrari, as well as classic old Ferraris, car racing and shows, and the latest Ferrari news from Formula 1 and other race series that include the prancing horse.

While I don't own a Ferrari, I do plan on winning the lottery and rushing out and buying the most expensive new Ferrari I can find, so I consider this magazine my main source of information to be a better consumer in the future when that lucky lottery ticket finds it's way into my wallet!

If you're not feeling the love for Italy yet, here's a few more thoughts:
Spaghetti, Lasagna, Pizza, Vino, Giro d'Italia, Campagnolo, Chianti, presto, forte, Volpi Subito, Da Capo, Testa Rossa.

(Volpi Subito means "turn the page quick" in music)
Automobile magazine covers the wide wide world of, well, uh, automobiles, so I guess the cover photo of a Bugatti and a Google driverless car pretty much covers that subject!

..................(Boxing announcer voice:) "LADEEES AND GENTLEMEN! In this corner, with 1500 HORSE POWER, BUGATTI CHIRON!!!!!!!!!!!! (crowd goes wild)

(stunned silence, no crowd noise, until a chorus of BOOOs rises and kills the driverless car for all time and eternity)

Well, that's what the cover made me think anyway.

Motor Trend this month as usual features cars on the main cover photo that I can't afford, but considering that it's a new Jaguar XE and a new BMW 335i, at least it's not another Mustang/Camaro or Cadillac/BMW or Corvette/Porsche 911 comparison!

While Motor Trend and all car magazines are a bit predictable in covering what us normal people can't afford, this particular issue has an in depth driving on the track review of the NEW Miata vs. the Subaru BRZ, and NMS is happy to let you know that the Miata comes out ahead in their opinion!

MT also loves the new Honda Pilot, the Ford Explorer, and reviews six different subcompact CUVs, so they've got a bit of everything.

The Hemmings folks publish several magazines, and as a fan of European cars this one always hits the spot for me. This one features the classic Triumph TR3 on the cover, and has a nice write-up of the 2nd generation Miata like Brian's 1999 model.

Also nice to see a surprise in this one with an article on the Renault Fuego, which I always remember my friend Vince drove back there in the 1980s. We used to kid  him for driving the "French car with the Spanish name" since Fuego means "Fire" in Espanol. I don't even remember the last time I've seen one on the road, so maybe there is a reason for that!

Another interesting short article this month tells the story of Mr. J. S. Rasmussen of Denmark. If you've never heard of him, well, neither had I! Now I know that he started his own company in 1904 that eventually turned into the German car company DKW, which at one point bought the Audi company! Later, DKW joined with several others to become Auto Union, and you probably know that Audi still makes cars today.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

EVO Driving School: FIAT Student's Report!

On Saturday June 20th I attended a one day autocross driving school taught by the Evolution Performance Driving School folks, and give it a big thumbs up for anyone looking to improve their driving skills! EVO SCHOOL LINK

During a full day of driving and learning how to get the car to go faster around the cones, I got about 20 runs on course, as well as 4 ride-a-longs with the expert instructors, and a couple more laps just riding slowly as the instructors explained in greater detail how they go so fast!

By the scenic Chesapeake Bay on the Joint Base Little Creek (mostly Navy but also Marines and Army), it was a long hot day that also required a lot of water and Gatorade! Let's just say my t-shirt and top-o-the-socks tan lines are looking good!

There were 30 students for the day, and we each received the same instruction and same amount of seat-time behind the wheel. Compared to your average day of autocross where you might get 4-6 runs, just the amount of time driving time at this school was a big plus for me!

I'd say most of the students had at least some experience in auto-crossing, although a few were just getting into the sport. Regardless, with a day spent with instructors who have won national championships, I'm sure we all learned something. Was it worth it? Well, judging by the number of students that had taken the same course before but came back for more practice, the answer is "YES"!

One fun thing about autocross is that while you can compete with a very expensive car that you bring in on a trailer and don't even drive on the street, you can also autocross with your daily driver. Just check out this classic Datsun!

The day started bright and early, with students arriving at 7:30AM so that they could get their cars prepped and moved into position where we could all get on the course when it was our turn.

With the 30 drivers divided into 6 run groups, all of us also got to work on course (typically picking up cones the other drivers knocked over) part of the time and just watching the other groups part of the time. Besides learning from the instructors, this is a great way to observe other drivers on course and see how they approach the different sections.

Our first step was driving the course 3 times alone and without instruction so that we could then do the same thing at the end of the day to see how we had improved.  The early part of the day was fun; just talking with the other drivers a bit, seeing what other cars were there, and starting to drink water for what we knew would be a long hot day outdoors. Maybe that's no big deal if you're a pro athlete, but for some of us of, well, more advanced age, that water stuff comes in handy both drinking and pouring on your head when it's hot! Hey look, an Acura NSX!

Here's my FIAT in grid, and probably the only vehicle in this photo I could beat was the Navy hovercraft LCAC in the background!
But seriously folks, the pad where we were driving is a great place to hold an event like this, complete with scenic water views!

Other than one Italian car and the NSX and older Datsun, most of the cars were Subarus, with the standard joke of "which Subaru is yours...The BLUE one!" since they ALL seem to be blue.
This blog is brought to you by the letter "C"!

Cars, cones, autoCross, Corvette, COOL!

The Corvette is checking out the course, our cars are on grid, so we're just about ready to start driving. The weather was clear, other than a few clouds and about 5 drops of rain in the afternoon. And hot, so I'm still drinking water. And Gatorade. And Lemonade. And a Diet Pepsi. And more water.

Just in case you were wondering, the FIAT Abarth is just a little bit taller than the Acura NSX.

I did my first three runs, and my fastest was a 32.079. When we get to the final 3 runs of the day we'll see if I can beat that time with some great instruction on top of 17 more times of driving the same course. The EVO folks also have a 2nd day of this course, which builds on the techniques of day 1, so I hope to take that one next time and get even faster!

Here's that Datsun out on course, you might be able to click on the photo and see that there is an instructor riding along in the passenger seat here at the end of a run. Oh yeah, if you don't know what a Datsun is, ask someone older!

I have heard that there are two kinds of teachers...and these guys were the GOOD kind! They had a lot of insight, experience, and solid techniques to teach that we should be able to apply to just about every type of driving maneuver. Naturally safety was a big issue of the day, and this was stressed throughout the day too.

The course that we used was great for instruction, because it had several distinct elements that allowed us to focus on different skills at different times, while also then putting the different elements all together as we decided how to attack the entire course before, during, and after each run. Maybe the fast drivers can go out and "wing it", but I need to have a plan on how I'm going to drive the course first, and then go out there and execute that plan. Just like every day driving, one thing you do will affect the next thing you do, so it's important to make decisions on how fast to drive at point A to help you go faster at point B.

The course started with a straight ahead slalom, and I know I picked up some time on this section by learning to backside the first cone to set up how I was getting around all the other cones. Even before getting to the first cone, the instructors talked to us about where to set up the car on the start line, since even sitting 6 feet to one side or the other will affect what angle your car will be approaching the first cone or corner, so every little detail can help or hurt your driving time. Focusing your vision on the LAST cone in the slalom also helps you look farther ahead and smooth out your line.

After the slalom, the next section of the course was a circle of cones that we had to negotiate by turning about 270 degrees around to the right, so this was a huge braking area which then required drivers to think about, oh, a few things like: -how soon to brake, -how hard to brake, -when to turn the wheel, -when to get back on the gas, -how much gas, how close to get to the cones, -when to unwind the steering wheel, -where to be looking, etc.

It looks easy when you see the good drivers do it, but dang that can be a lot of things to be thinking about when you're driving as hard as you can!

Before we drove, we also walked the course, and this is how you learn what the course will be for an event. It always helps me to walk the course as much as time allows, first to not get lost, but also to plan how to drive it.  In the photo on the right you can see an instructor leading half of our group around the 270 degree circle. By the end of the day I was tempted to just run straight ahead and jump in the bay...did I mention it was really hot all day? The EVO school even includes lunch with the school, so for a ton of driving and a lunch with cookies, it really can't be beat!

Don't forget that when working on course, safety is the most important thing, and with the Tidewater Sports Car Club folks you also get to make a fashion statement with a safety vest.

The safety vest is said to keep away werewolves and automobiles, and it must work, because I've never been hit on a course by a car or seen a werewolf.

After the circle, we had a big braking event to make a near 180 degree turn, then a big sweeper turn, and finally a Chicago Box, which is just a 3 cone slalom on steroids with a bunch of other cones around it to make it look cool.

When an instructor drove my car, I learned a lot from that, plus he smoked my time without even trying, and posted a 31.421. Experience is the best teacher, so that was cool!

As the day went on we got more practice, and finally I was able to get the hang of some better driving skills, and ended up lowering my time on the last run of the day to a 31.750.  From where I started in the morning that wasn't like going to light speed and cutting 100 seconds off, but for me that 0.829 improvement was certainly more than I could do by myself, so I was happy with that performance.

Along the way I managed to flatten a few cones, make plenty of mistakes, but the bottom line is that I learned a lot that should help me in the future, and absolutely had a lot of fun!

Keep driving!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day Autocross 2015

Brian drove all the way up to Virginia Beach this weekend to drive in the autocross today, and overall it was a great weekend, and always great to be with (at least most of) your family! Here's a few happy pictures that were all taken before the bad news of the day happened, and that bad news spells the end of the engine in the NMS 1999 Miata!

Brian was on his first run of the day, and among other things: the gas pedal went to the floor through the carpeting, which caused the engine to keep revving, which led to what we believe is a seized-broken-dead engine.

On the positive side, engines can be replaced and no one was hurt. Also, the host Tidewater Sports Car Club members did all they could to keep everyone safe, help get the car off course, and assist in the engine's terminal diagnosis, along with plenty of offers to help. We'll be reporting more on the Miata in the future as this story develops!

Driving wise, Robert took a solid 2nd place in GS out of a grand total of 2 cars, with Jason Lisner doing his usual outstanding job and finishing a couple seconds clear in first place. Congrats to Jason, who should win the title in our class this year once he's driven enough events. For now, we'll update the points when we get the official results, but I'll admit I'm only in first for now because I've driven more events!

When he wasn't getting the Miata squared away, Brian hopped in the FIAT and beat my current time anyway, although my last run just barely went a hair faster, by only 0.031 seconds. Considering it was my car, I got 4 runs, and that Brian was more worried about his Miata, I'd have to say he's faster than me too.

The NMS Miata is in the house in Virginia, ready to do combat on Sunday! 

Heading for inspection, 8:27AM and its in the 90s, HOT HOT HOT!

Happy Father's Day Lunch!

The Miata is ready!

Both NMS cars together for the first time in 2015!

Brian standing by, ready to race!

Chesapeake Bay in background, Navy vehicles, and the MIATA!

No, they don't let us drive on the Navy LCACs!

Miata on grid!

When your car already has some battle damage, a Band-Aid makes it all better!

Both NMS red cars ready to roll, prior to engine "bad-hair day".

Robert and Brian

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

North VS. South 2015!

This coming Sunday will have both NMS-North (me) and NMS-South (Brian) driving the same event at the same time, so we're calling this North VS. South. Alternate titles include "Fathers Day Face-Off" but the National Hockey League keeps using that term. It could be titled "MIATA MEETS FIAT", but, well, it's not. How about "South Carolina VS. Virginia"? No, that sounds like an argument over who grows the best peanuts or which state has the least number of major league sports franchises! (Both SC and VA do not have teams in MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL).

OK, just to spell out this monumental clash of titans, family bragging rights, and the future of the entire galaxy, it's father vs. son on Father's Day 2015!

Sure, Brian beat me at the Krispy Kreme Challenge last year (run 5 miles and eat 12 donuts in under an hour), but come on, I wasn't even trying. Shoot, I didn't even train for the eating part!

Tune in next week for the results from this epic battle, Contest of the Century, Showdown by the Seaside, NMS World Championship!!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Alfa Romeo

Here at NMS-North, close to the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, we're big fans of all things Italy. Food, drink, cars, food, and that order. Since this is not a food blog, or a drink blog, then believe it or not it's time to talk about some more Italian automobiles! Now, maybe they have a trunk full of pasta and basil pesto, along with some Prosecco, but still, all that yummy stuff has to get to your house from the grocery store somehow, so why not in an Italian car!

OK, so, we're living in the USA (old Steve Miller song title, "doot-doo-doo-doot-do-do, Livin' In The USA"...) and want to take our Italian food home in an Italian automobile. A Ferrari would be a very fun and very fast way to do so, although some of the trunk space is small, and to be honest we're not in the income bracket that buys new Ferraris.

For a few less Euros, how about a Maserati? Ouch, still out of my price range, although it's fun to realize that Maserati is owned by the same FIAT company that owns Ferrari. OK, after Maserati, how about a Lamborghini? Oh baby, I'd LOVE to take my groceries home in a Lambo, but again, same price range as a Ferrari so thanks for thinking about it.

Hmmm, what to do, what to DO? Well, you could REALLY stretch your imagination and buy a Dodge or Chrysler and make the argument that "well, they're OWNED by FIAT, so doesn't that make them Italian cars too?" 

Sure, you COULD say that, but in this country you lose that argument 100% of the time, so what else can we come up with for buying Italian wheels?

I think in the near future the best answer is going to be Alfa Romeo!  Currently they sell exactly one model in the US, the carbon fiber bodied 4C. Starting at about $53,900, that might not be in my price range, so I'm curious to find out what other models they will be bringing here in the future, since they will a bit cheaper than that. Luckily, coming up on June 24th we should find out because Alfa will be holding a big press conference to announce what that next car will be!

The Alfa Romeo company was founded on that date in 1910, so after 105 years it's nice to know they are back in the US. Taking over the Italian Darracq automobile company near Milan, the new company was named Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili – A.L.F.A. At some point in the company history, a certain Mr. Romeo entered the picture, and we still have the Alfa Romeo company, now a part of FIAT.

Alfa left the US market, and now they are back! Back, like the AC/DC song says, BACK IN BLACK! Oops, I mean mostly BACK, BACK IN RED.  OK, let's just say they're Back in the USSR....(wait a minute, that's a Beatles song), but no matter your musical tastes, they are BACK!
Stay tuned for more news on June 24th, and just maybe we'll be able to know for sure what the next Alfa Romeos coming to the US will be, what their name is, and if we're lucky what the price range will be.

And, in the words of the Terminator, I'll be BACK (with another blog in a few days).