Friday, September 30, 2016

Stiff Competition

With a few more autocross events to go in 2016, I thought I'd just show you how close the competition is in my class this year.The SCCA rules of autocross put my FIAT Abarth in the G Street class, and so far in 2016 I've driven in five events in the area against a VW Golf GTI driver.  As of right now, our total times in competition (by taking the single best time from each event) are very close!

The average time of each event for us has been around 37.7 seconds, so for starters you can tell that every single run at an autocross doesn't last a super long time! Driving the car for that short a time requires some serious paying attention to details, like not getting lost! Anyway, by adding up our best times from each event, it looks like this:

VW GTI Total Time:       188.623 seconds
FIAT Abarth Total Time: 188.634 seconds

If you're good at math, you'll notice that John Henderson in the GTI is faster than me too!

In other words, after driving in five different events against each other, in different cars in two different locations, on different courses each time, counting the events in March, May, July, August, and September, we're only 0.011 of A SINGLE SECOND APART! Eleven Thousandths! Just over one tenth of one tenth of a second! That is pretty darn close!

We've each won a couple of those 5 events, so that's amazing to see how the time adds up overall. One thing I really like about auto crossing is that you're not really driving head to head against the other guy at the same time, not on the course at the same time, so it's not like the finals in the Olympic 100 meters or anything like that. I feel like I'm really competing with myself, and that each time on course the only thing I can control is how I drive. That means I'm always trying to improve my own performance, and maybe find a few tenths of a second to go faster in one particular part of the run to gain time.

Yes, it's fun to drive the car as hard as you can, but at the same time (if I'm doing it right), I'm also staying mentally focused on what I'm doing and thinking ahead to what I'm about to do with the car. If my concentration goes out the window, I know from personal experience that it's easy to forget to go around a cone a certain way, easy to forget to adjust the tire air pressure, or even forget to turn on the Sport setting on my car! Any one of those mistakes and there is no way that my drive time will improve. I'm not going as far as calling autocross a "brain exercise", but it helps to stay focused on what you're doing!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

NMS October and November Preview


As we head into the final two months of autocross for 2016, here's a quick view at what the NMS team has on the schedule in October and November. Don't forget that coming up on the 4th Thursday of November is our newly proposed National Holiday that we call "National Thanks for Racing Day"! We're hoping this really catches on as a day off, with families getting together to celebrate racing by eating turkey and pumpkin pie. Hey, it's an idea whose time has come!

Black Lake: It's BIG!

October kicks off this way: Brian and the South Carolina Region will be returning to Freestyle Music Park and Myrtle Beach SC on the 1st, so they anticipate a good turn out close to the ocean. Also on the first, Robert will be at the Virginia Beach Cars and Coffee, just to spend some quality time hanging out with some other car people. Then on the 16th the SCR folks will fire up their 2nd Rally Cross event of the year, so we will be reporting on that "autocross in the dirt" also. The Virginia part of NMS will be autocrossing on the 16th, so both NMS drivers will be in action that day. SCR then heads to the biggest baddest black top we know with another autocross event at the Michelin Proving Grounds near Laurens SC. This lot is so large that drivers call it the Black Lake!

Pungo Driver Meeting

In  November, both NMS cars will also be busy on the 5th, Brian with the "War at the Shore II" in Georgia, and Robert driving at the "Track Attack" in North Carolina. The SCR will combine with the Buccaneer Region folks in Savannah, so Brian and the NMS Miata will be looking at some tough competition with two SCCA regions fighting at the same event. Robert and the NMS Abarth will be doing more of a one lap track event as the Tidewater Sports Car Club steps on the gas for a non-traditional type of autocross event. The Track Attack does not count for the season long points competition, but will be a fun day of motoring.


TSCC will then wrap up their 2016 season with a standard autocross at Pungo VA (which we like to call the "Auto-crossing Capital of the World") on November 20th. Robert will be going for a solid PAX time to help improve his club standing, which is currently 6th, but he's under heavy pressure from a lot of really fast drivers. His goal is to finish the year in the top 20, which would be an improvement over last year's 29th place.

Brian at Charlotte Motor Speedway

NMS is in negotiations with a major sponsor regarding driving on the big banked track at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the day after "National Thanks for Racing Day", so stay tuned for a major announcement on this topic. Regardless, you should plan to be at CMS on that Friday and take advantage of the NASCAR teams end-of-season-blowout on their merchandise. This is an annual event, and always fun to do! If you buy enough stuff, or donate to their charity, the CMS folks will let you drive YOUR CAR on the TRACK!


1         SCR Points Event #8,  Freestyle Music Park, Myrtle Beach, SC   SCR
1         Cars and Coffee, Virginia Beach, VA
2         ODR Autocross #7    at Pungo          ODR   
16       SCR Rally Cross #2    SCR RallyCross
16       TSCC Autocross # 8 at Pungo   TSCC
16       Richmond International Raceway Charity Track Laps    RIR Track Laps
22       SCR Points Event #9,    Michelin Proving Grounds, Laurens SC   SCR

5         SCR "War at the Shore" (with Buccaneer Region), Roebling Road, Savannah GA  SCR
5         TSCC Fall "Track Attack" at Academi, new date thanks to storm Hermine  TSCC Track Attack
6         ODR Autocross #8    at Pungo     ODR
20       TSCC Autocross #9 at Pungo    TSCC
24       *National Thanks for Racing Day!
25       Charity Laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR souvenir sales

Monday, September 26, 2016

Victory in Charlotte

While I'm still trying to describe the awesome experience of going to Nationals in a single post without writing a novel, this weekend I went up to Charlotte with a long time friend and car novice, Jon to play with the Miata at a CCR-SCCA autocross.  
"Firth" Place trophy for the 86 car.

We had a ton of fun, Jon improved considerably from run to run and I even managed to pull out an ES class win by 0.25 seconds.  Battling it out with the SCR Miata guys every month means super close competition and I haven't been able to edge them out all year.  It was nice getting a win for the first time this season.  I'm hoping to carry that momentum into next weekend when we return to Myrtle Beach with SCR

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Camry Rental Review

Toyota Camry California Style
You might know that the NMS team loves just about everything about cars, driving cars, working on cars, car safety, driving cars fast, and especially driving cars fast! Part of the reason we like driving safe and fast is that the average car in the US is pretty much NOT fast and maybe NOT tons of fun to drive.  Driving in an autocross-or-on-track-kind-of-way is a lot of fun, similar to having pizza AND ice cream on the same day!

With all of that in mind, you might also know that in addition to "the autocross cars" (see that page on this blog for more info), we have some plain old vanilla cars at home also. Why? Well, you know, for those family members or times that you don't need to be auto-crossing and having that much fun! Plain old get-er-done cars and trucks like a Ford Ranger and a Toyota Camry are important too. That's why it was so funny to rent a car in San Diego recently, and then find out upon arrival that we would be driving a Toyota Camry for a week in southern California!

Seriously, we didn't drive it like we stole it, but just used it in and around San Diego, a one day trip to LA, and a one day out to the exotic east county of San Diego. That means out where the mountains start and the pie in Julian California is legendary! Even a "beware of mountain lion" sign didn't stop us from hiking around in the California country. In the city of LA, having "just" a Camry didn't stop us from parking at the Petersen Automotive Museum and visiting the LA Farmer's Market, so that's a plus! Speaking of the Petersen, the McLaren Can-Am car I saw on exhibit there is also on this cover of MotorSport magazine:

The Camry was reliable, easy to drive, not too bad on gas, and proved to me once again why it remains the top selling car in the US. Our personal Camry at home in VA is still going strong at about 6 years and 111,000 miles, so  we remain impressed with the reliability. Even though it's not a go-to car for hot-rodding, driving fast, or solid suspension handling, there is a reason that Toyota sells so many Camrys. On our highway cruise from Carlsbad to LA and back, it handled the traffic and speed with no issues. Driving the twisty hilly route out to the east county was easy, and we could see why this part of the world makes up a good place to test drive vehicles for some of the major automotive magazines.

Friday, September 23, 2016

View By The Bay

Thanks to Monica Moore for the following photos, let's take a look at a recent autocross as viewed from the side of the course.
NMS FIAT ready to launch from the start line
Heading our way, turn left at that cone!
Number 77 heading for the water
2 cars on course

Thru the slalom, water ahead, plus course workers
3 more course workers, no cones to pick up from me!
GS winner winner chicken dinner!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Happy Birthday to the NMS FIAT!


SCENE: A late night in the past, somewhere in America.
MUSIC: The sound of an engine firing up, throttle pedal being tortured by a foot, pressed deep into the floor.
NARRATION: "On this date in automotive history...."

CUT!! Wait a minute, it wasn't that long ago, try again.

NARRATION: "On a dark and stormy night, somewhere to the south of Charlotte North Carolina, two men set out to..."

CUT! CUT! CUT!!  Yuck, are you serious with this? Again.

NARRATION: "Once upon a time children..."

STOP! OK, that's rich, now you're just messing with me. Seriously, just write something and keep it real. Tell your story in your own words.


NARRATION: On September 21st 2012, one of the future drivers for NMS took delivery of a 2013 FIAT 500 Abarth. After ordering the car a few months earlier to get the exact specifications he desired, the intrepid car purchaser got the email, "the car is in, pick it up anytime!" So on that monumental day, he headed north on I-77 from Columbia SC, driving the 2004 Mustang GT convertible for the last time to do the deal. Riding shot-gun was another future NMS driver, and between the two of them they set out to pick up a cool little Italian car.


For the past four years, the little FIAT that could has done a great job as a daily driver and autocross car. It has been driven for a few fun laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Darlington, Virginia International Raceway, and at autocross events in three states. With just under 50,000 miles on the clock, it has been a dependable and very fun little ride. With the pending arrival of the FIAT 124 Abarth version of the convertible two seater Spider, well, you just never know if another scorpion is in the future plans of NMS!

Lots of photos of NEW CAR DAY 4 years ago at: NEW CAR DAY!


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Virginia Autocross Report

Three wheeling. Photo by Monica Moore

The Tidewater Sports Car Club held their September autocross today at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek Fort Story, and with about 87 drivers it was another good day to be auto-crossing! The drivers were divided into three run groups, and those of us in the first driving group were lucky enough to be dry, because mid way through the 2nd run group there was some heavy rain for about 15 minutes that slowed the lap times. Overall my PAX time ended up being good for 20th place out of 87 drivers, so not too bad for the little scorpion!

I had a lot of fun, mostly because in addition to trying to drive as fast as possible, my ride-along partners Silas Huff and Rob Claggett got their first experience with autocross too. If you can believe what they told me (and you can), then they had a lot of fun too. Also attending and watching the action were Michael and Monica Moore, so thanks for coming out, and a big thanks to Monica for the many great photos like the two on this page.

Part Time Blogger. Photo by Monica Moore

For my five runs today, it played out like this:

Run 1 time 40.224   On this run I managed to stay on course and not hit any cones, but that's just the first part of a good auto-cross run. On at least two corners I knew that I went into them too fast because my tires were complaining and I was braking way later than I should have. Good news, I knew I could go faster!

Run 2 time 39.587   Hey, just as predicted, faster than the first run by 0.637 seconds, so pretty good. The timer guy handed me the little slip of paper with my time, and it also told me that I was now in 1st place out of 2 cars in my class, ahead by 1.4 seconds. Believe it or not I was more focused on just driving faster and improving my driving line on course than finishing 1st or 2nd. Thinking through things so far, I knew I cold go faster, so for the next run I planned to push faster in the slalom section.

Run 3 time 38.766   This one surprised me how fast it was, BUT, unfortunately I missed one cone and cut the course a bit short, so this time didn't count. However,  I felt like I could still get under 39 seconds, and we still had two more runs to go.

Run 4 time  38.910   That time felt pretty good! With my fastest time so far and not missing any part of the course, the timing slip said I was now in 1st place by half a second, and there was still one more run to go. For the final run all I could do is push it and try to go even faster, plus this time I thought I'd go for 3rd gear near the end because it was a long full throttle section. Worth a shot anyway.

Run 5 time 39.346  Well rats! slower than the previous run, so my best run of the day was 38.910. Going to third gear at the end didn't help any, and I lost a few tenths earlier on course anyway. Final result, 1st place in GS class by just 0.187 seconds, and fastest Italian Car of the Day. Also, "Only" Italian Car of the Day!

Here's a roof top video of my 4th run:

1 Robert Nixon 2013 Fiat Abarth 40.224 39.587 38.766+dnf 38.91 39.346 38.91
2 John Henderson 2014 VW GTI 41.045 40.096+dnf 39.41 39.097 39.171 39.097

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Petersen Part II

PETERSON PART II: Subtitled- 10 more jaw dropping cars from the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA, in case your jaw didn't drop far enough with the first 10 jaw dropping cars. That adds up to 20 jaws dropped from just one car museum!

Several of these cars today are from a one room exhibit titled Precious Metal, that features silver cars, and just that room alone was worth the price of admission. Speaking of the price of admission, I'd like to thank the Petersen for offering free admission to our active duty military members, and discounts for senior citizens. You can find them on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles and at Petersen
You can find more photos of these cars at their website too.

--1979 BMW M1    Way back in the 1970s, BMW came up with this monster, complete with this mid-engine behemoth! It still looks cool today if you ask me!

--1982 Ferrari 308 GTSi  Yes, this RED FERRARI was used in the Magnum PI TV show. Actor Tom Selleck is so tall they had to remove foam from the driver's seat so he could fit in the car! Brian call this procedure a "Foam-Ectomy", since he has also performed this surgery on a Miata seat or two!

Bonus: The Back to the Future DeLorean is on the right

--Batmobile     This Batmobile has been used in two of the Batman movies, and it looks like it is still ready for fighting crime in Gotham City. From looking at the wheels on the Batmobile I learned that the Caped Crusader rides on Mickey Thompson racing tires!

Bonus Part II: 1966 Batcycle and sidecar in background! BAM!

--1995 McLaren F1  V-12 engine from BMW, with 550hp this car weighs less than my FIAT! In the 2nd photo you can see the air intake on TOP of the car that feeds air into the rear engine. Bruce McLaren is mostly known for his Formula 1 racing and the team that bears his name today, but since with this car and ever since, they've been building road cars also. I guess this car is now 21 years old, so it's of legal age!

Driver's seat in the middle of three seats!

--1936 Stout Scarab      This Scarab was on display in a room filled with awesome silver cars. The other cars were unbelievable parts of automotive history, including rare Ferrari, Mercedes Benz, and McLaren cars just for starters, but this odd looking precursor of the mini-van drew more attention than those other cars! From the odd shape (especially for 1936) to the rear engine design and cool scarab logo on the front, this machine was wild!

--2015 Ferrari Sergio    One of only six Sergios built by Ferrari to honor long time designer Sergio Pininfarina. I'll confess I'm a big Ferrari fan, so seeing one of these in the flesh was very nice. In the rarefied air of Ferrari automobiles, there are not a lot of cars that are named for an individual, so when you find one, you can be sure that it's something special just like the person it's named after. That's one thing that makes this so unique, that they included the name "Sergio" not only on the rear of the car with the Ferrari horse, but also on the front with the Ferrari yellow badge. That is some serious tribute to Sergio Pininfarina and his design company for many years of designing cars for Ferrari

Bonus: Bugatti and Stout Scarab in the background

--1937 Talbot Lago Type 140-C-S    To those of us that drive average cars in the 21st Century, seeing a car like this is just about beyond belief. To think of the creative minds that developed these cars so long ago brings a huge appreciation for the craftsmanship and skill it took to create these machines.

--2000 BMW-Williams FW22   I'm also a Formula 1 racing fan, so I had to include this Williams car. It didn't win any championships, but it's always great to see a race used F1 car in person. Sir Frank Williams started his own F1 team back in the 1978, and is now the third longest running team in F1 after Ferrari and McLaren. Sir Frank is still involved in the sport, and his daughter Claire Williams is now the team director.

--1971 Land Rover Station Wagon    This Land Rover is not a unique or special vehicle really, but, the art work from Keith Haring makes it a one of a kind! I've been a fan of his doodles and drawings with these figures of people, so it was cool to see that he'd also left his mark on this car.

--2010 BMW M3 GT2  Painted by Jeff Koons, this is one of the BMW "Art Cars" series. Over the years the BMW folks have asked famous artists to use their cars as a canvas to create new works, and this one is also unique because it was raced in the 24 Hours of LeMans.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Camry Diagnosis: Spark Plug-ectomy!

One thing that makes our family car the Toyota Camry virtually indestructible is how little maintenance it needs. Since it takes synthetic oil, you only have to change it every 10,000 miles, not the 3,000 like in the old days. Also, the owner's manual says the OEM spark plugs are good for 120,000 miles. "OEM" is not a Japanese brand of spark plug, it stands for original equipment manufacturer, or basically "just as good as the original part". Maybe I'm just not a patient person, but I've been waiting to change these four little dudes for a long time, and today was that day! Even though our 2011 Toyota only has 111,000 miles, I thought that was close enough!

So you go down to your local auto parts store, or order on line if you want, and buy four iridium spark plugs that fit your model of car and engine. Easy. Bring them home and get ready to do some very simple stuff. 

Above, you can see the Camry engine bay, your typical all American dusty room filled with wires and metal and plastic. Somehow it makes the car go, don't ask me how. That's what Google is for isn't it? Anyway, first we'll remove that big black plastic cover in the middle, the one with the round hole in it for the oil filler cap. This cover is just held in with three snap on slots, and it comes off by pulling it straight up. Hey, we're already getting somewhere and haven't had to use one single tool yet! 

Above, there we've done step one and removed the cover! It's just that simple! Let's zoom in a bit in the next photo. You can always click on the photos on the NMS blog to see them larger too. 

Closer in, you should be able to tell that there are 4 black things held in place by one bolt each, and the black things have an electric connector to them. If you're not a trained mechanic and don't understand the technical terms "black things" and "electric connector", you can probably just keep reading anyway.  I'm going to start from the left and do just one at a time, starting with taking off the bolt in the lower left corner. This is where it gets fun, because finally we have to grab some tools. For this little bolt, a socket wrench with a 10mm socket will do. If you want this to be technical, we'll discuss 6 sided VS. 12 sided sockets some other day, and then maybe compare 3/8th inch to 1/2 inch socket sets just for fun.

Say hello to Mr. Left Hand, now putting the socket on the bolt, ready to take off #1. Easy. 
If you want something difficult, try taking this shot with one hand, holding the wrench with the other, and holding the hood up with the other hand. 

The bolt was removed, and here I've pulled out the spark plug connector. The clip is still connected, so you will want to disconnect the wire at the top for the rest of the cylinders, because the wiring is too tight to pull this part out with it still connected. All of this is way easier than it looks, and simpler than my ability to write about it too!

The spark plug is still down in there, so we'll make sure we have enough extensions on the wrench to get down there, and add a 5/8th spark plug socket at the end. These are made just for spark plugs, because the inside of the socket is covered with rubber so that you don't damage the plug or strip the threads. It probably also makes it easier to grab the spark plug once it's loose and pull it out. 

Above you can see the old plug on the top and the new one on the bottom. You can click on the photo for a closer look, and see how the old one has some build up on the tip that has turned it into a volcano cone instead of a plain cylinder, caused by firing up a bazillion times over 111,000 miles. 

Put some anti-seize grease on the threads of each plug, and put them back in to the car. Assembly is the opposite of disassembly, and if you've done it correctly you'll be good for another 120,000 miles. Sure, you can always do maintenance more often than required in the manual, but it just costs you more money if you go crazy with it.

Drive safe!