Tuesday, August 29, 2023

We Rented a "Camry or Similar." Guess What We Got!

Jerry Seinfeld: "HOLDING the reservation..."
We saw him in 2020 at the Beacon Theater, NYC.

Renting a car is always fun! Depending on the circumstances, you can rent something like you already own so that you're familiar with the controls. You could rent something totally different, then sit there in your rental and start figuring out all the buttons, tech, screens, mirror adjustments, etc. Once we even rented a "SURPRISE" car at a lower price, with NO IDEA what we could get. That one was in Los Angeles, and as it turned out, a huge Ford Crown Victoria came in great for hauling six adults around!

The rental car business I'm sure is tough, trying to anticipate how many of what kind of vehicles will be available on a given day in a certain location, and sometimes they just don't have what you RESERVED. There is an epic Jerry Seinfeld routine that showed up in one of his shows, where he gets frustrated by this, and the concluding line is something like "You know how to TAKE the reservation, but you don't know how to HOLD the reservation...and that's the IMPORTANT part!" I agree!

So, to work around the unknowns of cars available in the future, at least until we develop better time machines and perfect future predicting, most cars you rent these days let you pick a size/price, like a Toyota Camry, but then to hedge their bets and CYA, the language on your rental is "Toyota Camry or Similar." I've blogged about this before, and I STILL can't find what brand of car a "SIMILAR" is, so you're just going to have to put up with one of my attempts at humor. Let's get on to what we received with our rental. 

HINT #1: Rental location was in the USA. 

This hint means you should start guessing vehicles that are very popular in the USA. That kind of rules out diesel 3 cylinders or whatever they're driving in Europe today. 

Grand Rapids Airport: GRR

HINT #2: Specifically, we rented in Grand Rapids Michigan, you know, the home state of Ford, Chevy, and US home base of Chrysler/Dodge/Ram (not counting their French owners.) 

Bonus Trivia: Grand Rapids is the home of former President Gerald R. Ford. Either he was named after the airport, or maybe they named the airport after him, I'm not sure which one it is. Maybe he started the Ford Motor Company? I'm not that old, so who knows!

HINT #3: It was NOT a Camry. 

Bonus Spoiler Alert: That means we got the mysterious "OR SIMILAR." 

Extra Bonus Spoiler Alert: Our rental was NOT a Rolls Royce (see below) either!

We parked our Camry next to this Rolls Royce at the F1 race in Miami this year. Nice neighborhood!

HINT #4: Start thinking big. I mean BIG!   

NMS Ford Maverick


RAM eTorque 1500

To be fair, the rental company asked if I would accept the Ram, and I could have refused and gone for whatever was going to be behind door #3 or the curtain on stage left, but considering we were in Michigan, and would have to drive at least a little on a dirt/gravel road to get to the cabin by the river, hey a truck is about as USA as you can get. Extra bonus, it came at the same rental price as the Camry, so in this case we were happy with the big, gigantic Ram 1500 eTorque. Yeah, we paid more in gas mileage, but with the 3.6-liter mild-hybrid RAM, we averaged about 22mpg, so right in line with the EPA ratings of 19/city and 24/highway. 

This was a new screen to me, you could pull this up and monitor oil temps, transmission temps, coolant temps, and oil pressure! Another screen showed you current battery voltage. Makes you wonder why every manufacturer doesn't do this!

Yes, it was huge, with the largest back seat area I've ever seen. It was easy to drive, handled well, had a pretty big turning radius, and if you need a full-size truck, it will do nicely. For just two of us up front, we folded down (forward) the middle section, because the back of that seat had our cup-holders and a storage space. The rear seats all folded down also, and this beast easily carried our suitcases, drove on gravel, and took a bag of trash to the dumpster! A bit of an effort to climb up into, which made me think I was one pulled muscle from not being able to even get into the truck, but we soldiered on!

We enjoyed the visit to Michigan and saw plenty of deer and turkeys too. We also stumbled into a cool car event, so look for more on that in the near future too!

TURKEYS! No, not the truck, the animals back there in the grass!

V6 motor, 3.6-liter variable valve timing with stop/start

Stay tuned next month when we're renting another "Or Similar" and see what we get. The early Vegas odds on our currently reserved "Ford Edge or Similar" are that we won't get an Edge! Whatever it is, it will need to haul 4 people up to about 9,000 feet elevation.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Drag Racing My New Truck!

NMS Maverick at ZMAX Dragway

Last Saturday I happened to be up at ZMAX Dragway in Concord NC, and figured I'd enter a drag race with my Maverick truck! This is the cool place where they drag race 4-wide! Well, as you might imagine, since the new Ford Maverick comes stock with 7,896 horsepower, and slick race tires made from unobtainium, I won every race by 20 seconds, and had a best run of 8.5 seconds at 1,239 miles per hour, and then signed a major contract to drive NHRA events for the rest of my life at 12 gazillion dollars per event. That's with free pizza and beer included!

Following this Miata on a trailer, I liked the license plate "Very Slow."

Who doesn't love a place that says WELCOME RACE FANS!

Well, my lawyer has now advised me to point out that almost all of the statements in the paragraph above may not be 100% true and verifiable. Sorry! Call it poetic license, creative writing 101, or just a bunch of nonsense if you will. However, I WAS at ZMAX on business, and managed to shoot a few photos. The Central Carolina Region of the SCCA was setting up for autocross a little later, so there were just a few cars arriving as things were getting going during my visit. 

Judging by that enormous, huge, gigantic sign, we've arrived at ZMAX Dragway, part of the Charlotte Motor Speedway!

The main stands at ZMAX are named the John Force Grandstand.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Autocross Report from Michelin: Fastest Porsche of the Day!

That's a BIG tire!

On August 20th I headed for the Laurens-Mountville South Carolina Metroplex, (total population of 9,394: includes the 75 people in Mountville) and the Michelin Proving Grounds for another autocross competition. This event was sponsored by the Carolinas Region Porsche Club of America, in conjunction with the BMW Club of America. The big attraction was the large rectangle of asphalt at Michelin, referred to as the "Black Lake" since it's pretty darn big! How big? Glad you asked! According to the proving grounds website, it's 14 ACRES of ASPHALT! Here's a video of my fastest lap:

Where are we?

Michelin Proving Grounds is home to nine test tracks, so you might have even seen some videos or TV shows filmed there like Top Gear. While it's kind of out in the country, it's also not too far from the BMW factory up in Greer SC, so my guess is that BMW might use some Michelin tires on their SUVs built here in the USA. I'd been there several times to autocross when I lived in SC from 2009-2014, so it was cool to return and drive with another club this time. Here's a link to the facility for more info: 


It was hot so I brought my own shade. 

Autocross wise, we had a small group of dedicated drivers, and enjoyed making 10 runs on the Black Lake with 5 before lunch, then 5 after. One fun part of this event was a lunch break (not all groups do this) which was in air conditioning and included free pizza! Hmm, driving cars, pizza, AND AC during a 95-degree day, what's not to like?

Dead Sexy Cayman!

Another unique part of this event (to me anyway) was that after the driver's meeting (which every group does) we could drive the course at a slow pace all together, just to help make sure we knew the course and wouldn't get lost out there. Driving the course before competition is strictly NOT allowed in every other club I've driven with, so it was kind of fun to do a low-speed dry-run. Note however, that on my first run I missed two parts of the course, and so my first time didn't count. So much for learning from the drive-thru!

Merkur XR4Ti: You don't see these every day!

During my driving I was again focusing on going faster, thinking about where to brake LESS, and get on the gas MORE, and gradually reduced my time. Other than the first DNF, I only hit 1 cone on the 10 runs, so overall that helped, since you get 2 seconds added to your time for every cone you hit. 

BMW 135isM, nice license plate!

After my last run I got to work out on course, picking up cones when other drivers hit them. One great part of this, on such a gigantic course, was that the club had canopies set up where we could stand in the shade most of the time. If you've ever stood in the middle of 14 acres of pavement on a hot August day in South Carolina, you know that shade is a good thing!

Sitting in the sun, my car reads 98 degrees. Trying lower tire pressures lately, my fastest run started at 27.

After a dozen Porsches, about six BMWs, one Camaro, one Merkur XR4Ti, and one VW finished driving, we met in the air-conditioned room again to see the results. The very fast driver in the VW Golf R had the fastest time overall, 57 seconds and change, and he was the only driver to get under 1 minute, so that was awesome. Behind him, in 2nd overall on raw time, and fastest Porsche of the day, was the NMS #77! I was kind of surprised, since I hadn't seen how the times were stacking up all day, so that was nice! This makes TWO great results this year, combined with fastest Porsche on PAX at my last event in New York. 

VW Golf R, driven to the WIN by Randall Wilcox. 

My last of 10 runs was my fastest, so I have to conclude that I kept finding places to go faster. Either that or I started super slow! Nah, it's a big mental challenge to evaluate your performance in between runs and find places to improve. Drivers can control their own performance and not influence others, so that's the fun part of trying to get better. 

P911 license plate for a Porsche 911. 

There were a couple of spots on this course where I was braking on the first run, and either the next run or soon after I managed to negotiate those spots with no braking. That felt good and certainly made the times drop. Of course, the worst thing that can happen in autocross is usually you hit a cone, so it's not exactly risking life and limb or taking a chance on rolling over or hitting another driver. Courses are set up and drivers are spread out to make it very safe. With nothing like that to worry about, your only limit on how fast you can go is usually just driving your best and not holding back. 

Drivers listed by class, I'm first in a class of only 2, and fastest Porsche, 2nd fastest overall on RAW time for the day. No PAX standings. 

Did I mention it was hot? I drank a lot of water before, during, and after, and even threw in a Gatorade for the heat. Normally I think Gatorade still has too much sugar, calories and crap in it, so I tried some new version. Tasted like grape Kool-Aid!

A Fast Porsche 944!

During my first work assignment I got to be the starter, so that's always a fun job, where you are watching cars on course, and making sure they are far enough along before telling the next driver to go. You also have to watch the workers on course, and make sure they have re-set any cones and gotten out of the way before sending that next car. This is kind of a dual job with the person working timing on the computer, so you're always paying attention to as much action as possible and keeping safety in mind. It's also fun to chat to the drivers, remind them what run number they are on, and even just make sure they have their seat belts and helmet on, just in case they forgot! 

Herr Wolfgang I assume?

In between runs I was looking at my timing app on my phone and could see how I'd done on the previous run. This shows some basic data like your top speed at various points on the course, so it was a great way to see how things were going, and where I needed to improve. 

Do You Tinker?

Sometime later this week I'll break down each of the runs and compare split times. Since my fastest run was 1:00.6 or so, I'm just curious if I combined my best sectors all day if that would have gotten me under a minute. Either way, it was nice to finish 2nd, but man that fastest driver was over 3 seconds faster than me. Plenty of room to improve. 

2nd fastest driver on the day imitates Michelin Man. 

Friday, August 18, 2023

NMS Results from THE ROCK: H.O.T.T.

Let's drive!

At Rockingham North Carolina last Sunday, it was hot. I mean it was smokin'. Like, up in the 90s with no clouds hot. To deal with the heat, we drank a lot of water, we sat in the shade when we could, and then we drank some more water. Overall, it wasn't so bad. At least all the ants in the grass where we sat in the shade were NOT fire ants! This event was sponsored by the Triad Sports Car Club up in NC, and they did a good job of designing a fun course and reminding everyone to be careful in the heat. Some clubs around this part of the country will just not schedule events in July or August because of the heat, but with plenty of water, food, shade, and sunscreen, you can survive!


Both NMS drivers competed in the same car, and our 2023 fastest driver was Brian, clearly the best driver on the team. With about 90 drivers and with each person getting 4 trips around the course, it was a lot of fun, even with the heat and the ants! We were not on the big NASCAR circuit, but right next to it on the "Little Rock," driving on a fun course that used two banked loops for about a 50 second run each time. 

NMS #77, you can see the banking!

NMS #77 with new vinyl numbers/class letters, thanks to Brian. 

Not only did Brian outdrive me, in my own car, he also brought out some new #77 and BS class vinyl for the magnets on the car. Thanks! Try driving slower than me next time!

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Southern Touch Bakery August Cars and Coffee

Live from York South Carolina on the 2nd Saturday of the month!

York SC was the place last Saturday, where there was a great turn out cool cars and trucks, great coffee, goodies at the Southern Touch Bakery and Coffee Shop, and even some heavy fog early in the morning. One of the attendees I overheard in the shop called it "Cars and Foggy." Here's my favorite cars on display. 

Before the F150, Ford made the F100

Ford Galaxie 500

Who doesn't stop for a classic Mustang?

I love the detail on this 39? Ford. The taillights and bumper and overall shape of the car puts it miles ahead of the 1950s cars. 

Before the current Bronco, there was...the Bronco!


Flames are always cool!

Another old Bronco



VW Thing

The 50s are coming right at you!

Trans Am

Back in the day, a Ford Maverick was this car

Ford brought back the name, but not this logo
I guess I like their horse names (Mustang, Maverick) more than the "E" 
names (Explorer, Excursion, Expedition, Escape)

Would somebody please bring back the Willys?

You don't see a Lil Red Truck very often anymore. Football fans will notice the OHIO STATE sticker too!

Bronco interior. All the gauges you need!

I don't think you could put hinges like this on vehicle today, they stick out past the side of the body. 

Awesome yellow truck!