Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Gratitude

by Tammy

(Simon and I will be taking this Friday through the New Year off, so this is my last post for 2011.)

Yesterday I spent some time putting together a montage of photos from this year's travel and events, and doing that made me incredibly grateful for the experiences I've had this year and the friends I've made.

I've gotten to see some incredible racing and share my book with drivers and racing pros, such as Andrea Robertson (right) of Robertson Racing, who ran regularly in the ALMS last year and, in June, was the first woman to stand on the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in some 60 years. I've had industry insiders tell me "you got it exactly right, and I'm going to give this book to my wife to explain to her what I do for a living." And I've had strangers tell me they'd never read racing fiction they liked, until my book.

Every one of those moments thrilled me. It's been a long year of learning what it means to "be an author" and more, to be a promoter of myself and my book. And it's been hard to balance blogging, traveling, promoting, and speaking with a day job and a home life. But I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who's helped me and encouraged me along the way ... those of you who comment on this blog, Simon who partnered with me here in the first place, Steve our honorary blog partner, the reader who told me my book inspired him to apply for a library card again.

Thanks to my fellow racing fans, especially the ALMS Chicks, Barb K., Kevin and Mike, and many others. Every time you include me in a tweet, I smile and remember meeting you. (See you at the GPLB 2012!) I just can't tell you how thankful I am that you believe in me and Kate and want to help me spread the word. Writing is a solitary activity, but racing (especially fandom) is such a community, and I love that something outside the racing norm (I mean, mystery fiction?!) can be embraced by you all.

I wrote Dead Man's Switch because it was the book I wanted to read. And mostly, as I look back over the adventure that was 2011 and my debut as an author, I'm simply glad that other people want to read it too. Here's to a lot more racing fun in 2012! (And Simon, maybe we'll actually see each other next year....)

Thank you, happy holidays, and best wishes for 2012 to one and all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Road Ahead

SIMON: I’ve been wondering about the future of motorsport—developmentally, ecologically, commercially.

Motorsport has been a stable sport for the past 60 years or so, but the rising price of gas and dwindling stockpiles, I’m not sure where the sport will be in twenty years. For the sport to survive, I do think the sport will have to adapt—whether than means switching to alternative fuels, alternative power plants—whatever they may be. We've already seen it when it comes to diesel engines, but the sport might have to be more radical than that for its own good. If the sport can find a way of being on the cutting edge of technology that'll go some way alleviating the sports less than green credentials.

But I do have a fear that the money will run out before the world’s oil supply runs out. I entered racing in 1990 just as the last major economic recession. Grids were healthy, but sponsorship was scant. But as the recession got its teeth into the disposable income, grids dwindled. I remember F3 grids dropping to less than 20 cars and even F1 couldn’t fill a grid. Well, I’ve noticed the grids are shrinking again. Touring cars and F3 can’t boast the competition level they did 20 years ago. It’s understandable. The cars are more expensive to buy and operate. And I don’t think all the euro and international series haven’t helped. Britain, Germany, France, etc. had very strong domestic championships, but once a euro series usurped them, costs ballooned and domestic championships suffered. I do wonder for the sport to flourish it will have shrink its ambitions.

That’s my thoughts, how about you, Tammy.

TAMMY: Racing really is stereotypically about conspicuous consumption, it's it? I find it especially fascinating to consider the sport (and business) of racing from an outsider's perspective, which is where I started just a handful of years ago. My husband (who doesn't care for sports much and prefers building to tearing down) still shakes his head over the "waste" of destroyed/wrecked cars and equipment (and even people). One one level, I'm also concerned about if racing will survive a shrinking economy and scarcity of resources. Maybe we'll lose the middle tier, and only have the top and bottom levels where those (aka, factory efforts) with the most and least resources compete. For instance, events like the 24 Hours of Le Mons races do very well these days, with their cap on $500 cars. That's something anyone can get involved in, easily.

On the whole, however, I think racing will find its way, will be reinvented as it needs to be in order to continue. People love to race (right, Steve Ulfelder and others?), and they're going to participate with their extra $500, $5,000, or $500,000. They also like to be entertained, and whether it's the crashes or the technology and skill (or both) that keeps them watching, racing has millions, maybe billions, of fans. I don't see the industry fading away with that kind of interest.

I also think there's something to the marketing and research and development value of racing. Marketing is easy: NASCAR fans will buy products that sponsor their favorite teams, and I bet many of the rest of us are at least influenced by what companies choose to put their money in our favorite form of racing. That's also the old "race on Sunday, sell on Monday" philosophy, that proving the car in a race will make the street model more attractive to consumers. Perhaps that's less true these days, but it's true to an extent. I believe, too, that manufacturers can develop and test equipment in a race environment that will eventually benefit street cars (that's one of the main points Corvette Racing will make, given half a chance), and I think car companies and suppliers will continue to see value there.

But I agree with Simon that the sport will have to work on its "green cred." It'll have to start leading the way developing energy sources, instead of just consuming them at an alarming rate. (The ALMS is the leader in that so far, I think, with its partnership with the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency and a challenge for the greenest racers at each event.)

But what do the rest of you think? Will racing adapt and survive? Where will it go from here?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pit Stop

By Simon

HOT SEAT, the second in the Aidy Westlake mysteries is in the bag. It’ll be out in the UK in March and out in the US in July. So like Tammy, I’m mulling over story ideas for books three and four. Not only am I thinking about the books, but I’m thinking about some storylines for some novellas featuring Aidy. I think it would be fun to write short and intense adventures featuring, Aidy, sprint races if you will.

When it comes to new stories, I’m not short on source material for ideas. The paddock was always a great place for rumor, gossip and urban legend. And I haven’t forgotten what I heard and saw from my time. The great thing about writing fiction is it doesn’t matter if any of the colorful on and off track exploits I heard and witnessed are true or not, because I can take those scenarios and twist and turn them into mysteries.

Another area for me to mine is the past. I love reading autobiographies and biographies about drivers and teams. I always find something in every book. A reference to an incident or an event will stop me in my tracks and make me wonder how that incident would be handled now. For example: In 1958, Juan Fangio was kidnapped Castro’s rebel forces before the Cuban Grand Prix. That’s an amazing story that you don’t hear much about. Transpose that to today. How would the kidnapping of Sebastian Vettel be handled now? I don’t know, but it would make an interesting book, wouldn’t it? It’s not always a big story like Fangio’s kidnapping that will get my engine revving. Even a passing remark or anecdote will catch my attention. All I’m looking for is a motive for someone to commit a crime. I’ll come up with the means and the opportunity.

There's a lot of stories that can be told about the motor racing world. You just have to clear away the grease to find them. :-)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Off-Season Upheaval

by Tammy

Racing's off-season (that of any sport, for that matter), is always an interesting time, and this year is no exception. At least one historic team is closing up shop (Newman/Haas Racing in IndyCar), and at least one championship driver is out of a job for bad behavior (Kurt Busch in NASCAR). There is good news, too, with different teams expanding to new series (Dempsey Racing running both Grand-Am and ALMS), new cars (the Corvette DP for Grand-Am), and new sponsors coming on board.

I watch all of the news reports with lots of interest and no little concern, because I write about a fictional driver and race team in the real racing world. That means I'm constantly hoping nothing dramatic happens to the races and series I'm writing about between one season and the next. For instance, while I was selling my first book, Dead Man's Switch, which is set at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, not only did the track get renovated and restructured, but so did the ALMS class structure (I decided to keep those as written and hope the reader understands).

Another for instance: last year at this time I was worried that the ALMS wouldn't return to Lime Rock for 2012, which would have ruined my plans for launching the book at the race it was written about (fortunately, all systems were a go). At least the race schedule is set for 2012, so I know that the races I'm writing about for the second Kate Reilly Racing Mystery (Road America and Road Atlanta; publication in March 2013!) will stay on the schedule at least this year.

Of course, even if there's the possibility for changes in the racing world messing up my careful plans, there's equal opportunity for more real-world stories to inspire Kate's adventures. A driver fired for swearing and temper? A championship-winning team that fires its crew chief? Sponsor dollars dictating which young driver gets a job over more-qualified (but unsponsored) colleagues? Golden. (And what always happens, for the last one.)

So these days, I'm writing, but I'm also watching the racing world carefully, ready to see what other funny business comes to light. What stories are making you the most interested or excited for the 2012 season?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Memorabilia Wish List

Tammy’s done a runner on me today so I’m all on my lonesome for our Friday discussion. Seeing as the cat is away, this mouse will play. A couple of weeks ago, Tam Tam and I discussed potential Christmas gifts for a gear head. This week, I want to be selfish and I want to talk about things I want—namely racing memorabilia. I have a wish list that I hope will get fulfilled if the gods are play kind.

1. A brick from the Indianapolis Speedway. The track owners from time to time give out a brick from the Brickyard. I’d like one piece.

2. I could be greedy and ask for a complete grand prix car, but mother taught me to be better than that—besides I don’t have the room—so I’d like just the steering wheel from an F1 car. I’m thinking maybe from Nigel Mansell’s Williams (either from his ’92 championship winning car or from the Williams Judd or from Johnny Herbert's Benetton).

3. Finally, I’d like a Jim Clark collectible. It doesn’t have to be big—a racing suit or a helmet would be nice, but I’d settle for an autograph item. Just a little something that would crown my collection of photographs and books I have on the man.

That me. What about you? What piece of dream memorabilia do you have on your wish list?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Guest Spot: Laleh Seddigh - The Fastest Woman in Iran

Heidi Noroozy guest spot replaces my scheduled piece today. Heidi belongs to the same Sisters in Crime chapter as me and this piece she was writing caught my interest.

Laleh Seddigh - The Fastest Woman in Iran

Iran is a country of excellent drivers. If you’ve ever climbed into a Tehran taxi and saw your life flash before your eyes as the driver wove madly in and out of traffic, headed the wrong way down one-way streets, ignored red lights, and seemed bent on breaking the sound barrier, this statement may be difficult to believe. The statistics would back up your impression: 28,000 fatal accidents per year nationwide, according to 2008 figures. And yet to simply survive everyday traffic in an Iranian city, a driver must have great reflexes and strong driving skills.

One of Iran’s most fearless drivers is Laleh Seddigh, the country’s top female race-car driver, who can negotiate congestion on Vali-Asr Avenue as easily as she does a racetrack. Her friends joke that she learned her skills on the streets of Tehran, where anything goes.

Seddigh (whose first name, Laleh, means tulip in Farsi) is the eldest of four and the daughter of an industrialist whose four factories produce furnaces and engine parts. She learned to drive at the age of 13 and totaled her first car at 17, when she smashed into a tree and broke her leg in four places. (Yes, I know that doesn’t sound like good driving, but she improved.)

She began her racing career in 2000, at the age of 23, but was only allowed to compete against other women at first. Then, in 2004, she petitioned the Iranian Racing Federation to let her participate in men’s races. Her timing was good. The reformist era under President Khatami had not yet come to an end, and many of the restrictive Islamic rules were being relaxed, with Internet cafes, coffee bars, and women in tight-fitting hejab common sights in Tehran. Seddigh explained to the board that separation of the sexes was not in keeping with the president’s reform efforts, and she pointed out that the Federation officials would enter the history books as the people who allowed men and women to race together.

Still, she needed clerical approval, so Seddigh and her father asked an ayatollah to issue a fatwa (religious degree) stating that male and female race-car drivers competing together was in keeping with Islamic principles. The ayatollah agreed with the stipulation that the female athletes adhere to the Islamic dress code. Not a difficult proposal, considering that even the men are covered from head to toe in helmets, gloves, and fireproof suits.

When her petition was approved, Seddigh became the first female athlete to compete against men in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, not only in auto racing but in any other sport as well.

But she still had more obstacles to overcome. After completing her first mixed-gender race, in which she placed third, not one of her competitors congratulated her, and she was disciplined after waving to her jubilant female fans. Every time she wins a race, the TV networks suspend live coverage of the awards ceremony to avoid giving her publicity. You’d think the lack of coverage would make her victory seem a much bigger event that it actually is. After all, when does live programming ever get interrupted except to announce a huge event: a devastating earthquake, the death of a president, the signing of a peace accord?

In 2007, Seddigh was banned from racing for a year for a technical violation. Under international racing rules, every car must have its engine sealed prior to entering a race to ensure that no illegal modifications are performed at the last minute. When Seddigh’s first-line car developed mechanical trouble, she used an alternate that had no engine seal. Although she received advance approval for the alternate car, after the race, the Iranian Racing Federation ruled that she’d been competing in the wrong category and imposed the year-long-ban. This event occurred after the conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took office, which raises speculation that the Federation was looking for a way to get rid of this high-profile, female competitor.

Seddigh protested and pointed out that men had also used alternate cars with unsealed engines in previous races but had only been fined for the violation not banned from the sport.

These days, she’s back on the circuit, though. Earlier this year, Seddigh earned her International Racing Driving License during the BMW School Series in Bahrain and can apply her skills at the international level.

Now that Laleh Seddigh has not only broken through Iran’s formidable gender barrier but made it onto the international circuit as well, we can expect to see a lot more of the fastest woman in Iran.



Heidi Noroozy writes multicultural fiction set in Iran and regularly travels to the Middle East for research and inspiration. In the Islamic Republic, she has pondered the ancient past amid the ruins of Persepolis, baked translucent flat bread with Kurdish women in the Zagros Mountains, dipped her toes in the azure waters of the Caspian Sea, and observed the dichotomy of a publicly religious yet privately modern society. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies, and she is seeking publication for her suspense novel, Bad Hejab, in which an Iranian-American P.I. pursues justice for the murder of her journalist cousin while navigating the bewildering, male-dominated society of Tehran. Heidi can be found at http://noveladventurers.blogspot.com/ where she writes about Persian culture on Mondays.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Writing About the Crashes

by Tammy

I've felt a bit ghoulish the last few days. You see, I've gotten back to my work on the second book in the Kate Reilly Racing Mystery series, and it starts with a bang. Literally. It starts with a wreck. So I've been searching for videos of crashes and trying to understand what each driver involved was thinking and trying to do, what went wrong with their plans, and what went wrong with other conditions, such as weather, surface, traffic, etc.

In some ways, it's a fascinating abstract problem. It's all too easy sometimes to watch something like NASCAR and think of the cars as easily regenerated items. I mean, that's not too farfetched, right? We see them, good as new, week after week, no matter what kind of crumpled mess they end up in the week before. And since NASCAR drivers are so rarely hurt badly these days, crashes seem almost fun.

I won't go into the terrible reminders we've had this year that crashes are often very serious, and can be deadly. I'll just say that safety has come a long way.

I haven't found a video of exactly what I want to happen in Kate's crash (suffice to say this accident needs to result in specific outcomes), but I've watched a couple others to get a feel for how an out-of-control car moves in the location I've chosen, as well as around the rest of the track.

Those of you who know racing have already figured out the track I'm working with: Road America (track map above). And I'm betting you've all also figured out what turn I'm talking about. Yes, the Kink, where GT2 Corvettes reach more than 145 m.p.h. and pull up to 2.6Gs. Through a turn. As Jan Magnussen said of it, “If you’re willing to take a risk, you can gain a lot – or lose a lot. That makes it really exciting.”

Exciting is one word for it. Just ask Katherine Legge, who walked away only mildly bruised from a spectacular wreck in the 2006 CART race.

Though I feel like I'm protesting too much, I'm really not someone who enjoys the wrecks, except for what they tell me about what a driver is thinking and trying to do ... and getting wrong. I guess I'll have to live with a bit of ghoulishness, in pursuit of the story I want to tell.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dream Teams and Matchups

All we're left with of racing for 2011 is our memories and dreams. So that's what we're talking about this week, the dreams we have. Specifically, the "dream teams" we'd like to see, whether that's drivers with cars, drivers with each other, drivers and series ... you name in. In fact, you should name it and tell us what you think.

TAMMY: I've got a couple dreams of drivers and races, and a dream of a competition I'd like to see.

1. F1 drivers, Michael Schumacher in particular, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I'd like to see how "the greatest drivers in the world" handle one of the toughest endurance races in the world. Just look at how Michael Waltrip's mind was blown by participating in the race this year for some indication of how different and exciting a race it is.

2. NASCAR at Laguna Seca. Wallowing walruses of cars in the corkscrew. Need I say more?

3. A U.S.-series-based Race of Champions. The Race of Champions is a competition that takes place in December each year, in other countries, where two drivers from each (most?) countries around the world compete on an indoor course in four different cars. I've only caught the show once, because it's not usually televised here, but it was FANTASTIC. I want to see champions from every U.S. series (even if those champions aren't American) competing head-to-head like this, in a variety of cars. I think that would be unbelievably awesome.

I'd settle for the real Race of Champions being televised here. Sadly, I don't think that's any more likely than my other dreams. Simon, what would you pay good money to see?


SIMON: Tammy and I park our cars in the same garage when it comes to racing dreams and fantasies.

1. My dream pairing is in the realms of fantasy, but Tammy didn’t set any rules. If I could wave a magic racing wand, I’d have Prost and Senna share the same car in the 24hrs of Le Mans. Excitement and fireworks and that would just be in the pit garage. :-)

2. I’d like Grand Prix racing to return to the US, but instead of butchering Indy or cobbling together some street race, can we have it as one of the US’ fabulous driver’s tracks such as Road America or Mid-Ohio.

3. I think I mentioned the “Winter Series” that used to occur in the 90’s in the UK. It was a 4-race series run in December at two different tracks. It featured a couple of the entry level racing formulas and sports cars. It was a nice idea, but weather in the UK isn’t the best place for it, but it is for the lower half of the United States. How about a short race series spans the circuits from Florida to California in December and January involving Indy Lights and a couple of other series types. It would satisfy my racing addiction and give the circuits some additional income.

Those are our dream matchups, but what about you? What would you like to see happen?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Marshaling

By Simon

I was thinking about marshals the other day. I don’t mean the discount clothing store or the people who run the witness protection system, but the army of volunteers who work the races. If a driver goes off, the marshals are the one who pull the cars and drivers out of the way and keep the track clean of debris and such.

I can’t speak for the marshals in the US, but I had a love-hate relationship with the ones in the UK. Maybe love-hate is a little strong. Maybe more of a fondness -annoyance relationship. I respected the marshals because they volunteered their time and put themselves in harm’s way keeping a track clear and supporting drivers. Where my relationship got a little frayed with these people in orange was in pinch situations. At times, a marshal wanted to play hero. In a prang, when the marshals came running, I can guarantee one of them would want cut my harness off or pull the pin on the fire extinguisher system regardless of necessity. More than once I had to slap an overzealous hand away. I love the commitment, but I didn’t love the cost of unnecessarily replacing a six-point harness or recharging the fire extinguisher or cleaning out the engine bay and cockpit.

Where my relationship with marshals got tetchy was when it came to limits of their position. I feared one person and one person only during a race—the clerk of the course. The buck stops with this person. He/she is God. They can issue fines, kick you out of the event, report you to the governing body and generally put a crimp in your day. Marshals cannot, but that didn’t stop some believing they could. I had harsh words with several marshals in my day, but the most memorable was during a real pig of race. The race had regressed into a demolition derby. It was carnage from start to end. It was the only time I truly feared for my safety. Surviving the race was a Tolkienian adventure. I came up on the last corner to find two cars had slammed into each other and burst the tire wall. Tires covered the track. The marshal stood in the middle of the track with his arms out. He told me my race was over. No it wasn’t. The finish line was in sight and no one was stopping me from finishing. The race hadn’t been black flagged. There was just a local yellow and so I just rounded the marshal must to his disgust. If he thought he was angry with me, it didn’t measure to my anger. He put his safety at risk and he was interfering with my race. Words were exchanged, but his clerk of the course sided with me.

So yes, marshals could be a thorn in a racing driver’s side, but in the event of a really bad crash, the one person you want to help remove that thorn from your side is a marshal.

Thanks guys, but just leave the extinguisher button alone. :-)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Goodbye to the 2011 Racing Season

by Tammy

With a predictable outcome, if not a whimper, the 2011 racing season ended Sunday (at least for the big five series). Even if it wasn't 2011 champion Sebastian Vettel on the top step of the podium (only second, poor thing), it was his teammate, as Red Bull Racing dominated the last Formula 1 race of the year.

To which I say, yawn.

I suppose we'll look back on these years in F1 and think they were amazing ones, for what Vettel accomplished (he set a record for the number of pole positions in a season, for instance), but mostly one person dominating a season's racing is pretty boring. Just ask NASCAR fans about the last five years.

But everything changes. I suppose it's true of all sports, but it seems especially so for racing: it's hard to predict anything.

In 2011, reigning and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson was defeated and Tony Stewart became the new NASCAR champion in an epic, down-to-the-wire battle. The American Le Mans Series and Grand-American Racing (sportscar series, both) offered predictable champions who led most of the season and last-race battles for the championship, thanks to multi-class racing (yet another reason to love it!). IndyCar saw some great racing and a fierce battle championship fight, right up until the wind was taken out of all sails in the last race of the season with the horrific accident that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon, the reigning Indy 500 winner.

I don't think anyone would have predicted Wheldon would win at Indy (nor be gone forever at Vegas), or that rookie Trevor Bayne would win the Daytona 500. Or that Stewart would win five of 10 races in the chase to seize the NASCAR crown. Nope, you just never know what will happen. And maybe that's why we love it.

All I know for sure? The counter on the Grand-Am site tells me there are just 61 days until the 2012 racing season begins with the 24 Hours of Daytona. I can wait. Barely.

What are you all looking forward to seeing in 2012?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Racing Recommendations

It’s Black Friday today, where everyone goes crazy on their holiday shopping. With so many choices it can be tough deciding to what to buy the gear-head in your life. So let Tammy and I guide you.

SIMON’S GIFT SUGGESTIONS:
1. Tammy Kaehler’s book, DEAD MAN’S SWITCH, is the perfect book for someone who wants a good mystery and the chance to live the racing life vicariously. It’s available from all good bookstores and a couple of crappy ones. :)

2. The 2-disc DVD set of the movie Grand Prix that Tammy
recommended last week. Well worth checking out, especially the bonus extras.

3. If you're not a Top Gear fan, then you should be. It’s time to check out the box DVD sets. It’s an institution in the UK and will be in the US.

4. For those in the US will never have heard of the first Stig, Perry McCarthy. His episodes were never shown here. So it probably worth checking out his autobiography: Flat Out, Flat Broke: Formula 1 the Hard Way. Sometimes getting to the top is a tough assent.

5. Buy tickets for a race in 2012. Whether you're into NASCAR, IndyCar, sports cars, go see a race in the flesh. Dollar for dollar, motorsport is pretty good value for money compared to other sporting events or live entertainment in general.

6. Finally, a jerry can full of gas. Gas is never going to get any cheaper, so why give the lead foot in your life something they’ll appreciate.

TAMMY'S GIFT IDEAS FOR THE RACING OR CAR FAN:
1. Simon's book DID NOT FINISH. You don't have to be a racing fan to enjoy it, just a fan of a great story. Simon's books are always thrill-rides, and this one's no exception, with the added bonus of the racing thrills added to the intrigue. Get it, you'll like it!

2. For you Formula 1 fans, the ultimate in sleek desktop accessories, an F1 letter opener from Griot's Garage.

3. For the gearheads among us, a chrome piston mug from Genuine Hot Rod.

4. Tickets to a race! That's a great idea. There are races everywhere, and there are multiple days of entertainment to choose from (most of the time my favorite day is the one before the race, when there's more time to see cars up close in the paddock and on the track). Pro series, club racing, or the 24 hours of LeMons ... it's all an experience.

5. Send someone (or yourself) to racing school. It's an experience you'll never forget.

Anyone else have good ideas for us race fans?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Smoke and Winisma

by Tammy

It came down to the last race of the NASCAR season. Thirty-six races in the season, and the final two championship contenders took the final green separated by only three points. They finished it tied in points, with a champion determined by who won the most races in the year. That's 2,403 points over the year, mind you. Two people, tied.

They spent most of the Chase (the last 10 races of the season) racing each other somewhere in the pack. Certainly in the last two races, they were side-by-side at the end, racing for every little inch and point.

Tony Stewart (aka, "Smoke") was the experienced one, with two NASCAR titles and an IndyCar championship to his name. He's the old-school racer's racer--which is not to say he's lost one iota of his touch or skill.

Carl Edwards was still searching for his first title, after years of close calls. He's one of the new breed of competitors: attractive, personable, healthy, and athletic--widely considered the fittest man in NASCAR.

It's not that Stewart is none of those things (well, he's never been singled out for his fitness level), and it's not that Edwards and Stewart are miles apart in age, style, or approach to racing. But it was hard not to see this as the veteran and the new guy fighting it out.

At the start of the race, the commentators marveled at the surge and determination exhibited by Tony Stewart over the last couple months and weeks. One of them said, "He's going to carry that car on his back if he has to, if that's what it takes to win." Stewart had to win the race to win the championship no matter what Edwards did.

And that's just what he did. Stewart first, Edwards second, in the race and in the season-long championship.

There should be a word for that will to win, the indefinable something that Stewart and racers have. It's similar to charisma in that you can't totally define it, but people either have it or they don't. Win-isma, maybe. Smoke definitely has it. And he's about $5.6m richer tonight because of it.

Kudos to Carl Edwards for being a great driver, a great competitor and a classy guy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Picking Favorites

We're making our choices, picking favorites in motorsports rivalries great and small....

Circuits or quarter mile?
SIMON: circuits
TAMMY: circuits

John Force or everyone else?
SIMON: The Force be with me
TAMMY: John Force and his daughter Ashley

Road course or oval?
SIMON: road course
TAMMY: road course

Open wheel or fenders?
SIMON: open wheel
TAMMY: fenders

IndyCar or F1?
SIMON: Indy to watch, F1 to drive.
TAMMY: Have to say Indy, though I don't like ovals; F1 is a parade most weekends

Austin GP or bust?
SIMON: bust
TAMMY: bust

Ford or Chevy?
SIMON: Ford
TAMMY: bow tie, baby!

Penske or Ganassi?
SIMON: Ganassi
TAMMY: Penske

Ferrari or McLaren?
SIMON: Ferrari
TAMMY: McLaren

Ferrari or Porsche?
SIMON: Ferrari
TAMMY: Porsche

U.S. or U.K. Top Gear?
SIMON: UK
TAMMY: U.S. (Because I met Rutledge Wood and he's really great!)

Stewart or Edwards?
SIMON: Edwards
TAMMY: Tough call. Edwards. He's been a bridesmaid long enough.

What are your picks? What rivalries have we missed?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Road Rules (For Two and Four Wheels)

I love to drive and I love to cycle. I understand how hairy it is out there to be a cyclist when drivers are careless. I have the concussions, broken bones and a brain injury to prove it. I’m also driven to distraction by idiotic cyclists that think the rules don’t apply to them and cars have to bow down to them. So this is a list of suggestions for both camps to help everyone get along.

Drivers
1. You don’t own the road. Cyclists aren’t on your road. We all share it and we only need a few feet of consideration.
2. Bike lanes are for bikes only. Stay out of our lane and we’ll stay out of yours.
3. Just because you're turning right at an intersection, doesn’t mean I am. I’ve been hit three times by cars plowing into me because they thought I had to be going your way.
4. Have an appreciation for the speed of a bike. I average 20mph on a flat road and can reach speed of 40mph going downhill. If I were a car traveling at those speeds, how much consideration would you give me then?
5. Bikes can’t stop on a dime. They have tiny little brake blocks, no abs, no power servos, so a bike stopping at 20mph will need as much distance as a car.
6. Parents, school zones aren’t to be treated like the pit lane at the Indy 500. School zones are the most dangerous strip of road the planet. I’d rather ride blindfold on a freeway than ride through a school zone during pick up or drop off. For some reason, it’s excuse for parents to triple park, lunge across traffic, drive the wrong way on the road and generally forget that any rule of the road applies to them. Parents, get a grip.
7. Drivers, don’t honk your horn to let me know you're coming up behind me. Trust me, I can hear you well before you catch up with me.
8. Drivers, don’t treat me any differently than any other vehicle. If you arrive at a stop sign first, go. Don’t suddenly give me special treatment and expect me to go. You're very kind, but it confuses me and everyone around you. Changing your behavior causes accidents.
9. Use your mirrors. I’m quicker and closer than you think.
10. 500,000 cyclists end up in ERs every year. Two die every day. Back off and keep someone else safe.

Cyclists
1. Cyclists, you don’t own the road. You share it with vehicles that are bigger and heavier than you are. Lose the arrogance. You aren’t better than them.
2. The rules of the road apply to you too. Run red lights, cut across traffic, not wear a helmet or not put lights on your bike at your peril. Don’t cry about it if you get a ticket or end up in a wheelchair.
3. Pack riders, safety in numbers. I like it, but pack riders, don’t ride five abreast--you're a mobile obstruction. You piss off drivers, generate bad feeling and drivers take it out on the lone rider like me.
4. Riders who ride with their iPod playing, are you kidding me? How dumb are you? At least you won't hear the eighteen wheeler that wipes you out.
5. Hesitant riders, your hesitation is just as bad as someone’s carelessness. It confuses everyone around you because your unpredictability causes everyone react just as unpredictability. Ride like you would drive a car. Everyone understands that.
6. If you're afraid to make a left turn, get off the bike and use a crosswalk or learn to cross the lanes to get in the left turn pocket. Don’t slow to crawl then try to cross all the lanes at once.
7. Look over your shoulder before crossing in front of traffic. It’s not their job to get out of your way.
8. Use the cycle lanes. A lot of money and effort has gone into having them installed.
9. Being a confident rider doesn’t mean being an aggressive rider. Like it or not, ride defensive. In the rock, paper, scissors game of travel, automobile always beats bicycle.
10. 500,000 cyclists end up in ERs every year. Two die every day. Don’t be a statistic.

I hope that helps... :-)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Racing Movies

by Tammy

It took me long enough. I'd been excited about Cars 2 for months, but I never made it to the theater to see if on the big screen. And then came the reviews, which mostly consisted of "not as good as the first one" and "just kind of 'eh'." But we finally watched it on our new BluRay player last night, and I loved it.

Was it the best Disney/Pixar film ever? No. But it's cute, clever, visually awesome, and tickles me especially because it's about racing. That makes it aces for me. I mean, how many movies do we get about racing at all? And how many are clever send-ups of that world? I mean, "Jeff Gorvette" (above) and "David Hobbscap" (below)? Brilliant!

I'll grant you, Cars 2 isn't the best racing movie (not that I think it aspires to be). That honor would have to go to Grand Prix or Le Mans, right? But you can't argue those were heavy on a believable plot either. What they offered were incredibly real depictions of what it's like to race and what the world was like at the time. For that matter, maybe we should also count Bullitt in this list, though it's not about racing exactly; it's simply got the best car chase scene ever.

So tell me, what are your favorite racing movies? What do you think are the best ones out there?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Racing's Bad Boys

by Tammy

I wish I'd watched some NASCAR growing up, because I'd like a little more historical context for the behavior of current-day drivers. I'm talking about Kyle Busch.

For those of you who don't know, Kyle Busch is NASCAR's current bad-boy/brat, though he'd cleaned up his behavior and image this year--at least until this weekend in Texas. That's when he was so angry at a competitor in the truck race, Ron Hornaday, Jr., for real or imagined bumping (over the past four weeks, to hear Busch tell it), that Busch turned Hornaday into the wall. Hard. Under caution. Ending Hornaday's chance for a championship this year.

NASCAR, for all of its vagueness about where the line between acceptable and unacceptable was in their stated policy of "boys, have at it" (yes, they made the pornography statement of "we'll know it when we see it"), acted decisively, parking Busch in the middle of the truck race and for the other two races this weekend. Ending his own hopes of a Sprint Cup championship.

You all know I'm no Kyle Busch fan. But here's my question for those who have followed the sport for longer than I have. How do his bad-boy antics compare to bad-boys of decades past?

I came to the sport after the death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., so I can only interpret the myth, legend, and stories left behind. But from everything I hear about him, he wasn't a nice-guy on track. Quite the opposite. So how is it he was so beloved and Kyle Busch is not? Was Dale Seniorthe man was called The Intimidator, for Pete's sakea more fair, less erratic driver? I've heard tell he could be as ruthless as anyone on the track. How much did Senior anger half the NASCAR Nation on any given weekend? Would he be as universally beloved if he were still alive?

And who were the other bad boys in NASCAR's history? Are there any who got drummed out of the sport for bad behavior? Is there anyone Kyle Busch can learn from?

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Ugly Ducklings

Last we talked about the cars we'd love to drive before we died. This week, I wanted to talk about the flipside of that question. Which cars do we wish we'd never seen? I'm not one for bashing someone's hard work, but there are some cars that the automakers need to be informed of their poor judgment.

SIMON: My top 5 ugly cars goes a little like this. They're not in any particular order, but a general list of vehicles that make my skin crawl at the sight of them.

#1: Pontiac Aztek. I guess it was supposed to be a compact SUV or something. However, it looks like something that came out of the design studios of Tupperware. I'm so glad it's no longer exists.


#2: The current Cadillac range. For me, they've never had a pretty collection of cars over the last 35yrs, but I do appreciate what they've done to freshen up their range and make more hip looking. However the combination of slab sides and sharp edges is a turn off. The styling does come off looking like futuristic and outdated at the same time. It was the kind of thing I was drawing in design class when I was 12.



#3: Chevy HHR. I liked the PT Cruiser at lot (especially the convertible). It was a nice retro looking car and fun to drive. The HHR tried to follow in those tire tracks and went horribly wrong. It looks more like a toy than a real car. Whereas the PT Cruiser is elegant, the HHR is vulgar. Should have been called the HMM...


#4: The Smart Car. I'm not hating on because it's small. Pocket sized cars are a bit of a redheaded step child in the US, but in Europe and Japan, they are commonplace. Virtually every car manufacturer puts out a practical and economical sub-compact that is far more versatile than the Smart Car. The Smart Car is a smart idea when there are even smarter ones in the same one. The current advert on the TV centers on people saying "big" and one person saying "small." It's a cute ad, but I would like to add an addendum to the ad. When the "small" man leaves in his Smart Car, I want an 18-wheeler to flatten it and someone to say, "Big again." If you want a small car, buy a Mini, Fiat 500 or Ford KA.


#5: Mercedes CL65. I have call Mercedes out in general. I think Mercedes has lost its class. They used make to make well appointed cars for people who could afford them. Now they hurl out vulgar muscle cars with way too much power that a slew of super computers try to dial back. Their gas mileage is awful. For me the CL65 embodies everything bad about Mercedes these days--it's not a great looking car, but my God its personality is a lot worse. I can forgive the cars above for their shortcomings, but I can't show this car any mercy.

My dishonorable mentions include Lexus in general, Nissan Prairie (from the mid-80's), British Leyland’s Princess, Maxi and Allegro.

What makes your ugly list, Tams?


TAMMY: I knew there was a reason we're friends. #1 says it all.

#1: Pontiac Aztek. My God. That should be numbers one through three. Most hideous thing ever.

#2: 1979 Pontiac Trans Am. It epitomizes the worst of the 70s styling and excess, in my mind.

#3: Really, anything else from the 1970s I have no love for that era of cars. None.

#4: The Honda Crosstour. It looks like the blown up rear of one kind of car and the over-agressive front of another. I don't know what it's trying to be, but it's not good.

#5: 1984 Aston Martin Lagonda wagon. Sorry,
"shooting brace," as though that'll make it less hideous. I mean, really. It looks like a stretched-out Volvo. It was enormous and expensive. And I just don't get it. Proof that fabulous car makers don't always make elegant cars, I guess.

What about the rest of you? What do you think are the ugly ducklings out there? And will any of them ever turn into a swan?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

There Might Be A Story in That

A bit of a short one today because I got buried with some work commitments, but I wanted to share this one as it caught my eye. A few weeks ago, two of Ganassi Racing’s crew members from the NASCAR team were arrested for drug trafficking marijuana. This story caught my eye for a couple of reasons because I was writing something along these lines but also because I’m on the lookout for stories like this. I’m writing stories combing crime and motor racing. Motorsport is a tough sport and is fueled by high emotions and because of that people do things they wouldn’t normally do. So I monitor the motor racing press for the WTF stories as well as for the racing news because you never know, there might be a story in that. :-)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Racecars and Street Cars

by Tammy

The stereotype of a racing fan is, among other traits, one who leaves the track so influenced by what they've watched that they imagine themselves the next Andretti or Earnhardt and speed away in his or her Chevy Malibu (or Mazda 3 or Ford Fusion) only to get a speeding ticket or wreck the car on the way home.

So here's my question: Racing fans out there, are you so intoxicated by watching speed at the track that you push your speed in the corners, heel-and-toe downshift, and aim for the apex in the corners? Do you speed?

(Note: I live in Los Angeles, so I count some amount of speeding as a given. But I'm talking about more than the standard 10 m.p.h above the speed limit that just might escape the notice of the cops.)

I've never wanted the fastest car money could buy. I've never wanted to go 100 m.p.h. anywhere, really, let alone on highways or in other situations where everyone else on the road wasn't prepared for it. (Yes, the irony of me writing about a racecar driver is not lost on me.) My husband, on the other hand, has occasionally pushed the speedometer higher than I ever would. And as a car guy, he's always fascinated with high horsepower and speed vehicles. Which is why one of the most interesting outcomes of being intimately involved with the racing world is that he has less desire to own or drive such a car than ever before.

The reason is that he's realized how different a real racecar is than any car you can buy for the street. (OK, Corvette fans, I can hear you shouting about Corvette models, such as the ZR1, which, I'll grant you is about as close to a racecar as you can get.) But the point is that after watching racecars tuned and prepped for the racetrack be driven within inches of their performance limits, the idea of having a car whose performance limits we'll never touch more than 20% of just seems like a waste.

Now, I'm not saying we don't appreciate high performance cars. But for our needs, we go with a good power-to-weight ratio so that what we drive feels fun, quick, and zippy.

What about all of you? Do you drive your Porsches, Corvettes, Mazda 3s and occasionally punch it up to far, far above the posted speed limit? Do you take your cars to the track? Or do you just dream of speed in your four-door sedan or mini-van? I don't judge....

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Must-Drives

SIMON:I have an automotive bucket list. They are the cars I must drive before I die. Some of them are likely to kill me in the process but so be it.

My must-drives are:
1. A modern Grand Prix car. I’m not fussy. Any one will do. I just have to experience the pinnacle of the automotive brilliance.

2. A Ferrari
308GTS. Yes, that’s the Magnum PI car. It's a tad slow by modern standards, but I don't care. I’ve wanted one of these since I was ten years old and I was planning to buy one by the time I was 25. However, I blew my Ferrari fund on racing. In the space of 3yrs, I could have bought two.

3. Aston Martin DBS. I think Aston’s resurgence over the last decade is fantastic. They have the world’s most beautiful cars. Sorry Ferrari. Also they sound fabulous.

4. A Caterham Super Seven. If a sports car had to be reduced to its essence, it would be Colin Chapman’s Super Seven. It’s about handling, power and weight. Nothing else is necessary.

5. One of Jim Clark’s Grand Prix cars. Again, I’m not fussy. I just want to driven what he raced. It’s as simple as that.

6. The Jaguar XJ-13. It was the successor to the D-Type. Sort of. Never got beyond the prototype stage. It’s a tad exclusive seeing as there’s only one. It was my favorite matchbox car that I had as a kid. I’d spend hours just looking at it. This might be tough task, but it could happen.

This list could keep going, but I'll stop there. This is a nice list of awesomeness that I'd love to get my hands on, even just for a day. So what's on your list, Tam Tam?




TAMMY: My dying-to-drives aren't as likely to kill me because I'll be too petrified of messing them up to do much with them.

1. 1957 T-Bird. My dad owned one when I was growing up, but it left the family when I was 10. I'd like to tool around in one and look cool some day.

2. 1957 Corvette. (Sensing a theme here?) That may be my favorite car. At least of the moment.

3. A Jaguar E-Type. Simply awesome. I'm realizing that my list is mostly about how cool I'll look and feel driving around in them. Is that bad? Who cares. It's my list.

4. A New Bugatti. Just because it costs so freaking much. I'll make sure to put my husband in the passenger seat so he can chant "$100, $100, $100" with every passing mile to represent how much it costs. (I made that figure up, by the way.)

5. 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. Oh yeah. The pinnacle of Detroit steele and futurama styling. Just enormous and absurd and awesome.


What about the rest of you? What's on your bucket list?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Admitting to the Appeal of Danger in Racing

by Tammy

For the second time in a week, a racer has died of injuries sustained in a race. This week it was Marco Simoncelli, a motorcycle racer in MotoGP, who was apparently dragged by his bike and hit by other riders who had nowhere to go. It's just a week since the death of Dan Wheldon at the Las Vegas IndyCar race, of course.

And not often mentioned, but equally felt in the racing world, was the death of off-road racing champion Rick Huseman in a small plane crash the same day as Wheldon. Has there been a deadlier week for motorsport? Perhaps there has, and the shock of this week has more to do with how few deaths there have been in recent years given all of the safety improvements.

I've spent a bit of time this week examining my own reaction to the danger of death in motorsport, and I've come to a few conclusions. I've gotten over my own (admittedly absurd) knee-jerk reaction that would effectively wrap all drivers in bubble wrap (or closed-cockpit cars). I like watching drivers struggle with the edge of control as they race each other, and if that means they spin off, brush a wall, crumple a fender, good. But I don't really ever like accidents that prevent a driver from continuing to race--not even for those guys I don't like and never want to see win. And I really don't like when drivers are really hurt.

I recognize the "have your cake and eat it too" aspect of those statements, however. Because you can't have drivers riding on the edge without the danger of big, small, and fatal wrecks. And I have to admit, while I don't want accidents to happen, or watch them in gory detail when they do, I am completely fascinated by the psyche of people who strap themselves into cars (or onto bikes) in spite of that danger. That's part of why I write about a driver, Kate Reilly, whose attitude is much like that I've heard from most of the racing world this week: sure, we realize the risk is there, but we take every precaution, trust in our equipment, and don't let the possibility prevent us from doing what we love and what we're good at.

Bottom line: humans are going to do stuff that could get themselves killed. Some activities are dumber and less regulated and protected than others (think running with the bulls in Pamplona, the Jackass movies, etc., all stuff I really won't watch). Humans will push limits, and occasionally we receive painful reminders of the potential consequences.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How to Fix IndyCar ... or Not

TAMMY: The only topic in the world of racing this week has been the passing of Dan Wheldon. The wind has been taken out of the sails of most in that world, and it's hard to contemplate another race (though there are still races to be run, including a typically fun one in Aussie V8 Supercars). That's not what this blog is about, however.

The conversation among drivers, industry insiders, fans, friends, and media has primarily centered on is How To Fix It. How to make sure it never happens again. How to feel like you're doing something to mitigate the grief. Every reaction and comment has been magnified and transmitted far beyond the norm, because of the increased attention of the media and therefore the world. Statements have been made by people who know what they're talking about and people who don't.

Suggestions have ranged from plexiglass catch "fencing" that would presumably bounce a car back onto the track but not tear it up, to closed-cockpit IndyCars that would offer more protection to the driver, to never allowing IndyCars to race 225 m.p.h., to ensuring they can't run in packs. I've stated many times before that I have a sportscar and road course bias, and I can't help thinking that IndyCar drivers would be a lot safer with a lid.

But I know Simon and others will argue for open-cockpit cars as being plenty safe. Simon, how would you "fix things," or would you change them at all?

SIMON: It’s a tough call. I think a lot of crap has been talked this week from various quarters that kind of feels like a mix between arse covering and thinly disguised attempts to say NASCAR is safer and better. At the end of the day, racing involves speed and crashes are inevitable and fatalities are a possibility and trying to pretend they aren’t is ridiculous.

I will say open-cockpit cars are safe. The driver is pretty well cocooned in there now. The driver’s head is supported from the sides and back. The driver sits very low now and their head doesn’t ride too high out of the cockpit like it did even ten years ago. Closed cockpit isn’t the answer. It’s been talked about before in F1 and it didn’t go far then and I think it has even less reason now. The issue comes down to escape routes. You enclose the cockpit and a driver will struggle to escape. The interesting thing that will come out of this crash will be the survival cell. Did anything fail and can it be improved. I’d be interested what comes out of the crash analysis.

I would like to see the design of Vegas Motorsport and for another oval, say Michigan or Indy, because the wall looked a little low on TV, so whether any design issues can be improved there.

For me, the big question is ovals themselves. The issue I have with ovals is that there's nowhere to go in a crash. There’s the wall. With a road course, there are gravel traps, tire walls and run off. A spins off on a road course, a car has somewhere to go. There’s room for the car to decelerate before hitting something. There isn’t with an oval. You hit an immovable object in the form of a wall. It’s a high speed impact combined with massive deceleration (or negative G). Physics takes over and there’s not a lot car design can do to change that. The interesting thing will be if anyone can calculate a survivable speed. It might not have made a difference if Dan had crashed at 200mph or 100mph. I would like to know whether there’s anything oval designers can do to soften the wall. Anything that can diffuse the energy would be a massive help. That would be my big fix.

That said, I think Sunday’s pileup was a perfect storm of elements that created something that is the exception and not the rule when it comes to crashes. Any attempts to un-write what happened with kneejerk solutions to help soothe the pain a lot of people are feeling will only create more problems.

TAMMY: Well, I agree on a few points. It was a perfect storm of bad stuff, any one of which hardly ever happens, but when taken together: disaster. I also agree that the situation requires slow study rather than knee-jerk response. I'm not so sure about the argument that closed-cockpit cars being hard to get out of. Look at sportscar racing. They get out of cars just fine. And the collar that IndyCar drivers have holding them in place seems awfully difficult for the drivers to manage. But perhaps it's the closed-cockpit of the IndyCar configuration that would be hard.

What do the rest of you think? Is there a way to fix things? What's the best approach?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Acceptance

As most of you are probably aware, IndyCar driver, Dan Wheldon, died on Sunday. He succumbed to his injuries in a horrific crash at the IRL season finale held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I don’t want to talk about the crash or point fingers, but I just want to touch on some points that invariability get brought up in the aftermath of a tragedy like this.

Naturally the topics of speed and safety are raised. These cars go fast. Yes, they do. Are they faster than the engineering can support? I don’t think so. There have been times when the power has had the upper hand over handling and the sport has had to reel the power in. I don’t think we’re in that situation here. Some people have mentioned that NASCAR is a safer sport than open wheel and I would debate that. Ignoring Dale Earnhardt’s crash, look at Dario Franchitti’s NASCAR crash from a few years ago when he got tee-boned. His driver’s side caved in exposing him the elements. IndyCars are well-designed cars. Formula One incorporated some of their design features for front end crashes because they were superior. As with all single seaters, open canopy is an issue, but if you look at the current IndyCars, the driver’s head and neck is protected immensely. Those cars, like all racecars are built as well as they can be. Consider these vehicles are traveling two and three times freeway speeds and fatalities are a rarity in the sport. There's an element of risk in this sport and you accept it or you don’t compete.

My writing and racing buddy, Rick Helms made a valid point on Sunday. He said, “Racing drivers have the most remarkable ability to—on one hand—place themselves into amazingly dangerous situations while—at the same time—engaging in complete denial that this could by their day. Not one driver in the race at Vegas today strapped into the car fearful for his or her life.” And Rick is right. I don’t know if you call it compartmentalization or passion trumping good sense or plain denial, but I never once strapped myself into a racecar fearing for my life. I won’t say I wasn’t scared. Sometimes that six-point kept me from leaping the car and running for mummy. What scared me wasn’t dying or serious injury. I knew it was an option, but I had faith in my car that it would protect me. No, my overriding fear wasn’t death, but failing. I wanted to give it my all and cross that finish line with a result that meant something. Leaving the race with an expensive wreck or a DNF to my name scared me more.

Unfortunately, I’ve known a couple of drivers who died at races and it does affect me. I mourn the people I’ve known or admired every time I’m at a track where the tragedy happened or an anniversary rolls around. As much as I didn’t want it happen to me, no driver stopped me from getting back into a car again. It couldn’t dislodge my desire to race.

As for the crash, people have pointed fingers at the track design, inexperienced drivers and a number of other factors and while there may be some merit to these claims, crashes like involving lots of cars happen. They're rare, but they happen. Even though cars are racing wheel to wheel, you’d be surprised at the rhythm to a race. You have an awareness to what it happening around you. Even when someone spins out, the rhythm remains intact and the race continues. Unfortunately, there are those times a sequence of small crashes ignite a pileup. I was in a race where I was one of only four cars to survive the first two corners. It started with two cars coming together at the front of the pack, a couple of people overreacted to start other small crashes. This unsettled some of the remaining drivers and they took that uncertainty into the next corner wiping out more cars. The whole thing unfolded like a scene from a Final Destination movie and it was ugly and scary. As much as crashes involving large numbers of cars shouldn’t happen, they do and they will continue to do so. Stopping them is like claiming we should bring an end to winter. It ain’t gonna happen.

I’m not sure if I have a point to this piece other than to give a little insight. At the end of the day, a driver who I truly admired lost his life and I wish it could be taken back. I accept that tragedies like Dan’s happen, as does every racing driver and everybody should too.

Simon

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fiction Won't Break Your Heart

by Tammy

I write fiction. Murder mysteries set in the racing world. Which means that I cheerfully plot how and why someone dies. Sometimes it's someone who deserved to die. Sometimes it's not. Typically, the bad guy who did it is caught, and always in mysteries, readers have the satisfaction of knowing why it happened.

We say truth is stranger than fiction. The racing world today knows it's significantly more heatbreaking than fiction, too. A very good racecar driver died Sunday in the opening minutes of the last IndyCar race of the season. He won this year's Indy 500 (his second win). He'd tested the new 2012 IndyCar chassis, and one tweet I saw said he was excited about its safety measures. He was 33 and leaves behind a wife and two children.

Racing's an extremely dangerous sport and business. And sometimes there are no reasons why, bad things just happen. One such happened Sunday.

Rest in peace, Dan Wheldon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Picks for 2011 (with guests!)

This is an very unscientific poll. Which really means "the people Tammy could get to answer questions," even if they're not the most racing savvy.... (Thanks to Simon and frequent guest Steve Ulfelder!)

BEST RACING SERIES
Tammy: American Le Mans Series
Shane: Formula 1
Miruna*: IndyCar. At least Indy has two guys trying for the title, not the whole group trying to catch the guy so far ahead that there's no way it'll happen, like F1.
Chet**: ALMS
Steve: Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. OK, I’m biased: I have several friends in this series; my company, Flatout Motorsports, built the Mazda MX-5 that won at Laguna Seca; and this is the only pro series I have any shot at ever actually driving in. But all that aside, Continental Tire features lots of elements race fans love: true production-based cars, multi-class competition, six or eight different marques with an honest shot at winning, and of course hard doorhandle-to-doorhandle racing.
Roger: ALMS
Simon: IRL

(*Miruna is a lifelong F1 fan.)
(**Chet is married to me and thus, I did not have to pay him to say this.)

BEST RACING ACTION (duo, teams, class, etc.)
Tammy: ALMS GT class
Shane: ALMS GT class
Miruna: Flying Lizards Porsche v. Risi Competizione Ferrari, last lap, Laguna Seca, ALMS GT class
Chet: ALMS GT class
Steve: There was lots of action in the Rolex Series Daytona Prototype class this year, as various teams did their damnedest to knock off Chip Ganassi Racing. For me, the best kept secret in bigtime racing is NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck series. While the Sprint Cup guys are calling their brokers all day, and Nationwide just doesn’t have enough strong competition, the truck guys race hard all night long, strategy be damned.
Roger: Hendrick Motorsports (NASCAR)
Simon: IRL

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (individual, team, series, etc.)
Tammy: Lewis Hamilton
Shane*: The 2012 IndyCar. An ugly, shitty spec racer somehow manages to get uglier, less compelling and loses its biggest star (Danica) to the second ugliest, shittiest spec series on the planet.
Miruna: All other Formula 1 teams besides Red Bull Racing.
Chet: Anyone wrecked out by Jamie Melo**
Steve: Hmm, are Danica Patrick and Dale Junior (yeah, yeah, I know he made the Chase. Yawn) even disappointments anymore, or have we come to expect their midpack finishes? I was disappointed that Brian Vickers and Red Bull racing didn’t mount a better effort in Sprint Cup; I think Vickers is a true wheel man just waiting for the right ride.
Roger***: The San Francisco Giants!
Simon: The decline of Williams F1

(*Shane is never one to hold back.)
(**Jamie Melo drives for Risi Competizione in the ALMS GT class. We are Corvette Racing and Flying Lizard Porsche fans in our household.)
(***Roger is Tammy's father. He doesn't know much about racing.)

BIGGEST SURPRISE
Tammy: That Fernando Alonso wasn't as annoying as usual.
Shane: More manufacturers announce a return to Le Mans. Toyota and Nissan, specifically.
Miruna: Bruno Senna doing OK in F1. I didn't realize HRT was that bad.
Chet*: That Jamie Melo isn't the one killed in Dead Man's Switch, my wife's book.
Steve: The Indy 500, with JR Hildebrand wrecking in the final corner!
Roger: Danica Patrick
Simon: That Dan Weldon struggled to get a drive this year.

(*OK, I might have to pay my husband for that one.)

MOST ANNOYING (individual, team, series, etc.)
Tammy: Kyle Busch (with Fernando Alonso as a strong runner up)
Shane: The US media's continual fascination with NASCAR, the continued plight of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the first true hissy fit/meltdown that Danica Patrick has in NNS.
Miruna: Whiny Massa (That's Felipe Massa, F1.)
Chet: Jamie Melo
Steve: The answer to that question is always Kyle Busch.*
Roger: Kyle Busch*
Simon: I'll take the 5th on that one. :-)

(*This is why I adore Steve, even though we've never met, and why Roger and I are related.)

WHO YOU'D MOST LIKE TO BE
Tammy: Leena Gade, Race Engineer, Audi (first female race engineer to win Le Mans). (That's her in the photo.)
Shane: Jenson Button. Classy, seemingly a nice guy, unperturbed, loads of money, great taste in cars, and quietly loves watching as his success and demeanor cause Lewis Hamilton to slowly fall apart. Either that or Valentino Rossi, because the man seems incapable of not having fun in life.
Miruna: One of the guys in the winning Audi R18 at Le Mans.
Chet: I'm pretty satisfied being myself.
Steve: You know who I never liked as a driver but enjoy as a team owner? Michael Andretti. He’s got a strong IndyCar operation going, and he seems to take the whole thing seriously but not too seriously … I like his approach to the whole circus.
Roger: Helio Castroneves
Simon: Me 20yrs ago, starting out all over again. :-)

YOUR PICK FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP?
Tammy: This year: Jimmie Johnson might take it. Next year: ABDPODEJ (Anyone But Danica Patrick or Dale Earnhardt, Junior. I'm not happy saying it; I wish they'd fulfill their promise. But I don't see it happening.)
Shane: (for 2012) Button edges Vettel in F1 in 2012, but only barely. Corvette finally wins an ALMS GT championship, Sebastien Ogier wins in WRC and Valentino Rossi finally comes on form with his Ducati and wins MotoGP over Casey Stoner. NASCAR and IndyCar manage to go another entire year without me noticing, unless there's a giant fiery wreck somewhere, or Dale Jr. announces he's gay or is actually an illegal alien or something to really piss his fan base off.
Miruna: Dario Franchitti to take the Indy title again.
Chet: Whoever gets the most points with clean racing.
Steve: I wish I’d been asked this a few weeks ago, when many had declared Jimmie Johnson out of the Sprint Car running. I knew that dude would get back to the front. He is Joe Montana: makes it look easier than it is, always seems to show up when the money’s on the table. Although I and millions of others would like to see someone else win the crown, Number 48 will be Sprint Cup champion yet again.
Roger: The Oakland Raiders!
Simon: Anybody but the Raiders...

What do the rest of you think?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

DID NOT FINISH in the Winner's Circle

I'm in deadline hell this week, so I'm ignoring the world. Instead of dead cyber-air, I'm leaving you with some reviews for DID NOT FINISH, which has scored big with the trades: Kirkus, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. Here's what they said:

Kirkus:
"A killer who strikes in the middle of an event makes England’s car-racing circuit even more dangerous than usual.

"Aidy Westlake was orphaned by a car crash—his father and mother drove into a fatal accident on the way home from a race—but that hasn’t kept him from taking the wheel of a Formula Ford. A rookie driver in the middle of a crowded field, Aidy naturally looks up to Alex Fanning, whose performance so far favors him to win the Clark Paints Formula Ford Championship, and can’t imagine why Alex would be prepared to quit the circuit for his fiancée Alison Baker. The race that follows proves to be Alex’s last in more ways than one. Moments after the Ford driven by Derek Deacon, a brutish veteran competitor who’d already threatened to do whatever it took to win, nudged Alex’s car, it crashed and killed him. The other racers, close-knit to a fault, refuse to believe that Deacon bumped Alex on purpose. And the evidence supports them, because video footage of the crash has mysteriously disappeared from all the places most likely to have it, and Det. Len Brennan, of the Wiltshire Police, is obviously protecting Deacon. Aidy is determined to prove Deacon’s guilt, but when he and his only allies, his grandfather Steve and his mechanic Dylan, are threatened, beaten and arrested along with him, his detective work looks like a losing bet.

"Wood (Terminated, 2010, etc.) kicks off this new series with a streamlined narrative, a spot of believable romance and some deftly introduced tidbits about the British racing circuit. Think of Dick Francis’ early thrillers, especially Nerve, but with a lot more horsepower."

Library Journal:
"A third-generation racecar driver, Aidy Westlake might still be a rookie on the course, but his instincts for crime are right on track. He knows bully Derek Deacon threatened rival Alex Fanning the night before the race. Now Alex is dead, and Derek’s car was part of the fatal accident. Aidy is convinced it’s a homicide, and he goes to considerable lengths to avenge Alex’s untimely death, despite rebuffs from the police, race sponsors, and fellow drivers. With his best friend, Dylan, and grandfather Steve on his team, amateur detective Aidy keeps on digging until he manages to endanger those he loves. A breathtaking finale will linger long in readers’ minds. VERDICT Prepare to accelerate with Wood’s (Terminated) new series. His first-person narrative brings you close to the action and ratchets up the personal intensity."

Publishers Weekly:
"At the start of this agreeable first in a new car-racing series from Wood (Terminated), thuggish champion driver Derek Deacon threatens to kill a rival, Alex Fanning. When Fanning dies after Deacon collides with him during a race in a West Country regional championship, the police fail to interview vital witnesses, and authorities rush to label the crash an accident. In addition, someone orders the destruction of the official tape of the fatal race. Outraged, rookie driver Aidy Westlake begins his own investigation. Inexperienced but persistent, he turns up evidence of a criminal conspiracy that puts him and his friends in danger. Wood convincingly portrays Aidy’s awkward efforts at amateur detection as well as his gentle, tentative romance with the dead man’s fiancée, while entertainingly imparting information about the perils and exhilaration of single-seat Formula Ford racing. Dick Francis fans will find a lot to like."