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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


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.

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.

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?
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?
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.

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.

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. :-)