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, February 29, 2012

Drawing a Finish Line

by Simon

Monday night’s Daytona 500 was a harsh one by anyone’s standards. Rained out on Sunday, the race had to be run on Monday night. So after a 36hour delay, the race got under way—for about a lap and half before there was a major crash taking out notable drivers such as the 2011 champion and Danica Patrick. The flow was further hampered by more crashes then brought to a halt when Juan Pablo Montoya (no relation to Indigo Montoya from the Princess Bride) crashed in a jet engine powered track blower and setting off a fireball. That stopped the race for over 2hours.

And I have a problem with that stoppage. At that point the race was passed the 50% marker and a result could have been called, but the organizers decided to see if they could get the track repaired in a reasonable time. In the light of Dan Wheldon’s death last year and claims that unnecessary risks had been taken, I felt NASCAR were taking one with the track surface after it had been scorched with jet fuel. If an accident occurred as a result, NASCAR would have had no defense.

That said, I understand the need to finish the race. When a race is seemingly jinxed, you just want to finish come what may. I was in a race where cars were crashing left and right and I was determined finish this race even if I had to carry my car across the line. And when the marshal stopped in front of me one the last corner of the last lap and tried to tell me my race was over, I drove straight him. I earned my finish. So yes, I get it. You finish what you start.

But I felt the 500’s race stoppage was the last straw and a result should have been called, not because the race was under caution longer than they were racing, but because it looked unprofessional. The 500 was reduced to a circus act and that’s just bad business for the sport.

Agree/disagree? Let me know.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Racing Interrupted

by Tammy

The big event of the weekend was to have been the Daytona 500. Instead it was rain.

The 500 is being run on Monday, because they were rained out, prompting plenty of sportsracing fans on Facebook to post many variations of the image on the right (I saw prototype and motorcycle pictures also, but of course, this was my favorite). See, sportscars race on road courses and in the rain. That's part of what makes it fun (and I think the drivers would mostly call it that).

I realize that cars can't race in the rain on ovals. I'm not saying they should. It's really just that the issue of being rained out calls ovals into question for me ... again.

We'll have to wait until Monday to see who wins the Daytona 500 this year. I doubt it'll be Danica (but these days, I wouldn't ever bet against Tony Stewart), but it will be interesting to see if she can hold her own with the big boys. She crashed hard in a preliminary race on Thursday, came back to take pole for the Nationwide race on Friday, then was bumped at the wrong spot during that race by her teammate. Someone pointed out that it's a lot easier to go fast alone on the track in a fast car (aka, her pole run) than it is to stay out of trouble in a pack of 43 cars for a full race. That's true. Watching the Nationwide race, I thought she looked like she was learning with every lap.

So we'll just see what she and the rest of the drivers can do. Once it stops raining. Or maybe we won't see, because we'll be at work and unable to watch.

What do you all think? Ovals? Worth it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fast Times

By Simon

The good folks over at Novel Adventurers asked me to chat about my racing past last week and it's something I don't think I went into over here, so I thought I'd do it now.

Like most events in my life, things happen by accident and motor racing was no different. That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in motorsport. I was a fan since I was around ten. Being a typical little boy, anything that went fast fascinated me whether it was cars, planes, boats, or anything else you care to name. I don’t know if this had something to do with the fact that no one in my family possessed a driver’s license or a car.

While I loved watching Formula One, my heart belonged to rallying and off road racing. The unpredictability of a rally stage appealed to me more than circuit racing. So I was an avid fan, with never a thought of taking part myself. That changed when I was nineteen. I wasn’t content to sit on the sidelines. I wanted a racing experience. I signed up for a rally driving training course and a circuit racing one. As much as I wanted to rally cars, my skills for off road driving were okay, but my circuit racing performance was pretty good.

That track day made me wonder if I should go the extra mile and switch from avid fan to competitor. I spent a couple of months exploring the notion of buying a single seater racecar and to be honest, I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. Then the unpredictable element of life took over and I received a call from the owner of the racing school, who wondered if I’d be interested in a 50% share in a Formula Ford and to team up for a season. I mulled the idea over and said yes. A few weeks later, I owned a racecar.

I think the partnership with an experienced driver was a good one. An older and wiser head meant my introduction to motor racing was a smooth one. I think if I’d gone it alone, I would have made some costly mistakes. With what I learned, the following year, I went out on my own running the car myself with a small crew consisting of a couple of friends, my dad, and myself.

I can say racing changed my life. When things went well, I don’t think I experienced highs like it. Also I don’t think I’ve suffered lows like it either when things didn’t go well. But racing changed me as a person. The biggest thing racing did for me was it improved me as a person. I’m not sure it made me a grown up, but it built character. I learned how to handle pressure (self imposed or otherwise), I was more inventive, and it made me come out of my shell in some respects. My day-to-day life got easier, because the problems I’d experience during a race meeting were more intense compared to my day job. So I’ll always be thankful to motor racing for that.

I raced for three years but stopped when the money ran out. While I did have sponsors, I was still the underwriter and the only investor. I’d seen a lot of guys get themselves into serious debt and I wasn’t about to follow them down that dark hole. The ugly side of motorsport is that it’s addictive. You just don’t want to quit. So, after a crash on Brand’s Hatch’s Grand Prix circuit, when I knew all the money had run out, I called it quits. It’s a decision I’m happy I made and one I still regret. Racing decisions are like that.

At the end of the day, I can’t say I blew the motor racing world away, but I held my own. I wish I could have kept at it longer and started earlier, but it is what it is. That’s not to say that if someone offered me a drive tomorrow, I wouldn’t take it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Here She Goes

by Tammy

In a wind-up worthy of the Indy 500 (which lasts most of a month), qualifying for next Sunday's Daytona 500 took place yesterday. I'm sure millions of NASCAR fans, desperate for some racing to follow on Sundays, breathed simultaneous sighs of relief. I'll admit, I followed the qualifying online, though I got my start-of-the-season fix a few weeks ago with the 24 Hours of Daytona.

To the media's credit, there have been plenty of story lines followed, including last year's winner, Trevor Bayne, needing to qualify on speed (only 43 cars can start, but 49 attempted to qualify), how last year's championship duelists (Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards) would fare (Edwards took the pole), how the new cars and engines would run, and ... oh yes, how that new girl would do.

Yep, Danica's finally starting her first full year in stock car racing. She'll compete in a few Sprint Cup races (NASCAR's top tier), and compete the full season in the Nationwide (second-tier) series. It's safe to say anticipation is high. It's also safe to say she'll be in the spotlight constantly, since she's driving for reigning champion Tony Stewart in Cup and media and fan darling Dale Earnhardt, Jr., in Nationwide. If you had to pick the three drivers the racing world most wants to drool over, it would be them. Every move will be scrutinized and dissected, all season.

Now, I know Simon's not a big fan of Danica's, but I also know that has mostly to do with Danica being over-hyped compared to her level of performance. I've gone back and forth on how I feel about her. I was a huge fan at the start, and teared up when she led the Indy 500 in 2005. But like Simon, I've waited for her on-track results to match the attention she's received (Dale Junior's another one we're waiting on for the same), and I lost some of my desire to root her on each weekend. But recently, I've read a few articles about her and interviews with her, and I have to say that the more I read (from people who've actually had conversations with her), the more I'm impressed. She seems smart and focused and determined, and that's brought me back to being a Danica fan, as she makes the move from open-wheel to stock cars. Basically, I'm optimistic that she'll live up to the hype this year.

Mind you, that's all going to be predicated on some real performance. But she did qualify 30th for the Daytona 500 (yes, she was locked into the field, but she qualified acceptably anyway). So we'll just see how she does in her first run with the big boys. I'll be rooting for her.

Oh, and Junior qualified third. We'll just see....

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ready With Popcorn

by Tammy

Much of the racing world is sitting back and watching IndyCar's new President of Competition and Race Director Beaux Barfield get ready for the 2012 season. He's done a little rewriting of the rule book and is trying to clarify exactly what his position will be. At least, he hasn't quite explained it yet, but he's made it clear that to the drivers (in the drivers meeting) he will make very clear what he consider's blocking. (See a good article on the details here.)

I say, get out the popcorn, because this is going to be interesting.

There were loud complaints from IndyCar drivers, teams, and fans last year about how the rules were enforced (inconsistently, at times), and Beaux has been brought in to make some changes. I firmly believe he's going to pull it off.

See, I've met Beaux and chatted with him a few times. I've seen him in action around the ALMS (where he was race director for the past four years), not only in the paddock, but also in race control. I can't say we're BFFs or anything, but he always has a smile and a friendly word for me (I will forever owe him one for being kind to me when he ran the session of racing school I attended back in 2006). The thing is, Beaux pretty much has a smile and a friendly word for everyone. He's that kind of guy: visible and friendly.

At the same time, he's direct and clear about his opinions. He's also clear that his role is to make the decisions, right or wrong, and to take the blame for bad ones. He does that. I can't speak for the drivers he's had control over, but from my perspective (and I think I've been the lurker-in-chief for the ALMS the last year or two!), he's been as fair as he can be and totally transparent about his decisions. He told me once that it's important to him to be present in the paddock, to talk with drivers and teams, so that no one is unclear on how he communicates, thinks, and interprets regulations.

So, yeah, I'm a Beaux fan. And I'm going to enjoy watching him take this step to a much larger and more visible stage and see what he can do. What about you all? Do you think he'll pull it off? Do you have your popcorn ready for the show?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Brands Hatch

By Simon

I had one of those “hold on a second” moments recently. Tammy had mentioned the film, Grand Prix. I pulled out the DVD and was watching it. The British Grand Prix takes place at Brands Hatch. The movie shows Graham Hill, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren whipping around the Kent track. Then it occurred to me that when these guys were racing, those corners had yet to be named after them. So what were they called?

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been researching the answers. I have to admit I’ve had quite a tough time finding answers. As you can see, I have a couple of maps of the circuit—one of the original layout and the current layout.

What I found out was that Paddock Hill Bend and Clearways have held those names since the beginning. Druids got its name when it was installed in 1954. Graham Hill Bend was originally called Bottom Bend and was renamed in 1976 after Hill’s death. Hailwood Hill was originally called Pilgrim’s Rise and was renamed Mike Hailwood died in 1981. Surtees, Brabham Straight and Cooper Straight were originally called South Bank, Top Straight and Bottom Straight respectively. As to when they got renamed, I haven’t found out. Where I’ve hit the weeds is when it comes to McLaren and Clark Curve, which are extensions of Clearways in a lot of ways. If anyone can shed some light, I’d love to know so that I can complete the picture.

So there you have it, the changing face of Brands Hatch. I had a lot of fun playing a motor racing archeologist.

If you’ve never had the chance to see a race, then I would recommend making a trip. From a spectator’s point of view, it’s the best circuit in the world.

Monday, February 6, 2012

On Female Race Fans

by Tammy

I've just returned from a weekend in Alabama for a couple wonderful book events, and some of the women I met there proved my point yet again: there are female racecar fans who read and love mysteries. I know there's a market out there for my book, because I know there are other people just like me out there ... and I met a few of them this weekend.

I tell a story sometimes about the first response I got when I sent queries out about my book to agents. It came in within 12 hours of my sending the pitch, by return e-mail, and it was a rejection. In part, it read: "Sounds too butch for women readers to be interested in. I might be interested in a romance set in racing, but not a mystery."

This because my protagonist is a female racecar driver who goes after what she wants and solves a mystery while also kicking butt on the track.

Fortunately, even at the time, I laughed. I still laugh at that, as I meet women who are not only race fans but readers all over the country. Not one of them thinks racing or my protagonist Kate is too butch. (Though one of them this weekend did ask for more romance in all mysteries.)

In fact, I made a couple new BFFs this weekend, talking racing with a number of women (and one husband), including a woman who, like me, is the bigger, more rabid racing fan in her marriage. We bonded over how our husbands would roll their eyes and say, "whatever, honey" at our enthusiasm.

I have two points to make:
1. There is definitely a market for my female, racecar-driving, amateur sleuth. It may not be as large as for some less strange occupation, but even if small, it is proud and enthusiastic!

2. Thanks to Debi, Krista (and Toby), and Karen, for the southern hospitality this weekend and for becoming new racing buddies!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pure and Simple

by Simon

I’m a big fan of Touring Car racing. It’s Europe's equivalent to Nascar in a way. Production based road cars do battle in close quarters racing. It’s very entertaining motorsport.

Since being in the US, I’ve lost touch with the sport in Europe, but over the last few weeks, I’ve been catching up with the last few seasons of the British Touring Car Championship (aka BTCC) courtesy of YouTube. I do have to say I was a little disappointed with the developments over the last few years.

To give you a quick recap of the last fifty years, the BTCC started in 1958 and for much of that time, it was a multi class format (just the way Tammy likes it) where muscle cars took on the pocket rockets. Famously, Minis went wheel to wheel with Ford Falcon in the 60’s. In the 90’s, it went to a two-liter formula only. For me, this was the BTCC’s heyday. Bumper to bumper racing with plenty of manufacturers involved and large crowds to watch them. With the new millennium came changes to keep the sport affordable and exciting and this is where I have the problem. Events used to take the form of a single race event. Occasionally, there’d be a double-header event over a single race event. But now the championship takes the form a triple-header, consisting of three sprint races on a single race day. A qualifying session determines the grid for race one. The finishing positions in race one determine the grid for race two. However for race three, there's a complicated reverse grid format where the top ten is determined by a complicated drawing of numbers for the bottom five finishers with whoever’s name is drawn for the hat is now the pole sitter and everyone goes in sequence after that. So if the 7th place finisher is drawn, the grid would go, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th. Then drivers have ballast added and removed depending on where they finish.

Oh my God! I just want to watch some bloody good racing. I don’t want a math problem.

Maybe I’m a Phyllis Stein, but I like my racing the way simple. I don’t want gimmicks. I don’t want weight penalties. I don’t want rule manipulation. I want the best car and driver combination to win. Now that could mean total domination for one driver/team or a dogfight every race, but what I don’t want to see is interference from series organizers to ensure the entertainment value is preserved, because it doesn’t need it. Racing is racing. It doesn’t need to be toyed with.

Agree or disagree? Am I a caveman in a new age? Discuss.