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, March 26, 2012

More Wheels Than Most Races

by Tammy

I had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to see a very unusual vehicle. It was truly unique, purpose-built, one-of-a-kind. Unlike most of the vehicles I get excited about, there was no racing involved here. It topped out at only 8 m.p.h.

You see, the point of this vehicle was to move a giant rock.

That's right, a rock. You see, an artist was doing an installation at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) called "Levitated Mass" that involved a trench people would walk through, some supports that couldn't be seen from underneath, and a 340-ton rock.

LACMA's official material suggested this was the largest megalith moved since ancient times. Since the pyramids, people. I'm telling you, this rock was big.

So big that it couldn't be moved on the freeway, over metro rail tracks, under overpasses, etc. Word was, it took a year simply to secure the permits to move the rock in a very wide loop through a couple counties, from Riverside in the east to the Wilshire District of Los Angeles in the west. Crazy enough, it came through my little corner of town on its way.

The rock only moved at night, when roads could be closed, traffic lights moved, wires cut, and so forth. During the day, it sat still, at the side or in the middle of a road, and waited for night. Except in my town, where residents decided to throw a party. A rock party, of course.

What all of this means is that we got the chance to inspect the transportation vehicle up close. As one woman put it (pardon the language): "Who gives a shit about a rock, I want to see this truck!"

It was pretty impressive, as you can see below. A total of 204 wheels, three semi tractors to propel it (one pulling, two pushing), and innumerable support vehicles. We saw it sitting during the day and traveling at night, and I'm still chuckling over all the effort and drama for a rock. :-)

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Very Long Race

by Tammy

I spent most of Saturday glued to my computer screen, watching the 12 Hours of Sebring streaming on Which was really a very long time to do anything! I also had Twitter open (via the TweetDeck plugin for the Chrome browser, which I highly recommend), and what I found interesting was that at times I was following the action more via the Twitter feed than the video and audio.

The story of the race, and of the forthcoming ALMS season no doubt, was the GT field. As so many times in recent years, this race too came down to a last lap battle and a couple last-turn passes that rearranged the top three finishers in the last seconds.

In no particular order, here's what I found interesting from the 12 hour event and broadcast:
  • The reported 25 people working in race control to mange 63 cars starting across six classes and two championships, each with their own set of rules.
  • The ALMS streaming video options, which included eight in-car cameras and a snoop-cam on the announcers calling the race (John Hindhaugh and Jeremy Shaw).
  • Marino Franchitti as a guest of the announcers, giving amazing insight into the race, cars, and drivers, as well as a good book recommendation (Martin Krumm's book on racecraft).
  • I still don't like the old Risi Ferrari drivers ... Gimmi Bruni (some 18 laps down) was the guy who caused the last-lap kerfuffle in the GT class.
  • It really sucks when a car gets wrecked in the last turn before taking the green flag. The poor Flying Lizard #45....
  • Jordan Taylor will be a full-time Corvette Racing driver soon, maybe next year.
  • You can never anticipate what will go wrong ... the fueling inlet (the plug that the fueling hose fits into) on the prototype sponsored by Muscle Milk broke in the last half hour of the race. For some minutes, the team (and officials) weren't sure if they'd be allowed to fix it in order to put fuel in the car to finish the race.
  • 12 hours is a very, very long time to keep equipment running, especially on a track as rough as Sebring.
What did you find memorable?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pit Stop

by Simon

I was playing over some of the racing I watched last year and I was thinking about how much strategy and luck played into many of the races. Luck is luck and it either plays to your favor or it doesn’t. Its part of any sport and it can’t be helped. Strategy though is something I’m not sure belongs in motor racing. It’s about the best driver winning, not about the best strategy.

Now when I say strategy, I’m not talking how a driver drives his race, but how the pits are utilized. I know the pits offer excitement because of the unpredictability and changeability, and yes, it is racing, but it’s not driving and I want to see racing. Races shouldn’t be won and lost in the pits, but on the track.

I get a little disappointed when cars come in every 30-40 laps in IRL to change tires and refuel. A driver’s work can be destroyed by a cross-threaded wheel nut. Now you may feel we don’t have a choice. The cars demand it, but I disagree. I remember when refueling Formula One was outlawed. The cars ran with a couple hundred gallons of gas on board. The car’s characteristics at the beginning of the race were a whole lot different than at the end. Now that’s exciting because you're stuck with those characteristics with no ability to change them. Now could that be extended to tire changes? How about one tank of gas and one set of tires per race? That could be a tough proposition. I’m not sure Goodyear and co can make a tire capable of surviving the rigors of 200+miles, but I think it would be worth trying. Some of fondest Grand Prix races were spent watching drivers trying to preserve “wet” tires on a drying track to stay out of the pits. So an answer might be to limit tire changes to two during the race. There'd still be a place for strategy, but it would in the hands of the driver and the driver’s alone, where it should be.

Agree or disagree?

Monday, March 12, 2012

EPIC Weekend

by Tammy

OK, I know I was excited about the 24 Hours of Daytona. I meant it. But that's nothing to the anticipation I feel for next weekend. Not only do we finally see the start of the Formula 1 season, but next Saturday is SEBRING! And there's that little thing called Bristol for NASCAR.

We all have our favorite race and our favorite series. Certainly the American Le Mans Series (note the fancy new Web site they've launched, with a customizable home page, no less) is my favorite ... that's why I wrote about it. And the 12 Hours of Sebring is the Grand Poobah of all the ALMS races. Sure, most of the teams go to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but they all go to Sebring to test for Le Mans, some teams even claiming that 12 hours at Sebring is harder on the car than the 24 at Le Mans.

Why? Because the track is crazy bumpy. Those cars and drivers are battered and bruised by the end of the Sebring race, and that's not even counting the bumping and banging into each other they might do.

And speaking of bumping and banging ... you all know I'm not a fan of ovals, right? There's one exception to that rule, and that's Bristol. The track that drivers compare to flying a jet fighter inside a toilet bowl. It's that small. Someday I have to get to that race in person, and in the meantime, I don't miss it on TV. The track is a half mile long. That's it! Forty-three cars on that = chaos.

This weekend should be monumental, for all kinds of race fans. We'll all get a look at what this season will bring with new cars for known teams, new competitors in the field, new drivers, and changed allegiances. We'll all have to get used to new paint schemes and numbers associated with drivers.

But that's the joy of the new season.

At Sebring, I know I'll be rooting for Corvette Racing and Flying Lizard Motorsports as usual. I tend to be ABF (anything but Ferrari) after so many years of Porsche loyalty and then writing about Corvettes, but it's hard to kick someone when they're down, and my favorite villains (Risi) won't be there this year.

In Formula 1? Well, I'm a McLaren and Hamilton fan, when he behaves. We'll see what the new season will bring there....

NASCAR? Smoke.

So tell me who you'll be rooting for and what race(s) you'll be watching? Are you as excited as I am for the weekend to come?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bang For Your Buck

by Simon

I'm doing a repost this week as I'm getting ready to leave for the Tucson Festival of Books. I have to play "The Stig" on a panel. It's probably the nearest I'll ever get to Top Gear, but I'll enjoy the moment while I can. With the 2012 racing season upon us, this piece has a lot of relevance.

Unfortunately, we live in a time where we’re all tightening our belts and always looking for a bargain. And I think I’ve found one—live motorsport!

For the last few days, I’ve been researching some items for my next Aidy Westlake book. I wanted to know how much it cost to go see a race meeting nowadays. In the UK, it’s pretty reasonable. For such an expensive sport, the cost isn't passed on to the spectator. For a full day of racing was around $20. It’s a little different if you want to see a higher profile event such as German Touring Cars, but even still, you can get tickets for fifty bucks. For that, you're going to see a full race cart of ten races plus all the qualifying sessions. Stateside, I can get a weekend pass with seats in the grandstand at next month’s IRL race at Infineon for $75. That’s pretty good going. Compare that to other live events such as the theater, sports events, theme parks and music concerts and you’re looking at easily double. Seeing live motor racing is good value for money.

So if you’re looking for something a little different to do this summer that won't kill you bank balance, check out your nearest race track. You won't be sorry. And it just might make a fan of you…

Yours frugally,

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tweeting Racing

by Tammy

Last Friday I posted on the Poisoned Pen Press blog (which I share with 27 other authors) about two amazing social media byproducts of the Daytona 500 last week. The first was the speed with which Internet memes (mostly jokes) were propagated through Facebook and Twitter. The second was the revelation of Brad Keselowski tweeting from his car (and standing on the track) during the two-hour red flag. I won't repeat that discussion here (read it, if you're interested), except to repost my favorite Facebook joke image. But I have a few more thoughts on the whole Twitter thing.

First interesting point: Keselowski had a really good reason for having his phone with him. He'd been in a couple big wrecks in the last year, and in the second one, he had his phone with him, so he could text his parents on the way to the hospital to tell them, "ignore that fiery wreck on the television, I'm OK" or similar. And since he had the phone with him in case of emergency, well, why not entertain himself with it during a two-hour stoppage.

Second interesting point: how everyone in the racing world is freaking out about him using Twitter. ("Freaking out" = making a big deal of.) Loads and loads of people in the racing world have Twitter feeds, everyone from teams to drivers to television announcers. Maybe there are fewer in NASCAR? I don't really know. I do know that a bunch of IndyCar drivers are really, really active on it. But however much it was being used before Keselowski's "tweet heard round the world," suddenly the NASCAR world has woken up to the power Twitter has to send out a message. There are 120,000 more Twitter accounts (meaning people) who will now see what Brad Keselowski has to say because he gained that many followers last Monday night ... scratch that. I just checked his follower number, and if I remember correctly, he's now got about 170,000 more followers than he had at 7 p.m. last Monday.

I expect to see drivers and teams being a lot more active on Twitter after this. Which leads me to...

Third interesting point: Kevin Harvick saying he was going to keep his phone with him and load up on apps that might help him race, all in order to get the carrying of a cell phone in the car outlawed. So he doesn't have to keep up.

Harvick, you're sounding grouchy. No one's saying you have to keep up. The kids are always going to be more on top of new technology ... live with it.

Are any of you on Twitter, and do you follow the racing world? Who do you like? And do you think it'll get more popular now?

P.S. Follow me if you're there, and I'll follow you back: @tkaehler