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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

MIchael Andretti & IndyCar

SIMON: I like IndyCar. It’s entertaining, but it is the poor relation to Nascar, and I’m not sure why because I don’t find Nascar that interesting to watch. IndyCar’s poor relation status means that viewing figures aren’t that good and finances are tight. So what is a struggling championship to do? Possibly turn to Michael Andretti. There’s an interesting article/interview in Autosport with Michael. Not only is he a team owner, but his promotions company has stepped in to run and promote several of the IRL races. So with Michael being involved with so many layers of the championship, the big question is should Michael be given the keys to IndyCar altogether.

For me there's a conflict of interest issue here. Should a team owner also run the series? On the surface of it, I’d say no. if Michael A wants to run IndyCar, then he can’t run his team. He can own team, but he can’t direct his team’s affairs on race days. It would keep things clean and stop anyone from complaining (most of the time). It would certainly be interesting to see what he can do for the series that does need an image makeover. Then again, we could ask Bernie Ecclestone if he’d like a second job…

What are your thoughts Tammy?

TAMMY: I certainly see your point about a conflict of interest. I'd like to say, hey, we're all adults here, and even though he might put people in power to run things, that doesn't mean he'd be running things. Because we're all adults here and know that we shouldn't cheat or influence unduly. (And I know some of the people running things, such as the Baltimore GP this weekend. And they can be trusted to be impartial.) 

But in principle, I don't think the inmates should run the asylum. Being the power behind a couple race weekends? That's just running a wing or two of the building, not the whole mental institution. 

Then again, the Panoz Motor Sports Group ran in the American Le Mans Series, both of which were founded by Don Panoz (Dr. P, as he's known). I know those organizations were run as separate companies ... but it's the same sort of situation. (Though I can't say the Panoz cars got special treatment; they didn't do very well in the last years of their participation.)

So I'm with you, Simon, it wouldn't be appropriate. Then again, if you're giving me the choice between Michael A and Bernie E? I'd go ABB (anyone but Bernie). 

What do the rest of you think? If Michael A proves himself a great promoter and supporter, should he take an active role in the series? Or is that too much inbreeding?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why I Love Tony Stewart

by Tammy

It's appropriate to call Tony Stewart a "bad boy," but you have to have to have the right connotation. I'm not talking "bad boy" like James Dean, all sultry and seductive. I'm talking "bad boy" like Chuck Norris. On second thought, maybe what I really mean is "bad ass."

Because Tony Stewart, or "Smoke," is definitely a bad ass, in that "I don't give a crap what other people think, I'm going to be me and do my thing." And his thing is racing. He looooooves racing.

I've hung onto a six year old quote from Smoke, because it epitomizes what I think is awesome about him, but also what I want my protagonist to feel about racing. He's talking about the 24 Hours of Daytona:
"I do (the 24 Hours) just because it's another race I can go run," said Stewart.... "If anybody wants to go out and have a foot race after we're done with the media session, we'll go outside. I've got new shoes on, they're soft on the bottom and I think I'll have a traction advantage over you Docker fans. I'll race anything. It doesn't matter to me." (Racer, August 2006)

His passion for racing often means a spectacular display of driving, such as the final race last year, which he had to come from the back of the field (twice) to win outright to take the season championship. It can also mean some great displays of temper, such as this weekend's helmet throwing incident.

Now, I don't know if he was right or wrong and Kenseth was crowding him or driving fair. I don't really care. Because I love that Smoke is fired up enough to throw his helmet. And you know? Maybe he swore on tape, but I doubt it. He's savvy enough to know it's good TV and a good show of temper to throw his helmet, but not to curse a blue streak or make obscene gestures. Smoke tends (as far as I know) to leave it on the track.

Which makes for a damn entertaining show. Anyone else a fan?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Yeah, But It Could Be Worse

By Simon

Last week, the first glimpses of the 2012 Formula One cars were in the first winter testing session at Jerez in Spain. Because of the technical specifications for this has meant the introduction of the “step nose.” This has meant the front of the grand prix cars is so long and flat that it resembles something similar to a plank last seen on the side of Captain Jack Sparrow’s Black Pearl pirate ship for people to walk.

Over the last twenty years or so, F1 design has approached something akin to a work of art. The aerodynamic demands have resulted in curves and lines that would make DaVinci weep. So the changes made (as pictured by the Ferrari here) are a step backwards. But it could be a lot worse. For me, the 1970’s were an awkward time for grand prix designers. Aerodynamics and down force were being were in their infancy and with all infants, not every newborn is a pretty one.

So before anyone judges this year’s crop of Formula One racers, I’d like to share some blasts from the past. These images could cause vomiting and temporary blindness, so please have adequate precautions close by.

In their time, Tyrrell was responsible for some great innovations and all three of Jackie Stewart’s world titles, but this six-wheel mistake still makes me wretch 35years later.

At the time, Hesketh F1 were the darlings of their time because they were a bunch of amateurs with a dream, but that doesn’t forgive them for this monstrosity.

If you're looking for French elegance then you won’t find it with this Ligier. Is that an air intake or a sail? God knows how it handled in a crosswind or a stiff breeze for that matter.

More sailboat design, this time from McLaren. Luckily, Bruce wasn’t alive to see this thing bearing his name.

For some reason, this 1979 Ensign decided to incorporate a staircase, no doubt to make entry into the car easier for their drivers.

Finally, we've got a March which looks have crashed into a surfboard.

So there we have it. Yes, 2012 isn't a banner year for grand prix cars, but it could be a lot worse. :-)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Who Are The Bad Guys?

by Tammy

I was watching a race over the weekend and found myself thinking in Star Wars terms, with one team as the rebel alliance, trying to go against the might of the evil empire. I know why I was thinking of one team as Darth Vader and minions (because I've read newspaper articles containing less than savory tidings of the main character), but it got me thinking about how and why I form impressions of different teams and drivers, as well as what influences my allegiances.

I have to be honest and admit that I'm not always rational. And I can be fickle.

Take Jimmie Johnson, for instance. I used to dislike Jimmie. A lot. For no good reason except that he won a lot, often beating Tony Stewart, who was (and remains) a favorite. Then I saw him at the 24 Hours of Daytona one year, at the track early, having a great time. I started listening to his interviews and discovered he seemed like a decent guy. Now I root for him. What happened to me?

In Jimmie's case, and probably the case of a few other drivers I don't care for much, I fell victim to the  prevailing wisdom (if you can call it that) in the media about him. He was bland, boring, a machine. It didn't take disliking and then liking Jimmie to make me realize how easily we're influenced by media around us. I knew that already.

But when I started writing my second book (titled Braking Points, due out April 2013), I thought about how we're swayed by mere opinion, not even fact, and decided to see how my protagonist would react as the target of unfair bias.

I'd like to think that I'm making judgments about the drivers and teams I do or don't like these days based only on behavior I've observed, though I realize I still see only a portion of the whole picture through the filter of television, print journalism, and social media. But at least I'm making my own evaluations, not just parroting negative words from others.

I'm still not a fan of Kyle Busch though.

What about you? Do you harbor irrational dislike for any team or driver? Or is it totally rational?

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Appeal of Danger

TAMMY: Simon mentioned hearing that Junior Johnson has said racing should be more dangerous. That it shouldn't get too pedestrian. Make it a driver sport, not a technological masterpiece.

I thought about this comment this week when a video of Jeremy Foley and his co-driver rolling down the side of Pike's Peak during the hillclimb made the front page of after making the rounds on Facebook and racing sites.

Apparently, they're OK. So, do people want danger in their racing? I think they do, at least a little. Do I? I admit to being fascinated by the wrecks, though I don't honestly ever sit there and hope for them.

Why do we want danger? I think it reminds us that what those drivers are doing is hard. It makes them heroes when they succeed, and makes us glad it's not us crashing. Of course, we all want the danger right up until someone dies....

But I agree with Junior Johnson. I enjoy watching NASCAR more than I enjoy watching Formula 1. It's not that the F1 drivers aren't working hard or fantastic at their jobs. But the cars are such technological marvels it's hard to see what the drivers are doing. And I guess I like a little rubbin' with my racin'.

What do you think, Obi Wan?

SIMON: I came across Junior Johnson's comments in Sports Illustrated (not the swimsuit issue). I don't think he was highlighting the danger as such, but more that he wanted to see more driver skill and less chassis design.

I suppose Junior's point is the best driver should win and not the best team of engineers. That's where it gets tough for F1. Operating a modern F1 car makes my brain hurt because it's so complicated, but the drivers seem to make it look easy (the bastards). But as much Junior laments the olden days, I don't think there's ever been a time where a competitive edge didn't come from car design to assist the driver.  Sorry Junior.

However danger is part of racing.  It's a risk vs. reward thing.  How close can a driver take a car and essentially get away with not ending up in a wreck. I think the creepiest thing a spectator at a race track ever asked me was "do you think we'll see someone die today?" Yes, danger is a part of the equation, but it's a small part.  You know there's danger, you accept the danger, but the thrill and excitement comes from the competition and defying the risk to find the limits of a vehicle.

That's us, but what do you all think--how much danger should be in motorsport?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Curbing Our Enthusiasms

I was thinking about Group B rally cars of the early to mid-80’s. The classification allowed ordinary cars such as Lancia Delta, Mini Metros, Peugeot 205s and Audi Quattros to be turned in fire breathing monsters. At the height of their development, these family-based hatchbacks were putting out as much as 600bhp. Sadly, the envelope had been pushed to its limit. After several major crashes and two deaths, the sport dialed back and the governing body outlawed Group B cars.

I always felt that was a shame. They were fantastic in competition and the sport lost some its excitement when manufacturers had to drop down to Group A cars, which had half the power and fewer bells and whistles. Instead of seeing the best the sport could offer, you got to see its second cousin with the limp and the lazy eye. But, I understand why the governing body (the FIA) saw the need to rein in the engineers’ imagination. The sport was getting bloody dangerous.

This isn't the first time motorsport has tried to rein technological developments. Formula One has changed the rules a bunch of times. It’s changed engine sizes, outlawed ‘ground effect’ cars, outlawed turbochargers, raised ride heights, reduced wing size, replaced slick tires with groove ones. Usually all these changes have been for the sames reason—to slow the cars down in order to increase safety.

I can't say I’m a fan of that thinking as a lover of motorsport and as an engineer. I’m not saying that because I’m reckless or I want to see drivers die. One thing I hated when I was racing was having to put up with people who came to see wrecks and not racing. I remember someone coming up to me in the paddock to ask who did I think would die today. No, I’d prefer to see the safety requirement increase to match the engineering, because the sport is about pushing the limits. I want to see the best-engineered and inventive cars out there and when it’s being curtailed, it kind of takes the shine off my apple.

But all that said, every conservative measure designed to slow the cars down doesn’t last. Within a few years, engineers find a way of working with the restrictions and still making the cars go faster. Usually within a few years, the cars are going quicker than before. It just goes to show you can't stop progress and you can't cub our enthusiasms for speed.

Yours on the fastrack,

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reading Hot Seat

by Tammy (who is pimping Simon's book today, though he didn't pay me to do so)

I read a lot of books about racing, especially fiction. Especially mystery. Though I'll be honest, there's always just a little underlying sense of competition when it comes to another racing mystery. A sense of, "OK, you're going to have to go some to impress me because I do this also." 

But inevitably, I have to bow to the master. Because Simon knows a hell of a lot about spinning a story, and about racing. (More than I do, about both.) 

I waited until I had a clear head and a couple clear afternoons and evenings, and I sat down with his new book, Hot Seat. And I loved it, even more than his first Aidy Westlake mystery, Did Not Finish. I was annoyed at having to go to work, not being able to stay home and finish it. 

I'm not going to spoil the plot for you, but I'll say that I love how we're getting to know Aidy's grandfather Steve and his friend Dylan better (I worried for Dylan the whole way through this book!), and I heartily approve of the strong female characters in this book (even if Chloe is a b*^%). Thanks for tossing a hard-as-nails female driver in there, Simon.

So, anyone who loves a good mystery, and especially if you're a fan of racing, pick up Hot Seat. You won't be disappointed. Good job, Obi Wan!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Road Ahead For Porsche

SIMON: Volkswagen has taken a controlling interest of Porsche (after a seesaw battle where Porsche had a controlling interest of VW). What that means for Porsche is hard to say right now. However, it’s worth pointing out that VW already owns Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini to name a few and there's where things could get a little tricky for Porsche. VW owns a lot of car companies that already make supercars, so where does Porsche fit in? Does it mean that Porsche will become a badge engineering entity? I don’t think so. On the surface, VW lets its companies cooperate with each other and not crush their individual spirit. Certainly Audi, Lambo and Bugatti work with each other, although Porsche’s design philosophy doesn’t quite walk in step with the others.

I remember when Fiat took over Ferrari in the 80’s. There was a lot of concern that there'd be a lot of interference and cars would suffer because of it and there's some truth to that. The Testarossa did have a lot of Fiat switches and knobs, etc., but in the long run, Ferrari does seem to have benefitted from their ownership. Personally, I don’t think Porsche will suffer the issues as Ferrari. However, I am interested to see where they fit in. Audi engineers seems to have done a lot of the development for Lambo and Bugatti, but will Porsche be left alone or will there be some competition between Audi and Porsche engineers to do some special projects. That’s where there could be some internal rivalry.

What do you think Tam Tam?

TAMMY: My first question is about the plan of Porsche to come back to Le Mans with a prototype ... which would presumably go up against Audi for top honors. That will be interesting. I don't see a lot to worry about in terms of a different company philosophy. At least, I don't expect Volkswagen to water down Porsche's class and racing heritage.

My second thought is that it's sort of a non-issue. The two companies have come full circle, back to where they started, given that Dr. Ferdinand Porsche designed the Beetle for Hitler in 1933. And the two companies' product lines have always been mixed. (My husband has a story about working on a free 1978 Plymouth Horizon and discovering that the VW/Audi branded half-shaft could only be purchased at the local Porsche dealer.) So I don't think much will change, at least between VW and Porsche. Now, will there be any competition for favored status among those products owned by VW? That could get interesting....

Do any of the rest of you think differently?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Turn Off Factor

By Simon

Mercedes are turning me off of their cars. I’m sure Mercedes don’t much care, but I kind of think of it as a shame. I always viewed Mercedes as a classy car company. They were the German Rolls Royce, but over the last twenty years or so, I think they’ve tarnished this image with a quest to develop muscle cars. Case in point is the car pictured below—a Mercedes CLK GTR. This car made the news last week because it was expected to rake in a million pounds at auction.

A million quid for this train wreck? You’ve got to be joking. Yes, only a handful were made. Yes, it has jaw-dropping power. But come on, it looks like Mercedes raided a tacky after market body-kit outfit when it came to the styling. And this is my problem with Mercedes of late is with its vulgar display of design and power output. Whereas Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, Jaguar, etc., have turned out some elegant looking supercars that operate as good as they look, Mercedes keep putting out cars that look like house bricks on wheels then compound the problem by shoving way too much power through the wheels. They’ve turned out a number of cars that can’t handle the monstrous power they develop.

Mercedes has a fabulous research and development programs, so it baffles me why they keep turning out these cars. For all their ability, it’s about time we saw some true Mercedes class.

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Car Talks to Me

by Tammy

I got an e-mail from my car this week. Really.

See, a month ago we leased a new car (a Buick Verano: needed something to drive more than one other person around in, got a great lease deal), and because it's a brand-new car, it comes with all the bells and whistles. It's got Sirius XM radio and OnStar. And I love the fact that someone will call me if they sense I've been in an accident.

I was also told I'd get status updates, but I didn't think much about it. I was too busy trying to adjust, after going from my 1989 BMW 325i to something that felt like a rental car.

Then it e-mailed me.

OK, OK, OnStar e-mailed me to tell me my left rear tire was 3psi low.

The most interesting part of the experience so far has been telling my parents about it and having my mother ask if that wasn't creepy, that some system knew so much about where I was and what I was doing. And wasn't that a little Big Brother?

My opinion? It's awesome. I don't care who knows where I'm going, but if there's technology available that can help me avoid problems I wouldn't otherwise know about? (Or can reach out to me if I've been in an accident?) Sign me up.

I realize this is a generational thing, because I know people my parents age who refuse to use club cards at the grocery store because they don't want someone tracking what they purchase. But in this day and age, any authority can track pretty much anything about me through credit card logs and my cell phone. So why not add my car to the list?

What about you? Do you embrace technology? Do you want e-mails from your car?

Now excuse me, I have to go find an air compressor....

Friday, August 3, 2012

Olympic Moments

TAMMY: Who can escape the Olympics these days? Not me. I'm a happy victim. But they raise a number of questions:

What am I going to do this weekend with the Olympics and an ALMS race on?
Are those U.S. female gymnasts really good friends?
WHO out there cares about the medal count by country?!?! (I HATE THAT.)
And what golds would we award to our favorite racers?

Gold Medal in Whining (F1 division): While last year the honor belonged to Lewis Hamilton, this year, I'm awarding the honorary gold to Sebastian Vettel who berated his engineers for not doing something to get him unstuck in last weekend's race in Hungary (see the entertaining article from, which refers to him as "Princess Stampy Foot").

Gold Medal in "Where Did He Come From?" (NASCAR division): To Jimmie Johnson, who somehow seems to be making a surge to claim a sixth title in seven years. He just won his fourth race at the Brickyard. Don't count Jimmie out of anything.

Simon, do you have any answers?

SIMON: I quite like the Olympics, so I'm not complaining too much.  However, I do have a couple of golds to hand out.

Gold Medal for being a surprise package: Romain Grosjean has been a surprise star in the Lotus this year and if he keeps up his performances, I can't see him being there too long.

Gold Medal for Whining: Anyone who has bitched about the Pirelli tires in F1.  Yes, they aren't very good, but everyone has them, so stop moaning (and I'm looking at you Mr. Schumacher).

4th Place Special "Tin" Medal: This goes to Jenson Button while he works out how to get back to the front of the grid.  He needs the encouragement.

TAMMY: Oh, I love the Olympics, too. And I like your medals. What do the rest of you think? Any special medals we need to award?