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 16, 2013

Racing Year in Review

by Tammy

Simon and I are taking a blog hiatus for the end of the year (going dark for 2 weeks over the holidays), and when I return, it will be January 6, 2014. Leaving aside that I'm not prepared for the new year, at that point, we'll be less than two weeks to the 24 Hours of Daytona, the first race of the year and the first race of the TUSCC (the Tudor United Sports Car Championship). Big stuff.

So it's time to reflect on what I thought was significant about 2013. Chime in with your thoughts and anything I've missed....
  • Daytona 24: I was embedded in a race team, and it was fabulous.
  • Daytona 500: Danica on pole, which set a bar too high for her to meet the rest of the year. By the stats, I think she did well for a rookie, but of course, the Danica lovers or haters will believe what they believe, no matter what. We'll see if she improves in 2014.
  • Long Beach Grand Prix: the introduction of Team Kate! And the start of the long good-bye to the American Le Mans Series (the merchandise trailer was absent from this race, for instance).
  • Indy 500: Kanaan wins!
  • Le Mans: the death of Allan Simonsen (which, as I noted in a blog post, eerily reflected a plot idea I'd hatched just the night before), the triumph of Audi. Leena Gade as a rock star.
  • Baltimore GP: what a bus-wreck of accidents.
  • IndyCar: A more contentious year between drivers and Race Control? The oval races were mostly uninteresting? Dario retires.
  • Petit Le Mans: farewell to the ALMS. Hello to the Corvette Stingray. A great time had by all.
  • Formula 1: a total snoozefest. I'm not sure I watched more than 10 laps of a single race.
  • NASCAR: Jimmie wins 6. Danica receives hate mail. Smoke breaks a leg. 
What did I miss? What do you remember as being the most significant racing events of 2013? Overall a thumbs-up or thumbs-down?

Hey, while you're ending the year and prepping for 2014, make sure you're following me on Facebook and Twitter (@tkaehler and @katereilly28)!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Game Show or Grand Prix?


By Simon


F1 is going to have a big change next year.  No, I don’t mean the engine change. I mean the points change.  25 points will go to the winner of a race with a sliding scale down to 10th place which gets a point, but the last race of the season will be a double points round.

What!?!  Is this F1 or Final Jeopardy?

I don’t like the current points system in F1, but this double points score thing is just too gimmicky and something Grand Prix racing doesn’t need. I know the points system has changed over the years, but I preferred when only the first six drivers got points and not many at that. The points from 1st to 6th used to go 9-6-4-3-2-1. With points going down to 10th place for the modern race, it means half the starting grid will come away with a point and that comes off a little weak to me.

When points are that hard to come by, even a single championship point feels like a win. It meant something. It meant you got a point and you earned it. It meant you were a driver of note.

Now, I’m not trying to be curmudgeonly (but I kind of am) but I don’t want points easy to come by. I want it to be a battle. If this stuff was easy, everyone would be doing it. With so many people in the running for points, it kind of dilutes the significance. If Grand Prix racing is the pinnacle of the sport, then awards need to be few and far between, don’t you think?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Title Needed!

by Tammy

Finding the right title for a book is tough. For the Kate Reilly Racing Mystery series, it's got to be a term that relates to racing, but also sound vaguely menacing—and if it can vaguely relate to the theme of the book, so much the better. (For example, Braking Points reflected how overwhelmed Kate was and how she struggled to cope with everything.)

I've got a couple ideas for Kate Book 3, but I'm not in love with them. So I need help, and I'm offering prizes. 

If your is one of the three best title ideas, I'll send I'll send you any three items from the premium Team Kate prize pack (that's a Team Kate shirt, a signed copy of Dead Man's Switch, a Team Kate bag, earplugs, and even a book-cover belt buckle). And if I use your title now, I'll name a character after you (in either Book 3 or Book 4).

What do you have to do?
Post your book title suggestions here, on Facebook, or Tweet to @katereilly28 (follow me there, while you're at it).

Remember, book titles need to:
  • relate to racing, or be a racing term/phrase
  • relate to murder and bad things happening (e.g., no "Kittens and Rainbows Race Team")
  • reflect the book's story/theme
What's the book about?
It's set at the 24 Hours of Daytona, starting on the pre-race grid, and ending with the checkered flag (same team and car, now in the United Sports Car Series). Key aspects of the story: hidden secrets from the past; situations, events, or people that aren't what they seem; family relationships (especially siblings and cousins); big money teams versus small, one-car efforts; and just how long a 24 hour race really is.

Throw me any ideas you've got, I beg you!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Deposed

By Simon

The interesting bit of F1 news over the last months has been the developments surrounding Ross Brawn at Mercedes—namely that Mercedes were debating whether to replace him as team principal. Well, the decision has been made—he's leaving. Some reports say Mercedes wanted him to stay and he wanted away.

This might not sound like much until you consider that Brawn created the team. Before Mercedes F1 was born, it was Brawn GP (although you could argue that the team’s origins belonged to Honda before that). However, Mercedes gobbled up Brawn GP after they won the world title.

So it has to be an odd feeling to see something that you built from the ground up is potentially being taken away from you. Okay, when Mercedes came knocking with a big check in hand, Brawn and his partners did take it, so you can argue that he put himself in this vulnerable possible where he effectively went from boss to employee. Still, it has to suck to lose control of your team, as it were.

I can see why Brawn has been living under one of Mercedes’ silver arrows for awhile. Since the takeover, the team has declined in both results and performance. Nobody is in F1 for the fun of it so I can see why Mercedes want changes.

Now that's he out, I don’t think Ross Brawn will be short of job offers, however it’ll be weird for him to wander down pit lane and see someone else running your creation. I suppose the truth of motor racing is that you're trying to keep control of your environment under extreme conditions and if you don’t, you're finished—and that applies on and off the track.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Planning the Racing Year

by Tammy

When the leaves are off the trees (except here in Southern California). When the last racing champion has finally been crowned. When there's nothing on television on Sundays but football ... you know what time it is, right?

Time to plan what races you'll get to in 2014!

So let's talk. We've got NASCAR, IndyCar, and the new United Sports Car Championship. Oh, and don't forget the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The givens for me in 2014 are Long Beach and Le Mans. I'm considering at least a pre-race trip (is that a travesty?) to the 24 Hours of Daytona to double-check some last details for the next book and lay eyes on the new C7.R, so I'll add that one in.

Then there's talk about a trip to Indy to hook up with some of my new racing besties, Glass Hammer Racing ... and that's more likely to be the IndyCar road race, given the proximity of the 500 to Le Mans.

Then I start getting tempted by all kinds of other options ... Laguna Seca's just up the road (USCC May4) . We have family in the Detroit area (USCC May 30-31—wait, too close to Le Mans). Petit is always an E-ticket ride (USCC October 4). NASCAR's out here March 23 (nope, I'll be in Monterey at a mystery convention). IndyCar's out here August 30 (doable).

And that's not even considering Houston or Austin (family, friends, and a great mystery bookstore in the state) for any number of types of racing. That's not considering F1 at all. But I don't think it's the year for either the Indy500 or F1. Maybe 2015.

Because the big one is going to be Le Mans. June 14-15. Wahoo!

So here's my schedule so far:

  • January 24-26, Daytona 24 (USCC
  • April 11-13, Long Beach (USCC/IndyCar)
  • ?May 10, Indianapolis? (IndyCar)
  • June 14-15, Le Mans
And the rest, TBD. So tell me, what am I missing? Where are you going in 2014?



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The White Flag For IndyCar?


By Simon

IndyCar is making changes for 2014 and not for the good according to Mario Andretti (as per this article).  And to be honest, Mario is right.

Next season, the IndyCar season will run from late-March through to the end August.  Essentially, truncating the season by ending it two months earlier than normal.  The reason for this is to squeeze out the downtime teams have and pretty much have a race every week and cut out the summer hiatus—and probably cut costs.  This move feels like white flag waving and not the kind that says there's one lap to go—although it could mean one last go around for the IRL if they go down this route.

IndyCar already has an image and popularity problem and in turn, a money problem—the real fuel that keeps racecars going.  By shrinking the calendar to avoid things like the football season just screams that IndyCar can’t handle its place in the sporting marketplace and once you start thinking small, you will stay small.  I fear that this move will ultimately marginalize IndyCar which is sad as I truly enjoy it.   

And I don’t see the sense of a possible of international “winter series” especially when it’s a series of exhibition races.  No one cares about exhibition races because nothing’s at stake.

Personally, I say go big, not small.  That’s the only way to give IndyCar a boost.  If I were the IRL, I’d examine heavily why NASCAR succeeds with fans where Indy doesn’t.  Do something to boost the image of the drivers and cars.  If IndyCar wants to go international, go for it.  Hit up the countries that are losing their F1 status—such as Korea—and fill the void.  Use the Circuit of the Americas for God’s sake. It’s there.  And I hate to say it, bring a Beckham like figure to the series.  It needs something that NASCAR and F1 don’t. 

IndyCar can be a major player and it won’t be easy getting there, but going small isn’t going to do it.  Ignore me at your peril, IRL.  ;-)

 

 

 

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Racing TBR

by Tammy

Suddenly, I have an enormous pile of books about racing and racers to read (TBR = to be read). I read a lot, and mostly it's fiction. But I am compelled to also collect stories of motorsport and those who love her.

Here's my current booklist ... tell me if there's anything you want to borrow, or anything I'm missing!

Long Way Round, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, a motorbike journey around the world
Race to Dakar, Charley Boorman, the story of riding a motorbike in the Dakar Rally
Rush to Glory, Tom Rubython, the true story of the James Hunt/Niki Lauda rivalry
Driven by Desire, the Desiré Wilson story, by Alan Wilson (biography)
The Cars of Vel Miletich and Parnelli Jones ... OK, that's mostly photos (gorgeous photos)
Carchitecture, Frames, Fenders, and Fins ... also mostly amazing photos
As a Matter of Fact, I am Parnelli Jones, with Bones Bourcier (autobiography)
Bugatti Queen, Miranda Seymour, about Hellé Nice, racer and all-around adventurer of the 1920s and 1930s (this was the racer Jay Leno asked if I knew about when I met him briefly a couple weeks ago; I didn't know, so I got the book quickly)

What are some of your favorite non-fiction books about racing or racers? Simon and I have covered some of our favorites in the past (The Limit, Sunday Money, Driving with the Devil, and The Mechanic's Tale, to name just a few) ... but it's going to be a long off-season! Time to stockpile some reading material.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Doubling Down


By Simon

So McLaren have dumped Sergio Perez after one season.  Next year, his seat will be taken by the up and coming Kevin Magnussen.  

Can’t say I’m surprised to see Perez go.  I didn’t think he was the right fit when they announced he would replace Lewis Hamilton.  However, I’m not sure Magnussen is the right guy either.  Perez had F1 experience when he went to McLaren.  And Magnussen has none, although he’s described as “lightning quick.”

I’m not trying to diss either driver, but McLaren doesn’t need a rookie to help them out of the hole they're in.  They need a smart, seasoned and/or technical driver who can help them improve a very poor car.  Magnussen might be the quickest of cats, but without a competitive car, it won’t make any difference.  I know things are changing for 2014 specs-wise, which will level the playing field somewhat, but they really need an all round effort to help get them out of the weeds they currently find themselves in.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen Nico Hulkenberg or Paul Di Resta go to McLaren and have Magnussen go to Force India or Sauber.

Only time will tell, I suppose.  I hope McLaren can turn things around as we don’t need another Red Bull whitewash.  And I sincerely hope Kevin Magnussen does well and the pressure of McLaren’s expectations doesn’t become a burden for him.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Boring, Impressive, and Surprising

by Tammy

The last week in racing was a little bit of everything.

In Formula 1, not content with wrapping up the championship with 3 (or was it 4?) races still to run, Vettel ground the rest of the field into so much dust under his tires, winning the USGP, making it his 12th win of the season and his 8th in a row.

Impressive? Absolutely. Boring? No doubt. As I've said before, I've got massive respect ... but I also had better things to do than watch the race. Again.

In NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson won his sixth championship in smooth style, finishing the final race of the year in 9th place, for a 20-some point margin in the championship. It was a nail-biter down to the end, though, given that he needed to finish 23rd or better to win, and given Matt Kenseth (2nd place) doing all he could. The commentators reported Jimmie having said he wanted 8 championships (the record of 7 is held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt) ... and no one who's watched him over the last decade would be surprised to see him achieve that.

Surprising? Nope. Impressive? Definitely. Boring? Depends on your point of view.

And in IndyCar, the news that took plenty by surprise, and dismayed many, many fans, was of Dario Franchitti's retirement from racing. The bottom line is that he got one-too-many concussions, and he hasn't been recovering as quickly as hoped from the last one. The medical opinion seems to be that any more such bell-ringers and he risks brain damage (Is this sounding familiar, Simon?), and he made the wise choice to stop. (It does make me wonder how many racecar drivers have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain disease that the world of football is just beginning to recognize.)

Surprising? For sure. But rational and understandable.

Lastly, in the media, former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb dredged up the years' old question of whether drivers are athletes. Jimmie wouldn't be drawn into the controversy, but Jeff Gordon had a great response (image).

Surprising? Yes. Boring? Completely. Aren't we past this by now? And seriously, even the notoriously unfit Tony Stewart could take most defensive linemen, am I right?

Best two Twitter hashtags of the week: #peoplewhoaremoreathleticthandonovan and #ThankYouDario.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A New Era? I Hope So


 
By Simon

Tammy’s favorite billionaire Bernie Ecclestone said that Seb Vettel’s F1 dominance is bad for the sport (and probably Bernie’s bank balance).  I’m actually a Vettel fan (although his little breakdown last month’s complaining it wasn’t fair cars were getting in his way was painfully childish) but I get what Bernie is saying. Vettel and Red Bull’s dominance is great for them but not so much for everyone else—especially spectators.  It’s McLaren of the late 80’s all over again.  However Bernie might get his wish with the changes for 2014.  

Essentially the new engine format (tiny turbo charged V6s) means everyone has to design a car from the ground up to accommodate it.  No doubt that Adrian Newey will come up with something amazing, as will McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, etc., but the game changer is the engine.  Who knows whether Renault, Honda, Ferrari, Mercedes can come up with a winning engine in such a short development period.  It could and probably will be a very unpredictable for a season or two.  If Renault doesn’t give Red Bull the engine they need, it’ll be interesting to see how much of Seb Vettel’s success is his driving or Adrian Newey’s genius.  Either way, 2014 will be a very interesting season.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Spiritual Home?

by Tammy

Since I'm newer to the whole racing world than most of you out there (and most of the racing fans I meet), I'm often playing catch-up. Which is what happened this weekend.

At the urging of a Facebook connection, I finally headed up to Glendale to a wonderful bookstore: Autobooks-Aerobooks. It's, you guessed it, a bookstore that focuses on print and video about cars and airplanes. A bookstore? Focusing on cars and racing? That might just be where I belong.

And I'm really playing catch-up. The store has been around since 1951, and it seems to still be going strong, even in this era of digital books. As Tina van Curen, the current owner, said to me, "The kind of books people buy here, they want to look at in large format, not read on a little screen." And she's right.

My excuse for finally getting up there this weekend was a signing by Vel Milatich and Parnelli Jones for their large-format, coffee-table book, The Cars of Vel Milatich and Parnelli Jones (photographer Dean Kirkland was also signing). In the hour I was in the shop—overwhelmed by the variety of materials and the people eager to stand around talking about cars and racing—the place was buzzing, and Parnelli was kept busy signing that book and his autobiography (and taking photos with us).

But the store doesn't just have signing events, they also have an informal car show every Saturday morning. And it's not just any car show, it's one that Jay Leno routinely appears at. I'd heard "Leno is often at the bookstore," in the past, but I was still astonished to walk into the store at 11:15 Saturday morning and find him there—on his way out, but stopping to sign books and take photos with anyone who asked. Nicest guy ever.

So, anyone who's into cars? This place should be on your list of places to stop when you come to LA. I'll probably take you there myself. (And Simon? Tina's interested in doing a signing event of "car-guy novels" with fiction writers next year ... maybe you can come down?) And if we get there on a Saturday, we might just run into LA's biggest car guy and one of his treasures.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I'm in The Bad Groove

By Simon

The lovely Amy Marbach interviewed me over at Bad Groove. We talked about racing, books and open wheel.  Not bad for a NASCAR site.  :-) 

Any, enjoy the interview here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Racing Dominance

by Tammy

Was it boring when Michael Schumacher was winning? Because I have to tell you, I'm finding Formula 1 so boring these days I can't even be bothered to DVR the races—I used to always DVR them and watch if the reports were of a good race, but "the exciting battle for 5th" doesn't count.

Partly, I assume, it's a matter of whether I like the driver or not. Take Jimmie Johnson. I tend to like him, so I'm glad to see him winning ... then again, it was less liking than awe and respect when he was steamrolling the competition to five consecutive championships. The last one and this year have been different, more clutch performances. Down to the wire.

But I just can't get excited about Vettel. Is it that he's cold, aloof, reserved? Is it that he's kind of a brat? I figure he's outgrown that by now, but I'm still not warming to him.

I think my problem is the combination of open-wheel cars, fragile cars, no refueling strategy, and then the dominance of one specific driver that means I just don't engage. If I'd been a lifelong viewer perhaps—then again, a friend of mine who's a lifelong viewer isn't watching the end of this season anyway.

I caught a tweet today where someone blamed Jimmie's dominance for NASCAR's viewer woes. But I don't think it's entirely on his shoulders. After all, he's not dominating this season, and someone else won last year. Plus, plenty of other racing series (hello, IndyCar) have seen declining viewership and attendance numbers, so I'd be more inclined to blame the economy and strange broadcast channels (who else misses SPEED?).

But I want to know what you think? Is it boring when a driver or team dominates a particular series? Or just when it's a driver you don't like?

And do you think Jimmie will take it this year?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mr. Motorsport


By Simon

I love commentators. They are the custodians of the sport. Competitors, teams, coaches and owners can come and go, but commentators are a constant. For they're the trusted voices. They reflect our love of the sport and they keep that love burning. Motorsport is lucky enough to have a number of great people to voice the game, but for me I have one standout.

As far as I’m concerned, Murray Walker is Mr. Motorsport. He’s been commentating on motorsport in the UK, since the end of the 40’s. from 1978 – 2001, he commentated on Formula One, traveling to every venue the Grand Prix circus traveled to. Not only that he voiced the commentary for everything that the BBC aired whether it be rally-cross, touring cars or Formula Three. He knew the sport and the drivers. His trademark was his excitability. His voice would climb into a high-pitched wail when the action reached a crescendo. It was fantastic because it was something that matched the excitement of the viewer. He was always respectful to the drivers, which endeared him to them. The other trademark that endeared him to the public was his ability to get something wrong or jinx a driver whenever he endorsed their success. He’d say something like, “With two laps to go, nothing can stop so and so from winning.” A lap later, that driver’s car would be at the side of the track after being struck by lightning or something. He is a character like no other. I thought it was very cool that when he retired from F1 broadcasting, the owners of Indianapolis Speedway gave him a brick from the original track. I believe he's one of the few non drivers to be given one.
And while there are some very knowledgeable voices out there right now, no one inspires the kind of excitement in me like Murray did.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Losing More

by Tammy

Is it just me, or has this been an exceptionally bad year for deaths in the motorsports community? Allan Simonson at Le Mans, Sean Edwards at a private coaching event, Jason Leffler in Midget cars, Josh Burton in Sprint cars, Andrea Antonelli in motorcycle racing, and Maria de Villota from injuries sustained in her 2012 accident.

And don't forget other freakish accidents and deaths: the course worker run over at the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix, Dario Franchitti's terrible wreck at Houston or Justin Wilson's t-bone accident at Fontana, even Tony Stewart's Sprint car wreck.

I think 2013 was worse than years past. So why?

Given all the attention paid to making the cars safer (especially in IndyCar since Dan Wheldon's death in 2011), I think it's just the law of averages.

I know that drivers think it won't happen to them—I mean, they have to believe that to get in the car and do their jobs. But I have to believe that some of the losses (especially of Sean Edwards, who I believe would have been racing with the team at Petit, but instead was there on the car above), hit particularly close to home. Or maybe they'll chalk that one up to letting someone else get behind the wheel with you in the car.

Dr. Jim Norman, who's a racer and doctor, among other pursuits, is passionate about the need for safer tracks. In the wake of Edwards' death, he added more information to his article on the why of racing deaths, including one tidbit that surprised me: gravel traps get less and less effective the faster a car is going. If a car is going really fast, they'll skip right over the top of the gravel and hardly be slowed down. Which of course renders them useless for situations in which they're the most necessary.

I met Jim at Petit (photo above), and he was passionate about the need for racetracks to update their safety features. In this day and age, he argues, drivers take plenty of risks, but they shouldn't need to take the risk of running head-first into a concrete wall or a tree, and many tracks are still constructed in that fashion (Road Atlanta included, such as the runoff from Turn 1, where there's grass leading to a wall lightly rimmed in tires).

On one hand, I can hear some of the old-timers saying they didn't need those things when they raced (like they say/complain about lights at the Daytona 24). And I can understand the dilemma of the racetracks, who aren't scurrying to fix these turns and walls, because those are huge costs to compensate for something that's already inherently dangerous. On the other hand, shouldn't we do everything we can to make sure drivers don't die?

I just hope 2014 isn't as traumatic and deadly.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why NASCAR?


By Simon
 
GoDaddy has pulled out of IndyCar.  It’s sticking with Danica & NASCAR, but as it expands its horizons into other countries, they're looking to spend their ad dollars in other sports such as soccer.  No great shocker.  Sponsors come and go.  But I was a little disappointed to read some remarks out of GoDaddy.  They were leaving IndyCar because the dollar to potential customer ratio was too high.  Simply put: IndyCar has too small a viewership.  Something we all know too.  It was pretty sad to see barely occupied grandstands at Fontana.  Yet again, IndyCar loses out to tin-topped cousins. 

This is something I don’t get, because I don’t mean to be a snob, but I think IndyCar is far more interesting to watch than NASCAR.  Open wheel cars always look cooler.  The series has one of the most world’s historic races in the Indy500.  So it should be a clear winner—right? 

Sadly, not.

So why do I people gravitate to NASCAR?  Is it stock car’s romantic prohibition origins?  Is it a regional thing?  Is it because the cars somewhat akin to the cars you can buy at your dealership?  Is the sponsors?  Why?

So for the NASCAR fans in the e-room, what makes NASCAR the tops?  I really want to know.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The End of an Era

by Tammy

The American Le Mans Series is over. Fifteen years of competition and friendships, perhaps now scattered to the winds. I say that with wistfulness more than negativity, because I get that things change, and I believe that change and evolution are good things. But it was hard to leave the friends I'd made at the end of the night, wondering if I'd ever see them again anywhere but on social media.

It was in the Series that the outlook was uncertain (and that the new series seems more like a buy-out than a merger). In the paddock, Petit was also simply another race to be run and struggled through and won. And 2014 promises nothing but new, exciting challenges, starting with the (former) ALMS teams taking part in the 24 Hours of Daytona, come January.

Pinning down my favorite memory from my experience with the ALMS was pretty hard, until I thought all the way back to the beginning. Sebring, 2004. Team media guy (and now good friend) Shane Mahoney took me from the pits, over pit wall and across pit lane to stand at the wall of the track. During the race. At night. Unforgettable!

And what I'm most excited about for the future is seeing the new Corvette C7.R out on track, whaling on the new GTLM competition. And as a really cool side note, I got to meet Harlan Charles in the paddock at Petit on Saturday. He's the product manager for the new C7 Stingray, and he's a reader. Fingers crossed he's going to like the book I gave him!

What's your favorite ALMS memory? What are you looking forward to in 2014?


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Maria De Villota Passes Away

The sad news came out over the weekend that Spanish racing driver MariaDe Villota died in what is believed to be as a result of the injuries sustained during a crash in Marussia F1 car.
 
For those that don’t know what happened, Maria was testing the Marussia last year.  When she was in the paddock, she lost control of the car and crashed into the team’s car transporter.  She suffered a massive head injury which cost her an eye, not to mention major neurological trauma.
 
Maria claimed something went wrong with the car while the team maintains that it was driver error that led to the crash.  Britain Health & Safety Executive’s ongoing investigation will hopefully get to the bottom of the incident.  Either way, it’s going to be a sad outcome.  I hate to think Maria got it wrong that day but at the same time I don’t want to hear that Marussia have a dangerous vehicle.
 
The saddest thing is that F1 has another fatality in its ranks.  I hope it’s a very long time before we see this again.  Rest in peace, Maria.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Team Kate at Petit

by Tammy

Watch out, Atlanta, here we come! Next weekend is the final race of the ALMS season, and the final race of the American Le Mans Series. What a weird thing to write.

The ALMS has been my racing security blanket—the series I really understood and had friends in. Now I'm afraid that my friends will be too big and too good for me, having merged with a NASCAR operation and all. As if I'm stuck in junior high and they've graduated to high school.

Of course, the end of one era means the start of another that holds a lot of promise. It's going to be really fascinating to see what the United Sports Car Championship turns into.


But first, one last Petit Le Mans for the ALMS! And I'm going to be there with other "crew" ... which means prizes!

Prize details are posted on my other blog, but the basics are this: find me or another Team Kate crew member, and take a photo with us, then tweet it or post to Facebook, and you'll win a prize. Take a photo with us and a female racecar driver? Win a better prize. You get the idea.

Will we see you there?!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

There Is No Substitute (But I Beg To Differ)

What does an old warhorse do when there's no war to fight, but still holds the stink of the battlefield in its nostrils? I’m not sure, but I bet it’s frustrating.

I do understand the frustration though. And while I may have packed away my racing desires at the back of my brain, they tend to leap to the fore when I barrel into a juicy curve on our President’s highways. I’m not one of those people who clings to their glory days like a life preserver. One, it’s sad and two, it’s really sad. The past is the past and the future is open to new opportunities. I filled the gap left by racing. Like I mentioned last week, there's no room for it nowadays.

However, in the last couple of years, I’ve really gotten stuck into cycling. I used to do it to keep my cardio going. Now, cycling is a full-blown hobby. This year, I’ll probably compete in a dozen organized rides with distances ranging from 65miles to 100miles. They're rides and not races because there's no official championship or anything. That said, some of the rides are timed and/or feature time trials at some point in the ride. Even if there's not, it’s me verses my clock and my personal best. I’m not really bothered how well I do against everyone else. I’m only interested about how well I do against myself, which was the same when I did race. If I improved, my results would. Worrying about what everyone else is doing is a distraction.

Oh gosh, I am a competitive one. Yes, guilty as charged.

The competitiveness aside, cycling has allowed me to satisfy my racing desires that lurk at the back of my brain. The rides usually include heart-bursting climbs, which means there are heart-stopping descents on twisting hillside roads. Yummy. As sad as it sounds, I come whipping down this hills and I’m looking for turning points and apexes. I try to take care of braking before the corner so I can pedal or power through the bend. When I hit the bottom of a hill and go into the next climb, I’m thinking power, power, power as pedal like mad to carry some momentum up into the next climb and keep my speed up. And there's no finer feeling than motoring by another rider on a hill section or out braking someone going into a corner on a descent.

Childish and juvenile? Hmm, possibly. Does it make me feel good? You betcha.

So yes, cycling has become my surrogate for motor racing. I’m glad I’ve found something that gives me pleasure and makes up for the size fifteen carbon footprint I’ve left behind.

So what does an old warhorse do when there's no war to fight, but still holds the stink of the battlefield in its nostrils? I now know the answer. He joins a war reenactment society.

Happy pedaling,
Simon

Monday, October 7, 2013

Winter Blues

by Tammy

It's happened again, hasn't it? The days are growing shorter, the temperatures are falling ... and we're nearly out of racing for the year.

Dammit!

Grand-Am is over. The ALMS is down to one race of the year and of its life. NASCAR has only six races left, and F1 has only five. Sure, we've still got some good competition left (except for F1—ouch!), but I can smell it, can't you?

The dark weekend days of winter with nary a car race to be had. *sniff* That must mean it's time for Christmas shopping and plotting our fantasy race teams for 2014, right?

Here's what I want to know:

  1. How are you going to make the most of the last few races of 2013? Viewing parties? Getting to any races?
    Me? I'm headed out to Petit Le Mans in a week and a half.
  2. Who do you think will take a championship? (Any of them, pick one.)
    I'm tired of Vettel, who will undoubtedly win F1 again. And I'm thinking Corvette will take the last ALMS GT title (hooray!). NASCAR? I still think old five-time could make it a six-pack (that's Jimmie Johnson). 
  3. What will you miss about this season?
    Hmm, I'm not sure there is anything. This year's been a little lame-duck in my sportscar racing series, and the anticipation is high for next year.
I didn't even get into all the driver-swapping and silly-season moves ... that'll have to be another blog.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

RUSHed


By Simon

I snuck off to have a secret rendezvous with RUSH on Saturday afternoon.  I went to see it at a small theater where I could enjoy the film with no one around.  I have to say I enjoyed the film but I didn’t love it.  It’s a fascinating story and I came away unsatisfied in some ways because the movie glossed over a bunch of stuff in an attempt to cover a wider story.  I wish they'd focused on the ’76 season with some poignant flashbacks or made it into a mini-series to tell the whole tale.  My general feeling was the film felt a little disjointed because people didn’t quite decide what was relevant or not. That said, I give it a solid 600bhp out of a 1,000bhp on the motorsport movie scale.

However, here are a few things I enjoyed from watching the movie.

1.       Didn’t know Nikki Lauda was so single minded (aka unlikable).
2.       Still found it hard to like James Hunt, but I think I respect him a little more.
3.       The cars were fugly but they looked cool to drive…well, maybe not that 6-wheel Tyrell.
4.       The technology of the 70’s meant the end of the old guard drivers of the 60’s and the start with the likes of Hunt and Lauda.
5.       F1 seemed like a sport where anyone could get a car and team off the ground.
6.       It was nice to see Brands Hatch double as Paul Ricard. 
7.       It was a scary reminder that safety standards have improved a million percent since those times.
8.       Glad to see the rev counter being the front and center in the cars.  In a racecar, your tachometer is your copilot.
9.       I never want my lungs vacuumed…ever.
10.   It made me a little homesick for the pit lane.

The great motor racing movie has yet to be made, but this one is worth checking out.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Meeting Heroes

by Tammy

I've had a lot of opportunity to meet some amazing people in the world of motorsport, but what's interesting is that I didn't always realize how famous or important they were when I met them.

Like Denise McCluggage, an automotive journalist who won her class at Sebring one year. Or Ron Fellows. Or saying hello to Alan McNish and Dindo Capello in a Starbucks. Sharing an elevator with Tony Kanaan (the other TK!) and Marco Andretti (both shorter than you'd think). Or even my pal Doug Fehan.

But there are still people in the racing world I'd really love to have a conversation with. Or a photo with. People who, if they were to read my book, I would be floating for days.

My friends Barb and Mary got to meet one of my heroes the other weekend at the Circuit of the Americas. Yep, that's right, Leena Gade, race engineer. The first to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans (and she's done it twice). (Note that #TeamKate met Leena!)


So Leena tops my list. Danica's probably next. The other other TK is on it, Tom Kristensen (Mr. Le Mans, the 9-time winner). And Janet Guthrie—who I'd simply like to thank for persevering and breaking down some walls. Lastly, I'd really, really, really like to get my book into Jay Leno's hands!

That's my dream-meet list. What's yours? What racing heroes do you want to meet or talk to?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

“My” Austin Grand Prix (A Guest Post)

With IndyCar and F1 heading to Austin in the coming weeks, I thought I'd hand the reins over to my friend Terry Shames.  Her book, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, is a mystery but it surrounds the building of motor racing circuit in Texas.  I'll leave it to Terry to tell you the rest.

“My” Austin Grand Prix
By Terry Shames

I went to Austin last week and as luck would have it flew right over the breathtaking new Circuit of the Americas Formula One racetrack—or, as I think of it, “my” racetrack. From the air it looks like a video game ready to start up, all bright colors and snappy-looking buildings. It’s a racing aficionado’s dream.

My friend Conrad is an expert on restoring vintage Alfa Romeos. Go into his workshop in west Berkeley and you’ll always find some vintage Alfa being overhauled. He is in great demand for racing rallies to repair those elegant little cars when they break down. His wife, Christine, drives the “crash truck,” a pro in her own way. They’ve been invited to races all over the world.

Last fall they were desperate to attend the debut season of U.S. Formula One in Austin at the Circuit of the Americas track. They had managed to snag tickets, but couldn’t begin to afford the jacked up hotel prices. They knew I had relatives in Austin and that I understood their excitement about the debut races. They asked if I could appeal to my friends and relatives for a place to stay. My sister immediately offered her house, laughing because she thought it was appropriate that friends of mine would be at the grand opening of “my” racetrack.

“My racetrack?” I’ve been to car races many times, even spending a season holding signs in the pit for racers in Gaithersburg, Maryland. But I have a different kind of connection with the Austin track. A couple of years ago I wrote a mystery novel that came out last month. A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, set in small-town Texas, features an ex-chief of police, Samuel Craddock. On the trail of a killer, Craddock stumbles across a plot by a couple of con artists to buy up land. The con artists have gotten wind of a company planning to develop car racing in Texas and they wants to have a monopoly on the land that the racetrack promoters are interested in. Craddock is suspicious that in their zeal to buy the murder victim’s land, they may have killed her.

I won’t reveal whether his suspicions are correct. But the important thing is the racetrack. Here’s how Samuel Craddock imagines it: “I can almost hear the sound of those cars revving their engines and smell the odor of oil burning hot.” He thinks about the noise and the influx of outside people that need to be considered by folks living near the proposed racetrack.

After I was done writing the first draft, I gave it to my sister as a beta reader. A week after she read it, she called me, excited. “You’re not going to believe this!”  She told me the entire front page of the Austin American Statesman was about the news that Austin had been chosen as the site for the first Formula One racetrack in the U.S. It turned out that the people who developed the F1 track in Austin, had been scouting several sites for their track--including an area close to where I set my book.

I swear I didn’t have any inside information, but I’ll always think of the Circuit of the Americas as “my” racetrack. Note: the car on the front cover of the book wouldn’t be welcome at this particular track!






Bio:

Terry Shames grew up in Texas. She has abiding affection for the small town where here grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. A resident of Berkeley, California, Terry lives with her husband, two rowdy terriers and a semi-tolerant cat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Her second Samuel Craddock novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN will be out in January 2014. Find out more about Terry and her books at www.Terryshames.com.






Monday, September 23, 2013

Saw the Movie

by Tammy

This weekend, I got myself out to see Ron Howard’s new movie, Rush, about the epic (yes, really) competition between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1976 season of Formula 1. And I have to say, it’s fantastic.

I make no secret of the fact that it’s the stories of the racing world that fascinate me, more than the technology or the cars or the speed alone. And the story of Hunt and Lauda is one for the ages. While in real life they didn’t have quite the enmity portrayed in the movie, they certainly were opposites off-track who pushed each other to great feats of daring on-track.


The movie does a few things very well, in my opinion.

First, the opening montage of the start of the German Grand Prix in 1976 is just the tiniest bit overwhelming and scary with its quick cuts showing the explosion of noise and metal parts as the cars race off the line. For me, that correctly set the expectation, which then informed how I viewed the racing in the movie, that those cars were borderline out-of-control and 100% dangerous.

Second, the movie gives a good look at the supreme highs and the deepest lows of the sport. And while I’m not sure it totally answers the question of “why on earth people are willing to die to win?” (because at that time, Formula 1 lost two drivers a year), it does portray the commitment, excitement, and passion of people who love racing—from the mechanics, to the team owners, to drivers, to fans.

Third, it’s visually gorgeous. The cars, the tracks, the beautiful people—and even the accidents—are incredibly rendered. While I caught a glimpse of a corner close-up that I could have sworn was Road Atlanta (or Lime Rock, I’m not quite sure), everything looked correct and true. But don’t believe me, take the thumbs-up from the racing world (e.g., Racer Magazine’sreview).


I think everyone should see it, because it just might go a ways toward explaining why I find racing so fascinating, insane, compelling, and entertaining. Will you go?

(image courtesy of RushMovie.com)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

RUSH To See


By Simon
 
I’m looking forward to the movie RUSH, which comes out this week.  It’s about the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 F1 season.  I’m looking forward to it for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s a racing movie which is always cool. Second, I’m interested in hearing about this rivalry because I don’t know much about it, but I do remember the ’76 season.

I was eight years old and the ’76 season is the first clear memory I have of keeping up with F1 races on “Grand Prix” on BBC2.  I remember seeing Niki Lauda’s crash and the subsequent fireball.  I remember the mixed feeling at James Hunt becoming F1 champion in the rain drenched Japanese Grand Prix.  I was happy an English driver had won the title but thinking that he won by virtue that Niki Lauda pulled out of that race.
 
The thing I don’t remember about that season was the rivalry and the clash of personalities.  This has a lot to do with being only eight years old and any sporting politics being over my head.   However, I am intrigued to learn more as Hunt and Lauda are interesting characters and polar opposites.  And if I’m being honest, I’m more of a Lauda fan than a Hunt fan because Lauda lived up to his potential whereas Hunt blew his.  So to learn a little more, I’ve just picked up Rush to Glory by Tom Rubython, the book that tells the story behind that rivalry.  I’m hoping to learn a thing or three.
 
So let the racing commence.  I have my ticket and my popcorn.  :-)

 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lucky 13

by Tammy

Jeff Gordon has to consider 13 is lucky number, at least in 2013. After all, on Friday the 13th, it was announced he was being added to NASCAR's Chase, as the 13th driver.

This caps a week of unprecedented statements and actions on NASCAR's part. First, of course, was the assessed penalties against Michael Waltrip Racing for interfering with the race result at Richmond, a move that dropped Martin Truex, Jr., out of the Chase and put Ryan Newman in.

No sooner had the dust settled on that announcement, mid-week, when petitions from fans (and others?) who thought NASCAR hadn't gone far enough by not addressing the situation that bumped Jeff Gordon from the Chase. The specifics there were that one of Penske's drivers, David Gilliland slowed way down and made an extra trip or two down pit lane, in order to bump another Penske driver, Joey Logano, up the order, thus gaining enough points to make the Chase ahead of Gordon.

NASCAR apparently believed this was done on purpose and didn't like it enough to add Gordon to the Chase, though they didn't remove Logano. In addition, over the weekend, the suits held a closed-door meeting with all drivers/teams, then brief the media on the details. The gist of it was that drivers and teams had better drive to win and not try to manipulate race or championship outcomes.

The response on Twitter was swift, at least from the media, with jokes about the 100% effort rule being applied to journalists, anthem singers, and so forth. One reporter noted the irony of a major sporting organization calling a meeting to tell its participants they should be trying hard to win at all times....

Which is true, if a bit exaggerated. I'm not sure if I agree with every decision NASCAR made, but I am glad they did something. Personally, I'm OK with team orders where you let your teammate pass you on the track, even if for position or a win, if he or she is right there behind you. I don't like it a lot, but I'm OK with that. Because at that point, it's only affecting you (well, and maybe the bettors), even if it's affecting the positions in the race or the points for the championship.

But affecting the whole field through a spin (Bowyer for Truex, Jr.) or dropping a couple laps in order to let your teammate catch up (Gilliland for Logano), to squeak the one or two points that gets him into the Chase? I'm not down with that either.

So what do you think? How far is too far for team orders? And were the punishment and outcomes NASCAR doled out fair?

(Photo from www.nascar.com.)


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Could I, Would I, Should I

by Simon

Like Tammy, I’ve been watching Patrick Dempsey: Racing La Mans on Velocity.  I have to say I’m enjoying it immensely but I am having one problem with the show.  It’s dredging up a lot of my own pit lane memories—good and bad—especially the bad.  I’m reliving all the stresses and strains of running my own car, struggling with budgets and having the unpredictable thrown in my face on near daily occurrence.  It’s nice to see Dempsey Racing facing the same problems as I did despite having far more cash at his disposal than I ever did.
 
Naturally, a few questions have popped up since watching the show. 
 
Given the chance—would I do it all over again?  And the simple answer is yes.  I would, without a moment’s hesitation.  Racing is a heart breaking endeavor but I would have my heart broken all over again.  I’d just like to think that I’d be a little smarter and made a few different decisions which would have kept me in the game a little longer.
 
Given the chance—would I race now?  That’s a tougher proposition.  I’ve always equated racing with addiction and I’ve been a recovering racecar driver for fifteen years.  I try to steer clear of the idea of climbing back into a racecar again because if I did I’m not sure I would get out again and see my reference to heartbreak above.  Also I would have to develop that racing mindset again—which I could do—but it would take time.  But if someone would offer me a free drive from time to time, sure, I’d race again.
 
But racing now kicks an interesting question for me—could I race again under my own steam?  And the answer to that question is probably not.  I have a bit more cash behind me than I did over twenty years ago.  I ran a car for a season for around $10,000 in 1990-92, albeit with a lot of freebies such a free van and gas card.  It was affordable because race entries were around the $100 mark.  Parts were relatively cheap, as were the car and engine.  I remember someone extolling the values of an F3 series using older cars.  The cars were cheap but the parts were crippling.  My electronic ignition system was around two hundred bucks to replace.  In the F3, that was $2.5K.  Fiberglass was easy to repair, but carbon fiber added zeroes to every equation.  It just wasn’t feasible.  And that’s how I feel about going into racing now—it’s just not financially feasible.  Every time I research an Aidy Westlake story, I’m forever saying, “How much!”  To race in the championships I raced in twenty years ago are big money now.  Race entries are $400 now and the added sophistication of the cars means added expense.  I just don’t have the disposable income to underwrite a racing program now.  Which is kind of sad.  That’s why I think I’ll stick to my bicycles.
 

I won’t say I’ll never race again.  I just don’t know when.  In the meantime, I’m happy to race vicariously through Aidy…for the moment.  ;-)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Feeling Lucky?

by Tammy

Luck plays an awfully big role in racing. Sure, you've got to have good equipment, a good team, and talent behind the wheel. None of that can be overstated. They're a given. But all of your preparation and talent can be doomed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time or the cards falling just wrong for you.

Take Jeff Gordon on Saturday night at Richmond. Seven laps to go, he's in the Chase—then Bowyer spins, everyone pits, the order is reshuffled, they restart ... and with three laps to go, Gordon's out of the Chase. Damn unlucky. (Though more than one fan and/or pundit contends Bowyer spun on purpose to help his teammate get into the Chase, which was the ultimate result.)

Think of sportscar races where the yellow flies and you might or might not gain or lose a lap depending on where the overall leader is and where the safety car comes out. Pure luck.

It comes down to gambling. Teams and drivers can be amazingly talented and prepared, but it's still a gamble to see if you'll make it through unaffected by the bad decisions, poor talent, or unpreparedness of others. (For that matter, every drive in our street cars is a gamble that we won't be wrecked by the others on the road.)

So here's my question: Looking at NASCAR, which tracks do you think require the most luck? The super-speedways where the pack is nose-to-tail most of the time? Or the short tracks, where they're in constant traffic?

I'm voting the short tracks, after watching Bristol (pictured) the other week. At least at the super-speedways, there's some space to try to avoid a wreck. At Bristol, and even Richmond (not that there were any big wrecks the other night), there's just nowhere to go.

One other note: I'm no gambler, and that's part of why I don't race. But I'm sure fascinated by what motivates those who do. You people are fascinating and more than a little bit crazy!

Photo from www.bristolmotorspeedway.com.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Keeping It Under Control

By Simon


It was a weird racing weekend over Labor Day.  IndyCar did its impression of a demolition derby where over a quarter of the race was conducted under a full course yellow.  But the big thing (for me) that happened over the weekend is what happened to Max Papis in the NASCAR Truck Series held at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.  It was somewhat of a fraught race with several drivers wiping each other out on the last lap.  Included in those crashes was Max Papis, he and Mike Skeen were fighting for third and managed to end up in the wall on the last corner. As he was climbing from the car in the pits, someone went for him and in the paddock, a woman slapped him.  No report on who the woman was—whether she was connected to Skeen’s team or just a fan.  Regardless, that was totally unacceptable.  I know drivers, teams and fans are passionate about their racing, but the second you raise your hand to someone, you’re done as far as I’m concerned.

The lady was quite lucky in more ways than one.  She wasn’t charged for the assault and Papis laughed the slap off.  Not sure I would have in his position. And he might not have been so forgiving if she’d caught him minutes earlier or another driver.  The race ended with several drivers steamed at each other over the race’s outcome.  With so many emotions running high, she was lucky Papis didn’t hit her back, which would have created an entirely different set of problems.

I know it’s easy to sit here and say this when I wasn’t involved, but it doesn’t matter.  People have a responsibility to keep their cool in these situations.  If Papis was guilty of any wrongdoing, there are mechanisms to reprimand him which will him more harm than any spectator’s opinion.  Teams have a responsibility to keep their crews under control.  They’re supposed to be professionals.  Spectators are there to watch, cheer and boo—and their job ends there.  They pay good money to see a race, but it doesn’t give them the right to take matters into their hands.  So everyone, get a grip!

Here endeth the lesson.  Now, let’s get back to the racing.