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 27, 2013

Show Me The Money

By Simon

A couple of F1 drivers lost their drives over the winter break, not because their performances weren’t up to snuff, but because they weren’t bringing any sponsorship to the team.  This isn't anything new and this situation happens all the time throughout the sport, especially in the lower echelons of motorsport, but F1 feels it should be a little different.  This is the pinnacle of the sport.  Only the best drivers should compete.  Not the best financed. In years gone by, there have been certainly teams where there's been the “money” driver and the “talent” driver.  The reason I think this topic jarred with me is that a couple of teams currently only have one driver on the docket and are still looking for a second with the new season only weeks away and the primary reason for the stall seemingly is who can bring the enough money with them.  It feels so desperate.

The big question is—is this fair?  Should the responsibility for coming up with the sponsorship funds fall on the drivers?  To augment the team’s finances—yes.  To keep a team afloat—not really.  If a team is sailing this close to the financial winds, should they really be in the sport?  I feel the drivers should be paid for their efforts and not pay for the opportunity.  A driver should be judged on his talent first, his cash flow second.  Otherwise, we, the race going public, are being cheated of the best racing possible.  Don’t you think?  Share your thoughts.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Daytona and the Fans

By Tammy

I'll start with the obvious: kudos to Danica for not only finishing the Daytona 500, but also for keeping her nose clean and finishing eighth! That's a record high finish for a woman in that race, and potentially for a Cup race. Outstanding. I look forward to her keeping up the good work and shoving some solid results in haters' faces.

But the most shocking and potentially terrible event from Daytona this weekend was the accident in the last seconds of the Nationwide race on Saturday, which sent a couple dozen fans to the hospital.

There was a lot of discussion online about how to make catch-fences safer for both fans and drivers, a conversation started after Dan Wheldon died from impacting a pole of such a fence. That's probably a good conversation to have.

But I'm also curious about another question: are race fans asking to take their lives in their hands by attending a race? Plenty of drivers said (mostly tweeted, as I was following a lot of the conversation on Twitter) that they understand and assume the risks inherent in racing every time they get behind the wheel, but fans shouldn't.

Some fans quickly responded: oh yes we should and do. We love racing the way it is, don't change it!

Obviously racing is pretty darn safe for the fans. This was the first accident of its kind since 1999, I believe, aside from a broken jaw in the last couple years. Considering fans sit just yards from 43 chunks of metal hurtling around at 180+ mph, it's a pretty safe sport to watch—at least compared to the past, when fans stood right next to sand or dirt tracks and were regularly run over. Maybe racing isn't as safe a spectator sport as swimming, for instance, but who wants to watch swimming? Or bowling?

So my question to you all is how much risk do we accept, and are we willing to accept, to watch our favorite racing? I think I'll take some, but I don't want to sit right next to the pavement, personally....

What's your vote? Near the action? In a safe zone? Never at a track at all?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cycling For The American Red Cross

I'm going off-piste today.  Kinda.

For the last couple of years, I've been riding for various charities. Well, the stage is set. This year, I will be riding the Napa/Sonoma Gran Fondo in May to raise money for the AMERICAN RED CROSS. To read why and h...ow to sponsor me, click the link below. And please help spread the word by sharing and retweeting this post. Thanks a bunch.

To learn more, go to: Simon Sez: HUMP DAY: Cycling For The American Red Cross...

Thanks in advance for any help.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Danica Does It

by Tammy (who's going to get all feminist on you)

I know, I know. You're going to tell me that pole position for a race as nutso and long as the Daytona 500 doesn't really matter. (Same as it didn't for the 24 Hours of Daytona.) I know. And you're going to tell me that being fast on the track alone doesn't much matter when it comes to driving with the pack in the race.

I know. And I DON'T CARE.

Because love her or hate her, respect her or not ... call it a fluke or a lucky collection of coincidences. There's still going to be a woman leading the field to the green flag next Sunday for the Daytona 500. For the first time ever in a NASCAR race.


I've been ambivalent over Danica's choices for a while (as if it's my right?), because plenty of them are ones I wouldn't make. That's fine; it's a fair country. I wondered, when some of my (male and female) friends asked, is she doing more harm to her cause than good by posing in bikinis and such. Should she not be doing that until she's, yanno, won more than one major race?

But something the excellent racing blogger Pressdog (he mostly likes open-wheel, but we're trying to convert him) said struck a chord with me: "she's playing by the rules of sponsorship/racing...." (Read his full post.)

Because that's the bottom line. As a racecar driver, you have to be good on the track and better off of it. And you use what you've got. Are we denigrating Dale Earnhardt Jr. for getting more attention because of his name? (I might sometimes, but by and large the fan base doesn't.) How about Carl Edwards for letting himself be used as a character in some NASCAR Harlequin novels? Then why denigrate Danica for trading on being female?

Use whatcha got.

Honestly, I want a female on pole in any racing series not to be an issue (hello, I'd like to see a female racing full-time in a sportscar series!) All I know is that I imagine this kind of conversation going on ...

Little girl racer: "I want to win pole for the Daytona 500."
Parent: "I don't know, no girl has ever done that."
Parent: "Why not? I've seen it done by another girl."

Even better would be, simply, "Why not? Of course you can." With no reference to gender at all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Twins Aren't Always Better

By Simon

Rant time again and this time I want to moan about carmakers’ obsession with twin tailpipes.

Let me first say, I like twin tailpipes on a car. They look cool. They look bold. They make a power statement. They give a car symmetry (which is something the human brain obsessed with and appeals to our sense of the aesthetic). But—and this is my problem at the moment—they have to be practical.

Traditionally, twin tailpipes go on car with “vee” or “boxer” engines where you have exhaust manifolds on both sides of the car and it’s simpler to have two tailpipes than going through the trouble of marry the manifolds together, especially in the case of big engines where you might end up with a drain pipe to deal effectively with the exhaust gases. But in recent years, I’ve started to notice a bunch of cars with twin pipes where it could be argued that it wasn’t really necessary and it seemed it was being done for looks instead of performance. The straw that broke my particular camel’s back was seeing twin tailpipes on a Fiat 500. Had Fiat jammed a 6-cylinder into the subcompact or split the exhaust manifold into pieces on the standard 4-cylinder engine? No, on both counts. What they'd done was to split the tailpipe into two just as it reached the back end of the car just to show it having twin pipes. Accessorized engineering!! Style over substance. That’s so bloody annoying.

I suppose this just hit my engineering nerve. Great design comes from engineering problems. That’s where appreciation and respect is born, but these shallow attempts to impress are disrespectful. Grr!

Dear automakers, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Watching Elephants

by Tammy

I had a bit of a sick day this weekend, so I'm reposting one of my favorite topics: NASCAR on a road course. Do you love them or leave them?

I’ve spent some time here the last couple weeks explaining how I find NASCAR on television kind of boring. That I don’t get ovals. That I much prefer sportscar racing. There’s one big caveat to this opinion of mine, one big BUT. There’s one aspect of NASCAR that I flat out love, and that’s road courses.

See, I think stock cars on a road course are one of the funniest sights in the world. Certainly it’s the funniest sight in racing, with the possible exception of the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales in the pit lane at Sebring (but that’s another story). Stock cars aren’t built to maximize downforce or to corner well. They’re … well, I’m not sure exactly what they’re built for, but road course racing ain’t it.

They look like elephants running an obstacle course sized for gazelles. They lumber around, turning hard, braking hard—looking for all the world like the car’s center of gravity is up near the roof. And I do mean they’re wobbly. (Check that shot from Getty Images if you don’t believe me.)

Adding to the entertainment, the announcers cover the same inevitable points at the two road course races each season, with great excitement:
  1. The drivers have to remember how to shift! On a road course, they’ll be doing so a couple-dozen times a lap, compared to a dozen times in total on some oval courses.
  2. The drivers have to turn right and left! This gets them talking about road courses versus ovals, and which drivers are good and bad at the road courses. This leads to the last point …
  3. We’ve got special guest stars in the field, some road course ringers! The “ringers” are the road course experts who make or have made a career in road course racing (whether sportscar or open-wheel) and who are typically brought in for a ride in a stock car for just the road course races to get a win for the team. If they don’t always win, there are inevitably three or four ringers in the top 10 at ever road course race.
This past weekend brought us some good elephant watching. First the NASCAR Nationwide Series (the minor league) raced at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, one of the most beautiful and historic road courses the U.S. has to offer. Ron Fellows, road course ringer and multiple-time ALMS and Le Mans champion for Corvette Racing, almost took the win in a weird, caution-filled finish. Then on Sunday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (the majors) raced at Infineon Raceway (aka, Sears Point) in Sonoma, California. The winner of that race won by dominating most of the day, but the big story was of fraying nerves, tempers, and behavior. The late-race bumper-car action we saw should make for some interesting wars: of words during the coming week and fenders in the next race. 

All in all, a highly entertaining weekend of racing! But if NASCAR could do one thing for me, it would be to go racing at more than two road courses each year. I don’t think it’s likely, but I’ll keep hoping. Is anyone with me?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Losing Control

By Simon

The interesting bit of F1 news over the last couple of weeks has been the developments surrounding Ross Brawn at Mercedes—namely that Mercedes were debating whether to replace him as team principal. 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. I do think that if the Mercedes team has another mediocre year this year, I think Brawn will be out.

Should that situation arise, 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, February 4, 2013

The Kindness of Friends and Strangers

By Tammy

I've talked about it before, but it bears repeating: people in the racing world are incredibly welcoming, supportive, and helpful.

Because I was in Daytona last week to observe everything, I ran around scribbling notes constantly in a notebook. Not once did anyone ask what the hell I was doing in the middle of the team strategy meeting or in the Series driver's meeting run by the race director. No, instead, they were uniformly helpful when I stopped a random crew member to ask how much the car's tires weigh. When I grilled a spotter on how he prepares for and then does his job during a race. Or when I sidled over to a driver to ask what his "homework" was after Thursday's afternoon practice. More than anything, they seemed amused, to be honest.

I returned home with buckets of information and pages of notes. And of course, lots of photos.

The funny thing is, as I show the photos to friends, family, and co-workers, I'm almost surprised at the looks of shock and awe on their faces. It takes their reaction to remind me just how spectacular my experience was, because I've become so used to the kind of access and perspective I get at races. (Not that I don't continue to appreciate it.)

So yes, I sat in the pits listening to the team radio for 15 or more of the 24 hours. I attended the all-driver meeting held by Race Director Paul Walter. I met Lyn St. James. I got drivers to detail the speeds and gearing at different points around the track. And I stood on the spotters' stand at the top of the Daytona International Speedway.

All because I asked nicely and have a legitimate need. All because the racing world is populated with incredibly generous people (especially the guys at The Racer's Group who hosted me).

Now it's time to write!