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, 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!


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

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


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

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

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.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Patrick Dempsey and Le Mans

by Tammy

Did you all watch the first (of four) parts of "Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans" last Wednesday? (For info and schedule, see the Velocity website.)

I loved it, for two reasons.

One, it doesn't sugar-coat who dreadfully expensive and how much stupid hard work racing is—and if that sounds odd coming from someone as race-obsessed as me, know that I love the sport in part because it's such an absurd thing to do ... I love the stories generated by that level of commitment and insanity.

Two, the show (so far) is a who's-who of my experiences in the ALMS over the last nine years. Starting with Patrick Long (fooled you, didn't I?), who drove for my team back in 2004, and who I've rooted for ever since. Check him out here in a co-starring role....

I'm also quite sure future parts of the series will include my good friend Pattie Mayer, pace car driver and all-around inspiration, who I believe was with the Dempsey Del Piero team at Le Mans this year.

Do I think the show is perfect? No. I do agree when Dempsey talks about it being very difficult to secure and maintain sponsors for a racing team ... but let's be honest: it's a hell of a lot easier for Patrick Dempsey to secure sponsors for the racing team he's the face of than it is for hundreds of racers who no one outside a small portion of the racing world has heard of. Then again, maybe that's his point: if it's hard for him, imagine how hard it is for others (though that sounds more egocentric than something he'd say).

Oops, here's a third reason I loved the show: Dempsey is excited to get more people interested in sportscar racing. Now, that's a purpose I can get behind! Watch the show, people!