Sunday, September 16, 2012

Locked Out

Last night, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA was allowed to expire after they, in the words of NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, "determined that there was no point in convening a formal bargaining session in light of the fact that neither side is in a position to move off of its last proposal."

Sounds a lot like the US Congress and their bipartisan bickering.

And like Congressional stalemates over budgets, tax breaks and entitlement programs, those who are hurt the most by the lockout are the ones that are overlooked, who don't have a voice in the matter. In the lockout, those who are arguably hurt the most are the businesses around the arenas and practice facilities of the teams.

I know that Pat and I easily spend $100 or more in food, drink and the occasional souvenir the night of every home game that we attend. There are games where we spend less, and there are games where we spend more, especially if we are spending the night in DC. We spend some of that money "pregaming" at local bars and restaurants in the area of Verizon Center, especially RFD, the Irish Channel and Nando's Peri-Peri. Sometimes, we just grab a drink or two at Rocket Bar or the Iron Horse Taproom. We'll have a drink or two, and maybe a pretzel or peanuts at Verizon Center, and depending on the night of the week, sometimes we'll head over to the District Chophouse with our friends from 421 for a drink afterwards.

We ride Metro down via the Green Line, and pay for parking in Greenbelt. I take the ICC to get to Greenbelt from work on a weeknight. We stay overnight in the Convention Center area several times a season.

And we're not the only ones. There are plenty of people who don't even have tickets to the game who come downtown to watch the game at one of the aforementioned bars and soak in the atmosphere in the area.

We can't forget the practices either. Hundreds of people will come out to Kettler Capitals Iceplex any day the Caps are practicing, and they spend money at Kettler for t-shirts, jerseys, pucks and other trinkets for autographing. Those people then go to the food court at Ballston Mall, or to one of the establishments very close by, like Union Jacks, Rock Bottom or Front Page.

It's these businesses that are the ones who will suffer the most during this lockout. Fans will be disappointed, and maybe go to an AHL or ECHL affiliate to get their "hockey fix." As expensive as NHL tickets have become, it's even possible those minor league teams and the businesses surrounding their arenas will find permanent places in the hearts and wallets of those people. I know a lower bowl ticket at the Hershey Bears' Giant Center is a fraction of the cost of a ticket for a Caps game (less than $30 versus well over $100), and it's barely a further trip for me to see a game that is of comparable quality.

If $100 of my money, times the 40 some games I can attend (preseason, home and playoff) seems paltry, imagine that amount times 19,000+. There is easily a quarter of a million dollars per home game that won't be flowing into the hands of local businesses because the owners and the players can't even be bothered to consider a compromise.

In the meantime, at least I can use the money I'm not spending at Caps games to get my WRX back on the road sooner. So, I'm still helping local business, just not the ones I usually frequent in the fall and winter.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


So, yeah, I went to the SCCA Solo Nationals last week. In fact, last Sunday at this time, I was in northeastern Ohio, contemplating how far I wanted to drive before grabbing a hotel room (or stopping at a rest area). I was in my black Camaro Z28 -- not the car of choice -- so, a rest area was a viable option since there were no tires in the back seat, and the Camaro seats are pretty comfy to sleep in.

It was weird, driving a Camaro to Nationals. I haven't done it in over five years, and even then, it was the green car, not the black one. It also made packing very odd. As most autocrossers will tell you, there is a routine to packing, and when you disrupt that routine -- such as driving a car you hadn't planned on driving -- that's when things get forgotten. It probably took me longer to pack the Camaro with less stuff than the WRX because I kept standing in the garage and mentally thinking about what else I needed from there.
Ready to roll
I ended up staying the night in Elkhart, Indiana, at a hotel I'd hit on the way out to Packwood last year. With the SCCA discount, it was a reasonable enough rate, and I got a backup alarm in the form of a wakeup call for Monday morning. I wanted to be on site early enough to register on Monday, and I figured Elkhart was the halfway point so there was another nine or so hours of driving to go.

I arrived not too long after Drew did, and hit registration on the way through the gate. He'd already told Tracy Lewis about the change in my registration, so things were pretty easy there. It was just a matter of finding him in paddock and getting the car teched at that point.
Ready for tech!
The car passed tech easily, though they were definitely a bit more anal about stickers and numbers this year. We were fine, but I saw some other people actually get turned away because their numbers didn't contrast or they didn't have their helmets with the current sticker.

We walked the Karen Babb designed West course a few times, then Drew went up to the practice course where Christy Carlson told him that she could get him into the practice. He rode his bike back to paddock to grab the car and took three of his four runs, just to see if the car needed anything serious. His first run was all over the place, but we didn't touch anything, and the next run was better.

Around then I realized it was after 7PM, so I headed over to the hotel to check in, get cleaned up a little bit, then head to Lazlo's downtown for Holly's birthday bash. When I arrived, all the seats near her were already taken, so I was relegated to the back, where Jason and Heather Burns were sitting by themselves. Sean came up and tried to harass me, but I was having none of it, and a few more people showed up later. I hadn't eaten anything all day, so the two Vanilla Porters I drank went down way too easily, and the sandwich I had was nearly inhaled, I was so hungry. This no-appetite-until-food-is-in-front-of-me bullshit is getting old. We sang happy birthday to Holly as Crissy Weaver brought around cake, and then it was back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep.

ESP had the good fortune to run third heat, and since my work assignment somehow fell through the cracks, if I wanted to, I could have slept in. I wanted to walk the course and help change tires (Drew doesn't like driving on the competition tires to-and-from the hotel), so I made sure I was there around 6:30. We walked the course twice again, then he checked in for work while I just watched first heat and talked with people. We got one more walk after the second heat was done, and I did my walk with Lane Borg (who was leading AS by a scant 0.02 seconds) while Drew walked with Paul Brown. AS and ESP have extremely close PAX indices, so it made sense for us to walk with the Corvette guys.
I'm not used to running towards the end of the group...
I still hadn't driven the car at all when it came time to take my first run. Seriously, I hadn't even driven it over to tech or to the grid. So, I carefully let the stock clutch out to get a feel for the engagement point, then pulled up to the line for my first run. My launch wasn't very good; I didn't want to do a ProSolo style launch, but I hadn't planned on bogging so badly. The very first turn resulted in me pushing out and hanging the tail out, enough that I was wondering how loose this car was going to handle. It did it again in the next turn, then calmed down for the remainder of the run. Drew has BFGoodrich tires, and they evidently don't do so well when stone cold.
You can see me in the marbles here. Photo by Perry Bennett

I wasn't sure what to think of the car at that point. My time was horrible, but I knew there was a lot out there. Drew went out and coned his run, and there wasn't a whole lot to say at that point. We weren't blaming the car for our standings, and I went out on my second run and pushed harder, dropping over a second. It still was way off the pace, but I knew I wasn't driving particularly well either. I wasn't visualizing where I needed to go, and I wasn't really looking ahead (even though the video makes it look like I was). I just kept thinking about how I would have been doing in my own car, and so I pretty much was just going through the motions.
photo by Tom Reynolds

One more chance for me to start off the week in my "usual spot," one out of trophies.

Another 0.8s improvement, but still terrible compared to trophy positions, and Drew would be another 0.5s behind me. But before Drew could take his last run, there was a bit of drama in the ESP grid.

It seems that Charles Moss's Eagle Talon had a blown turbo seal, causing it to smoke heavily all weekend. After Charles's second run on the West course, enough oil had made its way onto the exhaust that there was actually a small fire as the car came into grid. This resulted in a few fire extinguishers being used (much to Eric Thompson's dismay, since he was gridded next to, and downwind from, the Talon), and Charles not getting his last run. Sam Krauss, on the other hand, jumped into Brad Owen's WRX in order to try to get a clean run, as neither of his runs in the Talon were coneless. It didn't work. Despite his being semi-familiar with the '06 WRX from driving my car, he struggled with Brad's setup and managed to tag a cone on the run.

I wasn't happy with where I was standing -- 17th of 32 -- but there wasn't much to be done. At least the car hadn't caught on fire. So, we went back to paddock, changed tires, and walked Roger Johnson's East course -- since they had finished well ahead of us -- before going our separate ways for the evening.

For the second day in a row, I managed to not eat anything all day, and while I tried to make sure I was staying hydrated, I soon realized I hadn't hit the portajohn all day either. This was not a good sign, and surely had an effect on my driving, but it most definitely played a role in the splitting headache that was developing. I wandered over to the Atlanta Region tent and Tom Shuman encouraged me to grab a bite there. Scott Fraser and Tom Kubo came by and took me over to the CP party, where Tony Espinosa gave me a bowl of heavenly beans that he'd made. I talked with Katie Kelly and Mary Espinosa a bit, then headed back to ATL to chat with a few people before heading off to the hotel and some blessed ibuprofen. I must have had a gallon of water when I got back, and my head was just throbbing. I honestly was starting to wonder if I was just going to die, it hurt so bad. Finally, the ibuprofen kicked in, and I was able to fall asleep, just in time for the alarm to go off.
Speedy was evicted from the car during Drew's runs.
We had an 8AM start for Wednesday, so I was back on site at 6:45, with four gallons of E85 in tow. We'd gone through the fuel Drew had brought with him, and so I went to pick some more up on my way to the site in the morning. Two more course walks, and we were as ready as we were going to be.

Again, I wandered around during the first two heats, watching and talking to STX drivers and then STU drivers before getting one last course walk in between heats 2 and 3. I didn't walk with anyone on the last course walk this time, and I don't know if that hurt me. I just know that I was kind of despondent about driving; I wanted to do well, but I was so far back, that it just didn't matter. I actually did visualize the course between runs, and I knew exactly where I was screwing up, but in the end, I didn't do very well. I wasn't as dehydrated so couldn't blame that, and Drew was a second faster than me (0.5 if you count my raw time on my second run, where I coned early and so pushed the car), so I can't blame the car either.

In the end, my head and my heart just weren't in it, as I knew would be the case. I was oddly at peace with it, however. I was very disappointed, but as Drew pointed out, the car didn't need to go home on a trailer. It also did not catch on fire, and we both finished on the first page of results. I had fallen to 22nd, and he had leapfrogged me to finish 20th, but it was not a good showing for either of us. It wasn't a good showing for Subarus in general, as Brad nabbed the last trophy spot -- 9th, which was down a few spots from last year for him -- and Drew was the second fastest WRX in class. Jimmy Perrin, driving Christian Nissen's 2006, was 21st. Christian and Matt Rosazza were behind me.
It came back for day two, but was quarantined to its own area of grid.
I hung out with a couple of the NWOR guys, and managed to grab a small bite to eat with them, then eventually went back to the hotel and stared at the ceiling. I should have left for home, but figured I could do the trip on Thursday if I left around 6AM. Reality was that I left closer to 6:30AM, got hung up in the backup from an accident in Omaha, and got home around 2:30AM. It was a long ride home, and work certainly sucked on Friday, especially when people asked how things went.

I talked to JJ before I left work, and planned to pick my WRX up from IAG on Saturday so that I could have it around for some of the locals before getting the off-season makeover done. Pat and I rolled up just after noon to get the car, and he took off before I'd even gotten the keys. I started the car up, let it warm up, then rolled out onto MD140 and realized that, yes, my car does have a decent amount of "go" to it, even if it's quieter than the other WRXes that were at Nationals.

Then, I smelled it again.... coolant. I glance down at the temperature gauge and see it 2/3rds of the way up. I'm less than 10 miles away, and there isn't a shoulder on the road at this point. I watch miserably as the gauge continues to climb as I try to get to an area I can pull off.

I pop the hood, and it's immediately obvious what has happened.
Not cool. Literally.
The brand new radiator hose has come off the radiator. I've got nothing with me -- no extra coolant, no tools to use on the spring clamp -- so, I call the shop and explain what happened. They send Ian out, but somehow neglect to tell him to bring something for the spring clamp, so we end up going back to the shop for tools and a "regular" screw-type hose clamp. Once back at the car, the hose is back on and coolant in the system withing minutes. So, now it's just a matter of "burping" the air out.

I sit in the car and rev it or let it idle at Ian's direction. After 5-10 minutes, the coolant seems to be done burbling, and I try to start back to the shop with Ian in his Kia in tow. I don't make it 10 feet before the temperature gauge climbs back to the danger zone. We ditch the WRX on the side of MD 140 and head back to the shop while I call Pat to tell him to meet me there.

So, it appears at least one head gasket is definitely shot. Now, it's just a matter of figuring out what else to do while the heads are off. The car only has 120K on the odometer, so I'm not sure valve springs and all need to be refreshed. The heads can be milled to Subaru specs or 0.010", and some port matching can be done, but really, there isn't a whole lot that is Street Prepared legal. Of course, I just want the car to run properly again, so that's my primary goal.

I don't know how long it will take to fix. In the meantime, I'm desperately trying to catch up on some suspension maintenance with the Camaros.
Control arm bushings and ball joints, unite!
Looks like my season is over early.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


I'm almost recovered from the trip to Lincoln. I did drive Drew's car, and I didn't drive it particularly well. I'll elaborate on the trip later, but for now I'll say what we were both saying after we were done on Wednesday : "No matter what, at least the car is going home under its own power and it didn't catch fire."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Tough Decision

It's Saturday morning, thirty minutes into the ProSolo Finale, and I've come to the hard realization that all my work with the WRX this year has been for nothing.

At the last WDCR autocross (last one for them for the season too, due to scheduling difficulties at FedEx Field), the car threw a code for a "cooling fan rationality." I cleared it with the Cobb AP, ran the event, won my class, and finished sixth on index. The car felt great, and it was a relief to finally have the fuel system issues that were causing the random no-starts fixed.

Then I decided to drive the car around a little bit in preparation for Lincoln. I took it to work on Monday, the first day back for students, and on the way home, I smelled the nasty tang of coolant in the air while at a stoplight. While I was hoping it was the car next to me, a mile later, as I pulled into the driveway, my heart sank as I realized it was, indeed, the WRX.

The temperature gauge hadn't shifted, but the coolant reservoir was empty. I was running late to go to my hockey game (Red was playing Black for the summer league championship), so I just ditched the car and took the black Camaro to Arlington. Tuesday night being the first night of class at the community college meant I didn't have time to deal with it then either. So, it wasn't until Wednesday that I could take it up to IAG, and even then, I wanted to be home in time to get to hockey evaluations for the fall/winter league.

We checked the coolant levels in the radiator and the reservoir before leaving, and it was fine. Since it hadn't been leaking in the driveway, I thought it would be okay for the trip to Westminster. I should have known better, as twelve miles down the road, the temperature gauge started climbing, plateaued for a short time at the 3/4 mark, then began speeding towards the danger zone just as I was about to take the left exit from I95 north onto I695 west. I punched the hazards and pulled over, Pat in the black Camaro behind me.

We eventually got the car to IAG after Pat went back for the Lightning and the trailer, and, knowing how tight my schedule was since I'd planned to leave today, they graciously squeezed it into the schedule for Friday.

JJ called me yesterday with the news. The immediate and obvious problem was the upper radiator hose that failed. The less obvious and lurking issue was that a head gasket was marching towards failure. It wasn't leaking enough to manifest itself through filmy oil, white smoke in the exhaust or higher than normal engine temps. Using the leak detector, the indicator wasn't changing completely, so JJ said it wasn't critical... yet. But he also, rightly, couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't fail while in Lincoln.

If I knew how to tow, it wouldn't be an issue. Tow the car there, compete, tow home. But I've never towed before, and I know how much construction is between here and Lincoln. Even if I skipped the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes, there are areas in Illinois and Iowa that I would be extremely uncomfortable with.

So, I'm not bringing the WRX to Lincoln. All the time, all the prep, all the work I've done with the car this season, and it was for nothing.

One of my ESP competitors, Drew Little, has offered me a ride in his WRX, and I am 95% sure I am going to take him up on it. I know his car isn't as fully prepped as mine, but I don't particularly want to change classes, and I definitely don't want to run ladies class. It'll be more of a challenge to try to back up my open class trophy in his car, but maybe I'll see something with his setup that I can apply to my car too. I know he's got an opposite spring rate set up (softer up front than in the rear, which is opposite of mine), and he's also on the new BFG R-comps versus the Hoosier A6s.

I've also been offered rides in two different STU Evos, but my STU driving has left a lot to be desired this year, so I'm not sure I would want to shame myself there.

So, now I just need to decide how to get to Lincoln. If I'm driving one of the Camaros, I need to at least change the oil as they are both due. While I'd love to take the green Camaro, it needs front hubs and spark plugs, and I don't particularly feel like changing those in the driveway today.

Maybe I'll just get a rental car. That seems to be the theme of the week.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Big Show

The SCCA Solo Nationals registration closes today at 11:59PM, Central time. 1139 entries are recorded as I write this, just 61 shy of the 1200 entry cap. Unbelievable. 29 are registered in ESP alone, up from a mere 23 last year.

I just hope I can trophy again. :)

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Great Escape

Just got the word that I'm being allowed to take a few days off to go to the SCCA Solo Nationals (and drive my car home).

Now, to figure out this spastic hesitation and random no-start situation!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Beneath the Glass Ceiling

Saturday morning came too soon. After two full days of excitement and action, my legs were aching, and I had bruises all over from getting banged around in ill-fitting roller coaster harnesses and from the late night karting. I really just wanted to sleep in, but I needed to get to the site and change tires and walk the course and do the hardship runs.

I knew the gates opened at 6:30, and I'd told McCance I'd be there when the gates opened, so I was rolling out of the hotel at 6 to get gas and some water on the way. When I arrived, there was already a line to get in, including several others who, for better reasons than mine, didn't make the Friday portion. Eventually, I made it up to the gate, flashed my hard card and then McCance shows up, asking for a ride over to the paddock. He'd left his ride (a beautiful Harley) on site because of the rain, so I guess he just got dropped off at the gate to wait for my arrival.

We got the tires changed, the car cleared out and walked the course twice each side before learning that they were doing a "split" for the hardship runs. Half of the drivers would work while the others took their two runs, and then we'd switch. I was with the first twelve, so Greg went out to work. My first run, on the left, was ugly, a mid 31s run after I parked it to avoid a cone at the finish. The gate at the end of the course was super tight, and I'd underestimated just how much so it was. Slowing down before the finish netted me a mid 29s run on the right, which was reasonable, if not respectable for a first run and green course.

In the midst of this, I was talking with Shawn Alexander, and I discovered the real reason why McCance switched rides. Another ESP driver, Dave Heinrich, had just installed headers on his Boss 302 Mustang, but didn't have time to get the car tuned before the event. Knowing that he could drive my car, Greg had offered up his seat in Shawn's Mustang to Dave so that Dave could stay in class. Shawn found out about the change when he arrived on site on Friday. Knowing the background, I felt a lot better it.

Greg's hardship runs were barely better than mine, as he double-coned a decent run and then had a respectable showing on the opposite side. His cones made it so that he would be the second driver in the upcoming heat, which was probably to his advantage.
Junior makes notes prior to his runs : "Step 1: Destroy the WRX. Step 2: Destroy the Talon."
I was paired up with Mike "Junior" Johnson for my first set of regular runs in heat two. Sam Krauss -- NO RELATION -- was leading with Shawn in second. Charles Moss and Dave were ahead of me in the standings, but, like McCance, were second drivers.

I've never finished ahead of Junior, and I was a little annoyed by him jumping into ESP despite having the SSP Corvette on site. I know SSP didn't have a class, so I don't exactly blame him for not wanting to run in the bump class. Still, I was surprised after our four runs to only be 0.08s behind him, and outright beating him on the right side course. In fact, after my runs, I was fourth, though I figured I'd be moved down at least one position after Greg's runs. I had left a lot on the left course, as I'd driven distracted on my last run due to the oil pressure gauge reading lower than usual; at least I think it was lower than usual. It didn't work at all at the DC ProSolo, and I don't remember looking at it during Packwood.
McCance in my car for the first time since Toledo Pro 2009

Greg checked the oil level before his runs, and it was fine, so he jumped in and immediately shot up to 2nd in the standings, merely 0.032s behind Sam. He was satisfied with the car's setup, so we didn't change anything, and my single driver plan of "set the pressures 2psi low and don't mess with them" worked for both of us.

Because of the "restructuring" of the event schedule, we weren't sure if we'd have to run again in the afternoon, but it turned out that they only got through shift B (my work assignment) before calling it a day. We wouldn't be first off in the morning -- a good thing, as green as Toledo's concrete can be -- and depending on how the Challenge worked out, it could be an early end to Sunday. 

The ESP grid on Sunday morning was, as Brian Burdette put it, "a familiar sight."
AWD pwns the competition at a ProSolo
Also familiar was the fact that the Talon didn't show up until moments before grid was about to DSQ Sam's first runs. While the rest of us speculated whether the car had spontaneously combusted in paddock, Sam said they had just been running late. Pat likes to point out that the Talon did break at the Dover SuperShootout without even turning a wheel, so maybe the truth was somewhere in the middle, who knows.

Sam started off by dropping 0.3s on the left, while McCance slowed down. Knowing how Sam choked at the NJ ProSolo last year, I was kind of hoping for the same deal this time around, so I tried to give McCance some encouragement. Instead, he coned a beaut of a 28.054 that would have moved him into the lead. Fortunately, Sam was busy taking a red light on the right side. They crossed over for the final two runs, and McCance grabbed 0.3s on his right side, but Sam dropped to a 28.0 of his own, extending his lead. One run left, and if McCance could match or exceed his previous run, but clean, he still had a chance.
He backed off on the run, just enough that he couldn't catch Sam. He knew it too. Was it the cone on the previous run? Were the tires overheated? Who knows. Sam coned a wicked 27.7 on the right, leaving McCance 0.287s off the pace with second drivers, including me, to go.

I wasn't nervous, I wasn't anxious at all, and that should have been my first warning sign that I wasn't going to do what I needed to do. I had been pretty meh about the competition all weekend, despite my best attempts to get amped for it. Yeah, I walked the courses, watched the fast guys from other classes (especially Super Stock; what a battle!!), and I still just sat in the car before pulling to the line and didn't think about how to improve. Oh, I knew what I needed to do. But unlike some past events, where I'd literally sit and visualize how to do it, I just sat there and stared over the hood of the car. I just wasn't mentally in the game.

Starting off on the left -- my bad side -- I had a good launch, and immediately dropped almost 0.2 from the start. It helps not having cold tires. I swapped sides, and dropped less than a tenth. Back over to the left, and I just went into full-on stupid mode by being too tentative going through the Chicago box before the sweeper, and then got late through the offsets coming back. No improvement, and meanwhile, both Charles and Dave had gotten by me, even if I had taken advantage of Junior's inability to go faster.

One last shot on the right, with nothing to lose.
Another 0.2s improvement, enough to bump me ahead of Shawn and stay in fifth spot.

Overall, the car handled and launched great (we were launching around 5K again, like at Packwood). My 60fts were solidly 1.8s, while McCance had a few 1.7s (keep in mind that these aren't necessarily equivalent to Packwood, since the measurements to the 60ft mark may not be precise). With the higher launch RPM, I wasn't having issues off the line, and McCance adapted to the lack of launch control on my car very quickly. The Competition Clutch seemed to bear no ill effects from Packwood's miscues on the launch, and I don't believe either of us thought the car couldn't do the job.

We waited in impound for over an hour before results finally came out, showing the final breakdown. Grady told us that only Sam was being kept, so the sad procession to paddock commenced, and we changed tires and I loaded all of my crap into the car. I went to grab a BBQ sandwich before hitting the road, and while waiting in line, Howard Duncan was announcing the Super Challenge qualifiers.

Mark Daddio was the top qualifier, and Sam was merely 22nd. It's funny that with a similar margin of victory to what I had at Packwood, Sam was so far back, but we had a lot fewer classes at Packwood, where I qualified 11th. So, Howard reaches the end of the list, then says, "It sounds like Marc Pfannenschmidt's left, so that moves Greg McCance into the 32nd qualifier spot."

I must have rolled my eyes so hard they almost popped out of my head. Seriously? He was the 33rd qualifier -- and they had to have known that when results came out -- and we were released from impound. Awesome. I got my sandwich and stalked to the trailer, where I told Sandi Brown that it was a shame McCance was told he wasn't being held and so we left impound and already changed tires. She glared at me and asked, "Well, is he running?" I was incredulous. I repeated that we'd already packed the car, and I was ready to leave, and she just said, "Well, if he isn't running, let me know so I can let someone else in."

I didn't want to make the decision for him, and if I stayed in the trailer another moment, I was going to say something I'd probably regret, so I walked out, looking for McCance, and he was actually walking towards the trailer. I told him that he would be allowed to run, if he wanted. He balked -- as he is prone to do -- but ultimately decided to do it. I poked my head into the trailer to tell Sandi, then we went back to the car, and starting throwing stuff out, bolted the tires back up and put it in impound. Meanwhile, Sam drives by and says, "I told you to leave my backup car!" a reference to how he jumped into my car for the Challenge at DC.
McCance vs. Fenter, a blast from the STX past
So, in the end, the Challenge was pretty anticlimatic for my car. The pairing was versus Chris Fenter, who'd destroyed CS, and when McCance referred to him as "The Machine," I had to wonder if he'd already psyched himself out. They pull to the line, indicated their readiness, Fenter leaves and then McCance redlights with a whopping 0.375. He hadn't redlit all weekend, and in fact had pretty conservative lights during competition. Again, my car doesn't even complete a full round at a Toledo Pro Challenge in the hands of Greg McCance. But, in consolation, Chris Fenter does go all the way to the final round, where he ultimately loses to Jason Burns. And, probably more importantly, I was still able to drive my car home.

We change tires once more, put all my accessory crap back in the car again, and then it was time to head home. The car decided to start with its "random no start" stuff again on the way back, so it's currently buried in the driveway until I have time to take it to IAG for diagnosis (and for when they have time to diagnose it, considering they are swamped with work). Fred thinks it might be a fuel pump on the way out, which would be awesome (NOT), considering I've done a fuel pump in both Camaros in the past year already. I guess it could be an epidemic; is the Lightning next?

Depending on when the car gets looked at, diagnosed and fixed, I could be done for a while. It also depends on how this meeting with my principal goes on Monday and whether or not he'll let me go to Nationals. I found a good substitute (not my #1 choice, but still a very good one) yesterday, so I have my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Broken Glass

After coming back from Packwood, I needed to replace my turbo. Since I run ESP, that means I can't do anything cool and upgrade it, so another stock TD04 it was.
A little worse for wear
This is why it's important to not just pop the hood at every gas stop, but to actually look at things. The air filter had come off, and with the MODE Racing heat shield "box" around it (as opposed to a metal shield that just blocks it off from the engine), the detachment wasn't immediately noticeable. It likely happened sometime between the Pro itself and the 120K service. But that was enough to have things severely damage the turbo.

With that replaced, I decided to drive the WRX to hockey on Monday and Tuesday, just to get reacclimated to the Competition Clutch feel and the power band of the car. Ever since I switched to autocrossing the Camaro, I've devoutly believed that a familiarity with a car helps with being able to get the most out of it, so I try to make sure I am not in "Camaro mode" if I'm getting ready to compete with the WRX.

In this case, this was both a blessing, but almost a curse.

Tuesday night, coming home from a tough short-benched scrimmage where our white team pulled out a win, I was feeling good. Adrenaline flowing, Arlington guys giving me props for the WRX on my way out of Ballston, and I just wanted to romp on the throttle something fierce.

So, I gave in when I got to the entrance ramp from Glebe onto I-66. 5K RPM, second, 5K RPM, third, 4K RPM, pop!

That did not sound good. The check engine light is flashing. I pull off and get out the Cobb AccessPort to try to figure out what's wrong. It comes up showing a cylinder 2 misfire. I clear the codes, wait ten seconds and restart the car. It's definitely acting like it's running on three cylinders. If I didn't know any better, I'd say it had just popped a spark plug wire -- my 2.5RS did that once -- but the WRX has coil packs. I pop the hood and look around with my meager flashlight and don't see anything that stands out.

I start the car up and let it idle again. It's running terribly rough, but as long as I don't give it any gas, it's not throwing a code. Weird. At 11:30PM on a Tuesday, I really don't have a lot of choice except to wake people up, and I just don't want to do that. So, I plot a slow, slow, slow course home, where I barely crack 30mph. It was one of the longest drives home of my life.

The next morning, I text McCance to find out which side cylinder 2 is, so that I know where to start looking. When he says, "Driver's front," that means I have to pull the battery, but the offender is right there. And once I do pull the battery, it's super obvious what's wrong.
may as well be a popped spark plug wire
A small plastic "bump" that the connector clips over was missing from the coil pack. So, I call up IAG, and they have some extra coil packs around, and I drive up there to get one. They actually give me two, just to be sure, and three hours later -- gotta love mid-day construction -- I'm home. I install the coil pack, and the car starts up, running fine.

I hurriedly pack and say goodbye to Pat, since he wasn't going to be able to make the Toledo trip this year. It was time to get to Cedar Point....

I arrived in Sandusky around 2:30AM, got into my mayfly-infested hotel room, and slept fitfully until 8. The lobby's breakfast area was packed, but I managed to construct a waffle/egg/sausage "sandwich" to take to the car. The hotel is only 5 or so minutes from Cedar Point, so leaving at 9:20 was kind of stupid, but I was antsy. I sat in the car for 10 minutes, then went up to the entrance gate to get my Fast Lane wristband, and then finally entered the park where I had to wait another 15 minutes before us non-resort-staying plebes were allowed in.

While I waited, I debated what I should go to first. The Top Thrill Dragster is always a good bet, because it's so fragile (to the point that Sean likes to call it the "Subaru ProSolo Experience"; ie., it's fast as hell, except when it breaks). But, if the Top Thrill Dragster is an ESP WRX, then Millenium Force is John Crouse's Camaro, because it's not too far behind. I opted to go to Millenium Force first, because I knew both of them required that I put my backpack in a locker, and the lockers near Millenium Force are a little less out of the way than those near Top Thrill Dragster.

So, since last year, they've changed the lockers -- for the better, I might add. They are now set up to take credit cards, and you plug in a code and so can open and close them repeatedly during the time period you choose. You can also extend the time period. It's much more convenient than the keys they had last year, so that once you reopened the locker, your rental was done.

Anyway, I got in the Fast Lane line for Millenium Force, and already I could tell this was a good idea. Fifteen minutes later, I'd completed my first ride, in the front seat, of course, and I headed up to Maverick. Fast Lane line, front seat, done in 20 minutes. Gemini, then Magnum XL200, within the first two hours, I'd ridden six coasters, all in the front seat, and within that time, I'd already dealt with a 30 minute rain delay. The Fast Lane wristband had cost me $65 (it's $120 for two, $165 for three and $50 each for four or more, up to ten), and it was completely worth it. Of course, I'd only paid $25 for admission since Megan Biddle cued me in on a "Christmas in July" promotion, but still, after this experience, I don't think I could go back to 2-3 hour waits in line for the front seat at Top Thrill Dragster when the longest I waited was 40 minutes.
I spied JohnV from the Magnum XL200!

Wicked Twister
In fact, I rode so much, and walked around so much, that by 8PM -- a full two hours before closing -- I was ready to sleep. I went back for a third round of Top Thrill Dragster, a fourth time on Power Tower, then over to Windseeker, while all the while thinking, "I need to grab a late dinner and go to sleep," but after leaving Windseeker, I wanted to ride Wicked Twister again.... well, I did, and I finally dragged myself towards the front gate, where I rode the carousel before I left.
my biggest regret was not riding it in the dark
I was disappointed I didn't get to ride Magnum XL200 or Millennium Force more, but Magnum was broken all day shortly after I rode it, and Millenium Force was broken most of the day, so I was glad I went there first. The Fast Lane pass helped so that when some of the prone-to-be-broken rides were up and running, I could get one them, rather than waiting for 90 minutes only to have it break again.

So, on the way back to the hotel, I hit the Thirsty Pony for dinner. They, too, had a "Christmas in July" special, of Great Lakes Christmas Ale! A pint was $5, so I went for that, with the cinnamon and sugar on the rim.
sooooo goooood.....
A delicious walleye sandwich later, I was ready to pass out. I was heading to the Glass City of Toledo in the morning to steadfastly ignore the fact that the Toledo ProSolo was starting on Friday. I had plans to go to the Toledo Museum of Art and the Toledo Zoo, and I was going to them, damnit, even if it cost me my first four runs.

But first, I was rudely awakened a good hour before I'd even planned to start hitting the snooze alarm. My phone trilled at me at 7:38AM, telling me insistently there was a text message. I cursed myself for forgetting to turn the damned thing to silent and looked. 

McCance. Wanting to know if I was still going to the Pro. I was tired, I was pissed that I was awake, and so I fought all of my instinctive urges and just texted back, "Yeah." I dropped the phone and threw the pillow over my eyes. 


I scowled at the offending electronic device. Reluctantly, I looked at it. McCance again. "Need a codriver?" I fought the intense urge to throw the phone across the room and debated how best to response without sounding like a total bitch. 

"Isn't Shawn coming?" He'd signed up to drive with Detroit region Mustang driver, Shawn Alexander. I'd offered him my car, and he said he would stick with the Mustang to show he "wasn't a hack."

"He is. Just asking." I wanted to break something, I wanted to go back to sleep so badly. It took all of my self control to be nice and just say, "I already offered the car to you." I mean, I had, and it would be really catty of me to tell him "no" just because he woke me up. But on the same note, the whole thing made me feel weird. I didn't know why he was asking me if Shawn was still going to be there, because I knew that if someone had planned to drive my car and ditched me at the last second, I would be pretty offended. 

I shook it off, and since at that point, I couldn't fall back asleep easily, I just figured I'd get up and shower and head out to Toledo. 

I've been to the Museum a few times before, so I was really interested in the non-permanent collections, especially the Color Ignited exhibit. I spent probably two hours in the Ancient Civilizations room, and then moved into the Color Ignited room. The first piece to really catch my eye was Fred Wilson's Iago's Mirror.
Fred Wilson. Iago's Mirror. 2009

Okay, this picture doesn't do the piece justice. First of all, it's huge. Secondly, to see it in person is to see the bizarre reflection that it casts. If you know the story of Othello and the character of Iago, then the strange reflection cast by the "black" (actually a very, very dark purple) glass starts to make more sense. I'd seen the pictures of it on the TMA Facebook page, but like most art, I had no idea what it was going to be like when I actually saw it with my own eyes. 

But even that was nothing compared to two other pieces in the exhibit. 

Let me preface this by saying that I appreciate art. I am especially astounded by ancient art, where the techniques to create things of wondrous beauty were so basic, we can only wonder how it was done. I am amazed at the time and the creativity of painting and sculptors, as I don't have nearly the patience -- much less the talent -- to create the things they do. But rarely do works of art capture me and move me to tears by their extreme beauty. I can literally count on one hand the number of pieces that have had me just state in complete amazement after capturing my attention from across the room. King Tutankhamen's death mask was one of them -- and yes, after all these years, I still remember seeing that so clearly at the Smithsonian. 

There was not one, but two such pieces in the Color Ignited collection.
Twilight Powered by Electricity Makes for a Brilliant New Horizon by Andrew Erdos
I don't know why I even bothered taking a photo. It can't do this piece justice. It was just simply amazing. I saw it out of the corner of my eye while I was looking at the Fred Wilson, and despite how "epic" the mirror was, I had to look at this. 

But after walking around the backside of the room, there was something even more eye catching, and this one I really couldn't leave.
Fundamental Vortex 2 by Michael Estes Taylor
There were camera crews all around while I was there, filming for CBS Sunday Morning (not sure when it is going to air), but the one camera guy I talked to agreed with me -- this particular piece would be absolutely stunning under natural light. As it was, under the track lighting, the prism effect was very pronounced. It made me think of a cluster of quartz and citrine crystals.... I was just astounded by it. 

I actually bought the exhibit book, and even those professionally done photos don't do this exhibit justice. I can only hope that some of the pieces maintain a permanent place in the Glass Pavilion next door.

After I bought the book, I headed out for the Zoo, where I, of course, went to the reptile house for the chelonians, and then wandered some of the other areas just to see what they had.
Burmese brown tortoise
Tiny painted turtle
Redfooted tortoise
Sea jellies
Alligator snapping turtle
Wally the walleye, official mascot of the Toledo Walleye hockey club
After spending time in the aquarium building, I walked outside to wet pavement, and realized storms had moved in. I started to walk back to the car, but a quick burst of rain sent me running to the Aviary for 10-15 minutes. Then I headed over to the Airport for check-in and tech. It started raining again, so I skipped changing tires, and went to the hotel for check-in, then out to dinner with some of the Cleveland/Akron crowd. 
The view from my car in paddock at 6:15PM.
We finished off the evening by going to a karting place where we managed to almost get tossed -- well, some people did get thrown out, but Megan and I negotiated with the manager and so not everyone had to leave. Fortunately, most of the perpetrators of the spinning and assclownery had fled, so the rest of us finished our last two races with good, clean-as-you-can-do-it-in-Ohio racing. :)

The next morning would be the ProSolo, with the impromptu codriver...
He actually made the car look good. :)

To be continued....

Saturday, July 14, 2012


There are three parts previous to this you should have read : The House on the Rock, Montana, and the ProSolo...

"“Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today"
-- James Dean
Most anyone who autocrosses will tell you that the worst part of an event, no matter how you finished, is the trip home. It doesn't matter if it's a local or a National, if you've won or if you've been DFL, the fact that you're heading home means the weekend is over, and it's time to head back to reality. It sucks, no matter who you are or how many National Championships you have.

They didn't have anything to look forward to on the way home.

Snake River, looking down towards Shoshone Falls

Perrine Bridge over Snake River in Twin Falls, ID
Parachuter. He almost ended up in the river.
Like last year, I did not have a particular itinerary for my trip home; I just wanted to get there by Thursday morning so I could have IAG Performance do the 120K service. They were flexible enough that if I wasn't home by Wednesday night, they'd reschedule, but I was also somewhat tired of being on the road.

That didn't stop me from cutting down US93 from Twin Falls, ID to Wells, NV so that I could see the Bonneville Salt Flats..... again.

It's salt. Some sodium and some potassium with some chloride. Stretching out as far as the eye can see. Nothing special, right?
If it's nothing special, why does it call to me so strongly? What is it about the bleak beauty of the landscape that drags me back again and again?

It's like the opposite of my obsession with railroad photos. The railroad is a pathway stretching out into the distance, but very distinct, unwavering.

The salt represents choice. It's still an endless pathway into the future, but the choices of how to get there are infinite.

At least this time, there were morons to distract me from my thoughts. An SUV and a Chrysler 300 showed up about 15 minutes after I did, and of the vast expanse of the flats, they stop next to me.

Really? Endless acres of salt, and you need to ruin my photos with your dumbass presence? And then the driver of the 300 takes it further by deciding to take a child out for a top speed run. That's all well and good, execept that a) you had to dodge cones marking the soft, wet salt heading out here from the road and 2) even the best of the land speed racers has had an accident on the salt. Do you really want to risk your personal car?
Cones marked where the salt was soft and wet just off the pavement at the end of Salt Flats Road
I moved the WRX to a different area to get away from the shenanigans, and took a few more pictures, then left to get some lunch at the Cafe.

Poster of Burt Monro at the Cafe
I left around 6, then planned to stay somewhere north and west of Park City for the night. I called Choice to make the reservation, but the woman I was speaking to wasn't very helpful beyond, "We don't have a property in Park City." So, I opted to pull over at the eastbound Salt Lake rest area not too far from the Flats exit in order to consult a map. I ended up with a reservation in Evanston, WY, then walked back to my car.

It wouldn't start. It cranked, but no fire. Crap.

No creepy feelings of doom crawled up my back, so I wasn't too worried, yet. I called Billy Brooks, but got his voice mail. So, I sucked it up and called Greg. He answered on the fourth ring.

"Hey, what's up?"

"Hi, Greg. You know I wouldn't be calling unless I had a serious problem."

"What's going on?"

"The car will turn over, but won't start." I turn the key again, and the car starts. "Okay, nevermind. I guess it just wanted to hear the sound of your voice."

I'm mortified. Seriously, car? I get out and shut the hood, and say thanks to Greg for answering the phone, then get back on the road. I stop in Park City for gas, then again in Evanston for the hotel, but no other issues come up.

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, besides the fact that the WRX randomly wouldn't start once again on Tuesday (at the hotel, after I checked in) and on Wednesday (after I stopped for gas at the rest area before Breezewood). I pushed myself to get home on Wednesday night, partly because I had scheduled the 120K service at IAG Performance for Thursday morning, and partly because I was just sick of being on the road at that point.
At the Continental Divide in Wyoming
These keep the cattle, horses and other hooved mammals from moseying up an entrance or exit ramp onto the highway
It may be the Continental Divide, but that doesn't mean it's civilized

I80 through Wyoming and Nebraska is called the Lincoln Highway
A full rainbow across I 80 in Cozad, NE welcomed me back to reality

So, nine days after departure, I finally arrived home at almost 2AM. The car was acting funny most of the way, so I was happy I'd scheduled service for it prior to leaving. I probably went to sleep around 3AM, and headed out to IAG around 9:30AM on Thursday. After changing the oil and running a borescope through, JJ comes into the showroom and gestures that I should follow him back to the shop. This can't be good.
I have my own video borescope to look at internals!
The turbo is dead, but doesn't know it yet. I'm just lucky that pieces haven't ended up in the motor. JJ lets me baby it home, but it needs to come back in for surgery, ASAP.

And so, like last year, the trip ends on a down note, despite all the awesome. But even that downer has a bit of sunlight glistening, as the turbo didn't self-destruct, and I don't need a new engine. And TD04s are a dime a dozen.

Hey, Newman.... I got this!!! :)

“We know how it ends practically before it starts. That's why stories appeal to us. They give us the clarity and simplicity our real lives lack.” 
-- Anne Bishop, Daughter of the Blood

"Wild Angel
Untamed and beautiful in the sky,
You walk by without even looking my way."
 --Heather Swearingin, Wild angel