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

Failure

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

Recovery

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.