Saturday, August 3, 2013


Episode VII in this road trip! For previous installments : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

I'm not sure which I dislike more -- running in the first run group like I did the previous week at Packwood, or working in the first run group like I would at Toledo. I do know that working grid in the regular competition rounds isn't high on my list either, but I've been doing ProSolos long enough that I could figure it out pretty well. In fact, at NJ, I just sort of started working grid because Howard had taken over start (since the lights were misbehaving at that event). The problem with doing a job well though is that it suddenly becomes expected of you...

Anyway, Pat and I arrived on site around 6:30 so that he could help Learic change her tires. I'd changed tires on the WRX the night before, so for me, it would just be a matter of checking pressures and such before I ran. I went to walk courses and think about some things that Tony Savini had noted the previous evening, and then it was off to grid with Marc Pfannenschmidt for the next hour or so. We were praised for our smooth operation, setting a high precedent for the rest of the heats when we left.

ESP Grid, Saturday morning. Photo by Jen Merideth
While Pat struggled with getting clean runs in the 370Z (Him : "It doesn't handle like an ESP Camaro!" Me : "Duh! I told you it would be like an FS Camaro!!"), I started off with mid 0.6s RTs and decent enough times, except for my first run where I got seriously lost as I turned into the right hand sweeper. On my third run, however, the time was delayed, and as I pulled over to the left side for my last run, I see my running partner hasn't made it off course. In fact, people are starting to walk out on course, and then the SCCA truck rolls out. That can't be good.

Turns out that the brake caliper bracket on the ex-Merideth Mustang had snapped -- not for the first time, either! Fortunately, the damage was minimal, and they had enough parts with them to be able to fix it, just not in time for the co-driver to get runs in. In any event, clouds began to roll in towards the end of our session, and with our group's grid workers slacking at keeping classes together, ESP second drivers barely got two dry runs before the first of several deluges hit.

Very serious bizness.
I was sitting in fourth after the morning runs, with Shawn Alexander  in the lead, Dave Heinrich second and Dave Feighner less than a tenth ahead of me. I was only 0.4 back from Shawn. If it could stay dry in the afternoon, I was hoping I could make up the time.

With some timing issues (equipment malfunctions and the like) caused by the downpour, we ended up with no lunch break, so after taking the car over to paddock, it was almost immediately time to go back to work. However, there was a dilemma for another of the DC area ESP drivers... Evidently, something in the rear end of Sam Vassallo's Mustang broke during Adam George's runs. The initial diagnosis was the Watts link. Adam asked about driving the WRX for the afternoon session, but I pointed out that during a ProSolo, once you switch cars, you can't go back to your original vehicle. I didn't want him to be stuck in the WRX if the Mustang was fixable.

Sam went out to get some bolts from the local mom-and-pop hardware store, after Marcus pointed out that the broken bolt Adam removed wasn't the correct bolt.
He didn't buy out the store, but he brought back myriad bolts in the hopes one would work.
Meanwhile, Marc and I were whipping grid into shape in order to bust through classes as quickly as possible in order to avoid getting caught in the Toledo Tsunami II. While we may have come across as a bit irritable, I hope the competitors in groups 1 and 2 understood that we were trying to help them out by getting dry(ish) runs in.

As we turned the reins to grid over, another batch of storm clouds was building to the west. Marc and I had been checking the radar on his phone, and it looked like it could possibly miss the airport (going just barely to the north of us).
Pat vs. EricK. One time co-drivers, now mortal enemies. ;)
I'm sure the competitors of S5 weren't happy they'd been moved to the back of their grid, but with a few competitors working shift A, it was only fair they had time to get ready to run. The unfortunate thing was that the rain hit right when they were going out for their afternoon runs. Pat took one part-run in Learic's car, and came in, fearing he'd do something damaging in the wet on A6s. There was always Sunday morning, right?

The rain stopped before ESP was ready to go, though there were plenty of wet spots still on course. It was doubtful that any of us first drivers would improve, though the second drivers may have a chance, depending on when grid decided to send them this time.
Too. Many. Mustangs. Where all my F-bodies at??
As Dave and I pulled to the line, I realized that, yes, the course was going to be too damp for improvement. The airport doesn't drain particularly well since it's so flat. So, these runs were going to be for fun.

In the end, while waiting in impound, Dave and I talked about the few things we were able to learn in the dry areas on course, especially the finish slaloms. It was funny that we both were trying to do the same thing -- recon in the dry sections -- and despite vastly different cars, we were able to conclude the same thing; we weren't driving fast enough in several areas.
The rain was at least good for some striking photos. This one was taken by Craig Wilcox.

Some of the second drivers were able to improve, primarily due to getting a clean run on one side or another, but the top four remained the same going into Sunday's runs. Upon release from impound, I changed to the street tires -- I did not want to be caught in the rain Saturday night nor Sunday morning on the A6s -- then we headed over to Smokey Bones to hang out with some Ohio peeps for dinner before calling it a night, despite their best attempts to get us to go karting.
My phone is tethered to my pocket so that it doesn't magically disappear during dinner. Blurry photo by Sean O'Gorman.
Who's idea was it to start Sunday morning ProSolo runs an hour earlier than Saturday? It's like they hate night owls like myself. ;) Still, Pat and I got on site around 6:45, and I walked each course again. It's not like I didn't know what I needed to do, but walking helps me remember where I need to place the car.

The forecast was for no precipitation until later in the afternoon, and the early groups showed that the Saturday deluges had evidently wiped the slow off the course. Some of the ladies class competitors were dropping 1-2 seconds out there, and while that raised my spirits regarding ESP, it also scared me. I could drop 1.5s, but what about everyone else?

I watched and monitored Pat's progress while changing back to my A6s in paddock. His first two runs were fast, and put him momentarily into the S5 lead, but Joe Barbato dropped the hammer on his last two runs while Pat red lit and went slower. Still he held on to the second spot, 0.349 back from Barbato, in a car he'd never driven before.

It wasn't too long until it was my turn again.
Sunday's grid looks a lot like Saturday afternoon grid.
Pat went to turn on the camera, and it was dead. I was sad, but it meant I would definitely set my fastest times, since I couldn't record them. And, yes, first runs were fast, as expected, though I definitely left something on the table as I realized I'd left the AC/defrost on for my first run. :o I dropped another 0.5s on my first left side run, but my right side runs were killing me. I needed to step it up. I managed to barely nick the 30s on my last right, with a 30.9, and my subsequent 30.2 on the left was at that time only eclipsed by Dave Heinrich. It was good enough for third at that point, but with second drivers coming up, I wasn't hopeful to stay there.

Sure enough, Dave's son, Josh, came out of nowhere to grab second spot, only 0.1 off his dad, and running an impressive 30.2 on the right. Adam finally capitalized on the warm tires that Sam gave him and took fourth, a mere 0.006 behind Feighner. I would stay in the final trophy position, just a smidge over 0.7s back from the lead, knowing I left at least that much time on the table, and consoling myself with the fact that I was driving by myself on seriously old tires while everyone who finished ahead of me had been on stickers for the weekend.

I put the car in paddock, my name in for the bonus challenge and then started gridding up the Ladies Challenge to try to beat the rain. I didn't get lucky enough to be drawn for the bonus two weeks in a row (though Sam Krauss was drawn and could have driven my car, but he'd already left). The third epic flood (or was it the fourth? or fifth?) hit during the first round of the Super Challenge, making things very interesting, especially for matchups of R-comp vs. R-comp or R-comp vs. slick.
Voted least desirable umbrella girls for the event. ;) Alex says he only had one dry shirt, hence running shirtless here. Yes, he cleared it with the Chief of Safety.
The final came down to an ST car and an F125 on rain tires. The STC car, driven by Jason Frank, took the win.
Final round matchup
Pat had graciously changed my tires and loaded up my car during the Challenges, so all I had to do after we collected our trophies (and those of some friends who'd left already) was say our goodbyes. He'd ridden out with Adam, Sam and Mike Kline, so they left about an hour before me. Once I got on the road, I realized I was dead tired -- working in the rain probably didn't help -- and I only got as far as Youngstown before I grabbed a hotel for the night.

Toledo ProSolo Results

The rest of the trip was pretty easy. I stopped in Hancock to explore that part of the C&O Canal for a while, then rolled up to the house in the late afternoon. And sadly, the trip was over, marking what is the for me, essentially the end of summer.

Looking down the Potomac River
Abandoned structure near Lock 52. Probably the lock master's home.
Watch where you're slithering!
Tonoloway Aqueduct
Any place can be a rest stop.

Until next year, oh western frontier!

All photos that I took

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Post Title Origins
The Beers that Came Back

Friday, August 2, 2013

Six Days on the Road

Believe it or not, this is episode six. To follow the story up until now, you'll want to check out 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

July 24, 2013. North Platte, NE. I barely remembered getting into town the night before. The trip east is always worse than the trip west, partly because of the time zones, and partly because I'm leaving the event site. While the latter disappointment was counteracted by the fact that I was going to another ProSolo, most of the problem was giving back another hour. It's great to "gain" time while heading west, but when Father Time comes calling for that debt... yeah, it sucks.

Add to it the building humidity.
Fog, anyone?
Yeah, the first hour or so on I-80 was a little interesting with the lack of visibility. Eventually, the mists cleared, and we were back at speed, just in time for me to come upon Cozad.

At the rest area, I'd seen an historical marker saying there were three Pony Express stations still in existence nearby. One was on private land, one was in Gothenburg, and the last was in Cozad. Well, I figured Cozad was small enough that I could find it, so when the exit came up, I went searching.

It didn't take long.

Through one of the windows
Like the Granger Station, it was locked, but through the windows, you could see there was period furniture inside. I was disappointed to not be able to go inside, but it was still cool to see.

Back to I-80, the vibration was getting more noticeable. It still wouldn't do anything during a lane change, but it was starting to manifest above 70mph instead of higher. I was being very careful with any kind of right hand turns to minimize the vibration while trying to see exactly what would trigger it.

As I approached Lincoln, I figured maybe I'd stop for lunch, just to give the car a break in case the vibration was an axle that was fatigued. Since I wasn't sure I'd be able to make Holly's birthday bonanza at Lazlo's, that's where I stopped.
Mmmmm. IPA....
Despite some friends claiming terrible service the last few times they were there, I had no problems and got my sandwich and drinks in a timely fashion. Of course, it was the tail end of the regular lunch hour, and probably not nearly as crowded as during the school year and Nationals week....

Back to the road, Iowa was next on the list of states to get through. I made one stop in Kellogg, where there were some kind of neat antique farm implements, but nothing else of significance.

Illinois netted nothing of note but a John Deere 18-wheeler that evoked images of Corvettes in grass, then I was in Indiana before I knew it.
C'mon. This was an easy joke for anyone who's put four off, especially at Peru. Like Matthew Braun.
It's amazing how the scale of things changes drastically as you cross Nebraska. Suddenly, the time between cities goes to minutes versus hours. The time to cross a state is 2-3 hours versus 5-7. So, I found myself in Toledo before I knew it. I checked in, cleared some things out of the car (since I'd be in town for a few days), and set the alarm before hitting the sack for the night.

Next morning, PURE Tuning was an easy drive from my hotel. Their website said they were open at 9AM, and I had had to switch my appointment from 7/24 to 7/25 so I couldn't remember if I was still supposed to show up at 10AM. I left at 9:15, arrived at 9:30, and Robert Chrismas greeted me. Yeah, SCCA autocross folks, that Robert Chrismas; he works at PURE now. While he and the other PURE guys moved cars around, I also saw XP Evo driver Kevin Lewis pull up with his truck and trailer.
Kevin needed a tune!
Well, Robert hadn't had my WRX on the lift for more than five or so minutes when I heard the dreaded, "You have to come and look at this." Now, for those new to the saga, last year on the way home from Packwood, I had a hose come off the air filter, resulting in a damaged turbo. The year before, I had a timing belt tensioner failing, so the timing belt was hitting the inside of the cover. I wasn't sure what I was about to see, but I could imagine it was going to be one of those, "You just avoided a serious catastrophe" moments.

As I walked out into the bay, and Robert shined his light on the undercarriage, the first thing I noticed is that he was looking at the driver side. Hmmm. That could be why I didn't notice anything when I pulled the passenger wheel in Evanston. Secondly, there was a bolt sticking more than halfway out of the lower control arm!!!. Damn. Just.... damn. I've had a control arm come apart there on the Camaro (broken welds), and it's not good. I guess the bad luck I experienced at the blackjack tables and the blood sacrifice at the car wash paid off to get through this one. :\
There isn't a whole lot that can be said about this except... Damn.
I think the best response I got to this photo was McCance texting me, "You and those f---ing control arms." What else can be said?

Robert was able to reuse the bolt, find a nut to work with it and get everything back together. Once the oil was changed, I was out and went over to Tony Packo's on Front Street for lunch then back to the hotel. I did laundry, took a nap, and was otherwise bored until Friday morning. 
Crossing the Maumee River

ECHL Outdoor Classic in 2014, between the Walleye and....???
It was a glorious thing to sleep in on Friday. Once I woke up and showered, I decided to go to the Toledo Museum of Art for a few hours before heading to the event site.

As always, there were incredible works on display, some I hadn't seen before. I ended up spending more time that I anticipated at the Museum, and finally left around 4:30 to head over to the airport. 
The Crommelynck Gate With Tools, Jim Dine, 1983.
Two Wings from the So-Called Salamanca Triptych, Jan Gossart (Mabuse), 1521. These are paintings!
Fear (La Crainte), Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, 1769.
Dress Impression with Train, Karen LaMonte, cast 2007.

The Council of War, John Rogers, 1868
. It's funny that I almost left, then decided to turn around and found this. Tad Lincoln said it was the most lifelike rendition of his father that he'd ever seen.
I finally headed over the the airport to check in and get my car teched, and Pat was there! He and Eric Kriemelmeyer had decided on a whim to come out and see if they could get in, and they did. While Pat had a few vehicles to choose from (including Newman's AS FRC Corvette and Learic's CS 370Z), Eric had brought his NA Solstice. I told Pat he should drive the 370Z since it was like an FS Camaro with better brakes, and that's what he ended up in.

Meanwhile, I got registered and teched (in paddock! Thanks, Brian!), then walked each course once. They looked worlds better than last years courses, if for nothing else than the finish wasn't a contorted mess. As site closure approached, Pat and I headed out to get cleaned up and then go over to Loma Linda's for Danny's birthday party, which was kinda blah, what with the mini-margaritas and the lack-luster participation in the birthday song. 
Danny got a sweet hat... but had to give it back
Let's not go there....

This '79 Bobcat was in the parking lot when we went to leave. We all drooled over it while the owner told us everything. And it had a huge nitrous bottle in the back!
We headed back to the hotel, ready for battle in the morning.

Next up : Toledo ProSolo!

No Particular Place To Go

This is part V of an extended version of the yearly road trip writeup. You may wish to visit Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Evanston in the morning is a bit chilly, but I was still a little worried about the weird vibration from the night before. As I was checking out, I asked the hotel clerk if it was going to be a problem for me to be removing a wheel from and possibly working on my car in the hotel parking lot. Her response was, "This is Wyoming. You can pretty much do what you want here." With that blessing, I jacked the car up and pulled the passenger front wheel.

No missing weights, no loose endlinks, nothing I could see to account for the vibration. There were a lot of nasty bugs stuck on the inside of the wheel, but I didn't think they could affect the balance that much. But, on the off chance there was something I couldn't see, I took it to a DIY car wash, where I promptly managed to cut my knuckles on the front license plate and bleed all over. Nice. I considered it a blood sacrifice to make it to Toledo safely, and then got on the road.

There was no drama on the trek towards Green River, so when I saw the sign for Fossil Butte National Monument, I decided to jump off I-80 and head towards Kemmerer. It turns out that it's a lot further from the interstate than I thought, but that was okay, as I had plenty of time to get to Toledo before Wednesday night.
Random railroad crossing
Wish I'd been able to capture a train too.
I went through a cloud of locusts right after I washed the car. This one was still moving 10 minutes later. Ugh.
The colors of the rocks at Fossil Butte are amazing. Maybe they aren't as dramatic as the Yellow Mounds in the Badlands or the Painted Desert, but it's still a sight to see.

The visitor center has an incredible diversity of fossils from the beds -- plants, animals, seeds, embryos! Everything. If you can't visualize what that ecosystem looked like from their collection, you have no imagination.
Mioplosus labracoides, a predatory fish
Paddlefish with Knightia (the small fish)
Knightia meeting a grisly end
Hummelichelys guttata with teeth marks in its shell
Echmatemys with teeth marks
Chisternon undatum, extinct
Soft-shelled Apalone heteroglypta (with Knightia)
This Axestemys byssinus was larger than me! It's another soft-shelled turtle
I didn't take a lot of plant photos, but this frond (and a matching on on the other side of the case) was almost as tall as me!
A horsetail/rush, with several juvenile Knightia

Two different layers; these fish died many years apart

This guy was much more personable than the one at the Badlands.
Heading back towards the highway, I considered hiking the Historic Quarry Trail (2.5 miles roundtrip), but then decided that it might take longer than I wanted. So, it was back on the road, to US30, which I stayed on through Kemmerer and towards Green River until I saw a sign for "Granger Station". I didn't know what it was, but it was only 1/4mi off the road, so I detoured into the tiny town (less than 150 inhabitants) of Granger. The first historic marker I saw took me to a pioneer community graveyard.
Most of the graves here are unmarked and unknown. The last burial was in 1942, and it is mostly infants and children, but that is sadly typical of pioneer cemeteries.

The other historical site in Granger is the Granger Station, first established in 1850 as a wayside for those traveling the Oregon Trail, then later used as a Pony Express Station and as a train station. The railroad coming to town is what allowed Granger to incorporate as a town in 1914.
The main structure is about the same size as the Pony Express station in Gothenburg.
This additional portion may have been stables or something else in the past, but has long since gone into disrepair.
My curiosity got the better of me; I lifted up the boards and found a cobwebby well underneath of them.

The doors were nailed shut, but you could see through the windows the building was empty.
The railroad still passes through Granger to this day.
Another claim to fame is that Mark Twain once stopped at this very station, which I discovered after I'd left.

From Granger, I headed back towards Green River and then I decided to check out the Flaming Gorge. This is another one that I really wish had said how far from the interstate it was, since it was even further. With few paved roads as options across Wyoming, this would mean that I wouldn't get very much past Rock Springs within the first several hours of leaving Evanston! But some of the views were worth it.
It looks barren, but it's teeming with its own diverse lifeforms.
There are also tons of fossils throughout the Green River formations.
Once you get into the northern reaches of Utah, there are signs along the road saying which epoch or age you are at (like the Jurassic or Cambrian age).
Around Sheep Creek Bay, you start to see some of the layers for which Flaming Gorge is named.
Sheep Creek Bay of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir

The road to the overlook
Swett Homestead from the Greendale overlook
I didn't see any. :(
Swett Homestead
Carter Creek Bridge from the Cedar Springs overlook

Carter Creek Bridge
Flaming Gorge Dam from the Visitor Center
They are very, very worried about invasive aquatic species in the Western states. This is from Lake Meade, after just 3-4 days in the water.
Flaming Gorge Dam
A real cowboy, herding cows towards a pond. He seemed amused by me taking a picture of him
Yellow rocks overlooking the Clay Basin
Clay Basin
Eventually, I made my way back to I-80 at Rock Springs, then pushed on towards Cheyenne and Nebraska. I knew my time away from the interstate was going to hurt me, but I was seeing such awesome stuff and meeting interesting people, so I didn't so much care. It was funny at Fossil Butte that one of the women at the Visitor Center saw my Washington Capitals hat and exclaimed how much her son would love to know that a Caps fan had stopped by tiny Kemmerer. Then I told her I was a season ticket holder, and she was extremely amused. But, I guess Caps fans don't venture outside DC too often, or if they do, they don't advertise their hockey affiliation. ;)

I tried finding a hotel in Sidney, Nebraska (home of Cabela's) to no avail, so I ended up driving another 90 long minutes to North Platte. The vibration had stayed away for most all of the day until I'd gotten into Nebraska, and it was still only in right hand sweeping turns at speed. If I was just changing lanes, it wouldn't happen, and if I slowed down to 60-70mph, it didn't happen. I was still perplexed, but I'd hopefully be in Toledo the next evening and PURE Tuning could look at it and hopefully fix it. 

Next up : Bad Vibes