Saturday, May 30, 2015

Todays "Duh..."

I long ago gave up throwing snack food at the TV when racing drivers made apparently bone-headed moves.  It's a lot harder than it looks, as I learned doing high-speed autocross, without anybody to race into a corner, or get out of the way for.

But color commentators still grind my molars.  Today's pearl of wisdom from IndyCar at Detroit:

     "It's raining and, don't forget, folks, this is a street circuit with normal, crowned, public
     roads.  The crown works with you on corner-entry but the car goes loose on exit."

Who doesn't know this?  Come on down to the Dragon's crowns, commentator.  Try it at 9/10's.  Or 8/10's in the rain.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Happy Birthday, Jack Baldwin

Jack Baldwin will be 67 years young on May 31.  I watched him win a race at Mosport on TV yesterday in his Porsche Cayman S.  He launched it into the lead from 3rd on the grid, led for most of the race, got passed by the 2nd place Mustang near the end when he made a minor mistake, set him up beautifully, and re-passed for the win.  Mosport is not a club circuit.  It is right up there with the rest of the great North American circuits, and might be the best: not for the faint-of-heart.

I remember reading about Baldwin's wins and championships in Road & Track when I was young and busy with raising kids and/or living in The Great Sports Car Desert.  Too poor and busy to spend the money and time to see him run "live."  Maybe I'll catch him yet if we're both at Road America on the same weekend.

Baldwin is one of those journeyman American sports car drivers who never made it to the top rank with a big-name team, but who is better than most instructors we might encounter at a school like Barber or Bondurant.  His consistency and racecraft are a delight to watch.  He's not just "good for an old guy," he's flat good at an age when most drivers have been retired for 20 years or more.  Happy Birthday, Jack.  Here's a link to his Wikipedia page for those who want to check his record:

Above: Baldwin counter-steering through Rainey Curve at Laguna Seca.  Below: entering Turn 5 at Road America in the
rain.  He was IMSA GTU Champion in this Mazda RX-7 in 1984 and 1985.  But the winning tradition began in 1972 when
he won the SCCA Formula Ford (amateur) Championship in 1972.

2012-2015: Not fast for an Old Guy, just plain fast in a Porsche Cayman S.  A championship contender.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Leno Uncovers Another Slayer

If I lived in Robbinsville or Maryville, I would be on Matt Brown's doorstep with a check for $10,000. Would he let it go for that?  Some serious thought and shade-tree engineering went into this build.  He's clearly a proud papa.  And he learns from his mistakes: Viper to New Mini to home-built.  ;-)

One commenter on the Leno post asked if it has a reverse gear.  That's not the right question.  Do you need a top or windows?  No.  Just leave it in the garage for sunny weekdays on the Dragon.  Push it out.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tifosi In 1954? Yup.

This picture looks like it was taken at tech inspection in the Plaza, not approaching the start line (angle, available light).
Either way, it's amazing that the organizers got through the event schedules on time.

They may be Lancia D 24's, not Ferraris, and it may be the Mille Miglia, not Monza.  But the principle and the sentiment is the same.  540 is Eugenio Castellotti (DNF, "mechanical"), 602 is Alberto Ascari (won), 541 is Gino Valenzano (DNF, accident).

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fine Old Ford Film

The "photo finish" staged by Ford at LeMans in 1966.

Thanks to Mac's Motor City Garage via the Midwest Council of Sports Car Clubs FaceBook page for the link to this film:

I recall the hype around Ford's "computer controlled" dyno testing of the 7-liter Mark II engine at the time: supposedly the engine ran trouble-free for 48 hours on a program that replicated a lap at LeMans. And, unlike 1964 and 1965, the GT 40's had reliable engines.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hail And Farewell, Crown Vic

OK, it's a Mercury Grand Marquis, not a Ford Crown Vic.  Killboy's caption: "You're not in Kansas any more."
Another thing that's wrong with this picture: no light bar, antennas, or dog dish hubcaps.

A neighbor is a Deputy for my County Sheriff's Department.  He will not be sorry to see his Crown Vic go, but not because he doesn't love the car.  Because it is old and worn out.  His replacement vehicle will be a Ford Taurus or Explorer.  Of the two, he prefers the Explorer--it's roomier inside.  Thirty percent of the new vehicles will be unmarked.  Illinois State Troopers (and other States) use the same.  An adjoining County and many local authorities hereabouts use Chevy Impalas.

I already miss the Crown Vic, and it's not even completely gone yet.  This has nothing to do with its atrocious handling and the driving skills of its civilian owners, demonstrated over the decades.  It has to do with the Crown Vic's visibility in a sea of smaller sedans, SUV's, and pickup trucks.  When you spot one, chances are 50/50 that it's an l.e.o. in his cruiser.  Even unmarked, they are easier to spot at a distance: a useful supplement to a radar detector.

Taurus, Explorer, Impala = Advantage Speed Enforcement.  Especially with the pencil-thin light bars most authorities now run.  Sigh...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"You're Doing It Wrong"

Not this way...

But this way:

If you do your 911 in "Porsche Psychedelic," do it right--and don't drag The Pink Pig into it.  ;-)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Today's LOL

"For those who feel bikes are dangerous but don't want the safety of [a car]."
                                                                      --Comment on FaceBook page
                                                                         on three-wheelers / trikes

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Baby Has New Shoes, Version 1.1

"Meet the New Look... same as the Old Look..."  (apologies to The Who)

When I bent two rims on my Civic Si, it was an opportunity, not a problem.  The summer-only high performance radials on Hotshoe's Focus ST were a revelation to me.  Then Watchtower put a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sports on his Bullitt--and is very satisfied with them.

New shoes for the Si would be Dragon-oriented, because that's the only high-performance driving I do. But the Si is also a daily driver, so it needs to get down Interstates in the rain: super stickies were not an option.  Watchtower made tire selection easy by sending me a Tire Rack test against some comparables. Pilot Super Sports it would be.

Tire Rack was out-of-stock on 17 X 7 OZ wheels to replace my bent ones.  More precisely, my "Anthracite" color is discontinued, with only one in stock.  So I opted for 17 X 7.5.  They are "Matt Graphite Silver," which is less attractive.  But I wanted to keep the light weight of the Allegerita HLT line, so I'll live with it.  Surprisingly (and gratifyingly) the wider wheels weigh only about a half pound more.

This reopened the possibility of wider tires.  I stayed with a 45 aspect ratio (and thus 17-inch diameter) because 1) the ride is already firm enough for a street-driven car and 2) 40-series tires would make the wheels even more vulnerable to the potholes that created this opportunity to begin with.  A 235 tire is nominally about 0.8-inch wider than a 215, a bit less at the contact patch, so it is well-supported by the 0.5-inch wider wheel.  Clearance is very tight at the left rear because of a plastic shield on the inner fender well for the fuel filler pipe; otherwise it's ample.  If it is a problem, it should manifest itself in right-handers, with the left rear suspension in compression.  (The widest tire Tire Rack has tested on the Si, and recommends for it, is a 225.)  The heaviest balance weight needed was 2 oz.; the total weight across 4 tires was under 5 oz.  That's a tribute to Michelin's manufacturing tolerances.

As each tire will now support less weight per unit of surface area at the contact patch, I'll start with Honda's recommendation of 33 p.s.i. all around, and experiment from there.

The 0.5 inch increased wheel width and slightly more tire width is a
barely perceptible difference from stock, I believe because the
offset was changed by about 0.25 inch.  Clearance may be
an issue for the left rear only, because of the plastic
gas tank filler pipe shield.

Oddity: bouncing rubber balls (actually, orbiting rubber b-b's).  Keys shown for scale.  This one was the largest, at about
0.25 inches in diameter.  About a half-dozen of them came out of both old front tires (none from the rears).  My
mechanic believes they are flakes of rubber from the inner sidewalls, "chafed" loose by hard (cornering) use.
The flakes aggregate into spheres via centrifugal force from the rotation of the tires.  It's the reverse of the
physics of planet formation around a star: the flakes are contained in an orbit by the inner tread wall.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Spring 2015 Dragon Run: Henry Clay's Ashland (Post 7 And Final)

Ashland.  The original house was the center part; the wings were added later.

Hotshoe and I rolled into Lexington KY with an afternoon to kill before the big push to get home the following day.  So I took him to Ashland, the home of Henry Clay.

Clay has long fascinated the history buff in me.  He burst upon the national scene in 1812 when he was elected Speaker of the House as a freshman Congressman.    He was center-stage in politics for 40 years, often dominating it.  Abraham Lincoln said Clay was his "beau ideal of a statesman."

I'm still trying to understand what Abe meant by that.  Clay was a bundle of contradictions (where Lincoln was crystal clear).  He was a War Hawk in 1812 who strenuously opposed the Mexican War in 1848.  (This may have cost him the presidency in one of his three bids for it.)  He was an anti-slavery slaveowner.  We learned on the tour that about 70 slaves worked Ashland's 600 acres, principally growing hemp.  He did not free his slaves, even in his Will.  Of his three sons, one fought for the Union, one for the Confederacy, and one stayed home.

Clay was an economic nationalist.  He advocated high tariffs to encourage manufacturing, strong centralized financial institutions, and spending Federal money on infrastructure.  He was not particularly interested in agriculture or the political agendas of rural people.  His opposition to the Mexican War was partly because it would increase slaveholding territory.  Yet, at Ashland, he lived like a patriarchal southern planter.

He was a brilliant tactical politician, known as "The Great Compromiser," who took on the other high-voltage figure of his age, Andrew Jackson, in a political blood feud.  Each tried to destroy the other, and both almost succeeded more than once.  If Clay's customary sense of proportion and the art of the possible had not deserted him, he would not have tried to destroy a sitting president.

Not much of this interested Hotshoe.  He knows and cares about automotive history more than most. His knowledge of American history is better than most.   So I just assumed he was as nutty about political history as I am.  Not so.  He was interested in Ashland's design and construction.  For instance, pocket doors, which he thought were clever and which escaped my notice until he pointed them out.  He was interested in household artifacts, which also make my eyes glaze over.  (Why tourists are fascinated with the dumbwaiter Thomas Jefferson designed for Monticello passeth my understanding.  And, speaking of Jefferson, Monticello does provide some clues to his personality.  Ashland provides fewer clues to the inner Clay.  It was simply a McMansion of its day.)

We were lucky to have a very good docent, who kept our tour group of about ten people engaged--no matter what our particular interests were.  As a tourist, I've learned that a good docent makes all the difference.  I'd toured Ashland once before, guided by a docent who stressed the gentility and refinement of Kentucky's rich-Victorian-people-who-race-horses culture.  (A Clay descendant bred and raced thoroughbreds.)  She didn't spend much time on Clay himself.  And she didn't interact with the tour group--just lectured.  She was a bore.

Architectural detail of a wing at Ashland.  This proto-Italianate style was cutting-edge modernism in the
1810's.  Hotshoe was intrigued by Ashland's space-saving pocket doors and the fact that the window
frames are Oak while the shutters are... Ash.  I was skeptical of the floor plan, which routes the
hallways around the outside of several rooms.  This eliminates walking through a room to get
to another, but it also cuts off sunlight.  Ashland can be rather gloomy inside.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Spring 2015 Dragon Run: Devil's Triangle (Post 6)

Hotshoe and I decided to add a day to our trip to try this road, which was (sort of) on our way home.  More correctly, we drove 2/3 of it: Highway 116 north and east of Oliver Springs, TN.  It was very challenging, especially the switchbacks at each end.  It is very scenic in parts.  I would try it again.

But it's not a Dragon kind of road.  The switchbacks are very tight: Alpine-like.  There is no shoulder. By this I mean there is a one-foot drop from the road surface in many sections.  Your margin for error in misjudging a corner is zero.  And if you go off, you may stay off until a tow arrives.

It had rained hard the night before, and the road was littered with downed branches, some sizable. There were numerous "crossings" where runoff had left gravel or standing water in the road.  The Triangle is populated for nearly all its length, with driveways that require a walking pace to turn into. We got stuck behind a Ford Explorer towing a trailer with sketchy tires at low speed.  There are no pull-offs.  There's no room for pull-offs.

All of this means the Triangle cannot be "attacked" like the Dragon can.  Even the straight-ish sections are a challenge at 30 m.p.h.  Only a few times did we get up to 40-50 m.p.h.  The switchbacks are 10 m.p.h. tight.  Ron Johnson (owner of the Tail of the Dragon Store) told us that, southbound (which is tighter than northbound), the Triangle is so slow that it's hard to maintain forward momentum on a motorcycle.  Having driven it northbound, I believe him.

This was the most expansive roadside area that we saw on the Triangle, by a wide margin.  It's the only one I remember.
We used it as a pull-off to gap ourselves from the slow-moving Explorer.  On the Dragon, a gap of 1-2 minutes is
plenty.  Not on the Triangle.  This pic does not do justice to its tightness and zero-tolerance for error.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Spring 2015 Dragon Run: Killboy Krew Kars And A Ride With Killboy (Post 5)

In my opinion (and others'), the best Dragon Slayer is a small, light car with big, sticky, tires.  Anything over 200 horsepower is adequate.  300 horsepower is ideal; more than that is useless.  What you need most is mid-range torque.  Dragon regulars, including the Killboy Krew, mostly build cars along these lines.

Kamal's Civic has never had big power, although his built engine has a lot more than stock (and can live at high revs,
pass after pass).  He has the biggest, stickiest, tires that will fit in the stock wheel wells.  But they don't have grooves
to move a lot of water, so he doesn't make hard passes in the rain.  For this season, he went for even more grip with
a front splitter and a rear wing with cleverly engineered (by him) mounts.  I doubt that aero-induced grip makes
much difference at 30 m.p.h.  But this car can get around plenty of Dragon bends at 45 m.p.h. and more.  Even
before the aero, high grip made this car brutally fast on the Dragon.

Last summer, Hayden was driving a modified Honda Fit, in which he was fast.  But he wanted a rear-drive car with more
potential.  Partly on Kamal's advice, he chose this late-model Miata.  Now it has super-stickies on wider wheels, a roll
bar, and other mods.  And Hayden gets thru the Dragon faster.  More mods to follow: first up, powah.

Above: Killboy's Scion FR-S; below, Killgurl's Subaru BRZ.  This car re-ignited the styling debates between Hotshoe and
me.  He thinks they look generic, plain vanilla.  I can see that critique, but I like the clean lines.  They remind me of the
look of high-end GT cars of the early 1960's.  Killgurl's car has a Subie World Rally Car vibe.  But it's new to her,
and some neon Killgurl Kolor accents--or a wrap--would not surprise me.

Killboy has already built his FR-S some.  The next step may be a turbo.  "It has OK low-end torque, but there's nothing there in the last half of gas pedal travel."  That should put the car's power in the 250-300 h.p. range, spot-on for a Slayer.  For those interested in following the build, here's a link to his YouTube channel dedicated to it:

The latest additions are the wheels you see in the picture with Cooper summer-only stickies.  Unlike Kamal and Hayden, Darryl runs tires with rain grooves which make this possible:

On this trip to, I was privileged to passenger with Darryl on a round-trip pass to the Overlook and back. The video gives a good impression of what the pass was like, except that it was maybe 10% faster on a dry road.  He may not be able to pull the same ultimate lateral G's as Kamal and Hayden on their super-stickies, but the grip is "adequate" (as Rolls Royce used to say of its horsepower).  The car is loud inside the cabin--the video makes it sound just nicely rorty.  He usually makes passes with the stability control on, but at the "minimum" setting.

I heard chatter from the rear tires on exit, which I took to be the l.s.d. clutches trying to keep up, but Darryl said that wasn't the cause.  It might be wheel-hop.  The new wheel/tire package makes the suspension too stiff.  Darryl wants to soften the spring rates for better grip.  His kidneys may appreciate it too.  He had some fun kicking the tail out.  As a Killboy's Highlights commenter once said, "It may not be the fast way around, but it's the fun way."

If orange [whatever color] is the new black, the FR-S/BRZ is the new Honda S-2000.  I mean as a Slayer platform.  Hotshoe and I saw a lot of them on this trip.  It's light, inexpensive, and front engine/rear drive.  It has independent rear suspension and a tin top for extra rigidity.  And lots of aftermarket goodies are available to make it quicker.

Before riding with Darryl, I thought I had learned about 40% of the Dragon passably well.  That is, well enough to be confident of how, and how fast, to take the next few bends.  Wrong.  I know maybe 20% of the Dragon well.  Darryl knows it so well that he reminds me of racing drivers who can do a running commentary for their passenger while driving at 9/10's:

"This is a double apex..."
"The Triple Doubles?"
"Yeah, that was the last one."  (I completely missed the first two.)
"...this is Parsons Branch... the exit is always slippery, but you can take the first left-hander after it... here... faster than it looks or than most people do..."

How did Darryl get so fast on the Dragon?  The same way you get to Carnegie Hall.  (Photo: Road &

Monday, May 4, 2015

Spring 2015 Dragon Run: Touring Day (Post 4)

Hotshoe and I decided to do the "loop" at the south end of the Dragon: the Cherohala Skyway to TN 360 to US 411 to US 129 back through the Dragon.  I'd heard that TN 360 was a drive worth taking.  A better option would have been to take TN 72 off US 411 to get to US 129.  But I wouldn't do it again (either way).  Retracing your steps on the Skyway is more fun, and it puts you right back in Robbinsville--the hub from which all the fine hilly/mountainous spokes radiate.

A good lunch stop is Tellico Kat's, on the Cherohala Skyway before you roll into Tellico Plains.  The menu is limited to sandwiches, most of them cold, but you can customize the breads and fillings with a wide range of fresh ingredients.  Tellico Kat's is right beside the river.  The view and the sound of the rapids is relaxing, and the staff is friendly.  They gave us some stale bread to toss to fish in the water.  We got three strikes from ten tosses, so the guy in waders in the river knew what he was about.

Tellico River at Tellico Kat's.

Oh... and we had one lunch and one dinner at the restaurant at the Tapoco Lodge.  Cheoah River is full of rapids--more
spectacular than Tellico River.  It runs right past the al fresco seating at the Lodge.  The Lodge is very close to the
Dragon.  We both thought the pizza was excellent.  I liked my Italian Beef sandwich fine; Hotshoe was less
impressed with his chicken breast sandwich.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Spring 2015 Dragon Run: Making Passes (Post 3)

Of course we try to avoid weekends with high car car counts.  But the more experience I have on the Dragon, the less annoyed I am with traffic.  On this trip we made very few blocked passes.  And we used pull-offs to clear for faster cars.  I don't remember clearing for bikes--there were fewer cycles on the road than I expected.  (Yes, I followed some cruiser bikes once, southbound, and no, they didn't use available pull-offs.)

On Killboy's FaceBook page, you can read comments grousing about how the Dragon ain't what it used to be: too much (slow) traffic, too many flakey riders and drivers.  Some say the Dragon has been ruined for them, and they won't be back.  Or they say there are many other fine, less crowded, area roads.  I disagree.  The Dragon is only road anywhere near its length with no driveways and entering side roads.  And its bends are so tight that you are unlikely to be seriously hurt if you do fall off the road (in a car).  Of course the point is to not fall off the road.

Even within one's limits, the the Dragon is exhausting.  After a full day of making passes, Hotshoe and I were worn out.  The concentration required is intense--and that is the fun of it.  Hotshoe's and my approaches to passes have diverged.  We both slow for oncoming traffic (an incident, not even caused by you, will ruin your day too).  But Hotshoe slows more than I do.  He's content to run manufacturer's recommended tire pressures; I jack mine up to 40/35.  When the road is clear, I run 8 to 9/10's.

For me, it's not about a fast time.  Fast times are set by people who know the road intimately in modified cars.  But it is about making the cleanest, fastest, mistake-free, pass that I can make.  On this trip, however, there was a hitch in my giddyup.  Too late to change it, I discovered a badly bent front rim.  Tire bead separation is not an adventure I want to have anywhere, least of all on the Dragon.  It's even more challenging to make a pass at 8/10's in the right-handers, but 6/10's in the following left-handers.

Hotshoe and I made one pass in his car with me shooting a hand-held GoPro video.  The vid was... OK...  Hotshoe and I
 both like videos that pan into the corner (as opposed to a fixed mount).

 The Killboy Krew calls this a Fuster Cluck.  The Overlook was crowded all day.  The solution is to go down to the entry
road for Calderwood Dam and turn around there.  Pilote and Hotshoe are at the right: we didn't follow my own advice.

But it was a fine trip.  Friday was spent making pass after pass.  A bad day on the Dragon (and this wasn't one) is better
than a good one almost anywhere else.

You might think that a rim this badly bent would ruin your whole trip, and you would think wrong.
It got me to and from the Dragon (20+ hours driving time) and held pressure at 20% above what
Honda recommends.  But I didn't push it or my luck in left-hand bends.  Summer-only stickies
were already on my To Do List before my autumn Dragon trip.  Now I need a new wheel.
Despite this problem (caused by a gigantic pothole on an Interstate), I'm very happy
with my rims and will re-up for a replacement OZ.