It's me again:
(pic from Watkins Glen; note clean race suit that has not been used nearly enough this year)
OK, so we skipped Monterey & Pebble Beach this year to sign a few books at Pasteiner's Auto Zone during The Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit (a tire-squealing, stoplight-to-stoplight overdose of All-American car craziness that should be on every enthusiast's bucket list) but, at least until recently, this hadn't exactly been a stellar summer for Ride Mooching...In fact, I wuz beginning to think I'd lost my touch (heaven forbid!).
Only then, like sometimes happens in life, opportunities appeared out of nowhere from thoroughly unexpected sources, and all of a sudden I wound up on an extended, enjoyable & exhausting long-distance Recording (more on that shortly), Ride-Mooching & Road Trip odyssey all over the eastern, midwestern and south-eastern parts of the country. Three-quarters of it in our new-to-us used Honda Odyssey that I bought from one of my friend Richard Fisher's Autobarn dealerships--free and deserved plug--which did a superb job of hauling me and all sorts of audio production, sound absorbing, pop-up weather protection and book-hawking equipment & inventory (plus me, my race gear and some clothes that didn't smell too good by the time I got home) all over the blessed map. And this particular 4-weekend excursion ultimately included four better-than-decent race drives in much-better-than-decent race cars at three of my very favorite racetracks!
What a grand adventure!
What a memorable time!
What an incredibly lucky guy!
(eat your heart out)
But before I go on to hopefully inform & entertain you (or make you green with envy, or maybe all three?) let's take a wee moment for a brief commercial interruption, featuring Yrs. Trly. in Full-Tilt Salesman Mode. And believe me, I know how that's done. See picture below from my heady days as an upscale new-and-used car salesman at Loeber Motors, 1111 North Clark Street in Chicago (Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce, Alfa Romeo and Volkswagen) which stood four stories tall and a block around smack in the shadow of the glass-and-steel Gold Coast high rises and gracious, ivy-encrusted Astor Street and State Parkway brownstones, and just a short, wobbly stagger from Chicago's glittery, glamorous, gin-and single-malt whiskey soaked, regularly sleazy and rightfully infamous Rush Street nightclub district):
would you buy a used car from this man?
We begin our pitch:
"Ahem" (sound of me clearing my throat, followed by a full-throated, almost painfully sincere):
"Hello, friends and fans of The Last Open Road. We're certainly glad to have you out there reading this! Because otherwise it'd be like talking into an open closet with the light turned off.
But the point is that these are truly great, ground-breaking times for Carol and me and The Last Open Road book series. Really they are.
We've got an incredible new audiobook version of the original novel in the works (more in a moment...and just wait'll you hear the damn thing!) plus the very last book in the series, The 200mph Steamroller Book III: Assault on Four O'Clock, is likewise in process. But the launch of Steamroller III has of necessity been moved back to July 2019 at Road America (which is a nice fit since all the other novels debuted at the big July vintage race at RA) since it's become painfully apparent that I can't manage two completely different, massive, all-consuming, mind-funneling major creative projects at the same time with but one feeble brain.
Maybe you can, but I can't...
So finishing Steamroller III (which is about 2/3rds done and, as I've mentioned, will definitely be the last book in the series) has been put on a short hiatus while we finish up with the audiobook. Given the same fork in the road, I'd like to think that you'd have made the same choice.
Good news is that the audiobook is proceeding on schedule (and it's frankly quite fabulous) and we're hopeful we'll be done with the audio-production and editing by January 1st (this year...really!). Our plan--or perhaps it's more of a scheme?--is to debut the finished audiobook at back-to-back weekends in Florida this coming March. Starting with the fabulous Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance on Saturday, March 9th, which will include a "Cars of The Last Open Road" display adjacent to the teeming front entrance of The Ritz Carlton host hotel where everything takes place. Then, just a few days later, we'll be introducing it to the pro-racing teams and fans in the Sebring Hall of Fame Museum smack-dab in the middle of the racing paddock during the 2019 12 Hours of Sebring. And that will be followed by more events of all types as the summer racing & car-show season unfolds.
And, like I said, wait'll you hear it! Really. Because we're doing The Last Open Road in the style of a 1950's radio play! We're working in partnership with an excellent local media-production company (Concept One Media in Downers Grove, Illinois, who have been absolutely wonderful to work with) and we have real, professional voice actors in the key roles (I tried reading it, and I sound like s***). Plus incredible (or should that be "credible?") sound effects, genuine period music (you wouldn't believe what the freaking rights cost!) and genuine, totally AUTHENTIC car sounds. If it's supposed to be an MG TC, it IS an MG TC, if it's supposed to be a C-Type Jaguar, it IS a C-Type Jaguar, if it's supposed to be a Cad-Allard or Chrysler Hemi-powered Cunningham or a legit Ferrari V12, it's every one of those things, too! VERY cool!
But wait, there's more: MYSTERY CELEBRITY GUEST VOICES in a bunch of the major and minor supporting roles. Including (ahem, and in no special order): Celebrated and justly famous, only slightly Americanized British race drivers & well-known raconteurs David Hobbs and Brian Redman, Lime Rock Park owner and racing school founder Skip Barber, stellar American factory Porsche driver Patrick Long, multiple American racing champion and sometime TV personality Tommy Kendall, U2.5 Trans-Am champion & international racing star John Morton, NASCAR Hall-of-Fame Crew Chief Ray Evernham, Road America track president George Bruggenthies, Lime Rock Park PA announcer Greg Rickes, Amelia Island Concours founder and chairman Bill Warner, expat-Brit racer and Evanston, Illinois-based dealership mogul Richard Fisher, Ferrari expert & racer Phil Airey, pro racer and driving coach Mark Hamilton Peters, classic auction expert Andy Reid, Vintage Motorsport magazine publisher and semi-formidable vintage racer (not to mention my boss at the magazine) Michael Silverman, syndicated automotive columnist Dan Scanlan, Mazda North American Motorsports Director John Doonan and his son, Alex, and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner & 4-time Indycar champion Dario Franchitti. And we'll very possibly be adding a few well-known TV car guys whose names are household words...
BTW, we're going to tell everybody WHO is involved, but we're NOT gonna let on as to which role(s) they play. Heck, we may even have some sort of cheesy contest about it.
Should be fun.
But now the other shoe drops. With a thud.
All of the above is incredibly expensive. Much more than publishing a damn book. We realized some time ago that we needed a major presenting sponsor for the audiobook project. And, considering all of the above effluvia plus the widespread and enthusiastic following and incredible shelf life The Last Open Road has already enjoyed, it should be a superb value for the right sponsor. We're currently in contact with several well-known prospects whom we believe would make a perfect demographic/marketing fit and that the deal would greatly benefit both sides. Not to mention that, like the books, the benefits would endure for years to come. Two of the prospective sponsors have expressed significant interest in and enthusiasm for the project, and we're confident a deal will be done. But nothing's signed as yet and no money has changed hands.
We're plowing ahead anyway! And it hardly helps that we're in the midst of a no-more-left reprint of Montezuma's Ferrari (its eighth, can you believe it?) and, on top of that, we'll have another one coming up very shortly for The Fabulous Trashwagon. Plus yet another printing (number 11, can you believe that as well?) for The Last Open Road. Plus, since it first came out in 1994 (are we really THAT old???), we figure we need to do a special, 25th anniversary edition of The Last Open Road with larger type (yeah, I've heard all you old bifocal types grumbling in the background) and with the somewhat insider "Seneca Lodge scene" that was cut out of the St. Martins Press version (printing number 3) and has gone missing ever since back where it belongs...between the book covers!
And all of this takes money. So here's what I'm asking (I need to be sounding REALLY sincere here): Would those of you who can PUH-LEEZE purchase a sponsorship in Steamroller III? It costs just $250 (less than dinner with wine at most of your better big-city restaurants...especially if you figure in the tip and parking) and here's what you get:
1) Your name (or the name of some other person or persons, pet, loved one, crew chief, co-driver or what-have-you, living or dead, whom you wish to acknowledge, impress, herald, amaze or honor) imprinted FOR ALL TIME on the sponsor page in the color section of the new book. Biz card ads, pictures of your favorite car, display ads for your product or business are also available. And remember--LAST CHANCE, FOLKS!--plus it lasts freaking forever and this will surely be the very last book in the series...
2) A classy, leather-bound, cloisonne-emblem encrusted Sponsor/Advertiser SPECIAL EDITION of the new book (plus an ordinary "beater" first edition to actually read). These special editions are NEVER offered for retail sale (although we do occasionally donate extras to charity auctions, where one recently sold for over $900).
3) A VERY nice, high-quality polo shirt with the Steamroller IIIlogo and "The Last of The Last Open Road Sponsor/Sucker" embroidered on the chest. It's a shirt you'll be proud to own and embarrassed to wear!
4) Carol and my everlasting gratitude. We're not broke by any means, but the publishing business is in a cash crunch right now thanks to so much stuff going on and so many great projects coming together all at the same time. So if you've got bucks in the bank and you like my work, please click on the link below and become a sponsor.
In fact, pretty please...
OR CONTACT THE THINK FAST INK OFFICE AT (708) 383-7203 or email THINKFAST@MINDSPRING.COM
gratuitous April, 2012 picture of me showing off & acting smug that has nothing to do with anything
I don't like to brag (actually, that's a lie...I DO like to brag...I just don't want to get caught doing it), but I've had a pretty damn awesome month of September. It all started as I headed East on Wednesday, 8/29, driving solo in our packed-to-the-gunwales Honda minivan and headed for Lime Rock Park. Now Lime Rock is a very special place as racetracks go, since it's nestled in the handsome green of the Berkshires, surrounded by covered wooden bridges over rushing trout streams, quaint, unattainable homes with pretty flower
boxes and perfectly manicured hedges (and equally well manicured--even in their lumberjack shirts--inhabitants inside) and dotted here, there and everywhere with Early Americana in the raw and antique shops and weekend tag sales selling seemingly inexhaustible supplies of same.
It's a very, very special part of the universe, and I've grown to love, enjoy and respect it very much. Ditto the racetrack, which looks lovely and refined but races like a damn Saturday night dirt oval and will bite you--hard!--if you get to cheeky, overconfident or cavalier with it.
As to the ride out, I actually like long-distance solo driving. It gives me time to think and sort things out or just enjoy the rolling rhythm of the passing miles and an opportunity to listen to all the music I love so much but never seem to have time to listen to...except on bike rides. I did punk out for a planned overnight stop in DuBois, Pennsylvania, (that straight-through stuff is for truckers, college kids and meth users) and I rolled up New York's handsome but somewhat intimidating Taconic Parkway (where the greenery is lush, the sight lines are short and both the cops and local drivers take no prisoners) and into Lime Rock the following midday.
My cultured, knowledgeable, no-nonsense/doesn't-suffer-fools-gladly friend and diehard motorsports enthusiast Murray Smith (who is an accomplished racer, a stellar promoter, a genuine sport-insider mover and shaker and understands more about refinement, quality, provenance and pedigree than most people) runs the Lime Rock weekend--along with Skip Barber and his excellent staff--as very much his own fiefdom. As did the late and greatly missed Charlie Gibson before him. And that's why you see so many great old and middle-aged racecars run very much as they were back in the day at the Lime Rock Historic Festival. Plus there are always unusual special features. Like an excellent and entertaining dinner symposium with a phalanx of Lime Rock's outright lap record holders, including Jim Haynes, David Hobbs, Sam Posey, Tommy Kendall, P.J. Jones, etc., a paddock display of stunning French cars from the Peter Mullin collection (plus a dinner and intimate talk with Peter Mullin), and friends and famous motorsports characters to chat up or listen to all over the place. And genuine icon cars, both on and off the track.
Like this year there were Bugattis. More damn Bugattis than you have ever seen. If you don't know anything about Bugattis, suffice to say that Ettore Bugatti was among the first to try making his racers smaller, lighter and cleverer rather than bigger and more powerful. In the 1930s, Bugatti and Alfa Romeo were pretty much the cars to beat in international racing (at least until the Hitler-supported German teams showed up...but that's another story for another day). Bugattis were terrifically essential, elegant and successful designs. And, besides the racing cars and sports models, Bugatti built some stunning and expensive over-the-road road cars for the moneyed elite. Like this one, which I found parked in front of the next room over in the neat, clean and comfy old Iron Masters motor hotel I stayed at in Salisbury (that's my van in the background):
Seems the Bugatti convention was looming nearby, and a lot of the owners participated in the church-day "Sunday In The Park" concours/multi-marque car show that stretches all the way around the Lime Rock racetrack. That's roughly a mile and a half. Representative Bugatti pix below:
Best in Show went to (ahem) Ralph Lauren's (yes,THAT one) rather stupefying 1937 Bugatti 57SC with magnificent Drophead coupe coachwork by Gangloff. Don't think your Uber driver will be showing up in one of these...
There was a lot of other neat stuff at the Sunday In The Park concours/car show (Murray always gets an eclectic and fascinating mix...everything from old British upright iron to Italian exoticars to Mustangs, Corvettes and Cobras to Corvairs, Citroens & Crosleys to really oddball stuff). Favorites included:
The Allard J2 prototype. Arguably the fastest (or at the very least torque-iest) sports car on the planet in 1949. The absolute definition if the Brit adjective "hairy." As you know from my books, I absolutely love the brutes! Have had the chance to drive several of them (on proper racetracks) thanks to Syd Silverman and Bob Valpey!
The famous "Psychedelic" Porsche 917 that raced at Le Mans and elsewhere in 1970/71. The paintjob caused quite a stir.
Smokey Yunick's "Fabulous Hudson" stock car, which was a dominant performer in early American stock car racing thanks to it's "Twin H-Power" (dual carburetor) inline 6, a low center-of-gravity chassis (the floorboards were down at the bottom of the frame rails rather than perched on top like most Detroit cars of the era) and the usual tricks and tweaks you'd expect from Smokey Yunick. Sharp readers will recall it makes a cameo appearance (as do Smokey and period stock-car hotshoes like Herb Thomas) in the little-known "Stock Car vs. Sports Car" race that actually took place at the Linden, NJ, airport in June of 1954. That race is recalled, reported on and hopefully & properly re-created in The Fabulous Trashwagon.
Speaking of cars from my books, here's an incredibly accurate Cunningham C4RK Coupe "continuation car" reportedly built on a genuine period Cunningham frame. The one-and-only real one is in the Revs Institute museum in Naples, FL. What an awesome, powerful, broad-shouldered beast!
A typically unusual (that's what you get at Lime Rock) 1957-vintage Russian Volga, with strong hints of '52 Ford and maybe a wee pinch of Studebaker and DeSoto thrown in. And a Pontiac "Woody" in the background. As you can see, this is a pretty damn eclectic show. In fact, put the entire event on your bucket list! But book that hotel room early.
After the concours, I took a lovely bike ride on the nearby, handsome and well-maintained Harlem Valley Rail Trail from Millerton to Amenia and back. Very nice! Then dinner with friends & a really good night's sleep.
The racing was excellent (as it always is at Lime Rock), even if I didn't get a chance to drive. The jam-packed schedule, lack of an enduro and more race sessions/less practice sessions per group format don't really lend themselves to ride mooching. But Lime Rock is a spectacular place to spectate, because there's so much action to see and, at least from the popular and pleasant spectator hillsides, you can see so much of the action!
Good news is that Murray once again assigned me to an absolute killer book-signing location on the deck between the paddock and the infield spectator hill, my friends on the PA gave me a LOT of plugs and I sold and signed beaucoups of books on the weekend (plus some sponsorships...you should really have one yourself!) in company with such as David Hobbs and the authors of the new and quite excellent Lime Rock book.
I also got a surprise, out-of-left-field invite to co-drive at VIR in a few weeks' time from my friend Ed Mettleman. And that sounded pretty damn good. Plus I was able to record some of our MYSTERY CELEBRITY GUEST VOICES (won't tell you who) in the Lime Rock track office on the Tuesday after.
Didn't have to be in Watkins Glen until Thursday, so I decided--hey, why the hell not?--to take a little side trip down to Philadelphia to see the Simeone Museum. I'd never visited before, and longtime car-guy friend Peter Bourassa (MMR site & newsletter [CLICK HERE], which are always worthwhile if you like topnotch cars and top-line racing) made a phone call and set it up for me. And then I scrounged around on Priceline and found an excellent hotel (The Warwick) right on Rittenhouse Square, which, by all indications, is the hippest, coolest, trendiest neighborhood in all of Philly...for just $86.oo!
Sometimes you just get lucky.
Also located a really neat bike path north of town (The Pennypack Trail, pix below) and, even though it was hot and humid as a minor-league steam bath, I enjoyed a very nice bike ride of about 16 miles. VERY pretty trail. Reasonably cool in the shade, too.
Slept great (as you can imagine), then up early to do some writing & editing, then off to The Simeone. Met Fred Simeone himself and he was kind enough to take me on a most impressive and interesting tour. Neat guy and a fabulous place! The print and sales brochure archives alone are worth a week-long visit. So are the cars. And I love the way they're presented! Fred likes originality and genuine patina over gleaming, glamorous, overdone restorations (although his museum has some of those, too, see Peugeot below):
But I loved this MG Magnette as an example of "as was" originality and evidence of proper use and wear:
In the shop I was able to see the underside of a REAL Cunningham C4R roadster (one of two extant, I believe, and both are major "metal characters" in The Last Open Road) that was up on a lift getting a new clutch. And what a sturdy, tough-built, heavy-duty, military-grade war machine it is! Think of it as the Patton Tank of early-fifties racecars!
Then Fred was kind enough to have his mechanical whiz Kevin Kelly bring the museum's wonderfully gnarly Cad-Allard J2X out to the huge parking lot-c**-test track in back and run it around for the benefit of my recorder (see exquisite Michael Furman shot of the beast below)!
Like I said, if it's supposed to be a Cad-Allard in the new audiobook, it sure as hell IS gonna be a genuine Cad-Allard thundering past your eardrums...)
But the high point for me was seeing a car I first saw in a stopped-me-in-my-tracks magazine photo back when I was just a wee shirt-tail tad. I decided on the spot that it was the most rakish, most beautiful sports car I'd ever seen.
The car in question was a Squire, built by an ambitious 21-year-old ex-MG/ex-Bentley employee named Adrian Squire, and it was intended to be a terrifically capable, desirable, exclusive and expensive little sports roadster. Powered by a beautiful little jewel of a supercharged, 1.5-liter twincam Anzani engine and guaranteed to do 100mph right out of the box, the Squire was a pretty damn impressive piece of machinery back in the early 1930s.
Only the depression was afoot, and Adrian Squire only built a handful of his namesake cars (I think it was seven, but some insufferable wag will surely correct me) before knuckling under to financial reality and closing his valiant little car company forever. He was sadly killed during a Luftwaffe air raid in 1940 while working in one of the Bristol Aeroplane Company's factories.
Anyhow, I'd never actually seen a Squire in the flesh (or, more accurately, in the metal) but damn if Fred Simeone didn't have one. And it was every bit as exquisite and captivating as I'd imagined. See below:
God, I WANT one....
LET THE MOOCHING BEGIN!!!
CHAPTER 1: ANIMAL HOUSE AT WATKINS GLEN
OK, so many years ago, I co-drove my dear, late friend John Muller's excellent little Tojeiro Climax at Watkins Glen. And then again at Road America. Pic below shows me in the car, lo, these many years ago, in a damp & soggy Enduro at Watkins Glen. BTW, that's a brand-new helmet I'm sporting, and I hadn't had a chance to have it painted in my usual, borderline heradldic color scheme. Along that same line of thinking, John ran an advertising and graphics business out in Kansas City, and besides being a great guy and wonderful company, he had the most amazing sense of style, shape, color and design, and his Tojeiro reflected those sensibilities in every detail.
It was flat-out gorgeous!
And lovely to drive (even if I could barely get both cheeks down into the absurdly narrow seat tailored to John's disgustingly skinny ass). Better yet, it was lousy with history. One just like it (only not this nice...but maybe even this car?) ran at The 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1958. Although it retired after 83 laps with a bum axle. It was part of a whole generation of Climax-powered English sports/racers that served as the launching pad for successful, watershed marques like Lotus, Lola, Elva and Cooper, and spurred them on to cut weight and find ways to improve braking, handling and aerodynamics since they all relied on the selfsame Climax motor. I wrote one of my very favorite feature stories about that era, titled "Building to a Climax."
And of course designer John Tojeiro (an Englishman of Portuguese extraction) went on to design and build the highly effective Bristol-powered special that became essentially the prototype for the A.C. Ace and A.C. Bristol, which ultimately molted and morphed into Carroll Shelby's iconic A.C. Cobra! The irony is that designer John Tojeiro was offered just five pounds per finished car for his trouble! Then again, scratch any gifted designer/builder and you rarely find any sort of businessman lurking underneath...
Fast forward more years than I care to discuss (after my friend John had sadly and quite suddenly passed away) and I stumbled on the exact same car--you couldn't miss it--in the paddock at Watkins Glen two Septembers ago. The new owner was a charming Boston doctor (Harvard Medical...are you impressed?) of French extraction by the name of Marc Cendron, at we hit it off well enough (see pic below) that he offered me a co-drive in the Enduro.
It was wonderful to get back in that car again--the memories came flooding back--and we drove together in the Enduro and had a grand time. Although I drew second stint (our less-than-lightning-quick pit stop shown below)
and spent most of my laps trundling around behind the pace car thanks to a full-course yellow triggered by...oh, who the heck cares anymore.
See typical yellow-flag conga line below:
In any case, I missed Watkins Glen last year, but Marc and I stayed kind of loosely in contact and he let me know he was going to Monterey with the car this year, but if there was anything left, he's be happy to co-drive again at The Glen. And you bet your broad, bodacious booty I was up for it. Better yet, one of the prospective lodgers punked out of the half-house he and some friends had rented in Watkins Glen, and would I like a bedroom with a kitchen & dining room down below and partial use of a decent john? Right in Watkins Glen?
So here it is:
We were in the right-hand side, and what a swell place it was. Except I was First Soul There and arrived with groceries, snacks, beer, wine, foodstuffs, etc. only to find the rather daunting stairway above to get it all inside!
Needless to say, I did not have to go for a bike ride that afternoon...
Marc and the rest of our housemates were all vintage racers whose cars are transported, maintained and as-necessary repaired (not to mention the occasional but requisite babysitting of the drivers) by the friendly and capable KTR Racing outfit out of Ayer, MA, and we had a grand old time. Think of a kind of well-aged and only slightly arthritic version of Animal House. Or a fun boy-scout campout gone to seed. Plus what a melting pot crew! We were all full-blooded Americans, of course, but we had a 5th generation Jewish ex-hippie bag, car and book salesman out of Chicago (that would be me), the aforementioned French-fried Boston doctor (that would be Marc), a Chinese-American engineer for Bose Sound Systems (John Feng) and a Palestinian-American wealth-management guy named Michael Kaleel. We got on like you wish the United Nations would, and below is a pic of us at the Glen Club party on Saturday night (L to R John, me, Michael & Marc).
It speaks for itself:
Stopped in for a wee moment at the storied and jam-packed Seneca Lodge on Friday evening to record some authentic Seneca Lodge background ambience for the audiobook, and hawked books at the track with my great German-extracted track-vendor-gypsy friends Tom and Ute of VELOCITY STACK SHACK (you'll see them at a LOT of racing events, and their kevlar-fabric wallets are both excellent and indestructable!). I had my own 10x10 popup on the courthouse lawn during the Friday-night Street Festival extravaganza. That's another bucket-list item, in case you've never been. They bring a whole bunch of racecars down into town for a police-escorted "recreation" of the original through-the-town-and-countryside Watkins Glen road races of 1948-1952, and it's quite the occasion, what with massive crowds lining the streets and lined up at the wine stalls and porta-johns, lotsa neat sports cars and racecars, loud exhausts, lots of celebrities and not too much speechifying, and more carbs, gooey meats and local grape than a guy like me probably needs.
Sold LOTS of books and associated merchandise (and even a few Steamroller III sponsorships...you should really get in on that deal) and enjoyed a heartwarming visit with my great and longtime (since high school, in fact) friends John (a.k.a. "JK") and Jenny Kovencz, who live in nearby Ithaca. Good stuff. Then my housemates (see pic above) were kind enough to drop by and help me pack up. So we had time to go out to a nice dinner afterwards at a quite decent restaurant overlooking the harbor.
Mediocre wine flowed and a good time was had by all...
As to the racing, we finished well back overall in our Vintage Enduro (although I believe we won our rather poorly supported class) and Marc and I were pleased with our performance. See pic of me on the grid for practice below...ain't she pretty?
Suffice to say that I went well enough in Marc's car in The Enduro (that's me just about to pass John's Alfa below)
that new friend/housemate/fairly new vintage racer John Feng asked me if I'd like to try running his pretty little Alfa in Saturday's sprint race. And therin lies a tale of highjinks, horror and hubris. See, I'd never even sat in John's car (although I've driven and raced Giuliettas before, including once at The Glen) but, as any race driver will tell you: every car is different.
instead of taking my proper place at the back of the field so I could kinda feel the car out, I wrong-headedly decided to take the spot John had earned us on I think the third or fourth row (see pic below of me on the false grid, mugging for the camera and brimming with misplaced confidence):
Well, let me just say for the record that I didn't crash or damage the car in any way. But may I also note that learning a new car while steely-eyed competitors who are actually familiar with their racecars are trying to pass you on both sides is not an enjoyable experience. I was having some difficulties with the shifter and figuing out the handling, and I readily admit to dropping a few positions while I tried to wrap my brain around it. Eventually I more or less got the hang of it and managed to claw my way back up to where the car belonged--I even got around a guy in a gray MG Midget whom John has been trying to beat for quite awhile (see pic below)
But I am here to tell you: starting a strange car well up the field instead of starting at the back so's you can figger it out is something I do not believe I will attempt again. But it all worked out and John was happy enough that his car came back in one piece that he had me put one of our decals on the back
As did Marc:
And look what I saw in the parking area right behind where I wuz hawking books:
As you can imagine, that warmed the cockles of my supposed heart!
Pulled out of The Glen just after lunchtime on Sunday with a weary but happy smile on my face and drove to the middle of Ohio where I had a business call for my OTHER business (poly bags & flexible packaging...you need any?) the next morning. That went pretty well and I hauled ass back to Chicago to repack the van and recharge my batteries for:
MOOCH MARATHON PART II:
VSCDA ROAD AMERICA
So I had just two days to regroup, reintroduce myself to long-suffering wife Carol ("Remember me? I'm the guy with all the dirty laundry!") get back to my old bills and unanswered mail and re-enter the home-front atmosphere.
For 48 hours, anyway.
Then it was off to Road America for the VSCDA Fall Festival, which is one of my very favorite events at one of my very favorite tracks. I won't go into too much detail here since I covered if for the magazine. To get the FULL SCOOP, you need a subscription to VINTAGE MOTORSPORT.
I have a byline column in every issue and do track tests and feature stories and race reports and such...but it's pretty good in spite of that. CLICK HERE if you need a subscription (and you do!). Have a big feature on friend John Dohmen's immaculate Triumph TR3B and TR4 in the upcoming issue (Triumph pals and partisans please take note!)
This is me and John squirting up the hill in his hard-used/high-mileage and immaculate TR4 at last year's Ephriam Hillclimb.
Spridgets were the feature at this year's VSCDA Fall Festival, and there was much laughing, wrenching, gnashing of teeth and spewing of oil everywhere you looked. But it was great fun, I sold & signed a lot of books at our permanent display in the Paddock Gift Shop (alongside David Hobbs and his upstart book much of the time) plus recording yet more MYSTERY CELEBRITY GUEST VOICES and genuine Siebkens barroom ambiance for the audiobook project.
Speaking of David, I reviewed his book for the next issue of the magazine, and it's a really thorough, fun & fascinating read. Did you know he started racing in his mum's Morris Oxford, then graduated to his inventor/entrepreneur dad's XK140 drophead and promptly rolled it over at Oulton Park? Or that he won the 1600cc Sport class--handily beating all the much-favored Porsches--at the 1961 Nurburgring 1000Ks driving a 1220cc Lotus Elite fitted with his brilliant father's groundbreaking automatic transmission?
If you ever wondered what sort of massive and multi-faceted racing career (F1, Indy, Can-Am, Endurance racing with Penske, Porsche and the Gulf-Weyer GT40s, series champ in both Trans-Am & F5000, a few semi-fitful NASCAR oval races, etc.) molded David into the glib, informed and highly entertaining TV commentator we miss so much these days on the Formula One broadcasts, this will give you insight:
But back to Road America. I was fortunate to co-drive once again with my longtime Alfa-racer pal Mike Besic in Bert Baurle's stunning restoration of the LaBoa/Alfa his own father built (along with a lot of other neat but little-known racing cars) on the outskirts of Chicago. Ain't it gorgeous (see below)?
We ran really strong in the enduro, finishing 1st in class and 6th overall (out of 37 cars) and Mike was able to hold off the fast-closing, ex-Walter Payton #34 (what else?) Lola S2000 at the checker. Good run and good fun, too. And, as you can see below, I was courteous as always...
Full story coming up on Al Baurle and his cars in a future issue of the magazine (VINTAGE MOTORSPORT, don't forget). Including the beautiful, Porsche 911-powered Causey P6 that I have co-driven (and even won with!) teamed with longtime owner and longtime friend Mike Kaske.
This is me in the Causey at Autobahn several years back. We really should have won this race, but we ran out of fuel with just two corners to go. Oh, well...
So Road America was lots of fun and a wonderful time with great cars and great people. It's a very relaxed event with tons of track time, lots of neat side diversions (old course tour, the Gathering on the Green concours on the lovely back lawn of The Osthoff with Elkart Lake itself shimmering in the background...see pic below)
The VSCDA also had special cup races based on lap time (like bracket racing at the drags...fabulous idea!) and no lesser light than everybody's-favorite-motoring-scribe Peter Egan as after-dinner speaker at the Saturday night banquet.
Speaking of VSCDA banquets, looks like my old friend and far-more accomplished racer John Morton and I have been engaged to speak, inform, entertain and perhaps even outrage the audience as the headliner Dog-and-Pony show at this year's VSCDA annual banquet, scheduled for November 10th at Maggiano's (yum!) in Oakbrook, Illinois. Should be great fun. Here's John and me pausing for a photo op during a bike ride down the Pacific Coastline about four leg cramps south of El Segundao (I'm the one with his shirt on inside-out):
And here's a link to the VSCDA banquet:
MOOCH # 3: Rediscovering VIR in a Porsche
I've always loved VIR (Virginia International Raceway) and from my very first visit, I've thought it was about the most beautiful and enjoyable racetrack I'd ever experienced. It flows and climbs and winds over and around some truly voluptuous landscape, and the people who run the place (Connie Nyholm, you know whom I'm talking about!) are warm and welcoming. So when Ed Mettleman asked if I'd like to share his Porsche at VIR, I jumped at the chance. Especially since a room at The Lodge (overlooking Turns 6 and 6A...see below) was part of the deal.
Eat your heart out!
VIR was every bit as wonderful as I remembered it. True, I was a little uncertain about Ed's car (if not his company). See, Ed has a race-prepared version of what has to be one of the least-loved (or least-respected?) Porsche models: the 914/4. This is a rather blunt (if well-balanced) instrument styled much like a clothes dryer or a refrigerator, and powered by a renegade and rather uninspiring VW Transporter pushrod 4-cylinder. To say that owners of pukka 911s and such look down their noses at such a device--after all, the 914/4 came withing a failed marketing plan of being sold as a VW rather than a Porsche--is simply a matter or recognizing that they have noses to look down in the first place.
Now I've driven 914/6s before, which are powered by the same, purebred SOHC flat six as the 911 and, in my less-than-humble opinion, amount to an overall better racing chassis than the pendulum-swing 911.
Think the factory knew that, too, since they never let the humble 914/6 have the top-spec 911 motor, since they knew it might run rings around a similarly powered 911 on a racetrack (although a few were built...but only for the family members who ran the blessed company!).
But the 914/4 never had such cachet, on account of the motor had neither panache or pedigree. Ex-F1 star Richie Ginther had a skink works out in California building highly prepped, factory supported 914/4s and 914/6s for SCCA club racing, and while the 914/6s did pretty well in C-Prod, the 4s just didn't seem to have the poop to overcome their frontal area in D and E.
So while I was thrilled with Ed's offer and the chance to return to VIR, I was less than ecstatic about our ride.
That is, until I drove it...
Ed's car is looked after by the keen and stalwart lads from Kent Bain's Vintage Racing Services shop in Connecticut, and it's very well turned out. Plus it was built by someone who'd read Ginther's prep manual and has all the necessary chassis tweaks and reinforcements to make it a truly solid platform. And the damn thing drives like a dream--a lot like a good sports/racer, in fact, which is highly unusual for a production car! Oh, the gearbox pattern (which takes up about a third of the available cockpit and is as precise as a broomstick in a bucket of mushroom soup) took a little getting used to. Although once you found where all the open doors were, it was fine. And the engine was, shall we say, a wee bit tired after four hard seasons of relentless flogging.
But what a fantastic car to drive! I wasn't expecting to fall in love with Ed's plain-Jane orphan of a racecar...But I did! Why, you could rotate it on trail-braking like a damn Formula Ford! And then pick the slip angle you liked and just balance it there with steering and throttle. Most usually cars have some ugly little handling glitch or errant trait that you have to learn to drive around. But not this baby!
I had such a good time with it and was doing so well with it that Ed let me take one of the sprint races as well as co-driving us to 2nd-in-class in a slightly damp Enduro. Oh, I didn't win with it (there were some faster cars ahead and that's all there was to it) but I got a killer start and enjoyed some wonderful dicing with several other cars, picking up a whole bunch of spots and not losing any. And feeling, the entire time, like I had the best damn dance partner in the race! High praise indeed...but deserved.
Now if I can only get Ed to give me another shot in the car and talk him into a slightly more killer engine (my old Midwestern Council buddy Lance Macdonald of indecently fast Type 3 VW racer fame...where are you????).
It was sad to hear that my incredibly fast, honorable, interesting, fascinating and highly accomplished friend Lee Talbot is hanging up his helmet after something like 60 years of racing (the last few dozen making things miserable for the other competitors in his vintage race group, where he won with almost monotonous regularity in his fast & familiar red Ginetta. But it was nice to see him earn a much-deserved "Lifetime Achievement Award" in the form of the yearly and highly prestigious VIR Gold Cup (handed over by last year's winner and also great friend Ross Bremer).
Look for the whole story in my column in the next issue of the magazine.
Oh, and I recorded the MYSTERY CELEBRITY GUEST VOICE of NASCAR Hall-of-Fame Crew Cheif Ray Evernham at VIR for the audiobook. Wait'll you hear it!!!
And, speaking of Ray, here's this E-blasts's Mystery Trivia question: What the hell is this thing (below)?
More to come soon,
ps: How about that Steamroller III sponsorship, huh?