June 12, 2012

The long tracks are where it's at

Last minute preparations

A couple of weekends ago we found ourselves at Blackhawk Farms Raceway for what could be the last time of our career. And boy did we miss it.

It was over eight years since our last go round of this place, and after the first practice session we couldn't help but wonder why it took so long to get back. Two miles of flat out (and wide) track that most karts don't get to see too often. And although some areas could have used a layer or three of pavement where the cars dug it up, an altered line or two solved what ever issue we thought we'd have for the weekend.

When we last visited the track Sam was barely ten years old. The kart he was in; a flathead Briggs powered full body kart that propelled him to somewhere around 60 miles per hour. Both his mother and I wondered just what in the heck we were doing letting our son play at those speeds.

Now nearly eighteen years old, and behind the wheel of a 125cc water-cooled kart, he averaged 93 miles per hour a lap and found trap speeds in excess of 110 mph on the front straight.

Why in the world was I worried back then when today he has his license? And my car. And girls to impress...

A father can only hope his lessons didn't fall on deaf ears.

Considering we originally had the wrong clutch in the kart, burned through tires at break neck speeds, and chased our tail for the better part of one afternoon trying to find the right gear, we didn't do all that bad.

Saturday's race found us in fifth place at the checker and Sunday we had to settle for a sixth place finish. But the big prize came in the form of the fastest lap time in our class at a 1.19.56. Not too shabby for being a few years away from the track and having a kart that we still felt had a lot left in it when we were done.

So we're off to Badger again for this upcoming weekend and a relaxing trip back to our roots at the local scene. There's something to be said about no pressure and just going out to have fun. Everyone is in a much better mood and the trip back after all is over is a lot livelier. I think we can all use a little of that.

April 23, 2012

Around for the summer

Looks like the European vagabond is going to be staying in the states this summer so our racing season is on.  I don't think he totally realizes it yet but unless he comes up with a part time job that pays him twenty bucks an hour I can't honestly say that I'll have the money for him to go.

We just received our notice from the university about just how much we can expect to receive in aid this year, and what we can expect to come flying out of our savings account like a bullet train.  Let me tell you it ain't a pretty story.  Middle class america does truly take it up the backside but I'll leave this rant for another time.

Right now I am cautiously optimistic in saying that something resembling a racing season will go on for 2012.  I've even managed to get myself believing that I will return to the track on the days that my son is not.  And why shouldn't I?  I've been the team owner, principle, chief mechanic, driver coach, and sugar daddy of all things billable for the last ten years!  I should get to play once in a while.

But it's not about me.  It's about him, and the class that is beginning to really take shape this year and promise to offer us many new competitors to race against.  We both welcome the new blood and look forward to a great season.  We hope you can be a part of it.

December 29, 2011

2012. It looks like we'll... Ok possibly we're going to... Oh I don't know yet!

What I do know is that the kart is in a hundred pieces all over the shop floor and it is getting a complete rebuild regardless of what we decide.

This being our send off year, we have established the fact that if we do anything we're doing it all for fun.  No pressure and nothing to prove here.  We just want to spend our possible last summer at the track with the friends we've made over the past ten years.  Traveling to far away places is not on the docket.  And going out to pit ourselves against the pros will most likely not happen.

And depending on what Sam's plans are after graduation, I could find myself behind the wheel of the beast myself.  If he decides to spend the summer in Europe with Robert (his brother from another mother) well not actually, he's our Foreign Exchange Student from a year ago, I could find myself with time on my hands and an itchin' to get back in the seat of something.

I can't let all my hard work in the off season go unrewarded can I?

So if he stays here in the states, and for as long as we can enjoy doing this before he has to leave for college, our schedule this coming season should look something like this:

May 6th  BKC Points Race 1
June 3rd  Blackhawk Farms Raceway
June 10th  BKC Points Race 4
June 17th  BKC Points Race 5
July 8th  BKC Points Race 6
July 22nd  BKC Ponts Race 7
July 28/29  BKC Points Race 8 & 9

And the tentative events being:

Aug 25/26  BKC Points Race 10 & 11
Sept 9th  BKC Points Race 12
Sept 16th  BKC Points Race 13
Sept 30th  BKC Points Race 14
Oct 7th  BKC Points Race 15
Oct 21st  BKC Points Race 16
Oct 28th  Backwards Enduro

Stay tuned as we weed through all of our options.  He's still not absolutely certain of which university he plans on attending.  And the talks about Europe are still in their infancy.  But if he should choose to trade his helmet, suit, and kart for a beret, scarf, and paintbrush, you'll be the first to know!

A very safe and Happy New Year to everyone from all of us.

October 10, 2011

Goodbye, So Long, Farewell.

From an owner, mechanic, and father's point of view.

It's usually around this time of the year when I pen our tearful goodbyes to the racing world for another season.  As relieved as we are to say that we can now have our weekends back for other productive chores or fun-filled adventures, to realize that it's over again leaves us a bit heavy hearted.

To anyone who has followed us to the track or on our blog, you are all quite aware of the struggles we faced this season.  Our fourth class in eight years, we've been trying to climb this ladder for some time now, and in many cases too quickly or not with enough thought given to where we were headed.

Most people get into racing with some sort of plan as to where they want to be in X amount of years.  Long hard thought is given to what formula they want to graduate to, and in some cases, which specific team they are going to drive for.  This may have worked for the Lewis Hamiltons of the world but that doesn't necessarily mean it applies to all drivers.  My son included.

So having said this I feel it quite important to start this year's thank you edition with an apology.  I owe Sam a huge debt of gratitude in hanging in there even though he wanted to be racing elsewhere, and an apology for not listening enough and trying to run all facets of this team on my own.  We had a game plan from the start.  It just took eight years to figure out it was MY plan and not his.

I was so focused in getting us to the pinnacle classes of karting that I never stopped to listen when he wanted to go back to a previous class that we had competed in before.  I violated rule number one that we had established back when he was nine years old and just getting into this sport: If you can't have fun doing it, it isn't worth the effort.  Really, if you can't come off the track having learned something or realizing that you just had about the best time of your life then maybe you should move on to some other hobby.  Eight years later he was still looking for fun and I had thrown that out the window because I was planning our next step.

I can assure you that for how ever many years there are left for us in this sport, I am handing the entire operations segment over to him.  He will plan schedules and classes to compete in and I will be just fine with that.

Thanks will begin again like they do every year with Pegasus Auto Racing Supplies.  Standing behind us for all of our years we have established a very professional appearance with some of the best equipment in the industry.  We may not have always been the team to beat out on the track, but we're challenged by only a few back in the pits.  Year after year we've had more people stopping by our trailer to ask about something we have on our kart or in our tool box and it's all because of the great products you stock.  Thank you again for your assistance this season, we truly appreciate it.

OMP America LLC.  Along for the ride for nine years as well.  We've had nothing but OMP gear on our driver's back since we started back in 2002.  It looks great and it does what it was made to do.  Help teams and drivers look their best while providing the ultimate in protection when the unfortunate does happen.  We've had a few instances that come to mind which could have ended far worse had we been using any other brand and because of that, a huge thank you is in order.  Gabriele and Danilo have been more accommodating than they really had to be for a couple of guys like us and we really appreciate everything they've done for us.

And to the most important people in the world and the reason we are able to accomplish all of this every year, my wife and daughter.  We couldn't go out on the road for a dozen or more weekends a year and pull all of this together without your help.  From food preparation and moral support to just having every member of this family in the same place to enjoy the time we all have together.  This speaks louder than any go fast part or flashy suit.  If we had no sponsors helping us and had to foot the entire bill on our own, we would still be wealthier than any top notch team by just being together to share the experience with one another.  He and I thank you both for that.

So the run to stardom (or the dream of it) looks to be coming to a close.  Moving forward, anything we do after this season will be for the love of the sport and the people we enjoy it with.  A classroom behind the wheel will give way to a lecture hall on a college campus.  Geometry and skills once used to navigate a road course will be the precursor to analytical thinking used to build bridges or split atoms.  And needing to go fast will only be required when getting from class to class.

No matter what form the 2012 season takes, we will bring every moment to you as we have for nearly a decade.  To those of you still reading, we thank you too.

October 04, 2011

A fitting end to a funny season

Just a day in the life of a kid going sixty miles an hour around a track on a Sunday afternoon.  I submit to you, one fantastic round at Badger Raceway this past weekend.

Gridded 12th (of twelve) we faced an uphill battle in our final round of the 2011 Bridgestone Race Series.  Disappointed would be an understatement if you asked us how we felt about this, seeing that we were gridded second in the prefinal and parked it on lap 4 with a skipped chain and missing rear bumper.

The whole weekend was a bit strange to be quite honest.  We arrived late on Saturday to test, went out and did five very quick laps and parked it after the rear bumper fell off.  Yes you read it right, it fell off on Saturday too!  And with all of the vendor trucks in the paddock locked up tight, we had no choice but to scrap our plans of going any further for the day.

Sunday morning came and we collected the needed parts to put the kart back together again.  Our first practice was impressive, eventually leading to an outside front row position for the prefinal just four one-thousandths off the pole sitter's time.  But like I said earlier it would be short lived.  I watched in total aggravation as the bumper slipped a tad on one side, then it began to droop, and then all hell broke loose and it let go.  The bumper twisted itself in such a way as to jam itself in one wheel and launch the kart off the track in a very dramatic fashion.  The ensuing return to ground caused the chain to pop off its sprocket and ultimately end our round.

After one very irritated driver calmed down, and one badly bent kart had been straightened, we returned to the grid to take our newly designated spot at the back of the field.  So what do you say to your driver when the points are pretty much established in the season already, and he's situated at the tail end of the pack after yet another disappointing experience in a season plagued with this luck?  You tell him to go out there and have a good time, that's what you tell him!

So even though his fight back to the front ended in only a fifth place finish, I've never seen him drive with that much determination before and I've NEVER seen him with a grin on his face as big as the one he had that day.  Sure we wished that we could have gotten past some of the back markers sooner and posed a threat to the front runners but we already proved we were faster than all of them this weekend.  And with a conclusion like that, I think we both can put this season behind us with a smile on our faces.

August 11, 2011

The year so far

We've reached the midway point of our 2011 season and we're finding ourselves with many thoughts and ideas that keep crossing our minds.  Was TaG the right direction to move in?  Should we have stayed with the Rotax series?  Could we have experienced more success had we traveled the Road Race tour instead?

All good questions, but when you get down to the heart of the matter I don't believe we would have found anything more in any other series than the one we landed in.  We're just having a bit of bad luck and that can surely come to someone regardless of the series that they're involved in.

Things haven't been going well since the start of this season.  It's almost as if we hit the ground in April about as fast as we were ever going to go and we've been back pedaling ever since.  Frustration and high expectations of ourselves began to whittle away at any of the fun that we were having until just a few short weeks ago when we had to pull the emergency brake on this effort and regroup.  If we were ever going to make this work we had some changes that had to be made.  Mainly in the attitude department.

Now find any article that has ever been written on this blog and you will see one common thread: Fun comes first.  If you find that you are incapable of conjuring up just one small smile at the end of the day, then you may just have to do some soul searching into whether or not this is for you anymore.  And by the way things were looking I didn't feel that we had many days left in this.

It was tough, I'm not going to sugar coat anything here.  And the worse thing was that even though I knew that Sam didn't appear to be in it one hundred percent, I myself didn't want to throw in the towel just yet.  But seriously, if you don't have the total dedication of everyone involved, especially the guy doing the driving, you're just going to be throwing your money and time down the drain.

We agreed on one week to do some soul searching and I'm glad (and quite relieved) to say that I'm cautiously optimistic that things look like they should turn around for us.  A renewed attitude about how we go into these events and what we should expect from them made our last outing register quite a bit south of the "tense" scale.

USair Raceway in Shawano was next on our schedule and we arrived on Friday afternoon to begin our testing.  Almost immediately upon our arrival we were to meet our first obstacle which would test our faith.  I was informed that our gear set up was incorrect for the track, and to make matters worse I had no spares to fix this situation.  Lost day at the track?  It sure looked that way, but what could we possibly gain from throwing a fit and elevating every one's temper to an all time high?  Thank god for the little birdie that told us to just work with what we had and astonishingly enough we found the combination to be quite fast.

Tolerance, patience, I gotta try these more often.

Two tenths off of a fast lap around the track ain't bad for someone who hasn't seen it in six years.  All practice sessions, qualifiers and heat races proved we were in the top five.  And out of twenty drivers that wasn't all that bad.  Hey, could we possibly have fun again at this?

But all of that would change in the Final.  Qualifying fourth, we barely made it around for the parade lap when Sam pulled off the course.  Our driver gear had failed and completely sheared every one of its teeth off leaving us with nothing more than dampened spirits and a great seat to watch the race, not to mention a severely thinning checkbook.  Aside from the set of tires that took exactly four sessions to completely destroy, I found out how much these drivers cost and let me tell you I'll be checking the condition of mine a little closer from now on.

But the best part of the weekend was the ride home.  No tension, no awkward silence, just four people who weathered a storm both on and off the track (mother nature tried to kick our teeth in on Saturday) and who all lived to tell about it.  Not in rants, not with too much emotion, just with a smile on our face even if the outcome wasn't what we had hoped for.

Now if all weekends could be this way.

July 11, 2011

The Big Bang

The size nine stiletto of one miss Lady Luck kicked us square in the chops this weekend as we lost our first engine of the season.

Sixteen thousand RPM's one second, and absolutely nothing the next.  And as it usually goes, the catastrophic failure always occurs on a high speed stretch of the track so to anyone who has experienced this before you know it can be quite the horrific moment.

After all this sudden excitment he still managed to keep it out of the fence, or anything else with some weight behind it, and coasted safely off the track.  Later it was found that a ring had let go and got ingested in the engine, putting day one of a two day race weekend in the books as a DNF.

On the brighter side of things, thanks to Greg Hobbs (son of legendary sports car and formula one pilot David Hobbs) Sam learned a few things this weekend that are already proving to be key in his development.  Greg so graciously took Sam under his wing for the day since I could not personally be there and besides an occasional chassis or engine set up tip, he worked with him on some trouble spots he was having on the track.  Now he has a new mantra when he sets off down pit road that should hopefully bring us one step closer to his goals.

What could have easily been one of the most disappointing weekends to date actually was a great learning experience for both of us.  Thanks again Greg for all the advice.  I figure it would have cost far more for a professional driving coach than the rebuild I'm facing so we're pretty much ahead of the game here.

Next up, Shawano, and my turn at the wheel.  If, and only if we get this engine back together in time I might get to finally find out what it is that I'm expecting from my son every weekend.  And although I expect to have fun, I feel certain that I probably won't be able to deliver.

Oh how frustrated he's going to be.