Thursday, April 22, 2010

She's a Deadman!

No, I'm not talking about that final walk being taken by someone on Death Row, nor have I crossed any gun toting Moonshiners or members of the Mafia lately (at least I hope I haven't!). The kind of Deadman I'm referring to is the kind that mans the fuel valve during a race when the racecar comes into the Pits for refueling. A position born out of safety's sake, the Deadman holds open a valve just below the fuel supply tank during the refueling process and maintains a watchful eye. In the event that a fire occurs, the Deadman immediately lets go of this spring loaded valve to impede the flow of fuel to the racecar and runs like hell because to do otherwise would surely make you a dead man!

Last weekend during the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, I had the great privilege of being the Deadman for Freedom Autosport during the Continental Tire Challenge. It was a fluke really. I was walking through the paddock at Barber Motorsports Park late Friday afternoon taking pictures when I happened upon their parked rig. I remembered seeing Freedom during my trip to Daytona for the Rolex 24 - noting that they raced Mazda MX-5's; the third generation variation of my own Miata. That was already enough to peak my interest but somehow what I failed to notice back then was another, very distinct image which stopped me dead in my tracks and suddenly made my heart race. There on the side of rig, decked out in Red, White and Blue was an icon from my past and something that permeates my life even to this day - the Marine Corps Eagle Globe and Anchor!! I knew immediately that I had to find out what this collaboration was about but unfortunately there was no one around to talk to that afternoon. I made a mental note to come by the next day to pay them a visit before I died of curiosity!

On Saturday, around noon, I finally had my opportunity to swing back by and pay them a visit. I learned that Freedom Autosport is co-owned by drivers Derek Whitis and Rhett O'Doski. The team fields two Mazda MX-5's and a Mazda Speed3 and that Whitis and O'Doski, along with the entire racing team, are dedicated contributors to the Wounded Support Fund, which benefits wounded Marines and Sailors in need upon their return from Iraq. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A racing team that supports our nations troops and commits to donating some of the proceeds to injured Marines? I knew at that exact moment which team I would be pulling for during the race.

And that's when my luck really kicked in. Before I knew it I was sitting in one of the cars having my picture taken while crew member and fellow former Marine, Gabe Watson headed off to find Crew Chief Glenn Long. I don't remember how the subject came up but someone asked if I would like to work for them and I responded in the affirmative thinking, yeah wouldn't that be fun. I really thought it was a joke until Glenn asked me in all seriousness if I wanted to be the Deadman for the race. It just so happened that my friends Brynley King and Alan Thacker both worked this position for TRG Motorsports during the Rolex 24 so I knew exactly what the job entailed. Of course I said, "YES!"
The rest was sort of a blur as I was given a uniform shirt, ushered into the toterhome to try it on for size, and formally introduced to veteran racer Randy Pobst who was driving the Speed3 for Freedom that weekend. Randy is also well known for his article, "Pobst Position" published in SCCA's monthly automobile publication, "SportsCar Magazine". The very magazine I had received with my recent SCCA membership! This just kept getting better and better!

I was directed to meet them in the pits at 3:30 pm in time for the race and while I didn't have a Pit Pass, I deftly tucked my credentials into my shirt and followed my friend Sean Yoder's advice to "act as if" I belonged there so no one would give me any flack - which of course they didn't. Since most races are often won or lost in the pits, I was given a quick tutorial on the proper operation of the valve which, believe it or not, can be a bit tricky and certainly requires some upper body strength to manhandle. I was impressed upon how important it was to open the valve all the way prior to the refueler jumping the over the pit wall and to maintain it until either the refueling was completed or, God forbid, a fire broke out, to make sure there was nothing to impede the speed in which the racecar would be refueled.

I have to say that while I've had some really great opportunities lately, there is nothing like being in the pits and being an active part of a dedicated team during the race. I am so incredibly grateful to have had this experience, to have gotten to know the very special people at Freedom Autosport and as if that weren't enough, to have been a part of the winning team! Congratulations to Derek Whitis and Tom Long for their amazing win and I would like to express my sincere thanks to each and every one of the Freedom Autosport team for making me feel like one of their own and providing me with a once in a lifetime opportunity. As we say in the Corps, OOH RAH!!!!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fins, Fenders and Fun! Benefiting the UAB Liver Center

It has been my very great fortune to make the acquaintance of a dear friend, Gene Davenport, a true Southern gentleman with a great passion for cars.  We met about a year ago through the MOB, INC car club and I am never disappointed by what he shows up in for our meetings.  One of my absolute favorites is his 1936 Auburn Speedster Boat Tail Replicar.  With it's sleek classic lines augmented by the lustrous black paint and complimented by the rich tan color of its sumptuous Roll Royce leather interior, is it any wonder that I love this car?

I am quite fortunate to have met this remarkable man at all, because it was not so long ago that his zest for life was almost brought to a close.  It is only thanks to a liver donation performed by the UAB Liver Center that Gene is alive and well and a productive part of society today.  As such, I have made it my personal goal, in the span of less than two weeks, to generate as large of a donation as possible for this worthy cause. 

On April 17th, 2010 the Fins, Fenders and Fun event will be taking place at the Zamora Shrine Temple benefitting the UAB Liver Center.  This year's event is "A Salute To Racing In Alabama" featuring NASCAR legend Bobby Allison and saluting Rick Humphrey, President of the Talladega Superspeedway.  Dinner will be catered by the Fish Market Downtown with live music by Chevy6.  There will also be a fantastic collection exotic cars showcased by the MOB INC. car club and a fabulous silent auction.  The evening will begin at 5:00 pm for the Grand Preview, 6:00 pm for the Main Event.

Tickets for this no-tie-required event are available at the very reasonable price of $100 each ($60 of which is tax deductible).  For those who might not be able to attend or are not in a position to donate so generously, a fully tax deductible donation of your choice can be made instead. 

It is my sincere hope to be able to make a generous donation from my friends who follow this Grease Girl's antics, so that other wonderful lives may be saved.  If are interested in tickets to the event or in making a donation to this cause, please contact me directly at  Thank you! 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance

So far 2010 has started off with a bang beginning with a trip down to Florida to see the 24 hours of Daytona, the World of Wheels Auto Show here in Birmingham, Autocrossing, Rallycrossing, and the PCA DE (all of which I intend to write about if I can sit still long enough!)  But the Pièce de résistance so far was the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance.  This was my first experience at a Concours level event and as one might assume, it was absolutely spectacular!  By the end of the third day I was suffering from sensory overload and really couldn't take anymore in. 

In addition to the amazing collection of cars, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting extensively with three gentlemen whom I greatly admire:  Road & Track columnist Peter Egan, racing novelist and ride mooch Burt "BS" Levy and the host of Chasing Classic Cars, Wayne Carini.  As if that weren't enough, we stopped and chatted at length with Daniel Myggen - Sales Advisor for Tesla Motors, Inc who, it turns out, also has an appreciation for Autocross and Rallycross.  I'm always amazed at how small the car community can be when Daniel immediately remembered meeting my friend (and hero!) Linda "Lead Foot Lulu" Hiebert - a 74 year young lady who races her Lotus Elise out in the Bay Area.  But in all honesty, one of the best moments of my weekend came with Vinny Russo, Dealer Relations Manager for Spyker of North America, LLC, took me for an all out, full throttle test ride in a spectacular Spyker C8 Aileron Spyder.  Suffice it to say, I was not ready to come back when we did!

As usual, John and I did our best to wear out his D90 over the course of the weekend.  I covered the Gooding & Co and the RM Auctions.  Concern for my ability to make it through the entire showfield while snapping lots of artsy shots of hood ornaments, however, motivated John to take over the camera duties on Sunday.  Pictures from the RM Auction on Saturday and the Concours on Sunday have already been uploaded, the Gooding & Co pics should be following soon.  All photos are for free digital download for your own private, not for profit use:   Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance 2010


Monday, January 11, 2010

Polar Bear Run 2010 - The Big Chill

January 9th, 2010 in Cullman, Alabama was bitter cold with high of only 27 degrees - perfect weather for a Polar Bear Run! It was so cold in fact, that it was the Run that almost didn’t happen. So just what is this Polar Bear Run that I speak of?
Well, the original PBR was started back in 2000 by the Georgia Triumph Association who thought they should take their normally fine weather loving British cars for a midwinter drive. The drive is always run on the last Saturday of the year, rain or shine. While there’s usually a large contingency of TR6’s, everything from TR3’s through TR8’s can be found in that bunch. Many decorate their cars and are decked out themselves in all manner of Polar Bear attire.

Back in 2006 the GTA planned a drive which brought them to Birmingham, AL utilizing only old highways and back roads. In an example of true southern hospitality, the Birmingham British Motoring Club planned a drive of their own, allowing the BBMC to meet up with those die hard sports car fanatics of the GTA at Talladega, and to welcome them. From that point, and after a hardy meal, the drive continued via the back roads to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. In all, an estimated 130 cars participated in the days activities.
The drive was really popular with the BBMC so the following year they held one of their own (the GTA having planned a route that took them through their own state that year.) Other local clubs such as the Porsche Club of America – Alabama Region, the Alabama Chapter of Mercedes-Benz Club of America, Dixie Muscle Cars, the Birmingham Mustang & Ford Club, the Central Alabama Miata Society and many more were invited and it became a popular multi-marque event. In 2008 the drive included two parade laps on the track at Barbers – a big thrill for those who had never had such an opportunity!

This year’s event, however, was a bit different. First, the January 9th, 2010 date meant that there really wasn’t a 2009 PBR. Second, the involvement in organizing the event by other clubs made this more of a group effort than the primarily BBMC planned event. Two members from the MBCA, Jim Roberts and Bob Hinds are credited with charting the route that would begin at Barbers Vintage Motorsports Museum and take us via challenging but well maintained roads to the covered bridges in Blount County and to the 13th century Tuscan pilgrimage “Church of the Blessed Sacrament” near Hanceville. Our ultimate destination was the “All Steak” restaurant in Cullman, known for their delicious orange yeast rolls. Yum!

Rick Teer, President of the PCA was proactive in arranging for the BVMM to be open with restroom facilities available. The PCA even looked as though it was going to have the largest showing with their huge marketing of the event. Something else that would be new this year was the invitation of even more clubs, including the Alabama Sports Car Club of America and their contingency of Autocrossers who were thrilled with the idea of going on a spirited drive during their racing off-season.

But this year Alabama had some unseasonably foul weather with a record breaking number of days with subfreezing temperatures and even snow two days before the event! No roads were ever closed as there was just enough warm air in the lower atmosphere to prevent the snow from sticking to roadways, but there were a few icy patches here and there. And then it happened. Barely two days prior to the event the Bear sent out an email stating that the drive had been postponed until January 23rd – the very same day as the PCA Tech Session at Barbers – because it was (wait for it…) TOO COLD!!

Photo Courtesy of Matt Williams
The disappointed emails and Facebook posts began almost immediately. But one individual was not to be deterred. Quinton P. Young, III from the ALSCCA, often referred to by many simply as “Q”, was that individual. He had been so looking forward to this drive for the first time and had invited a number of friends as well. Q decided that he was going to go for a drive anyway and whoever wanted to join him could. After confirming that the Museum would still be accessible the word went out.

The MBCA and PCA members were thrilled to keep the date, having the hardiest cars in the bunch. Jim Roberts of the MBCA and Tom Fleming of the PCA began rallying the troops to show up. There was a bit of confusion however, since Jim didn’t realize that Q was trying to throw together an ad hoc drive based on the same sites that Jim had originally planned to visit and Q didn’t realize that Jim planned to bring his original routes with him (which presumably will be used again on the official run on 1/23). Q had previously visited these sites on photo assignment so he had a pretty good idea how to get to each and a quick search online yielded the routes to be followed. As such, both showed up with routes that had been laid out and handouts printed up.
Photo Courtesy of Quinton P. Young, III
So what to do? Well, offer up both routes of course! With so many people turning out for the drive, it was just as well since it split the large group up into two more manageable teams and since the final destination was the All Steak, we’d all just meet up at the end. Those that wanted to go on Jim’s route lined up on one end of the parking lot and those that opted to follow Q lined up on the other. And this is where it got interesting…

Photo Courtesy D & J Photography
Jim’s route took more back roads which required a little less aggressive driving in some instances while Q’s route started out with more 4 lane highway that made it easy to stay together and drive at a reasonable clip. Q’s team first stopped off at the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve where we all got out for some photo ops. One hardy soul, Kevin Henderson, was dubbed the Official Mr. Polar Bear for not submitting to the frigid temps by sporting only a T-shirt for the entire trip! He even managed to start his trek off with some very wet shoes after attempting to traverse the Turkey Creek by stepping on unsubmerged stones. We didn’t say he got the sharpest tool in the shed award…

After leaving the preserve we made our first pit stop, overwhelming the first of many local gas stations. As we were leaving we made our first wrong turn and subsequently the first of many u-turns. Ironically as we made our way back to where we started and eventually got headed down the correct highway, we managed to pick up a stray.
Photo Courtesy D & J Photography
Aaron Coleman was minding his own business, simply out to get the oil changed in his Trans Am, when he noticed this line of big winged Evo’s, a Porsche 911, a Miata, a lowered RX-7, a Mustang GT, a couple of Focuses, a GTO and a Firebird Esprit all making a left turn in front of him, obviously trailing one another. He caught up with our motley crew and eventually fell in line with us. When we stopped at the Horton Mill Bridge, he pulled over with us to find out what we were up to. We explained who we were, what our mission was and invited him to tag along. Oil change plans went by the wayside as Aaron decided to spend the day with us and he enjoyed an afternoon of car camaraderie as we continued on our travels.

Photos Courtesy of Matt Williams

Photo Courtesy D & J Photography

The next bridge was a real challenge. Apparently Jim’s crew realized that the access to the Swann Joy Bridge was pretty well blocked from the side they approached so they bypassed it completely. Having not spec’d out the route ahead of time, our team ended up having to turn around in someone’s driveway – someone with hand painted signs that said “Do not turnaround in Driveway”. Its not like we really had a choice but we kept our fingers crossed that we would not be greeted by a shotgun toting owner.

At this point those of us with GPS devices took over to navigate our way to the other side of the bridge. This variance in our routes is what allowed the other team to arrive at the All Steak a full hour and a half ahead of us but I still think it was worth it. This particular bridge had actually been open to drive across as recently as last year and a couple of us old timers had done so on other drives. Today, however, it is completely blocked off with a mound of dirt. Those that dared hiked across the bridge to the other side and were pleasantly rewarded with a winter wonderland. Huge icicles spectacularly hung from the sheer rock cliff rising above the road.

Kevin (the guy with no jacket) scaled the wall like Spiderman and knocked one of the larger formations loose. Even after about a 15 foot drop, the icicle held together as if it were some sort ice sculpture roughly resembling a guitar. Jokes abounded that someone should take the thing home and keep it in their freezer for a year so it could be included in next year’s run, as if it were the symbol of the event like the Olympic flame! At the very least it was used as part of our group photo and I think it was decided that there was really no way to get it home in one piece so it was left to melt once the deep freeze of the Deep South is over.

We loaded up again and finally headed to a very late lunch, but considering the change in our route, the preprinted instructions were no longer applicable. Back to the GPS devices again. With John Viviani and I in my Miata best positioned to lead the pack, we became the chosen ones. We lined up at the four way stop back down the road from the bridge and John programmed his Garmin. Garmin said to go straight ahead, so we did. Not 50 yards from the 4 way our paved road became a dirt road and we had to make a u-turn.

Fortunately most of the pack was still at the stop sign so it wasn’t too painful. Before preceding any further, howeve, John reprogrammed the GPS to ONLY take us down paved roads, which it did – for awhile. After a couple of miles down a very narrow paved road, it too turned to dirt. I guess in Blount County a hard packed, graded, chirt (combination of clay and dirt) covered road is considered to be paved! No really!! Then our dirt road became and snowy dirt road but at this point we were pretty well committed and it was only 1.6 miles to the next County road (definitely paved) so our adventuresome group opted to go for it.

This was all well and good until we crested the top of the hill and realized, it wasn’t so nicely graded anymore. In fact, it was quite rutted with large rocks sticking up in the middle of the road that, at the very least Q’s Evo and Kevin’s RX-7, would take issue with considering that the ground clearance on their front spoilers was little more than an inch. John hopped out and, while walking along side them, helped navigate the obstacles that might break something and bring the drive to a screeching halt. Of course this meant that the cars had to stay far to the right side of the road, precariously close to a precipitous 100 ft drop off. One or two white knuckles could be seen gripping the wheel but everyone made it over safely and back down to the smoothly graded and snow covered part of the dirt road.
Photos Courtesy of Quinton P. Young, III

Once again we all lined up to ensure we had everyone and the lighthearted nature of the drivers abounded. Sara Reno Tongsuvone was laughing as she popped her head out of her bright blue Evo and yelled, “No one mentioned anything about a Rallycross!! Where are all of the Subarus when you need them?!” I don’t know but I heard that Porsche used to be a pretty big Rallycross competitor so I guess that means Kathy Chahrouri wins best suited car with her 20 year old 911!

We eventually made it to lunch and caught up the other team. They seemed happy to have taken their much milder and saner drive but our team seemed pretty happy with their whole experience. I guess you could say that a good time was had by all. After lunch Jim’s group called it a day while Q’s group opted for one last covered bridge before nightfall.
Photos Courtesy of Jeff Newman

The Clarkson-Legg Covered Bridge was an excellent ending to the day. The scenery was fantastic! Behind the bridge is dammed up pond which was frozen completely solid, once used to power an old grist mill nearby, which was home to a family of ducks.  The lay huddled together in the center of the pond sound asleep and took umbrage at our intrusion.

We gathered again for one last group photo as dusk approached and finally admitted it was time to go. A spectacular finish to a spectacular day. Lots of new friends and time well spent with old friends that had been out of the scene for awhile. Life doesn't get any better than this...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Resolution

It’s been brought to my attention that I haven't been updating my blog posts nearly as frequently as I should. Admittedly I have about 3 articles that I've started and need to complete, but somehow the holidays just seem to suck up all of your free time and the next thing you know, it’s the New Year. So I guess that means its time for my New Year's resolutions; like losing 10 lbs (isn't that everyone's?), making it to as many car related events as I can and actually updating my blog afterwards!

This year is gearing up to be a busy one - starting off with the Rolex Series 24 Hours of Daytona at the end of this month. I'm still not sure if I'll be able to make it yet but it’s very high on my list of priorities - one, because I've never attended a 24 hour race and two, because I want to cheer on the guys from TRG Motorsports!

There are also two big events going on at Barber Motorsports this year that should not be missed. April 9th - 11th, the Rolex Series Grand Am, normally held in July, has been moved to coincide with the Indy Racing League event to create the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. This is the first time that the IRL has held a race in Alabama and should be a spectacular venue at Barbers. May 20th - 23rd the Bobby Rahal Legends of Motorsports will be coming to Barber's with Lotus being the featured marque. Rumor has it that Clive Chapman and Bob Dance may be attending this event so if you are a Lotus fanatic, you should definitely add this event to your calendar.

Oh, but I almost forgot! Next Saturday, January 9th, is the annual Polar Bear Run. If you're interested, be at the Barber Museum by 8:30 a.m. (although the earlier the better) and the drive will commence at 9:00 a.m. Try to park with your club, or if you aren't in a club, cars of the same marque. This event is normally held the last Saturday of the year but since that was the day after Christmas for 2009, it was pushed out to 2010 instead.

The point of this drive is to pull your sports car out in the dead of winter, bundle up good, drop the top (if you drive a convertible like I do) and brave the elements on a fabulous country drive! The route will take us from the Barber Museum through the back roads of North Alabama and finish at the 'All Steak' restaurant in Cullman (there are non-steak options as well though). The 'B' has been put back together but I will be going through some testing to see if it makes it on the drive.

With that said I guess its time to put the laptop away, pour another cup o' joe and wander down to the garage. If you happen to see me at one of these events, do come up and say Hi! For the rest of you around the globe -

Happy Motoring and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Its not just the cars, its the people

The holiday season was officially kicked off Friday night with the PCA Alabama Region Christmas Party. The event was held at the beautiful Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum and I can't imagine a more spectacular venue for a car club gathering with its amazing collection of cars and motorcycles. Granted, the car collection consists primarily of Lotus racecars - boasting the largest collection in the world - but there are a few Porsches on display. After all, racing Porsches was how Mr. George Barber got started with this hobby.

The party attendees certainly seemed to enjoy their surroundings and a festive mood prevailed. "Its not just the cars, its the people" is the motto for the Porsche Club of America and that description is incredibly accurate. I had the great pleasure of meeting Prescott Kelly, PCA Past President, who had come down from Connecticut to attend this gathering in Birmingham. After being introduced by David Goodwin as someone who enjoys working on my own cars, Prescott immediately launched into a discussion of which type of Porsche might best suit my needs. I was fascinated by his insights and greatly appreciative of the opportunity to glean as much information as possible in so brief a period from someone who is quite knowledgeable. I only wish I’d had more time to visit.

It was also great to catch up with the usual crowd that can be seen at the various driver education events, drives and gatherings, and getting to see them in all of their festive finery. To be sure, most of us look pretty rugged during track days which can be either freezing cold or blistering hot and are generally seen with a myriad of ball caps and do-rags worn in a desperate attempt to hide the ever present "helmet head". Some, like me, are only seen in a dress about once or twice a year so it was a lot of fun giving and receiving the good natured ribbing about it.

As the evening progressed the board called upon certain people to come up and be recognized for their volunteerism. One person in particular, Docupak's John Copeland, was singled out for offering the services of his employees during the Porsche 250 to help staff the hospitality tent. His people came out to assist on his company’s time when the PCA desperately needed help to service the largest turnout of PCA members in the race’s history at Barber Motorsports. The Grand Prize winner of a photo shoot by professional photographer Daniel Taylor went to Omar Zuberi.