The easy choice

I find Donald Trump an enigma, apparently "many" (an oft used 'Trumpism') do not, although by all accounts that number is falling rapidly. Is it stubbornness, ego or misplaced confidence that he insists on being "true to himself"? While despising his politics of misinformation, lies, conspiracy theories, fear mongering and anger I find this particular trait admirable in some ways, and he certainly seems to be sticking to his self proclaimed path even as it slowly kills his own campaign. Could I support such a campaign? Well, only if the alternate was worse, and Hillary, while not close to being my ideal, will not take the country in directions that could ultimately be disastrous. It's easy to understand the initial appeal of 'The Donald', most , including me, are mightily sick of the insider culture, aversion to compromise and the business as usual politics inside the beltway. But to continue to defend a misogynist, racist and reckless candidate strikes me as blindly hoping for simple answers to complex problems in a way that smacks of desperation. DC is broken, surely; we need someone who can shake up the establishment, but not someone who could make instant decisions with disastrous consequences. At the end of the day my choice is easy, I'll take more of the same instead of a potential dictatorship of reckless ego.

Standing on the Corner in Winslow Arizona …

In a decent life you get to do many things. Some are special when you experience them, some are special in retrospect, some never rise beyond memory and most, mercifully, are quickly forgotten ... 1973 was an interesting year for me, it was my second year of reading Mechanical Engineering at University and included a six month hiatus for 'Industrial Training' which took place at Rolls-Royce in Bristol, England. Joining me in this latter endeavor was a motley crew of nerds, would be nerds and obvious misfits. One such misfit, I shall call him 'Rollie', for that was his name, introduced me to the wonderful worlds of J.J. Cale, The Doors and live concert going. Bristol was blessed with a great concert venue, Colston Hall, a place that had stood the test of time, finances and artist interest. There I was introduced to a live Van Morrison on his "It's too late to stop now" tour with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra (which of us who saw that tour didn't fall instantly for Terry Adams on Cello). But, in retrospect, the most profound encounter was almost by accident ... One Friday night in 1973 Neil Young came to Colston Hall shortly after his friend guitarist Danny Whiten and Roadie and friend Bruce Berry had both passed away from drug overdoses. Subsequently his music had become even more introspective and soul searching which led to his album 'Tonight's the night', recorded the same year but not released until 1975. As such the concert was not what most wanted to hear (including me), essentially nothing from the Buffalo Springfield years or his 'Everybody knows this is nowhere/Harvest/After the Goldrush' solo efforts. Instead he sang only his latest material and was dismissive of audience calls for more familiar material. But, amazingly, all was not lost ... That night at Colston Hall the opening band was a mostly unknown, four man American country rock band (who knew what 'country rock' was in 1973) by the name of "The Eagles": it consisted of Don Henley, Glen Frey, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner. Enormous success was still several years in the future but after their 45 minute set I was completely sold, and went out the very next day, a Saturday, and found their two existing albums 'The Eagles' and 'Desperado' in the down town record store ... I like to think I was ahead of the game, a fan before the real success, but at the end of the day it really doesn't matter, The Eagles became the ultimate Seventies and Eighties Band. Glen Frey, one of the two 'always' Eagles passed away today, let him forever take it easy, let him always be standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona, for me he will always be such a fine sight to see ...

2016 Eve

Things I have become tired of in 2015 ... 1. F1 Politics 2. F1 Rules 3. NFL Football 4. Jerry Jones 5. Concussions 6. Donald Trump (I admire his propensity for Political incorrectness but abhor his divisive and outrageous generalizations) 7. The Presidential race in general 8. Politicians in general 9. Everything Kardashian I'm sure there is more, this will do for now ...

Crisis, what crisis …

Nine races into the 2015 season and suddenly there is no crisis ... The British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend was, by general consensus, a thrilling and hard fought race. A fitting race for the "home of motorsport" and the 140,000 who turned up to witness it first hand. The end result apparently being a feeling of, crisis averted, all we needed was a good one ... But then again, I wouldn't know, having lost so much interest that I couldn't even remember to set the DVR to record my "home" race at the scene of many of my great racing memories. And this, not the occasional great race, is the real problem: even long term enthusiasts like me have lost interest, and the TV ratings are in free fall. So what are my issues? Where do I begin: 1. Stupid rules, 2. Little innovation where you can see it (see "stupid rules"), 3. Boring races, 4. Prima donna drivers, 5. Zero access to cars and drivers at races, 6. Too many drivers aids, 7. Artificial attempts to spice up the show (see "stupid rules"), 8. CVC Capital Partners, an owner who does not care, 9. Bernie E', too wrapped up in his own wealth and problems to really care, and 10. FIA, FIFA light. The list could go on and on ... Sorry Bernie and the Boys, but I think my indifference is a crisis, you just don't get it ...

Formula 1, the triumph of greed

Bernie kills the golden goose ... There was once, in the early 1970's, a business man in his early forties with little real money but high ambition, a lover of motor racing, a former driver himself and latterly a manager of drivers. A man who seemed to love racing and those around it, not for wealth, for in those days (and, in truth, now) the easiest way in racing to earn a small fortune was to start with a large one, but for the sake of the competition, the thrill of the win, the constant need to go faster, higher, better. 45 years later, at age 84, Bernard Charles Ecclestone is the fourth richest man in Britain, worth US$ 4.5 Billion. The story of how he became so rich is not for here; along the way he owned a team and won championships, built good cars, hired good people and was part of the "garagiste's", the cabal of Anglo's and Anglo commonwealth racers who were such a thorn in the side of El Commendatore Enzo Ferrari. But somewhere along the journey from there to here, money seems to have became more important to Mr. E. than racing, much more important. Mr. E. is about to kill the golden goose, or perhaps it's Mr. E's employers, CVC Capital Partners, who seem to think that owning the commercial rites to Formula 1 means that they get paid exorbitant amounts and those that compete can take what they deign to hand out. Mr. E. has carefully and craftily played the egos of all involved over the years, pitting some against others, dividing and ultimately conquering; until now ... Now there is a crisis, two teams are in receivership, not necessarily unusual, teams have always come and gone, but there are three more seriously struggling with the costs of F1 and the seriously unequal returns. Bernie seems mostly un-fazed, apart from a rare slip admitting culpability, swiftly retracted and followed by a return to the hard line. Is CVC pulling strings, is Bernie a puppet, does someone know where the bodies are buried? All good questions with few public answers ... But all questions that will get asked and which are not necessarily good for a man who has been through a bribery and corruption trial and is rumored to be under investigation for tax avoidance. Bernie/CVC are about to kill the golden goose, the fans are finally tired of all the politics, the ratings are falling, interest is waning. What price the fourth richest man in Britain Bernie; in the words of John Lennon: "how do you sleep"?

The Big Price

As you probably know, 'Grand Prix', is French for 'Big Prize', today it should more correctly be known as the 'Big Price' ... In all of my (now considerable) lifetime, I have been a fan of Grand Prix, or more correctly, Formula 1 racing. Despite both of my parents' total disdain for the sport, and a complete lack of any form of transportation, I managed to attend my first of several British GP's at Silverstone in 1971. I paid for the ticket out of my 17 year old 'pocket money' and also managed to contribute to the 'petrol' cost for the ride down and back in a friend's Mini. My guess is that the complete trip probably cost in the order of 5 GBP or less, with admission probably 3 GBP. For my money we managed to negotiate the traffic jams and arrive (just) in time for the race, and then stand at the inside of Abbey curve while Jackie Stewart and the Tyrrell ran away from the field; finishing an easy winner from Ronnie Peterson's March and Emerson Fittipaldi's Lotus. For me the highlights of the race were a rare appearance of the Lotus 56B, 'wedge', turbine powered car (which only raced 3 times), with it's distinctive whine, and the thrilling, hair raising sound of the two works V12 Matra's passing by at full chat, the clear memory of which still gives me chills to this very day. As a side note, I have now seen the Lotus 56B twice in the last few years. It was displayed at the Goodwood festival of speed in 2012, the year that commemorated the 50th anniversary of Lotus. Then, this past week, I visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum, and there it was again, displayed in a special exhibition of turbine powered cars. It's one of those strange coincidences in life, only made a little more strange that in my working life I have spent the vast majority of the last thirty-five years around the aviation version of the engine that powered that car, the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop engine. Which, in a roundabout way brings me to the present. If we take that 3 GBP general admission of 1971 and double it a generous 3 times, we end up with 24 GBP, or roughly $40 in today's money and look at what that would buy you today at the upcoming US Grand Prix in Austin TX, just 200 miles down Interstate 35 from here. The answer, unfortunately, is nothing; lowest raceday general admission is more than $150 which, by my math, is 4 times the equivalent 1971 price. So, for my 4X money, is the value better? Well that's a matter of perspective, certainly the track is much safer and the amenities are streets above the porta-potties, dirt spectator banks, endless traffic jams, muddy car parks and marginal food of 1971 Slverstone. But is the racing any better, probably not, it's the history of Formula 1 to be dominated by the best car, with few exceptions, that turn races into processions. Access to the cars and drivers today is nonexistent, even if you could get into the paddock, for the average spectator; whereas in 1971 a paddock pass was a modest incremental price, drivers were open, friendly and willing to chat, you could walk up to and touch the cars. And if you were to look at the cost of decent seats today ... well, as they say, OMG, this is a wealthy person's privilege only ... Today, as much as I find the idea of the hybrid engines technically exciting, they will never, ever replace the visceral thrill, of the screaming sound, of a French V12 passing by in a blue flash at 180 mph. Try it for yourself ... just Google 'Matra V12 sound', and listen to that glorious noise ... So, come Sunday November 2nd, I'll be watching this race, not from the stands at the Circuit of the Americas, but from the comfort of my living room ...

Is there a silver (or BRG) lining?

The changes roll on ... So in July Tony Fernandes finally lost patience with his underperforming F1 team and sold it to a "a consortium of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors"; advised by erstwhile Jordan / Midland / Spyker / Force India team principal (and former dentist) Colin Kolles and fronted by F1 journeyman driver Christijan Albers. Given the hyper competitive world of F1 it is very early days and much too early to show much in the way of improvement over their dismal record this season, and the firing of a significant number of team staff almost immediately after the takeover will not help. The latter group have filed suit against the team for unfair dismissal and who knows where that will lead ... In the meantime Fernandes retains control of the Car company and cannot be particularly happy that the negative publicity surrounding the team will continue to be associated with Caterham itself due to the convoluted F1 rules which essentially eliminate name changes during the season. Speaking of Caterham, the new distributorship system is now in place which includes the change to selling only rolling chassis rather than kits. Prices for the new chassis have risen dramatically and I'm forced to admit that it looks to be a positive for me with respect to my investment. On the less positive side it does seem to me that it will deter those enthusiasts who wanted to save a little money and have the undoubted pleasure of knowing that they had assembled the car themselves. Caterham continue to announce new models including a Suzuki Hayabusa powered basic model that to some extent returns the car to it's simple roots, 175 HP, 11,500 RPM and very light. Quite where the company ends up in the future who knows. Can it meet Fernandes' expectations going forward, especially now that the much vaunted Renault deal has been terminated? Or will he decide to sell and devote all of his attention to his beloved airline and new toy, Queens Park Rangers? Only time will tell ...  

Caterham Changes

Change, as they say, is inevitable ... you must learn to live with it, or not. Word is that there are changes afoot in the world of Caterham ... Caterham USA in Denver is no longer the US distributer, replaced by Superformance of Irvine CA, known mainly for their Cobra and GT40 replica cars. The full press release from Caterham can be found here: http://www.superformance.com/news_view.aspx?articleid=141 I wonder if these changes will be positive for the brand and for my investment, we shall see. More, as they say, to come ...

Track Day

20 miles South West of Fort Worth along SR 377, on the edge of rolling terrain that will eventually turn into the Texas Hill Country, is the one horse town of Cresson. Ah but wait, one horse? Perhaps not, for if one passes through (even while blinking) with the car (or truck, this is Texas) windows rolled down the distinctive sound of multiple horses screaming can be heard on many a day. For Cresson is the home of Texas Motor Sport Ranch, a member owned race track not quite visible from the highway, designed for those with too much money, or a passion for fast cars (or more likely both) to test their metal and even occasionally bend it. The facilities are very well done, with two separate tracks of 1.7 and 1.3 miles that can be joined to produce a 3+ mile track, garages, skid pads, a clubhouse and even condos with the requisite 8 car garage on the bottom floor! As a separate, but massively important, positive there's very little to hit if you manage to get it all wrong, other than other maniacs with the same passion ... sounds ideal. And ideal it is ... My beautiful better half gifted me (for Christmas) with a day at the track accompanied by a fantastically patient instructor (thanks Neil) from the Apex driving school. Fun was very definitely had by all, with the possible exception of Neil, and we will do it again sometime. In the four half hour sessions the car held up, I didn't embarrass myself completely and despite indulging in one rear end puckering 'tank slapper', which I somehow managed to collect; I avoided hitting anything that wasn't there to hit, even the Formula Mazda's screaming past at twice my speed ... Smokin' ...

Service With a Smile

1200 miles have come and gone ... Jeff Sloan and his boys, well actually Bobby, have serviced and checked the car, fixed a few minor issues, working on one more and generally looked the thing over. All is well, except the OBD2 port isn't working yet, and fall is here. It's nice to use some revs, brings a smile to my face. Keep on Blatting ...