Sunday 10 August 2014

Anger Management

I have been racing for some 20 years now but even since Karting as a youngster, I have understood three basic rules of confrontation at the race track.

1. If you throw your crash helmet at the ground or a competitor’s race car, the best possible consequence is that, you will have to buy another crash helmet.

2. Officials do not respond well to being shouted at. If you get out of your race car to fight an official or another driver, the best possible consequence is, you will get banned from racing.

3. If you get out of your car to confront a race car on a live race track, the best possible consequence is, you don’t get run over.

The worst possible consequence of all these scenarios, much like everything you do at the race track, is injury or death.

It still boggles my mind that drivers and team members cannot think these things through to their conclusion. People argue about how it is a “Heat of the moment” incident but racing drivers are supposed to thrive on keeping their cool under pressure. When they come off the track to “kick someone’s ass” on pit row, how do they think it will pan out? I can say with all certainty that it will not change the result of the motor race. But it might stop the driver throwing the punches from entering the next race.

The angriest I have been in a race car was a late model race in Belgium in 2011. I had come through from the back of the field to second place. I also had picked my own number in a sweepstake so, if I could win, I would leave the weekend with a tidy profit. I was catching the lead car easily when we got a caution with three laps to go. The 2x2 re-start would put me on the outside of the leader. I would be past him by the exit of turn two. This race was a full gone conclusion and everyone knew it apart from the pole sitter. He came into turn one so hot that he shot out of the bottom groove, ran over my car and went straight into the wall. See the video here. I was mad as hell. A race I should have won I was now not going to finish. Throwing a tantrum would not magically put my car back together. So I went back to the pits and started making preparations for the next race.

Last night we lost a talented young Sprint Car driver because we still seem to think it is ok to walk back onto a live race track and show your displeasure at the driver you feel has wronged you. This is a dangerous thing to do with a limited number of possible outcomes. None of those outcomes are good for the drivers, the fans or the sport in general. Yesterday we saw the worst possible outcome and I extend my deepest sympathies to all involved.

I hope we all learn from this and put safety at the forefront of every decision we make whether we be on the track, in the pits or in the grandstands.

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Friday 25 July 2014


Recently I have heard some spectacularly misinformed arguments as to why NASCAR should ban Cup drivers from racing in the Nationwide series.

1 “Cup drivers stop young up-and-coming drivers getting rides.”

No, the ride is available for a fee and is open to anyone with the money (and licence requirement) to fill it. Development drivers are charged by the team for the privilege of being development drivers. It is not difficult to become a development NASCAR driver, you just turn up at a team with a large cheque. Most of the youngsters that you see in NNS have their drives paid for by investors. Often it is family money, sometimes corporate; it doesn’t really matter. A regular NNS “Back row Joe” that doesn’t have the money to run at the front, still won’t have the money to run at the front when the Cup drivers are no longer there.

2. “If the Cup drivers were not there, there would be more sponsorship money for the NNS regulars.”

No. There is not a queue of companies waiting for their chance to get their name on a front running NASCAR. Sponsorship simply doesn’t work like that. I have seen a marketing proposal from Roush Fenway Racing that actually uses the fact that Cup drivers run in NNS as one of its selling points. Sponsors go racing for a reason, a return on their investment. They are not going to start throwing money at people they have never heard of just because there is no-one else to sponsor. They will most likely take their money to another sport or event.

3. “The racing will be better without cup drivers”

No. If that was true, you would never watch the Sprint Cup. If you want to know what NASCAR looks like without NASCAR drivers in it, watch ARCA.  That is not to say the racing in ARCA is bad, but is it better than any of the NASCAR series? At its best I think it is the same.

4. “NNS would be more popular without the Cup drivers. NASCAR needs to listen to the fans.”

Possibly. I have seen no polls about the popularity of Cup drivers in NNS. But I do have statistics showing that NNS is already the second most popular motorsport in the USA, so how much more popular will it get? NASCAR have little to gain and at lot to lose by making a massive change like banning Cup drivers. If they made that decision and they were wrong, they would kill the NNS stone dead within 6 months.

 A decision like this will change NNS marketable value and you have to remember it takes a hell of a lot of money to put one of those cars on the grid. All of a sudden you will get sponsors like Monster Energy projecting a higher return for their investment if they just run part time on a Cup car. Smaller sponsors would see the same return for a smaller investment in the Truck Series. It is a tight rope and not one I would expect NASCAR to start chopping around unless they can be completely certain of the outcome.    

I think the truth of the matter is that some people just don’t want Kyle Busch winning everything. That is a fine opinion to hold, but I would never support any system that penalises drivers and teams for being good at their job. Much less suggest that the governing body risk destroying an entire series just to stop one driver from winning.
He turns up at Latemodel races too!

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Friday 27 June 2014

NASCAR Qualifying: The New Era

When I heard about the new NASCAR qualifying system a part of me, a part that seems to be getting bigger the older I get, didn't like it.

I don’t like change. I don’t want the powers that be to keep chopping about at my beloved sport. One lap shoot-outs are hard for a driver. To take it away undermines the achievement of the great drivers that came before.

I feel the same about the new Chase for the Cup rules. I didn't like the chase format before and I like the new one even less.

My issue with the new points format in NASCAR stems from the fact that I have a problem with any suggestion that tries to emphasise the importance of a race win.
This is because it suggests that someone knows a racing driver for whom winning races is NOT important enough. I can say with 99% certainty that there is not a single one of those 43 drivers starting on a Sunday afternoon that doesn't want to win that race. Even the guys that know they have to start and park.

In the last race of a season, you might get one guy who is about to win the championship if he just finishes. He still wants to win but he is not taking any chances. Is that who we are trying to save the sport from? One guy who actually makes the other 42 drivers in that one race try harder and take diabolical liberties when overtaking.

When the powers-that-be make rules like this, they miss an important point: - 
In Formula One, when Bernie Ecclecake has a bad day at the office, his drivers put on a bad show, TV ratings go down and he doesn't make quite as many millions of pounds that week as he feels he should. 

If one of those drivers putting on the show has a bad day, that driver could be in a hospital or dead.
I resent promoters telling drivers they are not trying hard enough to win races. I think it is down-right disrespectful. Besides, telling drivers they are not trying hard enough is the crew chief’s job.

Let’s look at the new NASCAR Chase format. If Jimmy Johnson wins the Daytona 500, he can direct quite a lot of investment getting ready for the chase. And if he does this, he will probably win the championship. If there was no chase and Jimmy Johnson won the Daytona 500, he could direct quite a lot of investment into performing well at his weaker tracks (If he has such a thing) and if he did this, then he would probably win the championship.

One driver or one team has been dominating this sport since the Flock brothers played the game. It doesn't happen all the time but it is bound to happen sometime and likewise, sometimes championships go down to the wire like Kulwiki’s in 1992. There was no chase back then and still a handful of drivers that could win the championship at the final round. It is the nature of motorsport I’m afraid. Let’s not penalise drivers and teams for being good at their job.

Back to NASCAR qualifying though, I regret to inform myself that this particular change is good for the sport. It is good for fans and drivers and teams. It gets all the cars out on track so no-one has an advantage in the form of track condition, weather or time of day. It is more track time for the smaller teams that need the exposure. And for the fans, lots of cars are always better than one car. Everyone wins with the new set up.

Except us old people that don’t like change. But, fortunately, nobody listens to us anyway!

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Monday 16 June 2014

The Brands Hatch Incident: You Can't Stop Stupid

Where were the pit-lane marshals? Who was manning the tunnel entrance? How did three idiots in a Volkswagen Polo get on to a live race track?

Does any of that matter?

There is not a wall around Beachy Head. These cliffs on the outskirts of Eastbourne are not held accountable for the many fatalities that happen on the rocks below them. It is excepted knowledge that, if you play around with cliffs, you will probably get hurt or die.

There should be no reason to consider the security of the race track to be a problem because only a completely suicidal idiot would ever consider driving their road car on to a live race track.

I know from experience that pit lane security at Brands is pretty good, however if there is a loony hooning around the paddock in his girlfriends Polo, there is only a limited amount that the boys in orange can do. A human being cannot stop a car if the driver does not wish to be stopped.

More could be done. A physical barrier and check-point to stop cars entering the pit area. But is that really necessary? I wonder what this idiot would have done if he couldn't get a car onto the race track. He might have climbed the catch fencing  and run around the circuit. He might have started doing handbrake turns outside the Kentagon. The point is, the person is the problem, not the track. You cannot plan for people like that.

What bothers me is that I suspect the MSV and the MSA and the Police will do nothing to the guy. And I don't think that is their fault, I am simply unsure of what laws he broke. If there had been a crash and he had killed someone, that would be different. But I really don't know if there is a way he can be held accountable for risking the lives of other people, especially the other occupants of that car. If they had been collected by a Fun Cup car arriving at full song down Brabham Straight we would be looking at a totally different news story.

I think he should go to jail. For a long time. But I suspect he will get a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again and next month we can read in the newspaper about how he mowed down a child whilst doing 90 in a 30.

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Sunday 25 May 2014

MSN advises public on car servicing. Really?

Whist researching a recent blog idea, I fell upon this heinous excuse for a self-help article in MSN Cars:

Let me start by saying that not having your second-most-expensive-purchase-you-will-ever-make after-your-house serviced by a qualified vehicle technician is stupid. I am not a vet. When my cat gets sick I do not open it up and start looking for the problem. When my cat gets sick I take it to a person that is qualified to fix sick cats.

One does not simply “service” a car. Each car from each manufacturer has a different service schedule with different things that need doing at different times. If you know what these things are and feel you are competent enough to do them then, and in no way do I condone this, have a go.

Most services will include changing the engine oil and the oil filter. Most people think this is all a service ever is. Those people are wrong. Most people think that the MoT test covers everything else. Those people are also wrong. Most people think that the MoT means that their car is safe to drive until its next MoT. These people are so wrong that I cannot think of a suitable humorous metaphor. And to be fair, this is not a situation to be made light of anyway.

After reading the article I simply couldn’t let it go by without adding a few pointers of my own. After introducing itself as “a way to save money without cutting corners”, something rarely possible in the servicing of a motor vehicle, we go to page two for our first tip.

Page 2 of our MSN guide to saving money tells us to just do it ourselves. They inform us that all we need is a good manual and some simple tools. Let’s assume that our car is not one that needs £6000 worth of diagnostic equipment to reset the on-board computer’s service intervals and move straight on to “the basic tools” of a service.

First we will need a trolley jack because the wheel jack that comes with our car, if it indeed has one, will not lift your car high enough to get axle stands underneath it. We will ideally need four axle stands so that we can have the car off the ground and level because manufactures stopped putting oil drain plugs in the centre of sumps back in the 60’s. Our drain plug will probably be off to one side somewhere so best get the car level to make sure all the oil comes out.

Most modern cars come with an under-tray. This will usually need to be removed to access the sump plug. Under-trays can be big and quite inconvenient. Some are held on by clips, some bolts and some are a combination of the two. Most have hit the occasional speed bump in the life of a car and have therefore lost some of their shape. We will find this out when we go to re-attach our under-tray and have difficulty getting the bolt holes to line up.

Now when we get to the drain plug we will probably find that none of the spanners in our “basic” tool kit fit it. If it is Citroen, we might get away with an allen key or a big socket. If it is Peugeot, we will need a special square socket. If it is Fiat we may need a big 19mm allen key. And don’t think we can make a judgement on what tool to buy based on the badge; Thanks to platform sharing, it is quite possible that our car’s engine comes from another manufacturer altogether.

Once the oil is draining, it is time to remove the oil filter. For this, your local car accessory store will sell you an oil filter strap. They are good for canister type oil filters, but not much help on the modern element types with the plastic housing. Plastic filter housings are commonplace now. You will find them fitted to most Peugeots, Bmws, Ford Diesels, Mercedes, Citroens, in fact you are likely to find one in any car built in the last 15 years. Many require their own unique tool to open.

At this point, we could go on to the proverbial minefield that is the fuel filter but, for fear of boring you, I think we will leave it there.

Page three of the article is actually true. Most independents will do a main dealer service with main dealer parts if you require it for the warranty. You will save money on labour this way, but check with the dealer first. Even Porsche offer discounted rates for older cars.

On page 4 we meet the mobile mechanic. Most of these are very good but you must check what you are buying. Many offer just a single basic service. (oil filter, air filter, spark plugs, check tyre pressures.) Whilst this is better than nothing, it is probably different from your service book requirements. It is important that YOU know what your vehicle needs so that, A) You can make sure the mobile mechanic does it and B) He doesn’t charge you for changing an item that didn’t need changing.

Page 5 goes without saying. The schedule is there for a reason. Stick to it. Especially the bit that says “timing belt”.

Page 6 is interesting. I have worked in about 6 independent garages and not one has made “A good chunk of its income” from parts sales. In fact, every single one retailed high quality parts cheaper than any local car accessory store, tyres cheaper than the local tyre fitters and oil cheaper than is available to the public anywhere. Most garages can provide cheaper high quality oils because garages tend to buy oil in bulk. Most garages will be happy to fit parts you supply but don’t expect them to give you a warranty on parts or labour when you do.

Page 7. “The service should not require any unexpected work” No it shouldn’t. But it often does. Most garages will offer a guide price for servicing but don’t be surprised if they pull the rear drums off your Citroen Saxo and find that the brake shoe linings have fallen off and they can’t put the car back together without new ones. Much of the service is checking parts for impending failure; Of course there might be unexpected work.

Page 8. Asking your local mechanic to “Chuck it in for an Mot” after you have already followed MSN’s advice to screw him into the ground on price, is more than cheeky. It is downright rude. I cannot believe any mechanic can afford to give up an hour of a technician’s time for you to have a free MoT. But I suppose if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Page 9 is true, if you need evidence, then most garages will oblige you. Also, if you are up front when you book the car in and tell your mechanic that times are a bit hard, they will use some mechanical discretion and not replace items that will last until the next service. But remember that, by doing so, you are breaking MSN rule 1 page 5 that says “Stick to the service schedule” and your mechanic will probably put a note in your service book saying as much.

Page 10. Audis are rubbish and Skodas are wonderful. I have already written a blog about that here. why-i-hate-audi.

Page 11. This is the best idea in the article. When you buy a new car you want free servicing, fuel, road tax, mats, everything you can get your hands on. Buying new is the best way to get cheap servicing.

 It is a popular misconception that the motor trade pays well. It doesn’t. And the best person to advise you about what your car needs is your mechanic. Not MSN.

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Sponsorship 101, Racing cars that don't use the product.

Welcome to the first of my blogs that are designed to tell you something useful and not just waffle on about cheese and the price of toilet paper and whatnot.

Today we are going to talk a little about sponsorship.

What would be the point of sponsoring a car that doesn't actually use the kind of car products a sponsor is trying to sell?

Well, first let’s consider the point of sponsoring a car which does use the company’s product;

A good reason for associating with a car that uses the product would be to showcase the performance of the product in a competition environment. This works very well if your primary audience is the other 20 cars on the grid and you can beat them every weekend until they buy your products. (Then you need to not beat them, but that's another story.)

For the thousands driving to and from races in their BMW 330d, or reading Autosport in traffic jams with their Vectra CDTIs this is less important. A race fan or a car enthusiast will have his attention drawn by any exciting looking, well presented race car, regardless of what oil it uses or what air filter it has. In actual fact, most car aficionados know that components used on a race car are not always suitable for their own car.

 In any form of sponsorship, you are looking for the hook, the leverage to send your message.
The message should be that your company can provide high quality products for your high performance car.

A company that supplies turbos sponsoring a turbocharged car is actually taking a huge risk. If the car under performs on race day, so does the associated product in the eyes of all that are watching. A monumental engine failure may leave a casual fan wondering if it could be caused by a high performance turbo.

No such problem with an atmo car. The message remains the same and can be delivered with equal strength regardless of the cars performance over a race weekend.

In short, the important part of any sponsorship program is the delivering of the sponsor’s message, not the winning and definitely not the type of car holding the logo.
This car is not using 100+ wheels.

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Sunday 20 April 2014

All American Holiday. Part 6: Home

Sunday 6th April

In the morning it is back on the Super Shuttle for the airport. On the way we pass what looks like a fairground ride. Not a fairground, just a ride. A single but, apparently, awesome ride. One of my fellow airport commuters tells me the tale. The ride consists of a chair that you and your friends sit in, which is then lifted high above the ground. The fun part is when you and your ensemble are hurtled towards the ground at high speed. Great. However, shortly after it was built it had to be closed down because of the cussing. 

“The what?” I ask.
“Cussing. Swearing.”
“Yes I know what it means, how did it close down the ride?”

My fellow traveller, on his way to Boston don’t you know and doesn’t envy my flight to Charlotte, points out of the opposite window.

“Over there is an elementary school. They opened the ride, the kids were in the playground playing, and all they could hear was folks screaming “SSSSSSHHHHHHHHHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTTTTTT” as they went round on the ride!”

The idea made me laugh out loud. I said “So it is still closed?”

“No, it’s open but.” -And this could only happen in America- “You have to sign a disclaimer before you get on saying that you promise not to swear and that you forfeit your ride if you do swear.”

“You’re joking right?”

But the bus driver collaborated; “It’s true, look it up! You swear, they stop the ride and make you get off!”

Sacramento Airport is smaller and less interesting than Charlotte. The TSA were friendly and no-one from homeland security came to make sure I was going home. Maybe I'm not that important after all.
I got a pizza and slept all the way to Charlotte.

Monday 7th April

Good old NASCAR! The rain in Texas meant that the Sprint Cup race had been postponed until Monday. I would be able to fulfil a lifelong ambition (well maybe not lifelong, but certainly since I knew the café existed) to watch NASCAR racing from the Stock Car Café. I sat down, ordered a burger, and watch Dale Jnr make a complete monkey’s breakfast of the Duck Commander 500. I don’t even want to talk about the manoeuvre but, if any of you want to look it up and then leave me your comment on it, I would certainly like to hear your opinions.

Tuesday 7th April

Getting my time back during the flight allowed me to arrive back at Heathrow on Tuesday morning. I collect my bags and pull out my Purple Parking ticket. It says “Ring this number and go to bus stop 5”
I find a phone and ring the number. “Hello Mr Hassell, are you at Terminal 1?”
“Yes I am.”
“Then leave through the front door and go to bus stop 5.”

Sounds easy enough, huh?

I leave through the door and look across the road to the bus stops. In front of me is bus stop 1. To its left, bus stop 2. To the left of that, bus stop 3. Seems straight forward.

I cross the road to bus stop 1 and turn left. I walk past bus stop 2. Bus stop 3. Bus stop 4. The road now turns a corner but I can see the next bus stop so I keep walking. When I arrive, it is bus stop 7. 

By the ripe old age of over 30 I am aware that there are dickheads involved in every aspect of life leaving their mark of stupidity to trip up the ones who try to use logic and common sense to get themselves from the cradle to the grave. 
When I have finished asking a lamp post loudly and with much arm waving, what kind of daft idiot puts bus stop 7 after bus stop 4, I begin retracing my steps to make sure I have missed nothing. I look on the other side of the road. It is no good. Bus stops 5 and 6 are not here.  I walk back to the terminal to get some help.

As I am walking up to the door, I see a sign for bus stop 5. It points in the opposite direction of all the other bus stops. Well, of course it does! Why wouldn’t it? I follow a winding path to a “Courtesy phone”. I assume this is so you can ring someone to check that you are still travelling in the right direction. 

If you find yourself at Heathrow and needing bus stop 5, I am drawing a map and attaching it to this blog to help fellow wanderers on the trail. I got there. Eventually. I never did see bus stop 6 though. 

I think I’ll save that adventure for another race.

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Saturday 19 April 2014

All American Holiday. Part 5: The Feature

In the feature I was determined to make something happen. It had been a trying evening but I had a car I could drive and had learnt enough about driving it to put this into effect. By this point I was bringing the throttle back on before I had finished braking. With my line and keeping the thing smooth, I was able to knock chunks out of my lap time and shut the gap down to the #55 car which was running third. Then the top class leaders arrive, so we hear through the ear piece; “88 and 55 the leaders are coming, don’t race them.” That’s fine, but I don’t know where they are. No mirrors, remember? The #55 is high in turn three when we get the call so I stay low and try to make sure that there is a car width between the #55 and myself at all times. Sure enough the gap is filled with three very fast cars. Then they are gone. Is that it? Can I resume my line now? The radio is quiet so I guess I just carry on racing until I am told otherwise. By this time, #55 has got away and I need to catch him up again.

The #55 seems to have a monumental push in it. However, the driver,  a very talented fellow named Don, is able to control the push and let it take him to the perimeter wall and straighten up without ever letting off the gas. To pass him I will have to be off line, which is naturally slower anyway. Passing him clean will be tricky.
I move my entry to turn one up the track a little with gives me a shallower, slower exit through two, but because the distance I travel is shorter, it might be enough to get next to him and then steal his line into three. I don’t need to pass him here, just get three quarters of the way up his door.  After a couple of goes, I’m nearly there and then the leaders are coming again.

The Yellow comes out for a spinner and this closes us back up to the #11 and #12. I pass the #11 high on the backstretch after the restart then the #12 washes up the hill in turn three and get to his inside. Then I am back on the #55 and this time I have the line.
It’s not enough to clear him and then the leaders are on us again. They split us down the middle and I am stuck down the bottom again. Then I accidentally let the #12 back through thinking it is in the lead pack. I was later told it was, but I will need to check the video again to confirm that.
Double bugger. (See the video here)

It was a fantastic race though. One of the best I have had. We meet in the pits for a Dr Pepper and much discussion on the race. I have had a good time, made some good friends and all I want now is to do it all over again.

But first I have to get back to my hotel. I try to pinch Greg’s phone to call a cab, but the gang have decided that one of the drivers can take me home. This would be fine if I knew where home was but, I am not very good with directions in places I live, much less places I don’t. We have a merry jaunt through the California countryside before we eventually find my hotel. I apologise for taking up most of his night with my incompetence but he is a total gentleman about it. One of many great guys I have met this evening that I will miss when I get home.

Click here for part 6

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Friday 18 April 2014

All American Holiday. Part 4: The Car

After practice (11 laps) I report back to Greg. He says all the cars are reporting back a loose condition, so they are going to do a cross-weight adjustment on all the cars.

In Pro 4 Modified, there are two classes. The main class is allowed modified versions of the 4 cylinder engine found in all the Pro 4s. They also have coil over shocks and use a cut slick tire which, although isn’t ideal for grip, I suspect it is very good for balance and gearing with these low powered cars.
The second class, and the one I am in today, uses a standard engine and a standard shock/spring (including leaf springs on the rear!) package as well as big wide slick tyres. Because the spring and shocks are stock items, the only way to adjust cross-weight would be to space the spring (Not an easy processes) or, as Greg does, adjust the tyre pressures on opposite corners of the car.

We miss the second practice, hoping that the track will rubber in, the weepers will dry out and the whole place will be more like a race track by third practice. At third practice I roll onto the track, the green flag waves, I floor the gas and watch as my left front wheel starts to depart from my race car. I hit the brakes as the wheel continues on its merry little adventure, oblivious to the yellow that is now waving. It tries to follow the banking but eventually decides it has had enough and ambles back to the infield. “You appear to have yourself a lugnut issue!” Explains the man with the tow truck as he arrives to move my stricken race car back to the pits. “Indeed.” I replied.

“Did anyone get the times?” Greg says back in the pits. “Kelvin did the fastest half a lap I have ever seen!” He jokes, “Well you told me to driver the wheels off it.” I retorted. We examined the hub, there was minimal damage. The wheel bolted back up ok and we were ready for qualifying.

It occurred to me, as I was strapped in, waiting with the qualifying line-up, that I hadn’t actually asked anyone what the qualifying procedure was. As a direct result of not asking anyone, no-one had told me and, therefore, I did not know. I made the assumption that it would be like the old NASCAR qualifying; out lap, two greens, slow down, then in. I think this was right. It is what I did anyway and nobody told me otherwise.
The car was still loose as hell. I could just hang on to it. I know its two laps on cold tyres but still.

Back in the pits Greg has another look around the car. He finds a bent right rear shock absorber. You can hardly see the bend but the shock won’t compress. He bolts on a replacement and we are ready for heat one.

I line up 4th for heat one and figure I am just going to lunch the car into turn one and hope it sticks like I would expect. If it doesn’t, then I am on the outside of the race track so, when I spin, it shouldn’t affect everyone else.

I drive it in and sure enough, it drives like it should, a little loose but much better than before. In a few laps I have driven around the other three cars and am leading. I now want to go back to seeing how much speed I can carry on a tighter line. The answer comes with another spin. Not that much it seems.

The problem with low powered cars is that momentum is everything. You need to carry as much speed through the turn with the minimum amount of sliding, steering lock, brake or anything else that will slow the car down. But this is also part of the fun. It requires really precise lines and allows you the time to see the differences and consequences of car position. It gives you the time to really look at these situations. Time which you don’t have in faster cars. In fast cars you have to do these things on instinct or because you KNOW they work.

So I go to the back for causing the yellow. I start looking at different ways of getting around the race track. I pass a few cars and decide that the best line is early into turn one and two, and then late into turn three and four. This is because the backstretch opens out much more than the front stretch despite my findings, I am unable to catch the lead group. In fact, I am watching them get away. I start moving braking and throttle-on zones around. Braking hard and late puts the car sideways. Earlier and less seems to be the way to go. I find I can mash the gas pretty hard without upsetting the car. The race ends, I finish 4th. (see the video here)

Next up is the Trophy Dash. A  Trophy Dash, I found out as I drove around, is when a group of cars get put into a four lap death or glory race to the flag. The winner gets a pot.
I don’t know how the cars are selected but I guessed we were picked for being slow. There were four of us and I was on the pole. My intention was to come to the flag slow and floor it just before the green dropped. A good and cunning plan, but the car couldn’t pick up from as slow as I wanted to go. The outside car got a good run off of turn four and I was quickly dropped back to last. 

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Thursday 17 April 2014

All American Holiday. Part 3: The track

Friday 4th April

Despite how tired I felt, my body wasn’t interested in sleeping and made me get up at 0900. This was not a bad call, as it goes, because Holiday Express stops serving breakfast at 11 so by the time I had checked my emails, had a shower and got dressed, I barely had enough time to throw bacon at my face. After breakfast I read a bit of USA Today. The NASCAR bit to be specific. I looked up the time and channel for the Nationwide race and then my body finally did give up and I slept until race time. I had planned to wander across the road to a burger place I had spotted for lunch. But my second wake-up of the day did not leave enough time before the beginning of the Nationwide race to worry about frivolities such as food.
I watched the race and found it quite easy to sleep again until Saturday morning.

Saturday 5th April

I got up about 0630 on Saturday. I was pleased because this is my usual wake up time at home. It is the day of the race and my body is fitting into the time difference so I shouldn’t be tired this afternoon.
I read an email from the team boss saying that, because of the rain last week, All American Speedway is suffering from weepers. They are not sure if the track will be fit to race on, but will let us know at 1000. Weepers, for those that are not up to speed with the local lingo, are when rain water doesn’t drain away from the raceway properly. The track appears dry but the water is trapped underneath the surface. As the day warms up, the water rises to the surface and leaks onto the track creating a “Weeper”
It was decided we were good to go so I took a cab to the track arriving at about 1300. Now my day really begins.

I arrive at the race track. There are three booths adjacent to the pit entrance. Best get in a queue and see what happens then. The topic of the queue is the lack of NASCAR licences about the place. It seems that NASCAR are tardy with the distribution of licences. To exonerate themselves from this, it is my understanding that they circulate a list of all the current licence holders to the track. The list is not in alphabetical order however, making finding a single name a tedious task.
The driver in front of me at the queue is about to meet this problem head on. He has applied for, been accepted, but is yet to receive his licence. The lady in the booth cannot find his name on the list. The correct procedure here is for the driver to fill out a temporary licence form and pay $40. Once this is done, he will not be entitled to a refund even though the situation is not really his fault. So the driver refuses to pay and insists he is entitled to race.

 I empathise with this and more race officials should take note. I am only aware of one driver who has ever loaded up his car and went to a race meeting where he was not allowed to race, on the off chance they would let him in. If the guy has bothered to go through all this effort to get there, then it is probably a clerical error that he isn’t on the list. 

Back in Roseville, the guys crew chief is jumping up and down and the lady in the booth is in a terrible state. She tries to ring the track owner and can’t get through. She leaves a message for him to come down to the gate and solve this dilemma. One of her colleagues looks over the list, finds the driver, gives her the correct wristbands to distribute and rings the track owner to inform him that his presence is no longer required at the gate. Crisis averted. Good, now I can add my own!

“Hi what series are you in?”
“Pro 4 Modified”
“What car number?”
“I don’t know.”
“I can’t sign you in if you don’t have a car number!”
“Sure you can, you can use my name and add the car number later. It will be one of Greg Rayl’s cars, and it will be the one you don’t have a driver for.”

I pay the lady. She reluctantly gives me my wrist band and I go in.

The pits here are comparable to Warneton. It still uses portaloos but they are American sized and plentiful. There are no Banger teams starting oil barrel fires and everyone is pretty pleasant. I meet Greg and his team and sit in the race car for the first time. They are very pretty looking cars. Inside they are sparse. No gauges. No mirrors. Nothing to think about other than going forward and the raceceiver in your ear. I got settled in and asked for a quick peddle adjustment. The car was comfortable and it had that “Straight out of the dash” steering wheel angle that I like.
I strapped in for first practice. You enter the oval at turn three. There is good banking, more than it looks on the television. As I’m coming down towards the main straight I can see the weepers. There is one midway up the track in turn three and another closer the inside of turn four. So, I said to myself, any line you take here will result in hitting a weeper, where would you like to lose control?
We circled another couple of times and then they dropped the green. I accelerated. These things are pretty slow compared to the Late Model and the Sprint Car. I turn into turn one and the back starts coming around. I am not on the gas anyway, but I stay off it, just so to keep the speed down. I turn in as fast as the steering will allow, but it’s gone. The car pirouettes to the infield of turn one and the yellows come out.

Well that was weird, must go slower.

I get the car going again and the green flag waves. This time I am deliberately slow into turn one, still the back steps out. I catch it this time. Flooring the throttle doesn’t get the car loose, it doesn’t really have the power for that. Turns three and four are like ice but that could be water as much as set-up. I try going into turn one with less lock on, taking a wider sweeping arc into the corner, but still the back starts to go. I like a car that will turn through the center as much as the next man, but this is ridiculous…

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Wednesday 16 April 2014

All American Holiday. Part 2: Homeland Security

Maybe if I understood their jobs better, I would understand what they are trying to prevent and how they might think that I could be involved. I would perhaps be able to offer the words they are looking for to help this process go easier. As it is they just appear to be bloody rude for no reason, and this makes me angry.

“Why are you coming to the USA?”
“I am going to a motor race.” This, apparently, is not an acceptable answer.
“You have any friends or family here that you are meeting with?”
“No.” This too is, apparently, not an acceptable answer.

So having answered questions one and two wrong, I then get this:
“Long way to come just for a motor race. I don’t understand why you would spend all that money on flights for such a short trip.”
I’m not sure why I needed to know that the man from homeland security thinks what I am doing is a waste of time and money, but his opinion is duly noted. He is now looking at me like I am supposed to respond to his opinion. I want to say “So f**king what?” and I daren’t open my mouth because I am pretty sure that is what will come out and I doubt that will smooth my access to the United States. We look at each other for a minute and then perhaps it occurs to him that he hasn’t actually asked me anything. So he asks me if I’m going to meet friends and family again. Having not gained any American friends or family in Roseville within the last 3 minutes, my answer is still no.

Then he asks for my itinerary to, and I quote, “Prove when you are leaving the United States.” Is that what this is about? Does he think I am an illegal immigrant? Sneaking into the USA to take advantage of their strong economy, labour laws and health care system? Exactly how many UK citizens are there living illegally in the United States? I show him my itinerary.

Then he pulls his trump card! He asks to see the tickets to the race. At this point I do really want to say “Darn it, you got me! There is no race!” Just to see what happens. This man has actually removed any desire I had to go into his country, be it for racing or anything else. I tell him I don’t have tickets. “Why not?” He asks with mock shock. “Because they give them to you at the gate.” I say with an equally mock ‘isn’t it obvious?’ voice. It appears I have passed his little test and can now enter his country.

If you are in Charlotte Airport for the first time and trying to leave, you should be aware that the letter on your gate number refers to the big “Checkpoint” signs you see overhead. Why they call them checkpoints when they know you are looking for the word “gate” is a mystery. However when you have sussed that Gate B7 means go to checkpoint B then to gate 7, it’s fine. Re-check your luggage and go and get some food from the Stock Car Café.

America is big. This may seem like an obvious statement but somehow, it isn’t. Everybody knows America is big but it is hard to understand how mind bogglingly huge it is until you need to get from one bit to another. The trip from Charlotte to California is almost as long as the trip to get to the US in the first place. And although I knew, both in time and in distance, how far it was, I was not prepared for the reality of doing it. Thursday is winding down in the UK when you get to the US. Here it is still lunch time and, not only am I going to fly for a further 5 hours, they are going to add two more hours on to my Thursday while I do it. This is the longest Thursday ever.
Also you do this flight without the creature comforts of the transatlantic crossing. There is no movies, tv or games. Or even pasta and coffee. There is wifi however. But the battery on my laptop was flat. And I was  bloody tired. So I did my best to sleep in between the crying baby and the woman in the seat next to me with the uncontrollable bladder.  

I eventually arrive in Sacramento in the small hours of Friday morning. I have elected not to rent a
car because (a) I don’t know my way around and don’t really have time to learn, and (b) I actually don’t like driving. So I have chosen Super Shuttle to take me to my hotel. It is $36 plus I added a $4 tip to round it up. The Super Shuttle is a minibus that takes several people at a time and drops them off at their pre-chosen destinations. I get the full 45 minute tour as I am the last passenger to depart the Super Shuttle. I arrive at my Holiday Express at about 0130, check-in and pretty much go to sleep despite my body’s mixed messages that I am really tired and it is not really 0130.

Click here for part 3

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Tuesday 15 April 2014

All American Holiday. Part 1.

So my first question of the day, after deciding to get out of bed and eat chocolate digestives for breakfast, is how to write this blog. I want it to be funny, entertaining, informative, and educational. I want to present a detailed account of my long weekend in California and the things that were on my mind during that time. I also want it to be understood in such a way that other like-minded individuals can do the same as me and be prepared for what they are likely to find.

To this end, I have decided to present it in a diary format, as I feel this most likely best represents the whole trip and will jog my memory as I go so, hopefully, I won’t miss anything. Let’s give it a go.

Thursday 3rd April

I like to be early for stuff. Especially stuff as expensive as flying. I have a rule when dealing with the west side of the M25, if you want to do anything at Heathrow or beyond, you need to have got to the Heathrow exit by 0630. I did not quite adhere to my rule, which meant I spent 45 minutes stuck in traffic trying to leave the M25 at Heathrow.

I had elected to use Purple Parking and drive to the airport. I investigated doing the journey by train. I cannot remember the exact figure they quoted me but it was somewhere near 1 million pounds, which made the £30 or so for Purple Parking seem very reasonable.

Purple Parking is not a complicated affair, you drive in, park, throw your keys at the minibus driver and he takes you to your desired terminal. It couldn’t be simpler.

I am flying with US Airways. This is the same airline that took me to Charlotte when I went to try out an ARCA car. Today I am flying to Sacramento. I fly from London to Charlotte and then transfer to Sacramento. Last time, when I wanted to go to Charlotte, I had to fly London to Philadelphia and then transfer to Charlotte… Go figure.

US Airways, like all airlines, advocate this “Paperless ticketing system” which, as far as I can make out, uses the same amount of paper as the old ticketing system. It just uses your paper and not theirs. For this reason, I chose to check-in at the airport and not at home. This was easy and straightforward and required me to use none of my own paper at all. Soon I was drinking coffee and waiting for my plane.

I have heard many complaints about the chairs found in coach class on international flights and I have to say, though they are not the most comfortable chairs in the world, they are fine. They are only not fine if you are an odd shaped human being. Odd shaped human beings should be made to sit in another part of the plane. I sympathise with most. Except for the chap at the end of my row who couldn’t fit his burger induced fat arse into the chair. I mean he wasn't just big. I know some big guys. This guy was enormous.The arm rests became support for his love handles. His wife was helping him; she looked like she was trying to stuff a duvet into a carrier bag. I hoped to god he didn’t need a crap mid-flight because it was going to take all the cabin crew to get him out of the seat again. And I am not entirely convinced he would fit through the plane’s lavatory door anyway.

There is an idea! Why don’t they make plane doors smaller so that people that don’t fit in the seats simply can’t get on the plane?

It would be like when there is not enough room in the over-head lockers and you have to check-in your hand luggage. “Sorry sir, you’re too fat to board this plane. Don’t worry though, we just need to put this tag on your wrist and then you will be transported to the luggage hold.”

The flight was very pleasant with food a films and snoring but nothing bad enough to make you want to jump out of the plane over the Atlantic Ocean. We landed in Charlotte ahead of schedule and suitably ready to meet the nice men of homeland security.

I get aircraft security. I get the TSA’s job. It is a massive inconvenience removing shoes and clothing and emptying your bags and all that stuff, but getting blown up is pretty inconvenient too, so I empathise with this ritual of going to the states and I do it without question. On the whole the boys and girls of the TSA are polite, courteous and make the whole process as pleasant as is possible.

I have only been to America twice which means I have only met two people from homeland security. It may be wrong to tar the entire operation with the brush of my poor experience at the hands of two individuals, but I’m going to anyway.

Click here for part 2

***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***

Wednesday 5 February 2014

The Top 5 Things You Shouldn't Take To Sonisphere

You know it is festival time again when Kerrang and Metal Hammer and every music website on the world wide web are telling you what you need to procure before descending on your favourite British summertime rock festival.
“Take Wellington boots,” they demand, “because the British summer can be very unpredictable.” Yes. Thanks to a thousand films portraying stereotypical English weather and, not to mention, living here, I did already know this.
“Take toilet roll.” Wise words. Wiping your bum on leaves and empty beer cans can be a perilous affair.
“You will need a tent!” Really.
So, to save further insult to your intelligence by informing you of things you need to take to, what is shaping up to be, the greatest rock festival of 2014,  I decide to put together a list of things that, you might consider bringing, but you really shouldn’t.

1 The Mona Lisa
You may think a five hundred year old painting to be the ideal wall hanger for your tent. Not only perfect for covering up that beer stain, but also adding an air of sophistication for when you invite people in for a nightcap.
While this all maybe true, have you considered the practicalities? The Mona Lisa resides behind bullet proof glass in the Louvre in Paris. You will need to cross the channel. This will require a boat of some description. Or some duck fat if you don’t have a boat. Swimming the channel covered in duck fat is hard enough but swimming the return journey with the Mona Lisa tied to your back? That has never even been attempted.
Then there is the heist itself. The Mona Lisa has already been stolen once in its lifetime. Back in 1911 a chap called Vincenzo Peruggia, who worked at the Louvre, hid in a broom cupboard until the museum was closed. He then left with the Mona Lisa discreetly stuffed down his trousers. Because of this incident all museum visitors are strip searched when they leave and the broom cupboards are guarded by giant robotic mice. Or so I heard.

2 Stonehenge
Fancy getting your Druid on over the Sonisphere weekend? There are easier ways than trying to smuggle Stonehenge into the campsite. Although there are no official rules governing the erection of prehistoric monuments in the campsite, doing so would still be considered by many as an etiquette faux pas. The campsite is going to be heaving when you have the two biggest metal bands on the planet playing consecutive days. No one will be happy to have their stroll from the tent to the toilet impeded by a selection of huge monolithic monoliths. If you are a Druid the basic rule of thumb is; wearing a robe is ok, but leave the massive stones on the Salisbury plain.

3 A super yacht
You know it looks cool in hip hop videos, but at Sonisphere you will just look a bit of an idiot. It doesn’t matter how hard it rains in Knebworth, there will never be enough water in the campsite to float your yacht. It will just keep falling over and squashing people’s tents. This will make them very angry with you. No they won’t care that you stole the Mona Lisa with your yacht, they will still be very annoyed.

4 The Eiger
Assuming you manage to pluck the Eiger from its home in the Bernese Alps, AND you manage to get it into the campsite AND you don’t mind people pitching their tents on it, then it would probably be okay.
I would suggest you don’t take it to the main stage area for two reasons;
  1. You would be surprised what gets lost in the pit.
2.        2. The Eiger is 3970 meters tall so you might obstruct someone’s view.

5 The Dead Sea

At 31 miles long, 9 miles wide and 377 meters deep, The Dead Sea could be viewed as a slight inconvenience if you chose to decant it in the camping area. Yes you could float your super yacht in it, but to do so would be to miss the point of a festival. Festivals are a group thing. A festival is about many people, not just one person. If festivals were about one person then they would not be called festivals, they would be called “Onesies” or something similar. No, my best advice to you is to leave The Dead Sea where it is and just bring yourself, your friends, your tent and some toilet roll. Oh and don’t forget Wellington boots, because those British summers can be very unpredictable.

***All the rubbish you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***