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.***