Monday, May 16, 2005

Visiting the Huntley's

This afternoon Julie and I took a trip over to Chapel Hill to visit Tim, Jenny, Neil, and Evan. It was a glorious day outside and we got to play with the boys until dinner. As usual, Chef Tim cooked up an excellent vegetarian meal.

They have a nice ride and a chauffeur.

They just aren't happy with the paparazzi.

Neil is the one in the Cubs hat. Evan is the serious one.

Rocks and water in bowls. There is no better toy.

Trying to get the best end of a trade: the commodity is rocks from the driveway.

Julie and Jenny having a serious discussion, and the boys ignoring it all.

Tim, hanging out watching the boys.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Cherry Point Air Show

Julie (my wife) and I went to the Cherry Point Marine Core Air Station in Havelock, NC. Every two years they have a fairly large air show, bringing in the Blue Angels, numerous stunt planes, military planes, and some odd things like super-fast trucks. As always, it was some wonderful entertainment and well worth the price (free).

We went on Sunday. Both Saturday and Sunday had nice weather, but they had to cancel everything on Friday. From Thursday evening to Friday night, we had 6.5 inches of rain and 70+ mph winds. I am sure the marines would have done their part of the show, but the rest of the participants decided against.

Julie, hiding from the sun. The weather was bright and sunny all day. Very nice!

My favorite photo from the air show wasn't even an airplane. Click on this to see it larger. Notice the distortions from the heat. What an odd thing to do to a truck. I have always assumed that these things fit into the category of "because we can".

The Blue Angels are always impressive, even just sitting on the ground.

Plane sex?

Tight formation in a diamond.

A few planes appear confused.

Too close for comfort.

A close-up. You can clearly see the pilot, even though he was going by at 400 mph.

Everyone heading up to the skies.

Whew, a close call when your closing speed is 800 mph. It also gives you very little time to get the picture.

Two jets doing a low speed pass. They are tilted up, but using minimal jets, they moved forward slower than I thought a jet could go.

All six of them splitting up and heading separate ways.

The Blue Angels even demoed their support transport. It is a C30 cargo plane designed for very short take-off and landings. Here they are taking off with the help of a "use once" jet assist. You can see the flames near the tail.

An advertising biplane.

This plane could do almost anything, but my favorite was the steep climbs followed by a stall and then a drop from the sky. I think I would wet myself.

This was a trainer that was used extensively in the Korean war. It didn't have all the fancy engine modifications that real stunt planes have, so it was harder to do as many tricks.

A nicer view of the trainer.

From days gone by, a young lady got out of the plane and climbed up on the wing. As the pilot did tricks with the plane, she did different positions up top. Damn that must be cold.

Up on the wing, she flies around in what looks like some funky tuck.

She's hanging upside down. What a nut.

There was a guy flying a very tiny glider that could do some amazing tricks given that he had no power. He was doing loops and rolls that seemed impossible.

This is a better view of the glider. You can see it has a "cheat" on it. The engine is there just to help get it up to extremely high altitudes.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My trip to Road Atlanta

I signed up for a three-day racing class at Road Atlanta. The course is taught by Panoz. The class details are here. There were about 24 people in the class and 7 or 8 instructors. Everyone was wonderful, friendly and interesting.

I had a lot of concern about whether we would get to spend much time in the cars. No problems here. We got to run a lot, and other than some very reasonable safety preparations, there were few limits of what we could do. My skill provide enough limits though. It is quite the rush coming down a hill at 100+ mph and have to make a left hand turn at the bottom that looked like the corner of any city street. Road Atlanta has a lot of interesting curves and elevation changes.

We got an education on the basics: braking, turning, heel-toe driving, and controlling skids. They have a nice skid pad that feels way too much like driving a car on ice, but with an instructor yanking up on the emergency brake.

As you can see below, the cars were GT race cars, but running on street tires. They were tuned to understeer, apparently because that makes for a safer teaching tool. It felt very different from driving a normal street car, even a high performance one.

At the end of our second day, the instructors rode in the cars with us for a few laps. Then they drove, with us in the passenger seat. This really gave you a view of how fast and aggressive the course could be driven. That didn't bode well for our third day.

Everyone came out driving hard. One guy put his car into a concrete wall with a fair amount of speed. He was OK, but to get his car on the flatbed truck, they had to bring out a fork lift. I thought that would slow people down, but no chance. We had a number of people sliding off the course or spinning the cars. Several cars didn't brake correctly or enough and slid into what they call the "kitty litter": big fields of gravel that act like truck ramps to slow a car down very quickly. Go into it straight your ride comes to a noisy, but safe halt. Slide in sideways and your car is almost certain to flip and roll.

On to the pictures....

My hot ride for the open sessions. You kept the same car so that you had consistent runs from session to session.

After climbing in, you strapped tightly into a five-point harness. The roll bar and harness were nice, but you could see a LOT of places around the course where people had slammed into thick concrete walls. I decided a reasonable goal was to avoid testing the seatbelt.

A very stylish burled walnut dash, complete with toggle start, removable steering wheel, and fire extinguisher switch. I never could figure out where to insert the CDs.

Of course, all the cars looked the same.

One of the most helpful teaching techniques was a version of follow the leader. The instructors drove Audi's (faster around curves than any Audi you have ever been in). We had to follow along in groups of 3 or 4. It was a nice way to get a feel for the course.

Cruising down the straightaway.

On the second day, we did a methodical trip around the track. The intent was to learn the line, braking points, and such about every curve.

Two of our students chatting with an instructor.

A group of Panoz workers.

When you weren't driving, you waited and rested.

Our class: 23 men and one woman. Here is the one woman, Paige.

A car coming out of turn 12.

For all of two laps, we had an instructor in the car riding with us. While we thought it was helpful, it is apparently the part of the job they hate (fear) the most.

When we were doing open sessions, instructors were at the key curves watching us. At the end of the session, you got some great feedback on what to improve.

Getting feedback and chatting with other drivers

I tried numerous ways to capture a car in motion and give the feeling of speed. It is much harder than I thought to get the blur of the background but keep the sharp focus on a moving car. Here are a few of my better ones.

My car, number 15, heading through the S curves, up to turn 5.

Another attempt at capturing motion, this time on the straightaway between turns 12 and 1.

This car was coming into the pits. Notice all the ambulances and emergency vehicles right off the track. They were on standby any time we were driving. Scarey, but nice to know they would be at your wreck in a minute or two.

Driving up hill allows you to take turns faster. This car is coming up the hill between turns 1 and 2.

Heading into turn 3, the best line is to run across the rumble curbs on the inside of the curve. It bumps the wheels up and lets the back end take the turn faster. A bit awkward feeling at first. After a while you learn to trust it.

Coming out of turn 3. Notice all the tire marks from people who didn't do too well in turns 2 and 3.