Flashback Friday #7

 A Day at the Races

There is nothing quite like the smell of aircraft fuel, super-heated tire compounds, popcorn and hot dogs all mixed up into one giant aroma that can only mean one thing. It’s race day, and I am in heaven!

An up front confession – I was a racing whore.  As a young man I was fortunate enough to connect with a fledgling race team, backed by an awful lot of money, that eventually rose to become a significant player in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans-Am racing series.  And my involvement?  Eager to be around racing and race cars at almost any price, I volunteered a great deal of my time to the long, tedious hours of work that go into producing and maintaining championship race cars.  In exchange for my services, the owner of the racing team provided me with airfare, lodging and meals so that I could be a part of the pit crew as the team participated in the Trans-Am racing series around the country.  This was pretty heady stuff for a teenager, and I soon grew addicted to the sport of auto racing.  Eventually, like all good things, this came to an end as my life began to take other paths.

Later in life, while I was engaged as a computer/business consultant, I managed by chance to become involved in automobile racing once again.  This time my position with the race team was a more respectful one.  Now I was working in the capacity of an independent contractor, and actually received substantial pecuniary renumeration for my efforts.  The type of racing which I was involved with had changed as well.  Now I had a chance to rub elbows with the “big boys” of the American racing scene at the time, the Championship Auto Racing Team (CART) racing series.  For those unaware of the racing scene, CART was the sanctioning body for the Indianapolis 500 event, prior to the formation of the Indycar Racing League (IRL) by Tony George, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner.

My role with my client racing team was that of a database programmer.  At this time in racing, radio telemetry systems were all the rage.  Real-time monitoring in the pits of all vital automotive systems was being developed and advanced, and all of the major teams were involved in a race to see who could perfect their systems first. Telemetry systems proved to be an important factor in winning the races in the CART racing series.  The team I worked for, Arciero and Sons, wanted to extend the usefulness of the data that was being transmitted in real-time from the car to the technicians in the pits.  And that is where I came into the picture.  My role was fairly simple; capture the data stream as it was received in the pits, creating a database of the various data parameters.  The database could then be used in various ways after the race had ended.  The biggest benefit from this new addition to telemetry systems was in the postmortem failure analysis that occurred when things went wrong on the track.  The team engineers could sift through the recorded data, performing various analytical techniques to try to isolate probable causes of the race cars’ failure.

Fine tuning engine control modules

The photo above shows two automotive engineers at work on the race car prior to the start of the Long Beach Grand Prix in Southern California.  What they are doing here is checking, double-checking, and then triple-checking the telemetry sensors and transmitters vital to this new system (winning teams have a peculiar quirk, they like to triple-check everything).

Checking the transmitter for signal strength

As the engineers verify the proper functioning of the various automotive systems, they put the car back together in preparation for the race.

All details must be checked prior to the race

Here, a rival competitor’s crew member checks the air pressure in the tires that will be used at the first pit stop.  Usually each team will assign one crew member with the responsibility of checking tire pressures every 15 minutes or so, to adjust for pressure changes resulting from changes in air temperature.  It is an exacting process, and no detail goes unchecked (by winning teams, that is).

 Excitement builds before the start of the race

The excitement and tension begins to build amongst the folks involved in the racing effort.  A lot of time, effort, and money have been allocated to the racing endeavor, and all are hopeful for the best results, but each racer knows that only one car will cross the finish line first.

Huge crowds attend the race

When the race finally gets underway, thousands upon thousands of race fans gather and cheer along the teams that they favor.  And once again, I get to savor the pungent, almost sickening-sweet aroma of aircraft fuel, super-heated tire compounds, popcorn and hot dogs.  And I love every moment of it!

Flashback Friday #6

 Mount Gould Sojourn

Mofo Five

Would you be brave (or foolish) enough to take a journey with this motley crew?  If so, than follow us on our journey to the top of Mount Gould, which occurred over thirty years ago.  The humble author of this blog is the character on the extreme left, in his more *vibrant* days.  Actually, these fellows turned out in later life to be a veterinarian, a physician, a respected music producer, an architect, and some fellow that I heard was last seen furiously writing blog posts somewhere in the Ozarks ;)

Mount Gould is a moderately high (13005′ elevation) peak in the John Muir Wilderness area of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  It lies within the bounds of Kings Canyon National Park in California.  The route to the top of Mount Gould takes you from the trail head area in Onion Valley on the eastern flank of the Sierras, through beautiful mountain scenery on your way along the Kearsarge Pinnacles, and ultimately to the craggy peak called Mount Gould.  Here is a photo of our group gathered around the campfire in Onion Valley as we acclimate to the elevation change and prepare for our climb to come.

Keeping the mosquitos at bay

If you thought that we were huddled by the fire for warmth, you would be wrong.  It turned out that the mosquitoes were extremely pesky that evening, and the only comfort was to cover up from head to toe and stay close to the smokey, sooty fire for protection.  The next day we hiked along the rugged Kearsarge Pinnacles area on our way to the base of the ridge leading up to Mount Gould. 

Setting off for the base camp

As we gained elevation and ventured further into the High Sierras, we began to encounter snow on the ground and in the trees.  Finding a spot to set up camp was pretty easy – you certainly didn’t need to worry about where to pitch your tent, as the entire surrounding landscape was blanketed by a soft carpet of snow.  As long as you stay out of any avalanche pathway you are safe and secure.  It is off to bed early in the evening, as we have a strenuous hike awaiting us in the morning.

Base camp

When we arise early the next morning, we assess the first leg of the hike.

First leg up the mountain

We will begin our ascent by following the ridge you see in the photo above.  We plan to switchback across the snow-covered slope before us, ending up on the crest of the ridge at the far left in the photo above.  From there the plan is to follow the ridge line as much as possible on our way up to Mount Gould.

Making our way up the slopes

Here you can see what is involved in this trek.  The climbing is not technical at all, just a slow but steady plodding up the snow covered slope toward the first goal we had set, which was the ridge line above us.  Eventually, we arrived at the top of the ridge, and were greeted by the following sight –  

Mount Gould behind Kearsarge Pinnacles

In this photo you can see Mount Gould, just to the right of center.  We are still quite a distance away from our goal, and we have lots of snow and rock to traverse before we arrive at our intended destination.  It is a test of fortitude and desire more than skill or daring to climb this sort of peak in the winter, but if you plan properly, and stick to your plans, than you will eventually reach the top, as we did here –

Conquering the peak

That is your humble (and tired) author you see at the top of Mount Gould.  And how did he obtain this picture?  By sending fellow mountaineer Chris up an adjacent rock to snap some photos, as seen here (hiding behind a nasty fingerprint) –

Chris on a rock (not Chris Rock)

So now we have been successful in our attempt to scale Mount Gould, but the REAL fun is just about to begin.  It has taken us well over 6 hours to make our ascent of Mount Gould, and now we plan to make it back to base camp in less than 1 hour.  And just how do we intend to do this?  By using a technique called the “Glissade”.  The first step in a glissade descent is to don your trusty nylon rain suit.  This will act as a slick surface for your body, which you are soon to propel down the snow-covered slopes as fast as you can, using only your ice axe as a rudder and your ice axe as your brakes (via a technique called an ice-axe arrest).

Glissade chute

In this photo you can see the chute that we chose to glissade down the mountain crest.  On the way up, this section might have taken 1-2 hours to climb.  On the way down, thanks to the glissade technique, it took just a few fun and wild minutes.  From this point we can turn around, and now looking down the mountain again, this is what we saw.

Final glissade down to base camp

All that remained between us and our base camp was this long, steep, snowy section of mountain that was just ideal for a joyous glissade.  We made it back to base camp, tired, a little wet, and very happy campers.  After a good nights sleep, we hiked back down to Onion Valley where we encountered –

All good things come to an end


The First Sport Utility Vehicles

This post could be considered an update to the previous Flashback Friday post.  Over at Pure Florida there is a surfer guy who expressed an interest in the woody shown in the background of a couple of the pictures I had posted.  Had I known, I would have featured a good photo of the vehicle, so Florida Cracker, this is for you.

1946 Ford Super Deluxe Woody Station Wagon

This is a 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Woody Station Wagon.  To be more accurate, it is a highly modified 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Woody Station Wagon, unlike what you would have purchased from your local Ford dealer back in 1946. This was one of the finest regularly driven customized woodies I have ever seen.

Prior to the mid 1930’s, wood was a more economical material to use in the fabrication of automobiles than steel.  Many vehicles utilized wood in the chassis framework as a structural component, upon which steel body assemblies would be built.  Eventually, a small number of automobiles began to shed portions of the steel body in favor of all wood exposed body panels.  Besides the material cost considerations, there was another dynamic at work.  Prior to common adaptation of the automobile as our standard mode of transportation, this country traveled by horse-drawn carriage.  As the automobile gained in affordability and popularity, there were many craftsmen skilled in the methods of woodworking used to manufacture the carriages that lost their livelihood.  By transferring their skills to the automobile industry, many regained employment building the wooden body parts for this new breed of vehicle which we now call a woody.

The original derivation of the term station wagon has interesting roots.  Prior to World War 2, there was no such thing as common commercial air travel.  Substantially all long distance travel in America was done by train.  Passengers needed transportation from hotels and private residences to the local train station to embark on their journeys.  Cabbies, or hacks, began to alter regular automobiles by rebuilding and extending the rear trunk sections to hold the large amounts of baggage that was being hauled to the train station.  This is where the term “station wagon” comes from.  They were also referred to as “depot hacks”, but this term did not stick, so we are left with today’s usage of station wagon.

1946 Ford Super Deluxe Woody

There is much nostalgia regarding the woody as THE wheels for surfers in America.  Contrary to common recollection, the woody was originally chosen by surfers for two simple reasons.  First, they were cheap in the late fifties and early sixties.  While some authentic wood paneled vehicles were produced after WWII (including this 1946 Ford), it was increasingly more economical to produce vehicles entirely from steel.  Since domestic automobile production came to a virtual standstill during the war years, it can be inferred that most woodies were produced prior to 1941.  Therefore, by the late fifties and early sixties, most of the wooden autos still in existence were at least 20 years old.  If you have ever seen an unmaintained woody, you will understand that in 1960, prior to their nostalgia induced popularity, a woody could be purchased for a paltry sum of money.

The second reason that the woody became popular amongst surfers was the space available in the rear to transport their surfboards.  For those familiar with the surf culture, you will know that surfing is a nomadic sport, in the sense that gung-ho surfers are always venturing to different spots seeking the “perfect wave”.  It is not uncommon for a surfer to start his surfing day at one location, and through the course of the day, travel up and down the coast searching for the most challenging wave sets to tackle (and the prettiest surfer girls to flirt with).  The large space in the rear of the woody station wagon was perfectly suited to the task of hauling surfboards.  The flip up tailgates associated with the woodies allow the surfer to quickly throw many boards in the back of the vehicle and travel to the next venue.  It is interesting to note that the second most popular surfer vehicle of the past was the Volkswagen bus, for just the same reasons; they were inexpensive and they could hold many surfboards easily.

1946 Ford Super Deluxe Woody

It is just a guess, but from my observations along the California coastline during the course of many years, it would seem that very few woodies are still being used by surfers.  The nostalgic popularity of these vehicles has probably made the cost of a classic woody prohibitive to most surfers today.