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The Great Pumpkin

October 6th, 2009 Comments off

They say the two best days in a guy’s life are when he buys a race car, and when he sells that race car.  (They also say the same thing about boats.  And spouses.  …But this is about cars.)

Great Pumpkin

The Great Pumpkin

I bought the Great Pumpkin – a 1978 Porsche 911SC – about 6 and a half years ago, from its former owner whose life had brought him to the point that he no longer needed a race car.  (Who needs a race car? you might ask.  Well, doesn’t everybody?)  I bought it to replace my ’89 Porsche Carrera, which I totaled at Virginia International Raceway in 2002.  I also bought it to go Porsche Club Racing, which I did fairly successfully for a few years before life dictated that I, too, should pass the Great Pumpkin on to someone else.

Every little boy dreams of owning a Porsche.  …Or at least a fast car.  As a kid in the ’70s and ’80s I had Porsche posters on my bedroom walls, and decided in the late 1990s that I might actually be able to buy one.  The iconic design of the Porsche 911 has endured for nearly 45 years now.  It remained virtually unchanged for its first 25 years, but even the latest iteration is instantly recognizable as directly linked to the original from 1965.  No other car in the world can claim such direct lineage.  And no other car is equally at home on the race track as it is on the street.  (Well, OK, there might be a few others…)

Yesterday, I sold the Great Pumpkin, to a guy in New York who plans to race it in the SCCA.  (Coincidentally, when I met him, we realized we could be long lost brothers – a fact that was pointed out by one random passer-by who noted our similarly disappearing hairlines.)  I hope he enjoys it as much as I have.

They say the best two days in a guys life are when he buys a race car, and when he sells that race car.  But that’s crap.  The day he sells the race car is much worse.

Categories: General, Racing Tags: , ,

Flaming Fall Foliage

September 29th, 2009 Comments off

Although the first day of autumn was about a week ago, it still feels like summer where I live.  Until this morning.  When I opened the door and the crisp air rushed in to greet me, I got the sense that fall is indeed here.  And it reminded me of a piece of literature by Chris Welty, Hudson-Valley Region PCA member and former Vassar professor, who wrote a series of newsletter columns in the 1990’s simply titled Porsching.  (It was his 15-part story When You Wish Upon a Star that was part of the inspiration behind my deciding that I, too, would one day buy a Porsche.)

So, in honor of autumn, read this, then go for a drive.

Flaming Fall Foliage - Chris Welty, Hudson-Valley Region PCA

Perhaps I hadn't been paying attention.  Perhaps I was unaware that
the sun had been trying all day to break through the protective layer
of clouds.  I barely noticed the patches of blue sky in front of me,
but other than this, there was no warning.

Fire.  Bright blasts of searing heat detonated in waves of color,
blistering the paint on my blood-orange 911.  Poking through holes in
the scattered cloud cover, sunlight exploded on the trees in blinding
bursts of light - summer's verdant flame had been replaced by the
intense inferno of fall.

The air hissed loudly in protest, but like a fiery arrow I flew down
the blazing highway, creating brief swirling maelstorms of red,
yellow, and orange in my wake.  There was no stopping in this
firestorm, the ardent forest blasted my eyes until I could barely see
the road, and my ears were continuously assaulted by the deafening
roar.

The heat was unbearable, surely neither I nor my car could withstand
it much longer.  The entire forest was ablaze, the flames blowing over
the road with the currents of rapidly rising air.  It was too late to
turn back, my only choice lay ahead in the hope that a break in the
inferno, a brief respite from the ceaseless burning, might offer
relief.

The turbulence of my passage evoked incindiary retaliation from the
forest, and my wake was marked by a pair of blazing corkscrews which
twisted behind me into the heart of the furnace.  I was hypnotised by
the sight, though at this speed my attention had to be focused in
front of me.  Just before I tore my gaze from the scene to the rear, I
noticed a sheer wall of flame, which was rapidly approaching and would
soon overtake and envelop my vehicle.

Survival now became a question of speed, and my surroundings blurred
into a swirling mass of blinding color.  Car control was a matter of
instinct, as temperature became my all consuming concern.  The paint,
coaxed on by the intense heat around it, began to erupt in small
flashes as it bubbled off the surface, revealing the bare metal
beneath.  My own skin was not far behind, I felt as if I would ignite
at any moment.  Sweat poured from every pore, interfering with my
vision and making my hands slip on the steering wheel.  My breathing
got shorter, unable to compete for oxygen with the all-consuming fire.

Suddenly, I felt a breath of relief, as I burst forth from the forest
in a shower of flames.  I cranked the wheel hard and slammed on the
brakes, bringing the car around to face from whence I had come.  After
a moment for my vision to return, I noticed that the clouds had once
again succeeded in cutting the supply of sunlight, and without this to
fuel it, the forest had returned to a cooler, more timid display of
color.

"Oh," said my wife, just waking up. "The leaves are changing."

I shook my head.  She had no idea...

fall foliage

Categories: General Tags:

Perspective

September 2nd, 2009 Comments off

I’m a car guy, and an environmentalist.  I made that clear in my inaugural post.  I’m proof that these two perspectives aren’t mutually exclusive.

In The Road Ahead column in the October issue of Road & Track, editor-in-chief Matt DeLorenzo likens the freedom and spirit of the American cowboy to the mobility now afforded us by modern cars.  (It’s a reasonable analogy, given that the feature article is about the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger – 3 American “pony” cars that have recently been resurrected.)  He also makes the very correct point that “the automobile has a social cost – clean air, use of resources, accidents … [that] must be weighed against the benefits – mobility, freedom and independence.”  (OK, “freedom and independence” may be a bit of a stretch, but you get the point…)

Unfortunately, DeLorenzo goes further, and says “there are those who can’t abide these freedoms … [and] would rather see the American cowboy unhorsed.”  He suspects that the push for cleaning up the environment and improving fuel economy is “cover for a larger agenda” to force people to stop using automobiles.  He views this point of view as largely coming from “sophisticates (usually from big cities or across the ocean)” who view our constitutional rights as “merely incidental.”  He effectively equates reducing the environmental impact of our transportation to the demise of one of the great patriotic symbols of America.  (We won’t get into what the great American cowboy did to the Native Americans here…)

…Really?  Does DeLorenzo really belive that there are folks that want to prevent other folks from driving simply because of a desire to suppress others’ rights?  (OK, I’m sure there are one or two such people out there, but they probably also believe that the Apollo moon landings were faked.)  While the “sophisticates” who live in large metropolitan areas might be more likely to place high importance upon improving fuel economy and finding other modes of transport, it’s because the social cost (as DeLorenzo correctly described it) of millions of inefficient automobiles is much higher for them than it is for Johnny Tumbleweed piloting his Mustang across Wyoming – at least insofar as the noise, congestion, and pollution that result.  (Greenhouse gases, on the other hand, will affect Mr. Tumbleweed just as much as they will Winston Urbandweller.)

It’s valid to argue what the real social cost of our automobile use is.  But to suggest that it’s all a ploy to get people to stop driving, while hinting that the effort destroys a piece of American heritage, is ridiculous.  I’m offended – as a car-guy, and as an environmentalist.

cowboy

The Art of Racing in the Rain

July 13th, 2009 Comments off

My dog died today.

I’m not a reader.  I mean, I read non-fiction books and magazines (about cars, mostly).  But, I only sit down to read a novel about once a decade.  That “once” came last summer, when I read Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain.  I bought this book because it was recommended in Road & Track, and when a car magazine recommends a novel, you’ve got to figure it’s not just another book.

Stein - Art of RacingThe Art of Racing in the Rain is a book about balance, anticipation, and patience.  It is told from the point of view of Enzo (whose namesake, Enzo Ferrari, founded the maker of those prancing-horse-emblazoned Italian automobiles in 1947).  Enzo is a dog who’s at the end of his life, and in the book he reflects upon all of the events that have occured during his time with Denny, his owner and an aspiring race car driver, and Denny’s wife Eve and daughter Zoë.  Now, I really have no frame of reference with which to compare it, but this is an incredible book.  If you love dogs and/or racing, you must read it.  …My wife has long said I am unemotional.  That may be true, except when it comes to dogs and cars.  And The Art of Racing in the Rain nails it on both accounts.

In racing, rain is the great equilizer.  It makes the track unpredictable, and increases the chances of the unexpected.  (I’ve had three on-track wrecks, two of which were in the rain.)  I found out my dog (coincidentally, named Zoe) had cancer a little over 5 weeks ago, when I took her to the vet to fix a broken tooth.  Her symptoms had just started, but at that point the mass was too large to do much about.  Talk about the unexpected…  Her health declined rapidly over the past month.

I read The Art of Racing in the Rain last summer just after driving from North Carolina to Colorado, by way of Utah.  Zoe was my companion for the trip.  I was thankful to have her with me, as she was a good listener, and she forced me to pause for rest-stop picnics and to stretch our legs every now and then.  I missed her tremendously when I had to leave her in Utah while I was in Colorado for 11 weeks.  …I’m going to miss her a lot more now.

Zoe, October 17, 1999 - July 13, 2009

Zoe, October 17, 1999 - July 13, 2009

Inaugural

June 26th, 2009 Comments off

My name is David, and I’m a car guy.  I love fast cars.  I love beautiful cars.  I love practical cars.  I love internal combustion engines, the smell of gasoline, and the taste of oil.  I race Porsches.  …I’m a car guy.

I also have a Master’s degree in environmental management.  I believe in science – that the earth is round, that gravity keeps us attached to it, and that our fossil-fuel-based energy system is gradually heating it up.  Yes, cars, it seems, are like chocolate and beer:  so good, yet so bad for us.

I have a lot of thoughts about cars – how we use them, how we fuel them, and what lies ahead.  The current state of the auto industry makes it an appropriate time to be thinking about cars.  I intend to capture some of these thoughts here.  Perhaps somebody will read these thoughts, and think about cars, too.

Categories: Administrative, General Tags: