Saturday, March 27, 2010

(104) Hoonage

There are a lot of things people do in society that, to an outsider, appear quite silly, but in our little world have some form of significance to the masses. Smoking, for instance, does absolutely nothing for us and is probably the very definition of self abuse, but it's still socially acceptable - I've never seen anyone do anything about that to someone smoking a cigarette. No one dares to grab the cigarette and put it out, giving the smoker a good dressing down, even if it is for his or her own good.

In another vein, it is also popular to take a stance against a subject, say, smoking, only to admit that the anti-smoking individual actually knows nothing about smoking and has never smoked in his entire life. Sort of like what I did in the last paragraph - I have no data or experience to back up my stance. This is a common theme in almost all cases of extremism. One might say it's almost an angelic complex. "I abhor that, why would I know anything about it?"

A similar idiosyncrasy is occurring in modern car culture. Hoonage.

Now, this is a little different than your garden variety cruising, the stuff the kids in backwards caps do. That is irresponsible people doing irresponsible things.

Hoonage is responsible, capable people diminishing themselves quite a bit by doing irresponsible things. Hoonage is also backed by many motoring journalism websites, magazines and web shows. I've even seen a video by a reputable car site suggesting that everyone partake in hooning.

Example of hooning. Yesterday in Melbourne, Australia, Lewis Hamilton had his car (a Mercedes AMG C63) impounded by the Australian law enforcement. His crime? A 440 lb/ft burnout and a public display of drifting.

Now, obviously, I didn't see what happened, so I have no idea if it was safe or not. I do know that many of the responses on the internet were bravos. "Good on him for using the car as intended" was the general theme.

Still, it's an example of the strangeness of our western culture. If this was a kid in baggy jeans and a backwards cap driving a Nissan, I guarantee you the responses would be the opposite.

So what makes it acceptable in people's eyes for a journalist, or a racing driver, or even just a celebrity to drive over the edge on public roads, but if a teenager does it it's worse than Hitler? That's the first time Godwin's law has appeared in this blog, I'm pretty sure.

I enjoy a nice drive as much as anyone. A bit of acceleration and a bit of cornering with a bit of body lean is perfectly responsible. You can drive briskly and enjoy a good road without being dangerous, and the more capable car you have for this, the better, because it allows you the most latitude with regard to avoidance and emergency stoppage. My beef is with tail out and on/over the limit driving on the street. Capable car or no, safe area or no, this is incredibly stupid.

Fact is, times are very, very different now. There are more cars, the cars are faster (and heavier), they have more grip, and they're sharper to drive.

Years and years ago it used to be that, on a rather curvy road, 35 MPH was just about as quick as you could go without flying off. In a modern sports car with summer rubber, 35 MPH would barely challenge it at all.

You might say that you autocross every weekend. You might say you're SCCA licensed, nationally. You might say you've had tens of thousands of dollars of professional coaching by some the country's best drivers. You might say you're a Formula One world champion.

Joe Bob, coming the other way in his 20 years old Ranger laden with drywalling supplies, ain't.

Joe Bob's never seen an oncoming car at 45 degrees splitting the double yellows. Who knows what he's going to do? He'll target fixate and hit you, most likely.

So even if you can handle 70 degrees sideways at 75 MPH, realize that most other drivers have never seen anything like this in their entire lives. Driving is a very commune experience. And if we've learned anything from socialism/communism, it's that everyone lives by the rule of the lowest common denominator. Most drivers don't even know what countersteer is.

The lowest common denominator is many planes of existence higher on a track or autocross. Go there. 200 bucks will get you a full day on any track in the country, and probably about 2 hours of track time. If drifting is what you want, and track days are too stingy about it, there are drift days popping up here and there for similar prices. The track is where the real car culture is. That's where the real fun is.

So in the end, I suppose I was wrong about hoonage. Hoonage is not responsible people doing irresponsible things. It's irresponsible people doing irresponsible things after all. It's also blindness.

Don't hoon. You'll go blind.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

(103) Buttonwillow is a tree, believe it or not

Last Sunday I went down to Buttonwillow Raceway, partly because I was bored out of my mind (racing wise) and mostly because my coach, Jeff Sakowicz, was running his Formula Ford 1600 down there in preparation for the SCCA American Heart Association double national event in April, which is going to be a big deal.

Jeff's Formula Ford 1600.

My coach got pole for the race, which isn't surprising considering there was only one other entry for the FF class.

He had a bad start and lost his lead into the first corner, but stayed close on the opposition's tail for a few laps until they made a mistake, which Jeff capitalized on immediately, seizing the lead.

Coach Jeff takes and keeps the lead.

Jeff continued expanding his lead until it reached galactic proportions, and won the race without further incident (and nearly lapping the rest of the field).

Jeff sets off on his victory lap.

Buttonwillow is a great facility - by racers, for racers. I would say it's probably one of the better places I could go to learn how to race a full size car, seeing as there's basically nothing to hit. But the drive is a killer, about 3 and a half hours one-way on a good day.

Still, I had fun, scratched the racing itch just a little bit and met some cool people (including Jeff's family).

Formula One and IndyCar also kicked off last weekend, and I've watched the former but not the latter.

I'm not too terribly hyped about Micheal Schumacher. I think his decision to come back is asking for it to blow up in his face. In my opinion, he hasn't got a hope of winning the title, and I think it also extremely unlikely that he'll get into the top 3 in the driver's championship. I think he will score podiums, possibly a win, but I also think he will be outpaced on average by Nico Rosberg, his teammate.

Maybe the first race was an exception rather than the rule this year, but it was the first F1 race in a while that I've fallen asleep in front of. Speed TV also felt it necessary to cut and skip later portions of the race. It wasn't terribly exciting for some reason, which is odd, because the ingredients were all there.

Maybe Bahrain is just too hot of an oven and it burned to a crisp when we weren't looking.