Friday, March 29, 2013

(185) The yellow submarine and the black bee

Today, I finally have a moment to settle down and collect my thoughts. The last few weeks have been fraught with activity. Work has been busy. I'll update everyone on that first.

Working at Simraceway Performance Driving Center has been a dream. I've been keeping as busy as I can up there. I'm not working every day of the week yet, but the season is picking up and more and more people are registering for programs, so I will be even busier soon. Most of the days I'm working are open practice days where I act as the track marshal. Track marshal registers karts drivers and moto riders for the day, and keeps an eye on the track to make sure things are safe and running smoothly. If moto and karts are running on the same day, then it's the track marshal's job to divide the day into sessions because bikes and karts can't run on track at the same time for obvious reasons.

Despite the quantity of open practice days, I'm still getting involved with the instruction side. It's a bit rarer, as a junior, to get instructing days at this time of year because the class sizes are usually small enough that a lead instructor can handle teaching the school alone. Once the season picks up in the spring and summer, the class sizes will increase and the junior instructors will be called on more.

The new manager of the kart track, and my coach from my karting days, Jared Thompson, is making changes at the facility. Good changes, mind you. We have acquired a new fleet of karts, which we are calling Grand Prix karts. They are 270cc 4-stroke Stratos karts with about 9 horsepower. They have bumpers and a roll bar, so the are very safe for beginners, since the danger of interlocking wheels and flipping over is not as great as a regular "race kart" which does not have bumpers. Actually it is virtually impossible to flip, because of the bumpers and also because of the increased weight of the karts.

The Grand Prix karts will run on Wednesday nights for the most part. The opening night was successful, with a good amount of interest from both local karters and racers that were at the raceway for drag races and drifting. Unfortunately the second and third nights were canceled due to rain, but we'll be running the karts on  every Wednesday night we can, weather permitting.

In other instructing news, I just completed a two-weekend stint at Imagine Lifestyles, the supercar, aircraft, and yacht charter company that holds exotic autocross experiences at locations around the country. The past two weekends we held autocross experiences in San Francisco, at Candlestick Park. Business was strong and hundreds of people came out to drive and ride in the cars. The cars on offer were largely the same fleet as before - Lamborghini Gallardos and Ferrari F430s. One new, very yellow Lamborghini coupe was added to the fleet.

The new Lamborghini coupe.

I spent most of my instructing time in Lamborghinis, and I got to drive them quite a number of times. I got pretty good at wheeling them around the course. I really love the insane handling of the cars; they rocket off the corners with amazing ferocity due to the 560 horsepower V10 and all-wheel drive system. In first gear, it accelerates so hard it actually hurts. Even with all that traction, the traction control light blinks all the way through 2nd gear, even in a straight line. The cornering ability is not as sharp as a Ferrari, but the thing still grips like crazy and pulls some serious G force. I especially liked the added rigidity of the yellow coupe, and I loved the color and interior (below), but I couldn't help but sing Yellow Submarine to myself every time I got in the car.

The command center of the yellow submarine.

Doing the experience event again was a gas, as it was last year, and this time something extra special happened.

On Sunday, my parents came out to see what the event was like. My mom decided to see if she could get a ride with me. She could. This is what happened next.

Helmet cam footage of mom's ride.

I think she had a good time, don't you?

Moving on now to non-instructing news.

One reason why I have been so busy is because I've been looking for a way to burn the money I've been making. I decided that the best way to do that was to buy a car.

I looked everywhere. I found some very good cars. The ones I most liked were the Honda S2000, the BMW Z3 M Roadster, and the Mazda RX-8.

The Honda is a very good handling car, and it looks fantastic, especially in bright colors. I quite liked the yellow. But it was the most expensive of the 3 and most examples I found were out of my budget. I decided against the Honda because to get one in my budget I would have to get a very high mileage one that needed some work.

The BMW was less expensive, but also in some ways less of a performer. The Z3 chassis is notoriously weak, and is one of the easiest chassis to bend and break in the sportscar world. It would have required a sub frame reinforcement that would have been expensive. The engine is wonderful in the car, though. It also has a lot of personality. There is something about the smell of 1990s BMW leather that makes me nostalgic. It is a very fun car but it was also on the upper end of my budget.

The Mazda has 90% of the handling of the Honda, and similar amounts of quirk to the BMW. It also has a practicality edge on both the roadsters because it has back seats and a usable trunk. The trunks in the roadsters are all squashed because of the folding soft top. The RX-8 also has a unique rotary engine package that has wonderful characteristics; being high revving, smooth, and very light.

So I found a Mazda I liked and I bought it. It's a 2004 RX-8 Grand Touring. The only option it's missing is navigation. I paid $8,988 for it, not including all the extra charges they glob on. The car had bald tires, so rather than having the dealer slap on some eco-tires for $500, I had them fit my own and refund me the $500 they would have spent. I got some nice Michelins. Take a look at the car:

My new car!

It's absolutely infectious to drive. You have to try not to redline it at full throttle every time you set off again. It doesn't have too much power, so you still get to row gears (unlike, for instance, a Lamborghini that is doing 90 mph in 2nd gear with even more to give), and the close ratios make it a dream to shift up and down. I find myself heel-toe downshifting at most stops. Plus that rotary sound is really different and interesting.

Despite the lack of power it's still got enough to reward doing a full throttle run through the gears. I can't wait to get this guy on track. It's got a few little cosmetic issues, but nothing that can't be solved fairly easily. I'll be doing a full write up on the car after I get more time with it and really get to know it.

But for now, it's back to work. I'm leaving at 6:30 tomorrow morning to instruct a karting school.