May 2007

Well, actually a cancer, but it’s the same principle. And the cancer is now sliced into 10 micron slices and arrayed like purple Proscuitto on slides in my doctors office. Now I can’t hear you because my ear is full of at least ten pounds of gauze.

Before anyone freaks, it’s just Basal Cell, about the least scary of the whacky things our cells do when they get bored and decide to try uncontrolled growth as a hobby. The most unpleasant thing about it is the hole the size of a jumbo martini olive in what used to be a very shapely ear. There’s very nice skin graft on it, but if it starts growing hair I’m going to have a tough time mowing it. The doc says that won’t happen, but he seems to have a puckish sense of humor.

This all started when I got back from Maui and started getting serious about having my racing physical. When you become a geezer like me you have to have one every year. While I was at it I decided to see a dermatologist (okay, Diane flogged me into it) and have him look at my vast collection of moles. I’ve been having a spot in the bowl of my ear that bleeds a little, then heals, then bleeds. The dermatologist did a punch biopsy of the site and said it might be nothing, or it might be Basal Cell Carcinoma, but not to freak–the cure rate for Basal Cell is super high.

Incidentally, if you have one of those little spots that bleed, or some white, flaky crusty spots on your nose, chest or back, or a pearly-looking pimple that never goes away, don’t regard it with suspicion for a year like I did. The hole they have to gouge will be smaller if you go see someone right away.

So after I flew home a few days ago for my nephew’s graduation I received the biopsy results. Bingo, Basal Cell. If you’re going to get skin cancer it’s the one to get. The surgeon found me a spot on his calendar for a consultation today, but when he looked at it, found out I had been ignoring it for a year and found out I was headed off to go racing for four months he decided to do the surgery right then. I didn’t even get up off the exam table.

He didn’t want to wait until October when I got back. Good thing–it turned out to be wandering toward the ear canal. That would have been messy.

Had to remove quite a bit more than expected, I probably had it for some time. He grafted in some skin from my neck right behind the ear, so all the pain is in one general area of my head. Not bad, just irritating. I’m supposed to spend the next few days being a couch potato, so I can’t finish cleaning my shop like I planned. I’m about a third done. Place looks like someone ransacked it. Nice to have a medical reason to screw off. I swear Diane thinks I slipped the Doc fifty bucks. That’s just simply wrong, and an insult to the medical ethics of Doctor Pokorny. It was a hundred.

Pretty interesting surgery–he took a circle out about the diameter of a good cigar, right in the cup of my ear. Since he had to excise to bare cartilage and there’s no blood supply in the cartilage to feed the graft, he removed the cartilage under the excision. I should get something cool stuck in there, like maybe a pencil holder or a flashlight. Could be very handy.

The surgical method is called Mohs–they section and microscopically inspect the tissue they remove to ensure they have it all. He had to extend the margin twice. Then after he had the graft in place he was showing Diane the slides and said “whoa, what’s that?” He spotted a tendril of growth that had escaped him. Back in he went, and cut out another little moon-shaped section, and pronounced it perfect. Had to harvest another chunk of skin to patch the new spot so now I have two graft areas.

This surgery has about a 99 percent cure rate. If he hadn’t been showing off the slides to Diane I might have been one of the one percent-ers. It’s very worthwhile to have a really cute wife.

We’ll check in with the doc on Sunday morning (what a cool guy!), and if everything looks fine, we hop in Diane’s Bentley and head for VIR. I’m racing at the Gold Cup there June 8-10, then it’s off to Watkins Glen. Hope to see you sometime on the tour. But if I don’t respond when you talk to me, I’m not ignoring you, it’s probably just a banana.

Where was I-ah yes, right behind Dave Jahamiak on a set of Hoosier DOT Radials. Turned out they were slowing me down in the straights. I was only getting to 6400 RPM at the end of the straight instead of 6800 as I was earlier. Jahamiac was able to pull away from me as we climbed the hill of the front straight even though I had higher exit speed on the last corner than he did. The bottom line was I was getting better cornering ability but the increased friction of the tires, and perhaps their underinflation, was slowing me where it really counts at Road America–in the long straights. I felt kind of stupid about shooting myself in the foot like that. I finished third–behind the two Morgans and Jahamiak. I consider that second since the Morgans don’t count any more than an F1 car would if it were stuck in this group, but they were fun to see on the track. (more…)

Race tracks are unique places. Tense places. Where to paddock, where’s tech, register now or later. Am I driving down a dead end that I’ll have to back this frickin’ fifty five feet of truck and trailer out of?. Road America was all that in spades, especially since it’s really big. The track is huge–over four miles long, with facilities and grounds that dwarf most tracks I’ve been to, all maintained like a private golf course. As I was pulling into the paddock area dotted with hundreds of big semi-truck rigs and trailers milling at random I spotted a familiar face–Bill Hart on Tony’s Hodaka pit bike. Billy led me to the grassy area Tony had pittied in and I joined them with Nero. I got the trailer set up, extracted Peyote from its tight fit in the back, and went searching for registration.

After an interminable tech inspection I got out onto the track for a practice run. Wow. (more…)

I had the best intentions to post every day, but I’m way behind. I blame the frantic drives between tracks, a slow internet connection and too much fun to be had at Elkhart Lake. So I’ll use this post to catch you up on what happened.

The drive to Road America was long but interesting. Great scenery, what a beautiful country this is. I was astounded at the amount of traffic you encounter in nearly every town and city. People complain about the price of gas, but I don’t see any obvious evidence of anyone driving less. It’s also obvious that America continues to be “malled to death”. Everywhere you look there’s yet another franchised fast food joint going up. And there are not a lot of skinny people or healthy food available east of the Cascade mountains.

I listened to a lot of music, but I lost my notes. Then I started to listen to some books on CD. I listened to a David Baldacci novel called “Last Man Standing”, bad choice, contrived and juvenile.

My plan was to stop at Jack Drews house in Geneseo, Illinois to unload a couple of motors for him to build. Amazing little town, like some perfect slice of the midwest preserved by people who appreciate it. Sparkling clean, mature maple trees everywhere with fat squirrels running around. I made my way to Jack Drews house and had a nice conversation with him while we enjoyed a cigar. Had dinner at nice local restaurant for his visitors from England–Keith Files and John Wood, delightful guys. Joe Alexander showed up a little later. Very enjoyable, and good food, but for a guy who is used to eating healthy Northwest style, dishes like cheese sauce puddled on fried hashbrowns made my chest hurt (no, Diane I didn’t eat any, just looking at it made my arteries ache). I don’t know how these folks stay so healthy.

I spent the night in Nero parked in front of Jack’s house, and I got off to a fairly early start with Michael Connolly’s book “Chasing the Dime” on the CD player. It turned out to have a pretty shaky ending and there were several plot elements that were obviously being set up for later use. But at least he can write.

I got throughly lost, wound up stopping at a Best Buy to get a GPS Navigation system. I think it’s going to be worthwhile. I made it to the track after traveling an extra fifty miles and set up Nero near Tony Garmey’s trailer with Bill Hart and John James as Tony’s trackside support customers for the weekend.

I packed up and headed out. Really hard to leave Diane behind, but I’ll be with her in ten days. You’d think after more than fifteen years of being together that we’d be fine apart, but we seem to get more inseparable every year.

I made it to a Wal-Mart parking lot in Spokane and spent the night. Pretty cool of Wal-mart to allow that. I’ve never gone through Snoqualmie Pass before–beautiful.

I got an early start with some Billy Joel to get the blood flowing. “We didn’t start the fire” just as the sun came up. Went through Coeur d’elene (sp?), what a pretty area. I’ll have to make it here some time when I can spend time. I got as far as Sheridan, Wyoming and stopped in a campgrounds.

Sunday in the first race I started mid-pack and worked my way up to second. Cameron was well ahead again with no possibility of catching him once I worked my way up. I got some video of the race–I’ll edit and post it later.

For the second race SOVREN did a standing start. Cameron started back in the field a bit with Denny, while I was on the first row in second position. I got a decent start but Cameron, Jack and Denny out-powered me down the straight so I was in fourth going into turn two. I got under Jack in the Victress right away and was right on Denny’s tail. We completed a few laps and Denny pulled off with problems leaving Cameron and I to play.

We had a classic Peyote-Pooper duel, with Peyote’s bigger tires giving me an advantage in turn two and nine, while Cameron had the advantage in most of the other turns and the straight. I finally got past him in turn two and managed to pull out a slight lead.

We swapped the lead back and fourth numerous times. Cameron had a partial spin in turn 3a that gave me a good lead. I pressed hard but got held up in a pack of Formula Vs. I could see Cameron tearing up behind me, really coming on fast. I came up on Billy Hart in the Fantuzzi Ferrari and he REALLY didn’t want me to lap him, so Cameron caught up while I struggled to get past Bill. Cameron passed me going down the straight and banzaied through turn two where I expected to get past. He held the lead all the way to the checker.

Great fun, great racing, great guys. I’d rather finish second with a great battle than first all by myself.

I packed up and headed out. Really hard to leave Diane behind, but I’ll be with her in ten days. You’d think after more than fifteen years of being together that we’d be fine apart, but we seem to get more inseparable every year.

I made it to a Wal-Mart parking lot in Spokane and spent the night. Pretty cool of Wal-mart to allow that.

Race day. Last night we took my daughter Elizabeth, her husband Joe and their two boys Ian and Owen to dinner at Augeri’s in Auburn. A decent little Italian joint. Little kids are a handful in a restaurant, but they’re fun. Ian is dark and puckish–looks like both his Mom and Dad. Owen is blonde, blue eyed, and looks like no one in either family. Somehow a little surfer dude snuck into the gene pool.

Joe and Eva Gordon were showing movies when we got back, even though the dragsters running at the track were drowning out the sound. Gumball Rally with subtitles. You really don’t need dialog with a movie like that. Diane and I went to bed about halfway through and conked out immediately even with dragsters doing passes a few hundred feet away.

Saturday I took Peyote out for practice and it was running beautifully. I raised the tire pressure a pound on all corners to 18 psi cold. Did qualifying before lunch and wound up fifth with a 141.something. Not great, I’ve done 1.39s here on Vintage TD tires and I’m running Speedsters this year, but satisfactory for the first time on a track this year. Denny Hatch put his Pooper (Porsche-powered Cooper) on the pole, with Cameron Healy in his Pooper in second, then Jack Goffrette in the Victress and Kurt Delbene in his Lola.

I was hoping for one of the typical Peyote-Pooper battles but I knew I’d have some challenges getting by Jack and the Victress. That Corvette motor makes it tough to stick with in the the straights, and he tosses that heavy car into the turns better than anyone would expect. Worse yet, Tony Garmey is driving Art Redmond’s ’57 Corvette this year, and I knew he’d come blasting past at some point. It was shaping up to be an interesting race.

Sure enough, Tony toasted me at the start and so did Steve Clarke in his Lola, so I was in seventh. I got by Steve pretty quickly but Tony is always tough no matter what he’s driving. I pushed him hard in every tight corner, trying to help him warm up his drum brakes. He finally started overheating and pointed me by on the long downhill run to turn 3a. As I passed him I saw a little daylight around the Victress as well so I tried to duck under Jack. I didn’t work, so I was stuck behind him for a couple of laps. I finally got under him in the long sweeper (2) and pulled out enough lead so he couldn’t quite catch me in the chute to turn 3, and then I stuck him behind a bunch of formula Vs we were lapping and I was clear. Jack can’t pass those little Vs very easily–he’s afraid he’ll crush a couple.

Kurt Del Bene was right ahead and I got him in Big Indy, and started chasing Denny in his Pooper. Cameron was long gone–a little silver dot at the end of the straight.

Denny was lapping fast but his rear end was sliding more than normal. He finally pulled off with an oil leak on his rear half shaft. It was lubeing his tire nicely.

I thought I might have a chance to reel Cameron in. With no one close by I thought his concentration would lapse, and sure enough, he was picking daisies way up ahead, but with three laps to go my engine noise suddenly tripled and I thought I’d blown a rod. I pulled off and shut down. As I climbed out I could see that the exhaust manifold had just come apart–a minor fix. What a relief.

Everything secure in the trailer, I patted Diane and kissed the dog (or maybe the other way around) and headed down the driveway with Nero in tow. I tested the new skid plates by scraping Nero’s butt briskly on the bottom of the driveway (they work!) and headed for Pacific Raceway in lovely Kent, Washington.

Road songs:
I always trust Frankie to settle my butterflies, so I put “Sinatra & Sextet, Live in Paris” in the CD player. What a great album. I’m not wild about the first song “Goody-Goody” but the rest of the album is pure gold. Somehow whenever I listen to this recording I can feel how it must have been to be in Paris in 1962. By the time I reached Centralia I’d listened all the way through a couple of times. I hadn’t listened to any Billy Joel in ages, so I put in his Bridges album. I can’t imagine what it must be like to work with him. I bet he drives the other musicians insane. Every song is so tight, I bet it requires endless rehearsals and a lot of studio time. I finished up with Sting.

When I stopped to fill up with diesel I noticed that the middle left tire on the trailer was flat. I had checked the inflation the night before. When I tried to fill the tire I could hear a whistle from the middle of the tread, and sure enough, there was what looked like a nail head. Fortunately it was a full service gas statiion(!) and one of the guys came ou and said–I can plug that without pulling the wheel. He yanked out the “nail” with some pliers and it turned out to be a piece of aluminum about half an inch wide and an inch long. The plug worked fine and I was back on the road in minutes. Seems to be holdomg air just fine, but I’ll probably replace it. Though I have to say, I couldn’t tell the tire was flat until I looked at it. The trailer towed just fine. One clear advantage of triple axles.

I got to the track and set up. Diane and Sam the gay dog showed up about an hour later in her Bentley, demanding a Gin and Tonic as quickly as humanly possible. We had Cameron and Art join us for dinner and a few glasses of wine. Then we set up for Movie Night–with “the Italian Job” playing on the In Focus. I need to rework how we do the sound, but otherwise it was great. A bit cold though. We had about ten people join us for the movie, but most left before the end to either hit the sack or get warm. A few people watched it all the way through, and I thought I did too, but this morning I realize I hadn’t seen any of the chase scenes. I tapped out and woke up for the very end.

Today is a test and tune day. I don’t remember whether or not I paid for it. I need to decide whether or not to run Peyote–I think I’ll be better off going over the car instead of putting hours on the engine.

I made a new set of motor mounts for Peyote. I took stock ones and ran countersunk bolts through them into nuts that I welded into holes I drilled in the opposite face of the mount. I wound up with a reasonably flush surface. The idea is that the bolts can still wiggle to reduce vibration but the mount can’t tear. In reality, I don’t think I’m getting much vibration damping–the car is noticably buzzier. Oh, well, as long as it doesn’t affect the engine. I don’t really like all the stress that soft mounts place on the transmission case anyway.

I loaded up Peyote late yesterday afternoon. Not much room left in the garage once the car is in. Today I’ll be finishing up little things, checking the tongue weight, and fiddling. Tomorrow I’m going to go have the trailer weighed to see where we came out. Thursday morning I hit the road for Seattle and the trip begins. Four months on the road.

Should be interesting.

I was washing Peyote this afternoon and started the motor to dry it off. While I sat there revving the motor to repressurize the accusump I watched the water pump inlet hose squeeze itself down flat. Okay, that needs replacing. Then I looked down at the motor mount and noticed it looked funny–broken of course. The engine sounds sweet though.

Obviously I’m not quite as ready as I thought I was. And I whacked myself in the face when I was winding the hose up on the rack. Nice cut and a potential shiner. What a klutz.

I’ve been working like a dog on the trailer, doing last minute things for the trip, which starts next Thursday. The skid plates are done, I’ve reworked a lot of the storage, Diane has had an endless list for me that seems to be finally complete. I’ve been through a battery of doctor visits, for my race physical, a problem I’ve been having with my hip (I’m falling apart like a cheap suit) and a dermatologist to check out my zillion moles. I got all the paperwork done for race entries. And I’m putting together my first few music playlists.

One of the items on my list was a better way to connect to the internet on the road. I did some research and decided a new cellphone was in order. I plan to use WiFi where I find it, but most of the time I’ll be using a GSM phone as a modem. I wound up buying a Nkoia N95 on ebay and having Cingular provision it.

I don’t usually get too excited about technology–I’ve been playing with this stuff far too long–but holy smokes what a cool piece of work this thing is. (more…)