Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Here's a Random Picture I Took 1

Behold! An easy blog post from a lazy poster. For this one, I basically look through my pictures on the ol' hard drive and chuck one up for you peoples to see. This is one I took at NIU of Faraday Hall:

Monday, April 26, 2010

American Irony - Pt. 3

Here are just a couple more pics of the LeMons race at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven.

Four-cylinder engines are a popular choice. In order, they are: #0 Toyota Celica, #61 Honda CR-X , #71 Dodge Neon, #138 Toyota MR2, #42 Honda Civic, #7 Mazda Miata (partially obscured), #35 Dodge Neon, and the #112 Dodge Neon. This was in the middle of the #61/#71's epic 10-lap (estimated) duel. The #35 Neon finished sixth while running a pretty quiet and unassuming race. This is our strategy for our race in October, because Ford Escorts ain't fast.

#2 Topless Asset Racing Toyota MR2. This car demonstrated that LeMons is seldom about looks. The butchered nature of this car led Alan and I to believe we were looking at a mutilated and tragic Triumph or something "exotic" along those lines. But it was one of three MR2s in the field; this one finished second-highest among them with 354 laps, good for 19th place overall.

#95 C.A.R.T. Chicago Area Racing Team BMW E30. Here's a view of this E30's lap just before the checkered flag. The smell was delicious, just like a melting engine should smell. I believe this car died on its victory lap. It missed a Top 10 finish by two laps with 379, just behind the VolOwned Ecto1 wagon.

#46 Wisconsin Crap Racers Nissan Maxima. Well, this car lived up to its team name. Decked out in a Days Asunder livery, this car limped around the track all Sunday. With about an hour left, it came around turn 1 smoking like a bandit (or something) and rolled to a stop on the grass inside of turn 2. It was toast.

#323 Spec Junk Racing Mazda MX-3. I'm including this for my friend Todd, who loved his MX-3. This noble little guy finished in fifth place by running a solid, (mostly) mistake-free race. It racked up 391 laps and was quick in the corners. The tire affixed to the roof is one of the 24 Hours of LeMons' penalties.

I could post pictures and pontificate about this all day, but you get the point. If you can't get enough, follow the links:

Pictures of all the LeMons competitors at American Irony
My racing partner Alan's write-up of LeMons with pictures
Video of #138 MR2 getting a penalty welded to its roof
Video of a fast lap in the #56 Dodge Neon from Skid Marks Racing
Time lapse of BS inspections
Jalopnik coverage of Heroic Fix competitors

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American Irony - Pt. 2

Here's where I include some of the cars that didn't win anything, except a place in my heart. And then some pics of some of the winners, because they were awesome1.

#86 - VolvOwned Volvo Wagon. Clearly, this is a take on the Ghostbuster's Ecto1. This was one of Jenny's favorites, and it was incredibly slow. It's best lap time came in a shade under two minutes. But who cares? This theme kicked ass, and the car ran consistently enough to garner a tenth-place finish with 381 laps. During Friday Tech/BS inspection, the team dressed as the Ghostbusters. Enjoy a gratuitous shot of Ecto1 and the Snoopy van entering Turn 11:

#7 Pink Ladies Mazda Miata. I'm including this one for Alan, who is a Miata guy. This team was 3 or 4 women and 1 man driving a smooth Miata that was pretty quick and sounded good. It was also plastered with pictures of women cut out from glamour magazines. It's hard to tell from this picture, but pink racing stripes featured glitter. This little go-getter finished 37th with 232 laps completed.

#38 Team Sucker Punch Chevy Camaro. As you can tell, this is a pretty good theme for a Camaro. It's not hard to imagine a mulleted stud blasting "Runnin' With the Devil" while flying through a residential zone at 110 in this baby. And the team knew that. When we left Saturday, the team's pit board sat next to the car in their paddock area. It read "Wanted: New Tranny." The next day, they were up and running having apparently fetched either a transexual or a new transmission from nearby Grand Rapids. Either way, the car ran for a bit on Sunday. We talked briefly to a couple of the fellas on the team, and they are apparently going to be at Autobahn in October, where Alan and I will make our LeMons debut. The #38 Camaro finished 39th with 176 laps. You can watch some of it here.

#64 Team Lebowski Dodge Neon. This is a natural theme for anyone to pick. Who wouldn't love this theme? They also get a million points for keeping Donny affixed to the car's rear wing for the duration of the race. Unfortunately, they lose 750,000 of those points for not racing a rusted-out Gran Torino with CCR blasting from the stereo. We did discover that Neons run well at LeMons and are a popular option; we saw at least four of them, and the #2 and #6 finishers were both Neons. This Neon finished 22nd with 344 laps completed.

#97 Breaking Dawn Toyota MR2. This mid-engine car was pretty quick and tore through the corners. And it finished dead last. Why?, you may ask. It turns out that the race judges awarded them 500 BS laps during tech inspection for overspending. On an engine. Apparently, the team had grenaded their engine in a previous race. In their quest for a replacement, they happened upon a totaled 2010 Toyota Camry. A few hundred dollars and several custom fabrications later, this car was powered by an engine with fewer than 10,000 miles on it. The engine wasn't even really broken in yet. In reality, the car ran 337 laps, which would have garnered a finish in the middle of the field, around 25th or so.

#411 Speed Fixx Chevy S10. I include this not because it's one of my favorite. In fact, the LeMons forums seem to indicate that this was actually a relatively unpopular car. But when Alan and I first walked through the pits, this truck was having some serious brake cooling issues. As in, their rear drums were on fire. Their solution for the front brakes was to create some last minute ducting Sunday morning, with some helpful signage:

#710 Team S-Audi Audi (Model I don't know or care to look up). This team nailed their theme about as well as anyone else could. For those who've never been 10 and had a calculator, "710" is "OIL" upside-down2. The car was also adorned with badges from every oil company and adorned with the finest gold paint Ace Hardware's spray cans has to offer. The team also dressed up for tech inspection and bribed the judges properly. The car itself had a pretty bouncy suspension. So much so, in fact, that it became a three-wheeler in Turn 11:
The #710 car finished 30th with 324 laps.

#308 Corsa Nostra Alfa Romeo (Model unknown/too lazy to look). This was hands-down my favorite car of the weekend. Alan and I decided that we needed this car or at least its engine, which produces the sound of the earth splitting open and releasing eagle-sized bees that will sting your children, carry them off to the nest, cover them in honey, and then drop them off in Montana bear country just for chuckles. Then they'll descend upon you and make fun of your stupid haircut. In other words, this car sounds like evil. And awesomeness. As it accelerated hard between turns 2 and 3, all other cars seemed to get silent because of the noise's intensity. Then it downshifted. And it maybe got Alan's hormones excited and maybe it found the Brown Note3 for me. And the car ran fast. Real fast. It clocked the third-fastest lap of the weekend (1:47.324), though it finished a disappointing 15th.

Hmm...that's a long post. I guess I'll throw some more photos/descriptions up tomorrow night after I'm done with work.

1 A track map might be handy. We watched most of the race from the short straight between turns 1 and 2. We also started Saturday watching from Turn 11 right by the pit entrance, and we started Saturday watching from the midfield spectator area, which offered an excellent view of the entire track.
2 Get out scientific calculator and type in "7108008." Then hold it upside-down. hehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehe
3 Actually, the car's engine noise wasn't of low enough frequency to cause that. I just have "control" issues.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

American Irony - A Beautiful Thing Pt. 1

Last weekend, my co-conspirator Alan and myself, with Jenny along, headed to Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Michigan, to witness American Irony, one of the many races in the 24 Hours of LeMons series. We left shaking our heads in awe and extremely excited to be entering the Rod Blagojevich Never Say Die 500 in October. Rather than give you a long, boring, text-heavy rant, I'll give you pictures of the award winners. And I may post more pictures in multiple parts.

Winner on Laps: #61 Clueless Racing CR-X. This car was fast; I think it must have had an engine swap or some kind of tuning, because it booked. In addition to running 417 laps, it also ripped out the top time for the weekend with a 1:46.547 lap.

Index of Effluency1: #87 Chicken and Waffles VW Quantum Syncro Wagon. This make/model was apparently THE lemon of its time with a mushy, die-y all-wheel drive system. The team had previously run Fieros at LeMons races, but they ran a slow, steady race at Gingerman with this sweet wagon, racking up 384 laps for a 9th Place finish.

Winner, Class 1 (THE GOOD) and I Got Screwed Award: #71 Latch-Key Kids Plymouth Neon. You wouldn't know it looking at this car, but this was a monster on the track, racking up 415 Laps. It actually held the lead for a good part of Sunday, but the #61 CRX had a 22-gallon fuel tank installed, which allowed it to fend off the Neon. For a solid 7 or 8 laps, this Neon duked it out with CRX, trading leads every time they came around to where we were sitting at Turn 1. Alan and I were rooting for this pugnacious little Neon and were glad to see it walk away with hardware.

Winner, Class 2 (THE BAD) and Least Horrible Yank Tank: #777 Joe Dirt Mullet Rockers Sponsored by Aquanet Chevy Caprice. This was as fast as anything else on the straights, and its V8 sounded like American muscle with the exhaust pipes blowing out the side. There was no mistaking the growl of this monster on the track. This car finished fourth overall with 394 laps.

Winner, Class 3 (THE UGLY) and Grassroots Motorsports Most from the Least Award: #187 The Tools Merkur XR4Ti. This car ran a smooth race, was fast, and hit every corner just about perfectly, clocking 394 laps for a third-place finish. It also ran the second-fastest lap of the weekend, a 1:46.998 trip around the circuit. If you don't know about Merkurs, they were a failure. A big one. And that's why LeMons loves them.

Organizer's Choice: Morrow's Auto #3 Snoopy Van and #111 Woodstock Grand Prix. These cars, from the same team, epitomize what LeMons is all about. In addition to an amazing and well-executed theme, these cars are ridiculous. The Grand Prix rumbled like an earthquake (when it was on the track), but the Snoopy Van is the real deal. After running it in a previous race with the same appearance, the team decided to make it a MID-ENGINE, TWIN-TURBO. That's right, this iss a racing van. Unfortunately, the driver's side turbo apparently caught on fire during the race, but it didn't keep the van off the track.

Most Heroic Fix: #200 Double Jeopardy Pontiac Fiero. When we walked through the pits on Saturday, we saw this pit crew feverishly working on what appeared to be the engine. We didn't know what the problem was, but it really looked like they were tearing the entire engine apart. As it turns out, they were tearing the entire engine apart. By the time they returned to the track on Sunday, smoke poured out of the back of this car while it limped around the outside of the track like it was VW Bus at a Grateful Dead show in 1970. The story later came out that the crew had simply removed all of the non-functioning parts from the cylinders, leaving exactly 1 cylinder that worked. Needless to say, it was not a fast car with only a few CCs of engine, but it was a gutsy one. For the exclamation point, the team fastened the busted pistons onto the hood of their rolling wreck.

Judges' Choise: #9 Midwest Engine Destroyers 1988 Pontiac Fiero. The judges liked this because the team had somehow wedged a 3.8L V62 into the engine compartment of a Fiero. It didn't fit all that well, judging from some of the pictures I've seen, but it had them running in the top 10 for a while, even though it eventually finished 33rd in the field with 274 laps.

Epic Repair Failure3: #132 Police Brutality Ford Thunderbird. Sure this car looks nice and shiny, but a close inspection of the finish reveals that it's just bright red paint over rust. Lots and lots of rust. And the whitewalls are also painted. The team who brought this beast didn't even know if it really ran before driving from Maryland. And it really didn't. The Police Brutality squad ran it for a while on Saturday before the transmission asploded. These guys put in countless hours of work overnight Saturday and into Sunday. When we arrived just before the "Gentleman, try to start your engines" call, the car appeared above. Yep, that's the transmission on the ground next to it. We walked past it a couple more times later, and it was still on jack stands. Jenny later noticed the team pushing the car up pit road. I later found out the car was just welded into drive, basically, and that the team needed to push-start it. But that they did, and with the Team Captain behind the wheel, it pulled out of the pits to the loudest cheers all weekend with less than an hour of race time remaining:

As the Chief Perpetrator Lamm later noted, 15 laps or so would have cinched up the Heroic Fix award. Five laps into its return, I thought I noticed a trace of smoke behind the car as it entered Turn 2. By the time it was clearing Turn 3, it had started to billow smoke. Before it even sniffed Turn 4, flames had made the Thunderturd a Firebird:

So it goes at LeMons. The car was definitely the crowd favorite, and the Police Brutality team is apparently going to show up at their next race with a BMW V12 shoehorned into an old Cadillac.

**Edit: On the LeMons board, the Police Brutality team captain noted that the car was only a few laps short of the Index of Effluency trophy, rather than the Heroic Fix. I apologize for this misquote. Additionally, he said the Bimmer V12 will likely go into this Thunderbid.**

Suffice to say, I am excited.

(Look for more photos/narration in later posts).

1 The Index of Effluency, basically, is an award that is handed out to the car that does the most with the least. This is somehow different from the Most from the Least award, but really it's a no-brainer that a serious crapcan wagon gets this one. As defined by the Greek God Wikipedeus, the Index of Effluency is "presented to a car considered unlikely to finish the race at all, let alone finish with a respectable number of laps completed." Well said, Gentleman Philosopher Wikipedeus.
2 This would be the same V6 found in common GM vehicles like the Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick LeSabre, or, you know, this Fiero.
3 This award was actually made up over the course of the weekend by the #142 Adopted by Jets Saab. Their car spent a similar amount of time in the pits, as apparently they were the sufferers of Murphy's Law for the weekend.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Taking on the Twin Cities - Saturday

Steve and I woke up relatively late on Saturday and headed to an exotic breakfast eatery, which was unfortunately packed to the gills. As was just about everywhere else. Apparently, normal people travel out-of-town on Easter weekend to see families. We traveled away from our respective families. Nothing personal, it was just nice to spend a holiday away from the extended family.

Since we had the hot tickets in town to see the Twins vs. Cardinals game, we decided to try our luck with breakfast somewhere closer to the ballpark. The new ballpark is near the Warehouse District, so we found a parking lot there that charged $8 for 24 hours and decided that we liked that deal. After parking, we discovered we were parked directly between a place known as the Gay Nineties club and an "adult novelties" store, which was itself next to a bar that advertised "live girls." So naturally, we had found the one shady block in the least shady city in the country.

From the lot, we walked a block or so before we ducked into the Loon Cafe, a bar/cafe on the corner. It was a pretty typical sportsbar-type place, except the "sports" shows on the local stations seemed only interested in fishing and/or snowmobiles. Go figure. I had some "medium" chili, as the place advertised its chili as "Award Winning" or something. I was skeptical, but after a bite, it was clearly award-winning. And face-melting. Steve polished off his burger, and we headed for the stadium.

We entered Target Field in the right-field corner (Gate 34), which features a pavilion just outside the gate with a bronze statue of Harmon Killebrew, a comedically oversized bronze baseball glove, beer vendors who rip you off (you can't take it past the gate), and a big shimmering reflective thing, the purpose of which I could not figure out. Because our seats were in the far corner of the third-base line, we had to walk around the park. The concourses were filled with people, but they seemed sufficiently wide. There also is a stop on the city's light-rail system about 35 feet from the stadium gates. All in all, it's a convenient park to get to: parking is cheap, it's basically part of the downtown, and you can get to it via the Skyway or the city's mass-transit system.

We found our seats after a huge clustering around the escalators to the upper deck, and the view was, well, spectacular to say the least. Beyond the ballpark, downtown's skyscrapers loom. And Minneapolis has a beautiful skyline. Oh, and airplanes fly over sometime. So that was neat for Steve and me. The game was fine, but you can read about that other places. The experience was neat; the ballpark is modern, pretty convenient, and the sightlines are excellent. The concourses aren't as wide as, say, Miller Park, but they seem to accommodate the crowd well enough. Concessions were expensive; I paid $7.50 for a "Premium" Bud Light Wheat and another $5.25 or $5.50 for a hot dog. But all-in-all, it's a pretty terrific ballpark.

After the game, Steve and I wandered around the downtown, admiring the skyscrapers, the deliberate planning the city had done, and the massive old armory that sits across the street from the Star-Tribune's offices. We then meandered through the Skyway back to our sleezy parking spot.

We headed back to the hotel to recharge and figure out our plans for the rest of the evening. Like most of America, we quickly became engrossed in the Butler v. Michigan State saga and found ourselves sitting through the entire game. Our original plans had been narrowed down to seeing Cymbals Eat Guitars at the Turf Club in St. Paul or seeing a metal show at the Triple Rock Social Club. So we headed out for dinner, weighing those options. Steve took us to Pizza Luce Uptown, where we enjoyed a delicious pizza and I enjoyed a malty mess of a local brew in a tall can whose name I cannot recall.

As we were both worn out from a long day in the sun, we decided to not catch a show and instead to drive around a bit. After a bit, I got in contact with my friend Todd's brother, Pat, who went to law school at the University of Minnesota. He offered many excellent suggestions, but we ended up going to the bar side of the Triple Rock, which does not have metal shows. We hung out for a bit BSing about baseball statistics, as geeks like us do, and I put away a couple of dirt cheap Schlitz drafts. After a little while there, I looked to my right and swore I saw the bass player from one of my favorite bands, Houston. But then I realized that a lot of people in the Twin Cities looked like him: long goatee, camouflage, blond hair, and work boots. Anyway, the Triple Rock is a pretty snazzy rock bar, where the jukebox rang out tunes from Roger Miller and the Ramones. Consecutively.

We called it a night afterward, and Steve played me some Aziz Ansari, a good comedian who is apparently on a sitcom or something, before I fell aslumber.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Taking on the Twin Cities - Friday

The Twin Cities sure are nice. You betcha.

I spent last weekend in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area on trip planned out by my friend Steve a couple months ago. It went off pretty much without a hitch, and did I have a good time? You're darn tootin'.

OK, enough of that. People don't really talk like that. At least, no one did that I ran across.

My trip started off, as many trips do, at O'Hare International Airport. I showed up a bit early, so I spent a while watching departures (and a few arrivals) on runway 28. After boarding and a long taxi from terminal two to the end of Rwy 28, we took off to the west. I got a nice view of the cargo area, where a bunch of FedEx three-holers sat on the pad, and of the newly demolished neighborhood on Irving Park Rd. in Bensenville1. After a fairly uneventful flight, we descended through the clouds to a predictable view: lakes all over the place (Minnesota has a few lakes or something). We circled the city to the north and came down through the drizzle, passing over a neat-looking dam and downtown Minneapolis to my left, including Target Field. Landing was uneventful, though loud2 on MSP's RWY 12L. I hung out in the observation deck watching departures and arrivals until Steve's flight finally found a gate3.

We hopped into our rental car and then checked into our hotel in Bloomington and hung out for a bit until the Miles Kurosky show loomed. Around 7, we headed for the venue's neighborhood, the ominously named West Bank. It was an interesting place. The venue sits in the shadow of a number highrises that appear to have been transplanted from Mogadishu4. We ate dinner at the Acadia Cafe, a hip cafe kittycorner from the 400 Club. As the West Campus of the Univerity of Minnesota is a half-block away, the cafe was full of young, hip-looking kids. After dinner, we took a stroll around UM's campus. It looks like most college campuses, I suppose, except it overlooks the Mississippi River.

We headed into the bar around the scheduled start time, puzzled by the large number of regulars and a guest list that appeared to contain at least 578 people5. We noticed an unattended birthday cake in the corner of the room and briefly considered taking handfuls of cake and stuffing it into our maws. But we didn't. Instead, I bought a tall PBR and took in the first band on the bill.

As it turns out, this band's sole purpose was to play at the aforementioned birthday. The four-piece group played distinctly kindalonghairedjamband garbage, and it just happened that the singer/leadguitarwanker's sister was having the birthday. Unfortunately, the rest of the audience then had to suffer through 45 minutes of guitar solos and the whitest version of James Brown's "Sex Machine" (Ugh) Steve or I had ever heard6. After the band finished and the majority of the birthday party was sauced enough to leave, the d-bag factor dropped considerably.

Band two was a mediocre band with a human resources problem. Five people in a band should allow something interesting to happen, except the five pieces were drum, bass, guitar/singer, keyboards/synths, and cello. And the guitar and keys played the same thing the whole set. And the bass and cello played the same thing. So there was essentially no point to having a keyboard/synth or a cello. But the music was catchy (kitschy?) indie pop, played loosely and masturbatorily: the band allowed a photographer to crawl all over the stage taking "action" photos of them while a smoke machine pumped out choking white smog. Meh. After the set, I photobombed the cello player, who was taking a picture with her girls. I giggled.

Steve and I quickly tired of standing, but there no seats to be found. So we parked ourselves in front of the stage for Pancho San. Two of the three band members toured as parts of Beulah; they also would later play as part of Miles' band. Pancho San's live show defines power trio. They played tightly, loudly, and awesomely. The music was an amalgamation of Duane Eddy, DooWop, Noise Rock, and Elephant 6 goodness played by guys who look like people you've met somewhere sometime7. I enjoyed their live show; their album is arranged much differently, even though the songs were the same. I'm not sure if that makes the album better or worse8.

Miles Kurosky came on next, supported by Pancho San's guitarist and bassist, as well as a keyboard/synth player, a new drummer, and a trumpet player they'd met just before the show. The band was surpisingly loud and raucous at times, contrasted starkly by slower, more pensive moments. Kurosky's lyrics can astound with wit and painful honesty. Most of the music came from his newly released solo album, but he sprinkled in favorites from Beulah, including epic versions of "Emma Blowgun's Last Stand" and "Landslide Baby." The music was great and so was the performance, but what really sold me on the show was Kurosky's banter and his genuine interest in his fans. At times, he polled the audience for what states comprise the Midwest9. At another point, he noticed a fan shooting video of the show. Rather than berate the fan for bootlegging the show, he introduced the song for those on the Internet to see. For an encore, Miles asked for the house lights to be put on so he could see the audience. He then performed a medley of Beulah he songs he professed to barely remember, but the audience embraced Kurosky's apparent lack of memory by singing in unison to bipolar lyrics like "Everybody drowns sad and lonely" ("Gene Autry") and "Smile, please smile; I just want you happy" ("You're Only King Once.") It was indeed a very intimate finale, and one that was clearly meant to be personal for his fans. After letting the last note ring out, he stepped off the stage and literally shook every single audience member's hand and thanked them for coming. He then proceeded to hang out by the stage after the show and BS with anyone and everyone there.

Overall, it was one of the more enjoyable performances I've ever seen, and it was almost certainly the most personal. Steve and I headed back to the the hotel and crashed, our legs tired from standing through two crappy bands to see two good ones.

1 The O'Hare plan is overlayed on a current aerial view of the airport here. Also planned is a terminal on the west side of the airport, directly west of the current terminal. Using sets of parallel runways is generally safer and more efficient anyway, but the airlines at O'Hare don't really want the runways and they definitely don't want the new terminal.
2 I was flying on one of the DC-9-50s that Delta inherited in their merger with Northwest, who had inherited this one from their merger with Republic. It was this exact one, built in 1979, except it now features Delta's paint scheme.
3 Steve arrived on a DC-9 from St. Louis, though his scheduled gate was still occupied when he showed up. So his plane sat on the ground for a while until a gate opened up. Interesting fact: Steve's DC-9 was the plane made directly before mine, if the registration numbers correspond to when they were built.
4 This is particularly apt, because the neighborhood is actually a mixture of immigrants (primarily from Eastern Africa), college kids, and the working class. It's actually very nice, even if it looks a bit dicey.
5 Had we known, we would totally have pretended to know that one person who was having that one thing that required all those people on that one list.
6 I'd have paid good money, though, to see James Brown berate and whoop on the stupid skinny stoner suckers playing his funkiest number. Sacrilege.
7 This is actually a picture of Maps and Atlases, a band from Chicago. But that photo is the first thing that showed up when I googled "Indie Band." Interesting Fact: My old band recorded with the bassist (second from left).
8 I'm terrible at reviewing music.
9 General consensus from the MPLS crowd was that the Midwest includes: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Steve and I said we considered Missouri part of the Midwest, and I said Ohio is part of the Midwest. I would probably throw Iowa into the mix, too. So, what say you?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ranting at Monday, 5 April 2010

I shall condense all rant topics to one paragraph, due to other obligations and the potential for a power outage due to lightning storm.

Actually, I'm not going to write this week. Contain your disappointment by reading something worthwhile.