Weekly Roundup: For Whom The Titanium Bicycle Bell Tolls Edition

The last time I bought a grownup-style road bike was in… whoa… way back in 2002, when I picked up a closeout Schwinn Super Sport SL. It served me faithfully for five years of frequent use, including several “centuries” and long-distance tours. Two years ago I refreshed it a bit and put a couple hundred more miles under the tires. There’s nothing wrong with the bike whatsoever.

Still, I’ve enjoyed my Lynskey Pro 29 so much that I thought I’d try switching to a flat-bar titanium road bike just for fun. So This is my Urbano, complete with King Cage Shot Glass bell in titanium to match the frame and bars. True to Lynskey form, it arrived two months late, right before the end of the Ohio outdoor touring season. Oh well. I’ll be able to look forward to some long rides in Spring. I might even try my luck at the TOSRV 205-miler come April.

Not that I’ve been riding any bike whatsoever lately. Between PCOTY testing and a couple of full-length features for another magazine I’ve been cranking flat out in the non-cycling sense…

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: My Patience Was Wearing Thin, Too Edition

It was the best of times, it was… well, it wasn’t the blurst of times, that’s for sure. I spent my weekend at Laguna Seca behind the wheel of Flyin’ Miata’s newest California-legal turbo ND MX-5, part of a five-driver team (me, Danger Girl, IndyCar standout Alex Lloyd, LeMons racer Zandr Milewski, and FM customer Richard “Rick Deckard” Dekker) that drove the car in every single session of the two-day “Miatas At Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca” event. I’m pleased to report that the graphite-grey Miata ran flawlessly for fifteen hours at speed. The only problem we encountered was a clunking noise in the swaybar, likely caused by my habit of putting two wheels in the air every time I drive the Corkscrew and easily rectified during Sunday’s lunch break.

In addition to driving thirteen separate twenty-minute sessions in the turbo ND, I also drove a supercharged ND and the “Habu” Miata powered by a 525-horsepower LS3 V8. I’ll have some video up in the near future. As you can see from the above photo, Keith Tanner and the Flyin’ Miata crew planned everything to the last detail including the brake pad swaps — what you see above is what remained of padset #3 after I brought the car in from the last run of the weekend.

The cars were cool, and being in central California always fills me with a sort of wistful longing for the Spielberg-film childhood I’ll never have, but the true pleasure of the trip was having the chat to meet, and speak with, about two dozen of my readers. Every one of them had a unique and important story to tell me about themselves and their interactions with what I’ve written. Arriving as they did at the tail end of a year where I’ve spent far too much time feeling sorry for myself due to various injuries and professional disappointments, these single-serving discussions were both gratifying and inspiring.

Alright, let’s roll the tape from last week.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: You Can Find Me In The (Miata) Club Edition

It’s not perfect. There’s some paint burning on the nose and tail, a couple of dings around the gas filler cap, and for some reason it was delivered with three Club wheels and a Grand Touring wheel, all of which were in lamentable condition. The transmission synchros have all taken a bit of a vacation and first gear is a journey rather than a destination. Still. 2014-model-year NC Clubs are virtually impossible to find and with just 4,600 miles on the odometer this one would have fetched the better part of twenty-three grand had we bought it from a dealer or private party.

We named it “Ava”, after Ava Gardner and in keeping with the same spirit that saw our MX-5 Cup race car named “Marilyn”. Ava spent a total of seventeen half-hour sessions at Summit Point Main this past weekend. Total wear: half a set of Hawk brake pads and maybe one-third of the tread depth on its BFG MX-5 Cup takeoff tires. We also had a lugnut snap, requiring a quick replacement of the left front hub, but that was probably just a consequence of a hasty wheel change while the rotors were still hot. The Blackbird Fabworx rollbar was the envy of every Miata pilot who saw it; like the Anniversary Rolex Submariner, the heavily-braced and perfectly-powdercoated Blackbird product commands a bizarre amount of respect and adulation when you see it for real.

Last week was a busy one, and it gave me the rare opportunity to write an absolutely classic TTAC piece from the old school.

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Weekly Roundup: The League Of Ordinary Gentlemen Edition

I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the readers and friends who contributed to my participation in today’s Distinguished Gentlemen Ride. I appreciate your belief in the DGR’s mission and your personal support. It means a lot to me and it is humbling in ways that are difficult to convey in this format. I’ll be putting up photos from the ride as I get them, but for now you are invited to take a moment to mourn my Zegna Trofeo jacket which suffered serious and possibly terminal damage from being run at 90 miles per hour around Interstate 270 this morning. I’ll keep you posted on Trofeo’s convalescence and recuperation.

Seriously, however, the ride was a blast and it put me back in touch with a local fellow who builds some wicked vintage Triumphs. I’ll be visiting his secret stash and sharing it with you in the near future. For now, check out the contributions that Bark and I managed to get out the door last week.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: When You’re Smiling, The Whole World Smiles With You Edition

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to all of you before, but one of the MX-5 Club cars used by the Skip Barber School is joining our ragtag fleet of misfit toys. I’m awfully excited by this. We have all sorts of plans in store for the car and we already have forty — count ’em, FORTY! — extra tires for it. There’s also something to be said for having an easily cannibalized donor vehicle for your enduro racer, although I hope it never comes to that.

Click the jump to read excerpts from one of my more prolific weeks so far.

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Weekly Roundup: Without A Cause Edition

Wallace Stevens published his first and arguably greatest book of poetry, Harmonium, at the age of forty-four. Thirteen years later, he published “The Idea Of Order At Key West”. I do not know what future generations will make of Stevens or his work — as with Eliot and Pound, I suspect that the exhaustive demands that Stevens makes of the reader, his footnote-fancy-free requirements that one be both massively erudite and finely sensitive, will cause him to eventually disappear from a canon unable to properly encompass much more than the feelgood blatherings of Maya Angelou or Pablo Neruda. Stevens wrote for men like himself, men who were not immune to emotion but who had subjugated their passions to the work of creating the Western World. We will not see their like again and their cultural legacy will not fare well in the new pedagogical tradition that largely defines itself in terms of the negative space between tangible accomplishments.

Perhaps all that anybody will remember is that Stevens worked tirelessly in the insurance business for most of his adult life. By the time Harmonium was published, he had already put in seven years at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he would work well into his seventies. Never well-liked at his day job, Stevens was nevertheless efficient and successful. He was also sufficiently vigorous at the age of fifty-six to break his hand on Ernest Hemingway’s jaw in a rather odd dust-up that was apparently founded on mutual artistic contempt and in which Hemingway, like recent lime-green Huracan purchaser Conor McGregor, failed to capitalize on a considerable advantage in youth.

I think about Wallace Stevens quite a bit when I read today’s younger autowriters. Almost without exception, they would be better off working some kind of day job and thus having the freedom to be a bit choosier about both the assignments they accept and the quality of the work they turn out. I’ve had this discussion with a few of them and I’m always told that “nobody is hiring”. That’s ridiculous. McDonald’s is hiring. Home Depot is hiring. Your local car dealership is hiring salesmen and service writers. What they mean is that nobody wants to pay them $75,000 a year to perform some kind of vague white-collar work that requires no prior skills or experience. That’s a shame but I can’t help but point out that I faced an identical situation when I left school in 1994 with an English degree and an extremely patchy resume consisting mostly of missed opportunities.

There’s a lot to be said for flipping burgers nine hours a day and spending the rest of your waking hours becoming a better writer. It’s going to pay off much sooner than sitting around the house talking shit on Twitter and curating the pornography collection on your laptop. There’s something about repetitive, unpleasant labor that really stimulates creativity in people, assuming they have the knack for it in the first place. Oh well. I don’t expect anybody to take this advice. It’s too easy to stay plugged into social media and the Brownian motion of endless, pointless conversations.

Let’s see what I managed to get written this week while also working a “real job”. As the man said, let be be the finale of seem.

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Weekly Roundup: I Need To Be Moved To The Fastest Run Group Edition

The modern equivalent of “Never look a gift horse in the mouth” is “If somebody invites you to race a C5 Z06 in Colorado, you shouldn’t ask too many questions about whether they brought enough tires and brake pads for the whole event.” Which explains how I found myself looking at six shredded Yoko A-0052s just seven hours into a 24-hour race. How many tires did we bring? Ten. Also, the brake pads were down to one-eighth. How many extra brake pads did we have? One used set.

Needless to say, we didn’t exactly set the world on fire for the rest of the race. Still, something good came out of it. Ross Bentley was one of my teammates for the event and I was able to convince him to spend an evening in Ohio working with John at Circleville Raceway Park. The results were immediate and obvious; the kid is now confidently sliding through turns with the throttle pinned.

Click the jump to check out what Bark and I wrote last week and also to see a picture of my rear tire after ninety minutes — it will help you understand why I found some of the fourth-gear corners a bit unsettling!

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Weekly Roundup: At Every Level You Are A Team Leader Edition

This past Wednesday night, Uncle Douglas (also known as “Rodney” to TTAC readers) and I took John for his first practice in the new kart. Yeah, I know that’s backwards, we should have practiced before we raced, but we’ve already established my parenting could use some work.

We had the track to ourselves, but there was a crew of men working on the new dirt oval next to us and one of them had brought his three sons along. (Sidebar: what an accomplishment, to have three almost identical-looking sons within a few years. Genetically speaking, this fellow is doing much better than I am.) They left the oval and came over to watch the boy drive. After a few laps, John came to a halt and waved me over. I thought he had a problem with his kart, so I ran.

“I would like,” John said, “to know their names.” Which I dutifully found out and relayed to him. John drove over and started talking to the kids. Before I knew it, he’d come up with a complicated scheme to use all three of them to simulate flagging in race conditions and we ran a few practice races with the kids showing different flags. “It’s very important,” John reminded me, “that all three of them have a chance to wave a flag.” After each faux-race he would huddle with them and give them different tasks.

At the end, he shook their hands then he went to meet their father and thank him for loaning the kids to him. Then we went to say goodbye to the track owner and John hopped out to make sure that his gratitude was fully understood and that he could come back for private practice. When I got home I found out that the kids had made a gift to John of their flags. I’ll have to return them, God damn it.

One of Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets is this: “At every level, you are a team leader.” Drivers who cannot lead the team end up with subpar equipment and indifferent service from their crew. It cheers me up to see John naturally assume leadership in this and other cases. On the other hand, I worry about the consequences of always trying to have things your own way. I’ve struggled with that myself for more than four decades.

Click the jump and we’ll see what John’s real uncle wrote this week, as well as what his father did.

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Weekly Roundup: Green Machine Edition

When I was seven years old my parents got me a Green Machine. Let the record show that at the same age my son was doing 40+ mph in a TopKart — but that’s the difference between having hip urban parents like I had and a hick-ass of a dad like my son has. Despite its lack of an engine or anything approaching high-speed stability, the Green Machine was actually a lot of fun and I rode it until the plastic front wheel showed genuine signs of deterioration.

The Green Machine you see above is even better — it’s the current-gen Camaro SS 1LE. I had a chance to run it around Mid-Ohio for a session. Unfortunately, the track was damp in most places and had standing water in some, but I still learned quite a bit about the car and its massive dynamic envelope. Look for a writeup in the near future.

In the meantime, here are a few things we did earlier.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: We Are The Champions Edition

Sorry this one is late, but for once I have an excuse: Both Bark and I were participating in the 2017 SCCA Targa Southland. Brother Bark and his co-driver Rebecca drove a new Honda Civic Type R, provided by Honda, to the victory in the Stock 2 class. Danger Girl and I drove our 1998 Corvette C5 to the top of the Touring 1 category. Overall I’d say that Bark and Rebecca did a better job than we did, beating us in two of the three timed events and in the road rally. The Vette proved to be a little troublesome at speed thanks to a set of oversized HRE wheels that look absolutely awesome but which make the front-rear balance very malleable depending on ambient temperature and road camber. Luckily for me, however, my Touring-class competition suffered from a variety of mechanical maladies and mistakes. A particularly fearsome-looking BMW M5 made the mistake of cooking its brake rotors early in the weekend, preventing it from getting solid points in the timed track section at Atlanta Motorsports Park.

Click the jump to see a video of me thrashing the old Vette at Memphis International Raceway and to catch up on what I wrote last week.

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