I’ve signed up for the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride next month. It’s a great charity masquerading as a bunch of dickheads wearing suits on dorky motorcycles. I’m planning on wearing a Hickey Freeman pinstripe and riding my Honda CB1100. If you want to throw five bucks towards the cause, you can do it here. Better yet, if you want to come ride, I’ll buy you a drink afterwards.
Those of you who hate my guts can be reassured by the fact that it’s almost certain to rain this time of the year and that I’ll basically be spending two hours wrapped in three layers of soaking-wet wool. There’s also a reasonable chance that one of these hipsters who can barely ride a motorcycle by themselves, let alone in a group, will run into me and cut off my leg. A girl can dream, you know!
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.
Why and wherefrom the trigger warnings, and whose innocence or interest are they meant to comfort, defend, and preserve? Who is afraid of whom or of what, and why do the trumpetings of doom keep rising in frequency and pitch? — Lewis Lapham, “Petrified Forest”
It was just coincidence that I happened to finally get around to my newest issue of Lapham’s just after squabbling online with one of the Best&Brightest’s fussier members, but the contrast between the two could not be more stark. That goes for the men behind the statements as well. Lewis Lapham, as I don’t expect any of you to know, is the former editor of Harper’s and a Renaissance man whose intellect continues to shine brightly and forcefully although he is now in his ninth decade. “Arthur Dailey” is, by, a Canadian citizen who claims to be a wealthy human-resources executive and investor.
It is only reasonable that these two individuals would come at the free-speech issue from divergent, if not entirely opposing, places. “Arthur” spends his days protecting the interests of his company in a country where feelgood socialism tends to dominate the public discourse. Mr. Lapham, with his outstanding and thoroughly recommended current publication, seeks to discover truth and beauty by juxtaposing the best of classical and modern writing. He is also a staunch defender of traditional American values, if not necessarily friendly towards the Republican Party and/or the current President.
My sympathies are naturally with Lapham here. I’m an American by birth and culture. I believe in the unrestricted freedom of speech and in the latterly controversial idea that the truth is best discovered when no voice, however distasteful, is silenced. Towards that end, I believe that nothing should be held as sacred or above discussion — even if, in a bit of an ouroboros-esque twist, we are talking about free speech itself. So lets give Arthur’s ideas a workout, shall we?
It will shock much of the autowriting and autowritingreading worlds (I made that second one up but I like it) to know that my brother and I are not terribly similar people. For example, our writing voices can be similar, at times, but I tend to use simpler language and fewer words to communicate my points. Politically, I’m very much a traditional conservative, whereas I think he might have voted for Bernie, if the DNC had given him the chance.
This difference manifests itself in many other ways, as well, but as we are no longer spring chickens and have both transferred much of our attention to our kids, the most obvious is in the way we parent our children.
I had a much more traditional sort of suburban youth than Jack did—I was the same age as my classmates, and I was merely smart enough to be in the LEAP-style programs. I was social in the ways that most kids are, and much of my social interaction came from team sports. I was on my school’s football, basketball, and track and field teams, I played summer league baseball, and I traveled around the midwest doing AAU-style and 3-on-3 basketball tournaments as well. I also played recreational youth soccer from age 6 to age 12. I did the BMX thing, too, but by the time I was 14 I had pretty much left it behind in favor of more traditional team sports.
I can say without any sort of bragging (because who brags about things they did 20+ years ago) that I won multiple championships in every sport I every played—some just of the travel team tournament variety (soccer, baseball), some of the more intramural variety (Ohio State 3-on-3 basketball and flag football) or informal type (Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball), some sanctioned state titles (football, track and field), and even an international competition or two. I was never a star player (with the exception of baseball), not by any means, but I was a always a more-than-competent cog of some exceptional team efforts.
Therefore, I am more than slightly irked when my brother says to his son, as he did in his post today, “The sports at your school, soccer and basketball — they’re easy.”
No. They’re not. Not even close.
Approximately ninety seconds after pulling up at Adkins Raceway in eastern Ohio for John’s first race in the Junior Sportsman class, I realized that I was the only father who had not pulled a trailer to the event. The concrete path to the pre-grid was lined with the kind of hardware that in my world is used to haul pampered Bimmers from one CCA pretend race to the next; twenty-footers, twenty-four-footers with big side doors. While I was realizing this, a massive Fleetwood RV pulled into the spot next to me and an arrogant-looking tween-ager popped out to effortlessly set the stationary jacks with the aid of a Snap-On electric ratchet.
“We don’t have a trailer,” John said, and he looked up at me in much the same way that I suspect Chris Pirsig would look at Robert during the worst parts of their cross-country trip. Dad didn’t plan. Dad doesn’t know what’s going on. We are different from everybody else. This cannot be good.
“Not yet,” I chirped, “I didn’t know if we would need one.” I grabbed John’s shoulders and steered us both out of the way of a hurried-looking father pushing a brand-new TonyKart on a electric-lifter rolling stand. The man’s son strode behind him, imperious and unworried behind the mirrored visor of the same $1,500 carbon-fiber Impact! helmet that I use in my racing. I get ten years out of mine; if this kid was anything like John, his helmet would be outgrown and junked by Christmas.
We were late, we were underprepared, and John’s kart didn’t run. Things looked pretty bad from the jump. Naturally, I figured out a way to make them worse.
Walk around any major city and you’ll see an entirely new and utterly baffling phenomenon: the person, usually male but occasionally on the distaff side, wearing a FitBit or other heart-rate tracker on one arm and a watch on the other. Why would anybody bother to do this? After all, virtually every fitness tracker you can buy has a perfectly accurate, maintenance-free digital watch built in — and don’t forget that the average Westerner in 2017 spends half their life looking at their phone, which has a satellite-synchronized clock built right into it. Why are people carrying around three watches when surely they only need one?
The answer is simple even if it’s a bit embarrassing. If you grew up in the WASP tradition or any social circle remotely affiliated with it, you know that there are only two acceptable items of jewelry that a man can wear. The first is his wedding ring. The second is a wristwatch. That’s it, period, point blank. The H1-B crowd at my job all wear a gold necklace with some kind of gold charm on it, my old mentor used to wear gold rings and ropes to match his velour tracksuits, and the Eurotrash-Brit types I just did a couple of features with over in Europe all wear multiple precious-metal and corded bracelets like high school girls who got a $500 gift certificate to the local Pandora at their sweet sixteen party, but the people who have the United States Of America don’t get to wear that stuff. They get a ring and a watch. Period.
Once Hans Wilsdorf created the marketing miracle known as Rolex, the eighteen-karat yellow-gold Datejust or Day-Date became a universally-recognized symbol of success. In no time at all, the world learned a new kind of value language. A stainless-steel Rolex was the equivalent of driving a Buick; it meant that you had enough money to spend on luxuries. The gold Rolex was a Cadillac-like statement of fiscal exuberance. After the excess of the Eighties died down, many people put their gold watches away because they didn’t like the way other people interpreted that particular social signal. It didn’t help that the stainless-steel Daytona became an absolute icon both of motorsport and of sporting watches after Paul Newman was spotted wearing one. For many years, the gold Rolex was more of a punchline or a stereotype than anything else, associated with oil money, crime money, and new money.
Our modern Gilded Age hasn’t yet done much to change that. It’s still not really acceptable for a WASP to wear a gold watch. To accommodate the need of our imperial plutocracy to spend more money, Rolex now offers some of their watches in white gold and/or platinum. (The new white-gold GMT-Master II is the hottest thing out there for people who can put the cash equivalent of an Accord V6 Coupe into a watch.) Yet the company has nontrivial economic reasons to get people interested in gold watches once more. There’s about 2.5 ounces of gold in a gold Rolex, roughly $3,200 in today’s money, but the markup between a stainless steel GMT-Master and an 18k yellow gold GMT-Master is a staggering $15,200. With twelve grand here and twelve grand there in a company that can easily make, and sell, a million watches per year — well, pretty soon that’s real money.
As a consequence, there’s an odd new marketing program at Rolex which might lead to a chance for you, the average watch-wearing typa dude, to make money on your next watch instead of losing it.
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.
Note: This was the very first article I wrote about old cars that was published online, back in August 2011. Not unsurprisingly, it is about a Porsche. Now that I have a couple of hundred articles under my belt, it has been redone and prettied up from its original iteration. -TK
My father is a Porsche guy, more specifically a 356 Porsche guy. He had them before he was married and before us kids came along, including several 356s-a 1951 Cabriolet, two 1960 Roadsters, and a 356C coupe, along with many parts cars. He’s been a member of the 356 Registry since the mid-’70s, and still has most of the magazines. In the early years of the new Millennium, he had settled down with one 356B Roadster and his daily driver, a midnight blue 2001 Carrera.
My mother was used to cars coming and going over the past thirty-five years. Heck, back when they were dating in the early 1970s he regularly stashed a parts car behind her parents’ house. Above picture is from about 1973. Even that toasty light gray Roadster would be worth big bucks now! But back then it was just a rusty, crusty $100 parts car.
But no new (or rather, additional) Porsches had entered the family for quite some time. The 356B Roadster had been in the family since 1988. Bought as an engine-less basket case, a friend restored it in his spare time when he wasn’t at his day job at the body shop of the local Buick-Dodge-Mazda dealer. But then one evening in the spring of 2003 she mentioned that there was an old Targa parked with a For Sale sign on 30th Street in Rock Island. Dad drove over, checked it out, then called the number in the window. In short order, he found out it was being sold by an old friend from high school.
He and Dan had gone on a road trip to Denver right after high school graduation in his new 1970 Boss 302, where they had the chrome Magnum 500 wheels stolen in a parking garage and left on jack stands. Fun! He had to call my grandfather and have money wired to get new wheels and tires from the Ford dealer in town. So yes, they go back quite a few years. So he bought the 912. Mom was less than thrilled.
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.
A few months ago, I spent two days at the Nurburgring with a Lotus Evora Sport 410 and a group of absolutely fascinating students. One of them is the fellow you see in this Mosport formula-car race video from 1973 — Ron Cohn. Now seventy years old, he’s still working on improving his touch behind the wheel. Ron sent me this video last night and I thought some of you would be amused by it. Most likely it was created to attract potential sponsors — there’s something charming about the idea of some executive having this film threaded through his office projector so he can see the adventures of Ron and his teammate at Mosport. If you’re interested in the Cosworth engine that powered these cars, there’s an explanation in somewhat stilted English here.