All Aluminum Tour

AA Racing 101 — Learning New Tracks

This is a post from my old “All Aluminum Tour” blog about Peyote—my race car and Nero, my Airstream-based car hauler and some crazy stuff I did in 2006-2007

29 April 2007
I decided to write some instructional articles for the All Aluminum Tour. Most of them will be mechanical stuff, but this first one is about driving, testing, and learning new courses. It’s particularly relevant here because I’m going to be doing a lot of that soon. This is as much a reminder to me of the stuff I need to pay attention to as it is instruction for readers.

A typical disclaimer–I’m not an expert driver. I don’t have the focus required to be great at anything. I do a lot of things and I’m easily distracted (oh look…a butterfly) so the best I ever expect to be is intermediate.

What I’m good at is getting to the heart of things quickly: The 80 percent that makes the difference between lousy and decent. I never get to the 20 percent required to go from decent to good.

So here’s my take on learning new courses.
First of all, walking a course is a nice bit of exercise to do the night before, right at sunset, with a cigar and a little Pinot. How that applies to driving I have no idea. I do all my learning laps in a race car. You do need a track map to learn a course though. Spend some time studying it and ask questions of drivers who have mastered the course. You want to know where the apexes are, where any tricky, rough, off camber, or otherwise unsettling spots are.

If you have a test day then you can probably get your times on the track down to the limits of your car and skill level. If all you have is one or two practices then a lot of your work will be on paper.

Once you are on the track, get your tires warm and then start off with late apexes at each turn.

Pick the turns that seem the most challenging and work on slightly earlier apexes each lap. Here’s how: Pick a braking point for a turn and brake hard. Trail the brake lightly as you start to turn in to keep the car settled and minimize understeer. Hit your chosen apex and roll on some throttle once you start to ease off your steering, get to full throttle and see where you come out on the track. If you have lots of track left you should brake a little later, turn in a little earlier, roll your throttle on sooner (because you’ve hit the earlier apex) and use up a little more track on the exit. Within a few laps, you should have a decent idea of what to do for that corner.

If you’re not completely clear where your trouble areas are, do a freehand map of the entire course, and then compare it to the actual map. The corners you are drawing wrong are probably the ones you’re having trouble with.

Late apexes are safe but slow. You need to find the braking point, apex, and throttle that gives you the highest speed as you exit the corner which generally means you use up all the track at the exit. If you are not using all the track, or are able to roll the throttle on before you start to ease your steering, then the car isn’t going fast enough and your apex is too late. To refine your approach to any corner first get the entry speed right, then get the apex about right, then increase exit speed, then increase mid-corner speed. Proper entry speed can gain a one or two-tenths of a second, proper exit speed can gain much more because you carry the difference down whatever straight follows the corner. Mid-corner speed sets up exit speed, but doesn’t gain much by itself. Road racing is all about managing exit speed.

Of course, each component affects the others, so you’ll be tweaking constantly, but this approach will get you close quickly.

If you’re practicing you need to be learning something every lap. When you come in, take care of the car if you need to (where’s my crew chief!?! Oh yeah, its me) perhaps get the wheels up in the air so the rubber heat cycles more evenly, and then sit down with a track map and a pad of paper to go over what you’ve learned.

You’re doing the same thing at every corner on every lap: Brake, balance up, apex, accelerate. You should be able to draw a map for each corner that details what the car is doing at the entrance, what it’s doing during the transition when you are releasing the car and getting on the throttle, and where you are winding up at the end of the cycle.

Write down the worst problems first, and try to determine if the problem is you or the car. Make all your big changes early so you can refine them. The closer you get to the race, the smaller the changes need to be.

To be competitive you need to hustle your car. If you have more than just one or two practices you need to go through the process above, find the limits at the exit, then work backward. Vintage racing places great value on 8/10ths racing, polite passing and odd concepts like pointing people by. But there’s a world of difference between racing for position and lapping slower cars. If you’re in 23rd the person in 22nd is unlikely to simply concede a position. You can find several balanced sets of brake point, brake release. and apex for corners at the end of long(ish) straights that will give you some flexibility in passing. Late brake-late apex combinations are particularly good for passing since you’re in front at the exit. But if the car you’re passing has much better acceleration than yours, then the lower exit speed means you’ll be passed in the chute. When you’re passing a more powerful car its very important to maintain exit speed and that means an early apex and early throttle. Smooth, fast and relaxed. You can’t maintain a pass on quicker cars without taking full advantage of superior car balance, handling and driving.

If you’re doing all that well you’ll be safer for yourself and those around you than someone that’s distracted by trying to play “after you, Alphonse” or driving a “line” that’s dictated by some notion of the proper way around the track, rather than the physical limitations of the car and tires. Hint: If you can get around the corner driving to the inside or the outside of your “line” then it isn’t a line, it’s a simulation of a line.

Smoothness is extremely important, and its something you want to practice. If you scare yourself, slow down more than you think you need to, and work your way back up. If you don’t, your smoothness will suffer. The faster you go the smoother you have to be. If you’re nervous you can’t do that.

A good friend of mine rolled his car two years ago. He spent all of last year pushing his car and himself hard, and going five or more seconds per lap slower. He wasn’t going slow enough to get his confidence back. He did a test and tune day at his own speed and now he’s back in the groove. That’s why people say you have to go slow to go fast–smooth is fast, and you can’t learn to be smooth when you’re driving past your current capability

The next installment in this series will be about using data acquisition to improve your driving. I’ve taken a lot of heat about data acquisition in vintage cars. I suspect some people imagine instrumentation all over the car. In fact, its just me, my laptop and a relatively cheap GPS/accelerometer system from MSD. Compared to the cost of racing schools, track time and racing in general, a tool to dramatically improve your driving and car handling for less than $1000 seems like a bargain.

Cameron Says:
April 30th, 2007 at 6:35 am e
Hi Bill!

Having just subscribed to your site on Saturday I have both been entertained ( some good laughs) and learned some stuff from your latest entry on learning new courses. It will be fun to live vicariously through your experiences on your summer journey.

Hey, how about we connect either Tuesday or Wednesday evenings? It would be great to catch up with both You and Diane prior to Le Grand Tour.

It’s off to a full day of meetings in town, which used to be normal and now is kind of surreal given that they don’t happen as often anymore. This is a week where I take care of a lot of catchup business stuff and board meetings so I can go off and be a flake for the next few weeks.


Chuck Arnold Says:
April 30th, 2007 at 9:25 am e
Hi Bill,
Thanks for this concise document that recaps about half of some racing books!

I am going to get “back in the groove” (as if I ever had one) this Friday at PIR in a test and tune day. Am renting a spec Miata for 4 races so I can get my ICSSC regional license in hopes of doing th TR races at Miller. Will do my maiden novice race this Saturday. This article will help me re-learn PIR.

Chuck Arnold Says:
April 30th, 2007 at 10:15 am e
Hi Bill: How about a couple of tracks:
1. What hints can you give about driving PIR (Portland, not Phoenix)? The first race, this weekend, is non-chicane], the second with the chicane
2. What hints for Mission in BC?
Thanks — know it will take more time than you might have.

Billb Says:
May 1st, 2007 at 11:23 pm e
PIR is a relatively simple track to learn, and that makes it technically difficult. Most drivers will learn the basics of the track quickly, the difference between first and tenth is all in the details.

One of the most difficult things about PIR is talking intelligently about the turns. Most old-timers still refer to turns 1 through 9 though in theory there are 12 turns. We used to refer to the chicane without a number, so the turn at the end of the straight after the chicane was called turn 1. Oddly enough, the track map on the PIR website still uses that numbering.

One thing you should do is go to the PIR website and watch the videos of lapping at the track. They won’t give you all the details but they help a little.

Naturally, the most important turns are the ones that lead onto the straights, though you can lose a lot of time in the chicane and in turn 3.

Here’s a basic lap the way I do it:

We start flat out in the straight. First few laps you want to get slowed for the chicane very early so you know you can trust your brakes. The gravel trap in the chicane is gone, so if you can be a bit braver. As soon as I’m done braking I like to shift straight down to the gear I’m going to use going through the chicane–in Peyote’s case that’s second. Brake hard in a straight line and stay to the right of the track. A lot of instructors will have you go far to the left so you can arc into the turn, but I like the sneaky line on the right. Now that the chicane is a bit flatter it works very well. Get your braking done, turn in right, when the suspension rebounds back to the left, unwind the steering and follow it, taking a very early apex turning left. Roll on the throttle as you start to unwind the steering but hold some left pressure in as the car accelerates. When you’re ready to turn right out of the turn relax the steering, full throttle and turn right. That all sounds kind of ugly, but once you get the timing right a lot of the turning is done in cooperation with the car’s natural movements.

Turn one is hardly a turn, especially when the chicane is in. Brake a little and turn in, roll on a little throttle to stabilize the car and roll in more as the car drifts out. Let it come all the way to the left edge of the track, full throttle, then brake and downshift for 1a. I don’t generally downshift for 1.

As you start to apex 1a you’ll see the turn open up in front of you. That’s when you unwind the steering and get to full throttle. If the car is understeering on you might need a little braking as you turn in to transfer weight forward.

The pavement between 1a and two has a big patch in it. Straddle the right edge of the patch. At the end of the chute brake hard and downshift (perhaps all the way to second) and do a late apex for turn 4. You want to be accelerating as soon as possible after 4 because the next straight is longer than it seems and there’s a second to be had there. If you do 4 just right you’ll drift out to the rumble bumps and just graze them with the car pointed straight. You’ll know when you get it right–feels mighty good.

Turn 5 is critical because if you get it right then 5a isn’t really a turn, just part of the straight. This is a good turn to overcook a little bit. Your car will probably understeer if you do. A quick tap on the brakes with the throttle on will drop the nose and make the car turn in quickly (this works best on cars with disks on the front and drums on the back since moderate brake pressure will hardly engage the drums but will give you a bite with the disks that puts weight on the front tires). Let the car drift to the right, line up the straight through turn 5a and floor it.

6 is just a kink in the back straight, but don’t get too close to the wall on the right. I like to be in the crown of the road, but if you need to pass, make it on the outside. There’s a couple of dips along the wall and they can pull the car towards the wall. I’ve never seen anyone hit it, but a lot of people needed new linen after a wobble, and it will definitely slow you down.

Work on a reasonable brake point for your car at the end of the back straight. You don’t need to brake much for turn 7, just start on the right side of the track, run right over the apron and straighten out the turn. Turn 8 needs a little more finesse. There’s a dip at the entrance and a lot of people spin there. Take the turn wide and set yourself up for turn nine.

Turn nine is a bugger because you absolutely need to get it right. You want to get as early an apex as you can manage and not clip the tires at the exit of the corner. If you do there’s a good chance it will kick the back of your car out and send you into the wall. Not good. Be careful there. You want a smooth arc from the apex to the left wall, and as soon as you get past the apex you should be rolling to full throttle. This is the biggest time advantage on the track for any car with limited horsepower. Smooth. Also, try to get into the right gear before the apex so you can have good acceleration. I have a nasty gearing problem in turn 9: I have to shift just as the car approaches the wall.

That’s it, have fun, be safe. Start slow, and if you scare yourself, slow way down and build back up.

As far as mission goes, I’ve only been there a few times and have to learn it new every time. It’s a short, tight track with a lot of off camber corners. A real bugger, but fun.

All Aluminum Tour

AA Nice Day

This is a post from my old “All Aluminum Tour” blog about Peyote—my race car and Nero, my Airstream-based car hauler and some crazy stuff I did in 2006-2007

Went to Puamana today to meet some friends from Portland who have two teenage kids. These teenagers are at least 6’4″ and have the metabolism of starving badgers. It was great fun to introduce them to paddle surfing and help them with their surfing. As a final dessert, we tossed the Hobie Adventure Islands in the water and taught them to sail. Like ducks to water. Here are some pics in cartoon format:

All Aluminum Tour

AA Photos from Germany

This is a post from my old “All Aluminum Tour” blog about Peyote—my race car and Nero, my Airstream-based car hauler and some crazy stuff I did in 2006-2007

Dear Bill

My name is Rainer Reinhardt, TR3/4a/6 and racecar driver form Germany.
Kas Kastner has given me your email address after I read his latest book on Triumph. I was surprised to find an article about the Peyote MkII you have bought in the meantime.
Years ago in 1992 I saw the car in Laguna Seca. The owner these days was Baxter Culver. I spoke to him about his racecar and took some pictures. I thought you might be interested in the history of the car that beat all the Porsche 550 and the RSKs easily. Therefore I attach seven old pictures of your rare beast.

Kind regards,
Rainer Reinhardt

All Aluminum Tour

AA Intro to Peyote and Nero

This is a post from my old blog about Peyote—my race car and Nero, my airstream-based car hauler and some crazy stuff I did in 2006-2007

Peyote and Nero’s All Aluminum Tour

Like too many adventures, it starts with a stupid idea. Build the perfect trailer for my whacky vintage race car, and then use it as transport for an extended racing tour of all the famous tracks and events. Let me introduce you to my race car, and then the trailer and tour might make sense.

No, the lotus didn’t really hit the wall. That’s Phil Binks in the Dolphin chasing Peyote

I’m privileged to be the most recent caretaker of Peyote, a car that has been raced hard and continuously since 1959 (as near as I can tell its only missed five racing seasons). It wasn’t preserved because of its beauty. When the late Bill Ames finished building Peyote using a Triumph TR3 donor car, an assortment of surplus road sign aluminum, zillions of pop rivets and ample rye whiskey a friend asked: “Were you on drugs when you built that”? Hence, Peyote.

Over the thousands of racing miles and more than 45 years, a lot of good racers and backyard tinkerers have layered their mojo onto this little car. It performs way beyond its pedigree. I love it to an unhealthy degree.

Diane, Sam, and Peyote

So what’s the perfect trailer for a car built of raw aluminum and rivets? Obviously an Airstream. And a toy hauler with car space that converts to living space wouldn’t suit the extended tour plan. A separate garage is necessary because I want to live in the trailer on the road and have enough tools and parts storage to maintain Peyote at tracks thousands of miles from home. That means a long trailer. Very long. Besides, one oil leak on the kitchen floor and my wife will opt for the Four Seasons.

I bought a 34 foot 1989 Airstream Excella on eBay for $14,000. The previous owner maintained it meticulously. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it would be gutted to a bare shell three days after it reached my driveway. I sold the heavy wooden interior on eBay for $3800. I wanted a lightweight aluminum interior. I figured on three months to french a hatch into the back, build interior walls, benches, toolboxes and living space, and get it on the road. Two years later its nearly done. It will never be truly done.

Looks kind of unpromising, but this is what Nero looked like after I gutted it and added a rear hatch. The hatch components were cut from 1/4 inch aluminum with a circular saw and a carbide blade–honest. Then I welded it together with my MIG. I expected this to be the hardest part, but it was really quite easy.

The stupid part is that I did it all myself, and it shows. As my friends pointed out, if I worked as hard at the things I’m expert at, I could pay a small crew of people who really know what they were doing to build the trailer. But what’s the fun in that? I got better at everything as I progressed. You can tell my first aluminum weld from my last. The first drawer I built is downright lumpy, the last has a certain funky precision. There�s ten times the work in every part because I was constantly compensating for earlier screw-ups.

Once the bones were well in place my wife looked it over and said: “What shall we use for a decorating scheme”? I looked at her a little blankly and said: “Inside of a DC3?” She smiled indulgently and ignored me henceforth. She decided on the style of Nero Wolfe’s office from the TV series we both enjoyed. The cost of the living space rose exponentially, but the net result is pleasant and comfortable. And we named the trailer Nero’s Peyote Pad or Nero for short. There’s a picture gallery here.

The maiden voyage, from Portland Oregon to Sonoma California for the CSRG Charity Challenge at Infineon Raceway went fairly smoothly. So I declare Nero ready. On the Race Schedule page you’ll find the tentative schedule for Nero and Peyote’s All Aluminum Tour launching in April 2007. It spans more than 14,000 miles, seventeen races, twelve tracks.

Its bound to be fun.

All Aluminum Tour

AA Peyote History

This is a post from my old blog about Peyote—my race car and Nero, my Airstream-based car hauler and some crazy stuff I did in 2006-2007

There will be a lot of history posts because Peyote has a lot of history, almost 60 years worth. It’s been racing since 1959 and it’s not done yet, not hardly. I’m just the current caretaker, I’m sure it will outlive me.

Peyote was based on a 1957 Triumph TR3 frame and drivetrain from a car that had been totaled. Thanks to a Peyote fan named Howie Wold and Pat Starr, an owner who restored Peyote in the late 80’s, I have a lot of copies of documents from that era. The February 2007 post for the All Aluminum Tour included a lot of pictures and documents that weren’t’ used in a post for that month. So I’ve added them all here. I’ll try to make some sense of these with some captions.

Peyote raced in the first pro race ever held at Road America in Elkhart lake, a 1960 USAC race. The program shows that Peyote raced against some very famous competition. Heady stuff for a little home built special. The driver is listed as W.E. Aldrich-Ames. That’s Bill Ames who designed and built Peyote.

The three pictures above are pretty special. Here’s the story behind them from the original blog:

Howie Wold is a really neat guy who has been a huge help in getting me information and documentation on Peyote. He knows more about the car than I do. He’s done a lot of work just for the love of the sport. He sent me an email today telling me that not only might there be photos of the original Peyote MkI but there might even be a video of it. By way of explanation, Peyote is actually MkII–the same car. They junked the first body because it was just too ugly and built a “pretty” version. Anyone who seen Peyote has to worry a bit about the ugly version–how ugly can this thing be? Will looking at a picture turn us to stone. Will we have to claw our own eyes out?

Here’s Howie’s email, edited a bit:

<<Come with me now to those days of old – as we tune into the track announcer at Road America, at the close of its 1st ever pro-race, the 50 lap, 200 mile USAC race on July 30, 1960 –

“And here he comes, folks – winning $20 by finishing 26th overall, 10th place in Emod, the car #35 – Peyote Special entered by Import Car Service of Minneapolis, MN, driven by W. E. Aldrich-Ames.”

I have a number of friends assisting in finding early Peyote race info. A WI gent reports finding the above (facts, at least) in the August ’60 SCCA “Sports Car” mag. He reports – “The finish is somewhat misleading because he was actually the last car running. There was a very strong field of Maseratis, Ferraris, Porsches and Chevy-powered entries and was won by Jim Jeffords in a Birdcage Maserati. He won $3,500. Bob Holbert won under 2 liters in a Porsche RSK.

Now it gets interesting! That was Peyote MarkI! AND, I believe, we have VIDEO FOOTAGE! It’s in the DVDs I sent you a couple of years ago!

Go to DVD #1A segment 6. About 3 1/2 minutes in – look for dark car #35 – heading left to right. PEYOTE MARK I !!!!! Also – same DVD #1A, segment 3, Sioux Falls, SD, ’59. Ames driving the Peyote “donor” car number#15.

So, we’ve got track VIDEO of the donor car, plus MarkI & MarkII (soon as I get a copy of the ’62 [’63?] RA pit stop segment of MarkII to you.

Bill Ames’ next project was the AMBRO, a fiberglass body for building races cars, a similar idea to the more successful Devin bodies. He teamed up with a friend named Dewey Brohaugh (hence Ambro. Ames Brohaugh) and they built an example car. I’ll do a separate post on the history of Ambro. I own the car shown here, the first Ambro, it’s slowly being restored and made more competitive in my shop. The original body is handing on the wall in my shop, it’s too heavy.

The white-bodied car in the foreground is Ambro 001. I’m kind of stalled on this restoration, I need to get back to it.

The body looks great on the wall, but it is at LEAST 200 pounds, way too heavy.

Here’s Peyote in modern trim at the Monterey Historic races sometime before 2006. I’ve raced it at Montery numerous times, though not recently.

My wife, Diane, Peyote and Sam, our late great dog. This picture would be shortly after I bought Peyote. I bought it from Baxter Culver in 1999. Next year I will have been driving Peyote for 20 years and it will be 60 years old. We’ll have a party.

Baxter bought Peyote from Pat Starr, a well-known racer in the Minneapolis area. Pat saw Peyote being built when he was a kid, and then came across the car in rough condition, and bought it to restore it. He did a fine job. Once he completed the restoration he sold it on. Pat is well known for the Morgan he races. Below are some of the ads he posted to sell Peyote.

All Aluminum Tour

AA 2007 All Aluminum Tour Schedule

This is a post from my old blog about Peyote—my race car and Nero, my Airstream-based car hauler and some crazy stuff I did in 2006-2007

So Nero worked, didn’t break in half, so Diane and I sat down and planned a lunatic tour schedule across North America (yup, Canada too). The plan was to spend the entire summer in Nero, going to most of the famous North American tracks. Diane would be with me for as much of the trip as she could stand.

Here’s the post about it:
2007 Race Schedule
This schedule is fairly firm (most of the entries have been sent) The first two races in August are up in the air–I could use some recommendations for races those weekends. I’m also looking for some races to fill in holes if they don’t take too long of a drive. Your advice would be very welcome–just post a comment below. Thanks.

All Aluminum Tour

AA Peyote and Nero

This is a post from my old “All Aluminum Tour” blog about Peyote—my race car and Nero, my Airstream-based car hauler and some crazy stuff I did in 2006-2007

Yup, strange title, I’m good at that. I’ve been racing something for most of my life. Early on it was motorcycles, then later cars, both modern race cars and vintage. Now it’s just vintage. If for no other reason than my neck muscles–I can’t handle the G’s from modern wings and slicks cars. My vintage race car since 1999 has been a little home-built special named Peyote that was built in Minneapolis in 1959. No, I didn’t build it, I was 12 in 1959.

Peyote in 1959, freshly built.

I’ll start this series of blog posts about Peyote and the things I’ve done with it by transferring older posts from a site I built called The All Aluminum Tour. In 2006 I had the loony idea that an Airstream would be an ideal trailer for Peyote, since Peyote has an unpainted all-aluminum body. The plan was a trailer that was half garage, half living space with a wall and door between the two spaces. I’m fine with having my race car intrude into the living space, but Diane would be checking into the nearest hotel if oil dripped in the bedroom. So these blogs are also about building Nero, our trailer, named because Diane decorated the interior in the style of Nero Wolfe’s office in the TV series. I’ve always liked those shows and the books they were based on.

Here’s a few pictures from when I built Nero

Posts that I lifted from The All Aluminum Tour will be prefixed in the title with AA. So with no further introduction, here’s the first entry from The All Aluminum Tour:

Friday, November 3, 2006
I decided to leave Portland early Tuesday morning to cover the 600 miles to Sonoma by Friday morning. Just about the amount of time you’d need for a brisk bicycle trip. But I was hauling my newly more-or-less completed Airstream car hauler–Nero, with my race car–Peyote stuffed inside. I needed time to cope with potential minor issues like the trailer breaking in half, or the wheels falling off. My wife Diane elected not to join me. She’s a panicker. If Nero indulged itself in a death wobble coming down a mountain pass, I would have to pry Diane from around my neck before dealing with the emergency.

Pulling out of my driveway was the first challenge. Making certain that 34 feet of trailer gets clear of the gate before it closes and doesn’t take out a gatepost would be entertainment enough. But I live on Portland’s favorite racer road with my driveway between two blind curves–I needed to get truck and trailer across the road before someone came drifting around the corner. The sudden rise in the road levered the long trailer’s bumper rollers firmly into the tarmac, causing an alarming crunch and slowing my progress just as a clapped out Corolla appeared, reprising some scene from the Fast and the Furious. Somehow I got the trailer out of his way, but from the look of stark terror his face as he passed the truck he surely needed a change of linen. I made my way through the twisty roads near my house to the highway, learning as I went how to keep my wheels out of the ditch, on my side of the road (wide turns and a very late apex), and receiving fewer and fewer wild hand and arm gestures. Progress. Once on the highway, the trailer pulled smoothly, was unperturbed by side gusts, and presented no challenges for my F350 Diesel pickup. Diane could have come. Well, maybe not on the first few miles.

Two books on tape, one bad road lunch, and 400 miles later I decided to stop for the night at a roadside rest area near Mt. Shasta. I locked up the truck, bundled into the comfortable bed, and fell asleep to the gentle hum of an 18-wheeler idling two feet from my window. I woke up at what turned out to be three AM. The idling diesel was gone, replaced by a manic foof dog in a giant motorhome screaming Map, map, map at one-second intervals. I would have cheerfully toasted it for breakfast. Instead, I rolled down the road and stoked my heartburn at one of those uninspired restaurants whose only saving grace is that they open early. A few years ago I found a dinky restaurant that opened at 4:00 AM in Milan during a jet-lagged walk around the sleeping town and had one of the ten great meals of my life. Where did we go wrong?

Some wild notion lead me to try the back way to Sonoma, past Clearlake and Colusa through the mountains to Calistoga. Interesting idea. I had forgotten how twisty and narrow the road was, and how few turnoffs there are to let the snarling pack of early morning Napa commuters by. Ciao…Same to you…Hey, you don’t even know my momma. I got to Sears Point at 9:00 AM on Wednesday–two days before I needed to be there. So I amused myself by completely reworking the plumbing system in Nero and replacing the water pump. It took all the time available.

I had a great time racing–Sears (Infineon) is one of my favorite tracks. Finished second on Saturday when my gearbox gave me a momentary issue. Got first on Sunday through a Lotus 7 well-driven by Grant Reefer would surely have passed if we’d had one more lap. Peyote takes to Sears like a duck to water. I always wander around a bit in the carousel, never have figured out where I should be until I get to the apex and exit, and then I know it was wrong. But the 180-degree turn after that is just magic. Most folks brake hard and go down at least one gear. A few years ago I came into the turn with Pete Lovely right on my ass, which is always tough sledding. there’s just no one smoother. I was so busy looking in my mirrors that I blew the braking point totally. As I came into the turn much, much too fast I gave a quick stab at the brakes and turned in, expecting to spin. Instead the nose pointed in, the back end slid around neatly, and the straight opened before me like a harbor opens to a sailboat. I stood on the throttle, still waiting for the spin and Peyote shot down the straight like it was on tracks. Pete was at least three car lengths back. Magic. I tried it again the next lap and it worked again! I have no clue if that works with other cars, Peyote is pretty odd.

As always, the food in Sonoma was spectacular. If you go there and don’t eat at The Girl and the Fig, then it’s your loss, but please let me know that before you suggest a restaurant to me. I ate at the bar in the company of the convivial bartenders, wonderful people, at the end of the meal and two glasses of spectacular wine I wanted to adopt them all. Perfect mussels in a broth you could happily drink, Duck confit on a bed of couscous in some stunningly well-balanced base that I can’t identify–certainly a hint of cheese, but not so rich that it competed with the duck. Berry cobbler with homemade vanilla bean ice cream and a fig sauce on top. The sweetness of the ice cream and berries were tempered perfectly so the fig sauce was necessary. Sounds too sweet but it was transcendental. I ate every morsel of each course and waddled back to my truck.

Loading up to leave I had the most serious incident of the week. I had Peyote nearly to the top of the ramps when the winch pulled completely away from the floor and went tumbling out the door as Peyote shot backward across the paddock right towards the Formula One garages. the vintage F1 cars were out racing and there was no one walking behind Peyote. Bill Hart’s cousin John (I forget his last name, but I owe him a good bottle of scotch) jumped behind the car and muscled it to a standstill before it smacked into the garage. I was horrified, but I made repairs, reinforced the winch mount and loaded Peyote without further incident. I’ve added several safety stops to prevent similar mishaps.

Except for some crappy food and another night in a noisy rest stop, the trip home was completely uneventful, which is a good thing. Nero works! It didn’t crack in two, the frame didn’t bend, it seems to manage the load just perfectly. We’re ready to rock. See you in the spring or maybe a bit later. Wherever you are, sooner or later we’ll get there.