Tracking Out January 2013

Anyone else a late night TV fan? I have been a fan of staying up late since college. The shows I watch have changed over time. There was a time where David Letterman was cool and Jay Leno’s schtick was just hokey. I would stay with Letterman until 12:30, when I would hit the clicker to watch Conan O’Brien. It was a peaceful place in the universe until the high stakes game of late show musical chairs began between Leno and Conan.

Leno was to retire and Conan would be taking over as the show’s new host. I don’t know what it was, but Conan just didn’t do that well in the earlier Tonight Show slot. Maybe it was because almost all of what made him funny – the driving desk, Triumph The Insult Comedy Dog, the bear, Max Weinberg, Abe Vigoda…they all seemed to be left in another time zone of late, late night. Leno’s return was almost merciful, with a tinge of “I told you so, rookie.”

The unexpected fruit of the shuffle was Jimmy Fallon’s 12:30 show, which had taken over in Conan’s old spot. I always liked Fallon while he was on SNL, but I thought having a show built entirely around him, five nights a week, was a little too much. I gotta give him credit, though. He has built himself a pretty good gig, with a killer house band in The Roots, and a steady stream of recurring characters and comedy bits.

One of the best has to be his “Thank You” notes segment that he runs on Friday nights. Right after his opening stand-up, he returns to his desk and meanders aloud through a list of thank you notes, set to a wistful (yet comedic) melody from the pianist. Watching the other night, it got me thinking about how many people I need to thank as the 2012 driver education season comes to a close. The list is long, so here it goes, in no particular order:

Thank you, Bob Michaelson and Dick Fell, for chiefing at my first event as track chair at Lime Rock. Between the van transport, the paperwork, the instructor and student assignments, the schedule, the radios (brand new and untested, I might add), and the myriad of other things that could go wrong, I figured the two days in the Berkshires would be stressed. These two seasoned pros, however, kept a placid demeanor throughout the event (which in turn, ran as smooth as silk) and calmly provided the guidance to make sure that everything went off without a hitch. I did not even miss a run!

Thank you, Murray and Akemi Kane, for being there. And when I say “being there,” I mean everywhere. This power couple attends just about every minute of every activity that we have in NNJR. They are also on your NNJR Board of Governors, and never miss a meeting. Then I pick up my SCCA magazine, and there they are again, photographed at one of their events. I thought BMWCCA would be safe, but then I found out that Murray also owns a classic 635CSi. Anyway, Murray and Akemi were very helpful (as usual) at our VIR event last month, leaving for the event early, helping other members as they traveled down by providing gas and travel reports via cell, and then lending extra hands to run the event while down there.

Thank you, my GoPro Camera, for figuring out a way to run out of battery power just before the best run of my day, at just about every track.

Thank you, Knute Hancock and Jeff Cafiero, for patiently waiting every month for my magazine article (including this one). Knute remembers me and my timely submissions from my autocross article-writing days. The pain that was in his side has returned. The club’s publication looks great, though, and these guys are the men behind the pages. (New Years Resolution: earlier articles)

Thank you, Tom Iervolino, for being our (at most of our events) front gate steward, standing at the entrance of the paddock at some ungodly morning hour, clipboard in hand, to collect signatures on our event waiver, and handing out wristbands to everyone. Tom is another Board of Governors guy that seems to do it all, from attending events across the spectrum, helping out wherever possible, and then doing a little side project called “running the NNJR autocross program.” I think he must have a twin.

Thank you, Matt Muller, for being our 2012 NNJR Most Improved Driver trophy recipient. (insert fanfare here). Matt and his wife, Shannon, attended most of our events and helped out everywhere, especially at our north-of-the-boarder foray into oh-Canada where Matt helped tech a zillion cars. What you may not realize, though, is that Matt is a Coke guy. That is, the classic, all-sugar, no high fructose nonsense, frosty glass bottle variety of this refreshing beverage. Do you remember those 1970‘s Dr. Pepper commercials where the “Pepper” guy would be dancing around with his favorite carbonated beverage with people singing and dancing behind him in an ever-growing flash mob? Well, Matt is that guy’s cousin, except classic Coca-Cola is his passion. I have not seen Matt leading any flash mobs in dance, but I sometimes miss stuff.

Thank you, all you can eat for $20 sushi place near Mosport in Canada. After eating some pretty horrific local cuisine throughout the trip, our tech team of Ralph Calistri and Greg Mills decided to steer our group to this strip mall restaurant and give it a try. Bargain sushi in the middle of nowhere in Canada, you say? What could go wrong? Nothing, it turns out. It was some of the best, freshest raw fish I have ever had – and we chowed down on an entire school for next to nothing. When gas is something like $6 a gallon, every bit helps!

Thank you, Craig Mahon, for jumping back into the fray at both Mid-Ohio and VIR this year and chairing those events in my absence. Craig also falls into the “omnipotent” category with the Kanes and Iervolino and the Thovsons. President of the club, chief instructor, and still able to run a DE here and there. Craig also provides tons of sage advice on an ongoing basis to make sure that we do not miss a beat.

Thank you, GMC, for taking the “improve the breed” philosophy with your Savannah vans. Our new 2012 van may look just like the old GMC van it replaced, but the comparisons stop at looks. Between the tighter steering, the better fuel economy, the decent stereo system with SiriusXM satellite radio onboard, and the best Bluetooth system I’ve ever used, it makes long trips a piece of cake.

Thank you, Paul Gavel and the entire Paul Miller Porsche team. These guys so graciously sponsored our Ladies Day at Pocono and our Watkins Glen dinners. Plus they brought lots of cool cars to look at and drive. So when you are thinking about that new Cayman S or 991, remember that these guys are at the track with us (sometimes on the track with us) and understand our obsession (psychosis?) with driver education. Thank you, cool dude in the Crocodile Dundee hat from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que for cooking up some of the tastiest ribs and pulled pork that our region has ever sunk their teeth into at our Watkins Glen event this past summer. Oh, man, I can still taste those ribs.

Thank you, Pocono Raceway, for some really smooth and sticky new pavement on the Tri-Oval this past season. It was so nice, it inspired us to do a run group on the entire NASCAR tri-oval – all 2.5 miles and three turns of it – something we have not done as a region anytime in the past ten years, at least. This year, the infield is all repaved as well (no more bumps), and we cannot wait for June to try it out.

Thank you, Mike Yura, for your help, particularly at Mosport. Not only did Mike give me some instruction on my first laps at the track (so that the blind turns were only a bit nearsighted), he also was the event photographer. He also cooked up a mighty fine breakfast from the rolling Casa de Yura.

Thank you, Rick Londano. Rick is our yearbook chair and is seen at many events snapping photos. Before the season began, though, Rick painstakingly resurrected the paint on my trusty Amazon Green 964, professionally detailing it to a condition that I have never seen on this car. Sometimes blue, sometimes green, always shiny.

Thank you, Sharon Doherty, for all of your help, especially at Watkins Glen in August. Sharon and Don are (another) NNJR power couple (I guess we have a lot of those) that help out at any event that they are a part of – and like the Kanes, they are a part of a lot. At the Glen, though, Sharon took over the tasks of handing out our event T-shirts to all drivers and also monitored the dinner guest sign-ups. Plus she watched my daughter for several run groups and put her to work in the T-shirt department.

Thank you, Warren Pushaw, for constructing those colorful grids that outline our staging assignments at many of our events. It seems like a ton of work, but all I see is the finished product. Wouldn’t Sudoku be easier? Thank you, my daughter Julia, for keeping Dad company this year at Watkins Glen. Your first track event and I hope the start of many more to come! Your dad is so proud. Thank you, WaWa’s across this great country (or at the very least, the ones near Millville and Pocono). Gas, water, breakfast sandwiches and subs for lunch – all in a single place – ‘nuff said!

Thank you, Will DiGiovanni at Precision Motorsports, for sponsoring our event wristbands this season and supporting the DE program and many of our drivers through great (sometimes trackside) service. Also, my car ran great all year – I just fueled it up, checked the oil once in a while, and drove it. Thanks for Mike Daino, Keith Peare, Mike Carr, Bob Tonczos, and the rest of the team at Powertech for everything that they do to support us and many of our drivers all year long. Mike Carr also keeps a watchful eye over the club van and keeping it running well for us. Mike Daino and Keith Peare both helped out with last-minute techs at events during the year, including helping a wayward Ferrari that showed up at Pocono on the wrong weekend (his scheduled track date was 2 days later).

Thank you a second time to Bob Michaelson, this time for really owning the role as our track registrar. This is a lot of work folks, from putting the events up in the virtual world of Motorsportreg, to monitoring sign-ups, assigning students and instructors, and communicating with tracks on contract details. It is all appreciated, Bob. Thank you, Dennis and Marlys Thovson (like no one saw that coming). The original NNJR power couple, I would not even know where to begin with my thank-yous. Guidance, support, hosting meetings in their home (and sometimes cooking), Dennis chiefing at least one event, Marlys helping at any event she attends – they do it all and the club would never be where it is today without them.

Thank you, NNJR Board of Governors, for listening and weighing in on a monthly basis to our driver education reports (even if polishing your Porsches with Q-tips is more of your thing…no judgments here).

Thank you, NNJR “chief of chiefs,” Bill Gilbert, for all that you do as a chief instructor, but especially for being our leader in all of our classroom instruction, including the winter driver seminars. Thank you, all of our chief instructors, for all that you do. We have two chief instructors at each of our DE events and they effectively run the educational side of the event, managing the students and the instructors, as well as the on-track activities. They give up a lot of the paddock socializing and sometimes their own driving time to help others. Thanks for keeping everything safe, serious, and most of all, fun.

Thank you, all of our DE Instructors. These guys provide instruction while we are on the track, but their voices will be in your head long after the event, in your daily commute (look ahead), on every off-ramp (choose your line), and in a snowstorm (smooth inputs). They also are essentially volunteering to be in a passenger seat while a person with much less driving experience drives them around a racetrack. Their only control over the left seat is through their communicator. This takes a lot of bravery, some Advil, and an occasional dramamine, but at every event, they are there helping others to become better drivers.

And last but not least… Thank you, all of our drivers. We really could not make any of this possible without everyone, from the greenest of the greens to the most seasoned veterans. It is refreshing to see how in our sport that people tend to grow into it, and after they have advanced, instinctively want to help their fellow drivers. All around the paddock you see a genuine sense of community – a yellow driver showing a new green driver where they should park, a white driver helping a yellow with air pressures, instructors helping instructors.

Thanks to you all and for all of the enthusiasm and kindness you reflect back to the instructors, the chiefs, and to me as the DE chair. It is a privilege to be a part of this group and a big part of what makes NNJR so special. Well, I am about out of paper.

As it goes with these things, there are countless people that I will kick myself for missing as this goes into print. Please know, everyone that helps, that everything that you do is greatly appreciated by all that attend these events. Have a good winter, folks, and I’ll see you in the Spring!