Sunday, June 29, 2014

Detroit Iron (Corvette and Viper) Rules at Watkins Glen

For the third IMSA | TUDOR race in a row, Corvette racing placed first!  After qualifying in second place on Saturday, the #3 Corvette C7R passed the pole-sitting BMW on the first lap, led for 154 of the 185 laps, then running on nearly empty at the end of the race, held off Mark Goossens Viper by a margin of only 0.185 seconds.  The Vipers finished in second and third place, followed by the #4 Corvette in fourth place.

Earlier in the season it was the German teams that were hot (reminds you of the WorldCup right now, huh?).  A factory-sponsored Porsche team and the always powerful BMW team had been neck-and-neck for the lead up until today. After starting the season at the rear of the pack, working out the bugs in the new 7th generation platform, the Corvettes are on a tear at mid-season.  They now lead in points for the "triple crown" -- Driver, Team, and Manufacturer points.

Here are a few articles with more details:

IMSA Report on Corvette Victory at Watkins Glen

Report from Corvette Racing

Monday, June 23, 2014

Remembering Ed Mooney

One of my all-time best Corvette-owner buddies is Ed Mooney.  But we had so many more connections than just Corvettes -- USC, Computers, Rock 'N Roll, and a family tie.

I met Ed while working at USC in the 1980's.  At the time Ed was working for the School of Engineering supporting the use of computers by all the aspiring engineers.  Ed "started" the micro-computer revolution at USC at a time when most engineering schools were using DEC-Vax technology for engineering curricula.  Ed instantly "got it" that the personal computer would dominate computing in the future and predicted that the "mainframe was dead".  To the chagrin of the main-framers on the corner of Jefferson and McClintock Ed was right.

By the time I moved to the Information Sciences Institute at USC Ed and I became closer.  We both loved 50's and 60's Rock 'N Roll music.  Ed was an expert.  He could name every song title, the artist(s), and the year the song was a hit.  Ed and his wife, Monique invited me and Nancy to concerts, especially the K-Earth 101 Legends of Rock 'N Roll epics.  What a blast!  We also went to smaller, more intimate performances at boutique bars and clubs -- I remember an especially fun night watching Al Stewart (I love "Year of the Cat").  We drove our Corvettes that night.

I never had much influence on Ed, but I think I might have had an impact in his decision to buy a Corvette.  He purchased a 1992 Polo Green Metallic Corvette Coupe with the new LT1 engine.

Ed honored Nancy and me by being one of the groom's men at our wedding in 1992.  David Shawaker was best man.

Our fondest memories of Ed are probably the "Male Bonding" outings and the infamous poker games.  We started the Male Bonding Club (later nicknamed "MFB" -- you can figure it out!)  when Howard Saperston invited me, Ed, David, and Gerry Fleischer to join him at his cabin at Mammoth Mountain.  These outings became semi-annual events.  In the Winter we would go skiing and in the Spring hiking and trout fishing.  Gerry would spend hours cooking up his famous Gumbo recipe while the rest of us sat around drinking beer, telling stories of the craziness at USC, and smoking cigars.  After dinner we would play poker into the early morning hours.  Those were fabulous times.

Ed decided everyone needed a nickname -- even spouses.  After Nancy and I were married we were pretty poor, so Nancy would bring discount coupons to all the group events.  Ed's nickname for her was "The Coup".  Ed was known as "The Mooner" (Note: I just want to be very clear that this didn't mean Ed was "mooning" anyone!).

Once I flew to Mammouth in my Varieze.  The guys had all carpooled up together to Howard's cabin the night before.  The next morning at the expected time of my arrival they drove down the hill to the Mammoth Airport to give me a proper greeting.  Before 9-11 small airports were very accessible, so the guys were walking around staring at the clear sky of the Eastern Sierras looking for a tiny airplane in the distance.  The airport manager came walking over to them to announce: "Gentlemen, you do realize you are standing on an active runway, don't you?"  A few minutes later I landed the little Varieze on the narrow, but long Mammoth runway and as soon as I taxied off the active runway there were my buddies!

The Varieze at Mammoth Airport (L to R:  Cary, Howard, Gerry, David, and Ed)

We decided that poker was best experienced on a more frequent basis.  So monthly poker parties ensued on a rotating basis.  Jim Moore, Joe Devinny,  and Game Quan became regulars.  Ed frequently won -- I always lost!

 In 1993 our daughter, Canon, was born.  The MFBers celebrated her arrival with gifts and a very nice party.  Monique graciously agreed to be Canon's God Mother and participated in her christening.  On the many visits they made to our home in Carlsbad we informed Canon that the visitors were "God Mother Monique and Driver Ed".  The names stuck.

When Gerry married Carolyn the MFBers decided to put on an "ameateur hour" type performance for Jerry's guests during the reception in their home.  As all of Gerry and Carolyn's friends and family gathered Monique played piano while Ed, David, Howard and I sang a modified rendition of "Moments to Remember" that we had composed a week earlier. The camaraderie was the perfect mix of affection, care, teasing, and laughter -- it was, of course,  deep and loving. 

Ed's birthday was May 4th.  I sent a birthday card but didn't get the usual email reply.  I didn't think much about it until later in the month when David called me to tell me of Ed's serious, sudden health problems.  Then came troubling email messages.  Then finally Monique let us all know that Ed died peacefully on Monday June 2nd.   

I understand that a celebration of Ed's amazing life will be held at USC this summer, "Raise a Glass to Ed".  Until then let me say, "Rest easy Mooner -- we loved you and we miss you!"

Cary Thomas, June 23, 2014

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bonneville Legend Visits Cary’s Garage

You may recall:

The same day that Thomas Payne, famous for the 1930’s Auto Shop Restoration Project, visited with me we had an amazing bonus visit: Thomas brought his close friend, Lou Bingham, with him!

Lou is legendary in the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) Circles and on the salt flats of Bonneville.  In his years of racing for land speed records Lou set or broke no less than 11 marks.  He is still active today and if you go to Bonneville this summer you will see Lou there in the thick of it all.

Lou brought his scrap book and gave me, Don, and Wayne the history of his life and racing successes.  Lou was born in the Washington DC area but moved to Southern California at the age of five.  He was handy with automotive mechanics and, with a partner, purchased and operated “Bird Rock Mobil Gas”  a full-service repair shop in La Jolla California.  The income from the shop and his connections to steel fabricators gave him the perfect platform for designing and assembling cars that could compete at Bonneville.  Look at the craftsmanship of this 1962 Bonneville-bound Roadster!

Lou and Thomas met at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.  Lou was crewing on a Formula Ford race car owned by a Continental Airlines pilot.  The owner introduced Lou to Thomas and now they have become fast friends.  The two of them make an annual trek to Bonneville each summer.  

While listening to Lou’s stories I realized that my neighbors, Tom and Jackie Eckles, have a connection to Lou; Jackie’s uncle was Don Blair, of Blair’s Speed Shop in Los Angeles.  I asked Jackie and Tom to come meet Lou.  When they arrived at the garage they brought with them some of Don’s Dash plaques and one of his trophies.  Lou did, in fact, know Don so it was a great time of sharing stories of the legends of early hot rodding.

From left to right: Cary, Linda and Wayne Cowie, Chris and Thomas Payne, Lou Bingham, Don Kingery and Jackie and Tom Eckles

The whole crew enjoyed a great afternoon filled with the nostalgia of hotrods, racing, and meeting new friends.  

I think I need to make a trip to Bonneville!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Corvettes Finish P2 and P4 at 24 Hours of Le Mans 2014

The new C7R Corvettes made their first trip to France this weekend and are coming home with second and fourth place finishes.

In the 82nd running of the most grueling and famous endurance race on the planet Corvette Racing was hoping for their 8th victory since 2001, this time in their new class GTE Pro.  After qualifying 2nd and 4th, we finished the way we started.  Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin all ran very strong and all finished.  Two mechanical issues cost Corvette the victory, but the team worked hard the entire race.  I went to bed at midnight with six hours left in the race with Corvette running P4 and P5 in the darkness and down multiple laps.  I work up before 6AM to see the end of the race and was pleasantly surprised to find that the #73 Corvette with Antonio Garcia at the wheel ran down the Porsche and was closing in on the Ferrari as the clock ticked down to the finish.  A very good result for the first year out with the new platform. 

Cars from all the major manufacturers were represented at Le Mans:  Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Audi, Porsche, and Aston Martin (BMW was not there because everyone knows that you can't drive a BMW 24 hours without returning it to the Dealer for repairs!).  The USA was represented by only one manufacturer (where was Viper?).  Corvette Racing returns to Watkins Glen for the next round of the ALMS Series on June 29th.

Corvette Finishes 2nd and 4th at Le Mans

Monday, June 2, 2014

Retracing Charles Lindbergh’s Steps in San Diego

Nothing is quite as good as dear Corvette friends.  Corvette friends who are also pilots make for very interesting events.  In May, 2014 I enjoyed two excellent examples.  This story is the first of two.

Larry Barnes (Marine Pilot, and owner of a 2003 50th Anniversary Corvette) and I decided back in January that we would spend a day retracing the steps of Charles Lindbergh as he (im)patiently  waited for the completion of the Spirit of St. Louis in San Diego in 1927.  We chose May 20th for our adventure, which was the 87th anniversary of Lindbergh’s departure from New York for Paris.  Our advance planning paid off handsomely.

Our quest was to find and visit every Lindbergh statue, plaque, photo, airplane replica, ribbon and memento.   With one exception, we saw it all!

We began our journey by driving (in a Corvette, of course!) by the Torrey Pines Gliderport, a location Charles and Anne frequented (Anne Morrow Lindbergh became the first American woman to earn a first-class Glider Pilot’s License).  Charles set a regional distance record for sailplanes at the time, launching from the lift at Torrey Pines Gliderport and landing on the beach at Del Mar.  From Torrey Pines we drove across the Coronado Bay Bridge to the Naval Air Station on Coronado Island, stopping to have lunch at the Sea N' Air Restaurant.  Adjacent to the active Navy airstrip is the land that served as Rockwell Field, a spot where Lindbergh made the first test flights of the Spirit of St. Louis.  We were disappointed that there was no marker at this sacred site.  

 Our next waypoint was the San Diego United States Post Office on Midway Drive.  The Post Office was constructed on an area known as “Dutch Flats”, the location where Ryan Aircraft completed the final assembly of the Ryan Model “NYP” (New York to Paris).  Just minutes away from the current San Diego International Airport, more properly “Lindbergh Field”, the Post Office has three different plaques commemorating Lindberg’s accomplishments and the pioneering Ryan Aircraft Company.  We tried to buy Lindbergh stamps or other memorabilia at the Post Office, but came away empty-handed.  No one at the Post Office realized the importance of May 20th.

A quick drive to the south found us at Lindbergh Field.  At the west end of Terminal Two we found Paul T. Grunlund’s famous sculpture of a youthful Charles Lindbergh in his flight suit accompanied by Charles as spirited boy.  The statue seemed to be portraying the joy and freedom of flight.  Inside the terminal, down in baggage claim, we found a 100% scale model of the Spirit of St. Louis hanging from the ceiling.  Beneath it were some display cases with Lindbergh items and other artifacts of aviation in San Diego including a bust of Lindbergh created by Paul Fjelde. 

A pretty nice display.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a coffee cart called, “Ryan Bros. Coffee”, and a gift shop appropriately named “Lindbergh Field News” with a huge Lindbergh photo.  No one that we talked to at Lindbergh Field was aware of the importance of May 20th.

Our next waypoint was the San Diego Air and Space Museum.  We talked our way into the Museum free-of-charge after informing the cashier of our important quest (she did not realize the importance of May 20th).  What a display!  In the center of the main hall was an actual, ready-to-fly, recreation of the Spirit of St. Louis, “Spirit 3” (unlike the fake model at Lindbergh Field).  The docents (who were all pilots!) gave us a warm greeting and explained the extensive exhibit to us.  In addition to the airplane, they have photos, plaques, medals, paintings, and other memorabilia.  Best of all they have a free-standing replica of the cockpit so you can appreciate what it was like to fly 450 gallons of fuel for 33.5 hours across a big ocean sitting on a lawn chair peering through a telescope over the gas tank!  Bob, the most interesting docent, told us a story about his mother, who was graduating from Stanford University in May 1927.  She told Bob years later her memory that the graduation ceremony was halted to announce that Lindbergh had landed safely in Paris!  The museum display reminds us of the enormity of the accomplishment – six men, everyone who attempted the flight, had died in the trans-Atlantic effort.  With little more than a compass and courage, Lindbergh had accomplished the “impossible”.  We left the museum with a souvenir newspaper from May 21, 1927 and the joy knowing that we had reminded the docents of the importance of May 20th.

Our final stop was a rendezvous with Nan for celebratory drinks at the US Grant Hotel on Broadway Street in downtown San Diego.  

Lindbergh was frugal so he probably slept at the YMCA for many of the 60 days it took to construct N-X-211.  But folklore has it that he spent at least a few nights sleeping in room 447 at the US Grant.  We asked the Concierge about room 447. He was unsure of the importance of May 20th.  But he was familiar with the Lindbergh connection.  He apologized that due to a remodel of the famous hotel, there was no longer a room 447.  Bummer.  But we enjoyed a few drinks in the lounge and toasted the famous flight and our completed quest.

Just a week prior to our adventure Nan and I were visiting with friends on Bainbridge Island in the Seattle area.  I mentioned the upcoming quest and my affection for Charles Lindbergh to our friends, Ron and Mickey Santina.  They said to my astonishment, “We have met Erik Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh’s grandson, right here in Bainbridge.  He is a wonderful guy!”  Ron gave me Erik’s business card.  You may know that Erik duplicated his grandfather’s trans-Atlantic flight in May 2002 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the historic flight.  So the night before our adventure I sent Erik an email message telling him of my quest with Larry.  In an email reply I knew that Erik understood the importance of May 20th!

P.S. The only plaque that Larry and I did not see on May 20th was one in the Solar Turbines Building – the exact location where the Ryan Aircraft factory was located in an old tuna packing plant.  The nice public relations people have promised us a tour in the coming weeks so we can see the very last Lindbergh artifact.  When Larry and I go for a visit, we are also going to the Hotel Del Coronado where Lindbergh stayed in September 1927 after his successful flight to Paris.