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High Plains Raceway with NASA Rocky Mountain Region

By | Automotive, Colorado, MK, Neil, Racing, Time Trials, Travel | No Comments

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Welcome to High Plains Raceway!

High Plains Raceway is located exactly as it is named. The High Plains about an hour or so outside of Denver. It is a 2.5 mile long, 15 turn track with a little bit of everything. Tight turns, a long straight, fast sweepers, and elevation changes! oh elevation changes.

This was my first time at this track and was it a treat. A bit selfishly we kind of planned a vacation around this event, so we had the Jeep packed to the gills. Yes, I was going to tow my car, tools, toddler, wife, hiking gear, and all the necessary toddler toys, clothes, and everything else necessary for a week in Denver. Maybe I bit off more than I can chew???? Does YOLO apply here? Does anyone even say that anymore?

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Lets just get right into it and take a look at one of my faster laps:

Sessions were kept short in the NASA Rocky Mountain Region due to the thin air. I cannot say that at the altitude we were at on the track ~6k that I was really feeling the thin air. Did not really seem to have effect on me, but what I did not expect was how intense the sun would be at high noon. Obviously a dry air, but it was completely clear and very strong.

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Unfortunately that was also the downside. Jes and KK were not able to make it out to the track. Being over an hour drive and the fact that there is no shade, apart from any pop-ups you may be able to get under, it would have just made for a very short trip. KK does not stay still these days and the sun would have made quick work of her skin even with sun screen.

Another treat was my friend who lives in Denver, Patrick came along to the track to hang out for the day, took him on a ride along and I think we both had a blast.

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How’d it go?

Being my first time on this track I was not going to win any trophies that is for sure. The track is bigger than most of our midwest tracks so on any given session you really only have a few clean laps. This made learning particularly challenging.

The nice thing is that the track is very rewarding to lap on, as I said before it has a bit of everything. For those thinking about this track, I would say it is worth the drive. I found this turn by turn description of High Plains Raceway and found it to be pretty accurate!

Here is my quick rundown of my thoughts of High Plains Raceway:

Turn 1 – Coming off of the checker straight, tons of fun left hander, easy to get sideways, has a good amount of track out but you have to get set up for turn 2 on the other side of the track.
Turn 2 – Simple right hander, I took a bit of a late apex, be patient.
Turn 3 – Right hand, little kink, stay out wide, apex mid, and flat out for my car around the slight sweeper into the long back straight.
Turn 4 – Can take this a lot faster than you think, braking too much here loses time
Turn 5 – Finally need to scrub off the rest of the straight speed here, gravel tends to pile up on the inside of this turn, I took it wide.
Turn 6 – This turn is easy to over drive and push or get crazy over steer, slow in, fast out here, be patient.
Turn 7 – In my car you do not need to brake for this turn, takes some time to build up to that, but you can go flat out
Turn 8 – Another turn easy to over drive, slow in, fast out
Turn 9a-b – Flat out through these downhill, so much fun
Turn 10 – Hold as much speed as you can here, dont slow down too much, work up to it
Turn 11 – Stay way outside and apex late, be patient here, many people spin here because they turn in too early
Turn 12 – Flat out up the hill
Turn 13-14-15 – Slow down and get 13 apex’d right to set you up for 14-15, if you do it right you will sail through these, do it wrong you will be fighting the car to keep it on track. Get 13 right!

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Final thoughts…

I owe a lot to my wife Jessica and KK for happily going along on this journey with me and allowing me to race on this great track and facility. It was at times not the easiest (around hour 10, KK was not happy), but all in all I think that we had a great vacation (vacation post coming soon) where a lot of firsts were done. First time to this track, first time to Denver zoo, first time strolling through Golden, and first time (for me) hiking a 14,000+ feet mountain peak. It will be a trip I will remember for a long time.

But would I do it again? I would say yes, but with some adjustments due to lessons learned. One would be to either break the trip up into 2 days, or leave enough time to have a good hour or two stop mid Kansas for a picnic and park playing, something enough so that KK gets her energy out and then naps. Two, bigger, better trailer (I wish!). It would be nice to have storage, winch and things on the next one. Three, an older KK? I dont wish for her to grow up faster, but another year or two would do wonders for her attention span, communication skills, and maybe even potty training? OhGod.

More sights and sounds

More videos at my YouTube Channel

High Plains Raceway 2016

2016 Texas Summer Shootout at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit

By | Automotive, Neil, Racing | No Comments

2016 Texas Summer Shootout at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit – Another great event this year!

The Texas Summer Shootout is a dual event with National Auto Sport Association Texas region and Central region. That means a lot of cars and a lot of racing!

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Packing up Friday is a hustle as usual. I have to leave pretty early because it takes around 7 or so hours to get down to Hallett Motor Racing Circuit, and I like to get there well before sundown.

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Loading up the Z

Arrived and got settled with the group and got a great sunset view.

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Unloading and a great sunset

It has been a year since I raced at Hallett and it is a superb track with lots of elevation change and lots of challenging character in the track. Definitely a track that takes a long time to master.

Saturday

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Schedule

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Morning Coffee

Waking up early to some welcomed coffee in the JetBoil.

So the goal of Saturday was to first get re-acquainted with the track, to resume tuning my new suspension, and finally if possible to improve my lap times from last year.

2015’s best time looked to be right around 1:32:32.

Saturday

First session of the day was horrible. I was on new Toyo RR racing tires and had them set at completely the wrong tire pressures, the car felt like it was on ICE and the times reflected. The best I could muster was around a 1:37!

Second and third session went much better after the tire pressure fix. Got into a decent groove and was able to get some good laps down.

By the end of Saturday I had made some suspension adjustments ant noted them and got a time of 1:31:9x already besting my 2015 time. I was pretty happy, but I knew that I could crack below 1:30.

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Logging my times and my suspension settings

Saturday night was full of good food, good drink and a lot of laughs. It is always great to sit down with some of the more knowledgeable racers in the NASA Central community and talk about racing, get great tips, and soak up the experience.

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My digs for the weekend

My digs for the weekend

Sunday

So it was do or die for the sub 1:30 on Sunday. The first session of the day I decided I would have a friend ride with me and give me any feedback he could to assist me in my goal. This was a great choice! He spotted some of my mistakes going into turn 8 and 9 (dubbed “The Bitch”). I was braking far too early into turn 8, and not cutting the inside apex near close enough.

With these two adjustments I was able to carry much more speed into turn 9 and instead of downshifting before turn 8 I was also now downshifting from 4th to 2nd in the braking zone of turn 9.

Success!

Success!

Laps in session 2 certainly felt faster and after checking my logs, they were! Not just one lap under 1:30, but three consecutive laps!

So I went home pretty happy with the results. More track time at Hallett, more tuning done on the new suspension setup, and bested my old time by over 2.5 seconds!

If you want to check out more pictures and videos, check out the pictures from the weekend, and my YouTube channel. Want some other racing posts? Check out my racing section!

Thanks for reading, see you next time at High Plains Raceway in September!

4/9/2016 – Gateway Motorsports Park – NASA Central Time Trials

By | Automotive, Neil, Racing | 2 Comments

Gateway Motorsports Park 2016

Let the 2016 season begin!

I will be running Time Trials with NASA Central starting out this year at Gateway Motorsports Park.

But first, lets briefly recap what happened over the winter!

1. Fixed axle back exhaust leak on my Motordyne Single
2. Installed Tomei Titanium Y-pipe (sounds awesome and weight savings like woah)
3. Installed New Motordyne ART pipes to fix blown test pip resonators (sound awesome by the way)
4. Got TCKline Koni DA shocks rebuilt by Proparts USA
5. Installed TCKline Koni DA’s on Nissan Motorsports T2 13k linear springs
6. Installed whiteline urethane bushing on lower control arms that OEM were shot.
7. New Trans, diff fluid
8. Flushed brake fluid with Motul RBF600
9. New Gates drive and accessory belts
10. Oil change

So not as much as I had goals to get done, but not too bad either considering everything else that needs my time right now.

So if you read carefully you would see I basically put on brand new suspension. The new Koni DA’s I had rebuilt and dyno matched have both compression (how much resistance the shock has in compression) AND rebound (how fast the shock pushes back out after it was compressed). This allows me to tune not only how stiff the front and rear are, but also tune how the car reacts to hitting bumps or transitioning weight side to side or forward to back.

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Needless to say its largely a process of trial and error. Make a change, go out on track, come back in and adjust due to how the car behaved.

I decided to start out at almost full soft (3 clicks compression, 3 sweeps rebound both front and rear). The car was SCARY at that soft around the oval and pretty tail happy.

So I moved into the paddock and switched to:

First Adjustment

Front: 6 clicks compression, 4 clicks rebound
Rear: 4 clicks compresssion, 3 clicks rebound

Next session was better, but still getting some over steer and the oval still seemed pretty scary.

Second Adjustment

Front: 8 clicks compression, 5 clicks rebound
Rear: 5 clicks compression, 4 clicks rebound

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Next session over steer was pretty much dialed out except for at the edge, which I like, rather than under steer (push).

Quick primer in the difference between over and under steer to any non racing types or novices.

So I decided to stay at these settings since they felt good and just focus on getting faster on the track. And that I did. Even on 30 some heat cycle Nitto NT01’s I improved my best lap time at Gateway by ~3 seconds! Going home with a best lap time of 1:12:85.

The car definitely feels more sorted now. It does not over steer near as badly and skip over bumps, the new setup feels soft over bumps but transitions and rolls in a predictable manner. I feel that I still need to go a bit more stiff both front and rear, but not by a whole lot. More tuning time on track is needed!

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Unfortunately first event of the year bugs did hit my video setup and I was unable to get video of most of my time on track and sadly not my fastest laps, however I did get a good couple laps, enjoy below!

KK and Jes come along!

Another big deal is that Jes and KK came again this year and it was fun to see the difference a year makes. Last year she could not walk and was mostly confined to the stroller and the car seat. She had a great time walking around the paddock and track, and lots of fun playing with the gravel.

KK 20 months at Gateway Motorsports Park from Kohler Created on Vimeo.

Thats a pretty big change versus 2015 below!

What’s Next?

So where does that leave me now? Well going solo up to Raceway Park of the Midlands next month is very much up in the air. 50/50 chance and this point. It would be a great track to get some more tuning done and see what time improvements the new setup yields up there, but there is a LOT going on in May.

Otherwise we are going to hit up Hallett Motor Racing Circuit in June! An epic track and a great facility. More pictures coming soon! I will update via social media when that happens, so follow us!

September 2015 NASA Central at Kansas Speedway

By | Automotive, Family, Neil, Racing, Travel | No Comments

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I’ve come to the conclusion that Kansas Speedway is simply better than Gateway Motorsports Park as far as roval (oval tracks with turns inside the oval) track goes. And here is why…

  • It does not have Gateway turn 1 and it does not have Gateway turn 7. That should automatically peak any driver’s interest that has experience at Gateway.
  • If you go wrong at Kansas Speedway you are not guaranteed to hit a solid object. Now, it’s no Mid-America Motorplex where you have miles of cornfield, but it is certainly much more forgiving.
  • Its infield turns are simply more challenging and interesting in my opinion. Turn 1 is just as scary as Gateway turn 1, but not because it feels like you car is going to spin out of control because of the transition out of the oval, but because you are going FAST at Kansas Speedway, and the turn is a challenging turn to get perfect.
  • Even with my measly 270hp at 3000lbs I achieved 140+mph in the oval, with much faster cars hit some incredible speeds…How cool is that?!
So now that we have that out of the way, how was the weekend?

A great quality of Kansas Speedway is that it is only two hours away from home making it possible for both Jessica AND KK to come along. It is also in a great location with many eateries, hotels, and things to do around it. We were able to book a nice hotel within walking distance from the track. This is rare in Midwest tracks!

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This was my first time at Kansas Speedway and while on paper it does not look like a very challenging track I came away knowing that a couple of the turns will take me a bit to get right consistently.

Lets look at Kansas Speedway turn by turn!

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Turn 1 is particularly challenging as you are coming off of the oval going at least 130mph in even some of the most lower powered vehicles and if you go in too hot and blow the corner, it is not very forgiving to under steer and track out, you are pretty much in the dirt.

Turn 2-3 is a quick flick back and forth with turn 4 being a standard skid pad in which you can either double apex, or late apex. I chose to late apex simply because there is a good straight before 4 that allows you to come in very quick to 4 and I like carrying that speed outside.

Turn 5 is a sweeper that you pretty much hold flat out and turn 6 is pretty interesting tight left hander in which I feel that different vehicles could have very different lines through.

NASA set up a small cone chicane after turn 6 to try to slow down cars that would achieve insane speeds by the end of the oval. However this little cone chicane proved to be not much more than line it up and flick the car right. In my car I could go flat out on this. It was fun though and took me back to my autocross days!

Lastly the oval, pure insanity and I pretty much took this flat out all the way around topping off 5th gear at around 140mph before braking zone into 1.

Sorry about the lack of data on my video, my logging app was acting up because of iOS 9 update 🙁

So at the end of the day I feel that I got a pretty good grasp of Kansas Speedway, but I definitely have a long way to go. I ended up taking second place in Time Trials TTU and had a blast with NASA Central!

I hope that I get to race on this track again next year!

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Interested in some awesome professional photos?

Courtesy of Max Lo Automotive Photography

Spect 2015 NASA Central at Kansas Speedway

10-11-2014 Heartland Park Topeka HPDE3/4

By | Automotive, Neil, Racing | No Comments

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This past weekend I attended The National Auto Sport Association season closer at Heartland Park Topeka! This would be my 4th event of the year, and considering everything that has gone on in my life in 2014, that is pretty damn good!

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This was my first time to Heartland Park Topeka. I left Friday around 2PM to try to get to the track by 5:30PM and get my car tech inspected, unloaded, and ready for early Saturday morning. Since this weekend was another weekend I was going alone, I opted to sleep in the Jeep. That turned out to be both the best, and the worst idea.

The best thing about arriving the day before is having everything ready so that you are not scrambling at 6AM trying to get everything done before 8AM track time. Typically we will get a hotel near the track but even that tends to make for a very early morning because you still have to pack up and check out, drive to the track (even if its close) and completely unload the car. This means usually we have to wake up at 5AM.

Camping out at the track you just wake up, wash up, and have time to even make a coffee and eat breakfast before hitting the tarmac. I got to sleep in until nearly 7AM!

Unfortunately I thought that I could sleep in the Jeep comfortably with my Big Agnes sleeping pad and my toasty Big Agnes mummy bag. Well… that works in theory, but when you cannot stretch out completely in the back seat, the mummy bag is mostly rendered useless because it cannot zip up fully and the sleeping pad folds up on itself. It made for a pretty crappy sleep. Next time I am pitching a tent on the trailer so that I can at least stretch out and zip up my bag. Even if the trailer is very cold, we have good camping gear that keeps you warm in sub zero temperatures, so I should be fine.

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With a frosty morning and myself a little stiff from the poor sleep we got started with the day!

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I was a bit nervous about the day to be completely honest. Kaitlan (my 8 week old baby), had kept me so busy the past couple months that I had not much more than glanced at a HPT track map. I was going in to my first session completely blind. A friend offered to show me the line and drive in front of me, but a few people got in front of me in pit lane so it was pretty much all up to me!

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Thankfully after just a few laps the track really started to click with me. I am not sure if it is the way I drive, or how my car handles or perhaps both, my line really came together quickly and by the end of the first 20 minutes on track I was already consistently finding a smooth line and not holding anyone up. It felt great to be able to be that adaptive.

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You may notice I have a passenger in that photo. Yup, my brother Alex who lives in Kansas City came by and rode along with me for two 20 minute sessions. It was fun to have him in the passenger seat and chit chat about racing, while racing! Afterwards he told me that he definitely can understand how and why I am hooked on this hobby. We had a great time and by the end of the sessions I decided to hot dog it just a little for him.

A power slide out of turn 14 for a cool photo!

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By the end of the day I feel like I was really hitting on all cylinders at Heartland Park. Yeah, first day out I am not breaking any records but I was really happy with my progression. I really want to go back next year and start to push the car a little bit more at this track now that I am fairly comfortable with it. However this time I will bring the tent!

Here is a video of my 2nd session of the day, a full 20 minutes!

10-11-2914 NASA HPDE3/4 Session 2 Heartland Park Topeka Full Circuit from Kohler Created on Vimeo.

Looking back, the 2014 season was really great; probably one of the best thus far. I got to visit some really awesome tracks that I have never been to which really helped me come around as a driver and learn to expect the unexpected and adapt. Considering everything that happened in 2014 I cannot complain at all about being able to still squeeze in 4 track weekends.

My year in review!

1. Gateway Motorsports Park – St. Louis, MO
2. Mid America Motorplex – Omaha, NE
3. Hallett Motor Racing Circuit – Tulsa, OK
4. Heartland Park Topeka – Topeka, KS

But before I go, I was packing up the car for the drive back and decided, well… why not grab some free food and drink as the NASA Central guys always serve great food and drinks on Saturday night. As usual the award ceremonies commenced as everyone ate. Not wanting to be rude I stuck around and great driver after great driver went up and received their season awards.

Then I heard something along the lines of “this driver not only runs his own business but also has a brand new baby” and to my surprise my name was called out as “HPDE driver of the year”. I was shocked. There are so many great drivers in the HPDE program that it was truly an honor to be recognized and awarded driver of the year. While I have come very far with my driving, watching those more experienced than I reminds me how far I still have to go. Not such a bad thing as the journey is so very enjoyable, I would rather not skip ahead.

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2015 is going to be an ambitious year. Not only will I do competitive school for my racing license, dabble in some time trials and perhaps even wheel to wheel racing, but I will also be bringing Kaitlan along to take in all that is a track weekend. Maybe the experience will rub off on her, you never know, I would not complain!

Want to see more pictures?

Full album of track photos

6-21-2014 Hallett Motor Racing Circuit – NASA HPDE3/4

By | Automotive, Neil, Racing, Technology, Video | No Comments

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So this post is about a month late, but I was waiting for the photos from the on site photographer to do a recap. Now that I have those, lets talk about Hallett Motor Racing Circuit!

So I made the 7 hour trek to Hallett Motor Racing Circuit to run with the National Auto Sport Association HPDE3/4. Hallett is about 30 minutes west of Tulsa, OK. I decided to go further than I usually would for a track weekend on the advice of a few friends that Hallett is in their top 5 tracks in the USA and would be something not to miss.

Never a welcomed sign when towing

Never a welcomed sign when towing

Almost rear ended these people when a huge storm came down and there was zero visibility and everyone was stopped, very scary moment. Thank you trailer brakes

Almost rear ended these people when a huge storm came down and there was zero visibility and everyone was stopped, very scary moment. Thank you trailer brakes

Hello Tulsa

Hello Tulsa

Finally at the hotel

Finally at the hotel

The long drive down I44 and through toll roads ($10 hauling a car one way?!) makes you a bit skeptical if the trip is going to be worth it, but Hallett proved that wrong.

The track opened up in 1976. A clip from Wikipedia:

Hallett Motor Racing Circuit is a road course about 35 miles (56 km) west of Tulsa in Northeastern Oklahoma, USA. The track has 10 turns in 1.8 miles (2.9 km), and over 80 feet (24 m) of elevation change. The track can also be configured to run both clockwise and counter-clockwise, yielding two distinct race courses.

Wait…. 80 feet of elevation change? Yeah, that’s right. Okay I see now why this track could be a lot of fun.

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The weekend was called the “Summer Shootout” which had both NASA Central region AND NASA Texas. The paddock was absolutely packed as I arrived early Saturday morning. I barely was able to find a spot!

Squeezed into this spot

Squeezed into this spot

I ran with the HPDE 3/4 group and since I have never been on this track the first session out was a bit sketchy. Running with other people who are familiar with the track and very fast can be really nerve racking when you are trying to learn the track while keeping a good pace so that you are not in everyone’s way.

Got a few people behind me, but keeping the pace!

Got a few people behind me, but keeping the pace!

However after a couple sessions I was really getting into the groove and feeling out this track. Talk about a hoot. There is so much to say about this track, but here is the short and skinny:

Turn 1:

A turn that you come into from the back straight quite fast, however this turn is slightly banked which allows you to take it fast… a lot faster than you think, and over the day I kept going faster and faster on this turn with much success.

Turn 2-3:

A very slow turn that you have to get right otherwise you really add on a lot of time, slow in, fast out on these guys.

Turn 4-5:

The first of your uphill turns that were a bit scary at first because I am not really used to dealing with the car getting light weight at the top of a hill while turning.

Turn 6-7:

Really fun turn, stay way outside and turn in a bit later apex, hammer it down and just hold on.

Turn 8:

Another uphill apex. Take this as a straight line, know where the apex is and no problem. Keep in mind the weight upset of cresting a hill.

Turn 9:

Labeled “The Bitch”. Rightfully so, coming in quick on this turn downhill makes for quite a turn that is already a bit tight, I stayed outside and apex this late and hammer it down as there is plenty of track out room.

Turn 10:

Double apex or stay outside and apex late, the rumble strips here are a bit scary, track exit room is pretty good, so fast, fast, fast out.

Here is a video of one of my laps, check out how smooth the new GoPro Hero3+ is! Soooo much better than the iPhone camera. Also I can now do Picture in Picture! More on that in a bit:

6-21-2014 – Hallett Motor Racing Circuit Lap 6 from Kohler Created on Vimeo.

Originally the reason why Jessica did not come with me this time (I was flying solo) was because of the heat and typically track weekends are not very forgiving. Most of the time you are sitting on asphalt and the only recourse to heat is an umbrella and a bunch of water.

Little did I know that Hallett has excellent facilities! Hot showers, an air conditioned cafeteria, a small gift shop, and a legit camping site! Really great facility. Jessica could have come had I known this.

The lunch line in the cafeteria

The lunch line in the cafeteria

Gift shop!

Gift shop!

Uh oh...

So about that new camera. I could not handle the vibrations of the iPhone camera any longer. It was getting to the point where the videos were un-watchable.

So we decided to get a GoPro. These little guys are really useful for a lot of things that we do. Hiking, Camping, recording workouts or lifts to check form, and it has a 10 megapixel camera as well just for snapping photos.

This also gives me the option to still use the iPhone camera, but as the smaller Picture In Picture. What do you think I should have for the second camera? Driver view? Behind the car? Feet view? Suggestions?

Panorama of the view from my parking spot, click for larger version

Panorama of the view from one of the spectator stands, click for larger version

In the end I feel that I just got a basic handle on Hallett after 80 minutes of seat time. I will definitely be returning next year to this track with Jessica, and perhaps Kaitlan. It has the proper facilities to accommodate both Jessica and Kaitlan and I want more time on this track.

If you are considering Hallett, you really should go the extra mile, or miles to experience it. It is now my favorite track!

Want to see more pictures and videos?

More videos over at Vimeo!
More of my photos, and photos from the Hallett Foto Shoppe
How about a video of our race group?

4-26-2014 Mid America Motorplex NASA

By | Automotive, Neil, Racing | No Comments

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Coverage from the weekend elsewhere on the web:

Videos from the cockpit
Photos by John Hiatt
I even made the NASA Central Feature Driver Profile!

Another familiar sight and another track weekend! This time we were headed to one of the further tracks that we go to: Mid America Motorplex in Pacific Junction, IA (20 minutes south of Omaha, Nebraska) for Mid America Motorplex with NASA (National Auto Sport Association) in HPDE3.

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3+1 came along!

Even with a 5 and 1/2 hour drive and pregnant, as usual Jes came along with me to be my support. I am very lucky to have her there! A race track is an exciting place to be for me, but for many racer’s their spouse would be less than enthused to spend the weekend there.

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Hey look, the pups Matilda and Clive even came too!

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If you do not recall, I went to MAM last year and it was definitely an experience that left me feeling like I had to come back to this track again and get more seat time on it.

So this particular weekend’s goals were to:

A: Become more comfortable with Mid America Motorplex
B: Get on the throttle much sooner on the apex of turns rather than too late
C: Get used to open passing in HPDE3 and HPDE4

And by those goals the weekend was a pretty big success. By the end of the day I was feeling much more comfortable on the track and was getting most of the turns right and whittling away at my lap times.

If you watch some of my videos it is also quite apparent that I was getting on the throttle much sooner into the apex rather than coasting through most of the turn.

The only downside at all is that HPDE3 was put with the HPDE1-2 groups so there were quite a few slower cars on the track at the same time and we were not allowed to open pass with the HPDE4 guys so my only gripe on the weekend would be that I did not get much passing experience. Next time!

The only issue of the day was a bit of a slide going into turn 9 on one of my laps. I think I may have went in a bit hot, and then slightly lifted to bring the back end around, however I recall it just feeling “slick” in that area, so I do not know what happened. In any case I was able to recover quickly without any drama.

4-26-2014 Mid America Motorplex NASA Central HPDE3 Lap 20 from Kohler Created on Vimeo.

After a pretty breezy and hot day I got my 80 minutes of track time and the Z performed very well. The car just keeps on performing well considering how much track time it has seen the past couple years. I work to keep this up by keeping fresh fluids in it and all of the performance safety items as possible to keep the motor in good health. I also try to drive smoothly and shift with accuracy and confidence as to not upset the drivetrain.

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The rest of the track time was just pure fun. I was lucky to have John Hiatt on the track, a professional photographer, taking photos of the car, and here are some great ones!

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So what is next?

Well MAYBE Hallett Motor Racing Circuit in Jennings, Oklahoma (Near Tulsa). I have never been on this track before, so a big challenge of both learning the track as well as my pursuit of getting into HPDE4 and doing some open passing practice.

3-29-2014 Gateway Motorsports Park NASA HPDE

By | Automotive, Neil, Racing | No Comments

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Coverage from the weekend elsewhere on the web:

All videos of laps from the weekend 
Photos from the weekend!

FINALLY!

After a very, very long winter it is finally here: my first track weekend of 2014! The opening weekend just happened to take place at Gateway Motorsports Park in Collinsville, IL. I am very familiar with this track. I have more seat time at GMP than any other track as you can see here, and here.

This year I will be more closely following the National Auto Sport Association Central (NASA Central) division because NASA will be eventually where my car fits in best to compete and the staff, instructors, and volunteers are just a great bunch of people to be around.

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All packed up and ready to go!

Saturday:

Saturday was downright COLD! Temperatures at the track at 8:00AM were in the 30’s, and with no sun to be found it was quite a precarious morning. Tarmac temps were low too and considering it was most people’s first time back in the driver seat since 2013, everyone was being real conservative on the track.

Jessica spent most of the day sequestered in the car, reading books and taking naps. I don’t blame her. When I was not in the driver seat I was in the car too trying to get feeling back in my hands.

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Despite the cold temperatures, it was great to be back behind the wheel and the car felt great! Last season I had to replace my wheels due to one of the old ones cracking, so new Enkei RPF1 18×10.5+22 wheels and brand new Nitto NT01 tires (275/35/18) were on the car. The car performed very well and only a minor suspension adjustment was necessary due to the tire rubbing the inner fender lining. The morning sessions were nice and slow to shake off the cobwebs and get used to the new shoes, but by the afternoon I was back in the groove and back on my racing line.

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Sunday:

All was not lost on Saturday, because I registered for both Saturday and Sunday sessions. The forecast for Sunday looked to be nice and sunny so after a long chilly day on Saturday we retired back to the hotel in Collinsville to relax and recharge for day two!

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As you can see it was still frosty even on Sunday. The good news is that the sun was out and heating up the track, and the air was still cold. This combination of warm tarmac and cold air resulted in many cars breaking track records. I could certainly feel it as well, and Sunday ended up being a much faster day than Saturday.

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This was my first weekend in the HPDE3 group (What is HPDE?). This group allows more open passing and is paired with HPDE4, which is the most advanced group  to participate in before considering the next step of a competition license.

It was a really good learning experience having all of those experienced drivers around you on the track and the experience of people passing you, or you passing others freely. I was definitely much more aware of what was going on around me and I think that overall it kept me more focused on driving. While my lap times were not my best, I was definitely getting my line down and while getting used to others moving around me.

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Thoughts…

So after 180 minutes of seat time in one weekend I can say I came away with a lot learned. The car has a lot left in it when my driving catches up so that is nice. Pretty much my biggest issue at the moment is not getting on the throttle at the apex, rather, I am getting on the throttle way too late into corner track out.

Taking video of yourself is quite amazing because when you are in the car everything feels so fast, however coming home and watching the video after the fact it is obvious that I had plenty of grip left to get on the throttle much sooner. So that is going to be my main goal for the next track weekend.

Here is a video of one of my faster laps of the day on Sunday.

3-30-2014 Gateway Motorsports Park HPDE 3/4 – Lap 12 from Kohler Created on Vimeo.

What’s up next?

On April 26th I will be racing at Mid America Motorplex in Omaha. That track has many, many more turns and is a much more challenging track. Should be fun!

More videos of laps from the weekend
Check out all of our photos from the weekend

How To: Change the differential fluid on a Nissan 350Z

By | Automotive, DIY, How-To, Neil | No Comments

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Today I will show you what you will need to change the differential fluid on a Nissan 350Z. Mine is a 2003 but this tutorial will work for any 350Z and 370Z and will translate well to many other vehicles.

Most people do not know that your differential needs fresh fluid bi-annually, especially if you have a limited slip differential (LSD woah dude). Keeping fresh fluid in the differential will not only extend the life of your LSD but will also make it perform more consistently. This is one of the easier maintenance items to do so I highly recommend keeping the fluid fresh.

Tools you will need:

The Process:

1. Put some wheel chocks or a brick or something in front and behind the front wheels so that they will not roll as you jack up the car.
2. Jack up the car. I typically jack up the back by the rear differential and then put a jack stand on either side of the car.
3. Locate the differential drain and fill holes.

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4. Loosen the drain hole and drain into your pan. Notice that the drain plug has a magnet on the end of it. Clean any metal shavings off of the magnet.

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5. After drained, put the drain plug back in and torque down to 22-28ft/lb.

6. Open the fill plug and attach your fluid pump to the fluid bottle. Mine does not fit the gear 300 bottle, but most other bottles will fit the pump.

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7. Once you have filled around 1.5 quarts, the fluid will start to come out of the fill hole and you know you have put in enough.

8. Tighten the fill plug to 22-28ft/lb and you are done!

Our new 2014 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI

By | Automotive, Volkswagen | 6 Comments

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I am a little belated in writing this (aren’t I always?), but we sold my car last week! And bought a new one! A 2014 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI! It all happened really fast. Our neighbor caught us when we were home over lunch one day and asked if we’d ever thought about selling my Jetta (2002 VW Jetta GLS TDI). We’ve been thinking about replacing “Sidda” for about a year now, but since she’s paid off and has run so well, we’d always just put it off every time it had come up. But the idea of selling her to someone we knew without the hassle of all the tire-kicking and negotiation was too good to pass up.

We’d been considering a few different cars, mostly used BMWs. But when we happened to glance at the inventory at our local VW dealership and saw that we could get a brand new TDI Sportwagen for less than we could get a used BMW, we decided to jump. It helped that we had a friend at the dealership. It made the buying experience so enjoyable.

So why the 2014 VW Jetta TDI Sportwagen?

The Short List:

  • 30/42 MPG – Still a diesel with great fuel economy
  • 140hp/236ft/lb – Surprisingly quick for a 2.0 diesel motor, much quicker than our 2002
  • 6 speed! – Fun all around and having a manual lets you really control how efficient you want to drive
  • Wagon – Lots of space for camping gear, or just the occasional big stuff you may need to haul around
  • VolksWagen – Our 2002 was a great car and never left us stranded. It was also still very solid after 12 years old, no rattles and not falling apart. We are big fans of German built cars.
  • ZERO miles new – Warranty, knowing how the car was treated, and just the smell of a new car makes you feel good about getting into a big commitment like a new vehicle.

In the end we felt a lot better choosing a brand new VolksWagen rather than chance it with a pre-owned BMW. A broken BMW can accumulate huge repair bills very quickly, so this will be one less thing to worry about and allow us to focus on the important things in life.

I feel crazy for buying a car I can’t even drive yet — but I’m determined to learn pretty quickly. I’ve never owned anything so nice before, and I don’t feel the least big boring for buying a newer version of the car I loved so much.

On to some pictures!