Monday, March 30, 2015

Hot Action Under the California Sun

Our weekend at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway starts as a story about being stuck smack in the middle.  While probably not the middle of nowhere, CVR is, in fact, in a pretty desolate area almost precisely equidistant from the EFF Home Base in the greater Phoenix area, and our home in San Diego.  Unfortunately for everyone without a sleeper RV, it is also almost precisely equidistant from neighboring towns Blythe and Indio, which made for some early mornings and late evenings as we all carpooled some 45 minutes to and from the nearest hotel in Blythe.

For all of that, though, our trek to Chuckwalla Valley was rewarded by another fine weekend amongst good people, spent gleefully converting hydrocarbons into forward (and sometimes backwards) motion.  The Chuckwalla track is a wonderful collection of 17 corners snaking amongst the undulating dry lake basin.  Long, fast corners, linked to very technical sections of elevation change, made for a very different environment than most of the tracks we've become used to.  This was the first visit for most of us, so various portions of Saturday's sessions were spent simply finding our way around.  While the off-camber blind hill-crest of turns 8-9-10 challenged many of us for most of the weekend, the "corkscrew" and NASCAR banking that followed became much beloved.  Personally, I loved the fast, sweeping sections where you really had to drive through those corners, rather than just pirouetting around a collection of apexes at speed.  And speaking of, late apex were the words of the weekend.  Several reducing radius turns, and other places with pinched exits, definitely rewarded those who could patiently wait for those pesky cones to (finally) come into view before finishing a corner.

Most of whatever time on Saturday wasn't spent trying to learn the new circuit was spent trying to stay hydrated.  As it turns out, the hot action on the track could barely compete with off-track temperatures nearly 20° above monthly averages.  Chef Lauren, Lisa, and the rest of the crew did their best to keep us fed and watered, but I think at one point or another, each of us got behind and felt the effects.  

The open wheel contingent drew the lucky straw for Sunday, and our early start was matched by a planned early finish, giving everyone plenty of time to pack for their drives home.  Earlier sessions and a smattering of cloud cover made for more tolerable temperatures, although overheating of drivers, and cars, was still an issue. 

During lunch, someone had suggested that the days would later be referred to as The Black Flag Sessions, and while it sounds more like a really edgy Jazz-Fusion project with Henry Rollins, it does aptly describe our time with Speed Ventures, our hosts for the weekend.  They were gracious and worked very hard, but a variety of on-track incidents, some trivial, some non-trivial, showed differences in experience (or temperament) in flagging and clearing the track.  Their policy of (sometimes) black-flagging any car that put four wheels off the track had us scratching our heads, and using the whole-course black flags to pit-lane all cars prior to re-starts was confusing.  The biggest disappointment was when an unfortunate shunt on the out-lap of Sunday's second session led to delays in clearing the cars, and we lost the entire 20 minutes.  While there were two cars were damaged, and even a minor injury, watching the session tick away, and overhearing the confused radio chatter while sitting at the head of the black-flag queue, made it clear how spoiled we've been by Hurley and the team from Pro Auto Sports. 

At the end of the weekend, though, the true metric of the experience is measured on the size of the smiles on all our faces.  Everybody made huge improvements, and by Sunday's final race there were several tightly-packed groups of cars contesting nearly every position, as has become the norm for this group.  It was universally agreed that we should return to the Chuckwalla Valley, though I think most hoped that next year it might be in February, instead of March!

For myself, it was great to be back on-track with my brother Alex, back in the States for only a handful of times in so many years.  We haven't raced together since we were both in rented Spec-7's several years ago, and he's made the transition to open-wheel without trouble.  More importantly, he is already helping to keep the rest of the pack confused as to exactly which Herbst in TriCalm colors they're battling with.  Spending so much quality time with Brother/Father/Uncle is how I justify weekends away from the rest of my life, but it really is an unmatched experience to share.


Monday, October 06, 2014

Astrolander Update: Rear-Door Mounted Fuel Carrier

When I first started building this van for overland travel, I figured I'd eventually end up with one of the ubiquitous massive steel bumpers with swing-away mounts for a spare tire and a collection of Jerry cans and other accessories. After a while, it became clear that any such device would have to be custom-made and exceedingly heavy and/or exceedingly expensive. There are a lot of reasons to relocate the tire out from undernearth the van in the stock location, but it is a difficult thing to manage on a van with the 3-part "Dutch" door system with the upper hatch and short lower doors - unless you can swing the tire away, you simply can't put a spare tire back there if you want to be able to open the rear doors. After spending a TON of time scheming and taking measurements, as well as gauging how I actually USE my van and what I really need to carry, I've come to the following conclusions:

Astrolander Update: Pop Top Hinge Replacement

Some dedicated readers may remember that when I originally transplanted the GTRV top from the donor van, I noticed that one of the pop-top hinges was slightly bent and thus was binding. I've lived with this for 3+ (holy crap, just checked dates: actually FIVE) years, but the net effect was that the top never quite seated correctly on the van roof. I had trouble getting enough tension on one of the forward latches and sometimes after dropping the top I'd have to climb onto the back bumper and manually pull down on the top to get it fully closed.

Early calls to GTRV for replacement hinges went unanswered. I eventually figured out (through a lot of catalog searching) that the hinges were Reimo-made, duplicates of early VW Westfalia hinges. Sourcing these directly from Germany was going to be VERY expensive, so I kept looking for alternatives. Eventually I found another hinges with a similar (but not exactly matching) geometry for another product. After some wheedling the manufacturer of those bartered with me for a set:
As you can see, the gold Reimo hinges are longer, so I had to make some modifications to get things to bolt up. I don't have pictures of the process because it was a bit sketchy with the top raised and supported by 2x4s, etc.
As a bonus, the replacements are vastly superior construction. The Reimo design is thin material and single-shear, whereas the new ones are thicker material AND double-shear:ImageImage

For some reason, I never took a photo of the top raised with the new hinges. It looks basically the same. :)
Knowing that the hinge-replacement was always on the horizon, and fearing I'd need access to the roof to change the hinges, I never got around to putting the headliner back in the van. I'm sometimes amazed that my wife didn't complain more about riding around in a van with the metal roof and all the ribbing exposed. With the hinges finally changed, I was able to start that job only five years later.
Step one was to put the headliner "mostly" up, and make a small access hole:Image
Reminds me of the early stages of this project, 5 years and 50+ lbs ago:Image
Anyhow, using the access hole, I marked the perimeter of the headliner against the hole in the roof:Image
Then started in on it with a razor knife:Image
And finally ended up with a big hole:Image
(Note, this is actually about 2/3 of the headliner - the Astro design has it in two pieces, the rearmost 1/3 is a separate piece and re-installed mostly without modification)
Given how thin the "side strips" are, and due to issues with needing to fit around the reinforcing ring at the forward edge, I decided to divide the headliner into two pieces. I'll need to make a new forward section from scratch. The "middle" and rear headliners are now currently installed, but the cut edges still show. I've already sourced new headliner fabric, and will need to strip the OEM fabric and re-cover at some point in the future to really finish it off. I didn't like how the old GTRV headliner was installed as one giant piece with the fabric from the headliner wrapped directly onto the upper roof and was glued down. This made it so you couldn't drop the headliner without peeling the glue, so I'm making sure I "fix" that method before I recover everything here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

W00tstock 4.0 Has Come and Gone

The now-annual San Diego ComiCon variety-show companion, W00tstock, has come and gone. As with years past, I went from excited anticipation, to reveling in the warmth of being surrounded by "people like me", to a sudden post-holiday like depression.

I remember some of my friends trying to explain to me what their youthful Church-going experience was like, and I find myself now using the same phrases and adjectives when I try to explain W00tstock to others.  It is very difficult to describe to someone who doesn't get it, except you can say it's a place where you feel safe, everyone laughs at the same jokes you do, and you relish the chance to be surprised and amused in a world where that happens all too infrequently.

Thanks much to the key players who've make this great experience happen for multiple years now:

I can't even begin to list all the Luminaries of Geekdom who made appearances last night, but I will say that the surprise appearance of Molly Lewis during Marian Call's last song made my night.  I'd have sorely missed her if she'd not made an appearance!

Planning for next year's show must begin: NOW!

Friday, April 20, 2012

New Foodie Blog

I've been spending an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about food lately. Mostly amongst foodie friends and family, but also with non-foodie friends as I try to once-again emphasize Moderation in my eating habits.  More importantly, I'm hoping to strike a balance between eating-what-I-want and not-eating-too-much.  Since the majority of my readers are friends, family, or people who care about the latest camper project or robot hack, and the minority are foodies, I'll be taking the food stuff over to a different blog:  Herbie Eats...

It'll be strictly food-centric, a mix of my fun eating experiences, amateur reviews, recipes, and any thoughts I have as I try to reduce the quantity of what I eat while maintaining (and improving) the quality.  Hope you'll follow me there! Read More...