08/30/2014: I'm still here...

Category: General
Posted by: Mike
I'm still here... and still racing too. The blog was down for a while due to spam bots. Unfortunately, this means I've disabled comments. If you want to get in touch with me, feel free to email me at mike at the name of this blog. I'm planning to keep this blog up for a while. Hopefully the information on it will help someone. I hope to get back to post again about racing too eventually.

TAG racing is going good. So far this year one wreak, one feature win and some good racing. TAG is still strong here at the club level, even though the national series seem to be shifting to one engine only classes. We have two TAG classes now, senior and legends both drawing a good number of racers, with Leopards, X30, Rotax, Rok TT, PRD all racing together competitively.

Here's some video:

06/18/2013: Update

Category: General
Posted by: Mike
It's been a while since my last update. Life happens and I have been focusing quite a bit of time and energy on non racing things. But it's not like I haven't been to the track either. Last year I heard about the Skip Barber IndyCar Academy. I was skeptical at first wondering what the catch was. A free entry to a shootout where the winner would win a free ride worth $60,000?? I've been writing for four and a half years on this very blog about how these things don't happen! But I decided the chance was too good to turn up and I entered the program, which required doing the 3 day skip barber racing school. I went in pretty unprepared, not having driven a race car in over a year, and not totally focused. I wasn't that happy with my performance at the 3 day school, but I was invited back for the shootout. I was still skeptical but finally decided I needed to commit to this and give it my all. I knew this was probably my best and likely my last opportunity to make it "legitimately" (I could write a whole book now on what that means and why it doesn't really make sense) into higher levels of racing. I practiced on iRacing seriously, working not just on fast laps but practicing real world technique. I studied video and more than anything, I mentally prepared.

When the shootout came I proved that the preparation paid off. After being pretty disappointed in my car racing endeavors over the past few years, I did well in the shootout. I was in the top 3 of my group for every timed session, I had no penalty points, I turned legitimately fast laps. I was ecstatic to feel that I'd finally just put all the pieces together. I finished 8th of 32 finalists in a national competition to find the best amateur in the country. But only 1st place moves on to the free ride for next season. I did my best, which was very good, but in this competition, not good enough. And I'm totally fine with that. For the first time in 5 years a had a real opportunity, and I am grateful for that. Although not everyone will agree with me, I think to have this chance, along with 3 days of track time and instruction for FREE, makes everyone a winner!!

Read more about my experience here. If you're looking for an opportunity right now, this is the best thing out there, period. I've learned a lot over the years and I'm serious. Skip Barber doesn't pay me to say this. The rules and requirements have changed somewhat for this year, review them here. If you have any questions let me know.

In other news, I finally got my TAG kart back out last weekend, and it is really a blast. Karting for me now is first about having fun rather than as a tool to move up. And I'm having a lot more fun!

Finally I'm flying out tomorrow for the Sport Kart Grand Nationals. I have to thank my team Indo Pratama Racing for their support for this event! I'll be sure to update was much as possible.
Category: General
Posted by: Mike
I recently attended the races at Riverhead Raceway on Long Island, New York to watch a friend race. He did a great job after suffering a flat tire to come back and pass several cars before the end of the race.

Riverhead is a tiny 1/4 short track. I've also seen the races at my local asphalt short track (Old Dominion Speedway). Since I'd attended the Baltimore Grand Prix just a month or so prior, and also have attended plenty of club road racing race weekends as a participant and spectator, I got to thinking about the differences of road racing and oval racing for the spectator and in particular why local/amateur/club road racing is not a spectator sport, while short track racing is!

Short track racing is quite frankly, just way more exciting to watch. Watching 400HP late models negotiate a tight short track, getting sideways putting the power down, side by side, inches from each other is just a pretty impressive thing to see up close and personal. Watching 120hp Miatas follow each other around a corner of a road course can be interesting sometimes. But it's just not the same as the former. The cars that race on a short track oval are generally just more spectacular to watch and the racing on a short track just promotes more action.

At a short track you can almost certainly see the whole track from any seat in the house. At a road course you can see a good few corners at a time if you know where to watch from. At the short track you can almost certainly hear the announcer from everywhere. On a road course from my experience you can hear the announcer from half the paddock, and no where from where you'd actually want to watch the race from. And that's assuming there's even an announcer. These two things make road racing more entertaining to watch on TV versus in person, with multiple cameras following the cars around the track and commentary from the booth.

At the short track you sit packed in with a few thousand other spectators in a stadium or arena like environment. This gives you the atmosphere of a football game, being a part of the crowd cheering, reacting to crashes, etc. can add to the fun and appeal of watching. At the road course the feel is more like relaxing in a park while race cars fly by you. This is one area where I can see both being more appealing to different types of people.

Short tracks take up a lot less land so for this reason (I assume) they are more likely to be located closer to major population centers. Road courses are typically in the middle of nowhere.

For all these reasons, short tracks typically attract a few thousand fans every weekend, while the road course might attract a few hundred friends and family a few times a year for a club race. The implications of this are huge to the grassroots racer. The road course racer pays $250-400 to race for the weekend, and gets nothing back as the entry fee goes to pay for the rental of the track and other expenses. The short track racers pays the entry fee (I'm not really sure how much but I assume it's cheaper then the road course club race) but then has the opportunity to make back some all or even more of that entry back depending how well the racer does from the purse payout. This is possible because of the thousands of fans, each paying, say $10-20 a head. So it's a totally different financial model that makes the two disciplines work.

So it becomes pretty obvious why one form of racing has more spectators and participants in the United States then the other.

05/24/2012: Rest in peace

Category: General
Posted by: Mike
Twenty years ago to the day my father past away. From all I knew he was a good man.

My old man's sport was basketball. I don't remember much of him but I do remember that. Every March I think he watched every single game in the NCAA Tournament. Then in May it was the NBA Playoffs. The few times I ever saw him shoot a ball, I remember being a very impressed five year old or however old I was, seeing the old fart do that. Years later I even found a newspaper clipping with a photo of him on the court while rummaging through his personal things.

Myself, I've always been pretty sucky at basketball. I was so young, basketball was never a father son thing for us. Although maybe he wanted to at some point, he never taught or showed me one thing about the game. Interestingly though, after he died, I did develop some uncanny ability to shoot the ball. By ten years old my jump shot could probably match any kid on the playground. It didn't really make much sense, I don't really know what to make of it, and I don't mean to imply anything about it either. Anyway, I was never much of a baller though, I didn't exactly have anyone to teach me, I never really had the confidence when playing in a game, and was slow to even pick up on the actual rules. I played sometimes and had some fun, but it was not my passion. Everyone else improved their shooting while my shot seemed to stay the same to this day. A good ten year old's shot is a pretty sucky one as an adult.

Interestingly it was shortly after he past that I began to develop an interest in racing. That interest would slowly develop into the passion I have today. As far as I know my father had no interest in racing. I don't know for sure what he would think of me racing, but I have my suspicions that he would probably not approve of it.

Of course I wonder sometimes how my life would be different if he was still around. Would the guy have taught me a thing or two about basketball? Would I have developed into a pretty decent player and developed a passion for the sport? It seems probable. If I developed a passion for basketball, would I have even cared about racing? I guess I'll never know.

I can't deny it, when I'm at the track and I see so many fathers teaching their sons the ropes and spending time together, I wonder what I missed out on. But that's OK. The way I look at it, I'm proud of who I am. And my experiences in life shaped me into who I am today. So I would never change a thing.

Rest in peace, Daddy. I hope I'm making you proud.

03/01/2012: 2012 Plans

Category: General
Posted by: Mike
As usual there's big changes for the upcoming season and things have been coming together. There was a change in circumstances so our team ultimately decided to sell the racecar and move on. It was disappointing to not get another chance in the car, but at the same time it also opens up opportunities for other things. I have to thank everyone that helped me with the car over the past two years. I learned a lot from the experience and ultimately I know it will help me down the road.

For this year, I'm looking to take things a little slower. I hope you don't mis-interpret that. I don't mean I've given up on racing. In the past few years I put a lot of pressure on myself to put to results fast with little knowledge, experience and a tight budget. This year I'm going to try to stick to things I can reasonably afford with my current situation and not rush into things. Then hopefully things come to me.

So after selling the car I picked up.... a kart! I got an old chassis for cheap and a new PRD Fireball engine to run in the TAG class. The idea is to have fun and learn by running mostly practice and races with local clubs. Then maybe next year I'll step up with a newer chassis to more serious regional and national races.

Some exciting things have been happening on the arrive and drive sport karting side of things. I won a free entry to the Sport Kart Grand Nationals from Volta Grand Prix. This is an exciting event which is expected to feature 120 of the country's best sport karters and a $5,000 prize purse! After dominating many local enduros last year, we're looking to branch out with our enduro team and travel to some bigger races. Arrive and drive karting is what got me started in racing and probably where I still have the most fun. It will be nice to have some time to focus on the leagues and enduros this year.

I'm definitely not looking to buy another race car this year, but would like to do some testing in different types of cars for the experience and to help me decide what direction I might want to go in the future. I've been looking into a bunch of things on both the road race and short track sides of things and looks like I might have some opportunities. Depending on how things go I might even try to rent for a few races, but that's all to be seen.

Finally, I've got another possible opportunity that might just throw a wrench in this all. It's too soon to go into any details, so you'll have to stay tuned!

12/26/2011: Racing blogs

Category: General
Posted by: Mike
I started my blog here just about 3 years ago. I was just getting started with actively racing and felt I needed a website. However, I felt it would be a bit futile to post up a standard racing driver website with no experience or achievements, and I also wanted to write more frankly about racing, both my personal racing and general racing topics, and found that there were not many sites like this. So I figured why not and created whatever I have here now.

Over the past few years I have found several blogs that are more similar to mine, which offer real insight to a verity of aspects in racing or detailed personal racing accounts in a more traditional blogging style, not just a rehash of results that say "I'm awesome and I didn't win because this guy took me out!". So I've added a few links to my "blogroll" which is in the right menubar.

Here's a summary of a few:

Martin Galpin - Formula car racer based in the UK and current engineer on the Force India F1 team.
Chump to Champ - Karter, Skip Barber Shootout Attendee and current SCCA racer.
The Gearbox - Former Star Mazda racer currently in the UK looking to race in British Formula Ford.
Mork Racing - Another aspiring racer.

I love to read other people's racing blogs so if you have one post a comment and if I like it I might link to you. And I'd definitely encourage anyone who's actually reading this to create a blog, I certainly don't regret doing it.
Category: General
Posted by: Mike
So what does it take to “make it” in racing? Is there a formula for success? Can we quantitatively determine what it takes? I can certainly try. Here is my revolutionary new formula, based on years of experience!

Success in racing = 40% work, 30% money, 20% luck, 10% talent. Pretty simple. Let's set a 100 point scale, one point for each percentage point in the formula, and say you need over 70/100 points to make it to a professional level in racing.

40% work means 40 points are up for grabs based on your determination, passion, commitment, desire, persistence, grit and tenacity. How bad do you really want to race? Do you have good work ethic or do you sit back and think you deserve something because of your “talent”? Do you put in hours off the track learning the mechanical, engineering and business side of racing or do you just drive? Do you spend hours studying video and data or would you rather just rely on your talent? Are you willing to work a job that might not be what you really want to do so you can make money to race, or do you lack that willpower and end up just moping around with no focus when you're not racing? Or do you volunteer in racing off the track to learn and build connections or just sit back again? And what are you willing to sacrifice? Fancy street cars? Vacations? Your social life? There's no right or wrong answers to these questions. In fact it's probably better if you aren't willing to sacrifice everything for racing and prefer to lead a more balanced life. But the more you are willing to sacrifice and the harder you are willing to work, the greater your success in racing will be. You are 100% in control of these 40 points.

30% money is how much money you have to spend on racing, simple as that. There is an extremely wide range of racing budgets so we are talking about a logarithmic scale here. Is your yearly racing budget $1,000, $10,000, $100,000 or $1,000,000? Four digits might get you a few points. 5 figures may put you around 5-10 points, then a solid 6 figure budget gets you into the teens, and 7 puts you into the 20s. Depending on how you look at it you do have some ability to increase your budget through hard work. Still, if we talk about the context of making it as a professional racer, typically as your age increases your earning potential increases but your chances of making it as a pro decrease, so these points are still mostly out of your control. Let's say you're in your 20's, the ability to raise your budget yourself from $10,000 to $100,000 through hard work (either from a job or finding sponsorship) would be extremely rare. Working hard to double your budget from $10,000 to $20,000 might only yield you one point in the grand scheme of things.

20% luck is just that, what you have absolutely no control over, on and off the track. You could get lucky with meeting the right person at the right time or winning a race due to a mechanical failure of an opponent or hundreds of other things.

10% talent – yes talent is the smallest of the four major factors. Talent in a race car to me is a drivers “feel for it,” which allows that driver to drive the car as close to the limit as possible while remaining consistently in control. An average racer may have a talent level of, say 7/10 (no one perusing racing seriously has no talent). The most talented racer in the world, at 10/10 would only have a mere 3 more points on the grand scale of 100, 3 points that can be easily made up by working harder, having more money or being luckier. However, talent is certainly not irrelevant, and I do believe most championship winning drivers of major professional series are near the top on talent. At that level it is so competitive, those few points can make the difference between a solid, qualified driver who may win a race in the right circumstances, and a champion. Also, you could say it's definitely possible to cultivate and develop talent. I doubt anyone is born a 10 in talent, but I also think some people will never achieve that 10, no matter how hard they try.

So what does this all mean? All the money in the world (30), combined with great talent (9) and good luck (15) won't set you over the threshold of 70 if you don't have any desire to work for it. Hard work (35), good budget (20) and great talent (9) is not a guarantee for success and luck is still a factor. An important distinction is that with max work (40), max talent (10) and max luck (20), it is theoretically possible to make it with just a tiny bit of money to put you over the edge. Obviously this would be extremely rare, and I don't even know if a real life example of this exists in modern racing.

So in the end you do have a decent amount of control over your own destiny in racing, but hard work is certainly no guarantee, not even close! Make sense? Feel free to post a comment if you agree or disagree.
Category: General
Posted by: Mike
Here's an interesting interview with Daniel Harrington, part time Indy Lights driver over the last few years. Freakonomics Radio did a show about the upsides of quitting, and Harrington talks about weighing the upsides of quitting racing.

No doubt there's a lot of upsides to quitting racing. However, what the economists don't consider (not surprisingly) and what Harrington only seems to touch on, is that racing is a sport driven on passion, which is not measurable. If my passion for racing wasn't there I wouldn't have even bothered starting racing. Humans are emotional beings and can't always just follow the most logical and rational paths. That applies to racing and many other things as well.

10/25/2011: GoPro HERO 960 Review

Category: General
Posted by: Mike
I've had my GoPro HERO 960 camera for a while now and posted many in car and helmet cam videos here recorded from it that you can view in previous posts.

The 960 package comes with several mounts, including a flat adhesive mount, curved adhesive mount and a helmet strap mount. It also comes with a waterproof housing, a non-waterproof housing door for certain applications, USB cable and component and composite video cables. It records in several modes - 960p and 720p at 30 fps, and 480p at 60fps. There is also a 5MP still camera mode. The 960 version does not have the expansion port which allows several advanced accessories such as an LCD screen to be plugged in. There are additional mount and accessories that are available; I use a suction cup mount for my helmet.

In terms of size and weight, It's probably not the smallest or the lightest camera, especially considering the durable case and the suction cup mount I use. When I have it on my helmet, I can definitely feel it a bit. For karting, the extra weight on the helmet means more force on the neck, mainly in cornering. I don't have a problem with neck fatigue using the camera in short sprint races in rental karts, but I think it could become an issue for long stints in an enduro or when running racing karts with gripper tires. I've avoided using the camera for long stints due to this, and would probably try to mount it somewhere on the kart body for a racing kart.

I like the wideangle lens on the camera and think it works well for racing applications. It allows the cockpit to be visible in an incar shot, and also makes it easier to aim the camera at the right angle, since there is obviously no viewfinder or LCD to view the shot that is recording.

The video quality is overall good. The quality is sufficient to see inputs from the feet and hands in the kart or car, and see the line and important reference points on the track. The HERO 960 is also able to deal well with light contrast such as when it is mounted in the interior of a car, which is much dimmer then view out of the windshield. The video shows the interior clearly, so I can see my work on the wheel and pedals, but the view of the track is not washed out either. The camera is also decent in low light conditions. In short the versatility is awesome, I've used it at night, in the rain, on my helmet and in the car, and it's always recorded quality video.

I have used some older versions of the GoPro cameras that had mediocre sound quality, but the current cameras including the 960 are much improved in this regard. With the enclosed case, wind noise is not an issue even with the camera exposed at high speeds. There is case door with exposed windows in it for higher sound pickup in lower speed and non water applications but I haven't used this.

The interface on the camera is limited which means it can be a little confusing to use until you are used to it. For example, when I first started using it I was confused about when it was recording and if it was in the right mode, especially if you are trying to turn it on after it is already mounted on your helmet. However I feel once you get used to it the process is pretty simple and usually not an issue.

Battery life is solid. I typically only record up to around an hour of video a day, but the camera can record 2.5 hours from the lithium ion battery pack. The pack can be recharged through USB on the camera.

I'm very impressed with the durability of the camera. All the GoPro HERO cameras have a clear acrylic housing which is waterproof and shock resistant. I've used it on very bumpy tracks with no problem. I have actually had the camera fall off my helmet (due to poorly mounted suction) and hit asphalt at 30MPH. I thought the thing might be done, but the camera was perfectly fine, and the main case only had minor scratches.

However, shortly after I noticed a small crack forming on the case buckle where it was most heavily scuffed from the impact. Worried about the clamp failing and the camera falling from it, I attempted to buy a replacement clamp, but found only the whole casing assembly for sale from GoPro. Somewhat disappointed, I emailed GoPro about buying a replacement buckle. After emailing a photo of the damaged one, they mailed a new buckle to my door within days for free! I'm very, very impressed with this level of customer service!

Finally the ease of mounting the camera is really a strength of the GoPro. There is one knob to detach the camera from the various mounts. I can quickly change from using the flat adhesive mount in my car to the suction cup mount from my helmet when karting.

Overall, I would highly recommend this camera. Its affordable, durable, easy to use, versatile and the customer service I received really set it over the top.
Category: General
Posted by: Mike
As a big fan of Indycar racing, no doubt the crash last Sunday that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon has made an impact on me. I was watching live on TV, as I was when I saw the fatal crashes of Jeff Krosnoff as a pretty young kid, and Dale Earnhardt several years later. I think this one may have had the biggest impact on me though, as it's the first time since I've been racing myself that a driver in a series I follow closely has died in a crash.

That said I can't say it changes my desire to race one bit. If I somehow got the opportunity to race something like an IndyCar, you better beleive I would be there in a heartbeat. I'm sure there are many out there that feel the same as me. I already realized and accepted the risks before I even started racing.

Still, that doesn't mean we should ignore driver safety. I never quite understand why oftentimes it takes a tragedy to improve safety. To me it's pretty obvious that racing in a huge pack of 34 open wheel cars at 225 MPH is a pretty risky proposition. Then again, it was one that all 34 drivers were willing to take.

I usually follow all the forums and blogs closely to keep up with the latest news, but I've learned from the past and avoided them for a while, because I don't always want to read everyone's opinions after something like this. People seem quick to make judgments like if this driver had done this and that driver had done that, then this and that would or wouldn't have happened, etc. etc. People also seem quick to pass judgment on the officials and the series, claiming that one or two simple rule changes will "fix" everything, like create some perfectly safe, exciting, sustainable and financially successful racing.

I watched the replays several times and personally I beleive the actions taken by all drivers were relatively reasonable, and everything that happened was mostly just the function of the situation the drivers were put in. I do beleive the Indycar series does a pretty good job overall, and if fixing everything was so easy, it would have already been done.

What I do think we saw is one guy run out of luck. Three drivers went flying in similar fashion in that crash, just like I've seen maybe half or more of the veteran drivers do at some point in their IndyCar careers. Sometimes (as was the case with two of the three drivers on Sunday) drivers walk away, sometimes they don't.

By all accounts, Dan Wheldon was a good man and a great racer, and I wish his family the best.