It kinda sneaks up on you…

the Mustang matures…

I wish there was more “new”, less weight, more HP and AWD… But this is an “end of life” generation that don’t even sell 100K a year. Otherwise I like…

Styling: The Mustang has grown up and isn’t a punk kid anymore, and should look the part. This Mustang has all the overhead cams, IRS, aluminum castings, and tech you’d expect in a Euro GT car for a fraction of the price, and there’s clearly some Aston Martin inspiration in the styling. 

Performance: I was underwhelmed too, until they talked racing and capped it with Bill Ford’s promise to return to LeMans. So while the hardware now is just a few more tweaks on the current Mustang’s, Ford will do whatever it takes to win LeMans and match the performance of any other automaker’s fastest… 

Legacy: The IC Mustang isn’t going out without one helluva fight!

My faith in Lone Star State has been restored!

You drive up to the gate of the track at dusk… And instead of the usual shakedown for expensive tickets and smuggled beverages and vittles, you just show them the downloaded waiver app on your phone and you’re welcomed in! Pick a parking spot with a decent view of tomorrow’s races, in the second row because you’re driving a van and that’s just good manners. Too early to sleep, so you go for a walk… Is this the pits or a party? But come 10pm and it all quiets down, and so dark I didn’t even need to put the windows all the way up or install all the window covers.

Daylight in the Cones!

Woke up at first light to activity all around me, with a small army of volunteers putting the finishing touches on the “track” and timing while hordes of drivers took a more than ceremonial “track walk”- One of the two courses is over a mile long and both have dozens of turns to learn.

Running against the clock, but there’s at least 3 cars racing…

‘Bout 8ish the drivers started their races against the clock, and with near 1200 drivers getting 3 runs each over 2 different courses the action was as hot ‘n’ heavy as “wheel to wheel” racing. Heck, maybe more so with no passing needed! That’s 3600 runs on each course over 4 days, so to get done at a decent hour both courses ran with another driver flagged off every 30 seconds or so. At one point I counted 5 cars on the courses at once, and it damned near looked like and sure as heck sounded like a race!

Old Skool car lift…

Meanwhile back in the pits, hands grasped wrenches instead of last night’s microbrews as street tires were swapped for DOT certified track “gumballs” and the odd tweak was made.

But all was not sweetness, light, and blinding speed betwixt the cones…

Yup, a Corvair!

Having done my last autocross in a Corvair back in 69, I got a soft spot for them. So I chased this one down and got a talk with one of it’s drivers, a 70ish gentleman whose been driving Corvairs since 1963 and racing this one for a couple decades. Despite having not even 3 liters of engine that GM abandoned development of near 6 decades ago versus the 5 liters and up of the Fox body Mustangs and Camaros in the same class, this Corvair just like in the 60s was competitive against the V8 pony cars that couldn’t put their power to the pavement… Until the SCCA allowed 2 inch wider tires and made the V8s at least 10 seconds faster!

SCCA has a tire problem…

Thanks, Tire Rack!

No surprise that internet race tire emporium Tire Rack had the biggest tent and put on a feed for a thousand, would have partook myself but got there as the caterers were packing up. Biggest trailer award went to Falken tires, and looked like another tire purveyor took 2nd place. Now makes sense that a ‘Vette or 911 demands high performance tires, tire wear isn’t a big deal if you can afford six figure cars, and when the roads get slippery supercars cower in the garage. Being working class, any car of mine has to be able to haul home a Costco cart size load through a blizzard and the 200 Tread Wear “summer dry” tires required to be competitive in even the “Stock” classes in SCCA autocross wouldn’t get me outa my driveway half the year. Now SCCA could make everybody but the tire merchants happy by requiring the kind of All Season 400+ Tread Wear tires even GTIs come with and every competitor would be on a level playing field… But Nooooo! So add $1200 worth of tires and wheels to the new helmet needed to satisfy the SCCA.

Vendor row…

(Don’t get me started)

Besides some enjoyable race spectating, I came to the SCCA Autocross Nationals hoping to get some of my questions answered and decide if I want to go auto crossing. I’d considered entering just to get some experience, but chose not to risk the $195 entry fee as I wasn’t sure if my helmet or car would pass tech, never mind be competitive. My helmet is an EC approved motorcycle helmet that is well regarded by serious motorcyclists because of that certification, but because I bought it here in the U.S. it has a DOT rather than EC approval sticker, but the manufacturer’s website says every helmet they build meets EC and DOT standards. It gets worse- SCCA won’t allow EC helmets next year because they say they can’t date them, but my helmet was introduced in 2011 and SCCA is OK with 2010 Snell helmets. So I need to blow some $$$ on a “Snell Certified” sticker helmet to go SCCA auto crossing, good luck finding one within 150 miles of here, and I know better than to sizing gamble by buying a helmet online.

Then there’s my “daily driver” and potential autocross racer, a Golf 7 TDI with 150 roaring diesel horses trying to lug 3300 pounds around. That’s 30 less horses and 300 more pounds than the late model Honda Civic that dominates the H Stock class my TDI ends up in, and it’s the SCCA’s slowest class. Yup, you need less than 20 pounds for each of your horses to haul to be competitive in SCCA autocross, otherwise may as well stay home.

And does SCCA even let diesel cars autocross? Hoping for answers I looked towards tech inspection, who were either MIA or too busy to be bothered weighting every car as it came off the course. Come noon break I had no answers to my questions and global warming was making the shadeless slabs uncomfortable enough that a nice two lane drive home was more attractive and I left, for good.

Overheated drivers and helpers push overheated cars to SCCA’s sacred scales…

I had hopes of finding some new amusements in SCCA Autocross and cities haunted by street racing could use the SCCA’s experience to get the racers off the streets and into safe competition. But if the SCCA doesn’t have an autocross home for this old white lady and her diesel car, how are they going to welcome more diverse racers?

Used to be that Labor Day marked the end of summer’s heat and we had a good September’s riding before the glaciers returned to the northern tier. Now with CO2 having passed 400 PPM with no hint of slowing its rise gearhead events have fled July’s heat and probably soon June and August too.

Been debating my Labor Day direction for a couple weeks now, as with politics out here becoming an exercise in frustration I don’t do parades much Labor Day weekend or any other anymore. Looking at my options theres the legendary Rollag Steam Threshers Reunion 200 miles to the north, The Chief Blackhawk antique motorcycle show, swap meet, and race 450 miles east southeast in Davenport, SCCA’s week of Autocross championships 275 miles south on the big slab in Lincoln, and an Airhead Tech Day/Get Together in Hot Springs, SD 450 miles to the west= Tough choice!

Tough choice in normal times at least, but our weather long ago ceased being “normal”, with new records set almost daily. When defining the range of temps we humans find comfy, it helps to use the centigrade system, where 20 degrees C (Centigrade) or 68 F (Fahrenheit) seems “just right”. Were’ still pretty comfy at 10 degrees C either side of that, from 50 to 86 Fahrenheit. But below that range we need bulky clothes and motorcycling becomes a losing battle, and above all the sweating we can manage can’t keep us cool and comfy. So I tend to look for destinations where the weather will be within that 10 to 30 C range. Now in the last century I ran into 0 C (freezing) temps around the north side of Lake Superior and across Colorado in early September, but for the last few years with this changed climate you’d have to approach the Arctic Circle to find temps that cold.

Instead Davenport, Lincoln, and Hot Springs will see temps above 20 C and in some cases well above, making the 450 mile ride or drive to Davenport and Hot Springs out of the question. Lincoln is iffy, especially since my sympathy for SCCA is waning as I find out how expensive it will be to race in even a supposedly low budget amateur class with them. The Lincoln airport’s slab is devoid of shade for obvious reasons, but the weeklong event runs through next Friday so I’ll probably pop down for at least a day or night though.

But Rollag’s getting a cold front tomorrow that should keep the temps below 25 C, so I’ll be making my first trip to the Steam Thresher’s Reunion !

15 hours and all I saw was this one measly BNSF loco and a cut of MT tankers…

May be gettin’ a little weird, but the hobo’s are alive and well as anyone despite a lack of trains suitable for ridin’. First time I made the convention in Britt, Iowa a couple decades ago we were graced with some surviving depression era hobos who taught us their life lessons before they “caught the westbound”. A few determined hobos still ride the rails, but with “side door Pullmans” (box cars) missing from todays open to the elements unit trains and competition from Amtrak’s cheap Rail Pass, most of us have become “hobos in spirit”.

The classic hobos took pride in their willingness to work, and their reason for riding the rails was often to find work. Today work is plentiful but the cost of living and especially rent has outrun wages, and old & cheap cars and trucks have taken the place of the “side door Pullman”.

Clever “addition”

Truth is, every night millions of homeless Americans are forced to seek shelter in cars, busses, old RVs, and the trucks they drive for a meager living as well as the tent cities within our cities.

xtra points for the cheap window AC!

And a few tasty gearhead delicacies…

Missed out on the 80s Vanagan Synchro? Nice JDM RHD Mitsubushi diesel 4×4!
BMW R1200RT+pop up camper trailer!

Had some of the usual great hobo entertainment too:

Pied Piper and legendary Hobo Queen Minneapolis Jewel entertain

And the customary “Hobo Shuffle” dance…

But all was not sweetness, light, and up cycled mom’s minivans… The “formal” convention activities centered around the shelter building, cookhouse, and campfire circle had shrunk further during the reign of COVID to the point Friday supper didn’t happen. Instead folks were spread in a bunch of smaller circles around their own campsites “doing their own thing”. And while it was nice to see the queer folks and minorities getting their place in the “jungle”, at least one of these little encampments seemed to have a different uniting theme… Suffice to say there was considerable all night foot traffic to and fro that encampment. Booze and drugs has long taken too many hobos, and the hobo’s convention needs a place for us drunks and addicts to find sobriety and serenity.

“You, along the road, need a code… That you can live by” (song lyrics, CSNY)

Hobos and the working class survived the depression with solidarity- A sense of unity that turned powerless individuals into an overwhelming political force. That solidarity pervaded the hobo jungles, uniting all in a fight to survive poverty and abusive authorities through the depression, and in the following World War that defeated fascism. That solidarity survives in the good folks of Britt who see beyond small town isolationism and welcome the hobos to Britt and the hobos that return there every year to carry on the proud traditions of the hobos. But sadly our numbers are dwindling…

Don’t think I can blame global warming, but why is it that we can have drought and heat all week and then a deluge on the weekend? First plan for the weekend was the epicurean and riding delight that is the Wisconsin Guzzi Rally. But again, while no scientific evidence supports the theory, Guzzis seem to attract massive torrential flooding which is caused by some Italian atmospheric anomaly or god’s wrath inflicted upon Guzzi riders for some sin or other, depending on your belief system and it’s conspiracy theories. Looking at the forecasts I decide a 350 mile eastward trek wasn’t wise, and sure enough that route is now a series of flood warnings on the weather map. Throw in the tendency for rain to shoo motorcyclists indoors where COVID is thickest, and I also decided against a 150 mile drive to the old bike show at Moon Motorsports in Monticello, Minnesota where one of my favorite dealers even cleared the new bikes off the showroom floor and pitched tents so the bikes would stay dry.

Case did li’l tractors too…

So I fell back to the ol’ reliable Hanley Falls Threshing Show, which never fails to provide ol’ time good gearhead entertainment. Besides the usual selections of 60s Mustangs, Unibody F100, hit ‘n’ miss engines and weird variants of mostly ordinary tractors if not for them being orphaned decades ago, this year the theme tractor was Case and a bountiful selection turned out!

David Brown in Case drag…

Meanwhile back in the summer sauna that is DC (now minus malaria), Congress finally passed a comprehensive environmental, health care, and inflation fighting bill. While the exact taste of this work of legislative sausage making hasn’t been detailed yet, it does contain long term certainty and some expansion of incentives for battery and plug in hybrid vehicles as well as incentives for renewable fuels and renewable energy for homes, businesses, and farms.

While that good news probably had Big Oil’s astroturf apologists who were very conspicuous at Farmfest crying in their bad beer, I talked to a couple 60ish farm boys at the threshing show who were already driving a plug in hybrid and looking forward to a battery electric truck… Looks like even rural folks can see clear skies ahead and welcome them!

A mild “blast from the past…”

Few days before us gearheads annual pilgrimage to Elkader for the Guzzi rally I noted my hack’d SuperTenere (S10) was doing a good job of decreasing and amplifying my throttle hand’s nervous system. A bit of diagnosis and my best guess is it’s a badly cupped Shinko dual sport front tire, and even with a few simple tweaks my right hand still reported some strange feelings an hour after a 40 mile ride. So called up this 75K mile BMW F800S out of retirement and hoped it had been cured of it’s appetite for stators thanks to BMW’s poor systems integration of this bike’s Aprilia designed and Rotax powered parts of them.

Not only was I testing this 15 year old bike, I was testing my 72 year old self- I’ve been riding hack’d (with sidecar) 99% of my miles the last 7 years. I can still balance a 2 wheeled bike well enough in motion, but taxying, take offs, and landings can be a challenge even with this bikes under 500 pound weight. But did the numbers on the fuel cost for this 600 mile round trip- figured $90 for the hack’d S10 and $50 for the F800S and the solo bike won! So kluged on the generic tank bag that replaced the better fitting Wolfman that was stolen when the BMW broke down again, the soft panniers bought for a Buell 20 years ago, and a dry bag across the rack for my small tent and micro cot.

Old Skool & OilHead

Given current fuel costs maybe a few more rode instead of trailered, giving us a chance to see if the classic BMW/Guzzi model of riding and living off a motorcycle was still viable, and by and large it was.

Stelvios…

Turned out I saved even more that expected by going solo, gas mileage was about 60 MPG and trip mileage was about 800 including our “exploring”, so I saved enough on gas to pay the $55 rally fee! My campsite neighbor Jeff with a similar F700GS had similar good results at the gas pumps. Perhaps a mid sized high MPG tour able bike like this can keep motorcycle rallies rolling? Only down side I saw was the idiot 4 wheeler who pulled in front of me in the left lane at half the limit after I’d vacated the right lane so he could merge, resulting in the F800S’ 2nd ABS activation in 75K miles… Better make that a high MPG bike with ABS!

Here’s a few more pix:

Classic Guzzi!
Thanks to our Air Force for more surplus acres of concrete!

Indy may have America’s temple of speed and Road America may be our (unofficial) national park of speed, but out here in flyover country Sports Car Club of America puts on the Woodstock of speed, with hundreds of racers testing their and their cars performance against the clock in fierce competition. Entry fees are low, admission is free, and you can even camp on site if Lincoln’s cheap hotels ain’t in the budget. And I live just 280 miles from all this GearHead goodness!

“Christmas Tree” starter lights at a sports car race?

It get’s better- In a normal “solo”, “slalom”, or “autocross” race one car at a time runs against the clock. Taking advantage of the acres of slabs, SCCA set up two mirror image courses so two competitors can start from the same line, then diverge so everyone can see who’s ahead or not. Hey NHRA, this could actually make drag racing worth watching…

Vette’s and Porsches aplenty, but the karts defy physics and humbled most of ’em

This is a 5 day event over Memorial Day weekend starting with a driving school, two days of the “Pro Solo” championship series double slalom, then two days of SCCA championship series on a conventional one at a time slalom course. They also had a second “test and tune” course going for $5 a run or 5 for $20. I drove my new Transit Connect van down that SCCA can’t allow on the autocross courses for safety reasons, same with SUVs and trucks due to their high center of gravity. But sounds like if I update my motorcycle helmet to current specs and bring my Golf TDI I can get in some practice runs. I made a day trip of it and drove down and back saturday, and thanks to light traffic on rural roads was able to catch most of the days racing and still got home by dark. What’s not to love about SCCA “Fun with cars”? And they’ll be back Labor Day weekend!

FFI: https://www.scca.com/pages/autocross

Racing’s safer, for a start.

Those of you that know me note that I have two passions in life- Politics of the small “d” democratic persuasion and anything with wheels and a motor. Picking between my passions, I’ve gone motorcycling all over the countryside in odd years and turned that same motorcycle with a sidecar into a rolling advertisement for our democratic candidates in election years. Heck, some election years I did a parade or three every weekend all summer and just plain advertising our candidates through Election Day in the fall!

Then came COVID, and while two years in we’ve seen some progress it’s still a deadly disease for old folks like me. I follow the science, which told me to avoid indoor meetings and mask up when that wasn’t possible. Got my four shots and happy to report that I’d still COVID free and intend to stay that way- Again the science says that someone in their 70s like me is as likely to get hospitalized or dead from COVID as an unvaccinated person in their 60s so while the young invulnerable can usually get away with going unmasked indoors if they’re vaccinated, it’s a whole different world of disease and death probabilities for us elders.

‘Twas no surprise that the republicans added COVID to their denials almost from the start, and they were quite willing to sacrifice their own to COVID to look “normal” as they scrunched together unvaccinated and unmasked. We democrats followed the wiser path, as we moved all our meetings online in 2020 and won back the presidency and the senate while doing it. Having handled the COVID crisis masterfully, the big “D” Democrats slept while inflation took off and infant formula and a bunch of other essentials became scarce. Then in 2022 deadly Delta COVID was replaced by “COVID Light” AKA the less lethal Omicron strains. That, vaccinations, and probably the need to look “normal” like the republicans who are moving up in the polls despite having way too many insurrectionist wackos in their ranks apparently persuaded those big “D” Democrats to meet maskless and in person. Thus the decree went out from my states Democratic Party that all conventions would be in person, though a few party units wisely stayed online but not mine here in rural western Minnesota.

When I turned 70 to make some space for the young folks I quit running for party office, though I volunteer if no one else does. When we had our county convention a couple months back COVID was at it’s nadir so I attended, went to the senate district convention masked, and as COVID rates rise I skipped last weekend’s congressional district convention. This weekend the party is stubbornly holding their state convention in Olmsted County where even the CDC’s more cheerful map shows a high rate of infections. And yes, I know the party is requiring vaccinations but a shot or two a year ago is just about worthless and the mandatory COVID testing on Friday or Saturday morning won’t catch COVID caught in the Petri dish around the convention that runs through Sunday. So while I’m a voteless delegate by questionable virtue of being a democratic elected official and a member of a statewide party committee that hasn’t met in months, I can’t take the risk of attending in person and there’s no online option available.

Meanwhile, general “gear heading” and even racing with proper safety precautions has now become safer that politics- Besides riding motorcycles pretty much within the speed limits while wearing full protective gear, I’m going to scratch a several decades itch and go sports car racing and rallying. No, not Daytona or the track we used to call Donnybrook- Low budget and low risk events like autocross and rallycross where you race your car against the clock on a parking lot or field sized course. And because motorcycling especially and auto sports too need the space of the great outdoors in favorable weather, they’re infinitely safer than day(s)long political party meetings inside cramped halls. 

Been thinking about this for a couple years as winning in this rural area has become next to impossible for democrats, but I stayed involved in hopes we could support our statewide candidates who have a chance of winning. So I still did the parades with the rainbow sidecar but realized it wasn’t the ideal message for out here and a tractor would be better…

Problem was finding insurance for the thing, best option was a small business policy for a not insubstantial $500+ a year, which killed that plan. So thought I’d simply take my new blue van and hook it up to my utility trailer made up to be a float…

Low budget and boring, but that means nobody will object to it… Even the motorcycle phobes seem to at least accept minivans. 

Now this story’s been in my head for weeks, but today I tried to post on my congressional district Democratic Party’s Facebook page a request for some candidate’s lawn signs to properly decorate the minivan and trailer… And that simple post remains unposted. A couple minutes later the admin posted their idea of float decorating, with text so small as to be unreadable from halfway across a wide street, and sourced from a non union vendor. I added up the cost if I blew up the size enough to be readable, damn near $500! I quite politely pointed that problem out and was suspended from the page.

That was the last straw.

So to the big “D” Democrats, you’re quite capable of losing rural elections without my assistance and I wish you good luck, you’ll probably need it. To my friends the small “D” democrats, I love you as much as ever and support you in our struggles. I’ll fulfill my obligations as a grassroots party official, but as my attempts to further support the party have been blocked I won’t be volunteering for much of any new projects. I tried…

Please don’t beat on any Urals- The company is American owned and opposes the war.

This is the height of Russian motorcycle technology, and darn near the height of Russian technology, period. Note the resemblance to a 1930s BMW? Yup, they’re still building clones, with some improvements. Like the British Lucas auto electrical plant that reputedly the Germans never bombed because they considered Lucas an ally, Urals were designed for 40 MPH cruising because that’s as fast as they could safely travel on Russian “roads” and their owners admit they’re unreliable at any speed.

The Russian’s trucks aren’t any better, heck they’re even finally retiring their clones of the 1930s Diamond T’s we gave them in WW2 for the Kamaz, a 1970s Ford design.

Ford’s “Badder Idea”

About now some wise guy or gal is going to pipe up about Kamaz’s Dakar winning truck, the only Russian anything to be competitive in any kind of racing on this planet or any other. That Kamaz has a Cummins engine via China, a ZF transmission out of Europe, and the cab looks to have similar origins.

Now you’re probably getting the general drift now that a Russian military campaign is a slow motion series of breakdowns, and you’re right- As were seeing in a plethora of social media of hapless Russian troops and their trucks and tanks motionless all over the roads while being humiliated by unarmed Ukrainian old ladies. Their aircraft aren’t any better, and there’s a reason why their early jets and ours looked similar. Dictatorships stifle creativity, and the designers who offered Russia better designs probably long ago were disappeared to Siberia.

In contrast, especially when not occupied by Nazi Germany or Communist Russia, the nations of Central Europe like the Ukraine have a long history of creativity in the arts and sciences. The VW Beetle and ingenious Tatras were Hungarian and Czechoslovakian designs that were stolen by the Nazis…

And the Ukrainians…

Built by Ukrainians to piggyback a later scuttled Russian Space Shuttle, the Antonov An-225 went on to become the world’s premiere “super load” cargo plane that’s lifted loads of up to 250 tons and set several world records. This Ukranian feat is even more remarkable because there is no fleet of An-225s for backup, there being only a single complete An-225! Read up on this amazing aircraft: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonov_An-225_Mriya

As I’m writing, it’s been confirmed that Putin’s cowardly Russian invaders destroyed the unarmed sole Antonov An-225 parked on the ground at a Ukraine airport… Putin, you’re gonna pay for this!

Rest In Power, An-225!

SOLD FOR $16,500 ON 2/21/22

Now I have a similar R65LS hibernating right next to me, bought new back in 1984. Heads have never been off and compression is still good, transmission’s never been apart, but the odometer quit at 69k miles so I installed a cheap hour meter and ran up over 1000 hours before it died. So I’ve ridden at least 100K miles with pretty much nothing but oil, filter, spark plug, and tire changes. I figure my LS is worth about $2000…

Granted, it’s covered about 100k miles more than the auctioned garage queens 7k or so, and it can’t claim $10k in repair and restoration bills because mine simply hasn’t broken and restoring a $2k bike isn’t a money making proposition, and I gotta wear it out first anyway. And while some of the work on the auctioned bike like new tires, brake pads, etc. makes sense, a lot of it my bike and the auction queen probably too never needed- The near thousand dollars worth of high power alternator and ignition upgrades is nice, but other than a couple jumps and bump starts my R65LS’ original components are doing the job just fine. Then there’s the kit with the big bore pistons and cylinders to push the displacement from 650 to 860 cc., a dubious improvement given the LS’ smallish intake and exhaust tracks, and the “peashooter” exhaust isn’t helping any. Don’t even let me get started on the color- The LS came in a mesmerizing henna red and a superb silver, too bad they trashed it with a sick yellow they probably got on sale. Here’s the link for more of the modder’s bragging: https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1982-bmw-r65ls-custom/

But what really torques me is what these inflated auction prices are doing to the affordability of BMW “Airhead” motorcycles- For a “poverty rider” the airheads are one of the most economical motorcycles and vehicles to run. For the last couple decades a good running airhead could be had for $2k to $5k and that modest price got you a durable engine and drivetrain with a vast ecosystem of parts and advice. The smallest airheads, the R65 and R65LS, were often the best value with their small engines holding prices down while under stressing the drivetrain. I bought one of the LS’ big brothers, an R80ST with 67k miles, for $2200 and it’s given me a reliable 44k more miles since.

But when the airhead price of admission rises over $10,000, loving riders are replaced with investors whose only riding might be a slow 1st gear trundle to position the poor bike for the concours. Airheads were made to ride, and the highest and best use of an airhead is happily rolling out the miles and years!