MMR Blog

MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on February 7, 2014 Comments (0)

This week’s images are from the recent Cavallino Classic Sports Sunday at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach and were shot by our Florida Correspondent Leslie Allen.

MarAlago Overshot

Buano

Aston

Denise McCluggage Sets the Tone for Thinking While Driving.

Thanks to FCA – New England, Aston Martin Owners Club and the Alfa Owners of New England clubs for getting the word out to members about The Centered Driver Workshop. The event was sold out. Read our wrap-up.

Racing…

F1 - Caught with their Parts Down, Red Bull… First to Blush: The teams all had their first run out of the box at Jerez. Mercedes looks good, Ferrari looks indifferent, and Renault appears to have all kinds of problems. Stay tuned, early days yet.

Sebring Logo

Sebring 12 Hours: Tudor Sports Car Series the next Big Bore Race. Very much like Daytona, this is a terrible race to watch on TV. BTW, Kudos to the announce team at Daytona and hopefully at Sebring. They make it hugely better. Bravo!

A Street is not a Road… and Neither is an Oval

Miglia Logo

The first European racing courses were laid out on roads, not always paved or even graveled, generally between towns. As roads got better, the dangers of racing multiplied for both the thrill seeking drivers and the thrill seeking spectators who crowded the roads to get closer to the action. At some point, the roads became loops and the races became laps. Then some form of barriers kept the spectators from crowding the cars, even if little prevented the cars from crowding the spectators. It could be assumed that Europeans wanted to get closer to the action because they got to see so little of it. Events like the Mille Miglia allowed whole towns to see the cars go by once and if you were car mad that could be frustrating. Crowding a car at the apex of a turn became the equivalent of teasing a bull to charge your cape just to see how close you could bring your hip to pointy horn. The disaster at Le Mans in ‘55 heightened awareness among promoters that spectators needed better protection or they might stay away. Little was done about driver safety until the ‘70s because they were more easily replaced.

Damn Few Died In Bed by Andy Dunlop

Early on, American racing history took a different turn. Small ovals, some banked and others banked and made of wood, allowed spectators to see all the cars all the time and although single-seater racing was equally deadly, spectators were generally safe and because it paid well, drivers were more easily replaced. (See our review of Damn Few Died in Bed in the Racemaker Press Book Reviews.)

After WWII, as speeds around the racing world increased and the sport of motor racing became more popular, more purpose-built facilities materialized and some weekend racers became full time racers. Racing on abandoned wartime airfields was a perfect English solution as these locations were paved, had existing infrastructure, and could make for quite safe racing. With a few notable exceptions such as Monza, the French, Germans, and Italians continued to race on closed off roads at Le Mans, The Targa Florio and the Nurburgring. Compare what these guys are doing at the Nurburgring in The Speed Merchants with any three minutes of the 24 hours of Daytona. Buy this video and relive.

The continued popularity of the streets of Monaco, which is not a particularly good race track, has always appealed to promoters happy to disrupt metropoli across America with promises of huge crowds of consumers in exchange for a free track and local TV coverage. In reality Street circuits, (as compared with road courses) such as Baltimore, Toronto, Long Beach and Three Rivers only look Like Monaco from 30,000 feet or higher up. Down on the ground, the bumpy cement barrier bound lanes and twenty foot high catch fences make every corner exit look like a prison break.

Then there are the neither fish nor fowl “road course” tracks like Daytona, Indy, Fontana, and numerous other ovals. These have all paved unimaginative flat turns deep in their bowls and produce, at best, tedium. Bring back road courses like Lime Rock, Watkins Glen, and Laguna Seca.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Peter Bourassa


Jag


Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Posted on February 6, 2014 Comments (0)

Paul Chenard

Halifax Nova Scotia Automotive Artist, Paul Chenard, learned that Denise McCluggage would be in Lawrence MA for The Centered Driver Workshop one week before her scheduled appearance on January 28th. Paul is a huge Denise McCluggage fan and he decided that he must be there and asked if he could come. At that point, Michael Ricciardi owner of European Motorsports was flat out trying to create what is now called The Loft out of what was simply a crowded storage space above his showroom and shop. When Paul learned that the windows had been plastered over he suggested he paint a racing scene on two of the panels. Paul made two sketches which he sent Michael for approval, then loaded his vehicle and left home in a snowstorm to be here in time to complete his work. This is how he did it.

The scene depicts the final few feet of what photographer Jesse Alexander called “Fangio’s Great Race”. Driving for Maserati in the 1957 German GP at the Nurburgring, his team employed a different strategy from the Ferraris of Hawthorne and Collins. The plan would require the Maserati to start with less fuel, build a lead, and then stop on the twelfth lap to refuel. But a bungled 39 second pit stop allowed the two Ferraris to get by. Now you can watch a video of this race narrated by Alain de Cadenet and judge for yourself.


The Centered Driver Workshop

Posted on February 6, 2014 Comments (1)

A Fine Beginning…

Last week, Denise McCluggage came to The Loft at European Motorsports in Lawrence MA to introduce The Centered Driver Workshop. It is based on her 1970s book, The Centered Skier, which successfully introduced elements of the martial arts, to the physics of downhill skiing.

Centered Driver loft

The Centered Driver Workshop, as did its skiing predecessor, deals with the importance of recognizing the changes that skier/driver actions have on the attitude of the skis and the automobile’s contact with the road. With her guidance, participating students demonstrate the effect that combinations of driver accelerating/braking/turning have on the four contact patches (tires) of a car. When demonstrated this way, the physics are easily grasped. The second aspect of this workshop deals with the role the martial arts plays in focusing the mind and body on the task of driving a car. McCluggage, obviously a practitioner of the art for many years, demonstrates the powerful effect of focused energy as a strong young volunteer tries unsuccessfully to bend her arm.

Denise McCluggage

The final third of the workshop is devoted to anecdotally marrying the physical and the mental with the practical aspects of daily driving. McCluggage has thought driving through completely. Whether she is explaining the joy of “celerating” (a word she coined) through a turn carrying adequate speed to maintain balance without either accelerating or decelerating, the difference between seeing and comprehending what you see, or simply why she turns off the radio when she is driving, you come to the realization that by becoming a centered driver you can enjoy driving at a level of awareness which you never even knew existed.

Denise McCluggage driving


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on January 31, 2014 Comments (0)

Nearly Everyone can Read… Many can Type… Fewer can Write

Denise

People who depend on words for a living—writers, editors, teachers, and lawyers, know when something is written well. We, the general reading public, first begin reading for education and sooner or later for entertainment. We only gradually become aware of the differences in style and flow. And then one day you read a book or an article that is written in such a way that makes you notice that you enjoyed the way the story was told as much as the story itself. That is exactly how I felt when I read my first story by Denise McCluggage. My eagerness to read her Autoweek column has never subsided. In this issue of the MMR Newsletter, we are thrilled to announce that, with the gracious help of Hagerty Insurance, Denise will be writing a semi monthly column in our MMR Newsletter entitled My Word.

This week’s column, entitled Auto-Auto, is her vision of the future of transportation. It is certainly a dramatic departure from the past and we look forward to your comments.

A Happy Day in Detroit

There was joy in Mudville on this past Monday morning! Detroit hit a mighty homerun! What a month for Chevrolet! First they are named North American Car and Truck of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show and then they take the top four places in the Daytona 24 Hour race. Quite spectacular really. For those who do not follow sports car racing in America, and they are legion, the winning Corvette was a Daytona Prototype, A Chevy powered full race car, not the enhanced street version of the Stingray which ran in the GTLM class and finished fifth in class . The new C7-R did not fare as well in the GTLM class finishing 13 laps down to the winning Porsche. In its defense, it was its first outing and… it is damned good looking.

Corvette

It is obvious and expected that the rules will require continued tweaking to allow the ALMS prototypes to be more competitive. The fastest of these was three laps behind the winning car. These constant changes will unquestionably incur pushback from competitors who see their hard earned advantages disappear. If the end product is better racing, everybody wins. The road ahead is rocky indeed. The next round is in Sebring in Mid-March. You can read Motorsports Magazine’s Gordon Kirby’s take on the events prior to the race.

GM

Accountants be Damned!

So here’s to the bright bean counters who came in with government money and turned GM around, then had the good sense to turn it over to smart young car people. As for the bean counters who thought GM should die, they cannot be anything but disappointed. Pity.

Have a great weekend.

Peter Bourassa


My Word: Auto-Auto

Posted on January 29, 2014 Comments (7)
Denise

By Denise McCluggage

It’s closer than you think. What to call it isn’t quite so certain. Some say “driverless cars”, others “self-driving cars”. I have decided on Auto-Auto which is short for “autonomous automobile”. That may well be my own private whimsy, but I like it.

The technology has flown on the wings of bright minds and bounding curiosity. And a lot of striking the forehead with the heel of the hand. One of the most critical such strikes came when the idea of smart highways—buried wires like those that change our traffic lights, sensors on fence posts etc. and similar ideas which were making headway in Europe—suddenly gave way to: “Not the road, stupid—the car, the car.” Strike away.

So arrived the challenge in the Mojave. The slightly skewed thinking (a near-requirement for such ventures) was in evidence at the first prize-supported robot car challenge (with a military spin) in the Mojave Desert a decade ago. Laughably inept machines were struggling to dodge shadows and the leading contenders ended beached on boulders, bobbing awkwardly. None completed the full course. No prize- money awarded.

But be careful what you sniggle at. The very thinkers and tinkerers involved in that adventure and the far more successful one the next year have now put thousands of accident-free miles on the likes of Google do-it-without-you vehicles and an Auto-Auto world is here! Just not obviously yet. (Four states so far have authorized on-the-road testing.)

What we are really waiting for are the lawyers. Americans have to know who to sue. Well, agreed, liability is important so pardon my facetiousness. And impatience. But do get on with it. Besides the liability matters, some mind-tossing refinements are needed for cityscapes and crowded scenes where varied objects and people interact randomly. But right now the Interstate highway system with little more than the “nanny” aids available on new cars could be navigated safely over long distances without a human’s driverly input. Uh, maybe because of that absence. The only accidents any Google cars came near were those that happened while humans were in control.

Sorry, but you are no longer necessary.

And that irreversible fact is going to change things over time as much as the arrival of the driver-driven car more than a century ago. Just what changes will there be in that new world coming to a reality near you? Futurists are making their PHD-ish noises about it. And I, unburdened by credentials, will, in the paragraphs following, indulge my own fantasy of what a part of that future might be like—particularly for those of us who like being Drivers.

My take? Cheer up, you guys. As I see it the era of the Auto-Auto will be a boon to us. Driving will be less of that tiresome wheel-holding in crowded flocks and more actual driving. More fun, less anxiety. Oh, not in the Auto-Auto things but in the real cars of history, of fantasy, of dreams. With Auto-Auto the real cars (they don’t vaporize you know) become the new horse.

Consider this: when the clop-clop beasts were no longer needed for bearing burdens or pulling plows and coal wagons they did not—as a species anyway—disappear. Indeed horses became even more numerous than they’d ever been. But their raison d’etre was no longer utilitarian. It was recreation, joy, entertainment. A collected canter through the park; competitive jumping in tanbark arenas; extended cross-country trials; high-stepping, tail-streaming gaits in the show ring.

Marshall McLuhan has the idea. When a way of doing something is replaced by a new way the old way becomes free to reinvent itself. To become, in effect, an art form. (Anyway as I simplistically interpret him.) Thus, say, with the advent of TV then movies became “film”. Cinema.

Just you wait. You think fancy car shows are popular now, when the Auto-Auto becomes the norm for getting to work, covering necessary ground, doing whatever may be the tedium in using a car, then a concours will blossom on every main street every weekend and autocrosses on every parking lot of appropriate size. Fun. Games. Driving is so cool!

And you, dear Driver, will use the Auto-Auto to get where you have to go allowing its robotic perfection to whisk you hither and thither while you thumb through emails, make phone calls, order stuff on the internet, read a book, nap. Or gaze at the new world passing by. Nothing more is needed from you apart from your initial instructions that you input when you ordered up your Auto-Auto. What size vehicle is wanted, what amenities, when you want it to wheel up to your door. When you plan to send it home. All arranged by smart phone or computer and credit card. Tap. Tap.

I think it’s unlikely you’ll actually own an Auto-Auto. They’ll be like the late lamented Lincoln Town Cars. Available on demand, they’ll exist in fleets, only in varied sizes and with specialized purposes. And no liveried drivers. Indeed no drivers at all. Unless special circumstances call for a biped to use the Auto-Auto to, say, hand-deliver some things or interact with other bipeds in some way. At least that’s how I imagine it. (I even see these minions in dark red and green patterned uniforms and odd knit caps. Don’t ask.)

As for the Auto-Auto, I see it as fully robotic. No human oversight except in special circumstances and more for appearances. Just as there were those that envisioned the smart highway as the road to the future, some see the Auto-Auto in the watchful care of an overseer driver. Silly, I say. I think more troubles are created in that interface between complete automation and the intervention of a human. I say a driver is either totally involved with the driving of a car or totally out of it. And the present day problems with so-called “distractions” demonstrate that too many drivers are half in, half out of attention.

Anyway, there is really no such thing as a “distraction”; there are only drivers attracted to something not relevant to their immediate task. A text message on their phone. The Coke that needs to go back in the cup holder. The out-of-the-loop drivers who are suddenly alerted to pay attention to driving are more apt to over-react, respond inappropriately or goof up the scene in a unique and disastrous fashion. It must be all-robot for the Auto-Auto, say I. The Google driverless cars—testing, testing—have done more than half a million miles without an error while in driverless mode. Yes, there was one present to satisfy laws but so far never needed.

The “driver aids” in the modern car seem to add to a driver’s ability to luck through a lot of inattentive driving. (You’re out of your lane; you’re following too closely.) But that is not safety; that is chance. I believe for 100% error-free driving—which is Google’s goal and which has so far been realized—it takes the removal of the human factor. Ah, dear humans, there is much appealing about you but unerring judgment and repeatable precision in execution are not two of them. (However—pat, pat—your sort did program the computer! And tested it and corrected it and tested further. (Yes—eyes to the skies—man is still the astronomer.)

A survey by an insurance company, in an effort to determine what would be the trigger to prompt a driver to consider buying an Auto-Auto, found that only 25% of those asked thought a computer would drive better than they could. That proves how inattentive and limited in judgment drivers are. At least those who take surveys. What did kick the “would-consider-buying” answer to 90% positive? An offer to reduce insurance costs by 80%. Guess what matters most in our world.

But survey answers are not going to matter. These bargain-seeking drivers will be amazed how nick and dent free they will be, how little Auto-Auto driving will cost. How much discretionary income they’ll have for playing with cars.

Which brings me up sharply to that other kind of driving. The “horse” part.

You’ve just returned home from a three day road trip in a mid-sized Auto-Auto. One other colleague went with you. You’ve used the trip back to prepare your joint report, make plans for next week and even natter about sports. Then you dropped him at the office and selected your home on the Auto-Auto menu. Quickly you make sure all of your stuff is out of the Auto-Auto and punch its home station on the menu. (The Auto-Auto will be serviced, cleaned and automatically stored until another electronic alert summons it.)

Your trip is forgotten as your thoughts and smiles rush to your personal garage. Your finger has set the door in motion. And what is revealed?

Ah. Yours is a moderate version of what Drivers of the Auto-Auto age will have to call their own. There’s a charming low-mileage Miata; a 250 GT Ferrari SWB that your great aunt raced “in the day”; an 8C Alfa of dubious provenance but you love it anyway; an early Mercedes Gelandewagen, and a genuine garage-find Dietrich-bodied Packard.

That’s nothing. Collectors with hundreds of exquisite cars are spread across the country, some in secret underground garages beneath landscaped roadways and race courses, some with semi-public museums. And many Drivers with space or budget for only one vintage, antique or classic automobile make the most of that and love it. Some Drivers belong to exchanges in which cars circulate among the members. They claim that serial collections are simpler to deal with and just as satisfying. “We all drive one at a time,” they say.

You have several hours before your family gets home. You’ve heard that the new off-road addition to the city’s hilly Drive Park is challenging so you decide to take the G-Wagen and try a section of that. You’ll be back in time to ready the Packard for a top-down evening spin to the drive-in with roller-skating waitresses. That’s in the Drive Park by the lake. You’ll decide over sweet-potato fries which concours to attend that weekend. You’re leaning toward the all-Italian one because they’ve scheduled some races as well and the Ferrari could use some speed work outs. And you too of course.

Then the driving lessons in the Miata for the kids. Everyone should start on a manual shift before they’re twelve. If you decide to visit the in-laws you’ll order up a commercial-van-sized Auto-Auto so homework can be faced as well as that movie you want to see. Next Friday you’ll order an Auto-Auto with a trailer and take the Alfa to the national convention. The kids will come the next day in another mini Auto-Auto, ordered for one-way so you can all go home together with the Alfa.

The worst thing about a car is what to do with it once you get where you’re going. Why don’t they fold up? Or deflate? How nice you can “tap” them off when you want and “tap” them back if they’re needed. Welcome to the Auto-Auto world. You suspected they’d be great for transport from Point A to Point B—and on up the alphabet—safely and conveniently. But admit it: you’d no idea how truly excellent the advent of the Auto-Auto would be for Drivers.

Ah, but not everyone will own a cache of vintage cars—or any car at all. They’ll have their account with an Auto-Auto company and want no more. The myth of America’s love affair with the car is just that—a myth. The relationship is more a long-time marriage—dependency, need, habit. But even that is changing. Surveys show that the next generation—Millennials—reportedly find cars too expensive and ownership not particularly attractive to them. Auto-Auto fits them better. Maybe cars have reached their zenith.

One thing is certain, changes will be extreme. The auto industry will be reinvented, a subject well beyond this piece. My intention today is to reassure Drivers.

And to encourage them, like snowed-in gardeners, to plan for spring. What will be in your garage?