St. Petersburg

Dear Patrick,

Before I forget (again) I have been wanting to express my condolences on the loss of your friend, Bob Carlson . I went back to get a quote from your SpeedTV article, and realized I had yet to mention this in my previous notes. From the tributes, it is apparent that he was a wonderful friend to many people.  From what you wrote, it’s clear you lost a cherished friend and mentor. I’m so sorry for you and all his friends and family who are suffering the pain of losing him.

Well it’s hard to pick up from there, but I shall press on.

lemons-car-2009While you are in St. Petersburg, Florida this weekend, I will be engaging in one of the nuttier follies in my life. I am loading up our most road-worthy car, and I am driving eight hours to the middle of nowhere (Kershaw, SC) to crew on a team at the 24 Hours of LeMons at CMP. Even though I played the “It’s a birthday road trip!” card, I was unable to convince my husband that this would be a good time for him. That’s okay. I am happy to have him come along when I go to events as a driver (he’s an awesome crew chief and support vehichle wrangler), and anything else is just gravy. Thank God we are both so easy with each other about these things. We both have very diverse interests, part of what attracted us to each other, and we give each other all the space we need to pursue our various interests. To be honest, my husband’s are closer to home. I’m always the one packing up and driving off somewhere. I love long solo road trips, and that’s what this will be.  The team I’ll be crewing for is Team Pink Panther II, composed of my first set of “car friends” in NASA-SE. I’m bringing a long pink fuzzy scarf to serve as the tail on the car.

The Flying Lizard update included this quote from you, and it made me really grumpy about not being able to watch the race this weekend. You said:

St. Pete has a great ambience, racing around the harbor; an American version of racing at Monaco.

One of our favorite road trips was to the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater area several years ago, and we had a fantastic time. My husband owned a cigar store back then, so we spent a good bit of time in the lesser-traveled parts of town seeing the inside of the cigar business down there. We met some wonderful people, enjoyed some great funky old motels, saw lots of beautiful scenery, and enjoyed all manner of funny little adventures. I’d been there on business previously, and have fond memories of a little dive with good music, great bartenders, and a very crowded, sweaty, heaving,  dance floor. And walking home with my high-heels in my hand! I made my first visit to the Dali Museum on that trip, and years later, my husband and I went there together on our trip. I think we went there three times in our three-day stay in the city! I am a bit of a nut about Salvador Dali, as much for his writing as for his art. They recently broke ground on a new Dali Museum about eight blocks from the original one, but the original one is still open. If you’ve not seen it, you’ll have plenty of opportunity now that you’ve moved to Tampa. It’s definitely worth a visit or several!

Seeing a race in Monaco is something I’ve always thought would be so much fun. So I like the idea that we have an approximation of that so close in St. Pete. As I said, this just makes me a bit grumpier about having to miss it!

Looking at the PCA site just now, I see you’ve updated your blog. Excellent writing, and great to get your latest news. I guess I was one of the “sorry about your rough weekend” people in response to Sebring, but at the same time, I could tell from your blog posts during and just after that you were feeling good about the whole endeavor. And you have plenty to feel good about! I hate to miss St. Pete, but I will keep up the best I can, and I will certainly be sending you all the good racing juju I can transmit! You’ll be in Atlanta soon, too, my hometown. I guess your work will take you to Road Atlanta, my “other” home track aside from Barber. I am completely enamored with Barber, such a beautiful facility, it feels as new as the day it opened. On the other hand, Road Atlanta is chock full of racing history. I love being on the grid or in the pits and thinking about all the big races that have happened there, all the awesome drivers who have gridded up and taken off from right where I’m standing. I have no clue what’s going on with the Patron tire deal, I guess I’m out of the loop on that. But as I suspected, aside from the actual races and related prep, you have a super busy schedule doing all sorts of other things. And having fun – I’m glad that you always seem to take time out to take good care of yourself and to do the things you enjoy. And I know you’re looking forward to being around friends and family in St. Pete. I wish you all the best, and I’m with you – you guys can definitely take it! May the force be with you!

In the couple of days that have passed since the Sunday autocross, our club forum has been all abuzz with discussion about the course. That feature I wrote about in my previous note was the main topic of discussion! There was really no opportunity for me to observe others on that part of the course, but I know now that I was not alone in my struggles there. There’s some comfort in that. But the fact is I know from being in my car with better drivers navigating it successfully – it can be done, and done well. So I still consider it job number one for me to get my skill to the point that I can be one of those drivers who could nail it.

One thing I’m learning is how very little I know about any of this. I blather on and on about details, but I really don’t know that much about what the life of a race car driver is like, what the business is like, or even very much about cars in general, or my car in particular. I couldn’t name half the parts of my car if you held a gun to my head. I’m completely out of touch with most of the bigger issues that swirl around, things about competition between the various series, car classing and technical stuff. I’m learning all the time, but I’m also constantly reminded about what a complete newcomer I am to all of this. It can be humbling – at my age, when I’m standing there next to my car at the track, people tend to assume that I’ve been around the sport longer than I have, and that I know much more than I do. It’s not good or bad, it just is what it is.

That said, if I had a magic Porsche Princess wand, I would wave it over my friend Mike Sk33n, and I would wave it over myself to turn myself into an instantly knowledgeable driver manager. He makes me wish that I knew enough about the business to jump in there and get to work lining up some sponsors for him. He has this quiet, nice-guy countenance. And he really is one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to know. Very smart, well-spoken, and so generous of spirit. At the same time, behind the wheel, he is completely fierce! He has gotten a bit of media attention here and there, he did that show Setup last year, for example. But as you know from working your way to the top, it can be a hard climb. So fickle, so many variables, and from what I can tell, so much plain old luck rules the day. Right place, right time, right person, right weather, right set-up, right time to pick up the phone….

But this guy, I swear, I actually sat here and tried to plot out a way to go to work for him rounding up sponsorship.  He’s currently sharing a car with another guy, neither of them particularly well funded personally. They are in the SCCA Muscle Milk Trans-Am Series, and in the first race at Road Atlanta, Sk33n started in the back of the pack (tech problems in qualifying, didn’t get a single lap in) and worked his way to second place. The video of that drive is, and I am not exaggerating when I say this, it’s ART. Beautiful, moving art.

Trans-Am at Road Atlanta – March 09 from Michael Skeen on Vimeo.

I’ve been talking to folks who are in the driver and team management business, and now in particular, it’s tough. I wish I could just jump in and start making phone calls! I am corresponding with Mike to find out what his ideal sponsorship situation would look like.  As it stands, they are going to the next race in April, and beyond that, they are dead in the water unless they come up with some sponsorship. So I’m talking to folks in the know and studying up every way I can. If there is any way I can bring him some support to finish this season, I am going to do it. I have no clue how I might be helpful, but as with all things, I think if I stay in it, I will eventually figure it out. Whether I can do that in time to be helpful to my friend remains to be seen.

I just got an email entitled “Critical LeMons Decision!” I opened it to find that the decision was which movies to show on the side of the transport trailer in the evenings! Goofballs! But hey, that’s what LeMons is all about. I suggested Cannonball Run, Le Mans, and The Italian Job.

I’ve been working on this post in several sittings, and I just came back in from putting some new front tires on our Camry. I just had them rotated and balanced over the weekend as part of my preparation for the long drive to SC, and went out this morning to find that I had a flat. I tried to pump it up with a can of Fix-a-flat so I could get to a tire place, but the goop revealed a tear in the sidewall, so no go there. Luckily I had other car options – we took the front wheels off the Camry and loaded them up in the Honda CRV. I got to them to the tire place just in time to get in before they closed, and got two new tires mounted on my wheels. It was dark by the time I got home, and my husband and I had a bit of a mess out there trying to jack up the car on the soft ground. With some help from a neighbor, we got the job done, so I now have fresh front tires for my long drive. I feel much better about it now – I knew the front tires didn’t have much life left in them, and I’m so glad that if a tire was going to go, it chose to do so sitting in the driveway, rather than on my way home from work last night, on my way to work this morning, or on the eight-hour trip to SC. Timing is everything!

Well I’m still not sure how I feel about this blog. I’m not promoting it, and it has no traffic other than the occasional random hit. That’s fine. I’m not sure how you’d feel about the blog, what I write, or the use of your name. I am afraid that I write much more often and longer than I would if I were just sending you the occasional email as I was doing before I fired this thing up. I’m OK with it for now. We’ll just press on and see what happens.




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