What Has Formula 1 Become?

This past Sunday’s Russian GP has opened up many questions as to just what this pinnacle of racing has become.  Many in the racing world have questioned the direction that this competition has taken in the recent years.  Others have wondered as to its relevancy and future.

After watching the Russian GP after seeing what occurred the previous weekend in the Singapore GP one has to wonder just what is real racing and what is contrived.  Sebastian Vettel’s win in Singapore clearly angered his teammate, Charles Leclerc, who felt slighted by the team’s tire strategy and felt he had deserved the win.  For many watching it was nice to see Sebastian able to demonstrate the capabilities that this four-time world champion still has.

Within the first laps of the Russian GP the radio traffic between the Ferrari team and the drivers it certainly appeared that there was an understood agreement between management and the drivers that the lead in the race was to transfer to Leclerc and that Sebastian was expected to let Charles pass him.  At the time Leclerc was not able to keep pace with Sebastian and could not even come within the the one second requirement for DRS to be used to pass.  Instead Charles complained of not having his way and that Sebastian continued to behave as a racing driver.

Eventually there came the inevitable pit stops to change tires and it was structured in such a way by the  Ferrari team to ensure that Vettel would not be able to come out ahead of Leclerc.  Essentially letting Charles pass Sebastian anyway.  Sebastian immediately returned to the track only to suffer a failure – his kinetic energy recovery system.  While this may have been genuine, it could also have been interpreted as Vettel giving Ferrari a big F* You. Saying okay, give the young guy what he has been whining for but now you will only have only one team car winning points.

We then watched as the Mercedes team took the first two steps on the podium.  Leclerc standing on the third and Ferrari having to live with far fewer constructor championship points than it could have enjoyed.

We can also speculate about Mercedes and what they are doing within their team and how they are managing their drivers.

Early in the season Bottas came to the new season with a refreshed attitude and confidence that was reflected in his driving performance.  Within the first few races that changed significantly.

After less than a handful of races it was Hamilton in the lead and Valtteri acting much like the follow-up driver that was there to simply provide interference for the chosen team leader.  You could detect it in his demeanor during interviews and when he was on the podium. 

A few races ago it was announced that Valtteri’s contract was renewed and one wondered what possibly had taken place behind closed doors as the assurance for another year’s employment was taking place.  Was more money provided to assuage Bottas’s feelings of being used as a second class driver? 

What has Formula 1 become?  Is it still a competition between racing drivers and teams?  Has it become simply a contest of contrived tire strategies and preordained driver standing?

One would like to have an honest conversation with some of the “best of the rest” drivers and learn their perspective without the fear and influence of the top team managers and their budgets of nearly half a billion dollars a year.

Many positive changes have occurred in Formula 1, including massive improvements in driver safety.  The technology used can be not only very effective, but monetarily prohibitive.  The caliber of drivers is astounding, but they have become remote and reclusive personalities that fans are only provided a very brief and limited glimpse of. 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to allow fans to understand the amount and types of physical training that the drivers must endure in order to cope with the physical and mental demands of be a top level driver with a “super license”?

How about having far more revealed about the technology used amongst the teams?  The technological edges they enjoy appear to be fleeting as so much is often revealed as they are photographed at speed and in and around the grid and garages.

Formula 1 is under much pressure to keep its fans engaged and expand its base. The current formula has it critiques and many are suggesting several changes to improve this pinnacle of motor racing.

Perhaps Formula 1 should keep in mind that it is a sport and that racing is at its core.  That is difficult to remember with the billions of dollars involved, but if the powers that be don’t understand the basics of the sport they risk losing it all.

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Spotted on the Side of the Road–Pontiac Chieftain

I drive along this road quite a bit and have noticed an old Pontiac in one of the driveways.  I kept telling myself to drive in and see if the owner would be interested in sharing their story.  Well, finally I did.

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I’ve got to admit that I  do have a sweet spot for Pontiacs and especially older ones.  My father bought a ’66 Pontiac GTO straight from the dealer.  I just wish that I had a drivers license at the time.  At least I got to ride in it quite a bit.  We had to put 500 miles on it before you could”open it up” so nights my father and I would drive up to Boston and back just to get the odometer to the right spot.  His father had one of the first car dealerships on Cape cod and sold Oaklands, which later were bought by GM and became the Pontiac division. 

so I knocked on the door and introduced myself and asked the owner if he would care to share his story about his Chieftain.  He was happy to.  He loves old cars and has many friends that have collections and one in Ohio had this Chieftain , but didn’t really care that much about the brand so he sold it to its present owner for a good price.

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It is the Silver Streak 8 model which means that it came with a straight 8 cylinder engine.  It was 269 cubic inches of displacement and had well over 100 horse power.  It was the upgrade to the standard straight six that was standard with the Chieftains.

This car no longer has the straight eight.  Instead the owner swapped in a 350 c.u. V-8 Chevy small block.  The original engine was just in too sad a shape.  In order to cope with the power upgrade he also upgraded the brake system to power brakes and disc brakes up front.

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The front floors were re-done and the front bench seat was replaced with some buckets from a Jeep.

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The front windshield sports a sun shade option.

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So to help the driver see traffic lights hanging above the street he has the optional prism on the dashboard above the steering wheel.

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He really enjoys his Chieftain and drives it often, taking it to work and the family out to the coast for some summer fun.  He would really like a station wagon Pontiac model of that same era, but hasn’t found one yet.

It is always fun to see these cars still on the road and being enjoyed. 

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A Main Street Car Show

This doesn’t happen here every day, or even every week, or month.  Once a year the town of Cary closes off its primary street and hosts Wheels on Academy.

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It is always a fun surprise to see what people keep in their garages.  This year’s event was no exception.

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Right off there were several classics from the early 20th century.  Above is a model T from Ford.

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Above is another style of the model T, the center door model.

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Here was a restored military vehicle of WW II vintage.

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A 1934 Ford above.

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How about a Chevy C10 from the early 1960s.

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The crowd was enjoying the fine weather and the collection of cars.

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Here is a 1967 Pontiac GTO.

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Above is a 1968 version.

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The Cary police were there enjoying the show as well.  They would be judging the Corvettes that were there in large numbers.

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There was even a McLaren!

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We enjoyed the air-cooled VW and Porsche cars.

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Above is America’s air cooled car, the Chevy Corvair.

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The engine in the rear looked spotless.

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The 1971 SAAB Sonett III was a rare find.

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As was the mid-engined Ford Pantera.

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This Corvette brought back memories of cruising around Cape Cod roads.

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One of the last great cars from Pontiac was the Solstice GT.

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So many amazing and beautiful cars to see.  It was also great to talk to each of the owners and learn the story behind each one.  Here, Jo has picked out the one she wanted to bring home.

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Wheels on Academy – we will be looking forward to next year’s event!

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The Shelby in the Barn Mystery

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The barn find… it is the legend of all car collectors and enthusiasts. This is the story of such a barn find and it is true, but it is much more than the discovery of a low mileage collectable. It is a story with an attachment of tragedy.

The person involved first heard a story about an old man that had an ultra-low mileage Shelby Mustang in storage. The car never left the barn and had been there since it was almost new. He heard this story again and again over the years as he continued his quest to find a nice Shelby Mustang for his own collection.

In the days prior to eBay or Craigslist the way to find cars was by scouring swap meets, classified advertisements, and garage sales, looking to find original Mustang and Shelby parts. Along with the search for parts and pieces he would ask if anyone had heard the story of the old man with the Shelby in the barn. Many said that, yes, they too had heard the story, but no one had anything new to add.

Then he met George, who worked in a junkyard about fifty miles from where he had first heard the story. This junkyard was not a used auto parts service or a “wired in” auto salvage operation. This was a junkyard, old school style, nothing more and nothing less. George had worked there most, if not all, of his life. George knew his stuff, his profession, and his junk. This collector treated George with respect, and over time George told him about where the old man and the Shelby was.

He offered George twenty dollars, which was refused. He just said, “Thank you”, and wished our searcher good luck.

It didn’t take long for him to find the place that George had described. It was a series of Quonset-style buildings on the 1950’s vintage. There were four or five of them in a row that essentially were left in almost suspended animation when the nearby highway was put in. Some of the buildings were industrial looking and some were military looking, but if you squinted your eyes you could tell that at one time this was a fully functional service station in the post-war style.

While many of these places have been bypassed and crumbled into the landscape or were plowed down for shopping centers, this was the exception. The fuel pumps were long gone, along with the signs, outside air pump, vending machines, and pay phone, but it was easy to see where they once were. This was not an abandoned garage; this was an unplanned museum to the time when interstates were not limited access and went through every town. It brought back memories of the era of Route 66. The garage’s doors were shut and had no windows in them, but the main building did have windows. He shut off his truck and got out, looking the surrounding over, waiting for someone to appear. Cars were parked randomly on either side of the building and none were younger than twenty years old. It wasn’t clear if they were here to be fixed, sold, or were just sitting there collecting dust. A couple still had license plates mounted on them.

The silence was intimidating. He eventually approached the windows and peered in. No one seemed to be about, but through the dirty glass he could see the Shelby, the legendary barn find, sitting there. He could tell that it was an early Mustang, and it appeared to have the correct color, stripes, wheels, and features of a Shelby. It was just as George had described.

Finding no one about, he left, but returned several times over the next couple of months. He finally summoned up the courage to try to find someone inside. On this attempt he found a heavyset man in his early eighties. He acted like it was everyday occurrences to have someone walk into his building. He was just as George had described and from a hand painted sign on the wall it was clear that his name was Frank booth, and he was the proprietor of the place. Frank was busy working under a droplight on one of about forty cars in the building. It was hard to tell much more as his was the only light on in this dark, silent space. The building had been added onto many times and seemed to disappear into the darkness in all directions.

Now inside, he told Frank, that he had noticed the Shelby through the window as he was driving by, which they both knew was a fib. He asked Frank if it was for sale. “No”.

“A lot of people try and buy it,” said Frank. At a loss for words, our collector looked about the walls and spied a large framed picture of a B-24 Liberator. Hoping that he could keep Frank from believing that he was just like all the other guys who got this far, he asked Frank if he flew Liberators. “No,” Frank said with a bit of a laugh. After a moment Frank broke into a warm smile and said, “Those planes were not meant to fly, worked on them though.”

He sked if Frank minded if he looked at the Shelby, and was told to go ahead. The hood was open and the front of the car was up on jack stands. He took his time and went over the car carefully stem to stern. He found that all the parts unique to this year Shelby were there and the odometer read just over four thousand miles. He even crawled under the car and what he saw confirmed to him that , yes, this car had only seen four thousand miles. It was a surreal feeling of information overload, but he kept his head and got a small disposable camera from his truck and took several photographs, including the VIN (vehicle identification number).

The passenger side front fender had primer where a minor dent had been repaired from about the center of the axle forward. The hood also appeared to have been replaced, but it was an original Shelby hood. The rest of the car had its original paint that had not been exposed to the sun, and there was absolutely no sign of rust. This car had clearly been in inside storage for decades.

For the next six years he would continue to drop by and see if the car was still there and if Frank had changed his mind about selling the Shelby. He found that Frank, like many senior citizens, was polite and would engage in conversation when he would visit. In those conversations he learned that Frank and his wife, who seemed to possess a remarkable recall of all things relating to cars in their garage, had no children and had spent their life working together repairing and selling automobiles out of this garage. This place was a testament to their life together and where they were age-wise in their lives.

In those conversations Frank told him that he had bought the car from a guy who had it in storage since the late sixties, and yes, it was the original mileage. He hinted that he would probably sell it eventually.

Meanwhile he ran the VIN. His profession allowed him to develop close relationships with people who had access to most state, federal, and public databases in the US, that relate to motor vehicles. Strangely, there was no record of this car ever existing. Ever. Apparently, this Shelby was never bought, sold, registered, insured, inspected, in an accident, or stolen… not on any government data base. How could a car that physically existed never have left a paper record of any type anywhere?

One of his contacts was a retired state trooper who explained how it might have happened. In the 1960’s, before microfilm and computers, car registrations were stored on hardcopy paper records. All someone had to do, as long as they had access, was to pull the hard copy out of the file and never put it back. When departments of motor vehicles nationwide converted to microfilm, formal titles, sales tax, and eventually convert to computer databases, if the paper record was missing it would never exist. No hard copy to convert from – no record. Like this Shelby, it would never have existed.

This retired trooper had spent a good part of his career investigating auto theft, so he asked him how often this kind of thing happened. “No, not often, but it definitely happened, probably more often than we ever knew.” He was asked who might have had access to hardcopy records. “Anybody with law enforcement credentials, just like today. You never know, a low mileage car, maybe it was only driven with dealer plates.”

Maybe this car ended up in this garage for all those years, as well as the garage before it, for a very simple reason – it had to disappear.

Sometime in the early 2000’s Frank said in an offhand way, “You know, you may own that car someday.” It was the first time Frank had ever deviated from “No, not for sale”. Now he had our collectors full attention. “You know about that car don’t you. Frank?”

“You mean the Carroll Shelby story?”

“No, the story of this car.”

“No, I don’t. Not everything.”

Frank said that what he did know was that the Shelby had been bought new by a young woman for her teenage son when he got his license. Shortly thereafter, while driving home late one night, the boy struck a pedestrian. The boy went home, and told his mother, and the two of them immediately went to his mother’s uncle and told him. The uncle put the car in a barn and the mother and son went south. Never to be seen again.

“What happened to the person that was hit?”

“They were killed.”

The shop became quiet as a church.

Elizabeth Chase was born on New Years Day, 1946, to parents who met while working for the military during WW II. Her mother graduated from Smith College with a degree in economics, which she put to use by working for the War Production Board. Her father was a Navy man who worked stateside as a statistician. He described his job as boring and of little importance, yet it is written that this easy going and quiet man’s reports were classified information. Elizabeth, was named after her mother and was called Lizzy. She was the bond that cemented her parent’s relationship. Like most young families coming out of the World War, a lot of moving around ensued with both of her parents transitioning to the world of academia at the college level. Lizzy, an only child, grew up in an environment of books, learning,and questioning the status quo. During the awkward period where a girl becomes a young lady, tragedy struck her family. Shortly after her thirteenth birthday her mother died of a brain tumor.

Father and daughter carried on the best they could, but by the time Lizzy was to start high school it was decided that a private boarding school was the best direction for all, and she went willingly. Four years of a liberal arts college followed boarding school. Lizzy matured into a tall, brown eyed beauty. Her long brown hair and outgoing personality meant she was very popular and she excelled at photography and the arts. She spent her summers working in restaurants at various vacation spots around the northeast. Lizzy, had become the young lady that every young man would want to bring home to meet his family. Life was good for Lizzy.

Lake St. Francis is a small New England town on the shore of a beautiful and large deep water lake that its named after. It is a favorite resort and vacation destination of the down-staters and flatlanders in the summer months when the shuttered restaurants, bars, cottages, and stores, open for the booming influx of vacationers and tourist.

It was here that Lizzy, newly minted college graduate, and her best friend from home, Marth, found themselves in the summer of 1968, hoping to land summer jobs in the hospitality industry and enjoy the summer before the real world came looking for them. It was here that Lizzy met David Hemmings, a “new town” graduate himself, who came to St. Francis looking for the very same things Lizzy and Martha were looking for.

Lizzy and David were attracted to each other from the beginning. They would meet after work at the late night gather spots that summer kids hung out at. In the very early morning hours of a hot August night Lizzy took her boyfriend’s dog for a walk while she waited for him to get off his bartending shift.

Maybe she heard the car coming. Maybe, the car had a rumbling V8 exhaust that couldn’t help but be heard. Maybe it didn’t and she never heard it coming. Maybe the dog yanked her out in front of the car or maybe it didn’t. Maybe the driver took his eye off the road for a split second. A car did hit her and left the scene.

Strangely, the St. Francis police received an anonymous phone call in that early morning hour from a female who wanted to report what she thought to be a body on the side of the road. The police responded to the call immediately, but found nothing. It was later that morning, just before dawn, when David’s dog returned home alone. David called the police and it was at his urging that they reinvestigated and found the body.

From newspaper accounts it was apparent the scene was pretty cold from the start. This motherless child, with her whole life in front of her, lay in a crumpled lifeless heap on the side of the road, in an unfamiliar town, a long way from home. Her father, traveling in Europe, was notified by phone.

The hours, days, months, over which the investigators pursued the case turned up nothing. Repeatedly, they asked for the female who made the original call to come forward, to no avail. They did have a paint sample. The scrapings came off a traffic sign that had been plowed over at the scene. They were looking for a “light colored sedan.”

Our collector contacted the Shelby American Automobile Club. SAAC was loosely formed by a small group of Shelby enthusiasts in the early 1970’s to compare notes, parts, and information on all things relating to Shelby Cobras and Mustangs that were produced in relatively small numbers from about 1964 to 1970. The organization has grown substantially over the years along with their knowledge base. They had received the records of every automobile that Carroll Shelby’s company completed and sold, and make no mistake, these records are incredibly valuable in providing authenticity and originality of these automobiles that are prized by collectors. Their input, based on their experience, knowledge, and records is universally respected.

Within five days copies of the original paperwork was received. There was not much, but it was clearly significant. The paperwork from Shelby American, the manufacturer of record, showed that the dealer was the general store/Ford dealership in St. Francis. The paperwork put the Shelby Mustang, with its hit and run story, in the same small town and at the same time where Lizzy drew her last breath.

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The P71 Learns to Cruise

A friend of mine just picked up his own P71.  It just so happens to be a 2008 and in the same color as mine.

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Naturally I think it looks fantastic.  We put a nice new set of Firestone Firehawk 500 tires on it along with Hawk street pads and new Centric rotors.  Then all the fluids were refreshed including the brake fluid.

He drove it back home and his copilot (who has mucho track experience) said that it drove like a 4000 pound sports car!

So my friend said that there was just one other thing that he wished his P71 had – cruise control.  In fact he did a substantial amount of research on the subject and came up with the fact that since both our cars were newer than 2005 P71s all we needed was a steering wheel that had the controls on it and swap it out for the standard steering wheel.  Then we would have to take it to the Ford dealer and have the PCM programmed to realize that it was now a cruise control CVPI. 

A quick scan of what was available on eBay and we found just the wheels.  The clock spring on our cars was fitted with the correct socket for the new wheels to be plugged into so all we had to do was remove the old wheel and replace it with the one that had the cruise control switches on it.

There are plenty of YouTube videos out there showing you how to properly remove the “air bag” and then the steering wheel.  Ford recommends that you use a new bolt to hold the replacement wheel on and torque it to the proper specifications (30 lb/ft).

With the battery disconnected and the SRS capacitors discharged, it took a 4.5 mm allen wrench to push the steering wheel springs in one at a time and release each of the hooks that hold the horn button/airbag on.

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There are four holes that help you guide the allen wrench to the spring wire and push it off the hook.

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It may take some finagling, but it does work and the horn /airbag comes off the wheel.   Then you take a torx socket and remove the bolt holding the wheel on.  It takes a puller to get the wheel off.  I went to Harbor Freight and found a set of three for about $30.  I used the smallest one and the wheel popped off nicely.  Oh yes!  Leave the bolt in place but loose when you use the puller! Or the wheel will go flying!

The replacement wheel went on nicely and so did the new bolt.

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An appointment with the local Ford dealership was made and their tech used their magic software to let the car know that it now could do cruise control.  That was the most expensive part. 

So a test drive showed that the car now had the luxury of cruise control.  When the switch was turned on there was nothing indicated, but when the speed was set there was a nice indicator in the tachometer to let you know.  When you put on the brake cruise was auto disconnected as it should be.  Hitting the resume button brought back cruise.

What fun!

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Carolina Exotic Car Club

A couple of week  ago we had a special invitation to get the inside peek at a very special car club, the Carolina Exotic Car Club.  Tucked away in a corner of Raleigh, north of the airport, is a unique club where owners of exotic cars can store their special vehicles, have them maintained, detailed, as well as enjoy private events with members and their guests in a friendly and cozy atmosphere.

While we enjoyed the food and spirits we were able to explore the climate controlled areas where members vehicles are kept.  Here are a few photographs of some, just some, of the kind of cars that will be of interest to readers of Jim’s Garage.

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We appreciated the chance to explore these automotive enthusiasts beautiful rides as well as meet and converse with them on the common language of cars.

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Crass Self-promotion

I love track days, and road race course driving opportunities, sometimes known as HPDE (high performance driving experience) weekends.  I’ve participated in them actively for over a decade, and while I don’t do so much now, I would encourage all those interested in trying it out for themselves.

So much so, that I’ve written a guide for people that want to try it out.  It is called: HPDE How To Guide – How to get the most out of your track day experience.  This book is now available through Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle versions.

If you are inspired to pick up a copy, please don’t hesitate to give it a review.  Remember, this is for people who are starting out and will, hopefully, help them to get the most out of the experience!

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