Chicago (Aug 26-27)

This weekend’s race at the Chicagoland Motor Speedway is the first of four oval races that conclude the season.  This is important because Will Power, who currently has a substantial lead in the overall points standing, has never won an oval race.  Dario is a proven oval winner (11 times I think – but don’t quote me on that) and needs to finish at least 15 points ahead of Will in each of the next four races.  This will not be easy and will likely require some bad luck befalling Will.  Is it wrong for me to wish this on him?  Probably.  I would much rather be in a situation where the team’s ability to win the championship relied solely on their doing well and not on bad luck for other teams.  But we’ve already had our share of bad luck this season and now we need some to fall Will’s way in order to be able to pull this out.  There is a huge component of luck in racing.  The best driver with the best car and best crew in any given race doesn’t always win.  Dario dominated in Iowa and should have won easily.  A gearbox failure dropped him to 18th place.  The difference between 1st and 18th is 36 points, so winning that race would have put him 23 points out of first now, instead of 59.

Dario qualified well for the Chicagoland race.  He was on the pole until late in the session, when Ryan Briscoe knocked him off.  Scott had a fast car in practice but had problems with the car in qualifying that put him in 15th place for the start.  Fortunately, this is a great track for passing, so starting that far back won’t hurt him if he has a fast car in the race.

I think I’ll be holding my breath for most of the race.

Stop Spamming Me!

It has been disheartening to discover that blogs are just as big a target for spammers as email.  When we got to the airport in San Francisco, I eagerly checked my blog for new comments and found there were four – all spam.  So far, the spam seems to fall into one of two categories.  The first is advertising, usually for some blog related application.  MAKE A GUARANTEED $1000/MO ON YOUR BLOG USING PRODUCT X!!!  The wording often borders on insulting, as if I must be a total idiot for not buying/using Product X.  The second category is more insidious.  It consists of a fairly generic comment – “This is really interesting information” – accompanied by a link to some website.  In one case it was an Australian escort company.

Apparently there is a large number of people who make money by autoblogging.  They post fairly generic or re-used content on hundreds of blogsites and make money by generating a high volume of click-throughs to other sites that pay them some small amount for each person they bring in.  I’m probably not explaining it very accurately because I have no interest in understanding how any of it works.  I write these posts for myself and a very small audience of friends and family that have some interest in what I’m writing about.

I value real comments highly.  Right now the spam comments I’ve received actually outnumber the real ones.  I have the site configured so that the first time a reader comments it requires my approval before it shows up on the site.  Any subsequent comments from the same person (using the same screen name) will post immediately.  So the spam will never show up on the site.  If I start getting a large number of spam comments I may need to do something more automated, but right now it’s manageable.  So please, take the time to comment on any post that strikes a chord with you.  I will be happy if my real comments start outnumbering the spam ones.

Here are two more photos from our trip to Sonoma.  I like the contrast between the decay of the dock and the growth represented by the flowers.

Yes, I am Crazy

So, we landed in Minneapolis at 6 AM after our trip to Sonoma.  This gave us slightly over 24 hours to do laundry, go through the mail, catch-up on email, bring Tim’s car in for service and re-pack for our trip to Chicago.  Plus, I squeezed in a massage and a facial.  Which, seriously, is more of a necessity than a luxury at this point.  We talked about powering through and not taking a nap in the morning, but neither one of us had really slept on the plane and let’s face it, we’re not that young anymore.  So we slept for about 3 hours after dropping Indy at the dealership.

Everything got done and I even managed to write two of my Sonoma posts.  For those of you catching up after the fact, you will notice that the dates on the posts match the dates I wrote about.  This is a bit of a cheat.  I got some feedback about my early posts being a little confusing because the dates I wrote about didn’t match the date of the post.  So I am changing the post date to keep the two in alignment.

Yes, going to this many races is sort of exhausting.  And yes, some people (including my mom) think I am crazy for doing it.

It’s totally worth it.

Sonoma (Aug 24)

Our last day  here.  Packing was a bitch because I had to cram 2 bottles of wine, 2 bottles of olive oil, 1 bottle of vinegar and 3 tasting kits (1 wine, 2 oil/vinegar) into our suitcases.  Which were pretty full when we left.  About the tasting kits – Tim Bucher has a 3rd business (www.tastingroom.com) that sells sample size kits from multiple wineries so you can do your own tasting at home.  It’s a pretty brilliant idea.  Most of his business is B2B.  The wineries sell the kits in their tasting rooms and use them as giveaways.  But if you can’t get to Sonoma and want to bring home a little tasting of your own, it’s a great concept.  The winery we loved was Papapietro Perry if you want to give it a try.  Yes, I know I sound like a shill now and no, I’m not getting any kickbacks for this.  I just think it’s really cool and I like to spread the word on anything I considered an undiscovered treasure.  So there.

We spent our last day cruising the coastline.  The temperature really shot up the last few days in Sonoma, so it was good to stay close to the ocean and get a little relief from the heat.  We ended up in Half Moon Bay for dinner.  We returned to the airport way too early for our red-eye flight but we didn’t really know what the traffic would be like and we’ve had a few close calls in the past so we didn’t want to push it.

Here’s my final obligatory landscape photo from our drive.

Sonoma (Aug 23)

Normally we head home right after a race, so it was nice to have some extra time to unwind and enjoy Sonoma.  After yesterday’s caloric excess, we decided to give breakfast a miss and just get coffee.  We drove to Petaluma for lunch and ate at a tiny restaurant called the Wild Goat.   It was a totally random choice but it turned out to be awesome.  I’m starting to think it’s impossible to get a bad meal in Sonoma.

We stopped at Kendall-Jackson for a wine tasting after lunch.  It was on our route, it’s a big name vineyard and they have a very impressive facility, so I figured it was worth a stop.  They comped the tasting and it included some pretty pricey wines ($50 and $80) but I wasn’t really impressed with any of them.  The $25 wine we tried at Ravenswood was better.  Tim did send an oversized (3 L) bottle to his sister for her birthday, so it was a worthwhile stop from that perspective.

Our main objective for the afternoon was a personal tour of the Dry Creek Olive Co. and Trattore winery.  Tim Bucher called my cell just as we arrived to say he was running 15 minutes late but that we should check out a tasting room right across the parking lot.  Awsome Pinot Noir, according to him.  Hell, yeah!  We tried 2 Pinots and 2 Zinfandels and they were all outstanding.  Not cheap, but they blew away the even more expensive wines we tried at K-J.  We ordered 6 bottles each of the two we liked the most and they will be shipped to Phoenix in November.  So if you come to visit this winter, you might be lucky enough to get a glass or two.

Tim gave us a great tour of his olive milling facility and did an olive oil tasting with us.  You can use bread but we drank it straight.  It’s not as gross as it sounds.  We also tasted the vinegar by soaking a sugar cube and sucking the vinegar out.  It gives you the flavor without killing you with the vinegar taste.  Then he drove us out to the vineyard and took us through the vines in an ATV.  It was an amazing and highly educational experience.  It was a rare opportunity to get an inside look at the wine business from someone who has lived it for his entire adult life.  (He bought his first two acres of vines at age 16)

We finished off the day with dinner in Healdsburg.  I swear I could taste Dry Creek olive oil in the sauce with my sea bass.

Sonoma (Aug 22)

Race day!  Always exciting and a little nerve-wracking.  Since we had failed to demonstrate the ability to arise before 8 AM unaided, I had set the alarm for 7.  I was convinced I heard it go off at 6:30.  One thing I’ve noticed since I stopped working is that on the rare occasion when I have to set an alarm clock, I tend to get lousy sleep and always wake up before the alarm goes off.

We had scoped out a diner close to the square that opened early, so we headed there for breakfast.  Tim had a short stack – 2 pancakes that were each larger than a dinner plate.  I ordered cinnamon roll french toast, naively believing that it would be cinnamon bread made into french toast.  It was 4 actual cinnamon rolls that had been prepared as french toast (buttered and fried) and covered with frosting.  Probably the highest calorie count I’ve ever had for breakfast.  (Yes, it tasted great but I’m not sure it was worth the guilt factor)

By the time we got to the track around 9:30 there was already a group of Target people there, including my TTS buddies.  It was great to see everyone and get caught up.  The race started with a very scary moment when Dan Wheldon flipped his car right after the green flag.  He was fine, but it always scares the hell out of me when a car gets upside down.  Especially when you know and really like the driver.

There was a lot of great passing and it was a fun race to watch except for one small problem.  Will Power won, again.  We are now 59 points out of the lead with only 4 races to go.

Race results – Scott 2nd, Dario 3rd.

Sonoma (Aug 21)

We decided to go a little more upscale for breakfast and eat at a place where they actually wait on you and refill your coffee.  This required a bit of stalling, since the one place we found on the square didn’t open until 10 AM (Sat & Sun only).  The food was awesome, but the host had an incredible unibrow and it was really hard not to stare at it.  We arrived at the track just before morning practice and took the long shuttle ride from the parking lot to the pits.  The great food trend continued with an outstanding lunch at hospitality.  We have an ongoing joke that we only go to races for the food.

We were able to bum a ride back to the pits for qualifying with our new friend Tim Bucher, who was test driving an electric ATV for the weekend.  This is definitely a track that requires a personal transportation device for getting around efficiently.  We qualified okay – Dario 3rd and Scott 6th.  Unfortunately Will Power got the pole AGAIN!  Curse him!

On the plus side, Tim loaded us up with olive oil and vinegar from his other business – Dry Creek Olive Company.  It helped ease the sting.  I will be making some kick butt salad dressing when we get home.

I ran out and took a few photos of the lane and vineyards right around our cottage after we got back from dinner.  Here are two of my favorites.

Sonoma (Aug 20)

Today was our first day at the track.  It’s a pretty amazing facility.  It’s set in an area of rolling hills so the course has a lot of elevation changes and no real straightaway, which makes it extremely demanding to drive.  The Target hospitality was set up at the top of the Turn 7 Terrace and overlooked most of the track.  The only disadvantage was the long shuttle ride to get there.  We watched afternoon practice from the pits and Chip stopped by and invited us to stay for dinner.  Since we hadn’t found a restaurant on the way to the track, our lunch consisted of overpriced fast food so it was a pretty compelling offer.

Since security around the parking areas seemed pretty lax, we decided to take a chance on driving up to Turn 7 and parking next to hospitality.  Since we were early, we had the advantage of meeting a few people at a time as they arrived.  I actually managed to retain the names of 12 new people, which is probably a personal record for me.  Before the dinner started, Chip asked everyone introduce themselves and talk about their connection to him.  It was cool to meet so many interesting people, some of them dating back to grade school or high school.  We were the relative newcomers, only having known Chip for 15 years.

But the real highlight of the evening was a personal wine tasting given by the owner of Trattore wines, Tim Bucher.  He brought 4 wines from the 2008 harvest – Roussanne, Viognier, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.  I’ve never even heard of the first two varietals (both whites).  All of them were outstanding and besides enjoying the tasting and having the wines with dinner, we were given two bottles of the Zinfandel to take with us.  SCORE!  A totally awesome evening all around.

Our cottage has a hummingbird feeder on the patio and I have been tormenting myself every morning trying to get some decent photos.  Actually I have been trying for about 10 years to get that perfect hummingbird photo, at this point I should concede that it’s an impossible quest.  Here’s one of the better ones.


Sonoma (Aug 19)

Sonoma has a cute little town center around a square.  It’s sort of an upscale version of Prescott, AZ.  Unfortunately, most of the restaurants around the square didn’t open until lunch.  We were only able to find 2 that served breakfast – both were the order at a counter and they bring it to the table variety.  Both were tiny.  Both were packed.  We were able to grab a table at one by having Tim sit while I waited in line to order.  We were hungry and dying for caffeine, the restaurant did not disappoint.

The day started with a heavy overcast that gradually burned off.  Since we didn’t really have a plan, we just drove to the coast and headed north up Pacific Coast Highway 1.  The first few stops we made were sunny but then we kept running into large patches of fog that obscured our view of the ocean.  It got to be a joke after a while.  Every time we went a little inland it would be sunny and every time we got close to the ocean it would be foggy.  So Tim entertained us by driving really fast (meaning doing the speed limit) for most of the drive.  PCH 1 is one of those incredibly twisty, curvy highways with lots of blind corners and a speed limit of 55.  It takes both the right car and the right driver to pull off 55 for the majority of the drive.  This would not be me.  Most of the other drivers were polite enough to pull over and let the General pass when we started looming large in their rear view mirror.

These two photos were taken at our first (sunny) stop – Bodega Bay.  The pink and white stripe building is Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy.  (Yes, it’s delicious)

Sonoma (Aug 18)

There are race weekends where it’s all about the race (Texas, Iowa) and then there are race weekends where the location just screams for a race/vacation combo.  Sonoma is definitely in the second category.  Since this was our first trip together to the area, we decided to blow it out into a full week.  After enduring the econobox rental in Edmonton, we wanted something a little more fun to drive.  This turned out to be a Dodge Challenger.  For you non-car buffs, think General Lee in the Dukes of Hazzard.  In order to get a reasonable rate, we used a nondescript rental company.  I started getting a little nervous as Tim waited in line at the service counter because there seemed to be a lot of unhappy people there.  One older couple stormed off in a huff complaining about rate increases and another couple had an issue when returning a vehicle.  The second couple got into some pretty nasty words with a woman who showed up and tried to cut in line, stating that she had waited in line for an hour previously and was “in the middle of the transaction.”  Not their problem, clearly.  Turns out her credit card had been declined when she first tried to complete the transaction.

I am continually astonished at the amount of time it takes some people to conduct a simple business transaction.  After waiting in line for about 15 minutes, Tim went up to the desk and was ready to go in 5 minutes.  Meanwhile two young women who had been at the counter when we arrived were still there when we left.  Really?  What is so fricking hard about renting a car?

Our flight had landed at 4:30, so by the time we had collected the rental car it was after 5:00.  This violated our second cardinal rule about flights – don’t arrive in a major city at rush hour.  Unfortunately, our only other reasonable option violated our primary cardinal rule about flights – don’t arrive so late that you are navigating to an unfamiliar location in the dark.  We made it to the VRBO cottage just before full dark and just before the battery on our portable GPS died.  Turns out the lighter in the General Lee didn’t work, so we couldn’t power our trusty Garmin off the car battery.  Fortunately we had brought a map of the area so I navigated old school style and we kept the GPS off as long as possible, until we really needed it.  Sent us down the wrong dam street anyway.

The cottage was a lovely little studio with a sitting area, comfy bed and kitchenette.  Unfortunately it also had NO A/C, a tiny shower, a huge fake tree that threatened to take over the bathroom, and no dresser for clothing.  A big closet with lots of hangers is great but it doesn’t do much for socks and underwear.  Plus we had to kill a HUGE spider in the bathroom.

So, it was lovely, but we won’t be staying there again.

And yes, the drive out of San Francisco sucked.