Friday, November 30, 2007

"Spirit of Innovation" (N2A)

I've chased race cars for some 30 years; many of them shod with Goodyear Racing Eagles. I've seen (as have you, I'm sure) Goodyear Blimps (actually airships) hovering over these events, and have always wondered what it would be like to ride in one of these vehicles. On November 27, I finally got a chance to experience that, thanks to Chief Pilot Larry Chambers, who's based out of Pompano Beach, Florida and Carole Swartz from Goodyear's PR department.

Larry pilots the Spirit of Innovation, which is supported by a team of dedicated riggers, mechanics and technicians who literally pull together to get the Spirit of Innovation in the air. Our flight this day came after the airship was freshly repainted after the Nextel Cup weekend at Homestead, and a Thanksgiving week stand down. Taking off in an airship is very similar to taking off in an airplane--the pilot must take off into the wind. Instead of pulling back on a steering wheel like control, Larry pulls on a wheel much like the one that steers a ship to adjust the angle of climb and descent, while the twin engines push the Spirit into the sky. The angles Larry maintains and attains are (if you ask a fixed wing pilot) seemingly quite steep, but for such a large vehicle, suprisingly gentle as the Spirit climbs to 500, then 1000, then 1500 feet above sea level. I know because I saw the instruments (the Spirit can fly under Instrument Flight Rules) tick off the altitude. When the pilot hits the throttles, the acceleration will push you back in your seat; not quite like that of an Indy Car or Richard Petty Driving Experience Car, but still enough for you to know it. Larry threaded his way through the persistent pop-up showers that are part of South Florida life, and we then came into the clear over the Atlantic.

Larry then motioned for me to get into the left seat, and it was my turn to steer the Spirit. There's a lot of manual dexterity involved with keeping the airship on a proper course. You crank the wheel until you get to the altitude, and then you push with your feet to turn the ship. I tried to use the instruments to keep the Spirit on a heading that Larry dialed in; it was more work than first thought, but after a while (a long while) I was getting close, and was able to raise and lower the ship under Larry's guidance and get some anaerobic exercise. The views and stability at altitude were phenomenal; it's no wonder TV (and fans) love the Goodyear airships. The Spirit is decked out much of the time with cameras and HDTV transmission equipment enough to get real close at races, football games, parades. Its ancestors have been used for radio remotes (with the proper air to ground transmitters; cell phones aren't allowed), too.
Airships have also been used for observation of opposing forces during wartime, and for passenger travel in the 1930s. Though the Spirit has enough room for 6 passengers and the pilot, one could imagine the zepplins of old (with their spacious cabins) making their way across the ocean. Goodyear has four of these airships (three in the US, one overseas), and uses them to promote goodwill for the company.
I wasn't able to get a 0-60 time (like I do for my usual road tests); the Spirit tops out at 50 knots. It can stay aloft for a long time, and has mountable fuel tank pods for long distance flights. This particular week, the Spirit will send pictures from a Disney parade in Orlando to a television near you.
I'll close with an anecdote about the crew: I left the camera case in the Spirit on my flight, and came back to base to retrieve it. Steve, the crew chief, and Larry called the ship, and as it floated over the base, the pilot dropped the case in the circle they said they could hit. I was most impressed with that accuracy, and attention to detail.
It is so impressive, that I'd like to go up again. I suspect that I would not be alone in that desire.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

So What ELSE Is New?
Jimmie Johnson sealed the deal in fine fashion...and for what he had to do, didn't put a wheel wrong. He led the first lap--his only lap--that, and a seventh place finish for the now two time and defending NASCAR Nextel/Sprint Cup champion. He defeated Jeff Gordon by 77 points, only losing nine, on the strength of Gordon's 4th place finish.
Yes, folks, they do like each other (as much as you might not think so)...
NASCAR's maximum leader, Brian France needs to get a reality check. His inheritance is beginning to get tarnished (downturn in TV ratings, empty seats, cannibalizing sponsors, and still trying to do business the old way), and is in need of some polish. The Chase turned into a rout for Team Hendrick.
Catch-Up from Homestead pre-race:
  • Jimmie Johnson starts from the pole; Jeff Gordon starts 10 places back. With the 86 point deficit, and the likelihood of Johnson leading at least the first (if not the most) lap/s, that means all Johnson has to do is finish 19th to lock up the title--no matter what Gordon does. For Gordon to win, Johnson has to implode early and finish well out of the top 30.
  • Brian France, NASCAR's maximum leader, held a short "state of the sport" newser here in Homestead, and says his organization is pleased with the Chase, even with Johnson holding the biggest lead in Chase history. France is similarly not unduly concerned with declining TV ratings, but a reporter's question raising the point about the point gap prompted a response which could be termed nothing but high dudgeon, saying that it (reporting that fact) took away from Jimmie Johnson's accomplishment. Yeah, right.
  • More after the Ford 400

Friday, November 16, 2007

NASCAR Championship Weekend Blog Stuff

Greetings from Homestead-Miami Speedway...we're getting ready to go in the garage area...and talk with some and random musings to follow.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Random Musings November 2007

  • Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) is said to be buying New Hampshire International Speedway. What may well happen is that one or both of the Nextel Cup Races will go to another track in the SMI galaxy--likely Las Vegas. NASCAR (read the France Family) is not likely pleased, but feels it's better to deal with the devil you know, rather than the devil you don't (not that we call Bruton Smith, Jerry Carroll, John Henry, et al cousins of Beelzebub--it's a metaphor).

  • NASCAR's Triple A series is making news for the wrong reasons. What was once a strict development series, morphed into Cup Lite...and is now exhibiting the same symptoms. The series needs more innovative marketing than simply printing an entry blank and opening the gates.

  • Mercedes McLaren is protesting the Brazilian Grand doubt trying to get Lewis Hamilton two points and the Driver's Championship in Formula One. The odds on whether the appeal would be successful are as long as Pinocchio's proboscis.

  • Why did FIA boss Max Mosely trash Lewis Hamilton's accomplishment, and say that another dominant driver wouldn't be good for the sport?

My personal choice for Ignoramus of the Week--Josh Stewart for his column in the Long Island Press "Is the Military NASCAR's New Tobacco?". It contains a lot of Daily Kos/ rhetoric about military sponsorship of NASCAR teams, most especially Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

On balance, the military has helped more people, than it's harmed. Everyone of us who bangs on a keyboard, schleps a camera, or holds a mike owes the freedom to do that to brave young men and women who stand between us and those who want to kill us--and make no mistake, that is what terrorists want to do.

Why is it not allowable for organizations such as the US Navy and Army National Guard to use methods to reach their desired membership?

Point of Personal Privilege: the link for this column, and other comments are contained on the Frank A Johnson American Legion Post 758 Blog: