Thursday, June 25, 2009

Really Cool Feature Video

During the coverage of last weekend's Miller Lite 100 Firestone Indy Lights race from Iowa Speedway, Versus ran a feature on me, my racing and my racing with diabetes. I have to thank the IMS Productions team as it is awesome and told my story so very well. All in all, I was very happy with it and thought I would share it here with everyone. It is also on YouTube, the Indy Lights website and the Indy Car Media Center.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Long Day at the Office in Iowa

Today has been a very long day at the office. It is going on 18 hours up and working!

The day started with a driver's meeting at 7:45 and then practice at 8:15. I had to spend quite a few laps getting up to speed and learning the track. Having never been here before, it is an intense experience early on. It is 7/8 of a mile with some big banking and so flat out, you do a lap in just over 20 seconds. The laps add up fast when they are that short! And you spend almost the whole lap turning so you can get a bit dizzy. The car was pretty good right away though and we ended the first practice 4th quickest. The hardest part about the track is a very big bump between turns 1 and 2. The asphalt has settled where the tunnel under the track is and left a nasty bump right at the apex.

Second practice the day had heated up dramatically. In the first session, the air was about 72 but in the second it was closer to 83 and very high humidity. We ran more laps and did a qualifying simulation. I encountered traffic on my quicker laps and so we were only 5th in our half of the field, about 8 or 9th overall.

Next up was qualifying. I had drawn the 4th spot to go out and qualify. I had a good couple of laps and didn't have issues getting the car started or anything dramatic. We missed the set up and the aerodynamic balance by a little bit. I ended up 8th on the grid of 18 cars. I was reasonably happy as a lot of the other drivers were really pushing hard in qualifying and taking bigger risks. There was no better example than James Davison driving for Vision Racing- he set a track record for his first lap and the proceeded to spin down and across the grass on the exit of turn 4 on his second lap! He managed to not hit anything, but that was down a lot to luck.

So our race was scheduled to run at 8PM and finish by about 8:45. There were rumors running rampant in the paddock that the whole evening had been canceled because of moisture 'weeping' up through the track. The series decided to cancel the Indy Car qualifying and focus and doing what they could to get the track dry for our race. They were also trying to run us early (7:15) because there was a band of rain headed towards the track. It took them a lot longer than expected to get the track ready and it wasn't until about 9PM when we finally rolled off for the start.

Before the green flag, one of the other cars pulled into the pits with a problem. On the start, I made a solid move on the outside of Pippa Mann to move up to 6th. After a few laps of green flag running, it went yellow for Pippa, who had spun coming off turn 4. When we went green again, Pippa's teammate Martin Plowman moved past me into turn 1. I was quicker than Martin, but I couldn't quite get close enough to make a pass. Then as we encountered lap traffic, I moved past Martin. I was trying to chase a group down when I encountered Pippa running slow a few laps down. I moved to the inside of her into 3 and she chopped down on me until we hit. We both kept the car going straight, but I lost so much momentum that 3 cars moved past me. I was easily quicker than Davison and Hildebrand ahead of me, but again I couldn't find a way past. Then with 2 laps to go, we encountered a group of lapped cars that included Pippa again. Hildebrand (leading the Davison and then me) went passed Pippa late into 1. Davison tried to stuff it down underneath her very late and aggressively. I could see where this was going and backed off to avoid their crash. Sure enough, Davison slid hard up into Pippa and then both spun up towards the wall. I slid down the inside and picked up 7th place for my efforts.

I truly believe we had the car to fight for the top 5. We may have been running too much downforce, especially as the evening cooled off. If we had raced when it was hotter at about 8, we might have been a little more racey. Still I am very happy with the result and it equals my best finish from St. Pete. We finished on the lead lap with a fast far with 4 straight wheels and decent points.

I am now really excited about heading to the next three races. We go to Watkins Glen in upstate New York July 4th, and then the street race in downtown Toronto, followed by the airport track in Edmonton. I tested at the Glen and love the track- I can't wait to go back there and race!

Now it is time to head back to California and take my dad out to dinner to celebrate Father's Day. Without him, none of my racing would have been possible. He is a constant source of inspiration, guidance, wisdom and advice. Thanks and I love you, Dad!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Glen

I wrote a blog way back in the dark ages of my blogging (so…in March!) about my favorite race tracks all over the world. I have to change/add/ addend that list. Well up towards the top of the list needs to be Watkins Glen. I had the opportunity to test there on Monday as preparation for the race there July 4th. What a track! After my first few laps, I came into the pits and I couldn’t adequately express how awesome, impressive and incredible the track is to drive. I had seen some footage of it before, but until you experience the G-loads, the cornering sight pictures, the whole setting, you have no idea how great it is! The track is set in upstate New York in the Finger Lake district. It sits about 10 minutes outside of the little town of Watkins Glen which in turn sits at the south end of Lake Seneca. One of the biggest draws to the area is the wineries around the lake and the locally produced wine. Also, the change of colors in the fall is supposed to be particularly impressive when mixed with the smell of fresh crushed grapes. There are some waterfalls within minutes of the track and amazing views everywhere you look. Couple that with one of the most challenging and enjoyable tracks I have ever driven, in Europe, Asia, Australasia, or North American and I think I may have found a new favorite track. I can’t wait to come back here and race in July.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Big Easy and the ADA

Last Friday I flew from LA to New Orleans, Louisiana for about a day and a half for the American Diabetes Association’s National Convention. It is a big meeting with scientific sessions, exhibit halls, abstract poster exhibits, award ceremonies and various diabetes related malarkey. I was going because my sponsor, Novo Nordisk, had a show car there. Since they are sponsoring my racing program this season, it made sense for them to have a branded car there. The show car was set up in a really cool plaza just adjacent to the river and alongside Novo Nordisk’s “Be the Face of Change” photo exhibit. The car looked great and had a lot of people come by to see it, meet me and get a photo by the car. I was there from 10-2 and not only did I get to meet a lot of the people from Novo Nordisk, but I got to meet a lot of really neat people wandering through New Orleans- either for the ADA or just passing by and stopped to see what the fuss was all about. With my show car commitments, I didn’t get to see as much of ‘the Big Easy’ as I would have liked. I did however get to experience Bourbon Street in all its glory (well maybe not ‘all’ as I wasn’t there for Mardi Gras!). I had dinner on Bourbon Street Friday night and was utterly unprepared for everyone walking down the middle of the street, drinking and having an all around raucously good time. Still it was an absolute awesome day and a half and I can’t wait to go back and spend some time in New Orleans. If for nothing more than the great seafood and Creole cooking!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Magical Disappearing DexCom

Last weekend at the race in Milwaukee I tested the durability of my DexCom SEVEN Receiver. It was completely unintentional but still worthy of a good story.

So it was the first practice session of the race weekend and I was building up to speed and starting to push. (Omitting how it happened as I would rather not relive the crash- you can read the whole story here) When all had come to rest after the crash, the safety crew arrived to make sure I was ok. I assured them I was, other than my pride and budget having been dented. When I climbed out of the car, I reached in to grab my DexCom Receiver. What I pulled out was my empty carrier! So I looked into the seat thinking it had just fallen out as I climbed out. Nope. Not there. Not anywhere I could see. At this point I am starting to get a little more panicked that I have lost it. The Delphi Safety Team notice and ask what’s up. I explain that I have lost it and it’s important and it looks like a pager and it fits in here and blah blah blah. They put me in the back of the SUV off to the medical center to get checked out sans DexCom. They look me over, make sure I fine (I was!) and then ask about the sensor on the back of my arm. I then go through the CGMS explanation and the medical team gets very interested and asks to the see my graph. I explain that I lost the receiver in the crash and could they keep an eye out for it. Of course.

So then it was back to the team and my car which was badly in need of some major TLC. We got to work on taking the bent and broken pieces of the car off and putting new stuff on. I was only entrusted to running the vacuum and a rag to get the dirt out of the car and the rubber marks off the bodywork. I am sure that when I pull my seat out, my DexCom will be sitting in the car waiting for me to get in range so it can give me readings. But no…not there either. We get the car finished just in time for qualifying. And by ‘we’, I mean my awesome mechanics and engineer! I just tried to stay out of the way. So after qualifying was over and I had thanked my team as much as I could, I went looking for my DexCom again. I had an autograph session in a couple of hours so I didn’t have long. I checked with the Delphi guys again and nope- they hadn’t seen it and none of the workers on track reported it. Checked with the medical staff and nope they hadn’t seen it either. I checked with the team of the car that had run into me in the crash and they didn’t see it either.

So my last chance (and a slim one at that!) was to go walk around the wall where I had hit it and see if my receiver had flown over the wall. My dad walked along the top of the wall and I looked into the gap between the SAFER barrier and the concrete wall. There is a gap of about 18-24 inches between the barrier and the wall that it could potentially have dropped into. My dad was looking through the fence to see if it had made the one in a million shot through the chain link. We started where I first hit the wall (where there was first green paint) and worked our way around the track. After about 100 feet I figured I was going to be getting a new DexCom.

And then after 150 feet from my first impact, I saw it. It was lying face down in a couple of collected leaves in the corner of the gap between the SAFER barrier and the wall. I jumped in, grabbed and held it triumphantly over my head. I am sure I looked like a complete tool, but it was the first success of a very hard (and expensive) day! I hit the button thinking, ‘Yeah I’ve found it, but now it won’t work.’ But no, it turned on and there was the antenna logo in the corner saying I was out of range (and had been since I so rudely left it out there all on its own!). Within 5 minutes, it was back to reading my numbers and giving me a graph. It has a couple of small scratches on the side of the receiver and that is it!

I can’t think of a better product endorsement- I hit the wall at 160mph, my DexCom went flying out of my car, ended up by the wall and worked when I found it! I’m a fan.

(And yes I was so overwhelmed that I had found it, I forgot to take pictures of it either in situ, or before I had cleaned it off and put it back into service.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Home from Milwaukee

I am on the plane from Chicago to Los Angeles and I have had some time to reflect on this past weekend at Milwaukee. I have drawn some interesting conclusions and enjoyed the random musings that those conclusions led me through. Firstly though, I will start with the cold hard facts of the race weekend at the Milwaukee Mile. (I didn’t get a blog up on Saturday night after practice and qualifying for a few reasons. The biggest of these was that by the time I had a moment to myself on Saturday, I was mentally and physically exhausted. And it was late and I needed a good night’s sleep before ‘race day’……Enough excuses yet?)

Saturday at Milwaukee was Practice and Qualifying. We had a very busy day with the driver’s meeting being held at 7AM and then first practice at 8:15, second practice at 11:30, and qualifying at 2:30 PM with the autograph session at 5:30 for an hour. So my alarm went off at 5AM (?!). Practice didn’t go as planned…at all. The morning was cool and on my 4th lap, before the tires were all the way up to temperature, the back end of the car stepped out exiting turn 2. I spun up the track and hit the wall with the back of the car, knocking the rear wing off and bending both rear corners. Then Wade Cunningham, who was running behind me, had nowhere to go and plowed into me. His impact bent the front suspension and knocked my front wing and nose off the car. I came out of the crash physically unscathed, mostly. My pride (and crash damage budget) took the biggest hits. And my DexCom Seven receiver- but that is a very interesting tale for another day. As I mentioned earlier, the schedule was very tight and so my crew and I started frantically working on getting the car ready for practice possibly but more hopefully qualifying. I was only entrusted to cleaning what bodywork remained on the car, taking things off the car and working a pair of safety wire pliers. My crew, however, were absolutely phenomenal! They rocked it getting the car back together and when we pushed through tech and took our place in line for qualifying, they were more than a few impressed looks from other teams. Since I had so little practice, and my confidence was shaken from the crash, I focused on making sure the car felt right for the race on Sunday. I didn’t push and still managed to out qualify another driver. I would start the race on Sunday in 15th. There were only 16 cars at the race, which might make the impact of the crash on the whole weekend slightly reduced. Rather than be at the back of a grid of 25 cars, I would only be 15th. This would also give me a better shot at a top-10 result. And the final excuse for not blogging Saturday night is that I went to dinner with one of my sponsors in downtown Milwaukee. We dined at a great restaurant right by the shore of the lake. It was a great meal with really enjoyable conversation (very little to do with my crash) that helped take my mind of how difficult the day had been. The racer in me didn’t want to relive the day just before I was trying to get a good night’s sleep and prepare for what was always going to be a difficult race.

Sunday dawned clear, crisp and sunny. It was an absolutely beautiful day to be at the racetrack. (Beware: small digression ahead!) I have said to a lot of people that there is no place I would rather be than at a racetrack. My favorite time of the day at the races are in the mornings and evenings when it is quiet and the day either holds the promise of glory or the glow of a job well done. Those are the moments when I only begin to understand how deeply I love racing. (Digression over….for now) Our race was scheduled for an 11:30 start. The track temperature was up quite high and the air temp was still cool. That combination makes for a fast racetrack. My start was good and I immediately moved up to 14th position. I was chasing down my teammate for this race weekend, Pablo Donoso, even as I relearned the car. His car looked worse than mine felt and I worked my way past him. Then as I closed on Martin Plowman ahead of me, his car slowed and he moved to the inside coming off Turn 4- another spot in the bag. They threw a yellow flag to recover Plowman’s car and so the pack bunched back up.

On the restart, Jonathon Summerton spun trying to put the power down. He kept it out of the wall, but it meant we went back to yellow for a lap. Summerton’s car was a lot better than mine and he managed to repass me after we got back up to speed. I was surprised as the race then settled into a very long green stint. My pace was not close to that of the leaders and on an the mile long track, it didn’t take long before the leaders had caught and lapped me. I then not only had to deal with a mentally challenging race track and an ill handling car, but manage my car position to stay out of the leaders way and be considerate of the race they were having. My spotter, Chris Wheeler, helped me immensely with this and without his help, it would have been a lot harder race altogether. I talked about getting used to using a spotter in my Kansas practice report and it really paid off here. Then, with about 50 laps (out of the 100) to go, it went yellow for a crash in Turn 2. Summerton had spun and hit the wall hard. Chris talked me through the debris field and we settled into line behind the pace car. I was now 11th, the only car on my particular lap, and with the car I had, I was focused on just getting it home and taking any points I could get.

We went back to green and I had a whole train of cars on the lead lap stacked up behind me. I worked really hard to let them past me without disrupting their races. Then with about 25 to go, it went yellow again. Daniel Herrington had spun coming off Turn 4 and hit the pit wall quite hard. His race accident was similar to an accident he had in testing at Milwaukee a few weeks back. I was now up to 10th and holding onto the car for all I was worth! That is where I would finish, 4 or 5 laps down. I did however finish and get a top-10 in the process. Not where I wanted to be, but the best I could have hoped for.

The first conclusion I came to after today’s race is that on an oval, if your car is bad, your race feels very long and is not a lot of fun (or it’s a very short race with a big bill). On a road course, as a driver, you can do a lot more about it. But on an oval, you just have to take what you can get and survive to fight another day. I learned more about oval racing this weekend than I had in Indy or at Kansas. The lessons were definitely a lot more poignant.

The second rumination I had was that last week in Indianapolis (and even at our race in Kansas) we had a car good enough for the top 5-8 places and I was classified 13th in both races. Here in Milwaukee I had a car that wasn’t good for much of anything and I got a top 10. Motorsports is a funny old thing sometimes, but there is nothing else in the world I would rather be doing.

I can’t wait to tell the story of my magical disappearing DexCom.

But now I am exhausted and am ready for a good nights sleep in my own bed, spending some quality time with my friends (and my yellow lab, Kona) in the next few days and getting ready for my next adventure.

Thanks to LAT and Novo Nordisk for this great photo of my crew from Indianapolis.