Things I Like This Week … Nitromethane Edition

TA FC Lombardo 2

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

1. NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. This past weekend Matt and I made our second trip to the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, PA. Traveling to the track each day meant a picturesque trip through Amish country with changing leaves, farms, and expansive corn fields (and one corn maze). In the middle of all this quaint scenery is a drag strip with with cars making 10,000 horsepower.

The Sarge

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

2. NHRA drag racing. Many people think drag racing is simply driving a high horsepower car really fast for a quarter mile (or 1,000 feet in some cases). But there really is so much more to it than that. Exhibit A for that proposition? The photo above. That’s Top Alcohol Funny Car driver John Lombardo Jr. during Saturday’s qualifying session. Notice that none of his tires are actually touching the racing surface. Conditions were a bit tricky this weekend due to some rain on Friday night and cooler temperatures. Those cooler temperatures meant the potential for more horsepower. the crew chiefs and drivers went for it, and there some near record breaking passes.

3. Every NHRA ticket is a pit pass. Unlike other types of racing, NHRA gives its fans access to the pits. So Matt and I got up close and personal with the crews and drivers this weekend. In many cases, there was only a rope separating us from the crews working on the cars. That means we were only a few feet away from the drivers starting their top fuel dragsters and funny cars (and the resulting tear-inducing nitromethane fumes). And the NHRA drivers are some of the most accessible (and nicest) drivers in motorsports.

And on an unrelated topic …

4. Hockey is back! As a fan of a team that did not make the playoffs, it’s been six long months since I’ve seen my team on the ice. But the Devils and the rest of the NHL are back this week. Each team starts with a clean slate, and (most) fans are full of hope for their teams’ seasons. Of course, check back with me in a couple months.

Things I Like This Week … The Return Edition

Tix1. Our season tickets are here! Yesterday, I headed over to the Prudential Center to pick up our Devils season tickets. Picking up the box meant that the return of the hockey season is right around the corner. And I’d like to believe there is more than just tickets in that box. I think there’s also the excitement and hope that each new season brings. Each team starts with a clean slate, with the same chance at winning the Stanley Cup. Fingers crossed it’s a good season.

2. The Mindy Project is back. One of my favorite shows last season was The Mindy Project. And it’s not just because I’d like to be Mindy Kaling when I grow up (even though she’s almost 10 years younger than me). The show really hit its stride in the second half of last season, and I can’t wait to see what happens now that Mindy and Danny are dating. It really has become must-see TV for me. Speaking of returning shows …

3. Boardwalk Empire. I’ve been watching Boardwalk Empire since it started. Now that we’re down to the final eight episodes (OK, six now), I’m tuning in every Sunday night at 9 to see how this drama is going to end. This is probably the right time for the show to end. With everything he has done, Nucky Thompson can’t live forever, right?

4. Bryan Cranston’s one-man baseball show. Baseball’s post-season returns in a couple weeks. While last season’s post-season was magical (thanks to a Red Sox World Series win), this year’s post-season means nothing (thanks to a horrible Red Sox regular season). Bryan Cranston’s new video about his one-man baseball show pays homage to some of the greatest baseball moments (and has an appearance from a former Red Sox). I think this will tide me over until next season.

 

Things I Like This Week … Back in the Saddle Edition

Aerosmith full stage

Photos by Matthew Lowell Thompson

Dream on

1. Aerosmith. Aerosmith was the latest stop in our Last Chance Tour (as in this might be the last chance to see them). The Last Chance Tour is kind of a crapshoot—you never know exactly what you’re going to get. The big question is always this—are they going to sound as good as they used to? Sometimes you’re disappointed, and sometimes you’re surprised. And on Wednesday night, Aerosmith did not disappoint. Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and the rest of the band have not lost a beat. To Matt’s delight, they played some of their older songs. The best past of the night? Now I can cross off “Seeing Aerosmith perform Dream On live” off my bucket list.

SLASH2. Slash. Slash, who opened for Aerosmith, was a reminder that Matt and I will not be seeing Guns N’ Roses on the Last Chance Tour. But we did get a nice G N’ R substitute Wednesday night when Slash, performing with Myles Kennedy, played a few songs from the past, including Sweet Child ‘O Mine and Paradise City. We got to see one of the best guitar players ever play some of the greatest guitar riffs ever. Not a bad little appetizer for the Aerosmith show. Not bad, indeed.

3. Football is back! I may not have grown up as a football fan, but I sure am one now. In our house, we’ll be rooting for the Patriots (we’re deep in enemy territory) and the Panthers (that’s where Matt’s cousin plays). Not following the home team means that we don’t always get the game on TV. Thankfully, we have SiriusXM to fill the void.

4. The family football pool. It’s become an annual tradition. Aunts, uncles, and cousins gather together online to pick the winner of every NFL game every week. To keep things interesting, there may be a small wager on the outcome. But what’s a little competition among family members, right?

Things I Like This Week … Labor Day Edition

WP BGP

Will Power on his way to victory in the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix./Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

1. Will Power, IndyCar Champion. If you’re an IndyCar fan, there’s only two opinions of Will Power—you love him or you hate him. Our house falls in the pro-Will Power camp, so we were happy (and relieved) to see Will finally win the IndyCar championship on Saturday night (which we didn’t watch until Sunday morning because there was no way I could stay up that late). Will didn’t have the championship wrapped up until the last few laps. Just one more indication of how competitive the IndyCar series was this season. Too bad the season had to end so early.

2. Cirque du Soleil. It’s a staple on the Vegas strip. While I’ve been to Vegas a couple times, I’ve never taken in the show. So when Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai took up residence at the Prudential Center for a few days, I had to go. And it did not disappoint. I know I overuse the word “amazing,” but it is the only word I can think of to describe the performance. Aerial acts, tumblers, hand balancers. There were times I didn’t know what direction to look in.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy. Matt and I rarely go to the movies. But  we thought Guardians of the Galaxy was one of those movies we should see on the big screen. We were right. Fun story and characters. Chris Pratt is hysterical. Catchy soundtrack (which I purchased today). And two sub-things I like? The AMC Fork and Dine Theater (where you can catch the movie while having a beer and eating dinner) and 3D movies (which apparently I have been missing out on).

4. I am Alain Prost. There are all kinds of quizzes out there on the Internet. Thanks to McLaren, now you can take a quiz to figure out which F1 driver you are.

Alexis

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

Eddie K

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

5. U.S. Nationals. It’s the biggest race of the year for the NHRA. It’s the one that every driver wants to win. And it’s always on Labor Day weekend. So in preparation for the busy fall that’s coming, we’re spending a lazy Monday afternoon watching ESPN’s six hours of coverage of the U.S. Nationals. And counting down the 30 days until we get to see these cars live and in person.

Things I Like This Week … Oak Tree Edition

Oak tree-1

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

1. Return of the Son of Oak Tree. OK, this may sound like a bad horror or sci-fi movie, but it’s actually good news to me and other racing fans. Last summer I lamented the loss of the Oak Tree at Virginia International Raceway. But on Sunday morning, I was very pleased to wake up to an article from Racer that VIR had found a descendant of the original oak tree and that it would be moved from its current location to to the Oak Tree turn at VIR (on the outside of the track though) in November. Welcome back, Son of Oak Tree!

2. The Knick. It sounds like many of the medical dramas on television today—talented and dedicated surgeon who can only function while under the influence of cocaine, hospital administrators trying to keep the institution afloat, and doctors trying to save lives. What makes The Knick different is that it is set in 1900, not present day. Surgery techniques are rudimentary and experimental. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (one of my favorites), The Knick is visually stunning. (Another visually stunning work? The Grand Budapest Hotel, which we watched this past weekend. There’s a bonus thing I like.)

3. Oh, so that’s how the Chase works. All season long, I’ve been hearing about the new Chase format works. I know you have win to get in, but that was about all I got. Well, now NASCAR has a video from some of your favorite drivers explaining how the new format works. (Side note: is the format too complicated if we need a video to explain it?) The video is fun, and the format could be interesting. I know I’ll be tuning in to see what happens.

4. The Emmys. The Emmy are tonight! It’s my second favorite awards show after the Golden Globes (the lack of tables and lack of alcohol at said tables drops it down a notch). I watch a lot of television, so I enjoy watching my favorite shows get rewarded for a job well done. My pick for best drama? Breaking Bad, by far. Most interesting category? Best actor in a drama. Bryan Cranston gave an amazing performance in his last season as Walter White, but Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Rust Cohle in True Detective was just the latest step in the McConaissance.

5. My new favorite F1 driver. I’ve admitted in the past that I am a relatively new F1 fan. I enjoy watching the F1 race every Sunday morning. I know the drivers like and the ones I don’t. But I never had a favorite F1 driver. Until today. The Vettel dominance is a thing of the past. The drama at Mercedes and Ferrari is compelling. But what I’ve enjoyed the most this season is watching Daniel Ricciardo win. So it’s official—Ricciardo is my new driver.

Things I Like This Week … Summer Edition

As summer winds down, here are some of the things I like this week (and this past season)…

JOEY

1. Summer traffic. Sure, there’s all kinds of traffic heading down the shore or other vacation destinations. But with everyone on vacation, that means less traffic on the morning commute. Less traffic means the Angry Orange and I are almost happy to make the trip every morning (yes, I named my car the Angry Orange). I know my days of an easy commute are numbered, but I’ll enjoy it while I can.

corn2. The farmers market. Every spring, I count down the days until the local farmers market opens. I love the fruits fresh off the farm—peaches, blueberries, watermelons, and cantaloupes. The past two summers I’ve pickled cucumbers to enjoy during the winter. But the thing I anticipate the most is the Jersey corn. It’s so sweet that it leaves your hands sticky and there’s no need for butter. Next weekend I’ll be freezing some for the winter.

flips3. My J. Crew pink skull-and-crossbones flip flops. These flip flops started my small skull-and-crossbones collection. I’ve had them for years, and I wear them as soon as it gets warm (or when I travel to warmer climates). Sadly, these flip flops are reaching the end of their life and J.Crew doesn’t make them anymore. But the good news I was smart enough to by another pair. Guess I’ll have to break those in next summer.

avoidable-contact4. Avoidable Contact by Tammy Kaehler. Summertime means summer reading. And my recommendation to my race fans (and non-race fans too) is the Kate Reilly Mysteries. Avoidable Contact is the third book in the series, which follows racecar driver Kate Reilly through her life in sportscar racing and the murder mysteries that seem to follow her. These suspenseful stories are peppered with racing details that make you feel you are at the track with Kate. Avoidable Contact unfolds during the Rolex 24 in a minute-by-minute format. Very compelling reading.

Rubbing Shoulders With the Stars

Carl and JenIn my Things I Liked This Week … NASCAR Edition, I promised some stories about rubbing shoulders the drivers (and others) this past weekend at the Glen. Here are a couple for you.

sweetgeezusherehecomesdoilookalright

Note the complete panic on my face as Carl approaches.

1. Second chances. About five years ago, Matt and I were lucky enough to be on the pre-race grid for the Nationwide race at Watkins Glen. While we were waiting for the National Anthem, I spotted Carl Edwards talking to a couple other drivers. Because Carl is my favorite NASCAR driver, Matt told me to go over and ask for a photo with him. I completely chickened out with the lame excuse that I didn’t want to bother him before he was going to race. I instantly regretted my decision and figured I’d never get the opportunity again.

Well, that opportunity did present itself again this year in the pits at Watkins Glen. Knowing that I couldn’t let this chance pass me by again, I sprung into action. As Carl approached, I heard the words coming out of my mouth, “Hey Carl! Can I get a picture?!?” I think he may have agreed. Next thing I know, Matt is taking our picture (notice how together Carl is and how not calm I am). Feeling even more brave, I decided to try and tell him the story about how I chickened out five years ago. He may or may not have heard me, but I didn’t really care. I got my photo.

Danica bacon2. Things I learned about Danica Patrick. Danica made a guest appearance at the Glen Club on Sunday morning before the race. Here are just a few things I learned about her:

  • Danica is tiny.
  • She’s not a big fan of the qualifying format, but she’s glad the fans like it.
  • She doesn’t miss running the boot at the Glen.
  • She would be alright with a couple more road courses on the schedule, but she prefers ovals.
  • And while she likes to cook healthy and eat organic vegetables, she also likes her bacon (check out Exhibit A to the right).

3. Two down, one to go. Matt and I met Tanner Foust a few years ago at a Rallycross event, right before the American version of Top Gear premiered. Matt and I have become fans of the show, so one of the people were on the lookout for was Rutledge Wood. And we found him Sunday morning—telling car stories to the guys on the Ganassi crew. Rutledge is just a really nice guy, and he gave us a heads up on the next new episode (premiering September 30). One word—Nurburgring.  Now we just need to find Adam Ferrara…Rut and co2

4. No, thank you. By far, the best dressed man at the track on Sunday was Tommy Hilfiger (also, the only man brave enough wear white jeans in the garage). I was only slightly confused when Matt got up in the middle of the race to talk to him. After Matt apologized for his less-than-fashionable outfit, he thanked Tommy for his support of MS-related charities. Tommy’s response? He thanked Matt. Matt replied, “No, thank you.”

5. It’s not a visit to the Seneca Lodge without Boris. The past few years, every time we stayed at the Seneca Lodge, we had a Boris Said sighting in the dining room or the bar. Boris has even been immortalized on a series of Seneca Lodge t-shirts. So it seemed logical that Boris had an after-party on Sunday night with his sponsor for the weekend, Genny Light. And where better to have our picture taken with Boris than in front of the iconic bar.

BS and the Ts_small

Things I Like This Week … NASCAR Edition

CROWD AT WGI_small

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

Matt and I spent the weekend at Watkins Glen for the NASCAR race. On Sunday morning, we woke to the news of the tragic events the night before at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. While there certainly was a dark cloud hovering overhead, here are the silver linings from this weekend.

1. First-time winner A.J. Allmendinger. Sure, every driver is excited to win a race. But there is nothing like the enthusiasm of a first-time winner. And no one was more excited about winning his first NASCAR race than A.J. Allmendinger (after 213 starts). Well, except maybe car owner Brad Daugherty, who jumped up and down in the broadcast booth and bear-hugged his co-host Rusty Wallace. The NASCAR race at Watkins Glen has a knack of producing great racing and surprise winners. And this week was no exception. Check out A.J.’s Victory Lane interview. My favorite part is that his former employer Roger Penske was one of the first to congratulate him.

 

2. The kindness of strangers. When we head to the track, Matt uses a scooter to cover long distances. On Friday, we trekked across the track through the infield camping to snap some photos near the Outer Loop. As we headed back, Matt complained that the scooter would only turn left (I think it was confused and thought we were at an oval). Sure enough, a bolt in the scooter’s suspension had come out of its hole. No sooner had we stood the scooter up to examine the suspension, a couple campers came over to see if they could help. They rounded up tools and helped us repair the suspension. And when we offered to buy them a case of beer or some firewood for the weekend, they refused. So, to those Good Samaritan campers, thank you. And we will be sure to pay it forward.

IMG_0612

Photo by Matthew Lowell Thompson

3. The bar at the Seneca Lodge. For more than 15 years, I’ve been staying at the Seneca Lodge, which is just down the hill from Watkins Glen International. Inside the Lodge’s main building is a restaurant and bar. But the bar isn’t just any bar—it’s part of racing history. The walls and ceiling are covered with racing artifacts spanning the years—stickers, hats, photos, signs, banners, and car parts. And hanging from the deer heads and arrows (placed by the archers who also call the Lodge home) behind the bar are laurel wreaths left behind by Watkins Glen race winners past. Because this is where they came to celebrate after a long day at the track. The historical significance really hit me a couple months ago when I watched the F1 documentary 1, which included home movies of James Hunt and Emerson Fittipaldi celebrating at the same bar that Matt and I pony up to every visit. The bar truly is my happy place (when I’m not at the track).

MA before NNS4. Rubbing shoulders with the drivers. Thanks to a cold pit pass, Matt and I were able to rub shoulders with some of the drivers (like Marcos Ambrose) and actually meet a few. But more on that later this week…

Things I Like This Week … Premiere Edition

I feel like I spend too much of my time focusing on the negative, so it’s time for a change. A time to focus on the positive and the things I like this week. This is the premiere edition.

1. Cousins. Growing up, I spent many of my Saturdays at my grandfather’s house, hanging out with my cousins. We played Cops and Robbers, used the backyard as our Whiffle ball field, and may have learned how to pour a beer at an early age. We’re all grown now, and life has taken us in different directions. But every once in while, we find ourselves back together again. This weekend, it was for cousin Meredith’s wedding. We picked up right where we left off. And we may have put our beer-pouring skills to work.

2. Formula 1. At Monaco this year, all the talk was whether Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could sweep the season. But the very next race, Daniel Riccardo won Montreal and the streak ended. And things haven’t been the same since. The last two races—Germany and Hungary—had me on the edge of my seat. Maybe it’s because Lewis Hamilton had to race his way to through the field due to incidents during qualifying (a crash into a tire wall one week and a burning car the next). Maybe the rest of the field is catching Mercedes. And now it’s three long weeks until the next race. But the fact that it’s Spa doesn’t hurt.

3. Drunk History. I’m not sure how I went this long without this in my life. The premise of Drunk History (Tuesdays, Comedy Central) is quite simple—a drunk person tells a story from history and Derek Waters and his famous friends act it out for us. Below is the story of Claudette Colvin and her role in the civil rights movement:

4. Devils re-sign Andy Greene to a long-term deal. This is just one of the moves that Devils have made this busy off-season. Despite the fact that we are headed into the post-Brodeur era, I’m cautiously optimistic about this season. Only 66 days until the Devils open their season. But who’s counting, right?

5. The things drivers will do for their sponsors. Part of a driver’s job is talking about the sponsor’s products. And sometimes that product is toilet paper and other, um, personal hygiene products. Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon take one for the team in this commercial:

 

Sahlen’s Six Hours – Exploring Watkins Glen

JT banner off camber

Photo by Jennifer R. Thompson

After a successful trip at the Rolex 24 this year, I continued my foray into race photography at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen. There are so many great elements to Watkins Glen—elevation changes, high-speed turns, climbing esses, and the light blue guardrails that surround the whole track. With absolutely gorgeous weather for race weekend, Matt and I explored every part of the track, and here were the results.

We had a great vantage point for the start of the race—the original starter’s stand that was placed in its original location between Turns 1 and 2. This was the result—

JT race start

Photo by Jennifer R. Thompson

We made the trek inside of the boot. This one is from the downhill entering the boot, or the “chute.” And it just happens to be of two cars that have never raced the Glen before—

Future at WGI

Photo by Jennifer R. Thompson

Moving just a few hundred yards to our right, we caught the action in the laces—

88 PC laces WGI

Photo by Jennifer R. Thompson

JT Patron P1

Photo by Jennifer R. Thompson

Our last shooting location is one of my favorite turns on the track (and the one that challenged me the most when I drove it)—turn 9, a.k.a. the off-camber—

JT viper off camber-1

Photo by Jennifer R. Thompson

I may be getting hooked on this photography thing. When’s the next race?!?