31 August, 2015

People Making Cool Stuff: Carmel

"My parents would tell you that I've always been drawing on walls."

It's amazing how you can watch the creation of a work of art — you can follow every stroke of the brush, every mark of the pencil — and it's not until you pause and blink a few times that you see a picture rather than just a composition of strokes.

And even after you recognize that an art work was created, it remains something of a mystery exactly how it happened. How did the person start with a blank page, and come up with this? And why? What had to go through their mind during the creation process?

So I asked. This post is the first in a vague series about the cool stuff that my friends create.
For Carmel, it started in first grade, with Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. She enjoyed the story, but distinctly remembers being taken by the book's illustrations — "I want to be able to draw like this." By high school, Carmel said, she was watching anime like Sailor Moon almost every day, and her current illustration style certainly reflects that influence.
Carmel explained that most of her pieces begin with a "burst of emotion" — a spontaneous sense that she has some feeling or message to share, and that she might express it with an illustration. She mentioned that even during stressful periods, the creation process "takes me away from the real world." The process gives her time and space to contemplate the things that are going on in her life.

Once she has a kernel of an idea, she typically does some pencil sketches to find a direction, and then will keep moving forward once she hits on a form that captures her feelings on the topic. The ideal illustrations are "an extension of my feelings and thoughts," she added.
After the general theme, further development of the storyline and the color palette go hand-in-hand. Carmel specifically mentioned that she picks a color palette to suit the subject. More emotional topics garner darker, bolder colors, while other topics might receive colors that are more subdued and dreamy, as she described them.

To actually apply the colors, Carmel uses watercolor to fill space, and colored pencils for details. She mentioned having tried acrylics and oil, but she stuck with pencils because of her facility with them. "[They] feel like an extension of my fingertips."
When the process is complete, Carmel keeps some of the pieces, and she gives some of them away; perhaps to coworkers, to friends, or as gifts. Even of the pieces intended for other people, though, she noted that "I won't give it if I'm not proud of it." After all, she describes each work as "a piece of myself."

01 August, 2015

Reunion (Rhythm of Racing, Part 6)

(Note: this post follows "Disaster" in the Rhythm of Racing series.)

I mentioned in "On-Track Prep" that the pre-race grid walk is a going-away party of sorts. That for cast and crew, it's a mental transition period from focusing on anything else to focusing exclusively on the race.

The opposite transition begins in the moments before the finish — undivided focus transforms into some combination of relaxation, exhaustion, and a variety of other emotions…
Mental and emotional distance give way to reunion.
And as the race ticks ever closer to the checkered flag, the result crystallizes. "We're doing it" gradually becomes "we did it!", and "we can do better" becomes "we did our best."

That sense of closure, even before the checker actually flies, tends to manifest as small, impromptu celebrations; particularly among teams that are doing well. Here, driver Dale Sievwright (left) and a member of the pit crew share a high-five after the team's final pit stop. Their car, the #31 Hankook Tires / El Diablo Motorsports M3, would finish first in class E0 and seventh overall in the final standings.
And then, the moment itself. Here, team members and race staff cheer as owner Bob Davidson drives the race-winning #17 Davidson Racing Norma M20F (center, obscured) toward the checkered flag, at the head of a formation of other race cars.
The teams welcome the #34 Team RDR Mazda RX-8 and the #70 Mazdaspeed Factory Guys Mazda 6 Diesel back to base. The #34 placed first in the E2 class, and despite finishing over 100 laps down from the E1 class leader, the #70 was the only one of three sister cars to go the distance — the #55 crashed into a stopped vehicle after sunset (see "Disaster"), and the #56 went off-track and rolled later during the night.
Members of Team Quick Racing Products take a group selfie behind their #03 Superlite SLC after a third-in-class (fourth overall) finish. A far sight better than their DNF in 2013.
The closing driver for the #07 New York Rock Exchange / 1st Community Acura Integra celebrates after getting out of the car. The team finished second in the E3 class, only 40 seconds back from first.
Before they depart company, a member of the NASA safety crew expresses his gratitude to people who helped during the race.
Annual car races have a certain kind of rhythm to them. A fundamental identity that defines them, even as they evolve over time. From year to year, things always change — different conditions, different competitors, different tactics, and often, a new winner. But every December that I make the trek to Thunderhill Raceway, I find a race that's familiar, even though it's always a little bit unique.
The full Rhythm of Racing sequence:

12 June, 2015

Disaster (Rhythm of Racing, Part 5)

(Note: this post follows "Break. Fix. Repeat." in the Rhythm of Racing series.)

This is the flag that you never want to see at a race track. The other colors are, by and large, to be expected. Green flag when the race is underway. Yellow for localized incidents or disabled vehicles (spins, stalls, lost wheels, etc.). Striped red/yellow for debris on the racetrack (parts, dirt, oil, etc.). Blue with yellow cross when faster traffic is approaching.

There are more, but the flags are all about keeping the race going. About letting drivers know about forthcoming track situations and conditions so that the cars can continue circulating. Letting individual drivers know that they need to come in for a penalty. And so on.

The red flag means "stop on track immediately." Something happened which is more important than the continuation of the race.

The Calm

Near as I could tell, there was nothing special about the Sector Purple Racing #71 car. The morning of the race, the team went through their morning routine just like any other team.
Once on track, the car was running fairly well. According to the final scoring sheet, the RJ Racing #23 Miata, which finished first among the Miatas in the race, turned 587 laps in 24.5 hours, for ~23.9 laps per hour. For the 9 hours that it was on track, the #71 averaged ~23.3 laps per hour; slower, but pretty much on-pace.

Somewhere after the 9-hour mark, when the sun had already set, the #71 ran out of fuel, and subsequently lost its lights. It came to a stop on-track, toward the right side of the track, in the middle of the back stretch between turns 13 and 14.

I talked to a member of the Sector Purple Racing team, who recounted what he heard over the radio. "Where are the flashers? Never mind, I found them." About thirty seconds later, the team-member estimated, the #55 Mazda 6 Diesel would hit the #71 at full race speed.

The Storm

After I saw the red flag, nobody around me seemed to know what had happened. I followed the emergency lights, and this is what the scene looked like when I arrived. By this point, the driver of the #71 was already out of the car and in some other emergency vehicle.

Immediately after I took this photo, one of the emergency personnel asked me (and some other photographers) to stop taking pictures of the scene. I watched for awhile, and then moved to take pictures of a different part of the cleanup.
This appears to be where the #55 car came to a rest, about 200-300 feet down the track from where the #71 had stopped against a barrier. The #55 itself had been moved before I showed up.

Prior to the collision, the #55 was closing on a slower car while coming down toward the back straight, where the #71 was stopped. The driver attempted to pass the slow vehicle on the right and then struck the #71. A member of the Mazda Dealers race team would later share that, "We all watched the video. He moves along, then he goes right and suddenly there's this white thing. Everybody flinched. Even though you know what's coming, you still flinch."

Medevac

While continuing to talk to people about the collision, I heard the unmistakeable sound of an approaching helicopter. Police had blocked off the entrance to the racetrack and turned the area into an ad-hoc landing zone.

I was initially surprised about the helicopter evacuation, since I had initially heard that the driver was conscious and able to walk after the incident. I heard later that the driver was in and out of consciousness while in EMT care, and that he had complained of neck pain, which would explain the increased urgency of the situation.
A paramedic leans on the now-empty gurney after the driver was loaded into the medevac helicopter.
The helicopter hovers above the Thunderhill entrance for a moment before setting a course for Enloe Medical Center, in Chico, CA. A post on the Sector Purple Racing Facebook page noted that the driver had suffered a collapsed lung and a concussion, and was scheduled to spend 1-2 days in the hospital for observation.

Hindsight

I found this story particularly interesting to consider, because it simultaneously demonstrates how dangerous motorsports can be, but also how safe motorsports has become. I've been unable to get a status update on the #71 driver, but judging by the Facebook post, he wasn't doing too badly. And I asked a person on the #55 team how their driver was doing, and got the response that "oh, he's fine. He'll definitely feel it in the morning, but he's fine."
But that's how it goes. Risk is an inherent part of motorsports. You do what you can to lower the risk to a manageable level, and then you manage it. Sometimes disaster strikes, but with luck, everyone makes it out and the entire community learns what it can from the situation in order to continue managing that risk.

And then you get back out there and race some more.
The full Rhythm of Racing sequence:

04 May, 2015

Break. Fix. Repeat. (Rhythm of Racing, Part 4)

(Note: this post follows "Stop and Go, Mostly Go" in the Rhythm of Racing series.)

First, it breaks…

The last post discussed the idea of a clean race, where everything goes perfectly, nothing breaks, the car never goes off track, and so on. That mostly doesn't happen. What's more likely is that you'll be racing along, and then suddenly you see a cloud of steam as the temperature gauge shoots for the moon. Time to pull off-track and wait for a tow.
Maybe you're in the groove heading toward turn 8, when BANG! Suddenly you have a see-through engine. The giant puff of smoke makes it seem like a magic trick, sometimes, but the punchline is always sad. And if you don't have a spare, then that's how the story ends. First with a bang, and then a whimper.
Sometimes your wheel comes off. Maybe a bump or jostle earlier in the race had a delayed effect. Maybe the driver went off-track, the wheel got sucked into a mud puddle, and the rest of the car kept going. Maybe the part was poorly-designed, or had a manufacturing defect. Whatever the reason, it's not fun, but it's generally fixable.

First it breaks, then ya fix it…

I love endurance races in part because the teams have time to encounter problems, fix them, and get back on their way. Things can go wrong and then go right in the same race, and there's always some light at the end of the tunnel.

In this case, the Prototype Development Group #4 car (the same one that was rebuilt after bursting into flames during the prior year's race) ran into a situation where an errant bolt caused the unexpected disassembly of their clutch plate. In the photo, the team examines the deconstructed clutch, as well as a damaged spare, which showed evidence of the same kind of problem.

In the spirit of endurance racing, the team threw the spare in, crossed their fingers, and hoped for the best.
The Twini — a twin-engine Mini Cooper — had a recurring issue where oil would get past some gaskets and end up in the spark plug wells of the front engine. In the photo, a team-member uses a hammer and an upside-down socket to re-install one of the spark plug wells after another a teammate had coated the bottom end in silicone gasket-maker. This wasn't the last time the team would pore over one of their engines, and they would end the race many laps down on their competitors, but still managed to roll across the finish.
The #17 Davidson Racing Eagle, sister car of the winning #16, had no such luck. After multiple paddock stops for recurring electrical issues, and hours of discussions and diagnostics, the team retired the car and focused their efforts on the #16.

…Then ya get back out there

Every team has a routine for getting back on track, and they're also interesting to watch. The switch from the exploratory "diagnostics and repair" mode to the "get back on track" process is somewhat similar to a musician transitioning from an improvised solo back to the sheet music.

At first, the teams are improvising left and right as they try to fix whatever needs fixing. Then you start to see inklings of pre-planned order, even before the resolution is complete. The driver gets back in the car (if they ever got out); the engine starts; the car is dropped back on the ground. Strewn tools are moved to make a path. A crew member stands next to any removed bodywork, waiting for a signal.

With an engine problem, the bodywork is always last. For the JFC Racing #52 car in the photograph, the bodywork pieces attach with small spring-clips, which are fastened into place with a screwdriver, and the reattachment itself is a frequently-rehearsed procedure. The more automatic each step in the transition becomes, the easier it is to move that step around in the resolution process.
For a street-style car with a hinged hood, like this Grip Racing #95 BMW 330i, the hood closes and then is fastened using hood pins (red) with a flip-up actuator lever (black, attached to the hood).
As the final bodywork is still being installed, a team member runs out to block traffic. Having the driver back into something or someone would be a disaster, and the faster they can get out of the paddock space, the faster they can get back on track.
And finally, away! The resolution is complete.
The full Rhythm of Racing sequence: