Monday, April 20, 2009

Geographically Challenged? Try Driving in Circles

I live almost exactly half way between Atlanta, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina.  I also live about a mile away from the principle route between these two major Southern cities, which is Interstate 85.

I provide this for information because tonight I was asked by two ladies who had just driven from Michigan to my humble hometown of Anderson, South Carolina, via Atlanta.  They were trying to find the best way to Montgomery, Alabama.  I told them they should have taken a right in Atlanta, instead of a left.

While I was standing there trying to explain to them the best way to get to Alabama, a South Carolina Highway Patrol officer pulled up.  I should explain that I was at a gas station at the time, within sight of the exit ramps at Exit 27 on Interstate 85.

The ladies disagreed with me, thought they needed to go through Greenville, SC, and continue north on I-85.  They had a map with them, and I showed them where they were, which was way the heck on the wrong side of Atlanta from Alabama.  I told them that they would get them to Charlotte, NC, and eventually, Richmond, VA if they continued north on Interstate 85.  The state trooper noticed an animated conversation taking place, and came over to help.  He listened to their query, and told them they needed to get back onto the interstate and drive back a hundred or so miles the way they had just come, and keep on going down I-85, south, in other words, echoing words I had just spoken to the ladies, because if they did so, eventually, they would arrive in Montgomery, Alabama.  The Smokey Bear hat, the uniform, the badge, and possibly the Glock pistol on his waist seemed to convince them that maybe they were wrong.

This trooper is probably about 25 years old, very professional, and gave them explicit directions as to how to get back on the interstate and head toward their destination.  They seemed to be convinced, and in some small way, I was relieved.  I thought maybe I had saved them futile trip to Charlotte, at least.  As the state trooper and I stood talking, the ladies drove away, and took exactly the wrong turn, onto I-85 north towards Charlotte, NC, in exactly the opposite direction of Montgomery, Alabama.  Oh well.

The trooper shrugged.  I shrugged.  We laughed a little.  He went his way and I went home.

On the way home, I couldn't help but think about how this little situation applied to the NASCAR race I watched last night in Phoenix, Arizona.  Pit crews, some of whom have had previous problems, continued to have problems.  Pit crews, some of which have not had many problems, suddenly had problems last night.  Sometimes the more you try to help a situation, the worse it can get.

Jeff Gordon ended up 2 laps down because of a problem on pit road.  Jeff Gordon?  The rainbow crew?  That just doesn't happen, does it?  Yes, Virginia, even the 24 crew is capable of mistakes.  They proved that to all of us on national TV last night.

That the 88 crew made mistakes is not a surprise, I suppose, but even though they missed a lug nut on the first pit stop, Tony Eury Jr. managed to put Dale Earnhardt Jr. out in front for quite a few laps by pitting off sequence.  The strategy failed, however, when Dale Jr.'s tires went away after another pit stop, and he was quickly passed, and passed, and passed again.  Eventually, he got into contact with former teammate Casey Mears, which sent the 88 into the wall.  Dale Jr. eventually finished 31st.  They 88 team made some changes on the pit crew this week.  It is yet to be determined if they helped or hurt the situation.

FOX TV showed us the extended lugs that are required by NASCAR during the race.  It takes more time to put the nuts on the lugs than it used to.  The officials want to see threads past the nuts now, in otherwords.  That all requires more revolutions of the lug wrench, and that seems to be causing some teams problems.  I'm guessing that one major problem is that the lugs extend so far past the lug nuts, that applying them to the wheels with glue has become problematic.  If you push the wheel onto the lugs too far, you risk having the lugs push the nuts off.  If the nuts fall onto the ground, they either have to be picked up and replaced, or nuts that the tire changer carries, usually on his helmet, have to be deployed.  A year ago, a 12.5 second pit stop was a good one.  Now, they're lucky if they can get one done in 14 seconds.

What's up with the pit signs this year?  Dale Jr. has complained that he can't see his at times.  I don't know why they rely on just the sign at all, really.  If you listen to Jimmie Johnson's radio, Chad Knaus counts him down to his pit, unless Jimmie takes the very first pit on pit road, as he often does.  In a sea of signs, I'm sure it's often hard to see your sign, but why can't the crews make it easier to pit the driver, without him relying on seeing his sign waving up and down?  Radio is there for a reason, and the crew chief is sitting on top of the pit box.  Why don't they make it a standard practice to count their drivers down to their pit?

Congratulations to Mark Martin on his win at Phoenix.  I know that some don't like Mark, but he tries his best to be the nice, older guy in the sport.  He doesn't always succeed, but he does try.  I assume that one day, he might succeed at retiring as well.  He's been about as successful at retiring as he has at winning a championship or a Daytona 500.  Just kidding Mark.  Congratulations.  I hope you win more this year.

Whether you're driving to Montomery, Alabama, or driving around in circles at Phoenix, or to bring things closer to the point, Talladega, Alabama, it helps to pay attention, and to hopefully know where the heck you're going before you get on the road.

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