Joe Abbott's Weblog

Letters home to mom

When life gives you another year, go racing!

Posted by joeabbott on December 8, 2013

P1040587I turned 50 this year and am having the time of my life.

I am working for a great company on a great project, my health is good and some nagging problems I had with my ankles didn’t stop me from climbing a beautiful peak in the northern Cascades, and I have a great family life: both here in Seattle with my wife and pets, and with my siblings and mother who are back in the Midwest. It’s a charmed time of life and all of these qualities came together this past November when I officially joined the “old man club”.

Making time for turning 50

While it’s a busy time at work, I was able to steal a Friday for a late flight back to Minnesota, a weekend socializing with the family, used another vacation day on Monday to visit a beloved uncle who wasn’t able to make it down for the party, and then a final day off to fly back to Seattle and the awaiting projects on Tuesday. A whirlwind of a trip but we squeezed a lot in.

The flight to Minneapolis was without distinction, save for the fact that it was only half full and we had a bit of room. The next day, Saturday, we gathered at my sister’s home where we enjoyed many hours of eating and talking. My youngest sister shared pictures from her trip to France … and, while not on my “bucket list”, I had to acknowledge that touring Paris and the surrounding regions would be pretty awesome. History, architecture, great foods, and wonderful people made her trip wonderful and the photos brought a lot of that to life. Surprisingly, it looked a lot less crowded than I thought it would be. Maybe tricks of the camera but I was sold on that being a great place to spend a bit of time.

Also, while enjoying the generosity of her home, my oldest sister announced she was getting married! She didn’t want to make a fuss but it was great news and welcome by all! So, we enjoyed a lively evening of sharing and chatting and whatnot but it soon became time to call it a night.

Race Day!

P1040628Sunday was a big day. We started by picking up my mother, heading to the U of MN to pose by a new Goldie Gopher statue … I used to work for the Student Union and it was fun to walk around my old stomping grounds. Then we headed to lunch and to pick up some cup cakes for our later celebration. And then, well, then we headed to ProKart in Burnsville, MN to race around the tracks!

I’ve had a lot of fun in my life but, without reservation, this absolutely had to have been in the top five fun times I’ve had. We had invited my entire family and everyone raced. EVERYONE! Including my 80 year old mother! It was an absolute hoot.

A side to all of my siblings came out in that they are competitive and speedy! It seemed everyone was able to make some claim to bragging rights about one race or another and the folks at ProKart simply rolled out the red carpet for us. It was grand.

We entered and were shown to the upstairs party room. It had floor-to-ceiling windows so you could look down on the track, plenty of tables and chairs for all, and lots of monitors showing sports (football) and the racing stats from the trials below. Once we were all there, we got a quick primer on safety and the karts, were given our helmets, and it was race time!

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The Basics

There were enough of us in our party (over 20!) that we broke out into two groups for a series of four different race events. While getting set up, we all got to choose a “track name” that would be used in place of our real names. Honestly, that was one of the more entertaining aspects of the outing and added a lot to the fun.

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I chose “Trimbler” as it’s my Xbox Live account name and already a familiar pseudonym. We had names that suggested speed: Abbott the Rabbit, Speedy Suz, Fast Freddy, Zippy, and Fast Fran; there were names from movies and television in Lightning McQueen, Pinky Tescadero, and Yogi Bear; we had names to intimidate in Spider, Black Widow, and the Fierce Ninja; and then fun names in Bouncing Betty, Loopy Lulu, and C-Dawg. To round out the nicknames, we also raced with Alley Kat and Slick Sarah. I’m not sure if my nephew eschewed the nom du racing intentionally (I don’t need no nickname!) or if there was a mix up, but Ben Vanderbosch showed loud and proud on the racing boards. And, finally, there was the best name of the day … and mostly because I just keep scratching my head and asking, “what’s it mean” … in my niece’s husband Paul’s nickname: DUI Skidmark. Again, what’s it mean!??!

Each karts’ time on the track is captured and a breakdown in terms of lap speed and overall placement is noted and displayed on the monitors in the party suite. It gives everyone a chance to feel good about how they did or numbers to shoot for to improve overall time. They also award “points” (RPM – Racing Performance Measurement) based on some system I don’t claim to understand but RPM is cumulative for each racer and would prove important to my overall birthday ego as I’d find out later!

They then gave a quick overview of the karts, rules, different flag meanings, and explained how we’d race: in the two groups on four different runs. After that, we just grabbed our helmets and were ready to go!

Party Practice

We started with a beginner set of laps; get a feel for the course, the karts, and what we were doing. To be honest, I said, “heck with it!” and ran full-out. I figured if that’s how I planned to be racing, I may as well get used to it! It was a blast. While subsequent viewings of videos show that you’re not going crazy fast, you feel like you’re screaming along as you sit inches off the ground and are taking hairpin curves! I think the top speed of the kart was around 35 mph; it was my first time in a go-kart and I loved it!

For the “Party Practice” heat, we did about 8 laps and I placed first with a lap-best time of just under 25 seconds; it gained me five RPM points and set the tone for the day. It was fortunate for me that a couple of the other top-drivers (or at least drivers that wanted to be on top) raced in the other group and allowed me a relatively safe pack to run with. Suzanne was in my group and her time was just under 30 seconds.

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For the RPM points, they start everyone at a nominal 1200 points and they gave everyone 5 points for this first outing; we were all tied for first in the points tracking with 1205! In the below chart showing cumulative RPM numbers, one racer got 75 points … he had showed up late and took his “first round” with everyone’s second round. He then ran his second at the same time as the second group did their second round.

Party Qualifier

Our second heat, “Party Qualifier”, assumed everyone understood the basics and the point of this set of laps was to get the fastest time around the track. It was a bit hard as having 10 racers on the track made it tough to find open space. But, with most everyone feeling better with the vehicles and expectations, we all easily bested our times and I again managed to place first with a best lap time of just over 20 seconds (about a 5 second improvement).

image15L Heat Race

The third heat, 15L Heat Race, proved to me I don’t understand how they awarded points: while I got the most RPM points, my soon-to-be-brother-in-law, “Spider”, actually got a better track time than I did! My best lap time this round was just under 23 seconds but Spider had a better best time (by just 5/100ths of a second … but still better!). For this round they set us up in pole positions and I was first with Spider as second. While his story tells of me continuing to move in front of him, from my perspective, he was bumping me. A lot.  🙂

It was all good fun and there were no injuries. There’s likely a lot to his side of the story but, when I got off, Suzanne did ask me how I was feeling!

On the RPM thing, I believe the point awards have something to do with how many times you get the fastest lap or lead the group or something. Again, not sure, but I finished my third heat on top! Yay me!

15L Heat Race

In the final heat they mixed up the teams and sent us off in reverse order of our standings, so I was last. The point of the heat was to pass as many cars as you could to see how you’d fare by the end. Fortunately, two of the other guys on the track were really gunning for each other and they would have held me off, but they ended up crashing into each other and stopping themselves and a few others on the course! While I was under a yellow flag and didn’t pass any racers still moving, we did pass those that were stationary on the track!

As a final courtesy, the track refs had a couple other folks who were racing shoulder-to-shoulder pull over so I could pass! That was great! Early in the event, they mentioned they’d only do that if they felt a top racer was being held back by folks clearly out of the running for the race. While no one likes to believe they were out of contention, the maneuver gave me the top spot on the track! Let’s call it another birthday gift!

So, in the end, I managed the most RPM points (with 1464 … next closest were in a tight cluster: Fast Freddy with 1367, Alley Kat with 1366, and Spider with 1365) and yet by best track time, six other drivers, including Suzanne, had better lap times: Fast Freddy (19.547), Lightning McQueen (19.606), Bouncing Betty (19.973), Abbott the Rabbit (20.479), Alley Kat (20.538), Speedy Suz (20.608), and finally me, Trimbler (20.624). Quite a bit of fun.

All of the data on the races is posted to their website and you can look up your stats by race and overall history. I pulled the details into a quick spreadsheet and created graphs similar to those they’d print out for each racer as the day progressed:

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Apologies for all those who think creating graphs of your racing time is a bit extreme. I admit it’s a touch indulgent and somewhat unnecessary, but putting together data-views like this is part of my day job and I can do them in my sleep without thinking twice.

After the racing

imageAfter the racing we celebrated a birthday proper: eats, cake, and presents! But I should probably back up a touch.

Leading up to my birthday, Suzy asked how much I wanted to be involved: zero, I said. Work was demanding much time and I knew we were going to have a grand day and it made it hard for me to plan my own great time. I didn’t think I’d be surprised as such, but I still wanted there to be some surprise. And there was.

Suzy made the best birthday I’d celebrated come true. The facilities and event were AWESOME, she decorated everything with a racing theme, there were checkered flag kerchiefs, balloons, gifts, and even M&Ms with my picture printed on them!! She even had some glycerin soaps made in the shape of a racing tire for all to enjoy!

When our catered meal was delayed (the caterer was in the hospital and unable to deliver our food!), she waved some sort of magic wand and pizza, breadsticks, and hot wings appeared in plenty and very quickly. Most folks there didn’t even notice something was amiss. Topping off that meal were the cupcakes we’d picked up earlier that day: vanilla-vanilla, red velvet, and chocolate raspberry! YUM!

Best of all, there was my family. While a niece who lives out-of-state wasn’t able to make it (we missed you, Jen!), my Uncle Joe couldn’t get down, and a brother-in-law (including two soon-to-be brothers-in-law) weren’t there, all of my siblings and their children and spouses shared the day with us. Just a grand gathering and spending time with them made the day complete.

So, Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to me! It was a grand 50th birthday and I look forward to many more.

P1040624

Thank you, Suz: you are awesome!

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