Tag Archives: GTI

Wheels

28 Mar

Well, last weekend, I finally got to do what I’ve been wanting to do for ages, and that is buy my oldest son, Joel, a car. Which is only the ending part of the story. As I mentioned in my story from last spring, when we bought our twin sons a car to share, we’ve always been in the camp that kids don’t need their own cars. Neither my wife nor I had our own cars until deep in college, and so we never bought the kids cars when they turned 16. Is it more convenient for them to have their own at that age? I’m sure it is – but it just wasn’t how either of us were raised, and therefore, it wasn’t how we were going to proceed. But at some point, necessity wins. For the car we bought for Alex and Brian, it was Brian heading off to community college every day this year that forced the hand. And for Joel, well, it was landing the coolest summer internship we and he could possibly imagine.

In case you’re living somewhere under a rock, Tesla Motors is the “it” car company right now.  It has been compared to Apple computer in the mid-80s – it is inventing the future as we speak, and that future is electric cars with rapid charging ability, high performance (rather than the whiny little golf-cart-esque things that other car companies are putting out), extreme luxury, unimaginable features, best-in-class-safety and incredible beauty all in one.   They are inventing a nationwide rapid charging network just for Tesla owners, they are building a battery plant that is 10X the size of anything around today to serve the industry, and again, they are inventing this category.

2013-Tesla-Model-S-rear-three-quarter-1

And they hired my son, Joel, as an intern this summer in their paint engineering department at their production plant in Fremont, CA, in the San Jose/Silicon Valley area.  Wow. So suddenly, the necessity requirement for the car purchase is being met.

This story wouldn’t make sense without getting to know my son a bit. This little boy has loved cars and everything to do with cars since he was old enough to make the Pbbbbbbbbbbbb sound with his mouth – and would push around non-car objects like they were cars – that at 7 months old. His favorite toys were all cars. At the ripe age of 3, he had the starting lineup of the NASCAR Winston Cup series committed to memory, and I’m not talking about just drivers names, but their sponsors, their numbers, their engine builder, their owner, the whole shebang.  I could have won bar bets with him, and when I took him to his first NASCAR race (a Busch Series race at the Milwaukee Mile) just after his third birthday, he demonstrated that prowess and got people to buy me beers (“Buddy, you’re raisin’ that boy right, lemme buy ya a beer.”).

He would watch NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, World Rally Car (WRC), Super Bikes, etc. etc. non-stop on Speed Channel (RIP!), ESPN, national TV, etc.  He cried his eyes out when Dale Earnhardt was killed.  I bought him a pedal-powered Indy Car and a little play helmet and he’d strap that helmet on and race around the driveway, and then declare himself the winner, stand up in the car and conduct a winner’s interview with himself, perfectly mimicking the winner’s speech of “Well, the DuPont Pepsi Hendricks Chevrolet was just awesome today, and the work of the crew is what got me here.”

He would hold races of his 1/64th scale Indy and NASCAR toy cars on our dining room table, carefully logging the starting positions, the ending positions, the series points and more in notebooks. As he got older and got into video games, he would consistently completely ace the latest computer or console racing games. Right now he’s in the top percentiles of all registered players on some of the best/hardest racing games like Forza and others.

Most kids, when they get their licenses, do stupid things, get tickets, wreck cars, etc. Not Joel. Not at all Joel. He guards his driving privilege closer than anyone I know. Other than one unfortunate encounter with the corner of our garage and our minivan’s bumper a week after getting his license and one scrape of a mailbox a couple of months after that, he’s not had any accidents driving. He went five years with his license before he got his first ticket and that was driving back and forth from his internship with Nissan in Detroit last year.

He went to school to get a job with a car company. He started out as a mechanical engineering major and during his junior year, he realized that wasn’t for him and changed majors to his current one, Technology Systems Management, which, is really the applied side of engineering. Everything he’s done at school has pointed to that – the biggest of which is Formula SAE.  FSAE is a racing program sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. FSAE teams design and build from scratch a “formula-style” race car (picture below) every year.  They then compete in FSAE competitions where they have a business proposal competition (how much does it cost to build it and what are the projected production costs in a volume run), a design competition and competitions in a variety of tests of the car itself – static tests where the car is still, and dynamic tests like acceleration, braking, skidpad, and then autocross and endurance racing. He started as a freshman apprentice, being a general go-fer, and has worked his way into the team leadership this year.

Here is Joel at the wheel of the 2013 Illini Motorsports FSAE car in a testing session last summer:

joel_fsae

So, I guess I’ve set the stage for “Joel is a car guy”. As part of his run up to a career in the automaker business, the next stage is interning – and last summer, he hit a great one.  He interned at Nissan in their technology center in Farmington Hills, MI. Nissan paid well, provided him a company car to drive (and damn nice ones too) and he spent the summer kart racing with an old friend of mine from high school who works there too (and helped foam the runway).  Unfortunately, Nissan wasn’t able to pick him up for this summer – with his change from Mechanical Engineering to Tech Systems Management that took him out of contention. He had fairly well planned on going back to his old summer job of being a camp counselor at a local day camp (which is a great job, so don’t take that the wrong way), when out of the blue, the dream internship happened. He got a call from Tesla Motors where someone that knew him from FSAE had recommended him. After a very short interview period, he got the job and he’s headed to California for the summer.

As a car guy myself (the Brits call it being a “petrol head”), it has pained me that I haven’t been able to buy my petrol head son a car, but it just hasn’t been a necessary expense. And when you’re dealing with five-figure expenses, it needs to be necessary.  But with the internship in California and all, it became time. So he and I started doing research – I should say he started doing research, with me sort of following. My wife was still pretty soft on the idea – she recognized the need but the expense scared her – and it does me.  But, we’ll manage. On Saturday, he came home for the weekend, and we set out to look at two cars, with no intent on buying either. But the second one we looked at, a pristine 2007 VW GTI just spoke to me.  Joel was meant to drive that car. The car looks and drives like new and had a perfect record on CARFAX with all service details documented.  Doesn’t get better than that. After much “gut wrenching” thought, and a quick phone call to Robin, much to Joel’s surprise, I said to the dealer “Ok, if we take it today, what can you do on the price?” I thought Joel’s head was going to pop. The look on his face was completely priceless. We did the deal and I thought the kid was going to do cart wheels on his way to the car.

One HAPPY kid:

IMG_1010

As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I also have a VW GTI – a 2011.  It is the perfect blend of a performance car and practicality. Tons of room inside to haul people and stuff. And when it’s just you, a curvy road and the gas and brake pedals, it flat hauls ass.  So Joel and I have “dad and son VW GTIs.”  And while he’s over the moon happy that he finally has a ride of his own, I’d stack my happy against his and probably win that I was able to do this for him.

The boys with their toys:

 

IMG_1011

To him, I’ve said – “Have fun with it but drive it safely everywhere that’s not a race track.”  But I also said, “and when you do hit the track, look out for the guy in the midnight black GTI, because it’s going to be dear old dad who is not going to give an inch to you.”

As you were,

Stew

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Rock Hall/Triple D Trip – Day One

28 Mar

What a great day – a dad and two sons, hittin’ the road.  We got out the door about 9:00 AM, and made it exactly two minutes away – to Starbucks.  Once properly caffienated, we motored.  Our first stop?  The South Side Diner and Soda Shop, Goshen, IN.

First a bit about motoring – last year about this time we bought the car we drive now, a 2011 VW GTI. This thing is wonderful for the motorsports lover/driver that also needs reality in the insurance cost, the price tag, fuel efficiency and practicality.  A  back seat like a limo, combined with a short overall length, wheels pushed way out to the corners for great handling, light weight, tons of power and VERY fuel efficient.  From Chicago to Goshen we averaged 34.5 MPG, and then from Goshen to Cleveland, a little faster leg in terms of road speed (78 mph avg), we got 33 mpg.  Fantastic.

Ok, so on to Goshen and the South Side diner.  Goshen is this nice little midwestern town – seems to be about the same size as the town I grew up in, Newton, IA.  Tidy town square, a business district with a combo of local retail, professional services, dining, bars, etc.

The South Side Diner is about 3/4 of a mile south of the town square on Hwy 15/33 in Goshen – Main Street.  It looks a bit like a train car at the front, and inside is pure vintage diner – black vinyl booths, laminate tables, authentically vintage marketing signs and local school spirit signage.  Goshen is close to Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, as well, so plenty of Fighting Irish stuff too.  The owner of the diner, Nate, is so proud of his place and couldn’t stop talking about it.  Once he heard we were on a cross country “Triple D” trip, he spent 10 minutes talking to us, telling us about his home made bread, their award winning pies, how he imports his hoagie rolls from Philadelphia, etc.  Wow.

When you walk in, instead of a typical greasy diner smell, we were met with the overwhelmingly wonderful smell of freshly baked bread and pies.  They had just pulled out a large sheet pan with 10 or more big loaves on it and were cooling them on the counter – they bake much of their own bread.

They are very proud of their Philly cheese steak sandwich, their chili, their pies, their liverwurst and bacon sandwich, and their bread.  I was so enthralled with the bread that I had to go simple.  We ordered – Alex got a Philly Pizza sandwich – a Philly cheesesteak with pizza sauce, Brian got a New Englander Burger, which was a burger on homemade English Muffin bread, and because I had to have some of that wonderful bread, I went simple -a grilled ham and cheese.  We added to that a basket of their special curly fries and a chocolate shake to share, in addition to our soft drinks.  The food started to quickly come out, and last out was the shake.  The Philly Pizza sandwich was immense, the burger less so, and my ham sandwich was stacked tall but not obscene.  My sandwich was incredible – I had the “Swedish” bread which was pinwheel rye and pumpernickle with a great crust.  Ham was carved off the bone of course, and the cheese was melted perfectly. Heaven.  Their curly fries are different – they are flat swirls of fried potatoes, and honestly, needed an additional fryer run for crispness.  The shake was wonderful – we had a chocolate malt and it was that perfect thickness.  We capped it all off with a slice of Lemon Meringue pie.  Wonderful – creamy, tart curd with a huge mountain of meringue.  The bill was all of $32.00 before tip – and as we were checking out, we realized we were part of 3 different families there doing the Triple D thing – a family going west from Hoboken NJ, and another dad and two sons headed east – though they were going to the football and baseball halls of fame, versus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Onto the road again after a cheap fill of gas ($4.09 versus $4.40 in Chicago) and it was onwards to Cleveland.  We arrived into town about 6:00 Pm, checked in, got a drink at the free cocktail reception at our hotel (Embassy Suites), and then out to dinner.  Stop #2:  Geraci’s.  Geraci’s is an old-fashioned family Italian restaurant.  According to the Triple D segment, it is owned by an old couple in their 80s, and their daughter, in her 50s,runs the place. Didn’t see any of them there tonight.  A decent sized crowd was there.  We ordered a large pepperoni pizza, an order of their Chicken Parmesan and meatballs – the ChixParm came with a side salad, which I promptly ate up.  First out was the pizza and OH MY GOD.  This is seriously among the best pizzas I have ever had – it’s not thin crust nor deep dish – a crisp-bottomed crust that was nicely thin but not cracker like, thick chunky tomatoes, and the pepperoni was obviously hand-sliced off sticks. Their ovens must be really hot – the crust had a good crunch on the bottom, and the cheese and tomatoes were browned and caramelized on top, and the pepperoni was curled and browned.

Next was the Chicken Parm – again, OH MY GOD.  The sauce was thick tomato-basil sauce with a unique, meaty flavor. We found out the reason for that in a moment.  The cheese was special mozzarella that they have made for them, and the chicken had a wonderful crust with a bit of a crunch, and was perfectly cooked and not at all dry.  The final item to come out was the meatballs – we ordered one but they brought two.  These are handmade every day out of a mix of beef and veal, with a substantial amount of Romano Pecorino cheese, plus seasonings.  Then they are first roasted in the oven to brown them, and then they pour tomato puree with basil and onion over them – and cook them the rest of the way – and that’s when we found out the secret of the sauce!  It’s the sauce they make the meatballs with!  Everything had such broad and bold flavors, but perfectly balanced.  Fantastic food.  I would seriously make a trip to Cleveland from Chicago just to eat at Geraci’s.

After that, we’re just chilling at the hotel.  A wonderful day.  Rock Hall tomorrow!

A few pics below, will upload a Flickr album later in the week.

As you were,

Stew

At the South Side Diner:

Downtown Goshen:

Alex and is Pizza Philly

Brian and his burger

Lemon Meringue Pie

In South Side Diner:

Geraci’s

Pepperoni Pizza

Alex enjoying pizza

Brian with his pizza

Chicken Parm

Trippin’ Triple D Style – Cleveland Rocks!

27 Mar

We’re rolling out this week with the twin sons A&B for a fun little road trip – just the three of us.  Spring break is always a bit tough for the Campbell family with Robin working for an accounting firm – we’ve managed to take just one family spring break trip in all the time she’s been there, but I try to get away with the boys every year.  In a fit of poor planning that I’ll never understand, the state universities in IL don’t line up their vacations with that of the high schools – so Joel was off last week, and A&B are off this week.

In years past, we’ve gone to Iowa to visit my mom in the hometown and hang out there – drink some beers and scotch with friends there, but, reality is there is not a lot for the guys to do out there.   This year, I decided to do something a bit different – we are headed to Cleveland to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the day on Thursday.  That will be fun enough on its own – as my previous post noted, I am all about the music, and the music in my soul is Rock and Roll.  But, to further increase the fun quotient, we’re going to eat our way around the midwest “Triple D” style.

Then, after the RRHOF, we are headed to Dayton OH and the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, plus an overnight visit to our Aunt Linda and Uncle Steve’s home – Robin’s aunt and uncle.  No Triple D locations in Dayton, though we will get local flavor on TWO meals there.

For anyone not in the know, “Triple D” is the show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on Food Network.  Hosted by Guy Fieri, they visit hole in the wall joints known for amazing local food – most of it ethnic, all of it awesome.  We have been to a number of Triple D spots already in the Chicago area and each is a unique experience with outstanding food, and normally at ridiculously inexpensive prices to boot.  We watch it religiously as it represents what we enjoy the most – finding funky, out of the way, unpretentious and amazing places to have incredible food.  As much as I enjoyed my business dinner at Smith & Wollensky’s last night in Boston, this is going to be even more fun, and more tasty.

Thankfully, there’s a lot more “fanboys” out there of Guy and Triple D than just me – and whole sites devoted to helping us Triple D fans tour the country and try the food for ourselves.  My favorite is FlavortownUSA.com – which is a guide/locator/directory of all Triple D locations – indexed in a number of ways – by air date, by geography/state/city, etc.  You can search by zip code, by state, by food style – someone put some real work into that site.  And their effort is my reward.  We’ve mapped out our route of travel by stomach – here’s a list of everywhere we’re going and when.  By the way, there’s also a YouTube link to every location’s segment on the show.  Again, someone did their homework here.  Without further adieu … (not to be confused with “wackadoo):

Lunch on Weds:

South Side Soda Shop & Diner
1122 south Main Street
Goshen, IN 46526
(574) 534-3790
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/withX9C85A0

This is a little diner/soda shop joint with great burgers and sandwiches, and well … shakes and sodas too.  Yum!

Dinner on Weds:

Geraci’s Restaurant
2266 Warrensville Center Road
Cleveland, OH
ph. (216) 371-5643
YouTube: http://youtu.be/SVb-ctwxMRM

Wonderful pizza/Italian restaurant on Cleveland’s southwest side.  All hand-tossed pizzas and the 80-some-odd year old owner is still tossin’ the pies, and her daughter runs the place with iron fists made strong by kneading pizza dough!

Thurs Lunch (Optional?)

Melt Bar and Grilled
14718 Detroit Ave Lakewood, OH
(216) 226-3699
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/0TtkfwFders

Assuming we leave the RRHOF museum for lunch, this joint features an All-Grilled Cheese sandwich menu.

Thurs Dinner:

Sterle’s Slovenian Country House
1401 E 55th Street
Cleveland, OH
ph. (216) 881-4181
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/kItZ9-L7AV4

German/East German comfort food – I hear the Chicken Paprikash is the express train to Flavortown!

Friday Lunch:
Skyline Chili
2805 Centre Dr
Fairborn, OH 45324-2670

Our only non-TripleD stop – we’re headed to Dayton for the Air Force Museum and we’ve gotta get some Skyline Cincinnati-style Chili.  I like mine Five-Way Style – Chili, Spaghetti, cheese, onions and beans.  Bring it!  Robin’s Aunt and Uncle have also promised a unique local meal that evening.

Saturday  Lunch

Triple X Family Restaurant
2 North Salisbury Street
West Lafayette, IN
ph. (765) 743-5373
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/GxqW4ereOfM

Ah, the Triple X – homemade rootbeer, amazing “steakburgers” (they were probably making them there before Steak and Shake even thought of it), and more, right on campus at Purdue University.  Amazing.

So, that’s the trip.  I’ll be blogging during the course of the trip as we roll along and posting pictures both here on the blog, and on Facebook.

Think I’ll get back to Weight Watchers next week.  LOL

As you were,

Stew

A day nearly 19 years in the making

17 Jul

Today I did something I dreamed of shortly after my son Joel, who turns 19 in August, was born. As most of my close friends know, I’m a “car guy”. Love the things – the worst investment in the world, I know. But cars are one of the things in life that make me happy. Thankfully, I’m blessed with a wonderful wife, who, while not fanatical like me, does like a good set of wheels.

The other thing I like, which seems to go nicely with cars, is driving. And even more specifically, competition driving. As in “racing’. Now, I’m not one of those street racing jackasses who roam the expressways at night looking to throw down against others in performance cars, nor am I a drag racer. I love road racing – twisty, turny road course racing. With low budgets, and just production cars, you’re generally limited to a style called “autocross” – this is just you against the clock, one car on the track at a time, taking one lap at a time on a short course. Often they are cone courses set up on parking lots. Sometimes, they are on actual race tracks, and that is where it gets really fun.

Ok, so back up nearly 19 years. When we learned at his birth that Joel was a boy (yes, we went for the surprise!), the next day I was day dreaming about all the things we would do together – and a significant number of the dreams came around cars – going to the Indy 500 (we’ve gone together six times), going to the Chicago Auto show (many times), car shopping (all the time) and the big mac daddy – the day we would go do a track day or autocross together. That day was today.

Today’s race day was sanctioned by the Chicagoland VW Organization (aka “CVO”) – a club of auto enthusiasts dominated by drivers of the Volkswagen make. It was at Tire Rack’s testing road course in South Bend, IN. Tire Rack, if you don’t know them, is a great online retailer of tires. Highly recommend them. We’ve been driving past that facility for years, and every time, Joel and I have said to each other “we’ve gotta figure out a way to go drive on that course.” And we did.

We got up at the godawful hour of 4:20 AM – registration began at 7:30 AM and we would lose an hour driving there. We arrived about 7:45 AM just as registration was getting going. Got through a quick tech inspection (our car is box-stock, so no surprises there) and off we went. The road course at Tire Rack is interesting – it is a series of asphalt straightaways, turns and circles all linked together, so with cones, you can make an infiinte number track layouts. Here is a Google Maps look at where we were: Tire Rack. This particular course featured two passes around their high-speed circular skid pad, several turns, chicanes and slaloms and enough speed to make it very interesting.

We each got 12 runs on the day – our poor little VW GTI got one hell of a workout – 24 passes on that course today. I’d bet we took 5000 miles off the tires and at least that off the brakes! We each had five runs in the morning and 7 in the afternoon. First I drove, then Joel. Joel rode with me for my first 3 passes then went and got the camera, and after that first run, he says “Ok, let me tell you where you can be faster.” And it was at that moment, where my pride welled up, as did my eyes slightly and I realized just how much I had been looking forward to this day. With his coaching, I definitely found a lot more speed today. Awesome – the kid really has a talent for this.

When it was Joel’s turn though, suddenly he got very quiet and pensive, and I realized he was pretty nervous – I asked him “how’s your heart beating?” and he laughed and said “Fast!”. And with that, it was game on. He made a few rookie mistakes of course – overcooked a few corners, didn’t go as fast elsewhere as he could, but with each run, he tweaked, and thought, and focused and improved. And he LOVED it. And I LOVED that he loved it. I wasn’t surprised that he would, but nonetheless, I loved it.

At the end of the day, we are both bashed. It was HOT out there – upper 90s. And, well, this sport really takes it out of you – that heavy helmet is trying to pull your head off, and well, you’re seriously stressed in that car. But, what a satisfying day. And, he beat the old man. His best lap was 1.2 seconds quicker than mine – 66.8 seconds versus 68.0 for me. Boy did he lord that on me.

Every parent says at nearly every age (maybe not early teen years), that they wish they could just “freeze” their kids at a certain age – because they are just perfect. When they are babies and their personalities switch on. When they are 3 years old, still a baby, but being oh so grown up. When they are 8 years old and mom and dad are heroes. But as much as I’d love to “freeze” today, I don’t want to freeze Joel, nor do I want to freeze Alex and Brian. I want them to grow up to be the great men that I know they will be. And I know, as adult friends, we will have a LOT of fun. Just like today.

As you were,

Stew

And a few pics of us in action. I was number 355, and Joel was 35:

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