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The Evolution of the Dirtbike.

                Although its purpose and general design has remained the same for over 50 years, the dirtbike has evolved considerably. With its evolution, the sport of motocross has changed with it. The dirtbike’s improvements often occur alongside its road-going counterparts. No matter how much dirtbikes change, one thing is for sure; manufacturers will continue to improve their bikes to get that competitive edge.
The 60’s: The Early Days.
                In the early days of motocross, the bikes often resembled something you might find on the street. Knobby tires helped bikes get traction off-road. Fiberglass fenders appeared in the 60s, making the bikes lighter then the steel they replaced. Motocross races of the time had smaller jumps then what is seen today, and they often incorporated natural terrain into the track.
Picture by Peprovira of a 60’s Bultaco dirtbike. Note the low-slung exhaust.
The 70’s: Rise of the Factory Teams.
                Motocross’ incredible popularity meant that a wide range of manufacturers were not only making dirtbikes but also fielding factory-backed pro motocross teams. Manufacturers from all over the world began making motocross bikes bringing with them innovations. Harley Davidson even got in on the act for several years. During this time, bikes saw new materials introduced to bikes such as plastic and aluminum, which meant better performance. During the 70s aluminum gas tanks appeared, as well as aluminum wheels helping the bikes to become lighter. Plastic fenders appeared as well. Factory “works” bikes appeared at professional races, with high-performance modifications not found on production bikes, showing how important the sport was for manufacturers. An example of this was Honda and their Mugen performance division.
Picture by Jeff Sanders of a 70’s Maico.
The 80’s: Changes for Bikes and Tracks.

Few eras saw such radical changes in motocross bikes then the 1980s. One of the significant improvements to come to dirtbikes during this time was the suspension. Bike suspensions got longer travel. The twin rear shocks were replaced by the single mono-shock. Disc brakes appeared as well. Gas tanks became plastic around this time. By looking at motocross’ indoor cousin, Supercross, it becomes clear how much the bikes advanced during this time period. When the first Supercross race was held in the mid 70’s the track closely resembled motocross tracks of that era, consisting of a few jumps. By the 80s, the number of jumps had grown in size and amount. Liquid cooling came about as well during this era.        
                                                                                                       
                As supercross jumps got bigger and bigger bikes evolved as well. One of the big changes came in the form of the inverted or “upside-down” front suspension. Although not universally adopted, the aluminum frame was another significant innovation that was utilized by almost all of the major manufacturers replacing steel ones. Interestingly spoke wheels have remained a constant in motocross for over 50 years, with a few deviations from it. A more recent change is the move to electronic fuel injection. As bikes continue to evolve, manufacturers are always looking for ways to gain an edge on their competitions, but one thing remains the same, great racing.


Picture by KTM AG. A modern KTM dirtbike. Note the heavy use of plastics.

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Star Wars Celebration Chicago

The 2019 Star Wars Celebration
This April, I attended my first Star Wars Celebration; it is a massive fan convention that is held annually.  Every year the location changes to a different place, one year it was held out of the U.S. in the U.K. This year it was located in Chicago at the McCormick Place. It goes for multiple days and attracts people from all over the world. I went on Monday, the last day for it. There were still quite a few people there. Being my first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had only been to a couple of pop culture/comic book conventions in the past.

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Boba Fett themed Toyota FJ Cruiser.

                             

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The large banner at the entrance to the convention.
            Coming from Northwest Indiana, I took the South Shore train line. It dropped me off right at McCormick Place. A short walk later and I was there. Outside of the main hall, there was a large banner depicting characters from each of the Star Wars movies. Once inside the main hall I saw a group of Star Wars themed cars, Including a Ford Raptor (complete with Han Solo frozen in carbonite under the bed cover) and a Volkswagen Beetle made to resemble the Droid BB-8. There was also a Hyundai Tiburon made to look like an X-Wing fighter, and a Boba Fett themed Toyota FJ Cruiser. Just past those were a life-size X-Wing and Tie Fighter. I couldn’t believe the amount of detail in them, given that they would have to be taken apart and moved in a short amount of time. The Tie Fighter even had lights inside its cockpit. 

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BB-8 themed Volkswagon Beetle.

                                        

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The Lifesize X-Wing on display.
         Not far were several Star Wars pinball machines (all set to free play) that a company had brought. There were rows and rows of vendors, selling everything from art to collectibles. I saw quite a few vintage Star Wars toys for sale. There were several LEGO sets on display, as LEGO was celebrating their 20th year of making Star Wars LEGOs. LEGO had even created a massive Stormtrooper helmet made out of Stormtrooper LEGO mini-figures. They had been attached to the board they were on and not glued. There were also a lot of plastic model kits from Bandai for sale. They had some that were convention exclusives. Also on display was a large diorama depicting the planet Scarif from the Star Wars movie Rouge One.
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The Tie Fighter viewed from the back.
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Hyundai Tiburon made to look like an X-Wing.

                                        

            There was a chance to try out the upcoming Star Wars VR game Vader Immortal. I wanted to try it; however, the line was really long for it. Another pinball company that makes pinball video games called Pinball FX had brought full-sized digital pinball machines, complete with touch screens. There were a bunch of photo ops available. Several of which were run by the Star Wars costuming club The 501st Legion. They were raising money for the Make-A-Wish foundation. Disney also had a photo-op set up promoting their upcoming Star Wars-themed theme park.

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Star Wars themed Ford Raptor.

                                     

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Stormtrooper helmet made out of LEGO mini-figures.
                                          
            There was also stage with interviews throughout the show consisting of actors and behind the scenes people. The seats were packed, but I was able to watch some of it projected onto a large screen over the stage. I was able to watch some interviews with people involved in Star Wars: Episode 1 as it was the movie’s 20th anniversary. Around the convention, there were kiosks where you could scan your badge for the chance to win a prize. Each location was a different chance to win, making it like a scavenger hunt. There was also some merchandise exclusive to Celebration. It was just announced that badge holders would be able to buy it online. I had a great time, and am looking forward to going next year when it is held in Anaheim, California.
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Part of the giant Scarif diorama.
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The X-Wing style Hyundai Tiburon from the back. Complete with R2 droid.

                                     
                                        

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The 2018 PRI Show.

The 2018 PRI Show.
For my second year in a row, I attended the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show. A good way to describe the PRI show is a smaller version of SEMA, with a focus on the automotive racing and performance industry. Located in Indianapolis, Indiana it is an annual event for industry insiders and journalists. It is not open to the public. Given the size of the show, I was able to see a lot of new things this year. It takes up two large convention halls in downtown Indianapolis and stretches under a road and right up to the edge of the Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Indianapolis Colts play. Indianapolis is a natural location for the PRI Show. Indianapolis and its surrounding areas are home to many performance companies. This is due in no small part for many of them due to the proximity of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s not too far from Detroit either.

A Porsche 911 GT3 Race Car.
This year I went to a section I hadn’t been to last year. I was able to see the RV and trailer section, right on the side of Lucas Oil Stadium. On the way there the hallway that leads under the road to the stadium was lined on one side with a wide variety of race cars. One that caught my attention, in particular, was a Chevy drag car turned land speed record car. After this hallway was a room full of what was called featured products. The RV and trailer section was huge. It went right up to the endzone of the football field in the stadium. I got the chance to talk to many different vendors. By scanning the QR code on my badge, they could sign me up for an email list.

One of the many race cars on display.
The brands represented varied greatly in size. One of the largest no doubt being Ford. Their performance parts division was represented with several Mustangs and a twin turbo pickup that was styled after a race car. The Hoosier Tire company had brought its dirtbike and ATV tires. They even make tires for smaller dirt bikes. I was surprised to see they had entered that market. It’s a good looking tire, with white lettering that is popular with cars right now. Despite the size of the event, with the app, it was fairly easy to find where companies were located. There were companies from several different countries. There was also a sizable section of the show dedicated to CNC machines; several were running and giving live demonstrations. One of Parnelli Jones’ Indy cars was on display. I’m really looking forward to returning next year to see what new things are added.

An offroad racer.
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The 2018 Trans Am Nationals.

The 2018 Trans Am Nationals.
                The Trans Am Nationals, on its 34th year, is held annually near Dayton, Ohio. For the last several years it has been held at a hotel in Fairborn, Ohio. It is open to all Pontiac Firebirds. This year there were almost 400 Firebirds. It starts on Friday, and goes on till Sunday, with an optional meet up at a dragstrip several miles away on Thursday. It is made up of a car show with judging, auctions, a swap meet, cars for sale, and a vendor’s row. There is also the “Mini Nats” which was comprised of a wide variety of model Firebirds, spanning several decades and scales that filled an entire room.
Trans Am at the Hotel.
The hotel, which is located right off of the interstate, could be described as a college town. Just across the road from the hotel is Write State University. Surrounding the hotel are various restaurants and strip malls. I arrived around 2 in the afternoon. Went through the tech inspection and got my car washed with the hose the hotel had left out for the show cars. Later in the evening, we got dinner at a restaurant/brewery called the Wandering Griffin just down a side road not far from the hotel. The parking lot there formed a miniature car show. Even after dark people hang around outside their cars, inside at the hotel restaurant/bar there was karaoke. The second day had several seminars, as well as the Tipp City Cruise. The judging for the Nationals takes place on Saturday and Sunday and is divided up into several classes, in regards to year, extent (if any) of modification, as well as a driver/work in progress class and a concours class. The concours judging involves a far more detailed inspection of cars that what is normally performed in other classes. In the concours judging tent, it’s not usual to see a judge lying on the ground to get a view of the underside of a car.   
A group of second generation Trans Am’s.
Tipp City is a small city located just north of Dayton, Ohio. Its small downtown makes up the main drag and continues for a short distance down a few side streets. The main drag is actually a state highway, making the fact the entire thing gets closed down extra impressive. The Tipp City Cruise had its own awards. Ongoing to the Tipp City cruise; we were instructed to take a “scenic route”. There was construction on the main highway to Tipp City, and they had wanted us to enter the city opposite of the main highway. The route took us on the main highway, where we turned off far before the state highway that runs through downtown Tipp City where the site of the cruise is. After turning off the main highway, the road to Tipp City winds through fields, small towns, and rolling hills until it arrives there. The main street and side roads were filled with Trans Am’s and Firebirds. The restaurants in the town (although it is technically a city it gives a small town vibe) were packed. There were several groups that were selling food as well. We left out a little after noon on Sunday. I had a great time; I really look forward to returning next year.
A variety of Trans Am’s arriving at the Tipp City Cruise.
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The 2018 Pontiac Nationals

The 2018 Pontiac Nationals.
                The Pontiac Nationals is the world’s largest all Pontiac/GMC car meet. It is held during the first full week of August. It consists of drag racing with multiple classes, both bracket and heads up racing, a large car show, swap meet, and vendors. It is held annually in Norwalk, Ohio at the Summit Motorsports Park drag strip. There have been some well-known cars in attendance. Pontiac drag racer Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick and his car are frequent guests. The Boss Bird, a replica of Arnie Beswick’s funny car and currently the world’s only nitro powered Pontiac funny car is a regular as well.
Drag racing took place throughout the entire day.

                It is a three-day event, from Friday to Sunday. I arrived Saturday morning. The practice had started for the races that would start in a few hours. The field on the side of the track was filled with show cars representing decades of Pontiacs and even a GMC semi truck. Closer to the track was the swap meet, which was still filled with parts and memorabilia. There is a lot with cars for sale. The cars racing were as diverse as the cars in the show; there was everything from station wagons to dragsters. Several Pontiac powered cars broke the 200mph barrier. There was also a classic super stock race featuring a variety of manufactures. On the other side of the track is a row of food vendors and a gift shop, designed like an old-timey town. There is a good selection of food, ranging from a pound of ice cream for a dollar to slices of pizza, beyond that are the pits for the racers.

A 1969 Trans Am at the car show.
                Splitting my time between the racing, checking out the pits, the car show and swap meet, I still didn’t get a chance to see everything. The racing continued on until Sunday, which was when the various award ceremonies took place. I left around 5 and headed back to Indiana. I look forward to returning, as there are always new things to see.

A GMC pickup getting ready to race.
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The 2017 PRI Show.


The 2017 PRI Show.
                I attended my first ever Performance Racing Industry or PRI Show on the 9th of December. This year the show celebrated its 30th anniversary. The PRI Show is an annual trade show for the automotive racing industry. It attracts companies from all over the world which was evident by the translators available. I was immediately blown away by the size of it. It occupied two large halls, as well as several smaller rooms in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. Coming into Indianapolis I was met with fairly light snow and somewhat light traffic (as light as traffic in a state capital could be). The Convention was right next to Lucas Oil Stadium. I parked and made my way across the street to the convention center. Once inside, I was immediately greeted by a large MOPAR booth. It turns out the Big Three were well represented at the show. Dodge had also brought out a funny car which was suspended from the ceiling by one of the main entrances. Booths lined the hall that separated the outside from one of the main halls. Ford Performance had several cars including Joey Logano’s Factory Five Daytona Coupe. Chevy Performance had brought several cars as well including a Hot Wheels themed Camaro.
          

NASCAR driver Joey Logano's Factory Five Daytona Coupe at the PRI Show.
Joey Logano’s Factory Five Daytona Coupe

                One of the first rooms I went into was a special showcase of products, in it; among other things were a Dodge Challenger and a Radical race car. Next, it was on to one of the main halls. Some of the larger booths had cars on display, which for some would be worth the trip alone. There were also plenty of celebrity autograph seasons as well. One of the cars that really stood out to me was Mark Donahue’s 1967 Lola Can-Am car. Interestingly the car is still raced several times a year. Can-Am cars really appeal to me as their general lack of design rules lead to a lot of creativity and variety in the series.

Mark Donohue's Lola Can-Am race car at the 2017 PRI Show in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Mark Donohue’s Lola
                Before I went to the PRI Show I downloaded their phone app. It features a floor plan and the ability to search for products by category. It was a good way to look through the myriad of vendors and associations present at the show. There were also plenty of places at the convention center to eat, which worked great for me. Two slices of pizza later I was ready to continue exploring. Even if you stayed on your feet for almost the entire day it would be hard to see everything. I arrived shortly after it opened and left at closing and there was still some stuff I didn’t have time to get to. The racing sim challenge looked like a lot of fun, where attendees could compete with each other for a prize. However, I didn’t have the chance to try it or the other racing sims available to try at the PRI Show.

                Fittingly for Indianapolis, several of A.J. Foyt’s Indy Cars were on display courtesy of the Indianapolis 500 Museum. It was amazing to see how much the cars had evolved during the course of his racing career. There was a wide range of manufactures, from the Big Three to small family businesses. Many different racing disciplines were represented as well, including drag racing, oval, dirt track, and road racing. It was a lot to see in one day; however, I managed to see most of it. I had a great time and I look forward to returning to it. I can only imagine how much bigger it will become. If anyone else went please feel free to let me know about it in the comments.

Several of A.J. Foyt's Indy Cars on display at the PRI Show.
Several of A.J. Foyt’s Indy cars.
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The Pontiac-Oakland Museum


The Pontiac-Oakland Museum
             A museum that is well worth the time if you are into cars is the Pontiac-Oakland Museum in Pontiac, Illinois. It’s been at this location since 2011. I’ve been to the museum several times now and every trip back there is something new. Pontiac, Illinois is not unlike many other small cities in the Midwest. Its downtown is a square built around a courthouse. Pontiac, Illinois the sort of city that could easily be mistaken for a town. It’s about 3 hours from Chicago, out in the country surrounded on all sides by fields. The museum is located on the square, and frequently plays host to car shows representing all kinds of different makes and models.
             The museum is owned and ran by the husband and wife team of Tim and Penny Dye. It is truly a labor of love. The amount of work that goes into the museum by them and the volunteers is immediately evident as you walk in. The museum plays host to an ever-changing line up of cars that span a century of automotive history. There’s usually even a race car or two. It even goes beyond cars, there is a section dedicated to Chief Pontiac, the Ottawa chief that the brand is named for and a recreation of a 1960s (soon to be 1970s) campsite. The museum also has its own library. A room stocked with a wide range of books and magazines. Want to find a period road test of your classic Pontiac? There is a good chance it’s in there.
             There’s a gift shop with all kinds of cool Pontiac related items, including a few classic things. I picked up a dealer exclusive model of a 1979 Trans Am there. It’s well worth the trip for Pontiac fans as well as car fans in general. You can check out their Facebook page here and visit their website at http://www.pontiacoaklandmuseum.org/.