Motor racing on the Internet

The following column is uploaded by the author. It will be published in the Aug (Sep?) 1995 issue of MotoRacing which is currently on sale at selected newsstands in the west. Call 1-800-58-KELLY to subscribe ($18 per year). Regional SCCA ...

The following column is uploaded by the author. It will be published in the Aug (Sep?) 1995 issue of MotoRacing which is currently on sale at selected newsstands in the west. Call 1-800-58-KELLY to subscribe ($18 per year). Regional SCCA magazines may publish this article without fee.

Fishing and Floundering in the Data Stream opinion copyright 1995 John Dillon WILMA, MY BELOVED, THIS WILL REMAIN When there is an end of physical desire When passion has died (as passion must expire) When our bodies are dust and our spirits are free, Immortal will remain my devotion to thee - John D. Dillon

No doubt it seems odd that I'd start an _opinion_ column in a _racing_ magazine with a _love poem_ to my mom written by my father. However, I beg your indulgence and promise to justify it in about 1500 words.

The past few months I've taken issue with various aspects of club racing, occasionally offering suggestions, but invariably stirring the pot with my keyboard. (You can't be cooking without stirring the pot.) This month I'd like to serve up more positive fare, though some of the spices will nonetheless leave behind a trace of sadness.

Okay, I'll admit it--I'm computer literate. I'm a Certified Novell Engineer, which means I know how to tie computers together. I've tossed a fair amount of code into the old compiler to see what sort of tool pops out. However, as I tell the people at work, "I write programs, but I'm _not_ a programmer." Largely self-taught, I've been using various systems, languages, word processors, and other tools for over a dozen years.

All of this time, however, I felt that computers were just "okay"-- occasionally useful, sometimes fun, but never so valuable that (if absolutely necessary) I could stop using them if need be. Mind you, I'd prefer to keep these things around my house--if you saw my handwriting you'd understand--but they don't consume my life the way they do for some people.

Recently I've found myself using them a bit more in an application I couldn't imagine 15 years ago--I communicate about racing with people from all over the world. (Never mind that I wasn't involved in racing 15 years ago!)

I'm speaking, of course, of the internet. The internet's a big buzzword these days, so much so that politicians want to regulate it, censor it, and maybe even charge a fee for it (reference Jim Warren's excellent columns in the freebie computer mags). If you go to the bookstore you see "internet starter kits," books on connectivity, and even the internet "yellow pages" to help find your way around.

Okay, so how does internet help the average racer? Let's start off with the biggie--communication. (Please pardon the terminology--I'm a user, not a techno-wienie, so I may not have all the words quite right.)

I'm on a mailing list called WheelToWheel (W2W). This is basically a "mail exploder." In other words, you send an electronic message to WheelToWheel@abingdon.sun.com and it turns around and mails your message to everybody else on the W2W mailing list. As people respond to these messages, others review the responses and in turn reply to them. In short, it's a group discussion about various racing topics with people in every time zone around the world.

Here's a tiny sampling of things that have popped up on W2W: directions to the Blackhawk Farms racetrack; tech inspectors in some regions will disqualify an IT car with missing headlight rings; Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth Neons have an oil frothing problem--the only solution is to use 4-1/2 (not 4, not 5) quarts of oil, measured by input and not by dipstick; the GTA class provides an SCCA venue for cars built for short-track ovals; Sears Point TransAm was postponed due to rain; a lot of people are concerned about the number of SCCA classes; a "done" spec tire deal for American Sedans was "undone" by a strong rally of AS drivers orchestrated over the internet; Bob Coffin is still trying to sell a Mazda RX3; fascinating race reports from individual perspectives from Lime Rock, Bridgehampton, Thunderhill, Santa Maria, Holtville, and San Jose; and these columns. (Yes, I post Stand on WheelToWheel as well as my other race reports.)

As Cal Club flag chief, I've even had new flaggers join our team after meeting them on WheelToWheel.

So far I've only mentioned one location on the internet, but there is plenty more to choose from. Are you more interested in Formula 1? How about Pro Rally? Autocross? British cars? These all have areas you can visit for _sympatico_ discussions. And I haven't mentioned the World Wide Web yet. (Consider the web to be more and better; it lives on the internet too, e.g., it uses the internet infrastructure.)

By the way, several of my editors have electronic mail (again, via internet access) and thus simplifies the submission process significantly.

I'm still just scraping the surface; for-fee services like CompuServe, America On Line, and Prodigy provide their own racing "forums" as well as internet access. (My only exposure, however, is with the first two; of these two--the CompuServe forum seems better established, more diverse, more active, and more interesting. AOL seemed to offer up only stale press releases.) There are some high-power people lurking on the internet and in the forums. How about the recent chief of the Competition Board? Lots of tech inspectors? Representatives from the IT Ad Hoc committee? ESPN announcers? The editor of _MotoRacing_? People who race _exactly_ the kind of car you race?

I've got to be careful or this column will turn into a list of lists. Now, I could live with all these goodies if I had to, but I'll tell you what really made me appreciate the value of electronic mail. I'll go so far as to say that e-mail recently helped me keep my sanity.

My mother had been ill off and on since January, so I decided to visit her for a week shortly after the Long Beach Grand Prix. Let me help you recognize the geography for a moment: I live in California, she's in southeast Florida (Melbourne), my brothers are in Virginia (Randy, Virginia Beach) and northern Florida (Jim, Gainseville).

When I arrived in Melbourne, I realized just how serious her condition was. Naturally I talked with my brothers on the phone, but I found it helped clear my head and better come to grips with an impending loss by writing daily status reports on her condition. I sent these reports to my brothers, my boss, key friends, and my girlfriend in San Diego. Not only that, unlike a phone call, I could write at any hour of the night and not worry about disturbing somebody.

I'll tell you, e-mail was a lifeline to reality as I watched my mother die. As the situation got worse, I advised Randy that he'd need to come south soon. My brother Jim visited and together we decided "yes," it's definitely time. Randy and his wife planned to make the 14 hour drive over a period of two days since they had a lot of loose ends to tie up before trekking down. However, after they read a message I'd posted called "I Can't Say It Yet," that started off with "My mother is dying" and described how hard it is to voice those words, they decided to drive straight through. It was a good thing too. They arrived at 2:30 AM on a Tuesday; three hours later the hospital called and said our mom had asked for us to be there. She'd said "I'm ready to go now," and wanted her three boys nearby.

My mom hung on for another couple of days after we'd all arrived. You could see the joy in her face when her sons and their families gathered around her. She called us together in the wee hours of a Friday morning for one last goodbye, wrote us a note ("three wonderful sons" was all it said) then went to sleep beyond awareness forever.

The notes I posted built a bond between my brothers and I that geography, age differences, and a late adoption had earlier prevented. Sure, I've always loved my brothers, but we've never been close, not until now. Those notes also made it easier for my boss to understand why my one-week absence stretched into one and a half, then two, then three weeks away from the plant. And those notes helped me face reality. Of course, communication is a two way street; at the other end of the e-mail lifeline were caring people who provided solace, support, and understanding.

There's an epilogue to all this, or maybe two. The first was this: many people couldn't attend the memorial services in person. However, they attended in spirit by reading their own electronic copy of the eulogy at the same time I was speaking it in a Florida church. The second goes back to the poem at the beginning of this column. You see, I also posted copies of the program and other parts of the memorial service. In the program, right under the 23rd Psalm, was this piece. I'd read it to my mom as part of my father's eulogy three years before.

-for Willie

John Dillon presently makes his stand in Yorba Linda, California.

Sidebar:

To subscribe to wheeltowheel, send a message to:

wheeltowheel-request@abingdon.sun.com

and be patient. The message (not the subject line) should read:

subscribe wheeltowheel YourEAddress

A real-live human (thank goodness) is at the other end so it may take a few days.

For more information on government access and control issues as well as freedom of speech concerns, subscribe to the GovAccs mailing list by sending a message to:

majordomo@well.com

The message (not the subject line) should read:

subscribe GovAccess YourEAddress

I can be reached on CompuServe at 102044,3322; my internet adddress is therefore:

102044.3322@compuserve.com

Our family encourages you to make a donation to the charity of your choice. If you're at a complete loss for ideas, the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii could use your support.

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