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GeneRally is simple, small, fun, arcade-style racing computer game. I pronounce the name as JEAN/GENE’-rally.

I discovered the game in 2002 while browsing the internet for add-ons for NASCAR Racing 4, my favorite game at the time (the real deal. I played with steering wheel and pedals and competed online very frequently). I saw GeneRally at RaceSimCentral, a massive internet community at that time with reviews and resources for many computer racing games. The main page had a picture of a community made track, Milano66. My interest was instantly grabbed, and I joined the game’s small but active online community.

Milano66 by Lol SpeedFreak

Milano66 by Lol SpeedFreak

Ten years later, that community is still alive, and thriving. The original creators (Hannu and Jukka Räbinä) finished development of the game in December 2003, but two community leaders, James Burgess and Markku Hyrkäs, with the Räbinäs’ permission, have recently released final updates. And now development is underway for a sequel! Ten years later, and the community is still creating new tracks, cars, racing competitions, and more (quality continues to improve).

I never really got into track-making or car-making. I just raced. The only thing about the game that somewhat limited it was its inability for online multiplayer (I no longer think that). So what did I do? Organize a competition where players sent in their results from identical races. Competitions still happen on a weekly basis, and perhaps in part competitions are what has kept the community going 10 years later. It may not be much, but I do have my own place in the history of this good little game.

I stopped actively participating some time in 2003 or 2004, but I every now and then I drop in and race in a competition or two. I almost won the GeneRally Indy 500 in 2009 (3rd, 3.84 seconds behind). I’m not the fastest driver, but I am quick. Usually I finish inside the top 10. Yes, they have world rankings and I can be found there (as bgcatfan). I just dropped in to do another couple of races. We’ll see how I do!

[The following is part four of a series. I realize my main audience will not be racing fans. I will do my best to make this series accessible.]

“People watch racing just for the crashes.”

Have you heard this? Maybe you’ve said it. It may be true to some extent in NASCAR, but I don’t think it’s so true for fans of open-wheel racing.

I find that phrase annoying. It’s like saying that crashes are exciting, and the actual racing is boring. I don’t like to see crashes in racing for several reasons. Crashes… 1) are dangerous. Someone can get hurt. 2) negatively affect the outcome of the race. When drivers crash, the level of competition is lowered for the remainder of the race, and the best drivers/teams may not win. 3) cause the race to last longer. It takes time to clean up the wrecks. 4) sometimes include my favorite drivers (example: Will Power and Tony Kanaan at Fontana… Both lost championships as a result).

And yet, ironically, the existence of crashes adds some intrigue to the racing. To be fast is to be near the edge of control. To see a driver not crash when they could have can be really exciting (example: The last half-lap of this year’s NASCAR race at Watkins Glen… the top two drivers were sliding all over the place and running into each other, yet hung on to finish).

What do I like about racing? A lot of things. Racing became my favorite sport after playing a computer game when I was 6 years old. Since then, the simple action of a racing car on a race track is attractive to me. Along with that I like the competition, certain drivers, the tracks, the looks of the cars, the skill, etc.

The reality is that I can not pick and choose. The highs and lows come together in a package. For me: the highs are worth enduring the lows. After the two deaths discussed in this series, and the observation of more from the study of racing history, I never considered the option to stop liking racing.

In conclusion, death in racing is a a real issue that I’ve had to deal with. The tragic deaths of Earnhardt, Wheldon, and other drivers have deeply saddened and impacted me. Racing is still dangerous, but it’s a lot safer than it used to be. The entire package is not perfect, no, but I like it enough to keep following the sport.

[part 1: The greatest race that isn’t]
[part 2: It doesn’t get any easier the second time]
[part 3: Safety is a process]

[The following is part three of a series. I realize my main audience will not be racing fans. I will do my best to make this series accessible.]

Is racing safe? Yes, maybe, sort of, pretty much, or not at all? The answer depends on many factors. Do we consider all forms and levels of racing, or just the top professional levels? Do we consider the entire history of racing since the invention of the automobile, or the present time? Do we consider all kinds of tracks (circuits, streets, ovals, dirt, offroad)? Do we consider all  kinds of cars (stock car, formula/open wheel, touring, rally, dirt, bikes, drag, etc.)?

Racing will never be perfectly safe. “Safe” is a goal. Safety is the process towards the ideal.

The following statistics demonstrate the improvement in safety in three major racing series over the last twenty years.

Deaths from 1993-2002: 13 (Nascar, 7; IndyCar 4; Formula 1, 2)
Deaths in the last 10 years: 3 (all in IndyCar).

Questions are asked every time a fatal accident occurs. “Why did this happen?” “Could this be prevented in the future?” “What safety changes should be made?” Interest in safety is part of what it means for me to be a racing fan. I want the sport to be safer. I read articles about it. I have my own opinion about safety improvements I think should be made, just as I have opinions about other aspects of the sport.

Earnhardt had hit the wall nearly head on at one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks. When he hit the wall, his head snapped forward, causing a basilar skull fracture and killing him instantly.

Although three drivers died in NASCAR the previous year, it took the death of its biggest star to cause an incredible safety revolution that still continues: The drivers now wear a HANS device (Head And Neck Support) that prevents the head from moving forward in a crash, the seats are built safer, the cars are built better and safer, and the racetracks (thanks to Indianapolis) have SAFER barriers (“soft” walls) around the walls that absorb impacts better. Earnhardt would have walked away if the same crash were to happen today.

Wheldon’s crash is slightly more complicated. IndyCar (IRL/CART/Champ Car) is also much safer than it used to be. Certain advancements, such as the HANS, were mandated before NASCAR required them. Yet despite the incredible gains in the last twenty years, Indy cars continue to have one major safety flaw: the uncovered cockpit.

Wheldon’s car flew head first into the catch fencing above the SAFER barrier. His exposed helmet hit one of the immovable poles that supported the fencing. Wheldon died shortly after the impact from blunt force trauma to the head.

The car did its job. Wheldon had no injuries from the neck down. The problem was two-fold. Firstly, a car could become airborne by touching the wheels of another car. Since the wheels of the cars were exposed, one car could “climb” over the wheels of another car when they touched, launching one into the air. This was what caused Wheldon’s car to launch into the air. Secondly, the aerodynamic package of the cars on large oval tracks caused the cars to drive together in one close pack, dramatically increasing the chance for an accident like the one described. Both issues have been resolved. The bodywork of the car has been extended so that the cars cannot make wheel-to-wheel contact anymore, and the aerodynamic package has been changed so that the cars no longer drive in close packs. That’s not to say that the possibility of an airborne crash like this one no longer exists, but the recipe for disaster has been removed. The IndyCar race at Texas a few weeks ago proved these changes, primarily the second, to be a rousing success.

No, racing is not perfectly safe, but it is very safe. The chances of a serious accident continue to decrease. Although I fear another freak accident may someday injure or kill another driver, I am pleased with the progress each racing series has made. I’ll go on record to say that I would rather crash in one of those race cars at 200 mph any day than crash at 50 mph in my own car.

[part 1: The greatest race that isn’t]
[part 2: It doesn’t get any easier the second time]
[part 4: It’s worth it]

[The following is part two of a series. I realize my main audience will not be racing fans. I will do my best to make this series accessible.]

In addition to being a NASCAR fan, I am also an INDYCAR fan (Not an acronym, but all caps. I’m not sure why).  Although I have followed NASCAR more closely over the years, I spent a fair share of time rooting for Michael Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan, and others over the years. INDYCAR has historically been much more dangerous than NASCAR. Its most recent tragedy occurred on October 16, 2011.

For those who aren’t familiar with the difference, NASCAR races cars which vaguely look like sedans (called stock cars). INDYCAR races purpose built race cars that have uncovered wheels and cockpits (called open wheel or Indy cars). NASCAR’s biggest yearly race is the Daytona 500. INDYCAR’s biggest yearly race is the Indianapolis 500. IndyCar was America’s most prestigious racing series until 1996, when the series was split into two. Popularity rapidly declined. At the same time, NASCAR’s popularity skyrocketed.

I turned on the TV that Sunday to see what was on. As I was flipping channels I saw a race track (Las Vegas) and quickly became excited. It was INDYCAR’s last race of the season. The race was to feature Scottish driver Dario Franchitti and Australian driver Will Power (that’s a great name, isn’t it?) battling for the championship. The race was also to feature British driver Dan Wheldon trying to win $5,000,000.

Wheldon, one of the series most talented and popular drivers, won his second Indianapolis 500 earlier in the year. In nine tries at Indianapolis, he had two first-, two second-, a third-, and fourth-place finishes. He may eventually be considered one of the best drivers ever in the Indianapolis 500. But Wheldon was not a full-time driver in 2011. The Indy 500 was a one-race deal for him. He was unemployed as a driver before and after that race. INDYCAR, in an attempt to allure NASCAR (or other) drivers to race in its season finale, offered the $5,000,000 prize. No NASCAR drivers came, and the prize was offered to Wheldon if he could start last and win.

Immediately it became apparent that something was wrong. I had tuned into the race broadcast late. The broadcasters were explaining that the race had been stopped because of a massive 15-car crash. It is not uncommon for a race to be stopped for a crash. But it was worse. All the drivers were in a private meeting with league officials. That never happens during a race. But it was still much worse. Dan Wheldon had been seriously hurt. There was no report on his condition, but he had been flown by helicopter to the nearby hospital. When a helicopter flies a driver out, they have likely suffered life-threatening injuries.

I was glued to the TV. All I could do was hope for the best (he survived) and fear for the worst (he was dead). The broadcasters were talking in hushed tones. Everyone was waiting for news about Wheldon. And why were the drivers in a meeting like that? The whole scenario felt eerie, but all I could do was wait.

Then they announced it. He was dead. One of INDYCAR’s brightest stars was dead. The race was cancelled. People at the track were crying. The remaining drivers drove five slow laps around the track in tribute to Wheldon. The crew members for each team stood along the wall facing the track. The bagpipes played Amazing Grace. And I cried. Not a lot, but tears were there. First for Earnhardt, and now for Wheldon. It doesn’t get any easier the second time.

I tried to do homework later that day, but it was hard. All I could think about was the crash. It was one of the worst crashes I’ve ever seen, and Wheldon was dead, never to return. It was so sad…

Marty Reid, the lead announcer for the race, closed the ABC broadcast by saying, “Many people ask my why I always sign off “’til we meet again.” Because goodbye is always so final. Goodbye Dan Wheldon.”

[part 1: The greatest race that isn’t]
[part 3: Safety is a process]
[part 4: It’s worth it]

[The following is part one of a series about my response to death in racing, my favorite sport. I realize my main audience will not be racing fans. I will do my best to make this series accessible. Note: I originally intended to publish this particular post one year ago today, but decided not to. One year later, it fits as part one of a series. I’ve edited it slightly, but the date and timing remains the same. It’s original title: The greatest race that isn’t.]

February 18, 2001. Ten years ago today. Dale Earnhardt died in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Americans remember where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. Our parents remember the same about Kennedy’s assassination. Our grandparents remember the same about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

NASCAR fans remember February 18, 2001. http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/nascar/cup/news/story?id=6131721

I was 13 at the time. NASCAR had been my favorite sport since 1995, and Earnhardt had been my favorite driver.

At two tracks, Daytona and Talladega, cars are restricted to run under 200 mph for safety reasons.  The cars do not have enough power to pull away from each other, so by drafting (riding in the air stream behind another car) many cars can stay in a big pack.

NASCAR changed the aerodynamic package of the cars before this particular race. There was expected to be a lot of passing and the cars could easily stay together. This race was expected to be perhaps the greatest Daytona 500 ever due to the aero rules package. For the first 199 laps, I think it was among the greatest ever.

I was watching from my home in Ohio. My family was not really interested in NASCAR so they were off doing their own thing. I loved the race. There was a lot of passing, and my favorite drivers were doing well. Dale Earnhardt was running up near the front the entire race, and his own race team, Dale Earnhardt Inc., had drivers Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. near the front, too.

In the final twenty laps, Michael Waltrip took the lead, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in second, Dale Earnhardt was in third. No one knew it at the time, but Earnhardt had planned for those three drivers to get up front and stay single file. Because it was so easy to pass, if those drivers did not work together (cars run faster running when they stay in line than when side by side), they would have a hard time winning. Earnhardt blocked and blocked all the drivers behind them to keep them from passing. It worked. On the final lap, Waltrip led, Junior was in second, Earnhardt was in third. No one could get to Waltrip or Junior. Waltrip won, Junior finished second. Waltrip’s older brother Darrell was in the Fox broadcasting booth cheering his brother to victory, “You got it, You got it, YOU GOT IT! MIKEY!! ALRIGHT!!” The other drivers finally did get along side Earnhardt. A 1-2-3 finish was slipping out of his grasp. He wanted to finish third, so he continued to try and block. In the last corner, he tried to slip ahead of driver Sterling Marlin, but Marlin was still there. Earnhardt cut across Marlin’s front bumper, lost control, and crashed in the final corner. No big deal, he had crashed in worse looking crashes before.

Michael Waltrip hadn’t won a race in all the 462 NASCAR races he had raced before. In his first race driving for the great Dale Earnhardt, he won the biggest race of all. I liked Michael Waltrip and was so happy when he won! Later I looked at a piece of paper I had made where I listed all the drivers I rooted for, and saw I had chosen Waltrip as my pick for an upset winner. Earnhardt, as his car owner, was supposed to come to victory lane and celebrate with him, but he didn’t. It looked like he might be hurt.

I was concerned when Earnhardt was last shown by Fox as being carried away in an ambulance. I knew he was hurt, but I didn’t think he was dead. I kept watching TV for any potential news report of his condition. It wasn’t until the evening local news where they announced he was dead. I cried. My family had tears, too. When my best friend heard from his dad, he called me to talk about it. Earnhardt had been his favorite driver, too.

It was NASCAR’s biggest tragedy ever. Earnhardt’s death was covered extensively by all major news networks for weeks (the announcement, the reaction, the investigation, the implications). It was the first time a personal hero of mine was killed.

[part 2: It doesn’t get any easier the second time]
[part 3: Safety is a process]
[part 4: It’s worth it]

Back in 2001 I began to play Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing 4. NR4 was a racing simulation that incorporated amazing physics and graphics into Papyrus long NASCAR Racing series. My dad bought me a steering wheel and pedal set and I began to race online against other people. To play online I had to create a online username. I’m not sure how long I thought about it, but I came up with bgcatfan.

BG is short for Bowling Green, where I live and grew up.
CAT is short for Caterpillar, the sponsor of my favorite NASCAR driver at the time, Ward Burton
Fan is, well, a fan. I rooted for Bowling Green sports teams and was a Ward Burton fan.

Funny enough, when racing online, I was asked more than once if I was a Kentucky Wildcat fan. No, I’m not from that Bowling Green. Haha.

When Gmail came out, I chose not to get a personal email. I had an email from my dad’s website, and in a few years I would use @bgsu.edu and @umich.edu for my mail email. I did create bgcatfan[at]gmail for different website registrations, orders, and to keep in contact with people that I raced against.

Now, I’ve decided I want to use Gmail more, in part because the leadership of our campus ministry is using a Google group to communicate. I’m really enjoying the level of communication we are having this way. I’ve set my BGSU and UMich emails to forward into my Gmail account. I still won’t use Gmail as a permanent email address, as I can use one from my own website, but I’m enjoying having everything come to one place and have multiple emails filed within a single “conversations.” It also makes it easy to access the Google group.

I no longer race NASCAR games online, but bgcatfan has stuck. I am still a fan of Bowling Green, but Ward Burton has long stopped racing in NASCAR. Interestingly enough, one of my favorite two drivers today is Ward’s brother, Jeff Burton, whose car is sponsored by none other than Caterpillar. I am still a bgcatfan.

This past Sunday was the 52nd Daytona 500. Due to some rule changes, it was supposed to be a very exciting race, and it was. 21 different drivers led during the race (which was a new record). RCR drivers Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer had the fastest cars. I was rooting for Harvick. He took the lead on the first Green-White-Checkers, but was passed on the next restart on the backstretch by Jamie McMurray. It was an exciting finish, especially when Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove through everyone and looked like he would have a chance to win it.

Here are the two restarts with the finish included

Next post (later today, hopefully) I’ll talk about the retreat from this past weekend. The messages were great and spoke to me. I don’t think I’m following through with all the decisions I made, so I’m going to listen to them again and take notes and write my decisions down. I’ll put up the notes as I go through them.

So far it’s been a pretty unusual winter. It hasn’t been as cold and we haven’t gotten as much snow as normal. The messed up weather patterns is just another sign that Jesus is coming soon. This past Tuesday night we received about 8-10 inches of snow. It’s been in the 20’s the past few days and there has been little wind. I just got back from morning trumpet routine and the weather is perfect. There is a lot of snow, the wind is calm, and it’s not too cold. This is my favorite time of the year!! Snow makes me happy =D.

Last night I had an amazing snowball fight with friends after our Wednesdays with Jesus Bible study at Eastern. It wasn’t great packing snow, but we made it work. It was just snowballs we threw, we through huge (soft) chunks of snow, too. We threw people, too, into the snow on the ground. It was fun. At some point most everyone got snow down their back or was thrown down into the snow. At the end, when we were all finished and cleaned up we ran into a big pile of snow at the edge of the parking lot and tackled each other into the snow, thus negating the work we did of cleaning ourselves off. Good times! We’ll do part 2 at the CAMPUS retreat this weekend at Camp AuSable. =D

So, I was going to write a huge comment about all the Daytona 500’s from this decade, but I don’t know I will. The Duels are today, though (they are the races that set the starting order for the Daytona 500). It would be cool if Kevin Harvick could sweep all the week’s races (Shootout, Duel, and 500). It will be interesting to see what the racing is like with the bigger restrictor plate and relaxed racing rules.

I have almost everyone I need to play on my recital. All I need now is one violinist and everything will set! I’m excited. I hope everything works out as far as rehearsals and things go. My lessons have been going well and I’m getting better as a trumpet player. I’m really happy to be here at Michigan.