Hi Folks -- this is the first of a number of student "Auto-Biographies" that were written for my current HST 344 class. Uniformly, they were excellent, and I thank the students for letting me post them. Rob is a most enthusiastic student in my class, and from reading this it is obvious why. Folks like Rob make my job easy.
June 30, 2011
High performance has always been important to me; in many ways, it defines me. I like anything that performs well. When I was a young lad, my family had very little disposable income. My brother and I were glad to get old dirt-bikes. My dad would find one that wasn't running well, buy it for very little money, and fix it so that it ran perfectly.
I don't remember my first bicycle ride. I'm told that I was riding by myself, without training wheels, when I was three years old. When I was four, I got a mini-bike powered by a pull-start Briggs and Stratton 5 HP engine. When I was five, I got a 50cc Suzuki. It had a five-speed transmission and a real clutch. Since my dad worked the second shift at GM, he wasn't there to start the mini-bike for us. Our neighbor across the street was much older and larger than I was. He gladly started that mini-bike hundreds of times for me.
Riding motorcycles was the beginning of my love of high performance items. Although I am very fond of cars, my real passion is motorcycles. That probably stems from the fact that I spent so much time on them. I've had at least one motorcycle in my possession from the time that I was four years old to the present day. I'm now forty years old and have five motorcycles. When it comes to the most 'bang for the buck' I must choose a motorcycle because they are very fast and cost much less than a car.
After graduating from Patterson Co-Op, I got a job as a toolmakers apprentice working at a large machine shop called Gem City Engineering. I was making good money for someone my age and bought my first new vehicle, a 1989 Yamaha FZR400. It was perfect for me, small, fast, light weight and cheap. It wasn't long before I was riding faster and faster on the roads. A friend told me stop riding so fast on the street. He knew some motorcycle racers and offered to introduce me to them. A short time later, I crashed in Englewood Park on the Aullwood side. I crashed due due to lack of knowledge, not due to high speed. I rode off of the road, down a steep drop off and tumbled through some shrubbery. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet and gloves. Unfortunately, I was only wearing a T-shirt and jeans. My back was slashed open by the branches that I broke. I admit that my speed was excessive, but on the racetrack that speed would be considered slow.
Soon after that, I agreed to meet the racers and start learning proper technique. I enrolled in a racing school, got my racing license and roadraced motorcycles for nine consecutive years. I spent a lot of money, broke a lot of bones, met a lot of nice people, left broken motorcycle parts scattered on racetracks east of the Mississippi and learned a great deal about life.
It's no surprise that the knowledge I gained from the racetrack allowed me to 'play' at higher speeds on the road. I bought a 1986 Chevy Camaro I-ROC. It was not a stellar car, but it did what I needed it to do. It was the best handling car that I've ever owned. I had a bad habit of driving at dangerous speeds. One of my favorites roads had a twisty section that curved as it went uphill, crested at the top, then switched directions with a dip at the transition. I loved to toss the car into the turn, feel the chassis flex and the tires bite, let it drift a little while the tires were unloaded, then turn when the chassis came back down and weighted the tires.
One day, I was driving on my favorite road and was moving at a particularly fast pace. I stuffed the car into the turn and headed uphill. Just as I got to the top, I found a very large city truck with a crew of men piling out of it. They had just arrived and were, I assume, going to place the hazard signs down the road. I had not anticipated four men and a 12,000 lb. truck being on the side of my favorite road! I mashed the brakes, the car danced uncontrollably, I sawed at the steering wheel and was finally able to pass the workers without hitting them. I was terrified of what 'could have been'.
A couple of weeks went by and I was back to my usual shenanigans. This time, I was leaving work and I got off of Rt. 75 onto a section of road that had several large turns. It was easy to get the I-ROC sideways on these turns. As planned, I carried a lot of speed down the ramp, pitched the car to the right and started sliding, like I always did. The next step was to turn left into a long, large radius left hand turn. I had already entered the turn when I was stunned to see a guy standing behind an old brown Ford van changing a flat tire. I clearly remember the tall ratcheting bumper jack and large chrome bumper. I realized that if I hit him, I would cut him in half. I mashed the brakes, the car danced around, I sawed at the wheel, the car pivoted briefly in the opposite direction allowing me to barely miss the guy and his van. I was really terrified this time.
I've always remembered the people that I almost killed. I clearly remember those turns, those guys, those antics, those guys. I'm thankful that nothing bad happened and that everyone is okay. I'm a much better driver now.
I still like high performance objects, but now I build High Power rockets. My large rocket is 8 ft. tall and will go Mach 1. My fastest rocket will go Mach 2.25, when I finish it this summer. I just ordered a carbon fiber rocket and will build it for my son.
http://tinyurl.com/6dcngtu (flight pictures are at the end of page 1)