Road Trip to Florida and visiting Kennedy Space Center- Part 2

The first part of the trip was to watch the Daytona Rolex 24hr Race.
Click here for Part 1 of the story including doing a recovery of a stuck pickup truck on the beach.

The next item to check off the bucket list was to visit the Kennedy Space Center. Yes I’m a fan of the space program, especially the early days when nobody had a clue what they were doing and not only did the technology not exist but nor did the math to actually get a man to the moon. So seeing first hand such iconic pieces of the space race, was truly amazing.

Vehicle Assembly Building

It was a bit of drive from the hotel in Palm Coast, made longer than necessary because we typed “Kennedy Space Center” into the GPS, which took us through Titusville, FL and directly towards the actual launch areas. We realized we were heading to the wrong place when we approached a police check-point and security gate. The guard was quite understanding and advised us to type in “Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex” to get where we wanted to go. You can see how we made the mistake.

About 30min later we were at the right place and before long were on a tour bus heading right back to the secure area that we almost drove into earlier. Well at least this time were doing it properly…legally!

Forced perspective shot in front of a Saturn V Rocket
Apollo Capsule

Driving by the Assembly Building and the huge crawlers used to transport rockets and the space shuttles of the past was truly awesome. The Apollo/Saturn V Building was amazing with an actual Saturn V rocket and Apollo 8 capsule on display as well as various artifacts from the era.

Back at the Visitor Complex, and a highlight of the experience was getting up close to the actual Atlantis Space Shuttle. Atlantis was the last shuttle to fly and when the shuttle program ended, Atlantis was mounted here on a 43.21 degree angle (NASA humour) and the whole building was built around it. Did I mention the launch simulator? You you gotta try this thing! I don’t know how they did it but it apparently closely replicates what astronauts experienced during the shuttle launches. If you have any fillings in your teeth, they may get shaken loose and and loose items in your unsecured pockets, you can kiss them goodbye.

Shuttle Atlantis

And it’s with that our trip was over. We checked in to a nearby hotel with a view of the launch pads (unfortunately there weren’t any scheduled while we were there) and the next day we started the two day drive home.

Just like the drive down, it was a long two days and no road trip is complete without inclement weather. Waking up in Virginia with everything covered in a thick layer of ice, made for some tricky driving initially.

Eventually though the roads cleared and we made it back to Toronto.

I wonder what the next adventure will be…stay tuned.

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Road Trip to Florida for the Daytona Rolex 24hr Race – Part 1

As a Motorsports fan (and former racecar driver myself), I’ve always wanted to attend the iconic Daytona 24hr race in Florida. I’ve been to Daytona before as a crew member (not for a 24hr race though) but that was 20yrs ago and a total disaster (the car wouldn’t work). This time would be different though. This year I was going down to watch as a fan, and this year I would be driving down in the Jeep.

My partner and I hit the road early on Wednesday morning and as expected, we hit some bad weather in Buffalo. It’s always Buffalo. Why do people even live there? It’s always bad weather and snowing. Okay…ignorant statement sure but when stopping for fuel one of the locals from Buffalo even said “Yeah we’re still here but I don’t even know why” when discussing the worsening storm.

The storm was a serious issue actually, and once of the reasons for leaving so early wasn’t just because it’s a two day drive to Florida, but also to try and get ahead of the worst parts of the storm. We were mostly successful. Once we hit Pennsylvania though, we were getting hammered pretty hard and were faced with poor visibility and some seriously slick roads. It didn’t take long to spot a few cars in the ditch and a jack-knifed truck that shut down the highway going North (fortunately we were heading south). I would have liked to help pull one of the vehicles out of the ditch (a fellow Jeeper) but with a transport truck riding my bumper at the time, any sudden attempt to stop or pull over would have lead to a disaster for us all. It would have been a good chance to use my recovery gear in the real world, but that time would come later on in the trip (in the most unexpected time).

After spending a night in Wytheville, Virginia, we carried on driving to Florida. Fortunately the drive on day two was nice and uneventful. Now although the race is in Daytona, all the hotels in that direct area were stupid expensive and all the affordable ones had been sold out for months. I only decided to do this trip in back in November and the best reasonably priced hotel that I could find was in Palm Coast, FL which was 30min away…about 50km (31miles).

It’s a beautiful sight from the Grand Stands

I bought a 4-Day pass for the track and it was only Thursday evening but we were done driving for the day. Time for some rest. 

We made it to the track Friday morning around 9:30am and it took a while to walk around and get our bearings. Eventually we found the Tram that would shuttle us into the infield where we would find the fairgrounds, the paddocks (where the race cars and teams were setup), the Fanzone, merchants, and other vehicle displays, and the Ferris wheel. Yes, they have a Ferris wheel. I guess they really want to have the 24hr of Le Mans experience here in the USA and they’ve been doing this for decades now so they pretty much have it figured out. Now THAT is another race that I really want to attend…the 24hr of Le Mans in France.

Me with Daniel Morad

Our first priority was to just to take it all in before hunting down a few friends of mine. One of whom is Daniel Morad, who is not only a long time friend but also one of the drivers. He was recently signed with WINWARD Racing as a driver in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge in a Mercedes AMG GT4 on Saturday.

Sidenote: Morad wasn’t slated to race in the actual 24hr race (just the 4hr race on Friday), but one of the drivers for the main 24hr race had crashed hard in practice on Thursday and Daniel was asked to fill that role also.

After meeting up with him for a while in his paddock, it was time to find Ashley, another friend of mine, who was a crew member for the #13 AWA LMP3 car.

Standing on that banked track

After taking in the sights and sounds, and watching the 4hr race on Friday, we returned to the hotel for the night. The big show was Saturday and we arrived at 10am to get a good seat for the start at 1:40pm.

What a show! The only thing missing from the opening ceremonies was a squadron of airplanes doing a flyover of the track. They should really add that. After a long day of watching the main event, we returned to the hotel for a power nap. We wanted to be back for the fireworks at 10pm, and they certainly didn’t cheap out on those. We stayed until about midnight and decided it was time to retires for the night. Sunday was sure to be a long day.

We got back around 10am or so to find that the #13 car had been involved in a multi-car crash around midnight (just after we left). They did recover, kinda, and in the end they finished 4th in their class. Their sister car #17 actually came in 1st taking the win in their class. Well done AWA!

Dan’s team though would suffer true heartbreak. They were in a serious battle for a podium position and with 40min to a full course caution came out. They were in 2nd place for the restart with a solid chance at getting the win and taking home the most sought after Rolex watch available. You can’t buy it. You have to win the Daytona Rolex 24hr Race. When the light went green though, with just 32min to go, all the cars were bunched up and the WINWARD car was clipped and pushed against the wall resulting in a flat tire. And that was it. They were out. It was an emotional blow for us as we had watched them race for so many hours and listening to them on my scanner but our emotional heartbreak would of course be nothing compared to what the team and the drivers felt.

Driving on Daytona Beach

With the race over, we decided to hit the beach. We learned that Daytona Beach is one of the few beaches that you can actually drive on. This is how Stock car racing got its start…by racing on Daytona Beach. So we took the time to check out one of the sections that you were still allowed to drive on.

It wasn’t long though before we came upon a family who had gotten their truck stuck. And I mean really stuck! It was one of those typical Floridian jacked up pickup trucks with a huge lift kit and low profile knobby tires. All show and no go, and with only 2WD it was buried up to it’s axle in super soft, powder like sand. He wasn’t getting out without help.

It was at this moment that I realized that I could get him out in just a few minutes with the recovery gear that I had in the Jeep. I bought this stuff (specifically the kinetic recovery ropes), expecting to use it on people stuck in the snow, or on some offroad trail in Canada; not on a sandy beach that people drive on all the time.

So I lined myself up, and starting rigging up his truck to my Jeep. In a few minutes, I was ready to free this pickup truck in front of a growing crowd of spectators. It’s not something you see everyday and it’s pretty neat to watch. So with everything set, I got back in my Jeep, hit the gas, and to the sound of cheers and applause, the truck popped right out of the sandy pit it had dug for itself. Then when he tried to drive away, before I even unhooked him, he got stuck again. Okay…time for one more yank.

Now you would think this would be a good learning opportunity, but noooo….”Florida Man” decides to go park 30m away in the exact same sand that he just was just stuck in. Well dude…if you get stuck again, you deserve to pay for a tow truck to pull you out.

Once all was said and done, it had been a long, exhausting day packed with experiences….racing, driving on the beach, doing a recovery. It was time to retire to the hotel and get ready for the next big chapter of the trip…Kennedy Space Center!

Click here for Part 2…

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No More Unsightly Wires

If you’re like me, you probably have several items in your vehicle that needs to be kept charged with various USB cords. In my case it’s two GoPro cameras, my phone, and a scanner. All of which need a power cord and of course and outlet. Most newer vehicles have at least a couple USB ports and a 12v adapter somewhere on the main dash. But there’s never enough so now you need a splitter of some sort and before you know it, you have a mess of wires sticking out of your dashboard running all over the place. Not only are they unsightly, but they can also get tangled up on your turn signals, shifter, etc and they tend to block the your view of the dash cluster and various controls, like audio and climate.

I’ve been known to tuck wires along the edges of the windshield, or edge of some trim before but this time I would need to put in a lot more effort.

Thanks to the YouTube University, I was able to find the videos needed to how to remove various panels, controls, and touch screen so that I could run all my wires behind them. Now because my vehicle has spare powered wires hidden under the dash, I was able to do more than just hide some wires. I was able to eliminate them entirely from the main dash. So even though I had a few devices to power, none of the ports on the dash would be used.

After ordering a power hub from Amazon, which had three 12v ports and four USB ports, I also needed a 12v adapter (acquired from my local auto parts store) that I would wire directly into those spare wires hidden under the dash. Fortunately I had the needed tools and skill to do the soldering myself as well as the tools I would need to remove the touch screen and other panels.

Once everything was done I had a lot more power outlets (both 12v and USB) and it doesn’t look like I’m using any at all. The wires also come out from behind the dash very close to where they are needed and are barely noticeable. Actually, you don’t notice them at all unless you are looking for them. The only sacrifice, other than the time to do the job, was losing about 20% of my glove box to the power hub.

All in all, it was time well spent.

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Getting Our Feet Wet | Off-Roading the New Jeep Wrangler JLUR

It’s been a month since I got my new used Jeep 4dr Wrangler Rubicon (JLUR) and it was time to get dirty. Now since all the public trails are closed for the season, there was only one obvious (and legal) place to go…the Minden Offroad Park (formally known as Ray’s Place) located in Minden, Ontario. It’s a 2.5hr drive from Toronto where I live but I make the trip regularly in the winter time when working as a Winter Driving Instructor with the Car Control School.

This trip was going to be very different though. Our first time taking the new Jeep (new to me anyway) off-roading. It was also to be my first time actually off-roading myself as a driver. I’ve been a passenger before while off-roading but this time would be my first time behind the wheel making all the decisions.

Now one of the biggest rules when going off-roading is never go alone. That doesn’t include your passengers though. They mean go with another vehicle. That way if you get stuck, the other vehicle can pull you free. Or if you suffer a serious mechanical failure, or a medical problem or injury, someone can get you out. With that in mind, I made arrangements to meet up with a few others inside the park. They had arrived the night before and planned on staying until Sunday. When we arrived on Saturday morning, they were still sound asleep. So I decided to carry on without them. I knew they would be around eventually if I needed help. So essentially…we went alone but we knew we had back-up.

The website for the park clearly states that there are NO “beginner” trails. So if you don’t have experience and skill…you shouldn’t be there. So not having any actual experience…well…I’m pretty skilled behind the wheel of any vehicle and I’ve been able to make them do things that they aren’t designed for, so I was leaning heavily on that to get through the day. Turns out I had plenty of skill and although my Jeep is stock (no modifications yet), it was at least capable enough for what I was demanding of it. I had plenty of recovery gear if I got stuck. But without a winch, I would need someone else to pull me off, or out of, whatever obstacle that got me stuck.

I certainly was challenged but we prevailed. Although I did get high-centred on a boulder for a bit, I was able to free myself thanks to a good amount of determination (stubbornness). Over rocks and boulders we climbed, through the trees, and crashing though thick ice that covered some deep puddles, we slowly traversed the trails though the park, making sure to avoid the trails that were rated for greater difficulty. I knew full well that the more difficult trails couldn’t be done with a stock Jeep and with the tires that I was equipped with; they are proper offroad tires but they are skinny and not suited for serious rock crawling or deep mud. For trail riding though, they are great. I’d like the wider tires that the Jeep was originally sold with back in 2019 but for now I had to make due with the ones I had. It’s just one of those “know your limits and the limits of your equipment” kinda thing and although I pushed the limits, I didn’t exceed them. Well…not by much anyway.

Once all was said and done, my partner and I had a great day on the trails as we popped our Off-Roading Cherry’s. Fortunately there is a coin wash nearby so I could power spray all the mud, snow, and ice off and it allowed me to see if there was anymore obvious damage other than front license plate and cover.

Oh…I didn’t mention that? Yeah….while crashing through some thick ice of one of the deeper puddles, the waterline was up over the bumper and I mangled the front plate and custom plate cover. Yeah yeah…I know…I should have removed it first. I just forgot. Oh well…lesson learned.

But hey…I didn’t break anything important and we had a great day. I wouldn’t expect you all to understand though because, well…It’s a Jeep Thing.

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Storm Troopers Cruisers – Getting Nurses and Doctors to Work in Foul Weather

The Storm Trooper Cruisers…

I am proud to announce that I have started a program in Southern Ontario to help get Nurses and Doctors to their hospitals when bad winter storms roll in. Our medical system is stretched to the breaking point already due to so many staff shortages and whenever there is a major snow storm, hospitals see a huge increase in absentees.

The Storm Trooper Cruisers initiative has the singular goal of getting nurses and doctors into work so that they can do what they do best…save lives.

The program is made up of volunteers of 4×4 owners & enthusiasts who donate their time, fuel, expertise, and equipment, to drive essential workers to work. They can get picked up from home and dropped of on the steps of their respective hospitals at no cost. We just can’t promise to get you there on time.

I was inspired by a similar program in Moncton, New Brunswick and from that the Ontario Storm Trooper Cruisers was formed.

If you have a suitable 4×4 and would like to join the team, contact me. If you’re a medical professional in need of a ride to work when the weather turns foul, email me and I’ll try and arrange a ride for you. Also, let your hospital administration know that this service is available in Southern Ontario. If they ever need to activate their Emergency Operations Centre, they can reach out to arrange rides for their staff.

Website: www.stormtroopercruisers.net

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/854001088963783/

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