Holiday shopping guide

Special mid-week post! Check back in a couple days when the Ghosting the Aliens series resumes.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holiday shopping season are upon us! Sadly, so is the annoying Christmas music. Some of the deals you can find at this time of year can be really great. For example, last year I bought a new gaming computer. Even though prices always drop on computer stuff, I still can’t find a better deal than what I got last year.

In my family, we have some unusual holiday gift giving practices. Of course we buy presents for each other, but we also buy presents for ourselves. We wrap these up and put them under our tree. Well, it’s not always much of a wrapping, often just the shipping box. And truthfully, it isn’t always a tree, sometimes just a decorated table with cookies. And we don’t necessarily open them on Christmas day. We like the French-style midnight opening and we like how Hanukah spreads out the gifts over several days. So we mix it up and open presents at odd times (breakfast on Saturday, dinner on Sunday, midnight on Monday, whatever). Anyway, part of the fun of the holiday season is opening presents and sharing that joy with others. Believe it or not, the gifts you buy yourself can be some of the most fun for the others to share. “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted that, how cool!” is a lot more genuine than “thanks for the socks” or “just what I wanted” (because I gave you explicit directions on what to buy 2 weeks ago). With that in mind, let’s imagine some gifts to improve the driving of someone you care about (even yourself).

Expensive Stuff

  • Simulation Rig – While it may seem expensive, the return on this investment is huge. High performance driving is like any other athletic endeavor. To get get good, you’ll have to spend hundreds of hours practicing. There’s no cheaper or safer way to put in that time than with virtual training. You can buy a complete gaming computer for under $600 if you shop around. But make sure the video card is has a Passmark score of at least 2,500 (an nVidia 1050 is good). For the steering wheel and pedals, the best place to start is a Logitech G29 (PC + PS4) or G920 (PC + Xbox). These list for $400 but you can find them at Newegg for $200. There are lots of 1080p monitors for $100. If you want a system that can do VR, expect to pay more than twice as much. For more info, see the Simulation link above.
  • Telemetry System – There are lots of choices for telemetry systems from manufacturers such as AiM, Motec, RaceLogic, and RacePak. One of the most popular is the AiM Solo DL. This is a great lap timer and data logger that also reads OBDII data from your vehicle. Works best with 2008+ vehicles with CAN bus. On modern sports cars you get to tap into thousands of dollars of sensors for free (e.g. steering angle, individual wheel speeds, brake pressure, throttle position, RPMs, etc.).
  • HANS Device– There are several head and neck restraint devices available today. Personally, I like Necksgen because the tethers also protect you from side impacts. The Rev2 Lite model is their latest and best design. Generally, HANS devices like these require that you have a roll cage/bar and harnesses. If you don’t, you might consider a Simpson Hybrid, which also attaches to your body.

$400-500-ish

  • APEX Pro – This is a slick lap timer and data logger with an attractive LED interface that shows how hard you’re driving (it’s some mixture of G-forces and yaw I think). It sends data to your phone. You can review with the data with their phone app or download the data to your Mac/PC and view with Track Attack.
  • Aim Solo – The standard in stand-alone lap GPS timers. Rugged design. The Aim Solo 2 now has a color interface but the original unit is still great. The software looks like it was built for Windows 98, but it works well and most of the bugs have been squashed over the years.
  • Yi 360 VR – The latest thing in cameras are those with dual 360 lenses. They capture everything from a single point of reference. After shooting, you decide which camera angles you want in order to produce a typical HD video. I don’t have one of these and I don’t know which one is best, but I like Yi cameras so I’m listing theirs.

$200-300-ish

  • Rumblestrip DLT1-GPS – It’s just a delta/predictive timer with big red 7 segment LEDs, but it’s also the best thing I ever bought for my car. I feel naked without it
  • Cordless Impact Wrench – Changing wheels at the track is so much faster with an impact wrench. Buy one of the major manufacturing brands so that your batteries interchange with lots of other tools. I’ve got drills, saws, work lights, vacuums, etc. that all power from the same batteries. The tool I use most is the impact.
  • Action Camera – You can learn a lot by watching yourself drive. There are lots of cameras and they keep getting better and cheaper. While GoPro is the standard everyone knows, I’m using Yi cameras for both live streaming and SD recording. In addition to the cameras, you will need a good mounting solution. I use RAM mounts everywhere.
  • Coolshirt – On a really hot day, a coolshirt is a safety item. They are a little over $100. The big ticket item is the cooler. Fortunately you can pick these up used on eBay or Craigslist as cold therapy systems for $50. They both have the same fittings. You just have to figure out how to mount it solidly. I use a lasagna tray and ratchet strap.

$100-ish

  • Joes Racing Pyrometer – The best way to record tire temperatures is with a needle-type pyrometer. The one made by Joes is both inexpensive and robust. It has a convenient 90 degree handle which makes it easier to fit under the wheel well.
  • Bluetooth GPS Receiver – Your phone can be used as a lap timer, but with 1 Hz GPS updates, it’s not accurate enough for comparing telemetry data between runs or between drivers. With a 10 Hz antenna, you’ll get acceptable performance.
  • Dash Cam – Instead of using an action camera, you might consider a dash camera. If used only in your car, you don’t need one with a durable case or big battery. It’s crazy how inexpensive these have become. For insurance purposes, or just to capture the crazy shit people do, you might consider running one all the time in your street car. Some of the high end models have GPS and G-force sensors. Prices vary from $30 to $200 depending on features.
  • iRacing – If you want to learn how to race and stay out of trouble, working your way out of the rookie ranks in iRacing is a valuable experience. Price is normally $12 per month, but with holiday pricing you can subscribe for a whole year for half that. The subscription comes with some great cars and tracks but you’ll probably want to buy a few more.
  • Brake Bias Adjuster – One of the cheapest and most educational performance modifications you can make for your car is to install a prop valve. They don’t cost much but installing could be expensive if you have someone else do it.

Inexpensive

  • rFactor 2 – There’s a lot of people who think rFactor 2 has the most realistic physics. I think it depends on the car. But definitely, the physics are very good.
  • Assetto Corsa – If you want to drive obscure cars on obscure tracks, Assetto Corsa is the best simulator because of all the community created content. It’s also great for everything else.
  • Tire Pressure Gauge – Everyone needs a high quality tire pressure gauge. The simple analog ones from Joes Racing and Longacre are excellent.
  • Wide Angle Mirror – This is a great upgrade for your street or track car. The ones that clamp on top of your standard mirror work amazingly well. If your mirror wobbles too much with the extra weight, a little sugar water will make it stick in place.
  • Gear Bag – I recently started using the Harbor Freight Rolling Tool Bag as my travel bag. It’s so nice having a rolling bag in long airports. Turns out that it fits my helmet and race gear too. The design is more robust than typical luggage and the price is hard to beat.
  • Helmet Hook – Nothing says racecar quite like having a purpose built helmet hook mounted to the roll cage. It’s a bit of a frivolity, but that might make it the perfect little gift.

Books

Check the Library link above for a list of books I’ve reviewed. The following three are highly recommended.

  • Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving  – Basically the textbook from the Skip Barber school. Nuff said
  • Ultimate Speed Secrets – It’s one of the best book on performance driving. I’ve read it cover to cover several times. Get the kindle version so you can read it wherever you are.
  • Optimum Drive – My latest favorite driving book and the best thing you can listen to while driving to work. That’s right, it’s available as an audio book.

3 thoughts on “Holiday shopping guide

    1. Only one? The Solo has a predictive mode, so it can do everything the RumbleStrip does plus log laps. But it doesn’t have big red LEDs. So… I choose the Solo. Logging data gives you something fun and useful to do away from the track.

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      1. Yeah, i was thinking if i had money for both it’d be cool to try and capture additional signals. But, maybe SOLO first…

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