A Slow Karter Goes Full Throttle

Full disclosure: I like racing. But going fast in a car? Not so much.

My 14-year-old son calls me Mr. Slow. So the day he came home with the fastest lap from a birthday party held at a go-kart track, the challenge was clear. Mr. Slow needs to quit putt-putt-puttering around and pick up the pace. Luckily, Joe O’Gorman offers a solution. 

The 1986 communication arts graduate is a racing enthusiast, self-confessed “serial opportunist” and the owner of Full Throttle Indoor Karting, an indoor racetrack designed to satisfy those with the racing bug and a need for speed. 

But abandon all preconceptions of a mom-and-pop roadside kart track. Full Throttle proclaims itself as “Go Kart Racing Like You’ve Never Experienced.” Built in a 50,000-square-foot structure originally designed as a candy factory, it now satisfies an insatiable speed tooth. Or, as O’Gorman tells me, “We have everything you need. Just arrive and race.”

Watch as author Michael Shaw takes a lap around the track. Slowly.

[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu7Voogovo4&feature=youtu.be”]speedishracer[/lightbox]

And while 95 percent of customers just show up for fun, many professional drivers now get their start behind the wheel of a kart. “Sam Hornish Jr. was up at the Kentucky Speedway for a charity event. NASCAR invited a lot of the press here to run a challenge against Sam. He was pretty quick.”

So who gets behind the wheel? Birthday parties, leagues, aspiring Formula 1 drivers, boy’s-night-outers, even just someone just walking in off the street. “Our customers run from someone who has never done it before, casual customers who love go-karting, to semi-pro and pro drivers.”

The expertly designed, 14-corner track can accommodate all the skill you can muster behind the wheel. The karts can also be remote-controlled by a transponder, so if you’re naughty and get black flagged—racing lingo for disqualified—someone will flip the switch and literally park you. There are three flag stands located throughout the course that allow employees to get to customers quickly, usually to turn a kart around after a spin or perform a tire-wall extraction.

O’Gorman offers me a little rookie advice: “Passing usually doesn’t happen through the straightaway. At the narrowest it’s just over16 feet and it’s possible to go three-wide at any point.”

FullThrottleMemEmailThe secret to speed? Being smooth and finding “the fast line.” I’m informed that the fast line is not always obvious to a beginner but becomes apparent after a few sessions. Plus my propensity for slowness comes from a sense of self-preservation, which is not usually a bad thing, except for a racer. But these karts are fast, small, precise and designed to be driven full-out. The 270cc Honda engines can hit 40 mph.

Up to 10 karts can race at a time making for a pretty full field. And it doesn’t take long to get lapped—or at least it didn’t for me. Basically, the driving technique lives up to the name “full throttle,” with only three or four turns where braking is needed (and even then only optional). “Make sure you get some heat into your tires. And have fun.”

So that’s what I’m doing. Zipped into my racing suit, helmet strapped, gripping the wheel at two and 10, Mr. Slow takes off. As far as my lap time? Hey, what’s a fast time really matter when you’re having a good time?

Check out the Full Throttle website

Documenting Discoveries

“Go west, young man.” That hoary bit of wisdom still stands up, especially for Connor Lynch, a New York-based videographer.

In fact, he went about as west as he could, filming the documentary Mount Lawrence, the story of Chandler Wild’s 6,500-mile bicycle ride from New York to Alaska.

Luckily, Lynch liked to ride a bike almost as much as make a film. “I discovered a love of biking in the city,” he says. “Ride to survive.” 

A cross-country tour, however, isn’t quite the same as a dash to Starbucks, especially for Lynch, a 2009 communication arts gradute, who wasn’t your stereotypical cyclist. At the start of the journey, he weighed 300 pounds, used to be a pack-a-day smoker, never slept in a tent and only took up bike riding a year earlier to impress a woman. The beginning of the tour, he admits, was rough. 

“The first 10 minutes of the documentary you can hear me wheezing, but it slowly dissipates over time.” He shed about 20 pounds  despite fueling up on a steady diet of classic American road food. His tip for roadtrip dining: “There’s no such thing as a bad patty melt.”

But this is one Xavier grad always up for a challenge and a fresh opportunity. And like a true documentarian, his  longest journey began as a blog: “This trip will change my body in ways that I can’t imagine. My eyes, my mind, the way that I walk through the world will also change and grow, and that’s going to change the way I point a camera at it.” 

When Lynch and Wild hit the road, it was just the two of them. All the gear, on trailers, hitched to the bikes. Lynch filmed as he pedaled from a digital camera mounted on his handlebars. He blogged and posted updates throughout the five-month trip, and even made another great discovery. While en route in Pennsylvania, he came across a beautiful old drive-in theater. 

“The owner came out and talked to us. He took me the projection booth and showed me these old, beautiful 35mm projectors that have been in use since the 1950s.” 

Thus, in the midst of filming one documentary he found his next documentary, Changeover, the story of an independent drive-in and its final screening on a 35mm film print.

Watch the trailer for Mount Lawrence
Watch Changeover

Lynch sums up his recent experience perfectly in his final Mount Lawrence blog post: “For now my bicycling adventure is done…13 states, 40 popped tires, 400 hours of footage, three pairs of sunglasses and one really strange lower back tan… So with open eyes, and a thankful heart, on to the next adventure.”

A Life (in Pictures)

Ben Nunery made a promise. 

His wife, Ali, was slowly dying of sarcomatoid carcinoma, a rare form of lung cancer. 

portrait_bwPromise me,” she said, “that you will never let Olivia forget me.”

He promised.

In the two years after he made the promise, a lot changed. The cancer drained the life from Ali, a 2002 Xavier graduate. Olivia, their daughter, grew into an energetic 3-year-old. And the home they bought together, fixed up and started their family in, was now sold and about to become a memory.

Now, as Ben sits in his car in the driveway for the last time, he finally begins to feel at peace. He knows how he will keep his promise.

Ali’s younger sister, Melanie Pace, joins him. A professional photographer, Pace used the house as a backdrop for their wedding photos four years earlier. She wanted the photos to have a personal touch, so she staged the couple in various places throughout the home—on the stairs, behind the pocket doors, in front of the living room window. The gleaming yellow wood of the floors, the freshly painted cream-colored walls, the lone chandelier were perfect backdrops for her camera lens.

Ben’s idea: recreate some of the original photos. “I knew I wanted to do something in the house to serve as bookends of me and Ali living there,” he says.

Pace places Ben and Olivia in some of the same spots as the wedding photos. Olivia is in a pink-flowered dress, white tights and pink patent leather shoes. Ali would approve.

The two play on the stairs, stand by the pocket doors and pose in front of the window, just like he and Ali. Olivia grabs her mother’s curling iron and pretends to curl her hair with it. Then she finds the angel, a glass statuette she calls “Mommy.” She and her dad talk to Mommy every day, as a way to help Olivia remember. Pace catches a couple shots of Olivia clutching the statue, gazing at it.

It’s all innocent, just intended to be a family memory and fulfill a promise. But it turns out to be a whole lot more.

On Dec. 9, Pace posts the photos on her business website, loft3photography.com. She pulls up one of the original wedding photos to compare and immediately sees how powerful they are. She pulls up more and posts them side-by-side. When Nunery sees them, he is blown away.

“It took my breath away,” he says. “I knew it would get a lot of attention because so many people were following our story.”

Not only does it get a lot of attention, it goes viral. Pace’s blog ends up getting 12 million hits in one day, crashing 600 other sites located on her hosting company’s server. It’s the “Today Show’s” “most social story of the year,” with 5 million page views and more than 300,000 likes. Thousands of other sites around the world pick up the photos. A German company sends a crew to do an interview. Even the Weather Channel is on board.

See Pace’s original blog post (with a reflection by Ben)
View a timeline on how the story went viral
See Pace’s blog showing a compilation of the websites that picked up the story.

See new photos of Ben and Olivia

The story has clearly pulled a heartstring. Pace says it’s because people yearn to see how others can “keep living gracefully after a devastating loss.”

“I thought I understood that Ali served her purpose in her 31 years,” Pace says. “But now I see that this is her purpose, reaching out to the entire world and giving out as much from the heart, and that surely there is new hope.”

Nunery received messages on his own blog from hundreds of widows and widowers who were inspired by the photos and found hope in them.

“It’s a very lonely thing to be widowed,” he says. “But now a lot of people have asked for advice from me. All I have is my story and that’s the value—the sharing of my story.”

And a promise fulfilled.

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xavier signTHE X FACTOR

Ali Nunery became best friends with a group of women from Brockman  Hall her freshman year. They were always together at Xavier—get one of us and you get all of us, they liked to say—and stayed best friends after graduating, even getting together for monthly “Thirsty Thursday” gatherings. Read how the friends struggled through Ali’s illness and dealt with her death.

 

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