Alive at 25…And Beyond!

Jerome Cobert is an all around a great guy.  Currently, a Berkeley police officer with a cheerful and outgoing personality, he also runs the Northern California branch of Alive at 25.  I interviewed him, and he graciously gave me all the information I could possibly need.  Thanks a lot, Jerome!  Enjoy the interview!

A number of years ago, Jerome was a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy assigned to Sonoma Valley High School.  He knew that there would be enforcement, but he also wanted safety for those of us who were driving ourselves to school, and are younger drivers.   While attending a nationwide conference for cops, and he learned about Alive at 25 through the Colorado State Patrol.  Eventually, Jerome got permission to start the program in Santa Rosa, CA.  Jerome started this amazing program in 2006.

 The purpose of Alive at 25 is to try to change driving behaviors and get younger drivers to be involved in less risky driving behavior.  Ultimately, it will reduce collisions and citations that young people are in.  The class is offered at the Contra Costa Community College or the Los Medanos College.

How can the class/course help me with my driving skills , you ask?  Excellent question. The class helps young drivers to identify and hone their driving skills by having participants examine why they partake in risky driving behaviors and the civil, criminal and emotional repercussions of their actions. The course content includes a review of current traffic laws, problems with driving under the influence of both alcohol and drugs, teaches defensive driving techniques, and has the participants make a commitment to change. This is all accomplished through the use of a wonderfully creative curriculum that includes consumable workbooks, group discussions, videos and case study.

Jerome loves the Alive at 25  

program, and knows it to be crucial in keeping new drivers safe.  Jerome finds the most enjoyable part of teaching the Alive at 25 program is the rewards; seeing students come to the realization on their own that they should reduce their risky driving behaviors and take the task of driving very seriously.   Group discussions are a great way to get to know the students, and he loves the positive feed back that he always get from the students. He has even been approached a number of times in the community from former students who told him how much impact the course had in changing their attitudes to driving.

 Class size varies, with Jerome teaching small private classes of 12 students and helped as many as 31 court ordered students through on time (those are the procrastinators).  Typically  student enrollment hovers at 25 students. A larger class makes for lively group discussions!

Alive at 25 is designed for students ages 15 to 25. I think that it has the most impact when a student has had some driving experience.

A few details in Jerome’s words:  “All of our instructors are current or retired law enforcement officers who bring a lot of credibility with them to the classroom. They have all both enforced traffic laws and reported to serious traffic collisions. These instructors have all attended an intense training course to earn their National Safety Council Certification to teach this course.  I love teaching the Alive at 25 Course and I know that all of my instructors do as well. It is truly a very rewarding experience to know that you may be helping to save the life of a young person. As I said many times, traffic collisions are the number one cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 25. I can’t tell you how great it makes me feel when at the end of the class, students share with me their commitments to changing a driving behavior.

As far as the future, we are hoping to reach more communities with both Alive at 25 and our 8 hour course called Attitudinal Dynamics of Driving. But let’s save that topic for our next interview. Thank you Candler for the opportunity to be interviewed by you and be included in your very impressive blog. Keep up the good work young man.”

No, Jerome, thank you!  It was an honor to interview you about your amazing course, and I hope to conduct another interview soon about Attitudinal Dynamics of Driving.  I learned a lot about Alive at 25, and I am looking forward to seeing Jerome and my faithful readers at least one of the Alive at 25 courses!  Remember, check out Jerome’s beautiful website that will give you all the information you need (not like I didn’t cover everything!) to register, and other things.  Thanks again, Jerome!

Shop Talk

Ron Luongo is a diehard car lover. He is the auto and ROP instructor at a local high school, and has been for many years.  Through our local office of education, he put together a middle-school auto-shop class.  I took it, and had a great time!  At the end of the last class, I asked him if he was willing to be interviewed, and he generously agreed.  Please enjoy another look into careers in the auto industry.

Mr. Luongo was always interested in cars.  He wanted to drive a fast, good-looking car from the very beginning (like me, Mom!).

He started his first job in the automotive industry early on.  When Mr. Luongo was about 19, he worked part-time at a local gas station in Southern California.

 Mr. Luongo has had many jobs in the Service Department of the Automotive field including: Automotive Machinist, Automotive Technician, Service Advisor, Service Drive Manager, Call Center Supervisor, Corporate Service Trainer, Corporate Curriculum Developer, Warranty Clerk, Dispatcher, Technical Consultant, Lube Technician, Tire Salesman/Auto Manager, and Automotive Teacher at high schools, colleges, and technology schools.  He has enjoyed many of them.

Mr. Luongo started teaching young people about automobiles at the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Southern California, way back in 1980.  He enjoyed working with young people, and explaining about cars.  Being an Auto-shop teacher requires oodles of patience and the knowledge that one is working with very young, inexperienced students.  All of which Mr. Luongo has in spades. What  he really likes about being an Auto-shop teacher is working with the students that really want to learn.

There are many careers in the automotive industry for many different types of people.  There are various jobs involving teaching, computers , working with all types of people, talking a lot, writing and reading technical information, art and cars. Being very neat and organized is necessary when working with cars.  If you are drawn to any of the above, than there is at least one automotive job for you.

Mr. Luongo has owned about twenty cars.  His favorite car was a brand-new 1969 Vitamin C Orange Plymouth Roadrunner with the optional four-speed manual and potent 383 cubic V8.  The fastest car that he has ever owned was a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle with a four-speed manual and a built 350 cubic inch engine (which he built up himself!).  If Mr. Luongo could, he would buy a 1969 Vitamin C Orange Plymouth Roadrunner, all original with the 383 and four-speed.  VROOM!  For prospective young (and older…) buyers, Mr. Luongo has some words of wisdom: buy a car you can afford to regularly maintain!

When asked if he liked to work on cars during his off-time, Mr. Luongo said that no, he does not like to, and yes, he HAS already tried out that route.

When it comes to cars being donated to the ROP/auto shop where Mr. Luongo teaches, Mr. Luongo isn’t too picky about what type of cars are donated, they just need to be running…

I would like to give a HUGE thank you to Mr. Luongo for giving me his time and thoughts  about his career and the automotive industry in general.  I would also like to give a big thank you to my editor (named Mom…) for editing this post.  Tune in Friday for an interesting (NOT photoshop) article on two-wheeled Japanese tow trucks!

Ready for An Awesome Interview (I thought so…)?

What’s red and definitely green all over?  Hint: it is not a christmas tree…Well, read on and you’ll find out.

Today, we are interviewing Ellen Setchko-Palmerlee and her dad, John Palmerlee.  They converted a truck from gasoline power to electric power!  How cool is that?!  Over the course of two years (mostly weekends…), they converted the truck.   If you’re wondering what the truck is, it’s a 1985 Toyota 1/2 ton pickup truck.

The truck has lead-acid batteries that give it 15-18 miles of range.  Don’t mash your face up at these words – it’s only a truck!  Since Ellen and John wanted to have range over utility, they took off the bed.  This saved about 300 pounds from the total weight of the truck.  When you look at a truck, you think “that bed can only weigh about 50 pounds…”  Well, think again.  The bed is one of the most important parts of the truck, as it has to carry a ton (literally) of weight a lot.  The bed John and Ellen made has a plywood battery box that holds 900 pounds of batteries.  Behind it, there is a smallish bed that can hold about 1,000 pounds or a 1/2 cubic yard of manure, gravel, or dirt.  Since the truck is electric, it has a good bit of torque generated from a 75 pound forklift motor that has around 115 horsepower and 230 ft-lb of torque.  So, I’ll stop my blabbing and get the show on the road…  Of course, the truck can’t tow that much, as they might tow the trailer all of ten feet!

The Setchko-Palmerlee family has always had a passion to have an eco-friendly Earth, so the truck is a perfect way to help get there.  Plus, Ellen has home schooled (like me!).  The perfect home schooling project…  Working primarily on weekends, Ellen and John worked tirelessly 8 hours a day every Saturday and Sunday, as a father/daughter project. They started in September 2008, and just finished in June 2010!  When I asked them how much it depleted their wallets, I was surprised.  I was thinking it was somewhere around $20,000, but in reality, it was only about $8,500!  So, in theory, I could convert my Baby to electric power by the time I’m 16 (only if Mom and Dad let me!  Hint!).  Plus, they got free lead-acid batteries donated to them by a fellow member of the North Bay Electric Automobile Association who had just installed new lithium-ion batteries.  Here’s a picture of the 900 pounds of batteries that take only 4-8 hours to charge.

To keep the costs down, Ellen and John tried to use materials from around their house.  The materials that they mainly used were: about a 1/2 mile of wire, a couple hundred pounds of plywood, fiberglass, and found materials from around their house (some old metal mirror trim and some steel from a shed John had to tear down a few years ago.).  They also sold unneeded parts from the truck, such as the bed and the engine.  That helped to defray costs.  When I asked Ellen and John how much they think it will cost to annually maintain, their estimate is around $500.  This will include: new tires, replacement parts, lubrication for the 4-speed manual, and other things.

When asked about how the driving experience has changed, Ellen and John said that the truck used to be kind of loud (it blew a head), but now it’s very, very quiet, and sounds like something out of a science fiction movie.  However, there is some jerkiness in first gear that they are trying to fix.  I also asked how hard it was to convert the truck to electric power.  They said that one of the hardest things to do was figure out where to put everything, and how to put it together.

Here, one can admire the plain n’ simple cockpit of the truck.  If you’re wondering what the heck that little thing hanging off the windshield is, it’s a message center that allows them to see how many amps they are drawing, and other helpful things.  Since there is an audio system (which draws a LOT of power), they try not to use it, as they are afraid of the engine stalling when the batteries die.

I asked Ellen and John if they have plans to convert another car in the future, they said they would like to, but it takes a while, isn’t cheap, and it’s hard to find a good insurance company. When I asked them how somebody would go about converting a car to electricity, they came up with a few steps:

  1. Get a car (they said it’s nice if it’s on the light side).
  2. Clean everything before you start converting.
  3. Find batteries and a motor.
  4. Start attaching everything together however you like (as long as it works…)
  5. Install the charger and random parts.
  6. Make sure everything works well (this can prove fatal if done wrong!)
  7. Enjoy the car!

Now, I will list all the places where you can get money to start working on converting a car to electric power. offers a place where you can contact a local shop that does work on electric cars, is the North Bay branch of the Electric Automobile Association, which has a branch for pretty much every region of the U.S. is a good place to find good sources for getting parts and information (as long as you’re a member), and offers something REALLY cool: you can go on, get a membership, and put on the website how much money you need for the electric car.  People will then bid money until the time frame runs out.  If you don’t get the desired amount of money, then all the money goes back to the bidders.  I REALLY like the awesome logo for NBEAA, so I took a snapshot for you…

Oh, and on the first picture, the brown spot is NOT rust!  It’s a cool sticker that says “electric.”   AND if you tune in on Friday, look for a post on a very expensive car crash in Japan involving a Lamborghini Aventador, some Ferrari’s, two Toyota’s, and a Mercedes-Benz CL600!


Life in the Pits (of a Racetrack)

Today we are lucky enough to have an interview with Mace Gjerman.  Mace worked on a pit crew, on and off, for years in the pits of many tracks across North America. A pit crew works on the sidelines of a racetrack maintaining and fixing the race cars.

I don’t want to keep you waiting any longer, so let’s get started!  And all the answers are Mace’s own words!

Mace, when did you start working in the Racing Industry?  I started in high-school, where I volunteered on club cars that my high-school raced.  

How exactly did you start working in the Racing Industry?  One day I rode my bike over to a local racer’s house, and said “do you need help racing?”  He said yes.  

What was your job?  I started waxing, nutting and bolting (nutting and bolting is where you check that every nut and bolt is tight).  A very basic job, but still a job.  Later on, I was in the Pits. 

What team(s) did you work for?  I started working for an ametuer SCCA racer in 1983.  At races, I would go over to the professional teams, and ask if they were willing to have another team member.  One team, Oftdaht Racing accepted and told me “come up to a race in Montreal in four weeks, and you’ll have a new job.”  I also worked for Huffaker Racing, another big company.  

Do you have any memorable experiences from your racing career?  Yeah,  Oftdaht Racing and Huffaker Racing both did the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 12 Hours of Sebring.  Those were some very memorable experiences.  

What tracks did you race at?  Well, let me think…  Well, just about every track except Lime Rock.  He even raced at Infineon Raceway before it became Infineon.

How many people were on your team?  Both Oftdaht Racing and Huffaker Racing had eight people per team.  

What car did you team race?  Well, the first person I worked for in high-school had what I think was a ’73? Mustang Boss 351.  When I worked for Oftdaht Racing, Pontiac sponsored us with Trans Am’s.  With Huffaker Racing, they raced Pontiac Trans Am’s and Fiero’s.  They both were pretty fast cars.  

Who were your team sponsors’?   STP, AC Delto, and my current employer, Petersen Tractors (they sell CAT machinery).  Petersen was the main sponsor.  

Did your team ever get into an accident?  Uh, once in a while. More driver error than anything else.

How often did your team win a race?  Well, there was one year in Trans Am, when, out of fourteen races, our team (Oftdaht Racing) got seven podium finishes.  One of those podium finishes we came in first place.

What did your team compete in:  NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, SCCA, Formula One Rallies, IROC, IZOD, etc.?  My first employer was in the ametuer class of SCCA.  Oftdaht Racing was in Trans Am.  Huffaker Racing was into IMSA (endurance racing), and Trans Am.  

Where were your team(s) based out of?  Well, Oftdaht Racing was based out of Minneapolis.  Huffaker Racing was in Petaluma, CA until shortly after I left my racing career behind.  

How often did races happen?  They were pretty consistent.  In a racing season, races usually happened every two-three weeks.  Races were typically on weekends.  They would start Friday (but we’d usually get there Thursday, and leave on Monday, and end on Sunday.  

What time did you have to be at the track by?  Usually, I’d have to be at the track by 5 am.  

What were your hours?  Usually a fourteen hour shift.  I would be at the track seven days a week from 5 am to 7 pm.  A racing season typically lasts four months, so I’d be at the track seven days a week for fourteen hours, for four months.  And, I didn’t get a day of rest those four months.  

Did you like out job?  Heck, YEAH!  I loved it!  

Do you have any funny stories from your racing career?  Yeah.  I’ll share one of my personal favorites.   It wasn’t funny at the time, though.   So, one weekend, the Canadian Sports Car Club (CSCC)hosted an IMSA race.  To cross over into Canada, all the truck drivers must have a list of everything in their truck and trailer.  For us (Oftdaht Racing), that was almost one million dollars worth of equipment and cars.  Pretty big deal.  So, we get to one of the border crossings at about 3 am.  All the employees are sleeping, so we go and wake them up.  We give them our list.  They look over it, and said “you came to the wrong border crossing.  We’re going to have to detain you until 6 am.”  We told them “we have to be at the track by 6!”  They said “We can’t let you go until we call up the CSCC  and ask them if you are going to the race.  They open up at 4 am”  Our semi driver said “Forget it.  I’m going to the right border crossing.”  He backs out of the border crossing, does a U-Turn, and goes back on the borderline highway and goes through a little farm road.  Finally, the rest of us get through.  But, the semi driver never got his permit to be in Canada.  So, we’re at the track on Sunday.  The mountie’s are coming through, asking for the permits.  They come to us.  We’re working on the cars.  They ask us for the permits.   We show them everything except one permit.  We told them that they have to ask our semi driver.  They go up and ask him.  Of course, he doesn’t have that permit, because he entered illegally.  They tell us to lay down our tools and back away.  We do.  They start putting that “Caution.  Do Not Enter” yellow tape around our cars and tools.  Trust me, when the owner came over to look at the cars, he was in for a nasty surprise.  He almost killed that poor semi driver!  Now, I’m sure that he laughs about it!  It’s a pretty funny story.  

Why did you stop your Racing career?  Well, one reason was that the driver of the car that I was in charge of retired from racing, and offered me a job at Petersen Tractor Company.  I accepted.  I also had gotten married exactly 364 days before that job at Petersen Tractor Company was offered to me.   

When did you stop your Racing career?  You know, I never really stopped officially.  I started and stopped.  Today, I still own a Formula B Ford.  But, when I started that job at Petersen Tractor Company, it was in the early 1990’s.  

Thanks Mace for the interview.  It sounds like a high stress life with a lot of traveling and driving.  But it sure sounds fun.  I can understand why you miss it.  Perhaps you could help me ‘parent’ my baby or at least ‘supercharge’ her!

A Racer’s Life

Jerry in his Winklemann Formula Ford at Bridgehampton.

As John Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.”  I dream of racing cars.  Mom says “no”.  Today I am interviewing Jerry Gladstone (whose mom did not say “no”).  Among other careers, he is a retired race-car driver.

Interviews are a fun way to learn about lives that are different from one’s own.  They educate the reader and show an aspect of life that you might not have known.

Jerry, thank you for kindly agreeing to be interviewed.  I enjoyed hearing about your auto life. Your Winklemann Ford was very cool!

Jerry drove race-cars as a hobby in the amateur class in SCCA.

SCCA stands for Sports Car Club of America. Their goal is to bring car racing to all Americans.  Sounds fun!  Usually people collect cars as a hobby, they usually don’t race.  Jerry does both.  Jerry had fun racing in SCCA.  Today he is a physicist/electrical engineer with a Bachelor’s degree and two graduate degrees. He is married and the father of two adult children.

How did you get interested in racing and cars?

Jerry G:  When I was growing up boys and young men were very interested in cars — it was a car culture generation. (There were no computers or video games to distract us.) My first attendance at a race put the “bug” in my head that I would like to race too, as soon as I could figure out how to get into racing.

What did you compete in; NASCAR, Indy, SCCA, or NHRA?

Jerry G:  I competed in SCCA as an amateur racer. My racing was a “hobby”, I never intended to be a professional.

What car did you drive?

Jerry G: My first race car was a Winklemann Formula Ford. Later I drove a series of Formula B cars including a LeGrand, a Techno and a Brabham. I also had occasion to drive some sports cars including a Lotus, Alfa Romeo and Camaro.

What do you think was your most exciting moment in your racing career?

Jerry G: Believe it or not, my first day in driver’s school provided me with the most “shocking” moment. I could not believe how fast we were going on our slow orientation laps — it was so much faster than what I thought was fast in a street car.

Why did you stop racing and when?

Jerry G: I stopped racing when in 1971 as I could no longer afford to race and I was not good enough to be sponsored. It was also time for me to pursue a career.

How did you get into racing?

Jerry G: After I bought my MG I joined a sports car club. Many of the members were racers and as I made friends I was invited to come along for racing weekends. I was hooked. Joined the SCCA and went to driver’s school.

What tracks did you race at?

Jerry G: Bridgehampton, Lime Rock Park, Thompson, Bryar, Watkins Glen, Virginia International Raceway, Marlboro, Pocono and maybe a few others. If these names do not seem familiar to you it is because they are all on the east coast and many of them are no longer in existence.

What was your funniest experience when you were racing?

Jerry G: People used to laugh at me as I always took a nap between sessions. I took a lot of ribbing about being so relaxed.

Do you have any advice on how to become a race-car driver?

Jerry G: Go to one of the professional race driver’s schools. They were not in existence when I started; they are superior to SCCA schools and the best way to give it a try. Also, truly understand the commitment of time and money to even be an amateur.

What skills do you need to be a race-car driver?

Jerry G: Great eyesight and reflexes, competitiveness. An extraordinary “feel” for cars and machines. Some technical knowledge in either setting up a car or being able to communicate with your “mechanic/engineer”.

What did you do after racing?

Jerry G: Racing was only a hobby, I went on to pursue my career in technology — I am an applied physicist/electrical engineer with a Bachelors and two graduate degrees.  

What was your first street car?

Jerry G: My first street car was a black 1962 MGA Mark II.

You said that you  currently drive a Porsche 911.  What generation is it?

Jerry G: My Porsche — my fifth — is commonly referred to as a 911, also a Carrera. Technically it is a Type 993 — the last incarnation of the air-cooled cars.

Jerry is an officer in the local Porsche club.  Many of the tracks that he raced at are no longer in use or in existence.  Some of the tracks that Jerry raced at are the hardest and best-known in the country: Virginia International Raceway, Watkins Glen and Lime Rock Park.  I have plans to write a post on Virginia International Raceway and Richmond Speedway. 

Thanks again Jerry for being my first interviewee!!