Category Archives: AutoTips and Such

Boot it with Cookie

Dani Ben-Ari

The Driving Range

Louise Cook, aka “Cookie,” is actively seeking sponsors as she returns to the road for her World Rally Championship home event, the WRC Wales Rally GB, one of Britain’s largest sporting events. The event kicks off on October 3rd. In doing so, her team is offering supporters a special “Boot It” package giving businesses the chance to benefit from a combination of Rally Car Branding, Social Media content and eye-catching Action Shots from the whole event for £500 ($625.30)+VAT. Meanwhile, “petrol heads,” are being offered the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a rally car on a gravel forest stage for an additional £500+VAT with the Boot It 2 package.

Born May 14, 1987, Louise Cook began her official British rally driver career in the 2006 Rockingham Stages, piloting a Prugeot 205 alongside co-driver Stefan Davis. The youngest driver in the race, Cookie ended up with a rank of 51 out of 105 competitors. Although she later claimed the British Rally Championship Ladies’ title in 2010 and 2011, and became the first woman to win the FIA Production Car Cup for Drivers of 2WD in 2012.

Her subsequent career, however, has suffered several setbacks due to serious health problems including a broken collarbone, which forced her to withdraw from the season-ending Rally Catlunya. Then, just days before she was scheduled to compete in the 2015 Rally d’Italia, she suffered post-surgical problems preventing blood flow from an artery. Consequently, she was rushed to the hospital, unable to compete. Even so, her results throughout the season earned her the title of being the first woman to clinch a WRC title with the FIA Production Car Cup for Drivers of 2WD.

Cook’s greatest setback however, has been financial: Raising the money to compete. In 2017, she was forced to sell several of her trophies on E-bay to cover fees for WRC-3 season that year. Unfortunately, she was still unable to come up with the funding to take part in the fourth round of the season, despite being listed for the Tour de Corse. Yet, thanks to another bout of crowd-funding, Louise was able to drive Team Floral’s Ford Fiesta R2T for the Deutschland in 2018, placing third place, out of four. She then followed the race with a ninth-place finish in the season’s next round, rally Turkey.

If you’re interested in supporting Cookie continue her quest for success on the British World Rally Championship Round, you can donate to the cause by contacting her directly at

Lexus LC (9260A) 500 Coupe

Introduced in 2018, the LC 500 although not officially a replacement for the SC 430, took a while to appear. Teasing with flashes of the RC coupes, the RC takes on a lot of high-end competitors; namely, Mercedes-Benz SL, BMW 6-Series. Minor updates have been made for 2019, the result is a beautiful iteration of a handsome sports car. Why, there is even room for four-although rear-seating is tight and reserved for those who are small, or under the age of ten. If one does nothing else but gaze at this piece of auto excellence, it sure adds class to any driveway.

Maneuvering Lexus’ 5.0-liter V8 engine is no small task.  Effortless might describe it, but it can be daunting. This writer put the petal to the metal when turning a corner (so passengers could feel what this is all about), not realizing an officer was headed the other direction, keeping an eye on me. Perhaps he was surprised to see a woman behind the wheel! With horsepower of 471, this car is decent and refined, shall we say?  As with all Lexus products, the LC has impeccable manners. Ride quality is as expected from Lexus, the adjustable suspension provides a good between a comfortable coupe ride and sportiness.  The interior is high-quality, the seating in top-of-the-line leather and simulated suede.

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Lexus’ infotainment system is clumsy and awkward. The touchpad interface is frustrating, and we just gave up when trying to find a decent channel. Lexus took aim at improving it by adding Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility, for those accustomed to operating them. The central display is 10-3-inches, including two USB ports, nav system and 12-speaker audio system with satellite radio. Dynamic voice control and in-car WI-FI are also standard. For safety, a forward collision warning with automatic braking and lane departure warning and intervention are standard equipment. A 12-speaker Premium audio system is standard. Would you expect less?

Available in only one trim level, the LC 500 is available in Hybrid, and offers a longlist of standard equipment. Our test LC came with a few options (listed below), bringing the final price to just under $97,000. For those who must have it all, Lexus offers several packages and stand-alone options.  Rear drive and a 10-speed automatic transmission make this a dream to drive. Steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles are also standard. Beginning this year, Lexus reprogrammed the shift logic of the transmission to offer a smoother driving feel.

Also standard are the 20-inch wheels, adjustable suspension, LED exterior lights, heated and auto-dimming mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, auto high-beam control, ambient interior lighting, power-adjustable tile-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise, heated and ventilated power-adjustable front seats with driver-seat memory. This coupe is all luxury.

For those drivers navigating chillier temps, you may want to opt for the All-Weather package which includes heated steering wheel and windshield de-icer. And if you must, you can add the Convenience package with front/rear parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. A Touring package is also available and includes simulated suede headliner, upgraded leather upholstery and Mark Levinson audio.

We would have liked to have a tad more time in the LC, but at the same time, found it a little intimidating taking it anywhere. We got a kickout of starting it up. As with all sports cars, whichever is your favorite, you crave that throaty engine and exhaust tune. You can count on precise steering, handling and braking in the LC. Tuned more for comfort, Lexus didn’t scrimp on performance. Much like my Corvette, the LC is a fine cruising car. In fact, it may perform best out on the highway. Around town driving is also pleasurable as the LC’s suspension is excellent and absorbs all matter of road problems.

What may be a challenge for those in their upper years is navigating the in/out of the low seating. Also, the doors, as with most couples are very heavy and a bit awkward. The high doorsill is high so carefully turning one’s body and stepping out is indicated. The steering wheel swings away, which is another thoughtful help. But those are the prices you pay for a sporty coupe.

Visibility in the LC 500 is good, surprisingly, even with a swooping back window. And interior room is comfortable with two adults sitting up front.


MSRP: $92,200; total vehicle price $95,915; delivery $1,025

Engine: 5.0-liter, V8 DOHC 32 valve, Dual  VVT-1 Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence, 471 HP., 398 lb.ft.torque

Transmission: 10-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic

Wheelbase: 113 in.

Length: 187.4 in.

Width: 75.6 in.

Height: 53 in.

0-60: 4.4 seconds

Top speed: 168 mph

Models: Hybrid 500h ($96,810); 500 Inspiration Series ($105,615)

EPA MPG: 16/25

Tank: 21.7 gal.

Seating: 4

Options: Convenience Package: Intuitive Park Assist ($1,000) and Head-up Display ($900); Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio System ($1,220); Premium Paint ($595).

Years: 2018,2019, 2020


2020 Kia Soul X-Line

Always a pleasure, the Kia Soul is a favorite. We have three in the family, one 2020 just purchased. This car just keeps getting better and better. The extended wheelbase adds to a smoother, more even ride. The Soul is quieter, more than accommodating and a pleasure to motor around. In a very crowded field, the Soul easily stands out and has since its inception. The competition includes the likes of the Fiat 500x, Ford EcoSport, Nissan Kicks, Toyota C-HR, Hyundai Kona and Jeep Renegade. We can’t imagine the Soul’s styling ever getting old.

More defined for 2020, the Soul is a tad edgier with sharper light fixtures, a grille that stands out and bigger and brighter “boomerang” taillights. Our test Soul was the x-line model, making it seems a bit more ‘rugged.’ Added are plastic fenders, additional cladding up front, silver accents and trim-exclusive 18-inch wheels. Feeling a little off-road, the 2020 Soul x-line adds new trim, rather than anything functional. Although there has been talk of adding all-wheel-drive to the Soul’s lineup, it hasn’t happened yet.

Matching the Soul’s exterior changes are some inside the car, including a silver trim panel on the front door. Triangular air vents are up-to-date, and the cloth seats are attractive, sturdy and two-tone black and grey texture.

The standard engine produces 147 horsepower which seems adequate for a car of this size. One can opt for the turbocharged engine of the GT-Line. Horsepower is increased to 201 hp. And torque at 195 lb.ft. The 2020 Soul LX trim level offers optional 6-speed manual, the EX trim gives you 17-inch wheels and the GT-Line, and GT-Line Turbo have the 18-inch wheels.

The standard engine in the 2020 Kia Soul provides 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, while the available turbocharged engine of the GT-Line adds some desired omph. Turbo trim increases horsepower to 201 and torque to 195 lb-ft.  The 2020 Soul LX trim has the option of a 6-Speed manual transmission or an Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT) while all the other trim levels equipped with the standard 2.0L Inline 4-Cylinder engine work solely with the IVT.  The turbocharged engine option pairs with a 7-Speed Dual Clutch transmission for optimal fuel economy specs.

All trim levels of the 2020 Kia Soul have auto on/ off headlights and the top trim level gets loaded with LED headlights, LED taillights, LED positioning lights, and the EX and GT-Line Turbo trims have heated outside mirrors as well.  The LX and S trim levels have 16” wheels while the EX trim level has 17” wheels and the GT-Line, X-Line, and GT-Line Turbo have trim specific 18” wheels.

The interior has been somewhat updated and provides a 7-inch color touchscreen display (10.25 inch in top two trim levels). All offer Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity; the GT-Line Turbo trim adds Harman Kardon audio with subwoofer.  Wireless charging capability is offered on the GT-Line Turbo and EX trim, as well as automatic climate control, smart key with pushbutton start/stop and dual level cargo board for added cargo space.

As expected in today’s automobiles, safety equipment abounds, including dual front advanced airbags and seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, ABS with Brake Assist, Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control, Vehicle Stability Management, hill-start assist and tire-pressure monitoring. Auto on/of headlights are always helpful, a roof rack is standard for tose needing extra cargo carrying options. Power windows, A/C, AM/FM/MP3 , remote keyless entry, cruise, tilt/telescopic steering column and center console all standard.

Our test Kia came equipped with the X-Line package which includes Blind Spot Collision Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Collision Warning, Lane Change Assist, X-Line Exterior Body Cladding, Front Fog Lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, Roof Trim and leather wrapped steering wheel/shift knob, at no charge.

One can’t miss with this little gem of a Kia product. From it’s distinctive styling, to pricing, to clever and comical advertising since 2010, the Soul is our favorite pick of all the available hatch’s on the market today.


MSRP: $21,490; total vehicle price $22,615 X-line features included

Engine: 4-cylinder, 16-valve, 2.0-liter, multi-point fuel injection, 118 lb. ft. torque, 130 hp

Transmission: 6-speed automatic,CVT, FWD

Wheelbase: 101.2 in.

Height: 63.5 in.

Width: 70.9 in.

Length: 163 in.

Tires: 235.45/r18

Wheels: 16-inch Steel wheels (standard)

Weight: 2,942 lbs.

Tank Capacity: 14.2 gal.

Warranty: 5 yr/60,000-mile limited basic warranty; 5 yr/60,000-mile Roadside Assistance, 10 yr/100,000-miles limited powertrain

Trim levels: 1.6-L, 6 M/T ($16,490); 1.6L, 6 A/T (18,190); 2.0L+6 A/T ($20,490); 1.6T! 7 DCT ($22.990); EV ($33,950); EV+ ($35,950);

2019 Mazda3 Hatchback, w/Premium Package

There seem to be plenty of hatchbacks on the road these days; always a handy combination of pizzazz, spunk and space.

Included are the likes of Chevy Sonic, Chevy Cruze Hatch, Ford Focus, VW Golf GTI (a favorite), Hyundai Veloster, Kia Forte5, Buick Regal Sportback, Audi A3 Sportback 3-tron, Honda Fit, and BMW3, to name a few. Pricing varies as does the image one wants to portray. Our hatchback from the fleet was the 2019 Mazda3, with the Premium Package in the Polymetal Gray Mica with red interior. A different kind of gray, the Polymetal stands out, making its own statement rather than blending in with today’s popular gray and silver paints.

For the most part, we enjoyed driving the Mazda3 hatchback, except when first attempting to go somewhere. We found it necessary to pull out the manual to figure out how to undo the automatic parking brake: Start car…buckle seatbelt…put car in gear and tap accelerator. Doesn’t seem that hard, but it was frustrating. Not all vehicles today automatically throw on the parking brake. The need for it, we’re not just sure, unless you’re parking on a hill.

The other irritating feature was the sound system, operated from the center console (Multi-functional Commander Control), much like Lexus’ system. There were two preset stations (one religious, the other Far Right talk radio: neither one to our liking) we couldn’t get beyond. Never did I figure out how to find other available stations, how to set them or even find something else to listen to. I’m sure it’s much simpler than assumed, but I lost the patience needed, apparently, to get it right.

Somewhat modest, yet comfortable, the Mazda3 interior is small, but accommodating for 4-5. Not much legroom between the rear seats and the front seats for long-legged passengers. The remaining cargo space, with rear seats up, is limited. Nothing about the dash or interior of the Mazda3 stands out. Simple and functional, but nothing worth noting. Standard equipment is as usual including A/C, alloy wheels, AM/FM/Radio Bose (12 speakers), automatic headlights, cargo area light, cruise, daytime running lights, driver/front passenger climate controls, electric steering, interval wipers (we liked this), leather steering wheels, power adjustable exterior mirror, power door locks, power windows, rear window defogger, rear wiper, remote lock, speed sensing locks, steering mounted controls, telescoping steering tilt steering and tire inflation/pressure monitor. Front seats were heated, and sound system includes the Bose 12-speaker and 8.8 inch color display screen.

Options on our test Mazda3 hatchback included cargo mat ($90), floor mats, all-weather ($125), illuminated door sill trim plates ($425), frameless auto-dim mirror ($275), navigation so card ($450), and the Premium Package, including Active Driving Display (windshield), Adaptive front Lighting System, leather seats, black finish alloy wheels, front LED signature illumination, Rear LED Signature Illumination, Power sliding glass moonroof, and paddle shifters. Safety features include anti-theft engine immobilizer, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, rearview backup mirror, advanced smart city brake support. Dynamic Stability Control, Traction Control, Driver Attention Alert, ABS w/brake assist, front-side impact airbags, Advanced Dual front airbags, side impact and front/rear airbags, along with Lane Departure Warning System and Lane Keep Assist. We had to get used to the Smart Brake Support which let us know with a chime that both brake pedal and accelerator pedal were being applied simultaneously.

Mazda suffered an unexpected fall in sales of its core Mazda3 compact sedans and hatchback. Due to a remodel of their cars and revamped engines aiming to compete with premium European brands like BMW. However, the price increases that accompanied the changes backfired as U.S. drivers continue to prefer SUV’s and larger vehicles.

The Mazda3 is a fun car to drive and agile around turns. Rated by Popular Mechanics to be one of the best Hatch’s on the road, the Mazda hatch’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 186 horse is spunky and enough for the size and weight of the hatchback. Don’t expect to be overpowered. It’s peppy and might be able to compete with the VW GTI. What you will get though, is the Mazda promise of traditional “fun,” even if the price tag is a tad higher than choices like Kia Soul, Chevy Sonic, etc.



MSRP: $28,900; total vehicle price $31,460, delivery $920, total $31,460, 5 seats

Engine: 2.5-liter, DOHC 4-cylinder, 186 hp, 186 lb. ft. torque.

Transmission: 6-speed automatic, FWD

Tires: 215/45/R18

Wheels: 18-inch alloy

EPA Fuel Economy: 24/32 mpg., up to 26/35

EPA fuel tank capacity: 13.2 gal.

Wheelbase:107.3 in.

Height: 56.70 in.

Width: 70.70 in.

Length: 175.60 in.

Weight: 3,082 lbs.

Cargo volume: 20, 1 cu.ft.

Trimlevels: AT4-door, SKYACTIV ($21,000), Select AT4-dr. SKYACTIV ($22,600), Select AT 4-Door SKYACTIV AWD ($24,000), Preferred AT 4-Door, SKYACTIV ($24,200),2.5 AT 5-Door SKYACTIV AWD ($25,000), Preferred 2.5 AT 5-Door SKYACTIV ($25,200), Preferred AT 4-Door SKYACTIVE AWD ($25,600), Premium AT 4-Door SKYACTIV ($26,500), Preferred 2.5 AT 5-Door SKYACTIV AWD ($26,600), Premium AT 5-Door, SKYACTIV ($27,500), Premium MT 5-Door SKYACTIV ($27,500), Premium AT 4-Door SKYACTIV AWD ($27,900), Premium 2.5 AT 5-Door SKYACTIV AWD ($28,900).

Warranty: 60 mth/60,000-mile powertrain, 36 mth/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, 24-hour roadside assisstance

Editorial,Susan Frissell, Publisher

What was once very much a ‘rite of passage,’ obtaining a driver’s license was first on the list of most of my friends when we turned 16. Perhaps not so in other cultures, but very much so in American culture.  What was once so exciting, has become a nerve-wracking event for teens and parents alike. Motor-vehicle accidents continue to be the leading cause of death among drivers aged 16-19. This age group is also the group with the highest risk of crashes.

Hand in hand with this fact are the financial implications. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016 15- to 19-year-olds made up only 6.5% percent of the population. Yet, they were responsible for 8.4% percent of all costs resulting from motor-vehicle injuries. This percent does not include the costs of auto maintenance, insurance premiums, possible traffic citations and other vehicular incidents, big expenses that can increase over time.

To work on this reality, WalletHub analyzed the teen-driving environment in all 50 states using a collection of 23 key metrics. The data includes ranges from number of teen driver fatalities to average cost of car repairs to presence of impaired-driving laws.

Although teens are responsible for their own driving consequences, much of the emotional and financial burden goes to the parents. In those areas, the study determined, it is up to lawmakers to implement programs and policies to reduce the numbers of accidents, fatalities.  a panel of experts were asked to share their thoughts on the following key questions:

  1. What tips do you have for parents of teen drivers?
  2. What is the biggest risk that teen drivers face?
  3. What tips do you have for minimizing the costs (insurance, etc.) associated with having a teen driver in the household?
  4. Should we increase the age at which an individual is eligible for a license to 18?
  5. What should policymakers do to increase the safety of teen drivers?

Among some of the findings of the WalletHub study were states with the most teen DUI’s: Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota and South. The states with the fewest DUI’s included Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. And those with the highest number of teen fatalities included South Dakota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Alabama and Wyoming.

Those states providing the best teen driver’s graduated driver-licensing program laws include Delaware and New York. Those states with the worst programs were Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming.

Formula E Championship Shayk’n and stirred during Season Finale in Brooklyn

The Driving Range….Dani Ben-Ari

Bradley Cooper’s ex, Russian supermodel Irina Shayk certainly got motors racing  when she showed up for the ABB FIA Formula E season finale at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook Sunday July 14th. In fact, drivers and fans alike found her electrifying as she posed along side several drivers, as well as Formula E Founder and Chief Executive Officer Alejandro Agag after the pair took a spin together in a BMW i8 safety car.

“Driving the car with Alejandro was so exciting. It’s amazing to see how far Formula E has come in the 4 years since I was at the race in Los Angeles. The positive message Formula E brings regarding sustainability and renewable energy is commendable and I’m honored to be here for the final race of the season,” commented Irina .

While Shayk cheered on Nissan e-dams’ driver Sebatien Buemi, who won the first half of the double-header event on Saturday, and Robin Frijins of Envision Virgin Racing who captured the checkered flag on Sunday, neither driver was able to prevent last year’s Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne of the TECHEETAH team from taking his the championship title in the ABBA Formula Series for the second consecutive year. Vergne won the series thanks to the sport’s complicated points system.

Keeping Score

In addition to using the standard FIA 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1, three points are awarded to the driver who captures the pole position. Meanwhile the driver who sets the fastest lap (provided they finish in the top ten) receives another point. A driver’s end of season total comprised his best results.

Meanwhile, each of the 11 competing teams’ total is calculated by combining the scores for their two drivers throughout the season. As the this year’s finale, five teams still had a shot at winning the season’s two-day finale set on a temporary track along Brooklyn’s waterfront Races are run on temporary tracks from 1.2-2.1 miles long set up in cities around the world beginning the season at the Ad Diriyah Grand E-Prix in Saudi Arabia and continuing on in Santiago, Chile; Mexico City; Hong Kong; Rome; Seoul, Paris, Berlin, London; Los Angeles; and New York. An additional site is set to be announced for China for the 2019-2020 calendar year.

Each event commences with two practice sessions in the morning, an opening 45-minute session followed by a further 30-minute session. Qualifying sessions (lasting a total of one hour) are held later in the day. During that time, the racers are split into four groups of five or six, with each group having six minutes to set their best lap. Full power of 250 kW is available throughout. Since the second season, the six fastest drivers then go out again, one-by-one, in the Super Pole shoot-out to determine the top six grid positions.

Note: Founded in 2011, Formula E, is the first major battery-electric motor sports series. Formula E is similar to Formula 1. However, while E–race cars may appear to look like their Formula 1 counterparts they do not have their speed or endurance. Each team designs and builds its own drivetrain all Formula E cars which are now powered by an 800 lb electric battery capable of going from 0-60 in 2.6 seconds, but only have a top speed of 175 mph. Races, themselves, last only 45 minutes plus one lap.

NASCAR Driver McKenna Hasse Sprints to Become America Ninja Warrior

Dani Ben-Ari

Twenty-two year-old Sprint Car racer McKenna Haase recently switched lanes competing on America Ninja Warrior during city tryouts in Tacoma, Washington in May (seen on TV June 24). Although she had been training as a Ninja for more than two years, the rookie was only able to make it to the third obstacle before crashing into the water.

“All of a sudden, I was trying to hit the mat and I just had a bad dismount. It was really, really upsetting because it’s something if I had just taken my time, I could have easily done it,” Haase said during an after event interview.

In fact, Mckenna’s family nickname is “Monkey” due to her incessant love for climbing on rocks, jungle gyms and other daredevil stunts, according to relatives.

While making it through the course and hitting the buzzer would have been a dream come true, Haase stated that one of the main reasons she decided to become a Ninja Warrior was to improve her driving skills on the track, by helping her develop full body strength. In turn, she feels that her training as a driver also helped prepare her for the physical and mental rigors of the games. Not only does driving race cars at top speeds require a lot of upper body, as well as core and neck strength to steer the cars, it also involves a great deal of cardio exercise to keep them under control.

Keeping things under control on the trace track is something McKenna Hasse has been learning to do well, ever since a chance encounter with Kasey Kahne at a shopping mall inspired her to begin racing on the dirt and then Go-Karting st the age of 13. Today the Des Moines, Iowa native is now a 360 division racer, who also operates her own team, Team Haase Racing (THR) LLC , as well as runs Compass Racing Development LLC mentoring kids on how to become race car drivers, managing safety gear, and how to obtain sponsors.

Her own sponsors presently encompass a wide variety of businesses including: MidAmerican Energy, Wyckoff Heating & Cooling, Wreckamended Collision Center, Iowa Select Farms, Casey’s General Stores, Hooker Harness, Larry Huff, Klug Insurance Services, Eagle Motorsports Inc, Pro-Line Building Co., Bell Helmets, Nice Curbs & Concrete, Lamo Footwear, My Race Pass, Champion Signs, Trixies Salon, Drain Tech Plumbing, Des Moines Industrial Products, Tom and Terry Wilson, MPI Steering, Essentia Water, Bubbl’r Water, Auto-Jet Muffler Corporation, Vinyl Cup Records, Shade Tree Auto, Gabus Automotive Group, Delta Dental of Iowa, K&C Drywall, and Lutheran Church of Hope.

While becoming the first and only female feature winner at Knoxville Raceway in over 100 years (2 times) is currently the highlight of McKenna’s racing career to date, other 360 Sprint achievements over the past seversal years include: 2 Sprint Invaders trophy dash wins; Breaking the Knoxville 18-lap track record ; Becoming Knoxville Nationals B-Main Qualifier, and being named Junior Fan Club Driver of the Year. Before that she won 3 heat wins as a 2017 Rookie; 1 quick time w/ASCS National Tour Knoxville Nationals B-Main Qualifier; Junior Fan Club Driver of the Year (3 years in a row) in 2017-2018. In 2016 McKenna earned 1 quick time; as well as 6 podiums; 10 top fives; 13 top tens and 4 heat wins in 305 Sprints at Knoxville Raceway.

Note: While McKenna is the first female race car driver to compete on America Ninja Warrior, she is not the first to NASCAR driver to try and race for the buzzer. Previous contestants during past seasons have included Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ben Kennedy, while Indy drivers have included Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden. Meanwhile, it should be mentioned that American Ninja Warrior co- hosts Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila acted as joint-grand marshals of this year’s 103rd  Indianapolis 500.

Brenda Jackson: 1954-2019

JR Motorsports has announced the passing of Earnhardt family matriarch Brenda Jackson at the age of 65, on April 22, 2019, following a hard fought battle with cancer.

Brenda was literally born into racing as the daughter of legendary NASCAR fabricator Robert Gee, who constructed winning cars for many celebrated drivers, including Dale Earnhardt, who she married in 1972. The pair had two children, Dale Jr., and Kelley, before splitting up over the pressure of his trying to establish his professional career.

After a house fire destroyed their home, Brenda took the kids back to her home state of Virginia to live with her father and begin a new life. She eventually married Norfolk firefighter Willie Jackson, in 1985. The family then moved back to North Carolina when Willie retired in 2004, and Brenda soon began working with Kelley and Dale Jr. at JR Motorsports as an accounting specialist,  for the next 15 years.

According to a company spokesman, “Jackson became an ‘instant favorite to her friends and colleagues at JR Motorsports, and her sarcastic musings and straightforward approach injected a brand of humor at became part of its fabric as it grew into a full-time NASCAR racing operation in 2006 and a championship-winning team in 2014.”

“I am a very, very lucky woman, as I get to interact with my kids almost every day,” she commented in 2018. “I’ve got two bright, beautiful kids that I am very proud of. Kelley’s standards are very high. She conducts herself that way and she expects that of everyone else. Dale Jr. just gets bigger and bigger. I am very proud of his accomplishments, but as a mother I am proudest of the way he handles himself with honesty and the way he cares about his family and his friends.”

She was also a staunch supporter of her son’s decision to retire from full-time racing due to his own health struggles caused by multiple concussions, and devoted much of her energy working with The Dale Jr. Foundation and other charitable efforts.

In addition to her children Dale Earnhardt Jr. (wife Amy), Kelley Earnhardt Miller (husband L.W.), Brenda Jackson is survived by her husband of 33 years, William M. Jackson Jr., step-daughter Meredith Davis (husband Jonathan); her grandchildren Karsyn Elledge (18), Kennedy Elledge (13), Wyatt Miller (7), Callahan Davis (16), Claudia Davis (13), and Isla Rose Earnhardt (11 months); her brothers Robert Gee (wife Beverly) and Jimmy Gee; as well as her much loved Pekingese dog, Scully.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Piedmont Animal Rescue or Hospice and Palliative Care of Iredell.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD: Still some Zoom-Zoom left

The predecessor to the Mazda CX-7 and Tribute, the 2019 redesigned CX-5 is a much-improved edition to the Mazda lineup. Very comfortable, smooth ride, quiet engine and comfortable seating make this a big contender in this market: A very full lineup, to be sure.

Our 2019 CX-5 was the Signature model, topping out at close to $40,000. A bit steep, but the CX-5 can be had for less and in a handful of model trims. Available are the Sport ($24,350), Touring ($26,615) and Grand Touring ($30,245. Front-wheel-drive is the norm, All-wheel-drive available as an option.

Although our Signature model didn’t want for any extras, it did come equipped with a few options, including cargo mat ($70), all-weather floor mats ($125), illuminated doorsill trim plates ($400)-an expensive but nice touch, Soul Red Crystal Paint ($595)-the color of the year, it would seem, rear bumper guard ($125) and retractable cargo cover ($250.  When opting for the Signature trim level, one now expects to get many bells and whistles.

As expected in this price range, one can expect such goodies as the heated power mirrors with turn lamps, auto-fold door mirror (a must with the size of today’s vehicle mirrors), rain-sensing windshield wipers, keyless entry, push-button start, radar cruise, 8-way power driver’s seat,

A Good Housekeeping Awards winner for two years in a row, the Mazda CX-5 gets koodoos for being a “crossover that looks and feels like a luxury vehicle,” but at a much nicer price. Handling and driving experience get an “A” and GH drivers praises the interior for design, with “luxe details.”

Getting more than you pay for seems an important category these days, and why wouldn’t it be? As the average price for a vehicle today hovers around $36,000. Although at times difficult to come up with, paying $36,000 for a vehicle you keep upwards of 5-10 years these days doesn’t seem like such a bad investment.

Although the Zoom-Zoom tag has been retired from Mazda, you can rest assured they still offer great handling, decent power and sports handling in their vehicles.  An attractive exterior goes along with the Mazda CX-5’s luxury interior and goodies like all-wheel-drive.  As always, our test vehicles are the top-of-the-line editions; ours, the Signature with AWD.

Those looking for a compact SUV that doesn’t feel small, the CX-5 fits the bill. By comparison, the Honda CR-V will feel like a smaller vehicle, so too the Rogue. The Toyota RAV4, though, will be a close competitor. Hard choice today.

Changes to the 2019 CX-5 are noticeable, beginning with the new large grille; a favorite item for change these days. The CX-5’s is distinctive, somewhat indented and comes together at the corners with the hood, featuring sporty slim headlights. This lends a more aggressive look to the Mazda and sets it apart.

Drivers might be surprised how quiet the 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder turbo engine is; it’s barely noticeable at stops and picks up nicely. Fuel economy hovers around 24-25 mpg., and doesn’t seem to be affected by the turbo, even when ramping it up. Not a SUV driver or necessarily a fan, this writer appreciated the CX-5’s feel, as well as the efforts manufacturer’s are making to get this type of vehicle more driver-friendly and FUN.

Drivers won’t be disappointed with the CX-5’s new turbocharged 2.5-liter SkyActiv GI4 engine. Better than some turbos, one doesn’t feel that annoying lag, and can expect a burst of power, and not at the expense of your wallet.

Mazda’s use of G-Vectoring Control Plus uses intermittent light braking on each wheel as you take the corners. The torque vectoring system offers excellent handling that feels sporty, and not so like a SUV.

Frissell’s Fido Friendly Ride

The pups rode with me a few times and both when the rear seats were up and when down. Either way, there’s plenty of room for them and they preferred the windows cracked a tad. The rear seats fold down flat so accommodating dogs or otherwise is a snap. By measure, the Honda CR-V has a bit more cargo room, but for most, the CX-5 space is sufficient.

The Mazda CX-5 interior with leather seats-perforated-offers comfortable seating for all size of drivers. Seats are well-formed and rear seating can hold up to three passengers in comfort. Rear seats in our Signature model were also heated-nice plus. Chrome trim around the dash, with wood insets. Those opting for this trim level will also enjoy a sunroof.

The steering wheels is manual tilt/telescope, and of course, has multiple controls to operate just about anything from the steering wheel. All is intuitive and easy to work.

Of course, one can opt for a more affordable CX-5 in the Sport trim level. But when moving into the top-of-the-line Signature, you get all you need, including heated/cooled front seats, sunroof, top notch safety equipment, 360-degree camera, etc. AWD is standard on this model.


MSRP: $36,890; total vehicle price $39,450; options:    delivery $995

Engine: SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter, 1.4 intercooled turbo, 227 hp., 31- lb-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed SKYACTIV-Drive Auto; manual shift mode, sport mode

Wheelbase: 106.2 in.

Height: 65.3 in.

Width: 62.8 in.

Length: 179.1 in.

Curb Weight: 3,825 lbs.

Tires: P225-55R19 all-season

Wheels: 19-inch alloy

EPA MPG: 22/27

Competition: Honda CRV, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Toyota RAV4, etc.

Size: 5-passenger

 Warranty: 60 month/60,000-miles powertrain lass:

Class: Compact Crossover SUV

Where assembled: Hiroshima, Japan

2019 Lexus LS500 4 DR. Sedan

Susan Frissell, publisher, Women With Wheels

What can one say about the infamous, beautifully designed and executed Lexus LS500 sedan? It’s the best of the best and stands above most others in this somewhat fading category. The Lexus500 “prestige” luxury sedan is available in three iterations: LS500, LS 500F-Sport and LS500h. Our LS was equipped with Lexus’ 3.5-liter Twin Turbo engine, V8 matched to a CVT transmission.

The week’s drive included both city driving, short trips and over the highway, between Indianapolis and Chicago, in mild weather. What can be said about this luxo-boat when traveling across the highway. It goes without saying as there are few who match this vehicle. One can tell by our review this is a favored sedan, although its practicality is questionable, in today’s car price world.

The twin-turbo V6 is also available and new to the brand. The LS500h hybrid edition ups the mpg to about 33 mpg, with 354 horsepower. What was noticeable on Indy’s pothole-filled streets was the way the LS navigated the rough roads. Gingerly going over local side streets took some concentration (over protective!), but the Lexus’ tuning made it possible to take these concrete pavement and potholes with confidence.

As one would expect the interior is constructed of the best materials, including fine leather seating, with 28-way adjustable seats. A match with to its European rivals, the LS is top-notch. We especially liked the updated Z-styled headlights, supremely comfortable luxury features.

The LS’ new wheel design is particularly handsome and we’re growing very fond of the darker wheels; in this case the dark-silver alloy machine finish. Trying to miss low curbs and any other obstructions made this writer nervous.

Rear-seat passengers can expect lots of rear-seat space, for legs and arms. Passengers can easily sit back and work on their laptop while enjoying the ride. As expected in all Lexus products, the LS’ interior is over the top, but appreciated, and it’s new, updated shape is a knockout. In years past, it was hard to justify the price of this rather bland 4-door, large sedan. But for 2019, it’s finally come into its own and shouts “luxury-prestige-class.”

What we didn’t like was the LS’ infotainment menagerie. The driver has a difficult time trying to find a radio station, change the temperature inside the cabin or do anything else while driving. Too dangerous. Too complicated.       

There isn’t a lot to dislike about the LS500, but one nit-pick might be the spring-like ride; not as sophisticated as we would expect, although hardly worth crabbing about. Steering resembles that of a large sedan; a tad floaty and somewhat imprecise, but then, we’re not driving a “performance” car. And again, the difficult to figure out infotainment system.  There isn’t anything to dislike about the Mark Levinson 23 audio system with 23 speakers. We regret not taking more time to just sit and listen to the Levinson, exploring different types of music.

Our test LS500 included the F Sport Package which we very much favor. Included in the package is the F Sport exterior styling, front bumper, mesh grille inserts, rear diffuser and lower door trim, six-piston front brake calipers w/15-7-in ventilated discs, four piston rear brake calipers with 14.1-inch variable suspension (AVS), LFA-inspired sliding instrumentation, F Sport trimmed steering wheel and shift knob with Ultrasuede headliner, F Sport 28-way power-adjustable front seats and embossed headrests, aluminum pedals and interior trim. It’s a beauty.

There is a little more engine noise, improved handling and additional sport drive select modes if you prefer to change your driving feel. The newly designed LS does feel smaller than it’s size and when stepping out of it, a look back reminds you how big it really is. It resembles, somewhat, the sedans (“boats”) of old, yet not floaty.

Options on our press vehicle included just two packages: The Mark Levinson audio system with 23 speakers ($1,940), and 24-inch heads-up display (HUD), which more than once talked back to me. Someone who drives two-footed, more than once I was told that my brake pedal and gas pedal were being pressed simultaneously!! I loved it.

The F-Sport leather heated steering wheel came at no extra charge. Nice on cold days.

The freshly designed 2019 Lexus LS500 now includes Apple CarPlay compatible with Amazon Alexa, and amazon Echo and Android Auto. A 12.3-inch infotainment display with touchpad interface is standard. Responses are slow when operating the touchpad, and as mentioned, awkward while driving.

If you’re interested in a hybrid, the LS is offered in one with a 3.5-liter V6 engine with two electric motors, 44-KWH lithium-ion battery, trick 4-speed auto transmission made just for the hybrid version. One motor is in use at lower speeds while the gas and second electric motors kick in for more power at higher speeds. The hybrid cannot be plugged in, and the small battery can only handle a few miles of electric-only operation. Average mpg is 33 mpg.

The 2019 LS500 sports a 1.3-inch longer wheelbase, up from the previous generation. Seats are heated and cooled, and a 22-way option with a raised ottoman is standard. If your back gets a little sore, you can choose from multiple massage styles!

One can choose from 10 exterior colors; ours was the elegant Liquid Platinum (silverfish). And of course, all the most up-to-date features are standard, some of which include driver/passenger folding mirrors when car is turned off, integrated key remote, cruise with dynamic radar, cruise center lane dis., navigation, 12-speaker audio system with Bluetooth, USB, active noise cancellation. Because so much is included in a base LS500, few options are available: The Mark Levinson Audio System, F Sport trim, Executive Pacakage.


MSRP: $84,420; total vehicle price $88,605; delivery $1,025; Options $3.160

Engine: 3.5-liter Twin Turbo 416 hp., DOHC 24-valve, V8 engine with CVT Timing with intelligence

Transmission: A@D w/Torsen Limited Sliip Center Differential D-4S Direct Cylinder Injection System, 10-speed Sequential Automatic, Drive Mode Select; Eco/Normal/Sport S and Sport S+

Steering: Electronic-power

Tires: 245/50R19 AS, V-rated Run Flat Tires; optional: 24/45RF20 + 275/40RF20 All Season

Wheels: 19-inch alloy with dark-silver, machine finish standard; option 20-inch Split Five Spoke Alloy Wheel w/Dark Graphite finish

EPA MPG: 25/33 mpg

Two trims, 4 configurations

Pricing $75,300-$84,520

Midsize car, Prestige Luxury Sedan, 4-door, 5 seats

Length: 206.1 in.

Width: 74.8 in.

Wheelbase: 123.0

Height: 57.5 in.

Curb Weight: 4,707

Trunk Capacity: 16.95 cu. Ft.

Fuel Tank Capacity: 21.7 gal.

Warranty: 48/50,000-miles Bumper-to-Bumper, 72 mths/70,000-miles Roadside Assistance, 72 mths/70,000-miles Powertrain.

Competitors: 2019 Maserati Ghibli, Acura TLX, Tesla Model S