A Birthday, a Movie, a Ferrari, and an Alfa

John Gilbert

The Alfa Romeo Stevio, with engine built by Ferrari Formula 1 race engineers, worked as part of the art of driving in the rain over the weekend. Photo credit:  John Gilbert
The Alfa Romeo Stevio, with engine built by Ferrari Formula 1 race engineers, worked as part of the art of driving in the rain over the weekend. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Birthdays have a way of coming around every year whether you want them to or not. This year, a lot of very neat things happened on my birthday last weekend, and they all seemed to link together.
It started with a bit of nostalgia, as my wife, Joan, and I had wanted to wait until our older son, Jack, showed up so we could take him to see the movie “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” When it looked like he wasn’t coming, Joan and I looked for it and found that it was showing at the West Theater. That’s the place in the West End, where Bob Boone, the owner of The Reader, invested all his time and probably all of his money in bringing the long-closed theater back to life.

It’s more fun to heckle the boss than to toss him a compliment, of course, but in this case he has pulled off a minor miracle in turning the West into a very neat and somewhat nostalgic theater. So we went out there and enjoyed the movie and the whole experience tremendously. The Art of Racing in the Rain is a book that everybody else in my family has read multiple times, but I hadn’t read it. The movie was outstanding, with a little bit of everything, including auto road-racing and a young man who succeeds as a driver, particularly because he goes from being good to outstanding when his race is hit by rain. It takes a special skill to drive well in rain. There is a connection with the Ferrari factory in the movie, although I didn’t think much about it at the time.

The vehicle that I wrote my Reader column  about this week is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, an SUV that thinks it’s a race car, it is said. It is a spectacular ride, mainly because it has a special engine, a 2.9-liter V6 with a turbocharger, attaining 505 horsepower for one reason — Alfa Romeo and Ferrari are owned by Fiat, which also owns Chrysler-Dodge-Ram-Jeep. In bringing in Alfa Romeo to the U.S., it was determined that Giulia the car and Stelvio the SUV needed a special engine, so the chief engineer of Ferrari’s Formula 1 race team was assigned to design and build a special engine, and what I drove was it.

I got up early Sunday morning to watch the F1 race live from Belgium, and impressively, Charles Leclerc, a young Frenchman, qualified on the pole in his Ferrari and led all the way, holding off a spirited charge by points leader Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes, but Leclerc won his first Formula 1 race and became the third-youngest driver to ever win one, behind only Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel, his Ferrari teammate.

Dramatic victory, and afterward, we found out that our son, Jack, was driving up from the Twin Cities after all. Joan made the decision, and she and I took Jack back out to the West to see the movie. We enjoyed our second viewing of it, and I’d encourage anyone who likes dogs, people, racing, and some pure emotion should hustle out to see it, but it’s only showing through Thursday of this week.

After the holiday weekend I happened to drive the Alfa Romeo Stelvio in a brief rainstorm, and it was still awesome.  I thought of all the links and coincidences that were involved in our weekend. The Ferrari touch in the movie, the Ferrari-built engine in the Stelvio I was driving around, including in the rain, and then the remarkable victory won by Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc in Belgium. There were three or four cars I had to choose from for the subject of this week’s Reader column, but I was not about to fight the cosmic power of coincidences: I chose the Stelvio.

TWINS WIN ON ROAD

When the Minnesota Twins went only 3-3 on their recent homestead, we had reason to be concerned about the long road trip that wrapped into this week. After facing the same Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers who had tormented them at Target Field, the Twins had to go to their places, and then on to Boston.

Amazingly, the starting pitchers have faltered, a couple guys have quit hitting, and the defense has made a habit of committing silly errors. But the Twins won, over and over. They’re now 9-3 in their last 12, and the road trip we thought might bring the Twins down instead might be the reason they ultimately clinch the pennant.

The very essence of baseball stretch drives is coming to life day after day. On Tuesday, for instance, the New York Mets sent Jacob deGrom to the mound in Washington, while the Nationals countered with Max Scherzer in a duel of recent Cy Young Award winners. Should be 2-1 or something like that, right? Well after those starters did their thing, the game got out of control. The Mets, leading 5-4, scored five runs in the top of the ninth to go up 10-4. In the last of the ninth, the Nationals erupted for an unprecedented last-of-the-ninth rally — seven runs, and an 11-10 victory!

One day before that, Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros proved once again why he is the best pitcher in the Major Leagues. You might remember in his previous start, Verlander pitched a 2-hitter, striking out 12 and walking none. Trouble was, both hits were home rns, and Verlander’s complete game gem was a 2-1 loss. He allowed no other base-runners, and never threw a single pitch out of the stretch in going all nine innings.

That brings us to his next start, on Monday. In Toronto, Verlander got the first guy out, then walked a batter. Then he retired the next 26 batters in order for the third no-hitter of his career, striking out 14. That means as great as his no-hitter was, consider that in his last two starts he threw 18 innings, gave up two hits, walked one, and struck out 26 altogether.

Makes you think he might be on a roll.

KNOW WHEN TO HOLD ’EM 

Could the Vikings possibly play the old Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler,” as the Vikings theme song? You know, the one with the chorus that goes, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…” 
It seems as though the Vikings don’t always hold ’em when they get someone they should hang onto, like Case Keenum, and they don’t know when to fold ’em when they make a questionable move and then force him to take a monster contract, like in the case of Kirk Cousins. But more than that old connection, the Vikings were wheeling and cutting and signing and adding punters, kickers, holders, receivers, you name it, in a mad scramble of roster juggling when everybody made their final cuts and then went crazy to sign some other team’s controversial cuts.

At quarterback, third or fourth string quarterback Kyle Sloter was by far the most impressive of three or four quarterbacks the Vikings sent out for exhibition play, but he was a scrambler at heart, and complemented his passing and field generalship by the ability to run when under pressure. So the Vikings cut him! That means they are keeping Cousins, which is understandable, and Sean Mannion, who has been mediocre at best, and nowhere near as effective as Sloter.

They also cut wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who has been an under-achiever for more than two seasons. And kicker Kaare Vedvik, obtained three weeks ago, but the victim of missing field goals while he was figuratively taking a final exam, and also means two or three other kicker candidates have been cut too, and Dan Bailey, released by the Dallas Cowboys, has signed to be placekicker. It will all be boiled down, or else over, Sunday against the Falcons.