Texas®

I’ll admit it: I’ve never played Disc Golf (or, as some call it, Frisbee Golf). Here’s another admission: I’ve always wanted to. I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten around to making the leap yet. It only takes a few bucks to buy the right “clubs”, and especially here in North Texas, there is an insane amount of courses to sling the wobbly discs around.

Perhaps you’re like me and you’ve wanted to get rolling on this seemingly cool and laid-back way to spend some time? Perhaps you’re unlike me and have been on the Disc Golf wagon for years, but aren’t sure where the courses for you to play are? For those who live in North Texas, it might be shocking to see how many courses there are, actually. From Rowlette to Grapevine, from Garland to Carrollton, from McKinney to Irving there are dozens within the D/FW Metroplex and surrounding areas alone.

Hey, there’s even a pretty major tourney going on in Dallas this coming weekend. The Cedar Hill Open takes place on June 18th and 19th at Lester Lorch Park, just south of Dallas. 

As it turns out, there are tons of helpful websites that can assist an aspiring Disc Golfer, or an experienced one, in any number of ways. Check it out…

 Ah, summer in Texas. Rangers’ baseball, 100+ heat, (and this year), Dallas Mavericks playoff basketball, and tubing the rivers of the Hill Country.

I can only hope that this post doesn’t find you residing in a scenario where you have yet to take part in one of the most holy, quintessentially Texan of all traditions. Tubing the Guadalupe, or Comal for that matter, is an experience that few other states can offer.

Simply put: If you haven’t yet. It’s about time to get to it. Below are some resources available to help you in your quest for the spirit of Texas summers…

Gruene Texas - It’s kind of crazy how one small town can have just about everything you need for a fun day of tubing. River outfitters, great restaurants and, in case you haven’t made the connection yet: The legendary Gruene Hall. Texas’ grandest and oldest dance hall. If tunes are blaring from the open widows that line the walls of this hollowed palace, than it’s time to get on in and grab a cold one.

Also, check out the Comal River for tubing good-times…

OK, that’s enough to at least get you started. Believe us, it’s almost a deal where you will have a hard time convincing other Texan’s that you’re a real Texan if you can’t say you’ve tubed the river. It’s kind of like saying you haven’t seen Willie Nelson live in-concert, or paid your respects at the Alamo…wait, you have done those things, right??

    

 

There are few car companies – if any – that understand its target market as well as Toyota does. They just don’t miss their mark very often. But when they do, it’s fascinating to watch how they deal with the occasional failure.

When Toyota first entered the full-sized truck market, they indeed missed the mark. The T100 was a very good truck, but it wasn’t a critical or a sales success. It was too small, too tinny, underpowered and underwhelming. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief in Detroit when they saw the T100 was off its target, but not by much.

Those folks in Motown shouldn’t have taken too much ease though. Toyota is a company that has found great success in the Deming methodology of incremental improvement. When they came back with the first Toyota Tundra it was like watching a skilled artillery officer walking his rounds closer to the target.

The first Tundra lobbed in as a 2000 model and landed just shy of the target, again. While not a runaway success, people began to notice how the larger, tougher and more powerful truck was gaining market share and for the first time, the Big Three had some real competition in the full-sized truck market.

Toyota’s legendary quality also began to capture converts, yet the Tundra was still just shy of being an actual full-sized contender. It was a welterweight trying to slug it out with the heavyweights. The Big Three still had the advantage of market share and the most loyal customer base in the world.

At the same time, fellow Asiatic contender Nissan entered the market with the Titan and everyone in Detroit started to look over their shoulders. They knew the next shot fired by Toyota would not miss.

The folks in Detroit responded to the sounds of footsteps by embarking on the biggest reinvestment into their truck lineups in history. Ford, GM and Chrysler stepped up their game like never before and began raising the bar for quality, power and reliability in hopes of maintaining their pieces of the very big, very profitable sales pie.

For its third shot, Toyota put the market on notice that they would not miss. The manufacturer invested millions of dollars to build a brand-spanking new truck factory deep in the heart of the pick-up market: San Antonio, Texas. There they began checking off the boxes on what a full-sized truck needs: They checked the elevation, adjusted for wind and yelled FIRE!

Simply put: Bull’s-eye.

The newest Tundra was introduced with much fanfare, rave reviews and sleepless nights in Detroit where suddenly Toyota and Nissan had legitimate full-sized trucks ready to go toe-to-toe with the big boys.

The Tundra delivered to Any Driven Sunday was one good looking truck: Big, four-door Crew Max 4×4 short bed, black on black with blacked-out grill, and a lifted off-road Rock Warrior package. When I saw it coming around the corner my first reaction was, “Hello, Handsome!”

Lift kit, knobby tires, and modular wheels, just like you might customize a truck after you buy it. Not a bad idea at all. Nissan had sent me a “No Fear” Titan a couple of years ago and I really liked the package they had put together. The Titan’s stance was elevated but the truck still had to be a real truck, and this is.

The interior was dark charcoal cloth and was dripping with optional gear, including a nifty rear cabin window that rolls down, but the thing that I really liked was the placement of Toyota’s back up camera display. I know it’s kind of sad how car manufacturers assume drivers don’t know how to drive and put in safety devices to protect them from themselves, but this one is pretty cool. The rear bumper view is projected in the rearview mirror and is just a smart way to deal with it, really.

You can get into a basic, two-wheel drive, regular cab 6 cylinder for around $24,000.00, and as you ad on bits, the price rolls right up to the $44,000.00+ Rock Warrior CrewMax level. The engine is fantastic and it’s closer to the estimated EPA consumption numbers of 18/24 mpg than most full-sized trucks in the market are.

Part of Toyota’s marketing push into the most American of markets has included getting involved in NASCAR truck racing. The Tundra Racing program, ironically, does not use the same multi-valve V8 as the production truck. The reason for that is how the engine is too modern for NASCAR. In order to compete, the racing division had to retro-engineer a pushrod carbureted engine, something Toyota has never made.

This Tundra is a case study in knowing your market. As Toyota dialed-it-in, the result has just not been a great production truck from them, but their entry into the full-sized truck market has had the residual effect of pushing the other options to be better in response.

This year Nissan is bringing out its first replacement for the Titan, something that has been long delayed, which makes this segment of the truck market something to watch intently.

At this telling, Toyota has not yet moved into the Heavy Duty market, but don’t assume they can’t or won’t. They have a number of Diesel engines at their disposal from the European and Australian Land Cruiser’s and commercial truck lines from subsidiary Hino. As they incrementally move their aim closer and closer to their market sweet-spot, don’t be surprised if they drop one of these in a new Tundra soon

The Tundra is indeed a legitimate contender in the truck market, and it’s an option that I would have to take very seriously if I was looking at a 1/2 ton truck. The only thing is, don’t expect to find a used one for a good price as they maintain their resale value like nothing else in the business.

A few months ago, I started looking at options for a personal vehicle. The Tundra is one I have on my list of vehicles, but at this point I can’t find one that has depreciated to the point I can afford to purchase. I found one that was three years old and the asking price was over 75% of its original price. With almost 100,000 miles on the clock they still were asking that much. I guess that helps prove the point that the Tundra is a desirable option – even used.

Having driven all of the options in this marketplace, Ford, GM, Dodge, Nissan and the Toyota Tundra, any customer would be well served to try it out to see how close to their purchase target Toyota has managed to hit.

As a company Toyota has shown how patient they are and how they deal with missing the target. They didn’t panic, just simply looked at all the data, adjusted their aim and zeroed in closer and closer. The Tundra is a direct hit on full-sized truck market.

Obviously, when talking about Memorial Day, we want to remember the real reason for it (check back here on Monday for more of that), but it’s also fair to talk about the fun that can be had, as we all enjoy the freedom that so many brave men and women have sacrficed for over the decades and even centuries our country has been in existence. If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, give the below options a look and hit one up…

Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie: On Monday, the beautiful racing park will be turned into an all-purpose fun-time center. Not only will the horses be running, but Harleys will be given away, a chili cook-off will take place and the stakes will be as high as they will be all year for those who are lucky enough.

Fiesta Texas – San Antonio: All kinds of new shows are getting started, including a laser light show. Not to mention the usual family-fun and thrill seeking that’s typically available.

The National Polka Festival – Ennis, TX: For 45 years, this has been the preemminent Polka festival in Texas, if not the entire US. There isnt any way a family could make their way to this party and not find something for everyone.

99.5′s Wolfdance 2011 – Ft. Worth Stockyards: Each year, this Sunday-before Memorial Day party is one of the better showcases for Texas Country music. While we’re scratching our heads on how acts like Casey Donahew and Josh Abbott have somehow earned top-billing over the likes of Wade Bowen, it’s still an all-day affair that gives many of the up-and-coming names (that deserve such a title) a fantastic showcase. In fact, take our advice and get there around 1pm for John David Kent and then catch Rob Baird, John D Hale and Brison Bursey, the leave before you have to hear Johnny Cooper make another lame attempt at working his lame beat-boxing into his set.

We’re not sure what else really needs to be said. We’re giving away a pair of GAME 2 MAVS PLAYOFF TICKETS!

It’s playoff time and the Dallas Mavericks find themselves in the NBA’s final four, fighting for a spot in the finals. The playoff series starts tomorrow night in Dallas as they take on Kevin Durant and the young and exciting Oklahoma City Blazers. Perhaps this is a new regional rivalry in the making? You can see for yourself on Thursday night, May 19th in Dallas. 

So, scan the code here, using your BestBuzz App and be entered to win, why don’t ya? Also, head on over to Facebook and “like us” while you’re at it. We’ve told as many people as we can about the benefits of downloading the BestBuzz App for the iPhone or Andrioid. Tons of great goodies, food and drink specials and give-aways. And now MAVERICKS PLAYOFF TICKETS!

Classic cars and classic movie theaters on a Texas Saturday night. Sounds like a good way to spend a weekend evening, doesn’t it? On Saturday, May 7th on the Largest Town Square in America, located in Graham, Texas, a good time will be had by all!

An open class car show starts at 3pm on the Square and is free to the public. Also, there will be vendors, live music from Tempting Disaster and tons of raffle prizes. All raffle proceeds will be donated to the Young County Volunteer Firefighter Relief Fund, which is a fund in need, as these firefighters helped fight recent wildfires in Young County and the Possum Kingdom Lake area.  

For the best rides, car show trophies will be given to the Top 20 entrants. Awards will also be given for Driver’s Choice, People’s Choice and Best in Show. The cars in the show will then cruise through Graham at 7pm, led by the Graham Police Department and their restored 50′s era police cruiser. The cruise will end at Graham Drive-In, one of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in Texas. The film for the evening will be Fast 5 (How appropriate is that?). The movie will start around 9pm and tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for kids up to age 11.

Register early online for a discounted price of $16 at www.GrahamTexasCarShow.com. All entrants receive one adult ticket to Graham Drive-in. The first 50 entrants receive a free t-shirt, and the first 100 entrants receive a free dash plaque. Participants can register on the day for $20, cash only.

 

 

For more info:

The current automotive landscape has way too many vehicles trying too hard to be everything for everyone. And in doing so they compromise on some things, ignore other things, and become identity-challenged bland-mobiles. The Shelby GT500 is none of that, and plenty more.

Words that should never be used to describe this Mustang-based 2011 Shelby GT500:

  • Subtle
  • Reserved
  • Bland
  • Boring

The Arrest Me-red, two-door arrived at the house on Monday, announcing itself a couple of blocks away with a hearty, lion-esque roar. Complete with white Le Mans stripes, flared fender wells, hyper-aggressive aerodynamics, carbon black wheels and a heavenly short throw shift knob at the pleasure point of a manual Six Speed, the Shel had the road presence of a professional wrestler fully engrossed in his “What are you looking at, Punk?” rant.

It almost had an aura around it.

What is a Shelby? Or more appropriately, who is the man that inspired this poke in the face of mediocrity? Carroll Shelby: A failed East Texas chicken rancher, speed merchant, successful racer, one time fighter pilot instructor, longest surviving double-organ transplant recipient, genuine American icon and the best natural salesman the world may have ever seen. That’s all he is.

After becoming a fighter pilot instructor during World War II, Shelby went home, got married, and started raising chickens on a ranch while racing on weekends. The weekend activities revolved around the now ghostly vapors of old race tracks that used to dot the countryside around north Texas and throughout the South. Many of those legendary old tracks have been swallowed up by suburban sprawl or lawyered out of existence, but in the early 1950’s, the racing world revolved around north Texas.

This was a time of legends, time of men like Hap Sharp and Jim Hall, who’s oil fortunes gave them opportunities to race anything, anywhere. There was also Lloyd Ruby, who is considered one of the greatest American racers ever, and AJ Foyt, a man that could drive, break and fix anything with an engine. It was a time of no seatbelts, leather helmets, and no one talked about NASCAR outside of the South East, and Road Racing was king.

In that past world, the foundation of what would later become a formula for success was laid when Carroll Shelby started racing someone’s car for them. It was a MG that had been outfitted with a small block V8 Ford. It was small, light, nimble and had more motor than most could handle. Carroll drove with such abandon and determination he very rarely lost and eventually earned a chance to drive another light, Anglo-American mutt; a Cadillac-powered Allard. It was this car that made him. His success in races around North America in the CadAllard propelled him to drive “Bird Cage” Maserati’s Ferrari’s, and eventually to win the most prestigious race in the world, The 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving for Aston Martin.

At the same time, as he became one of the most famous drivers in the world and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and pretty much every magazine in America, there was a ticking time-bomb ready to go off. Shelby’s heart was dying. Today, we would probably be able to just take a pill and go on, but in those days, a faulty ticker ended racing careers.

A masterful opportunist, he parlayed his celebrity into Gillette shaving commercials and also joined up with Jim Hall to import European race cars to America via Shelby-Hall Race Cars, located in Dallas. It didn’t last very long as Hall was racing Formula 1 and Endurance racing in Europe, and Shelby wasn’t exactly a man easily given to an office job.

Shelby got hold of a light aluminum British race car called an AC Bristol and found out the company had lost its engine supplier. He managed to convince them to send him rolling chassis of the little race car by telling them Ford was going to supply him engines. Of course, Shelby then had to convince Ford to actually supply the engines to him.

At the time, Lee Iacocca was a rising star at Ford, and as legend has it, the master salesman Iacocca was bulldozed by another like him, and was reported to say, “Someone give this guy an engine before he hurts someone.” The Shelby Cobra was born.

The Cobra formula was a light and nimble British car, big friggin’ engine. It worked (Note: I will explore this later in another article). The Cobra beat all comers and became a legend of its own, spawning the Pete Brock-penned Daytona Coupe Race car, which put Shelby back in the winners circle at Le Mans as a manufacturer, embarrassing the Ford factory team attempting to win the race with their new super car, the GT-40. After the Daytona soundly beat the GT-40 in tests, Ford made a deal with Shelby to take over the GT-40 team. But as a part of the deal to bring him in, the Cobra had to die.

Out of the ashes of the death of the Cobra and the now legendary friendship between Shelby and Iacocca grew the Shelby Mustang GT350, GT500 Program. When the Mustang was introduced in 1964, Iacocca knew he needed a performance package on what was initially an underpowered grocery-getter, but politics at Ford and an industry wide self-imposed ban on direct involvement in auto racing gave Shelby the ability to become the Ford racing proxy.

Original Cobra production was only around 1,000 cars. Six Daytona Coupes, and 20,000 Shelby Mustangs made it to the track and to the road, but a combination of his sponsor Iacocca being fired by Ford, the spike in oil prices, falling sales and that pesky now-faltering heart forced the end of the Shelby Mustang in the early 1970’s.

The Legend of the Shelby Mustang is a fascinating one, indeed. I can not think of any other car that has become a legend unto itself, blending its own history and that of the man who inspired it, along with some fanciful inaccuracies (some coming from Shelby, himself) into a story all its own. It has become a movie character (Gone in 60 Seconds), an object of desire as well as abuse. At any event where Shelby is present, there are usually dozens of children who have been named after him and people who approach him, as well as the car, with a blending of respect and fear.

There has been more ink devoted to this car and man amalgam than any other I can think of, and I have written for many magazines, and I’ve even consulted on a couple of books on both principals.

A few years ago, that faulty ticker was replaced and Shelby is now one of the longest surviving heart transplant recipients. Later in time, he needed a kidney transplant, as well. He has also founded the Carroll Shelby Children’s Charity, which raises money for kids in need of transplants.

These days, his health is said to be not-so-great, but remember that he is well over 85 now and has been married at least 6 times. This man has jammed more life into one than most could possibly imagine.

When Ford and Shelby decided to get the old band back together with the current Shelby GT500 they had a lot to live up to, some of it even fact-based. The decision was made early on that there would be no muddling of this legend, and Ford came out of the box with a loud, brash, thirsty, powerful, no-compromise car of unequaled, swaggering bravado.

It arrives like Robert Duvall’s Lt. Col Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now with a blast of Wagner, and the smell of Napalm in the air. It has a supreme confidence in its stance, letting no one assume it is anything but a serious chunk of car.

The exterior is garish with almost obnoxious sculpted, aerodynamic wings, splitters and curves over big Goodyear racing tires mounted on black powder-coated wheels which give-off a no-nonsense curb appeal. The tail has a high mounted wing, but it’s what is under the other end that counts. The engine. And what an engine it is. A 5.4 liter, four valve V8 lurks under the hood and where most would consider that enough, the Shelby has a SuperCharger to boost an astounding output into the realm of HOLY CRAP! 550 Hp and 510 foot pounds of torque.

All that power results in a snarling beast of aural wonders that make you want to roll the windows down and drive through the Addison Airport Tunnel, over and over again, just to enjoy the roaring sound. The six-speed manual is effortless and really is amazing at dropping all those buckets of power to the ground.

The interior is rather amazing in its own right. Combining “retro” styling that is needed to complete the muscle car redo, combined seamlessly with modern expectations like satellite radio, Sync-integrated GPS, along with every other desirable option in the catalog. One that I personally like is the high-mounted PowerPoint, at the center top of the dashboard, where you can easily plug in a radar detector (yeah, you’re going to want one of those).

This is a far cry from the utilitarian interior one got in the 1960’s Shelbys, but one thing remains – this is not a car for the timid.

On the center console, next to the shifter, there is an understated little button. When pressed, the button turns off the traction control. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T TOUCH THAT BUTTON!

The traction control on the Shelby GT500 overpowers its own tires quite easily, with the happy, little, unassuming button deployed, an average driver is in a whole bunch of trouble where enthusiasm is defeated rather quickly by the reality of kinetics. It is way too powerful for anyone without at least as much high-performance driving training experience as I have.

The old school rear-end on this beastly car gets upset rather easily by bumps inconveniently placed at the apex of corners, and the super-tight suspension makes attempting to drink coffee while driving make you look like an ill-advised, near-sighted epileptic trying to exercise with a shake weight.

During the course of week, the $55,000 Shelby GT500 was gulping high-octane like a kid with a garden hose. While running all over north Texas, I came to a couple of conclusions: It’s a brash handful of a car, not for those who fancy themselves in any way environmentally minded, but in a time when so many cars muddle their way to mediocre, the Shelby is one of the most satisfying, over-the-top ways to consume fossil fuels in a multi-sensual, true muscle car experience there is to be had.

And yes, it is just the sort of thing that should have a name like Shelby.

The ads are fantastic: In slow motion, a Jeep crawls over rocks to the deliberate cadence of a drum beat while the deep, resonating voice-over talks about rebirth, America, pride and the toughness of spirit – both of the people who build it as well as the vehicle itself. When one watches the ads they stir a patriotic, do-anything feeling and classic American definitions of rugged individuality.

This isn’t some advertising executive falsely claiming that the vehicle has abilities it simply doesn’t have; this is simply a very good use of branding for a very, very good off-road truck.

As a matter of fact, the Grand Cherokee Laredo is one of the few SUV’s in the market that is truly a SUV. Most of the vehicles in the market are “sortas,” as in the way it’s sorta a truck and sorta a car, but mostly a station wagon with ground clearance. The Cherokee is not one of those, as it really does everything well. From yeoman people hauling, to the go-anywhere abilities that “sortas” dream of, the Laredo manages to pull it all of well.

Its on-road manners are pretty much flawless, and the interior is beyond excellent. The GPS/Entertainment system looks a bit dated, but sounds great, none the less. Optional leather and high-end interior trim has lost the chunky old-school-Chrysler-parts-bin feel and look. All in all, the truck is a very modern machine worthy of not just a glance, but serious consideration for purchase.

Jeep has always been the special brand in the Chrysler stable, having gained its reputation from its origin with the US Military, and later as the go-to choice of outside-the-box thinkers and doers. Recently, Chrysler has been lurching like an addict from crushing debt, to a return to stability, then stepping into the abyss, crashing, rebuilding again and becoming the first of the big three to slip into bankruptcy.

The doomed marriage to Mercedes Benz, then to private equity company Cerberus left Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge cratered with issues worthy of a trailer park after a tornado went through the community. Now firmly in the hands of Italian car giant Fiat, Chrysler is again fighting its way back from the brink.

Really, Chrysler has had enough drama and intrigue over the last 30 years to qualify as an Eugene O’Neil or Tennessee Williams classic. The characters have been fascinating. From Lee Iaccoca, to Bob Lutz, to the man brought in by Cerberus to lead the place, Robert Nardelli, distinct characters have been in great supply.

Nardelli, a CEO from outside of the auto industry, was intended to be a master-stroke that would shake up the norms and get the floundering company back on track. One problem, however: The ship was already under water, and the new captain was only available for the job because Home Depot had fired him for almost submerging the giant home improvement retailer.

At Home Depot, Naradelli oversaw the explosive growth of big box retailing, opening Home Depots all over the place, yet seemed to forget a couple of things along the way. At the time, he wrote best selling books, was featured on 60 Minutes and Forbes as some kind of business wunderkind. At the same time of such fanfare though, the company had reached a crisis where their growth arc was simply unsustainable, and their employees began quite literally hiding from customers. Naradelli became the poster child for shareholder revolt over arrogant overpaid CEO’s as a result of this equation.

In fact CNBC once referred to him as the “Worst CEO in the history of American business.” It was said that he gained this distinction for managing to suck the entrepreneurial spirit out of Home Depot and its generally welcoming employees.

The Depot had forgotten the main reason for its success: Price and service. Eventually, things got so bad that Naradelli was dumped, as the entire business model had to be shifted back to focusing on customer service, and not rapid, fruitless expansion.

The reason this story is worthy of note is this: Someone at Home Depot forgot the fundamentals of their business model and ultimately, the shareholders, employees and customers paid the price. During Naradelli’s tenure at the Chrysler wheel, not only did the debt load, gathered long before he showed up, swamp the company, but one of the stupidest things to ever happen in the industry occurred at Jeep.

During an austerity program at Jeep, someone decided that the best way to get warranty costs under control would be to cancel the warranties of owners that used their Jeeps as actual, multi-functional Jeeps (crazy, right?). Jeeps which had minor rock scrapes on skid plates, or even after-market wheels installed were finding their coverage for mechanical defects eliminated, where they had been available prior to these changes.

Now think about that; the people most affected by this were the embodiment of Jeep’s commercial, rugged image. They were – if you will – the evangelists spreading the word of Jeep by using the “trucks as trucks.” I’ve even heard of a warranty being canceled for “Severe Use,” due to mud and rocks being found under the truck when it had brought into the Jeep dealership. Well, DUH! It’s a JEEP.

Now, every time I see those great advertisements, touting the steel skid pad as it scrapes across a rock, or touting the off-road toughness of the brand, I have the same thought: “Well there goes your warranty oh, Jeep owner”

Now that Fiat has taken over Chrysler and Naradelli is safely away from the business world again, I’m sure the Italians understand that the last thing they need to do is alienate the people who have already purchased their products.

In many ways I am more comfortable with the place Chrysler and Jeep finds itself in now, that the ship is being steered by the people who have brought us such great, spirited vehicles from Europe. They do “get it” when it comes to the passion a Jeep owner has for his or her Jeep.

The 4×4 variant is really the only way to go because, really, buying a two-wheel drive Jeep is kind of like dancing in scuba flippers – missing the point. Pricing ranges from the low $30’s to mid $40’s for the top-of-the-line, loaded Overland Edition. This is on par with the competition, and our tester was juiced with the 360hp 5.7 Hemi V8, which is, like any Chrysler Hemi, exuberant when it comes to fuel usage.

It’s funny how things tend to go, though. Under the skin of the Jeep flagship vehicle is a variation of Mercedes M class chassis, left over from before they exited the picture. It’s a very stable, sturdy foundation and will bridge the gap far into the future.

The Grand Cherokee Laredo provided to Any Driven Sunday is really one of my personal favorites over the last few months. Well mannered on-road and quite capable off, at the same time I drove the Jeep, I also had the chance to drive a new Toyota 4Runner and Ford Explorer. These are the three drivers in this market, defining what the mid-sized SUV should be, and how they should work. If I was looking to purchase one for myself, each has the equation solved slightly differently

If my primary driving was going to be on-road only, the Explorer might be the best choice, actually. With more off-roading, it might be the 4Runner, but that’s really splitting hairs at this point. If I wanted one that does both the best, well, the Jeep could definitely be the right choice. It truly is a personal choice and if you are in the market, please make sure you take the time to look at each of these choices.

I love cars. I love driving, racing, and traveling by car. I’m that guy who gets up early on a Sunday to wash a car by hand. I love gadgets and gizmos and sensual design, so there are no words that can strike fear as deep into my heart as: “Your minivan is here.”

The Minivan: An anonymous, emasculating, cheerio-encrusted,suburban assault vehicle. Typically, they burst with the soul-destroying songs of Sponge Bob, and Dora the Explorer for the pre-Beiber set. It seems as though the car seat-mounted children stare as blankly at their mobile entertainment units as the sleep deprived parents do from the driver’s seat.

Do you get the notion that driving a minivan is not on my “must do” list? Checking any sort of residual masculinity at the door, Toyota dropped off a 2011 Sienna for Any Driven Sunday to test out, recently. In my front window, my neutered Yellow Labrador Retriever, Carlin, smiled, “Now, you will know how I felt!”

As much as I don’t want to admit it, the Sienna is about the only minivan I’ve driven that might rate as kind of cool. It’s a good-looking vehicle, and with optional, high-end aerodynamic front bumper fascia, and all the bells and whistles jammed into the “Limited” it wasn’t as bad as my preconceived notions warned.

The price starts at $24,000 and steps up to $25,600 for LE trim, $30,000 for the SE, $32,500 for the XLE and $38,800 for the fully loaded-up Limited. Even at the entry point, the Sienna is pretty well put together. The Limited had leather-covered everything, dual DVD, navigation, and pretty much every option available on a car or truck.

Both rear side doors were power and remote-operated from the key-fob, as was the rear hatch. Such an attribute is pretty cool, and for the I-have-to-carry-everything-in-one-trip set, it’s very convenient, indeed.

The more I drove the Sienna, the more I realized that if one is ever forced into this market segment – and no one ever wakes up saying they WANT a minivan unless they need one – the Sienna is easily one of the better choices out there.

As I was setting up next to a suburban soccer field to take some pictures of the van, I couldn’t help become hyper-aware that I didn’t belong there. As a 45 year old, single dude with a pretty expensive camera in tow, driving a minivan, I figured that someone would have called Chris Hansen, and that any second, the “To Catch a Predator” staff was going to jump out from behind a bush. So, I took the pictures and got out of there as quickly as I could.

Really, the minivan just isn’t a vehicle I would ever get for myself, unless there was a very significant shift in my world. The funny thing is: The market whose parents owned the first generation minivans in the 80’s are now old enough to be the target consumer. For the most part, those former back seat passengers of minivans have run away from this product at break-neck speed. They’re the folks who have created the SUV and Crossover segment as one of the biggest parts of the automobile market.

They seek out the functionality but, in their minds, they also avoid the stigma attached to the minivan.

As the generation before them created the minivan market because they swore they would never drive a station wagon like their Mom’s, the Minivan has created its own anti-market. For those who do not have that particular bias in their heads, and don’t mind the look of defeat that seems to come with piloting one of these very functional vehicles, the Sienna is the high-water mark for drivability and livability.

When Toyota came back to pick up the Sienna, they left me with a Scion TC, equipped with a six-speed manual. As a result, my manhood was restored faster than a spike of Viagra. For the week of Suburban Amnesia and for all my whining about driving a minivan, the Toyota option proved its worth. Hauling all sorts of stuff without any problem and finding its way around town very comfortably was quite the treat.

It is most definitely not for me, but for those looking at Chrysler’s Grand Caravan, or the other benchmarks of the market, the Sienna should be considered seriously. I don’t love it, but I have learned to respect it for what it is.

For some of us, Hillsboro was the first town with a large outlet mall anywhere near us. For others, Lake Whitney, just a few minutes away from Hillsboro, has been a watery get-away for years. And even for others, Hillsboro is just that spot where I-35 splits and, if you’re heading north to D/FW, it means you’re almost home, or if you’re heading down south to San Antonio, it means you’ve still got a ways to go, yet.

Well, for this upcoming Mother’s Day Weekend, Hillsboro stands for action. Activities of all sorts are planned during the weekend of May 7th and 8th. From triathlons for in-shape humans to races for spunky little chihuahuas, there seems to be a good bit going on ’round town that weekend.

Triathletes can help make history by participating the first-ever Tri-Hillsboro Triathlon on May 7. The race event begins Friday evening with a spaghetti dinner, and will take place Saturday morning along the glistening waters of Lake Aquilla and the rolling hills of Highways 1534, 933, 310 and 1947. Registration for the race is a reasonable $55 up to April 18 and $65 for late registration up to May 2. Event proceeds will go to Hill County’s Volunteer Fire Department and Boys & Girls Club. Sponsorships for the triathlon of various sizes are welcomed and appreciated. For registration and additional sponsorship information, visit www.HillsboroTriathlon.com or contact Bhavini Ankuda at 254-266-4355.

If you want some exercise but swimming and running are not your forte, jump on your bike and head out to the Waggin’ Trail Bike Ride on May 7. The fourth annual race will benefit Hill County’s Paw Pals and Boys & Girls Club. Early registration is $25 by May 3, $30 up to race date and $15 for children under 12 years old. Contact Mike Hendricks at 254-580-0679 or HCPawPals@Yahoo.com for additional information.

Think you have the fastest pint-sized canine? Well, bring them out to go-for-the-gold at the Fourth Annual Chihuahua Racesat Outlets at Hillsboro. Non-Chihuahua pedigrees will have their chance to strut their stuff as well at the Pet Fashion Show. Visit www.OutletsAtHillsboro.com to pre-register and receive a free Gold Goody Bag with hundreds of dollars in coupons and savings. The $10 entry fee will help support Hill County Paw Pals.

If you prefer Captain Jack Sparrow over racing or tails and tu-tus, the Texas Pirate Festival at Middlefaire is the place for you. Over 100 vendors, belly dancing, singing and re-enactments will take you back in time to an otherworldly mid-seventeenth century English village of tri-corne hats, gypsies, and skulls and crossbones. Vendor forms are available at www.Middlefaire.net. Make sure you bring your eye-patches and booty to 8581 State Hwy 171 on May 7-8.

So, when your mother hints at hitting the nearest, elegant brunch for her special day, remember, brunches don’t have racing chihuahuas!