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I am not a Reckless Shithead

17-18May08

The races last weekend were at Roebling Road, my home track.  I’d been looking forward to this for a long time because my home track is where I suck the least.  Which made it very unhappy when I got in big trouble on Saturday morning and was not allowed to participate in the two Saturday races.  Not happy at all.  Choke the life out of someone not happy.  But I’m getting ahead of my story.

 I’ve been doing all my track time for the past 6 months with sets of used tires bought on Ebay. I’d convinced myself that the major reason why I was 2 seconds slower at my home track then the front runners is that they were running fresher tires.  But since this was going to be my big event to show the front runners what I was made of, I put on new tires Saturday morning.  Ultimately I learned that the reason that the front runners are 2 seconds faster then I am is that they are fast as hell.

 My new tires were also a different model that I’d not used before.  The required tire for the series is changing, and this was my first try with that new tire model.  So we’d have to see how the new tire handled differently.  So not just new, but new and different.

 And it quickly turned into a nightmare.

 I used the first lap of Qualification to warm up my tires and brakes.  Then I flew down the straightaway for the start of the 2nd lap and promptly slid right off of the track at the next turn.  “Holy Shit”, I thought.  “What the hell is going on with these tires?”  I got back on the track and zoomed off.  60 seconds later I slid off of turn 9, which is a scary place to go off.  I remember thinking, as I was sliding off of my line towards the outside edge of the track, “This can’t be happening”. And then I was in the grass.  At 105mph.

 Turn 9 is a problematic place to go off because folks often attempt to snatch their car quickly back on to the track, and in so doing throw themselves across the track into the wall.  It’s the only wall at Roebling and it’s on the inside of the straightaway.  You’d think that it’d be hard to hit a wall on the inside of a straightaway, but it can be done.  And the way to do it is to go off of turn 9 and try to quickly get the car back on the track.

 So once I slid off my only thought was coming to a safe stop.  Skittering across the grass at 105mph I made the choice to head for the control tower several hundred yards away.  That’s the way the car was going anyways, and I was dubious about trying to get the car turned given that at 105mph in the grass I figured that the car might not respond predictably to changing driver inputs.

 So I headed for the tower.  By the time I got to the tower I’d brought my speed way down.  The tower is an admin area so I knew that there’d be no tolerance for zooming by it.  So I brought my speed down to 9mph, I say again 9mph, and crept around it.  Then I went farther down along side the track, waited for a safe opportunity to get back on, and off I went.  Only to be “black flagged” off of the track and sent into the pits.

 An hour later I was at the driver’s meeting with a couple hundred other guys that were racing that weekend.  We were a big chunk of the entire club racing community in this part of the country.  As a Rookie, this is the community that has provided me with provisional acceptance.  This is the community where I need to slowly build a reputation as a competent, safe, considerate and predictable driver.

 At the meeting the event organizer says, “We had a driver go off on turn 9, hardly lift off of the gas and go flying behind the control tower.  Whoever that was raise your hand”. 

 My hair stood straight up.  I knew that I’d cautiously crept around the tower at walking speed, yet every one of my peers had just been told some reckless shithead went behind the tower at 100mph.  But there was no question of hiding, no matter the unfairness of the accusation. They knew it was me.  I raised my hand.  “Come talk to me after the meeting”, the event organizer told me.

 I talked to the event organizer and race director briefly after the meeting.  Neither had actually seen the incident, they’d been told about it by the track management. I tried to assure them that I’d slowed way down but the race director was so damn mad that I figured that I’d best shut my mouth or I’d be banned for life.  They told me that I had to sit out the Saturday races, the same races I’d waited all year to do.  I’d only be able to do the Sunday race.  If I behaved.

 That night I pulled my data and video and made the screenshot attached that shows me behind the tower at 9mph.  I posted it on the racing community’s Internet forum so the truth hopefully did get out.  Ultimately the event organizer apologized and thanked me for taking the punishment without creating a big scene.

 

Sunday morning I had to decide whether or not to go with my tried and true used Ebay tires, or my brand new ones that seemed impossibly slippery.  I decided that the problem had to be me, and not the tires.  I probably just didn’t let them warm up enough, and then pushed them harder that I’d thought.  So the new tires it would be.

 I lined up for the race having qualified around 18th of 25 or so in my class.  Not terrific, but I’d been a little cautious because I didn’t trust the tires.  There would be ~60 cars on the track total during my race, because there’s other classes there too.

 It was a rolling start and when the green flag waved we all roared down the straightaway together.  It’s so deafening that you can’t even hear the howl of your own engine so you have to watch the tach carefully to shift.  There seemed to be space on the outside to move up a little so I headed into turn 1 on the outside.  We went into turn one 3-wide and I found myself being squeezed into less and less room on the outside edge of the track.  I went two wheels off and then had half a car off.  I was fighting to stay on line and in control but then my rear end slid out from under me and I was off into the grass backwards.  From 18th to 25th in 15 seconds.  “Oh for crissakes”, I thought, “this is the same damn thing that happened to me in the last race.”  I fought the rest of the race to catch back up and pick a few guys up.  I ended up passing 4 people in my class so finished 21st.

 It’s not about having more horsepower then the other guy.  It’s about executing  a turn more efficiently then the other guy and therefore coming out of the turn with another 1mph and carrying that edge down the straightaway.

 I tried hard towards the end to catch a buddy that is a fellow Rookie, but by then the faster class cars were catching up to me.  I was slowly catching up to him, mostly be diving into the turns more aggressively, so it was just a matter of time.  But then poor traffic management defeated me.  I allowed the faster cars to go by at locations where it hurt me a lot because I let them go by in a turn causing me to take a crappy and slow line thru the turn.  But I let these guys by at locations that ensured that they’d catch my buddy on the main straightaway where it wouldn’t affect his speed at all.  Then one nut passed me, spun off of the track, and came back and passed me again.  That hurt me twice. 

 That taught me that if you suck, you will be slow.  And if you are suck and you are stupid, you will be even slower.

Video here.  Look in the Video folder for the 18May08 file.  As always, they are big files.  Download before playing.

 

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