Sunday, July 22, 2012

I suppose once a year is not too much to do for a blog. I won last season's time trial in my region. It was a very close race, and decided on the last race of the season. I've started instructing much more, and I have to say, my driving and times have improved a great deal since I started this. My endurance is also much increased, and staying in the car for session after session in 100+ degree heat is not a bad thing now. I know plenty of good drivers who will not instruct, but it's a hoot for me. Most of my students have been great, and I've not run into any real hard heads as yet. Hope that luck holds. The current season is going slowly. The home remodel, which will get me a garage space and lifts, was delayed again but is now on track. We start in a month. I've a new engine project to do, and bought a new car in December, a 2012 Grand Sport C6. It's pretty nice, but not as fast as the racecar. As it should be. I had to get something that was at least a little like the racecar, and this is ideal for instructing. And I smile every time I leave work now. Sheri continues to drive well, and is advanced to red group. There's no higher group in our structure, save instructors. She's going faster, despite total knee replacement surgery this year. I'm glad I have a new engine because there's something funny about my car now. I can't put a finger on it, but there's a small power loss and just a bad feeling. Accordingly, I'm going to pull the engine from the car and put this one in. I'd rather rebuild a non-blown engine, and I'm thinking this one is about done. I'm getting much more into the mental game of racing. It seems to be a strong point and so I'm making the most of it. It also helps to think about track stuff in different ways so I can explain it to students better. One thing I note is that at the track, we're all participating in a giant ritual, just like pagans dancing round a fire. There's spiritual power in what we're doing, and it's interesting to think about the implications of that.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Long Hot Summer

It's been a while since I posted anything; have not had a great deal to say.

This year has been pretty bad for driving. I've not done enough of it, and the summer heat is making it hard to get to the track. In addition, I'm trying to save up for a house remodel effort (more garage space, yay!) so I'm loath to spend too much on the car.

I'm getting faster, but so is the competition. I'm sitting second in the time trial right now, and my main competition just switched to the same car I'm driving. Pretty funny. I'll take it as a compliment.

The thing is, driving is increasingly a mental sport for me. I need to have my head right, or I'm slower. If I can get a good picture of what I want to do, and stay focused, I can go like hell.

One reason I have little to say is that I find I need to say something that I hope others will value. If I can't say that, it's pretty useless to post to a blog, right?

So I don't have a takeaway for you this time round. If you're racing, keep the spirits up and the car on track. If you're not racing, give it a shot. It's a life changer. I'll post more when I find something more significant to say.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I had a racing dream. The car was a blue drop of water, running downhill between pieces of aggregate in a racetrack. Other drops were all around, going to same direction, and every moment more came from the sky, as raindrops are wont to do.

Movement was effortless, and I could steer my water drop any way, except uphill. I moved my viewpoint out of the car/drop and zoomed out a little, and yet was able to keep going downhill. It was very fun., sort of a combination of skiing down moguls and driving a really involved chicane.

I've definitely got an image to set in mind when I drive now. It's as easy as rain running downhill.

I don't have many driving dreams; I am generally airborne or walking, and this was a nice change.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Off Season Blues

It's Christmas. Loads of stuff going on, though little of it car related. Sheri finally took exception to having a stack of Hoosiers in the dining room. She expressed her ire by stacking them in the front window, and stringing lights and garland around them. She topped them off with a case of Amsoil and a star. Very funny.

I'm very down. Truck still not fixed; there's just been no time. I've all the parts for it, just need to put Humpty back together. I need two uninterrupted days to do that. Not going to happen until close to the first event of the year, and that means I won't be able to get the racecar modded like I want.

Of course, even if I could mod the car, I don't have any money to do so. I need to buy an R3 device, in order to instruct safely. That's going to kill the budget for data acquisition and the reserve I was saving in the new engine fund. I hope my harnesses and helmet are still good for another year; have to check that.

So much to do. I feel like I'm in a deep hole, listening to race cars go by up above. Perhaps the new year will bring me a better mood.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Up and Down

Sheri was supposed to attend a Driver's Edge event at MSR Cresson last weekend. She fell ill, and was not able to go. I was also scheduled to go, and thus I loaded up the truck and trailer and went to Cresson, south of Ft. Worth.

One of the reasons I wanted to go was I needed the practice. I lost at Cresson this year. Two guys were faster than me. That would not do at all. Also, my friend Roger was going to be there in his Exige.

When I got there, the Driver's Edge staff asked me to become an instructor. I was blown away. TDE is the premier school in this area. I was going to work up to even asking to instruct with this group, so when they asked me instead, I could not say no.

Their program is a full weekend of class to learn how to even approach students. Once past that, we'll have two students each, when we're called on to instruct. That's three times the normal track time, though 2/3 of it is in the right seat. It's grueling. Also, my track time with this group is comped now. That's the practical incentive.

The meta game is that in order to learn something really well, you have to learn to teach it. I firmly believe that, especially for students who come late to a discipline.

The staff really put time into the curriculum. TDE has been around for 15 years. This is a serious effort to standardize the manner of what they teach. I'm excited to be a part of that. The class was great, and very participatory. There were 10 of us in it. I'm honored to be in their company.

Roger did great. His exige is easily the best looking one at the track, in blue and orange. I believe he's a natural for driving.

I had a passenger in my last run, a guy named (honest) Human. Pronounced 'hoo man.' He's a young engineer and is looking at buying a corvette. Pretty sure I sold him. I put the new brake pads from Carbotech on, and the car is insane to stop now. It takes no effort. I feel like I have at least 30% more brakes, just from these pads. At the same time, I was restrained with my speed, and kept to a very sane 8/10s or so. No need to make a rider sick.

On the way home, I rear-ended a Ford Explorer carrying a family of three.

Totally my fault. The truck is ruined. Damage to the radiator, hood, grille, fender, door and the hitch in back. It was able to limp off the road, streaming fluids, tearing up a tire in the process. Thankfully, the folks in the Explorer were not injured (and said as much in front of the police) and neither was I. The bluecar was tied down well, and also escaped damage. At one stroke, I went from on top of the world to screwed.

Sheri got on the road in a borrowed truck from Austin. I organized getting Jefe to a body shop. Then I waited for three hours for my wife to arrive, and took the opportunity to berate myself for a fool. I think I've only ever felt that stupid once or twice before.

The worst part is that I decided long ago that since we'd paid $3000 for El Jefe, I would not carry collision insurance on him. This makes monetary sense, but at the time, we had not named the truck, and he was not yet our friend. Now, as I sat by the rear tire listening to him bleed into the Ft. Worth night, it all came home to me.

We spent the night in Granbury, and hooked up the trailer the next day and came home. Jefe is still there, waiting for a larger trailer to bring him home. After that, I don't know what I'll do. I've come down with a cold, so have some time to think. His frame is intact, and the only mechanical damage is the radiator and the condenser for the AC. I figure if I can spend $500 or so to fix him up for sale, it will be worth it. Selling him off for scrap is not an option, for many reasons.

I've sold three cars for $400. The Duster, the Camaro and the Ford convertible. All my old rides that I ran into the ground then threw away.

No more.

I felt bad each time, and it cost me something. I'm not doing that again. He may have body panels in different colors, but El Jefe is not done just yet.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

20 Feet

Going into the final weekend of NASA time trial competition, I found myself five points ahead of my closest rival, Josh Hilts. A win is worth 100 points, second place is 85, so five points represents a very small margin. I had to do at least as well as Josh, on both days, to win.

I took my nephew Nic Graner with me as pit crew and helper. He was awesome, as having an extra set of hands allowed me to stay focused on driving. He got to drive the truck around the paddock for various errands and play on his iPad the rest of the time, so it was not a bad weekend for a 14 year old.

The last event of the season is always in October, and has been at Eagle's Canyon near Decatur Texas for the last two years.

Eagle's Canyon is very cool. It's characterized by long straights, with tight corners at the end. True to the name, it has just less elevation change than Hallett in Oklahoma. It's a track built to showcase high horsepower cars.

Josh and I drive the same car, pretty much. His is 100 pounds lighter than mine, somehow, though 50 of that is the difference between Josh and me. His car also pulls mine on the straight. Slowly, inexorably, I've watched him pull away on every straightaway I've ever shared with him. That means he's making a bit more power than I am.

The rest of the field was outstanding. John DeAndrea, Bryan Bollinger, Kong Chang and all the rest. We had over seven drivers in class, thus Hoosier would be sending out two tires for the winner, and one to each of second and third place.

Last year at ECR, I turned a two minutes, seven seconds lap. 2.07. This year, I opened with 2.02, quickly improving to 2.01. Josh ran 2.01, just less than me by hundredths of a second. Then he hit the 2.00 minute mark, winning the Saturday event.

This was crushing. Two second place finishes and I'd end the year in second, as I did last year. Try as I might, I could not get away from him.

For the first half of the day Sunday, it was the same. I ran just hundredths of a second behind. Josh actually packed up and left after lunch on Sunday, since his time was standing up to all challengers.

I spoke to Jason Hart, one of the driving coaches who was helping out other folks at the track. He said "This track is all about long straights." I replied that I knew it, and was getting on power as fast as possible to maximize the straight. He then said "Well, what about the other end? Can you move your brake point just 10 feet?"

Well. Maybe.

10 feet sounds like a trivial amount, but it's more than just braking. 10 feet at the end of a straight means that the car would be under power for 10 more feet. Thus, braking would be much more violent and I'd have a shorter distance to do it. Overshooting the braking would put me off track, and disqualify me. Then there's the perception issue. 10 feet goes by in 0.22 seconds at 150 MPH. I wasn't sure I could accurately do that. Ok.

I bleed the brakes, and tighten everything up.

We go out in the third session, and the car in front of me, driven by the talented Ken Orgeron, leaves like a jack rabbit. I'm essentially alone with the track and the car. I take the first lap, and can't reliably hit my marks. I'm going faster, but the car fishtails wildly twice, as I try to combine off camber turns with braking. I need a system. I settle on saying "one missi-BRAKE!" in my head. And as stupid as it sounds the old timing chant, cut in half, worked. I moved my braking point up 20 feet, and still feel like I could go faster.

Midway through the second lap, the brakes began to smell rather bad. I compensate. Harder initial bite, faster but smoother off, earlier power. I'm hitting the rev limiter by holding redline too long. I ignore it. Engine and coolant temps are climbing. I ignore that too, as I'll only be out here for a few laps. This is a very strange place I'm in, with just me and the car and the track unfolding in front of us. If I lose here, I lose. I'd rather blow up the car trying than back off. But it holds together, and in lap three, I find the stillness necessary to go really fast.

I get back to the paddock after four laps. The tires were getting a bit greasy, and the brakes were soft, so no more fast laps were going to happen. I give the bluecar a pat and make sure to roll it forwards off the hot brake pads before getting out of the driving suit.

We get our times. Josh left too early. Mine comes back at one minute 59 seconds. 1.59. In my underpowered, heavy, 80,000 mile car. Ken Orgeron, with 15 years experience on me and a track membership at ECR does better by a little, but he's in a different class. We both set track records. I feel like I could shave another half second off easily, with new brake pads and another day to practice.

That puts me first on Sunday, and second on Saturday, which is good enough for the regional win, by five points. It would not have happened without John and Patty, Nic and Josh, Kong and the Hallett gang, the Soul Speed guys, Jason Hart and (always) Sheri.

Now, we get ready for next season. Losing weight, getting the car back to form, and some practice laps over the winter will be good. Looking forward to it.

Monday, August 02, 2010

NASA TWS July 31-August 1

I'd been dreading this event. It was 103 in the shade both days. I really needed to go to the track. The job situation is bad. I might not be employed for much longer, and if I have to go job hunting, racing will have to go on hold for a while. Thus, every event is precious.

In that sort of heat, I get about four, perhaps five good laps before the water temps in the car go too high. That's ok, because the tires go greasy after four laps, melting like a pat of butter on a hot skillet.

I got to the track on Friday afternoon to set up and scrub in tires. Misty Cain runs the practice sessions on Friday. She was nice enough to let me on track for three laps to scrub tires so they could cool overnight and be ready for the Saturday sessions.

TWS clockwise is very fast. You get a big right sweeper turn to accelerate onto the front banked straight. You enter the straight at over 100 MPH. Terminal speed is 150 or so, for me. That's around 10 MPH faster than the other direction. You come off the front straight into the chicane complex, so the braking cycle into that last turn, turn 15, is profound. When you mash the brakes, you hold threshold braking for what seems like forever, hoping to get the car slowed down enough to make the first turn. Wile you're doing that, you have to manage the car across the transition from banking to flat ground. If you come across to steep, the car can bottom out or rebound from the suspension stops, and become unbalanced. If you hit the flat too early, you don't get the increased braking force from the transition that you need to turn efficiently.

Because of the heat, the first two sessions of the day would be the critical ones. After lunch, the track and cars would be too hot to turn really fast times. At least, that was the plan...

The first session on Saturday went well, except I forgot my transponder. No times for me, in the fastest session of the day. Strike one.

In the second session, as I was coming into the first turn off the straight, a front brake line let go, and my pedal went to the floor. I was still over 100 MPH. I pumped it as the track edge approached. Nothing. So, I concentrated on where to end up with the car as I went off track. TWS has drainage culverts in the infield, and you have to know where they are because the grass grows up and hides them. As I was eating grass seeds and bugs, I turned the car wide of a culvert on my left, and angled towards the oval track to bleed off some speed. Driving on slick tires over grass is very like driving on ice. You do a lot with the throttle and less with the brakes (good for me, since I was having no brakes just then). I managed to get back under control and drive back onto the course and limp back to the pits. I found out I had been turning a 1:55 lap, before I disqualified myself. That's a personal best for me at TWS, but it didn't count. Strike two.

I miss third session tracking down and repairing the brakes. John randomly has two spare brake lines, which was very lucky. There are none to be had in College Station, at all. One chance left. It's now the hottest time of the day.

I go out in fourth session, and turn a 1:56.3 I take first place with that, my fastest (and only) official time. The brake repairs hold.

Sunday morning, I have to change brake pads. The old ones are too thin to take the heat of the deep braking cycles we use at this track. I don't have time to bed them in.

We go out, and I take a late pass on Ken Orgeron in his BMW, going into that same turn at the end of the front straight. I try as hard as I can, but without proper bedding, the brakes just don't hold, and I slide into the grass, sideways, at over 100. I spin a bit and come to a disgusted halt, for about five seconds, and then get back on track. DQ again. My main competition, Josh Hilts, turns a 1:55, but has to ditch as well, so it doesn't count.

Second session, I got tied up in traffic and managed a 1:57.8, good enough for third place. The other drivers are upping their game. Josh and I are neck and neck, with his 1:56 from the second session holding as the fast time of the day. I also crack a rotor, and change it before third session.

Josh's girlfriend persuades me to run a third session, just to see what happens. It's the most fun of the day, as I get to start right behind Josh.

I push the guy mercilessly. I could of course just back off, get some distance and try to turn a good lap. However, it's more fun to push him and see if I can catch him. I'm much faster chasing then when I've got open track. We're flying. We quickly leave the rest of the field behind. I'm better in the turns, but Josh has less miles on his engine so is faster in the straight. I use every trick I know, including driving down the banking, to stay up and catch him on the straight. Eventually, Josh misses a shift going through turn 13 and I get past. I end up turning a 1:57.1, good enough for third place (and a tire).

As I'm getting loaded up, I note that the truck has a bulge in one tire the size of a softball. I change the truck tire, then have to rest for a few minutes from the heat. Not quite enough water, I guess.

The hottest event of the season is over, and I'm three tires in the black. Good results for the event I was looking forward to the least.