Thursday, August 31, 2006

Zen and Driving

HPDEs are very Zen activities. I'm not sure one can define Zen easily. I know what it feels like, but I thought I'd seek the wisdom of the Internet for a definition. I Wikied Zen and found a pretty good one: It's a belief that enlightenment can be achieved via direct intuitive insight. It's a Buddhist belief system, so ego is a barrier, desire is undesirable, etc.

When you drive, it's a direct challenge to the ego. You see it driving to work in the morning, when folks either MUST pass that next car, or MUST get to the light first, etc.

On track, it's much the same temptation, but more focussed. The mindset of the RACEtrack is that one must be in front. Thus, to get there, you press the right pedal down and make sure you're passing folks. Or so it would seem. The reality of it is, that at my level of expertise, going faster doesn't happen when you try to go faster. You have to let go of the idea that concentrating on the leading car will let you catch it. I do my best to ignore the leading car until I'm very close, because the next few turns are generally much more interesting. I pay a little attention to it, just enough to see it if there's a skid or incident. The main focus is driving smoothly. When I do that, I can catch many, many cars.

It feels like magic. You just have to let go of the whole competition thing and drive the car. The better you feel the tires' grip, and the engine RPM and the brakes, the better you will be able to drive the course, and the closer to the edge you can be.

Of course, where I drive, the car in front of you may not be willing to let you by. There's no passing at HPDEs unless the leading car allows it. Thus, you have to stay behind the lead car until he sees that you're faster. If you're the lead car, you have to admit, to yourself, that the car in your rear view mirror is faster. If you have too much ego, that'll be hard to do. That's the letting go part of it, too. In a race, you'd just find a way around the slower car somehow.

I used to be quite bothered by this, but I found that if I'm behind a slower car that will not let me around now, I just keep on keeping on. It is, in fact, the same thing as catching anyone. You just let go of it, and drive the best line you can. I've had folks apologize to me for not allowing me to pass, after leading me around for two or more complete laps with me a foot off their bumper the whole way. Letting go of it is easier.

This is the hardest post I've written so far. I'm finding it hard to explain this without sounding like Captain Obvious, so I'll stop now. I'll close by saying that I think about the only thing that will let you make good decisions in the extreme chaos of a real race would be a core of calm that I believe zen teaches. Thus, I'm very interested in it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Rained Out

I put my wife on the plane to her speaking engagement, and loaded up to head for Dallas and the TMS night event. It was a leisurely load, since I didn't have to be there until late in the afternoon.

I drove up I-35, and made good time. It's not as pretty a drive as the more westerly route through Hico, but when going to Dallas and not Ft. Worth, I-35 is often faster.

As I drove and relaxed, I managed to outrun the tensions of the week. This is how I know I'm doing the right sort of recreation. I've had hobbies that felt like work, so that after a weekend of them, you don't feel relaxed or rested, but rather keyed up. Driving is not like that. By the time I got to Dallas, I was refreshed, relaxed and ready for a snack before changing tires and getting on-track.

At 1600 they let us in to the track. Saw many friends, talked new mods, new kids, relationships, politics, and food. The usual. I also started drinking water, as it was around 102F.

Around 1630, my tires arrived, but I waited to change them until after the driver's meeting. The track was occupied by one of the high-end driving schools. They were turning laps in what looked and sounded like a NASCAR vehicle. Must have cost a great deal.

The Blue Goose Cantina catered the dinner. Very, very good fajitas! If you're in Dallas, I'll recommend them on the Fajits alone. As we ate, Rick explained the track and the rules of the event, and it was a scary talk. No passengers, because no instructor would ride in the outside seat next to the wall. Talk of going 150-160 into the banked turns, as the chicane was not really much of a slowdown. How the track didn't give your brakes time to cool, since though the straight was long, the braking was very hard at the end. Then Steve Hill took over.

Rick was mild compared to Steve. He described, in some detail, how to fuck up on this track. You could come off the 26 degree banking onto the 14 degree, think it's flat and spin the car. If you try to catch it, you'll flip the back end around and smack the wall backwards. How to minimize impact, if you can, hitting the wall at less than 15 degrees, because more was very dangerous. How a brand new C6 had been destoyed at this track. Who had died at this track. And on.

It froze the room. I began to think about why I was here at all, if this was a hobby, or something else. I put that aside and threw away my plate and went to change tires when Steve was done scaring us. I think it's sane to be cautious, but too much caution can also lead to accidents, so I thought to drive as I always do and see how it worked out.

When I was all set up, I noted clouds on the horizon, over the top of the stands. There was a magnificent rainbow too; I could see both ends. I watched until I was sure, then found a computer to check the weather. The coulds were coming up towards the track.

Three hours later, I was changing tires again, in the rain. I run on street tires for rainy conditions. No one had been on track, and it was dark already. The problem was the lightning. You can't station corner workers out in the rain and the lightning. An hour later, we called the event because of weather, so I got to go get some sleep. I was very disappointed, but hopefully we can reschedule. No rain for 45 days, until this storm.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Track Prep: Night Event, TMS

Well, the prep is done. Went to SoulSpeed in Austin for the work. Bill Kim runs a nice shop and at reasonable rates. I had:
Corner weighting check
Brake bleed
four race tires mounted
swap back to street tires
Tech inspection for the event

This'll be my last one until October (giving September a rest, since I'm about out of money for the moment) so I wanted to make sure all systems were perfect.

The car is remarkably balanced, even with 250# in the front left seat. It's within 2%. With me in it, it weigns 3400 on the nose.

Tires are balanced, though one of the rims is bent (I bought it that way; old autox rims) and takes around four ounces of weight to balance. Yeesh. Have to get some new wheels. Too bad it's a rear rim, as I don't want to replace the 11" wide rears at this time.

Bill was cautionary about the track. He advised me to take it easy and not push too hard, as there's no place to spin safely. It's mostly an oval track, so if you spin, you likely smack the wall. I'm planning on driving home Sunday, so no walls for me!

The tires leave with my friend David this evening, and I'll follow them up on Saturday. Looking forward to getting on track again. It's been too long.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Getting in Shape

Went back to the gym recently. The only time I have to work out is in the early morning. That sucked at first, but now I'm getting used to it. The hardest part is going to bed early enough.

Driving subjects you to heat. My car is actually pretty well insulated against engine and transmission heat, but cockpit temps get into the 110-120F range. You don't notice it, but it's plenty hot. Race cars, with all the insulation pulled out, are 130-ish. Then there's the elevated heart rate. Going fast is pretty intense, and your heart responds and speeds up. Then there's the Gs. It's not alot, but for those of us that are not pilots, we're not used to 2G, over and over again. That causes muscle fatigue and makes you tired, which slows you down. That must not happen, so to the gym I went.

I'm doing aerobic exercise on an eliptical trainer. It's low impact, and I can hold my heart rate (the wonderful device has a heart rate monitor built in) around 135-150 for 30 minutes. It also helps breath control and my legs (which mysteriously turned into rubbery odd-looking things when I wasn't looking). I then do some core work (that's what's sore when I get off track, so I must need work there) and that's what I have time for.

I need to find a good neck exercise. My head isn't secured too well, and carries a helmet. You also have to maintain good flexibility in your neck so that you can maintain situational awareness and vision. And a stronger neck helps if you ever get in a pile up, or so I'm told. BestI can do so far is looping a towel around my head and pulling this way and that. It has the added bonus of looking REALLY stupid, so that's a good thing.

Weight. I've struggled with it all my life. Well, now, every six pounds is about 1 HP at the wheels. That's some powerful incentive. Dropping from 250 to 238 would be nice, make me more heat tolerant and faster. Sounds like a winner.

Driving fast is a sport. Have to train for track days with more respect.