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.


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