Roebling has become my unlucky track this year. Our season includes three races at Robeling. In January my brakes failed in practice, and then I got punted off the track during the race. In April, the electrical gremlins that dogged me for three events first appeared, just as I rolled onto the false grid for my first race. And now, at this most recent event, I experienced my first big crash that seriously damaged my car.
I was really excited to get back to Atlanta Motorsports Park (AMP) now that I had my front springs in the front and my rear springs in the rear. I’d spent a whole test day practicing at AMP before I got my springs fixed, and I was hoping that the proper springs plus my previous practice would lead to some big gains in pace.
But, as my coach reminded me, progress doesn’t work like that. I only went a little bit faster. But it worked out, because that little bit was all I needed to be exactly as fast as two other drivers. Literally, I was only one thousandth of a second slower than the car ahead of me in qualifying! There were several cars that were running a similar pace, which made for some really fun racing for everyone. I finally got to experience close racing, which is what Spec Miata is supposed to be all about.
First of all, I have to thank the Racing Analytics crew for all the hard work they did on my car that made this event possible for me. When I left my car with them after my last event, it wouldn’t start due to an electrical problem and it had a mysterious and severe handling issue that we’d just discovered. In just four days, the crew discovered the source of the electrical problem (the O2 sensor wire was touching the exhaust, which caused the ECU fuse to blow) and the handling issue (the front springs were on the rear, and the rear springs were on the front) and fixed both problems! As soon as the crew had the car back together, I loaded it up to take it to Road Atlanta for my next race.
It turns out I’d been racing my car with the springs backwards for the entire year I’d owned it. (The front and rear springs look identical except for a tiny engraving of the weight on each spring, so neither the crew or I had spotted the issue I inherited from the previous owner.) Since I didn’t have any time to practice with the springs on the correct corners before my race, Saturday was all about relearning the car. It was so different, and I quickly discovered I need to unlearn all kinds of weird habits I’d developed trying to keep the previously compromised car from killing me.
By Sunday, I had started to wrap my head around how a Spec Miata was supposed to handle. All of the sudden, the progress that had been eluding me for months began to materialize. Things finally started to click. Instead of searching for tenths of seconds, I started dropping entire seconds off my lap times. I felt more confident than I ever had before. I finally felt, without any doubt, that I belonged on the race track.
What would you do if you had a whole race track and a professional driving coach to yourself for a day? I’ll can tell you what I did; I worked my ass off. As part of our business-consulting-for-driver-coaching deal, my coach made a stop in Atlanta to coach me for the weekend. Racing Analytics got us on track at Atlanta Motorsports Park (AMP) (where their shop is located). I worked so hard and I saw so much progress! And I learned a lot, too.
The biggest thing I learned was that my car had something wrong with the suspension all along. In my first session on track, as I was warming up and gradually picking up my pace, the car snapped oversteered on me faster than I could catch it. I shot right myself into the tire wall. (Lucky for me, the damage minimal, so we quickly pulled the fenders back out and got an alignment from Racing Analytics, and I was back on track.) Towards the end of the day, my coach talked Brad into driving my car. Brad assumed it would feel just like his, since they are, after all, spec cars. My coach seemed to have a hunch that might not be the case. When Brad came in, he said, “Now I see why you hit the tire wall. Your car is twitchy and really lose. I think something is wrong with it.” There was no time to dig deeper before our race on Sunday, but my curiosity was piqued. What did that mean for me if there was something wrong with my car? (It turns out a lot. More on that in a minute.)
When I posted the recap of my last event, I was feeling dispirited and frustrated by my lack of progress and my race car breaking. I figured I could either sit around feeling sorry for myself or I could channel my frustration into something productive. I went the productive route and channeled my frustration into lots of simulator practice to see if I could get to the bottom of what was holding my driving back.
I didn’t even know if I’d be running this event until 5 days before we were scheduled to leave. Racing Analytics had to rewire my entire car after they discovered the body wiring harness was damaged because a previous owner had spliced into it and crumpled it up under the dash. They got the work done in plenty of time, but when the car finally started again it had an engine knock that inexplicably went away the next day. This required more work to assess the engine’s health, which was mysteriously totally fine. I picked the car up on a Sunday, and we left for the track the following Friday.
This event had a different format from any of the other NASA-SE events I’d previously raced in. There was another race in a different NASA region going on the same weekend, so fewer racers than normal registered for this event. The officials decided to put all 54 racers that did sign up in one race group, which would have a “qualifying race” and a “points race” each day, making the event a four race weekend for everyone.
My car made it through one practice session, one qualifying session and almost all of one qualifying race before the electrical gremlins returned and ended my weekend. On one of the last laps of Saturday’s qualifying race (which was to set the grid for the points race later that afternoon), my car spun off track, stalled, and refused to refire for the rest of the weekend. Even though I now have two more empty spaces on the points sheet, I was on track long enough to see that my practice paid off, and that I was, in fact, making progress again!
Sometimes, bad days make for exciting YouTube videos, like last time I raced at Robeling. This time, bad days made for no video at all. After running about 30 events in two different Miatas, I had a mechanical failure end my weekend for the first time. This is my second “bad day” event at Roebling in a row. Intellectually I’m not superstitious, but emotionally I feel like Roebling is my unlucky race track.
For most of my adult life, I identified myself as “not a competitive person.” I was a nice, thoughtful, collaborative, easy going person. Competitive people, I thought, were aggressive, confrontational people who would throw you under the bus and do anything to get ahead. That definitely wasn’t me. I wore the “not a competitive person” label with pride.
And yet, somehow I fell in love with wheel to wheel racing, a sport that involves battling door to door with other cars for the same scrap of asphalt. Racing is arguably one of the most competitive things a person could do. How did that happen? It turns out I was a competitive person all along, but being competitive didn’t mean quite what I thought it did.
The week before this race, I watched the Speed Secrets “Improve Your Racecraft” webinar with Ross Bentley. One of Ross’s suggestions in the webinar was to use a “trigger phrase” to get yourself in the right mindset for the race start. (Ross’s is “Watch this!”) When he put it like that it seemed like telling myself, “Let’s see what happens,” which was probably not what Ross was going for. I wracked my brain think of something better. The next day, a t-shirt that I’d bought from an Instagram fundraiser showed up in the mail. It said “Be Epic” across the front. I decided that was perfect.
It turned out to be perfect for this event, too. We had sunshine, pouring rain, mud, and lots of cars spinning across the track (including me) and going off the track (including Brad). In spite of all that, Brad and I both got our best Spec Miata results to date and loaded two happy race cars onto the truck at the end of the weekend. That’s pretty epic, if you ask me.
Because I’m either crazy or a total badass (or both), I decided to run this race at Atlanta Motorsports Park (AMP) the very next weekend after my race at CMP. To tip the scales a bit to the crazy side, this event was on a Sunday and I had hardwood flooring installers scheduled to by at my house at 8:00 am the next day to start installing new floors in my whole second floor. This meant I spent the day before the race moving three bedrooms’ worth of stuff downstairs to clear the way for the new floors. But Brad and I needed to make a trip to AMP that weekend anyway, because we needed to drop Brad’s race car off at Racing Analytics (whose shop is at the track) to diagnose the mysterious misfire that developed at our last event. Why not get a few races in while there?
Fortunately, this one-day event was pretty easy to squeeze into my schedule. AMP organizes this really handy race series for Spec Miatas and other momentum cars with a manageable schedule and lots of track time. The day starts at 9:00 a.m., (which is super late compared to most amateur race series) and includes a practice session, two qualifying practice sessions and two races and is all wrapped up by 3:00 p.m. I’m planning to squeeze in as many of these AMP races as I can manage this year.
This is really a story about Carolina Motorsports Park’s (CMP) strange pavement. The asphalt at CMP is made up of small, very pointy, sharp rocks. On the track’s surface, the tar has worn away leaving all the tiny pointy edges of the rocks sticking up, making the track less grippy and harder on tires. I knew all this going into the weekend. But what I didn’t know, and what no one else knew either, is what this track was like to drive on when wet. Somehow it hadn’t rained on a race weekend here in recent memory. This was the weekend it finally rained on us at CMP. And we all learned that CMPs grip levels don’t seem to be correlated to how wet the track is.