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.
My intentions for the event
Continue to learn the limits of my “new” car. This was the biggest thing I needed to work on. My car felt so different with the springs in the right places, and I still felt like I was really far from its limits. I knew the car could corner faster and I could get to the throttle sooner, but I needed time to work my way up to it. I intended to use my time at this event to do just that.
Be a tough, fair racer. After I’d accidentally defended too aggressively at my last race at AMP, I wanted to find the happy medium between pulling over for other cars and not ceding the line after they had won the right to racing room. I had learned my lesson, and I wanted a chance to put that lesson to use.
Enjoy racing! Regardless of how much progress I made, I wanted to remember that I was racing because racing is fun. I can be such an overachiever that I sometimes forget that racing is my hobby, and the only reason I do it is because I love to do it. Above all, I wanted to make sure that I was out there for the right reasons, and enjoying my time on the track.
Had the pace to have some great battles on track. That little bit of time I found with my new springs made all the difference when it came to racing. Unlike the multi-class races at NASA events, there was no out-of-class traffic to break up the field. This was the first time I’d battled with cars running my same pace for the duration race. I found myself thinking through my racecraft; “Where can I get a run?” “What can I do differently to get along side that other car?” and “How would I set up a pass?” I discovered this aspect of racing felt much more familiar to me than learning to drive fast had. Building muscle memory and athletic skills still feels a little foreign, but I’m no stranger to scheming and strategy, thanks to years of trying to get things done in big corporations at work. I was so excited to have finally have reached a point in the learning curve where I actually got to do the fun part of racing!
Got my best results ever at AMP. I was 1.2 seconds faster at this event than I had been at my last race at AMP, although much of that could be attributed to the cooler weather we had at this event. (It was an unseasonably cool 82 degrees!) My race results were a definitive improvement, though. In my first race I finished 10th out of 14 cars, and in my second race I was 11 out of 14. Finally, I was very solidly not last at an AMP race!
Finally nailed my technique to avoid missed shifts. For months I’d been practicing and experimenting with my shifting techniques while driving on the street, trying to find a way to avoid missed shifts on the track. A missed shift can slow you down and is often all a competitor needs to pass you. Worse, the wrong kind of missed shift can cause serious damage to an engine. I’d previously struggled to find a shifting technique that avoided missed shifts and was intuitive enough I could do it while racing without thinking about it. Finally, all the deliberate practice I’d done on my commute sunk into my brain, and I was able to unconsciously shift using a grip that helped me avoid missed shifts!
Overcame imposer syndrome feelings to achieve all these results. I’m starting to think impostor syndrome is like oversteer. You can’t avoid it entirely, so the best way to deal with it is to recognize it early and correct it before it slows you down. And, like oversteer, if you’re not experiencing some impostor syndrome, you’re probably not pushing hard enough.
At this event, it started with me making a mistake, as it usually does. In one of the morning sessions, I went off track and got back on without considering that I was around a blind corner. I surprised a car coming up behind me that had to make a last minute dodge around me. I realized instantly that I had made a mistake and mentally admonished myself for not thinking about entering the track someplace visible. (This prairie girl is still working on the whole hill thing.) When I saw the race director standing by my car later in the morning, I knew why he was there. He told me I’d made a mistake, and I told him I was aware of it and knew not to make it again. Then, since he’d been absent at the last event, he brought up the same complaints about about my aggressive racing that I’d heard from a different official last time. Again, he didn’t mention any specifics, only that “multiple” other drivers complained about me. I calmly explain that I’d reviewed my video and seen that I had unintentionally defended too aggressively by not moving off the racing line when I probably should have. He seemed satisfied with that, but I felt my impostor feelings creep in. I imagined other drivers telling each other, “Watch out for the blonde girl. She’s out of control and has no idea what she’s doing.” I’ve struggled with impostor syndrome feelings more at these races than at NASA-SE races. NASA-SE officials tend to be more accepting of mistakes as long as you learn from them, particularly if you don’t hit anyone. The AMP officials tend to take more of a “you better behave yourself” approach. Plus, unlike NASA-SE events, I’m the only woman participating in the AMP events. (They’re smaller events, so it’s likely just the law of averages at work.)
I’m proud to say that I recognized those impostor feelings quickly, and was able to talk myself back down. I reminded myself, “What other people think of you is none of your businesses.” I have complete control over how I drive and am fully capable of learning from my mistakes. If I knew I could be a tough but fair racer, it didn’t mater what anyone else thought. I belonged on that racetrack just as much as anyone else. And I went out and raced hard but fair, just like I planned. And after the race, my competitors told me they had fun battling with me!
Things I learned
How the terrain affects my “new” car. I felt like Road Atlanta was easier to learn than AMP on my new springs. That might be because I’ve practiced Road Atlanta in the driving simulator, and, because simulated cars can’t have backwards springs, I knew how a properly set up car was supposed to feel. AMP isn’t in any of my sim programs, so this was my first time experiencing it with the springs on the proper corners. AMP is very hilly, and the track layout uses the terrain to make each turn as technical and challenging as possible. I was surprised how different that terrain felt as I tried to add speed with my new springs. I couldn’t drive the same way and just carry more speed to go faster. I needed to relearn how the terrain affected the car in every corner.
Get back to the racing line ASAP after passing a car. I made a fantastic pass at the start of my second race. I’d gotten a run on the car in front of me, and there was space on the outside to drive around it. However, instead of moving back onto the racing line after the pass, I stayed on the outside. Because of that, I ran wide and off the track in turn 1 and lost several positions. After the race, Brad asked me, “Why didn’t you move back over after you cleared the car?” I told him I wasn’t exactly sure if I was clear or not, and I didn’t want to drive in my mirrors. He wisely told me, “When you pass a slower car on the freeway, you don’t need to watch your mirror the whole time to see when you’ve cleared it, do you? You know your rate of speed compared to the other car, and you already have a sense of how long it will take to clear it. Racing is the same thing. You’re passing a Miata, so it’s not going to magically start accelerating any harder. It’s going as fast as it can go!” Next time I make a pass on the race track, I plan to relax and think of it like the passes I made every day on the freeway.
Driving fast is fun, but what I really love is racing. On the formation lap, I was still feeling a little distracted and self-conscious from my earlier impostor syndrome incident. But when the green flag dropped, something magical happened and my negative feelings disappeared. All of my attention was consumed by racing and I was fully in the moment. The only thing that mattered were the cars in front of me, and I needed to pass them! Now that I’m fast enough that passing other cars is a possibility, racing has become so much more fun. This is the thing I spent all my money on and worked so hard to get to do! That exhilarating thrill and challenge is what I live for!
What to work on for next time
Review my video and data and make a plan to improve at my next race. The next time I race, I’ll be back at AMP. It’s rare that I race at the same track twice in a row, so I plan to take advantage of that and find a few ways to improve directly on my performance. I plan on comparing my videos to Brad’s and look at some segment times and apex speeds to identify some things that went well at this event. I’ll go back to the track with a few small things to do differently to find a little more time at my next race. (To be clear, when I say “data,” I don’t mean analyzing squiggly line data traces, I just mean information about my performance in a more general sense.)
Get my fitness level back up to snuff. I’d been suffering from a nasty lingering chest cold for about a month before this event, and hadn’t done any intense cardio exercise for about two months. I was lucky the weather was “cool,” because I was feeling pretty out of shape. Now that I finally seemed to have kicked the cold, I plan to get back on my regular workout schedule so I’ll be able to take the heat at my August race.
Keep working on the basics in the sim. Since I still don’t know what my next big area of improvement will be once I get comfortable on my new springs, I’m going to keep practicing the basics. Everyone can always get better at the basics, and I hopefully I’ll be even faster once I start finding some limits on my new springs!