No matter how I performed, it felt like a huge win just to be able to run in this event. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it after my car was in a huge wreck less than a month beforehand. Luckily, the wreck that totaled two other cars didn’t total mine. My shop, Racing Analytics, was able to bolt a new rear subframe right in, meaning my suspension was all back to normal for this event. My right rear quarter panel, however, was not back to normal. It was still bashed in and couldn’t be pulled out any further because it was tearing away from the unibody. (If we tried to pull it out to make more clearance for the tire, it would just tear off from the car instead of bending back to shape.) It would need to be cut out and a new quarter panel would need to be welded in. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to take my car to a body shop between repairing the suspension and this event. The crew raised the ride hight on my car up as high as it would go in an attempt to keep the fender from rubbing on the tire. We had no idea how badly it would rub, but I promised my crew chief I’d be extra careful. If there were any possible way I could race, I was going to race!
My intentions for the event
Drive within the limits of my car’s condition. My first goal for this event was to see how much damaged fender rubbed on the tire. If it was really bad, I would just do one hot lap in each race to get some championship points. (A “start and park,” as they call it in NASCAR.) Otherwise, I wanted to do the best I could with the car I had. With the ride height up so high, the front wheels had less camber. In theory, this meant meant car would have less front grip. I wasn’t sure I was good enough to actually notice it, though.
Continue to improve my communication with my car. Last month at my test day I’d made huge improvements in my ability to run a consistently fast pace via improving my communication with my car. If my tire rub wasn’t too bad, my plan was to continue to work on this and make sure that performance wasn’t a one off fluke.
Have fun. This is the whole reason I was dragging my partially fixed race car 270 miles to the track. I was determined to have fun driving and enjoy the company of my racing family.
Ran a full race weekend less than a month after a major wreck. My car ended up being mostly fine on track. I had some tire rub in left turns, but I was able to manage it well enough to run every session and race of the weekend without destroying my tire. I took the checkered flag and picked up non-last place points in both races.
Won a fun little battle with a lone Spec E30. We had a small field of cars for this event so there wasn’t a lot of traffic and cars got pretty spread out. There was a caution about a third of the way through Sunday’s race, and after the restart I got passed by a handful of faster class cars, including a lime green BMW Spec E30. After a few laps, I realized I was reeling the lime green E30 back in! At this point we were both separated from our respective classes and were fair game for out of class racing. The E30 put up a little bit of a fight, but I got a run on it coming out of the fast “kink” turn and made the pass. After racing for a few more turns I was able to pull out a sizable gap. Even though I know that drivers at the front of the Spec Miata field race around in tight packs of five or six cars, I’ve come to accept that a two car battle with literally anyone else is fun and challenging for me right now. I’m going to shamelessly enjoy those battles whenever I can get them!
Ran a new personal best lap time with a wounded car. After I caught and passed the lime green E30, I finally clicked back into that mode of communicating with my car and was able to start turning fast, consistent laps. Because of my damaged fender, I couldn’t take curbs in any left turns and I had to take it easy in the fast left handers. One of the important turns at CMP is a fast left hander, so this handicap definitely affected my lap times. Even so, I beat my previous personal best lap time by a 10th of a second, which means I must have gotten faster in other parts of the track! Not only that, but I was able to run several laps within a second of that time.
Things I learned
More about how my car communicates. We had a rainy qualifying session on Saturday. I went out on slicks because the last time it rained at CMP the slicks seemed to have an advantage over rain tires. (This wasn’t the case this time. I’m not sure if that was because CMP’s surface is so weird or other drivers bought new rain tires.) The combination of slicks, rain, and CMP’s poor surface meant my car moved around a lot. I felt my car slide a little on all four wheels through the kink and without feeling like I was going to spin. As I accelerated out of turns, I felt the rear of the car squirm just a touch, and then grip up as the weight transferred to the rear wheels. I also felt the rear of the car squirm on the exit of turn 8 as I lost the camber coming out of the fast, banked, 90 degree turn. After that wet qualifying session, I felt a little overwhelmed by all these new sensations. It was like I’d finally tuned a dial into a radio frequency I’d been searching for, and now it was too loud.
You can’t think about driving too much, but you have to think about it some. When I watched the in-car video of that rainy qualifying session with Brad, he asked me, “So which of these laps was your good one?” When I asked him to clarify, he said, “You know, the one where you see you don’t have too much traffic and decide to really go for it to put in a good lap.” I usually do this in qualifying, but that day I’d been so focused on feeling the car I hadn’t. I’ve always struggled with overthinking my driving, but for the first time ever, I hadn’t thought about it enough! It showed in my video, too. My lines and inputs looked messy and random. That’s probably why I was overwhelmed with information; I was getting a lot of information I didn’t need! Of course, in qualifying the next day I went back to overthinking things again, and my lap times reflected it. It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon when I started trying to catch that lime green E30 that I rediscovered the “goldilocks thinking” mindset, where I wasn’t over or under thinking my driving. I just focused on working with my car to go faster. While I was doing that, I was paying attention to all the information the car was giving me about how close I was to the limit and how fast I was going. After I passed the E30, I consistently knocked out laps that were within a few tenths of my fastest lap until the checkered flag flew.
If you’ve got a big run, make the pass if at all possible. I actually learned this driving to the track and then applied it on the track. It turns out that driving a 22,000lb truck and trailer combo on the freeway is a lot like racing a slow Spec Miata. You don’t want to lose your momentum, so you must plan ahead and have a strategy for both getting passed and making passes. At one point during the drive to CMP I had a semi truck ahead of me that was slowing down going uphill and excessively speeding downhill. Our F350 pickup will happily hold the speed limit pulling our trailer up hills, so I caught up to the semi at the crest of a particularly tall hill. I canceled the cruise and slowed down, figuring the semi would just speed away down the hill. Brad said to me, “You had a huge run, there. You should have passed him. He slows down so much on the hills that our average speed is higher than his, even if he’s speeding downhill. If you have a big run, you should always make the pass if at all possible. That’s true when towing on the highway and on the race track.” When I was racing two days later and got a run on that lime green E30 coming out of the kink, I heard Brad’s voice saying, “…you should always make the pass…” and confidently pulled out and passed it!
My steering wheel is too far away. As I was paying attention to how my car was responding to my inputs, I noticed sometimes I struggled to get my car turned in, particularly for slow, sharp turns where I needed to throw the car into the turn and then add a lot of steering lock to the wheel. I also noticed that my forearms were getting sore even when I tried to use my upper arms and shoulders to push and pull the steering wheel. As I was wrestling my way through CMP’s slowest turn, I realized that I was having a difficult time maintaining my grip on the wheel as my top hand rotated up and away from me. My steering wheel was too far away! I couldn’t get enough leverage with my upper hand to push the wheel because I was struggling to reach it. I’m very tall with very long legs, so my seat is bolted to the floor as far back as it can be in my small Miata. My wheel and seat setup worked well in my track car Miata with power steering, so I’d assumed that my steering issues were related to the sticky slick tires and lack of power steering on my race car. When I payed more attention to what I was doing, I realized my lack of strength was actually a lack of leverage!
What to work on for next time
Get my car back to 100%. This is my top priority in the short three weeks between this event and my next one. My car is now in the body shop getting its fender replaced and wheel well repaired. I’ll be painting the fender myself to save money. (Good thing I bought some extra paint when I did my last repair!) If I have time after getting that done, I’d like to find a way to lower my ride height and put a normal setup back on my car. I’m not super worried about the setup because I didn’t run into problems with it at CMP, but my next race is at Road Atlanta, my home track, and I’m able to push harder there.
Find a steering wheel spacer. I was happy to discover that steering wheel spacers exist and should solve my steering problem! A steering wheel spacer should not only bring my steering wheel closer to me and make it easier for me to muscle the wheel through turns, it should also move my steering wheel out of the way so I’m no longer hitting my knee on it. I’m hoping I can get my hands on one before my next race.