More speed, more problems: NASA-SE Sinko De Mayo at Carolina Motorsports Park, May 4-5, 2019


Here I am, keeping up with the pack, oblivious to my transmission’s plans to self destruct.  
Photo credit: Bill Land

First, the good news: I’m actually faster! I was able to repeat my performance from Roebling the prior month and beat my personal best time by 2.2 seconds at CMP, too! It wasn’t just a fluke.

Getting faster solves so many problems. It makes it easier to manage traffic. It makes racing more fun. It’s kind of the whole point of racing. But getting faster also brings up new problems. It’s harder on equipment. There’s less margin before I hit the limits of the tires. I have to figure out how to get around slower drivers in faster cars.

This event was all about learning what new problems I need to solve. We had 17 Spec Miatas at this event, and both Saturday and Sunday I could have been 12th if it weren’t for these new problems. On Saturday, I clearly had the pace over the car in 12th place, but I made a mistake going around a backmarker BMW E30 and was never able to make up the time I lost. Then, on the second to the second to last  lap of the race, my tires decided they would no longer carry me through the kink at wide open throttle, and I spun off the track, losing another position. On Sunday, I had a better race and was running in 12th place when my transmission blew up. I have the pace to run with the mid-pack, but now I have new problems to solve to get the results I’m after.

That said, I firmly believe that you’re always going to have problems, and the best you can do is choose which problems you want to have. Right now I’m deeply grateful to have the problems of a faster driver!

My intentions for the event

Turn the steering wheel more. It seems like it should be obvious, but my in-car video showed that sometimes I miss apexes because I’m just not turning the steering wheel enough. I’m guessing this is because the manual steering rack in my race car has a higher ratio than any other car I drive, meaning my race car’s wheels turn less in response to steering input. I planned to focus on adding the right amount of steering to get the car to where it needed to go.

Finally see how I measured up to the field at CMP. Despite the fact that it’s been nearly a year since I discovered that my front and back springs were swapped, this was actually the first time I’d been able to race CMP where my springs were on the correct corners and I wasn’t racing a car with recently or partially repaired major crash damage. I was excited to see how I could compare to the field when my car was feeling 100%!

Go fast fast. At my last event, I found that I defaulted back to my slower pace on during the hectic race starts, which put me at a deficit I couldn’t recover from even after I got back up to speed. I’d previously been able to run my fastest pace at the start of races, so I planned to make a concerted effort to go “fast fast” now that I could go faster.


Beat my previous personal best lap time by 2.2 seconds. After qualifying on Saturday morning, I was thrilled to see that I was just as fast at CMP as I had been at Roebling last month. I qualified 13th out of 17 cars, putting me further up the field than I’d ever qualified at CMP.

Closed my gap to the front of the field by two seconds. My increased speed was evident not only in outright lap times (which can vary wildly for no apparent reason at CMP), but also in how my pace compared to the drivers at the front of the field. The closest I’d ever been was 8.2 seconds in November of last year, but at this event I was able to narrow the gap in pace down to 6.2 seconds.

Other drivers noticed I’m faster. I got multiple comments from other drives who said things like, “Wow, you looked fast out there. You’re running in a different part of the pack now!” and “You’ve gotten way harder to catch!” It was fun to know that my progress had caught my competitors’ attention.

Was running 12th out of 16 cars before my transmission failed. After making fewer mistakes on Saturday, I had made it up to a comfortable 12th out of 16 cars before my race ended early. Considering I’m usually last at CMP, this feels like a huge accomplishment, even if the official results didn’t show it.

Put my car on the limit (and over it!) while racing in close quarters with other cars. Up until this point in my racing career, I’ve struggled to trust my car control skills enough to risk my car getting loose near other cars. This meant I left a lot of margin, which slowed me down. In Saturday’s race, I attempted pass an out of class car on the inside of a fast turn, and my car got loose and slid off the track. It wasn’t smart racecraft, but when Brad watched my video he exclaimed, “I’m so proud of you for sliding around right next to other cars!” I might not always be able to stay on the track, but I’m now confident that my car control skills are sufficient not to wreck other cars!


I’ve never been brave enough to make mistakes like this before!

Things I learned

The tires will stick until they won’t. Now that I’m driving closer to my tires’ limits, I have less margin when the tires lose grip over the course of a race. This is especially true at CMP, which is notoriously hard on tires. This means that something that worked earlier in the race might stop working as the tires fall off. In Saturday’s race, I drove through the kink with my foot flat to the floor every lap. Some laps the car would slide a little on the exit, but I could always manage to catch it. But then, on the second to last lap, my rear tires broke loose hard at the apex of the kink and I spun at 100 mph. I couldn’t figure out what I did to cause it. When Brad and I watched my video afterwards, I saw that I hadn’t done anything different the lap I spun. The tires just refused to stick that lap. Brad pointed out that I was gradually turning in for the kink and adding steering angle all the way to the apex. This meant that I was still loading up my left side tires when I hit the bumps at the apex. Brad recommended doing all the steering in one move right as I turned in, so my tires were fully loaded and stable by the time they hit the bumps. I tried that in Sunday’s longer race, and I made it through the kink for more laps than I had on Saturday!

Always be ready to make a pass. At the start of Saturday’s race, the driver in front of me missed a shift coming out of turn 1. Since this driver has always been faster than me, I figured he’d find his gear and get going again by the time I reached him. He didn’t, though, and I lost a few positions while I figured out a way around him. Afterwards, Brad told me, “You should always be ready to pass a car that slows down ahead of you. Any car.” Lucky for me, that same driver was ahead of me in Sunday’s race, too, and he missed his shift coming out of turn one again. This time I was ready to pass him, and picked up one more position in the process! 

A setup that works at one track may not work as well at another. Before my previous race at Roebling, I’d had my setup adjusted to be more understeer-biased. That setup felt good at Roebling, and I was fast there. The setup felt good in qualifying on Saturday morning, too, when the track was relatively cool. But by Saturday afternoon, when the track was hot, my car understeered too much, and I struggled to stay on the track. Sunday morning, I made a change to my setup to reduce understeer. Afterwards, the car seemed to oversteer a little more, which I didn’t like. But I was hitting apexes and staying on the track, which ultimately led to me running further up the field than I had on Saturday, even though I was about the same speed over one lap.

CMP requires precision. Unlike Roebling, where you can be fast as long as your line hits a few key spots around the track, CMP requires you to take a very percisese line to be fast. You have to hit the curbs exactly the right way, in exactly the right place, or you’ll have to slow down to make it around the turn. This is partly due to the layout of the track, and partly due to the surface, which is made of of sharp rocks held together with a tiny bit of tar. The surface has so little grip that jumping off CMP’s big curbs is the fastest way to turn your car.

CMP is hard on equipment. I had always heard this about CMP, but it really hit home at this event because it was hard on my equipment. Hitting the big curbs (whether on purpose or not), is hard on cars’ suspensions. After both this event and my event here last November, I left with my steering wheel pointed to the right when I was going straight. CMP’s rough surface is also destroys tires. I drove better in Sunday’s race than I did on Saturday’s race, but I didn’t go any faster because my tires had three more heat cycles and an extra hour and a half of track time on them. And, most fatally, CMP is hard on transmissions. We had two Spec Miatas lose transmissions at this event, including mine. CMP is the only track that NASA-SE races at that requires us to go down to second gear, and it requires us to shift back into third gear when car is driving out of a turn and has a lot of lateral load in it in two places on the track.

What it feels like when your transmission blows up. I had never felt a manual transmission fail before. It made my car shake so bad I thought it was a blown tire, because that’s the only thing I’d previously experience that involved that much shaking. When I watched the video, it was obvious what happened. Next time I’ll know it’s the transmission when the shifter shoots out of gear and the car starts violently shaking and making horrible metallic sounds.

What to work on for next time

Getting a new transmission. After spending so much time in different shops after our big wreck in January, I was hoping to have my car at home for a while so I could fix some more minor body damage. Unfortunately, now it’s back in the shop getting a new transmission.

Turning the steering wheel more without repositioning my hands. When I consciously tried to turn the steering wheel more to get down to apexes, I unconsciously moved my hands on the steering wheel to give myself more leverage. This was a problem because it meant I had less range of motion to turn the steering wheel back the other way to make corrections. I’m not sure if this is due to a lack of strength (you have to use some weird muscles to turn the wheel past 90 degrees) or a lack of muscle memory, so I plan to work on both. I’m going to try to work these muscles with some additional strength training and I’m going to practice keeping my hands at three o’clock and six o’clock on the steering wheel until I’ve turned the wheel 180 degrees in my street car.