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!
You can smash me, but you can’t stop me!
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!
I’m looking pretty good for having crashed into the woods, huh?
(Thanks to Nine Lives Racing for the photo!)
I almost didn’t make it to this event. It felt like the universe was conspiring to keep me off the race track. In September, I lost my job when my entire department was eliminated, and then I promptly wrecked my race car. If that weren’t enough stress, the stacker trailer Brad and I bought to replace our old box truck didn’t work behind our new pickup truck. We weren’t sure if we would be able to transport the cars to our next race, even if I could get my car fixed, all while I was hustling hard for work so we could cover these surprise expenses.
Despite all that, I was determined to get back to racing. I needed to prove to myself that my big crash hadn’t gotten the best me. And somehow, everything managed to fall in to place. I landed a contract consulting gig that was scheduled to start the day after my race at CMP. We found our dream trailer. (More about that on Instagram.) Racing Analytics got the last parts bolted on to my car just in time for me to pick it up at the last possible minute. I was going to make a comeback!
I was so glad I got this chance to prove to myself that I could bounce back. Every so often, I’ll have a weekend where something just clicks and I really make a big improvement in some aspect of racing. At this event, that aspect was my mental toughness. I felt so much more resilient and able to refocus myself, which provided a newfound confidence boost and made me feel like I can handle anything that comes my way.
My hands are getting faster! Progress!
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!
What’s the rain line? Stay out of the puddles.
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.
Carolina Motorsports Park (CMP) is known in the Southeast for its surface. The asphalt has much of the tar worn away, leaving sharp little rocks that provide little grip and wear tires like a cheese grater. Combine that weird surface with tight turns and hard brake zones, and you get a track that’s punishing for both cars and drivers.