You can’t slip on Porsche 944 oil when the 944s are behind you!
Exactly a year ago, I started writing an article titled, “How to trust your learning process when it seems different from everyone else’s.” It was a post about trusting the process when the process doesn’t seem to be working. (By “the process” I mean the process of slowly working away at something over time and eventually seeing results.) I never finished it because I didn’t have any proof that the process did work. Lots of things happened in the year since I started that piece, but one thing that didn’t happen was getting faster at Roebling. No matter what I did, my lap times were stuck in the 1:31s, which was perpetually about eight seconds slower than the front of the pack.
Until this event, where I ran a 1:28.7, which was 2.3 seconds faster than I’d ever gone before. In racing, that’s an eternity. The curse of Robleing was broken, and somehow I unlocked a year’s worth of progress in a day. Aside from that progress, it was just a good weekend. The weather was finally warmer, and I spent less time huddled by the heater in the trailer and more time outside laughing with friends. I finally had the kind of weekend I imagined I’d have when I first decided to become a race car driver. Continue reading
Here I am in the middle of the pack! If only it had kept raining, maybe I would have stayed there.
I’m getting so close to the mid pack now, I can almost taste it. Almost. (I imagine it tastes like a locked up tire smells.) And for a moment at this event, I was there. I qualified 10 out of 15 cars in the rain, but then it dried up before my race and I finished back in 14th. After Saturday’s race I bolted on a new steering wheel spacer I’d picked up at the track, and spent Sunday’s qualifying session adapting to it. It made me faster in Sunday’s race but not quite fast enough to keep up with mid-pack on dry pavement. It’s so frustrating to be so close.
I’m still getting my car back to normal after the big wreck in January, and my car was still a work in progress at this event. I’d picked it up from the body shop with a fresh new right rear quarter panel a few days before the event, but I didn’t have time to lower the ride height back to normal. Racing Analytics had set my ride height way up to keep my right rear tire from rubbing on the damaged bodywork. I didn’t have time to to take the car back to them after getting the bodywork repaired, so I was still racing with an unusually high ride height. That means my car had very little negative camber on the front wheels, which makes it tend to understeer and excessively wear the shoulders of the front tires. It turns out that wasn’t the thing that slowed me down though.
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!
Look at me running in the top 10!
I was so excited for this race. First, because it was at my favorite track, Road Atlanta. And second, because it was supposed to rain and I love racing in the rain. Road Atlanta and the rain have something in common for me; they’re both situations where I stack up better against the competition. My driving tends to be limited more by my lack of skill than fear. Rain and Road Atlanta both tend to intimidate other drivers more then they intimidate me, which is an advantage for me.
Brad and I have two sets of rain tires, both of which came with my car when we bought it. One set is 7 years old and hard as rocks, but has like-new tread. The other set is 10 years old and has very worn tread, especially on the shoulders. Up until this point, Brad had been racing on the 10 year old set of rain tires and had been reasonably fast on them. However, coming into this race, Brad was in third place in the championship by one point. He knew the driver in 4th had good rain tires, so Brad ordered a new set… which FedEx then lost en route to our tire shop. Being the good teammate that I am, I asked Brad if he thought I could race and not die on his 10 year old tires. When he replied, “Probably,” I offered to let him race on my rain tires, which are 7 years old, hard as rocks, but have lots of good tread. He agreed.
Qualifying before the car died. “What’s a girl gotta do to get a clean lap in around here?!”
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.
This is an easy way to gain positions.
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.
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.