SCCA race Thunderhill, 24-25 April 2004

It just wouldn't seem like an SCCA race without Bob Corbitt complaining that my car wasn't pretty enough to race.

I haven't raced with the SCCA since about 1995. I haven't even been to many SCCA events in the meantime, because I don't have a lot of free weekends, and I'd rather go to events where I'm doing what I really want to. So, if it's a choice of going to a dance, and dancing, or going to a track and doing anything but drive, I'll go dancing.

While my car was legal for racing with NASA, there are a few SCCA requirements it wasn't quite up to spec on. It didn't have a kill switch, it had the wrong decals, minor stuff like that. As I've been fighting a cold for a few weeks, I was way behind in getting the car prepped for the race, so Wednesday and Thursday nights were pretty late nights at the shop. Fortunately Tom Wood and James Harwood showed up and lent invaluable assistance getting the car ready. I had arranged for Gregg Schlaman to come do a travel tech, so getting my logbook for the car at the track wouldn't be a horrible pain in the butt.

When Tom and I got to the track Saturday morning, the only spaces available were all of the way at the north end of the paddock, by the garage. I marked out space for Joe and I, got registered and took the car down to tech. Rather than doing everything before the first race, the tech crew made sure everything was signed off, gave me my rollbar decal and helmet decal, and told me to come back after the first session, SM warmup.

After the first session, they pulled everyone into impound. There was some sort of issue on the wording of the exhaust system rules and they wanted to warn anybody they felt would fail a protest. It turns out that there was a bit of confusion over what is allowed, and the stewards finally decided to post a clarification in the supps saying that the way everyone was interpreting the rules was the way the rules should be interpreted.

Despite my getting everything ready so all I needed was for them to stamp my cage and issue a logbook, somehow I was nearly the last person out of impound of all the folks who needed logbooks, even after the folks who needed to get their cages measured.

My laptimes in group 8 (SM) warmup were disappointing, but since I was running both SM and ITX (in group 1), I figured I had plenty of time to work on my laptimes.

After the group 8 warmup, I made the novice mistake of waiting to be waved either into the paddock or into impound. It turns out that they aren't allowed to wave people into the paddock, only point them into impound, so I got put into impound, without knowing why. As long as I was there, they decided to rescind my annual and tell me that I needed to fix the way the corners of my hood didn't lie flat. Cathy suggested I ask Larry Oka for help with that.

I went over and pestered Larry. He applied his superior paddock bodywork skills to my car. While I was there I asked him if he had named his son Tazio, because he was the "Nuevo Larry", sure enough, that was indeed the reason, his kid is the "New Larry". I took my car back to tech, got the bodywork signed off, and got my annual reinstated.

Qualifying in SM went a little better. For several laps, I was caught behind one of the other drivers, who wanted to race during qual more than she wanted to let me by so we could both turn better laptimes. I finally got past her with a classic wait to the last pass, move to the inside and late brake into 14 pass, and knocked a couple seconds off my lap time.

Qualifying in ITX started out about the same, but this time it was an Rx7 driver who was more interested in racing than in good qualifying times. I finally got around her and was making somewhat better lap times when Jim Wickersham caught up to me. He was a bit faster than I, so I figured it would be a good chance to learn something. I waved him by and followed him pretty closely the rest of the session, bringing my best laptime down just a little bit more.

My last session of the day was the SM race. It was a lot of fun. It was the first time I've ever run a race where everyone on the track was in the same class. I was gridded 38 out of 53. My driving was clean, if not inspired and I finished in 34th place. My lap times sucked, my best laptime was about 5 seconds off the winner. However, at least I was running in the pack, a major improvement from my days racing the Cortina.

I was told however, by Bob Corbitt, the chief steward that the bodywork on my car:

ugly fender
was not adequate for racing with the SCCA, and that I needed to get my bumper and fender fixed before the next race weeekend. Some things never change I guess. Oh well, when I bought the car, the front end had been crunched and while I had hoped that my 50/50 bodywork would be enough to save me the $500 it would take to replace the pieces with new ones, I realized it was a gamble.

I was really looking forward to the race Sunday morning. I was gridded right behind Jim, had gotten a good nights rest, and was looking forward to a good race. When we were pulling out onto the track, it occured to me that I had not checked to make sure that my transpoder was on. However, I hadn't turned it off, and Tom hadn't told me that he had turned it off, and it was too late to do anything anyways. As it turned out, it was not a good race. I got bolloxed up on the start. I tried to go for an inside line up the straight, but a Miata behind me went for the same spot, ducking into my blindspot just as I went for the move. I saw him in time to prevent serious damage. I did end up getting tiremarks on my paint and he got paint marks on his fender. Nothing bent though. It also turns out that Laurie put a little of her paint on my right rear fender as well. The Rx7s that had qualified behind me had a much better jump on the start and I got screwed up in traffic. I spent the first couple of laps concentrating more on driving clean, and not getting caught in any accidents. I wasn't going for points, ITX was just a bonus practice race for me anyways. At S/F I got a sign that saig "Car 24, Transponder". Oops, so I wasn't going to get any laptimes for the race, but I figured they run tapes by hand as backup anyways. I checked for a black flag on the next lap, and didn't see anything, so I continued my race.

Just as things were starting to clear up, a Porsche hit the wall on the main straight. He hit the wall hard enough to move it. I think we spent about six laps under yellow as the mess was cleaned up. This didn't leave me much time at the end of the race to get around Rx7s and go hunting down other miatas. Once the green came out, I found myself in a pack of about 5 cars. There was a light blue Rx7 that would spill gas on just about every turn. He'd also backfire, near the gas fill on downshifts. It was entertaining to wonder if the two would ever synchronize to spectacular results. Laurie Dallenbeck was dicing with him in her Rx7. Glenn Stasky was behind Laurie, I was behind Glenn and Terry(?) McCarthy was behind me. I gained on them coming through 2-3-4-5 and was looking to make a move on Glenn coming out of 5 when he spun at the bottom of the hill. I almost made inside of him when he collected me with his front bumper. I was really bummed as I thought he'd hit me in the rear fender, which is a lot more expensive to repair than my front fender. McCarthy made it past him on the inside with out incident, and I finished the race without either incident or glory. Since I was involved in body contact, I came into impound after the race. I was pleased to note that my damage from being collected was limited to the fender I needed to replace anyways, and to the drivers door.
race damage

I talked to Tom about the transponder. He had figured that since it had a switch on it, it should be turned off to save the car's battery, and had forgotten to turn it back on in the morning. I need to hook it up, wired up so that if the ignition is on, so is the transponder. If I'm crossing the S/F line with my ignition off, I probably have bigger problems than an accurate lap time.

The flaggers at 5 hadn't reported the incident, but I mentioned it to Templeton (the steward in Impound) as well as the blue Mazda that was spilling gas. Glenn had not reported to impound either, despite leaving his bumper in the field next to the track. When I was sure they didn't need me for anything, I took the car back to the pits, I heard them calling Glenn into impound as I got out of the car. I stopped by impound to see if they needed me for anythign with that, apologized to the guy I'd rubbed paint with at the start and found the Blue Rx7, who had already been told about his fuel problem. By another driver, not tech, interestingly enough.

Tom and I had skipped breakfast on the way in. Since I wasn't racing again for many hours, we went into town for some food. When I got back, Joe told me that just after I drove off, they had called me into impound. I grabbed my logbook, and went down to talk to the stewards. They told me that since my transponder was off, they were going to disqualify me and that I had half an hour to protest if I wanted. They also gave me a handout on transponders which basically said that if something like this happened, they'd do their best to get my finishing position by hand taping, but that they had the option of disqualifying me. Since, as I said, it was in a class that I was just running in for practice, and the DQ didn't affect my "record", I just let it slide. It did not, however, give me warm fuzzy feelings about racing with the SCCA.

That afternoon, I spent some time cleaning up the bodywork a bit. It's not quite 50/50 any more, though I could probably get it good enough to run with raceclubs that are more interested in people racing with them, than in pretty cars racing with them. Juan, Craig and I also spent some time helping each other adjust the ignition timing on our cars to 14 BTDC. I noticed Craig wearing a UC Davis shirt and commented that I had gone there '78-'83. He was very surprised to find out that rather than being his age, I'm 15 years older than him.

In the group 1 bonus race, I proved once again that I truly suck at mixed class starts. Laurie used her fender to give me a white wall on my left rear tired. Things were tight enough going through the Cyclone that I took the agricultural variation to the right, rather than collecting Dev Clough. I didn't realize that it was Dev at the time, but I spent the rest of the race trying to get around that annoying blue Rx7 (not the one spilling fuel earlier). He was not giving me any sort of a break. I realized he was dicing with the car ahead of him, but felt that if he'd let me by, I could have gotten by the other guy. So rather than being able to charge after the two SMs I could see a couple seconds ahead, I was caught up in a three way defensive battle where we were all screwing up each other's laptimes. It was particularly frustrating for me, as the other two cars weren't even in my class. On the other hand, I did end up improving my racecraft tremendously, getting a lot more comfortable with more aggressive passes, pushing my nose in under braking, taking turns side by side. About five minutes before the end of the race, I went outside of Dev going into 3, and by 5 had gotten past him. Coming through 6 I was making a move on the other Rx7, who wasn't letting me by when a GT4 Rx7 caught up with us. He ended up passing me going into 8, screwing up my line giving Dev a much better run up the hill and getting past me. Fortunately, the camcorder did not pick up what I said, if it had, the FCC would probably send me to bed without my supper or something.

After that, I was seriously annoyed and while I decided not to punt that annoying car, my driving became substantially more aggressive. Even though we didn't know who the other driver was, Dev and I had become a lot more comfortable with each other's driving so neither of us backed off when we might have for other drivers, leading to such fun as going side by side, from the entrance of three through the exit of the cyclone. As Dev put it, he had more go, I had more stick. After the race, I followed him back to his paddock. My comment was that except for one detail, that was a great race. The detail being that we were in different classes. In retrospect, it was a great race, even if we were in different classes. While I didn't improve my laptimes, I did improve my racecraft, and got a lot more comfortable with aggressive driving in traffic.

Many thanks to Tom for yeoman work crewing for me on his first SCCA race weekend. Saturday was a hectic enough schedule that I could not have done it without help.

It was also interesting to run with the SCCA again after such a long hiatus, and after running several race weekends with NASA. I find it interesting that NASA has the reputation for being a crashem-bashem club, when I saw much more contact in the SCCA races. Since October, I've raced with NASA on five weekends (including the 25 hour), and have never had any body contact while I was driving. In one race weekend with the SCCA, I had four contact incidents. The spin was "just racing", I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rubbing paint with Jeff at the start was very minor, and arguably shared responsibiltiy. Both incidents with Laurie were very minor, I didn't even notice them at the time, but talking with her, I got the impression she was deliberately trying to nudge me out of the way. I will note that none of these incidents happened during the SM race.

The SCCA is indeed the big dog in the amateur racing world. They probably have several times the race entries as does NASA. It was a total blast to run in a 53 car, SM only field. The SCCA workers were as friendly as ever, even if the tech crew threatened to draft me if I spent that much time down there on my next race. They seem to have picked up a couple things from NASA as well. I don't remember them having daycare for kids 10 years ago. The worker social, however, does not hold a candle to the the Saturday BBQ that Norcal NASA puts on.

As for myself, while I'm seeing improvement in my driving, it's frustratingly slow. Craig picked up several seconds a lap in SCCA drivers school this year, and is now 2-3 seconds a lap ahead of me. I'm running 5 seconds a lap behind the leaders, and can only account for 2-3 of them in my driving. I really need to go out to the track for a test and tune day, where I can just concentrate on my driving. Better yet, I should get some coaching, ideally with the opportunity to follow faster SM drivers to see where I can pick up time.