Archive for March, 2009

SCCA Driving School – Day 2

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Today is Sunday and the clouds cooperated for most of the day.  It rained early in the morning before the track opened but was dry the whole drive into Summit Point, WV.   Day 2 of my SCCA Spring Drivers School was fairly exciting and again was held on the “Main” course.  Since it was no longer raining in the morning, I decided I needed to push myself harder and attempt to pass other cars (instead of letting them pass me).  This had some interesting results…  While the track was dryer than it was the day before in the rain, it was not completely dry.  We were still racing in rain tires and not the normal slicks (at least many of us).

At one point during the second morning session as I pushed myself to get to the corner of turn 1 ahead of other cars.  As I attempted to block the pack by taking position towards the turn’s apex, I got a bit of the “rumble strip” on the apex and spun out – leaving my rear wheels slightly off the track.  This was my first spin or track incident in all my dozens of track outings.  Somewhat embarrassing – but it was bound to happen eventually.  I just did not realize how familiar I might get with that feeling all in one day…  I waited for the corner workers so wave me back on the track and finished that session without incident.

In a later session (in the exact same turn) I again was racing a pack of cars down the back straight into turn 1.  Again I tried to get position and then block the other cars into the apex.  This time I turned too early which caused me to apex too early – and “ran out of track” on the far side of the turn.  My outside wheels slipped off the track.  Instead of doing exactly what I was taught and drive off the course, I tried to bring it back onto the track at my current speed.  Unfortunately, this rarely works – and is extremely dangerous.  The result was my second spin for the day – right on the track – in the middle of the pack of cars that had been following me into the turn.  They all took evasive action and went around me – but it could have ended very badly.  The correct procedure to have executed was to: slow down, exit the track, and then re-enter under control with a greatly reduced speed.  The classroom conversation about that turn was pretty much focused on me. :(

My quest for aggressive driving and passing was not complete for the day.  Once more, in a later session in turn 1, I again lead a pack of cars and hit the apex too early – and “ran out of track” on the far side of the turn.  This time I did it correctly (if there is such a thing as “screwing up” correctly).  As my outside wheels slipped from the track, I did not try to bring them back onto the track under speed.  I conceded that I made a mistake and reduced speed as I took the car the rest of the way off the track.  I drove on the grass to a small access road that connects to the track.  From there I waited for the flag workers to wave me back onto the track and finished the practice session.  The interesting thing is that the instructors were much nicer about this spin when we got back to the classroom.   After I explained I apexed early again as I was more focused on the other cars than I was on my line, the instructors complimented me for: a) exiting the track safely, and b) waiting for the flag workers before I safely re-entered the track.  It really is all about safety.

In the last practice session before the “mock” race of the day, we were warned there likely would be a red flag.  During a red flag, all cars must safely and under control stop their car as soon as possible and wave their hand to the cars behind them (in case they did not see the flag).  While my flag watching capabilities had greatly improved, I still occasionally get hyper-focussed on my car and the cars near me.  After exiting turn 10, a car spun out right in front of me (see picture below).

I now had a very clean shot down the back straight into turn 1 (my usual nemesis).  I was “on the pipe” as they say and determined to practice a late braking, high speed entry at the perfect apex into turn 1.  I looked at the flags at the tower half way down the straight and saw no issues.  As I approached turn 1 there were still no flags.  Once I entered the braking zone (which for me is still way too early), I stopped looking for anything other where the apex was and when I was going to:  a) get off the brakes, b) on the accelerator, and c) turn the wheel into the apex.  It was perfect!  I was wailing around turn 1 when…  Sure enough, they threw the red flag while was doing that quick sequence of maneuvers!  I did not see the flag until I was wailing through turn 1 and beginning to line up for turn 2.  I was wondering why that Mazda RX-7 was pulled over on the far side of the road.  Oops…  Darn it…

I thought my instructor was upset when I passed the other driver under yellow yesterday.  That was nothing compared with missing a red flag!  I tried to explain that I try not to look around when I am, braking+accelerating+turning all in rapid sequence.  It really did not seem to matter to them though – as I came up for the apex they felt I should have seen it sooner.  Not good.  So many things to focus on simultaneously.  My instructor nicely asked me if I had planned on racing this year…  I explained that I did and that I had already been “signed-off” due to my driving schools up in the state of Washington.  I could see by the look on his face he felt the people in Washington must be lousy racers…

The last race session of the day was a real race with all of the class.  There were 31 cars.  My instructor came over to me and politely told me to “not screw this up” if I really wanted his sign off for the weekend.  No pressure…  We were taken out on the course with a pace car and lined up in a grid.  We were given a few starts to practice and then brought in and re-gridded.   Just as we got ready for the real five lap race, it started raining again!  At least I felt like I had done this the day before and was ready to be more conservative.

Well the story ends well.  I drove like the biggest grandmother from Pasedena and finished 5th from last.  No problems.  No screw-ups.  Give me the sign-off and live to drive another day.  Two other gentlemen were not so lucky (intelligent?).  Seeing a couple of cars crumpled head first into a retaining wall and a tire pile made it clear to me that someone thought they were getting a big trophy or prize money for this.  All those two got was a repair bill (and the right to finish behind me).

So I am now signed off by a SCCA drivers school to race in MARRS1.  I am so glad I did this and learned all the SCCA guidelines.  My last driving school was in May 2006 and the refresher course was extremely helpful.  I had forgotten all of the grid rules, etc.  Nothing more embarrassing that being black flagged for a rule violation during the race start.

Ted Cahall

WDCR SCCA Spring Drivers School – Day 1

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

The Washington DC Region (WDCR) of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) held its annual Spring Drivers School this weekend.  It started with registration, training, and a written test on Friday night.  I liked the way they ran that – as it forced the students to learn and prove they understood all of the flags and their meanings before they were allowed to go out wheel-to-wheel with the other students.  This drivers school is part of the SCCA program to allow wheel-to-wheel club racing that I am preparing to do in 2009 starting with MARRS 1.

Saturday morning started early, but it was not as bad for me as the car’s tech inspection was handled by Meathead Racing.  Since my 2001 Z06 Corvette’s rollcage was not ready, I decided to rent a car to attend Driver’s School since it required a full “race ready” car.  As you can see in the photo below, it also required a full fireproof race suit, racing shoes, gloves, socks, and helmet.  As one of the other drivers said to me that morning when I emerged with my brand-spanking-new driving gear on, “it is not often a man gets to wear a new pair of bright red shoes”.  That is for sure!  And at least not believe he looks “manly” in them.  Too funny.  More photos of my SCCA Drivers School are posted on Webshots.

New red suede shoes aside, ahem, I also “manned-up” with my rental “Spec Miata”.  The Spec Miata class is what I would call a “driver’s class”.  The Spec Miata drivers are all in almost identical cars.  So it is not about who has the biggest checkbook and more about who can drive the car the best.  Your accelerator pedal can not make up for the fact that you corner inefficiently or brake too early and scrub off precious speed.

Boy was I in for a mental re-calibration!  My “newer” 2006 Z06 Corvette has 505HP.  The Spec Miatas run about 90HP!!!  That is less than my snowmobile or Harley Davidson.  Don’t let that fool you though.  On short tracks with a lot of “corners”, it is all about cornering and not scrubbing off speed – and the Spec Miatas hold their own against the less nimble big-block behemoths (like Corvettes and Vipers).  If there are some long straight-a-ways though… It is “Z” you later to the Miatas.

So Day 1 of WDCR SCCA Spring Drivers School was filled with alternating class room humiliation (very necessary less anyone thinks they are the next Dale Earnhardt) and practice sessions.  It rained all day.  So with a new car and a wet course, even the practice sessions were somewhat humiliating to me as I realized that most of these Miata guys were able to kick my butt.  So much for thinking I was fast in my Corvette.  This was my third time on Summit Point “Main” and I was not impressing myself (or my instructor either really).  The good news is that I: a) did not wreck the rental car, b) did not slide off the track, and c) learned a lot in the process.

One of the things I really learned was that every mistake is amplified 10x in a Miata.  You just cannot make up time with the engine.  My biggest weakness is knowing how “late” to brake for a corner.  If you brake too early, you scrub off speed that you will never get back.  I am also not sure I am entering corners at the maximum speed (ie. braking too much).  You need the speed into the corner to be sure you have optimal speed exiting the corner for the next section of the track.  It is all about momentum in a Miata.

My other weakness is that I am so focused on the track and other cars, I do not always check each flag station to be sure that nothing has changed ahead on the course.  The instructors (especially mine) get really cranky about missing a flag.  This is a bit of the old, “the sun was in my eyes”, excuse, but the rain definitely was a distraction causing me to hyper-focus on the other cars more than the flag stations.  Bad driver!  So much for making a pass during the yellow flag.  I knew it was too easy!  Needless to say my brain, credentials, and desire to continue to play well with others came under close scrutiny.  I sort of feel like  my cat must feel like when I catch him right after he pees in the corner…  He is now banned to the sun porch for eternity.  But hey, he is a cat – and I can learn to read the flags and brake later if I can just get back out there and practice!

The day ended with a general overview of how we did and what we need to work on.  Numerous horror stories were shared of knuckleheads that did not listen in drivers school and flew through the air, only saved by their roll cage and fireproof underwear (and one who unfortunately was not).  While this is fun, it really is serious stuff, and no one likes junking their car because someone was ignorant of the flags or excellent driving skills.

Tomorrow starts early again and we get an actual race in as well.  Let’s hope it does not rain all day.

Ted Cahall

Scheduling Snafu Delays 200MPH Attempt

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

I got news this week that World Class Driving (WCD) needed to cancel the 200 MPH session I was registered for on April 7th.  It seems that they did not have enough participants to fund the event – so they tried to push me up a couple of days to April 5th.  Unfortunately my schedule for April 5th was already booked at Summit Point for SCCA Club Trials.  So now I will need to wait until December for the next 200 MPH event.  Getting my practice in for the SCCA and doing more networking with those people is far more important than making it down to Miami for a one-shot deal.  I still have the opportunity to drive some Ferraris and Lamborghinis out at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) on May 21st.  One side benefit of this cancellation is that WCD gives a $1000 discount for the 200 MPH program to members that have participated in a previous event.  Since the May 21st event will now come first, I get the 200 MPH event in December for $1000 less.

Ted Cahall

The More You Know – the More You Don’t Know

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

I remeber back to my days at the University of Illinois at Chicago computer center where I was a consultant to the student popluation regarding all of our computer systems.  As I learned more and more, I realized just how much I did not know.  In other words, the more I knew, the more I realized how little I actually knew out of the vast world of computer science, programming languages, operating systems, etc.  I became curious as to if I would close this knowledge gap or see it widen as more technology was developed.  It was another type of race – a race into the information age.

I had the same feeling for a while as I attempted to figure out how to begin wheel-to-wheel competition racing with the SCCA.  Getting my Novice License and being signed off to race was one hurdle.  This was complicated by a coast-to-coast move from Seattle to Northern Virginia.  The next hurdle was getting my 2001 Z06 Corvette prepared to race.  I have e-mailed a number of people and talked with some as well.  Most of those people were involved in the SCCA as Time Trials, Solo or PDX participants.  As I have now learned, they might as well be from some other racing program or another planet.  The rules for “club racing” are the most stringent and complex.

On Monday morning I was fortunate enough to have the SCCA TCS T1 class driver sponsor call me.  She was very patient and polite (thank you Pam).  She let me know I should have started with the program office and found my way to her first.  Needless to say, between her and the head of tech inspection, it is very clear to me that I need a full roll cage.  So onto PiperMotorsport to have that done when they can schedule me in.

I also learned that I need to have the full roll cage for the SCCA driving school I am registered for on March 27th.  There is no way it will be done then – so I am going try to rent a car with a roll cage for that event.  It hopefully will be a Mazda Miata – or what they call a “spec” Miata.

One other somewhat interesting factoid I learned was that my “lowly” TCS T1 class runs simultaneously with all othe other “big bore” classes (ie. on the track at the same time).  I had heard I would likely be the only T1 car in my class.  I had thought I would have the track to myself!  This was a bit of a suprise to me since I thought at worse I would only be out there with other cars from my T1 class.  Pam informed me that I would be out there with GT1 class cars and some cars with over 700 HP.  How ironic – I will probably finish last in the actual race and get a trophy for 1st place in the T1 class (and 2nd place, and last place).

I definitely do not want to be driving a car with 700 HP yet – so I need to be ready to passed a whole lot by all the other cars on the track.  No pride here.  Just glad to be able to learn and rub elbows with these highly experienced die-hard racers.

Live and learn (carefully)…

Ted Cahall