Completed First SCCA Regional Race!

Well all of the preparation and training has paid off.  From the two days of Spring Driver’s School, to the PDX and Club Trials, I finally completed my first official SCCA race today!  My goal was simply to finish the race – even in last place.  Today I drove the #0 car I bought from Al Bell (pictured) in the MARRS 1 Club Racing event.
Ted Cahall in #0 on Shenandoah

I was still able to maintain that delicate “work / race balance” this week by holding all of my work meetings including my travel to NYC to accept the Green IT Award from the Uptime Institute for AOL.

Yesterday I was at the track for the qualifying laps and the qualifying race.  I did not have all of my paperwork in order to switch from the “T1″ class to the “SM” class and getting this corrected all the way from registration through the timing booth cost me the qualifying laps.  That meant I got less practice, and that I needed to start at the back of the pack for the qualifying race that went off at 11:00AM.

The good news is that I finished the qualifying race later that day.  The bad news is that one of the very best drivers (while lapping me in only a 10 lap race) had metal to metal contact with me.  I thought I had gotten to the line before him – but apparently what you learn in driving school  and how they race for real are a bit different.  Needless to say, he stopped by and gave me some “pointers” after the race.  I felt like an idiot after I realized he is one of the few racers that can turn a 1:27 lap.  Needless to say, I apologized…

But that was only the beginning of the fun.  After I pinched him in turn 1, I got bumped in turn 2 and then rear-ended between turn 2 and turn 3!  These guys are really serious and are not afraid to let you know they are there.  Maybe it was the novice stripes on my car and their way of saying, “welcome to the SCCA”.  I finished the race near the back but not dead last.  I of course finished ahead of the people that crashed and could not complete the race…  My fasted lap was 1:37.  A full 10 seconds slower than the best of the best (only 2 people turned a 1:27 in the qualifying race).  No wonder they were lapping me.

I went home feeling like a rookie (if that) but with a decent sense of accomplishment.  I finished the race.  I set an official “personal best lap time”, and I was all set to go for the big race on Sunday.

Sunday morning I made sure I was up and ready to go with plenty of time to spare.  I made it to the track by 7:45AM and was able to do some prepping before the “hardship lap”.  I made sure I got out on that lap and got some needed practice in.

At 8:40AM we were “on grid” in pit row.  I was started in position 42 in a field of 44 cars.  One of the better racers on the Meathead Racing team was behind me (his car threw a piston rod through the crankcase in the qualifying lap the day before and did not finish).  I let him know I was letting him by as soon as we got the green flag (and did).  We were sent out on two warm up laps and given the green flag at 8:50AM.  I let Brian pass me and was the sole and complete owner of last place.  A comfortable place if you do not like someone in your rearview mirror as you settle in for the next 35-40 minutes of racing.

Within about 20 seconds all I could see was brake lights and tire smoke.  I backed off and as I went through the smoke I saw cars on each side of the track.  All of this was on the first lap in front of the flag tower!  I thought, “damn – these guys *are* serious”!  Then I saw a crumpled “Bad Al” Bell pointing at me (wrong way) and clearly driving the car back onto the track.  At least some of the folks in the pile-up were still able to re-join the race.

As the track cleared out, Bad Al roared by me and I again was sole owner of last place.  I did my best to try to keep Al in my sights and as I was racing I realized there were a couple of cars in front of me that I felt I could race with and likely catch.  Eventually I passed a couple of the slower cars and came up on #8 and then #37.  I was able to get by them and realized that if I finished the race, I probably was not going to come in last place.  Clearly I would finish ahead of the cars that crashed and did not finish – but it was a great feeling to upgrade my goal from simply “finishing” to “not finishing last of all the finishers”…

I was surprised to see that #37 was not keeping on my tail.  She was in my driver’s school and had been beating me fairly consistently. :( Possibly she had car problems as after it was over, I noticed she was out after 10 laps (which still counts as a finisher of the race since she completed half or more of the laps).

#8 was a different story though.  We traded positions at least four more times during the race.  We were each blocking the line on turn 1 and would trade positions.  I was actually able to take him in turns 6 and 7 one time.  That was awesome.  Once he went into turn 1 too hot and went off the course.  I was shocked to see he drove it back on and was behind me again a lap later.  Drat!  I thought I had lost him.  Towards the end of the race we again went into turn 1 side-by-side.  He had the inside and started turning wide.  Another car had gotten inside of him (faster cars that were lapping us) and we were three across.  He bumped me and pushed me off the left side of the track.  I was able to hold the car steady, re-enter the track and stay on him.  I passed him the next lap and was able to hold on for the remainder of the race.  That was fun.  We both were lapped by the fastest 19 drivers twice – but we had our own race going on – and that made it really interesting.

I ended up finishing 32nd of 44 cars.  Six cars did not finish due to accidents or car issues. Two other cars appeared to stop racing before the checkered flag – but after the race was official (10 laps completed).  So, in the end, I finished ahead of four cars that were still on the track at the end of the race.

One of the more important metrics was my fastest lap time.  These can be thrown off due to other cars stealing your line, etc.  The interesting thing is, I improved my fastest lap from 1:37 on Saturday at 1:34 today.  It may not sound like much – but every second counts and it least it shows I am moving in the right direction.  The bad news on this issue is that only three cars has slower fastest lap times.  Still much work to be done there.

The fastest lap was a 1:27.338 by Dean Copeland.  He won the qualifying race as well yesterday.  He also holds the lap record for the Spec Miata SM class.  If his time stands today, he will have set a new SM class record as his previous record was 1:27.790.  It must have been a really fast day (perfect weather, etc.).  Five racers (including Dean) beat the previous record of 1:27.790 if their times stand as official.  What a fast pack and great race.

Ted Cahall

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