Do real men race Miatas?

The reason real men race Spec Miatas: best competition, extremely reasonable cost structure, and great racing support from Mazda.

When I started driver’s school in Washington state back in 2005, I had planned to race my 2001 Z06 Corvette once I got my competition license.  Not an 800HP purpose built racing machine, but good enough to feel like I was racing a real machine.  So I thought.

By the time I was really ready to begin racing with the SCCA in early 2009, I had moved to “the other” Washington – DC – and still had not modified my Z06 to meet the SCCA Club Racing requirements.  Therefore, I needed to rent a car for the drivers school required to get my license.  It was a reasonable idea, I thought, since I was not sure just how terrible I really would be at this “sport”.  Also the thought of destroying a perfectly good Z06 Corvette by welding a roll cage to the frame, etc. seemed wasteful if my adventure ended up being short lived.

In checking with some really nice folks at the SCCA office, I determined that I basically had two choices to rent for driver’s school: a Mazda Miata or a Ford Pinto. The Pinto had the bigger engine – but those rear-end fire death lawsuits of the 70’s and 80’s brought back a few grim memories.  Plus, whoever thought a Pinto was a race car?  At least the Miata was the Japanese version of the MG or the Triumph or something…
Ted and an umbrella girl before the race
I knew some future teasing was coming when even the Miata drivers referred to their cars as “a woman’s commuter car”.  Actually, the term was a little more colorful, but I try to keep this blog as PC as possible…  Oh, and BTW, almost every guy I race with wishes more women would join the sport.  Just men being men to say something “cute” with low HP belongs to a woman…  But I digress…

I rented three different Spec Miatas from Meathead Racing over the next few weeks.  I finished driver school and some non-competition driving events and decided to buy a Miata from them.  It was fairly cheap ($8k-$15k for a fairly good setup) and it meant I did not need to commit my Z06 to the welding machine just yet.

Well it has been two years of racing Miatas now and I am totally committed to them and the sport.  There is a very simple reason: GREAT competition.  In Summit Point, WV where I race, there are about 80 Miatas split into two major groups of 40 each race weekend.  That is a lot of cars on the track – and a lot of wheel-to-wheel competition.  When I raced in the SCCA National Championship for Spec Miatas this past September, there were 63 cars in the race!  That was really intense competition.

To put it into better perspective, if I had converted my Z06 Corvette into a T-1 race car, most weekends I would have been one of only 2-3 cars in my class.  Not a lot of competition.  Sure I would get a trophy each weekend – but would it really mean anything?  Would I really be learning and getting better?  There were only 16 T-1 cars at the National Championships – and only 9 finished the race.  A pittance!

Looking at the bigger picture, for the SCCA, the Spec Miata (SM) class is the largest class with the most participants in 7 out of 9 regions for National races and 8 out of 9 regions for Regional races.  Only the “Spec Racer Ford” (SRF) group even comes close to the participation of the Miatas, and those are purpose built cars that are really closer to go-carts than real cars (just my opinion). For SCCA Regional races, 3043 Spec Miatas raced in 2010 while in the second largest class, SRF, only 2006 cars entered the same amount of races.

The Spec Miata is one of the least expensive automobiles available for organized racing.  Mazda still manufactures most of the engines and parts – for cars that are over 10 years old. There are more Miatas racing every weekend in the United States than any other type of car – period.

So if you want some good, cheap, high-intensity fun, rent a Spec Miata and head out to the track for a high speed driving instruction lesson.  You will be in some great company – and you may even decide to race them competitively.  You can see some photos of many of the Meathead Racing drivers in the last regional race of the year as well as the SCCA National Championships on Facebook thanks to Karen Dildei’s expert photography!

Ted Cahall

Took 4th Place in EMRA Sprints

I had my best (solo) Spec Miata finish of the year on Saturday at the EMRA Sprints.  The Sprints were held just before the EMRA Enduro race that afternoon/evening (where Bad Al Bell and I combined for a 3rd Place finish).  I finished in 4th Place in a field of 9 SM Spec Miatas.  This is also the first race where I finished in the top half of the pack.

The truth as shown in the videos below (unlike some fishing stories) is that I was in 3rd Place with a half lap to go when I blew a shift and the #72 Blue Miata slid past me.  I was a half lap short of a dual trophy day.

The race was actually even more exciting than that (at least for me).  I started out in 5th place and by turn 4 of the fist lap I had dropped down all the way to 9th (last) place.  The race starts have the highest incidence of crashes and I see from my videos that I have a tendency to let the cars sort themselves out a bit (definitely a bit too much).

I have included the whole race as posted in three segments on YouTube.  You can see by watching the first minute of part 1 how I drop off to last place when the red #14 car passes me.

Over the course of the 18 lap race, I pass all of the SM Miatas except those in 2nd and 1st place.  I race in 3rd place ahead of the blue Miata for several laps after passing him.  It is on lap 18 that the #72 blue Miata passes me back to take 3rd place back. This part can be seen towards the end of part 3 posted below.

Note, there are other race classes mixed in with my Spec Miata SM class.  You can see the little yellow formula cars as well as an occasional Volvo!  These are not in my class but still were in my way from time to time.

Part 1 – The Start of the race – where I immediately fall behind to 9th place.

Part 2 – Where I continue to chase down the Blue #72 Miata.

Part 3 – Where I finally catch Blue #72 Miata and move into 3rd place until missing a shift on the last lap.

Ted Cahall

Took 3rd Place in EMRA 4 Hour Enduro

The headline sounds nice, but I think my grandmother could have taken 3rd place with Bad Al Bell as a partner. The EMRA 4 hour Enduro race requires two drivers. I did my part by not leaving the car in a tree. Al did his part by passing all of the cars that I had let get in front of me. That is what I call teamwork!  It was the longest race I have done in my short career.  I was in the car just under 2 hours before I turned it over to Al.  A huge thank you to Mike Collins and the Meathead Racing team for all of their help!

Here is a photo of the trophy.EMRA 4 Hour Enduro - 3rd Place Trophy
Ted Cahall

Posted first TraqMate Race Cam Video

I finally got around to posting a video from my TraqMate race cam.  I actually used Windows 7 and Movie Maker to do it – even though I bought Final Cut Express 4.0 for my Mac to do the job.

The video is a short, 10 second, clip of two cars spinning out in front of me in turn 10.  I added it again here to avoid chasing the link.

Ted Cahall

SCCA Season Ends With Personal Best Lap Time

The 2009 SCCA Club Racing Season was really enjoyable.  I was able to make it to seven race weekends this year plus four other high performance driving events.  That is more track time in one year than the sum total of track time in my entire life before this year.

I really learned a lot and set new personal best lap records almost every week.  I started the year with my best lap in the MARRS 1 qualifier being a 1:37.908 and 8 of the 10 laps being slower than 1:40.  I finished this year in the MARRS 11 final race with a 1:31.826.  Six seconds faster in a single lap is a great improvement.  More telling was the consistency of the laps in each race with many of them clustering in the 1:32 range at the end of the year.

I met a lot of really great people as well.  I could not have even come close to making this happen with my busy schedule if it were not for Mike Collins and his fantastic program at Meathead Racing.  A huge shout out to Wendy, Sherise, Glen, and Jimmy who helped me though a huge learning curve.

The other racers were also fantastic (aside from some early “rookie bumps” out on the track to initiate me to Spec Miatas).  Some of these people are very accomplished racers that turn laps in the 1:27 range.  Yet they will still spend time and talk with the slow pokes like me to help me learn and grow with this sport.  Many of the Meathead Racing teammates also took time to help me get buckled in and ready out on the grid as well.  Such an outstanding group of people to spend a weekend with!  If you have ever considered learning how to race in wheel-to-wheel competition, I would highly recommend contacting Mike Collins at Meathead Racing.  Even for a busy person such as myself, they make the words, “arrive and drive” a reality.

Ted Cahall

Formula 2000 Open Wheel Racing in the Poconos

I had the awesome opportunity to attend the Berti Roos Racing School up in the Poconos last week.  They teach open wheel racing in Formula 2000 cars.  This was my first event in Formula 2000 or any open wheel vehicle.

We were allowed to pass in one specific zone if we were given the flag indicating it was OK.  I am happy to say I passed a lot of people – but no one ever passed me.  That is the way it is supposed to be (aside from real racers at SCCA Club Racing – where getting passed was a reality for me this year).

You can click on the photo below to see a couple of more images on Webshots.

Ted Cahall

New TraqMate a Great Tool for SCCA Club Racing

I got my new TraqMate installed and used it in the MARRS 7 SCCA Club Racing event this weekend.  The device is astounding.  It uses a GPS to track your speed and a video camera to record what is happening in front (and optionally in back) of you.

I plan to edit out a small piece of the race where a couple of cars spun out in front of me and post it here.  So far the video editing software converts the whole race – all or nothing.  So I will figure out what I need to do to post a15 second clip instead of a 30 minute race.

This device will let me know how fast (slow in my case) I am entering each corner and what my exit speed is.  This will help me compare to the really experienced drivers and know where to push it harder.  The camera and GPS do not lie.  And they record every lap and every missed shift.  So this should be a huge help towards setting my new personal best lap record.

Ted Cahall

Got my SCCA Regional Club Racing License!

This Sunday’s SCCA MARRS race was a culmination of a number of year’s worth of effort.  Back in May of 2006 up in Seattle, WA, I began my journey towards obtaining my SCCA Club Racing license.  My job change and move across the country to the Washington DC area caused me to be sidelined for all of 2007 and most of 2008 aside from some PDX and HPDE type of events.  (Photo below of MARRS 4 race weekend).
Ted Cahall races in MARRS 4

While my job did anything but become more mundane in 2009, I was determined to maintain that delicate “work / race balance” all the HR types talk about for living a healthy life.  I really had no idea what I was in store for as I prepared for the 2009 racing season.  I had planned on racing my 2001 Z06 Corvette and took pains to install racing seats, add in tow hooks, fire extinguishers, and safety harnesses, etc.  Unfortunately I was mistaken on the requirements and did not know that the T1 class for my Z06 required a full roll cage to be welded into my car!  Heck – I even needed a full roll cage to attend the SCCA Driving School – the more you know – the more you realize just what you don’t know

After attending day 1 and day 2 of my SCCA Drivers School in a “Spec Miata” that I rented, I attended the SCCA PDX and SCCA Club Trials in a “Spec Miata” as well.  It was at this point that I finally realized it would be best for me to have Meathead Racing help me as my “Spec Miata” pit crew and support team for the 2009 SCCA Club Racing season.  I bought a 1999 Spec Miata from Bad Al Bell and I was literally “off to the races”.

Sunday was my second official SCCA MARRS race and fulfilled my requirements for my regional license.  I did qualification laps and the qualification race on Saturday to grid myself for the race on Sunday.   On Sunday, I started in 31st position and finished the race in 24th.  So I moved up and had an incredible amount of fun doing it.  My fastest lap got faster in each of the three qualification and race events during the weekend.  The key is to be safe, improve each week, and try not to fly off the track or bend any metal on either mine or the other driver’s cars.  All was accomplished successfully.

Ted Cahall

World Class Driving Tour

On Thursday I drove down to Richmond, VA and participated in the World Class Driving Tour. We had a chance to drive five different exotic sports cars through the country side of Virginia. Of course, no speed laws broken by any of the participants, especially me. Cough…  Below is the group shot from our outing (more photos of my group at bottom of this post). I am the second person from the left. 

Ted Cahall with World Class Driving Group
Ted Cahall with World Class Driving Group on May 21st, 2009.

We started the day at 7:00AM by signing our lives away.  It would have been unpleasant to have wrecked one of these as I think I promised the future lives of all my relatives for many centuries to come as collateral.

Then we were  out to the cars for the group photo and then the road.  Each driver took a turn in each of the five cars.  We had eight drivers and only five cars, so each driver had three legs as either an exotic car passenger or in one of the lead or chase vehicles.  This was the only let down of the whole morning.  I am not sure I would have registered had I known that.  OK – I probably would have – it was a total gas.

I was lucky enough to sit out the first segment – as that was driving through town in a very slow, deliberate manner.  No fun sitting in a high performance car in traffic!  My first segment was in the Audi R8.  It is a fantastic car that handles superbly.  It clearly can be a daily driver (and Ash Patel at Yahoo uses it as one).  My only complaint was that it was somewhat under powered for an exotic car.  I was also at the very end of the pack – so lagging back to rev the engine was somewhat more difficult.  Still great car and I was very impressed.

My next segment was in the Callaway C16 Corvette.  It is supercharged and was by far the very fastest car of the day.  It has an automatic transmission as well as paddle shifters.  The automatic was so well tuned there was no need for the paddles.  I did a hole-shot out of the parking lot and was shocked by the power.  It got a bit squirrely even with the traction control on.  Yeah – that’s what I’m talking about!  I was second in the conga line behind the Lambo and I lagged back quite a few times.  The car was like a rocket ship when I would nail it and downshift two gears.  The whine of the supercharger was outrageous and the power literally pinned you to your seat.  I have owned some fast supercharged cars – but this was the best.  Callaway got this one right.  I noticed that there was blue smoke pouring out of the back of the car when I would pound on it.  I figured I would point that out when we stopped next (I really did not need to since I was coating the 3 cars behind me).  It turned out that the blue smoke was a harmless leak from the supercharger cooler that only occurred under very high load (ie. me).  I must have done 5 or 6 power runs after lagging back and flooring it.  That ride alone would have been worth every penny – but it gets better.  We got to a straight, well paved, wide-open section of two lane highway following a slower car.  The lead car passed and and the Lambo followed, I lagged a bit so I could wail on the C16 and then hit it.  We blew past the car and began to climb into the back seat of the Lambo.  I am sure we went a tad over 55…

Eventually we pulled over and switched again.  I got the Lamborghini this time.  I figured there was no way I was going to enjoy that after the C16.  While the Lambo does have 10 cylinders, it is not supercharged, etc.  Well, I was wrong!  The thing was amazing.  I was behind the pace car (driven by Roland who is an experienced pro racer that could have made a tricycle go fast).  I let Roland get a good pace ahead of me and pounded out the Lamborghini.  It was almost as impressive as the C16 – but it is all wheel drive and really was incredible in the curves and corners.  I pulled a number of power downshifts in this car too and was really torn as to which car I now liked best.  Either way, there is no loser out of these two.

When my turn was next, I got to drive the Ford GT.  This is a true supercar and was the only car with a real stick-shift and clutch.  One of the instructors always road in the GT.  No problem. 🙂  This was a great car and extremely fast.  It is also supercharged – but for some reason the power was very linear and smooth.  It did not really let lose and snap my neck back as I had done in the C16 and Lambo.  It might have been due to the instructor sitting next to me – but he never made a peep each time I lagged back and then hit it as hard as I could.  No question a fantastic car – but it did not rank with the C16 or Lambo.  It might be due to the manual transmission.  The automatics they are making in these new exotics are really phenomenal.

When we were well on our way back to the hotel, it was time for my final drive.  I was in the Alfa-Romeo 8C.  It had the nicest sound to it – but unfortunately resembled more of the Audi R8’s power band than the other power beasts.  Unlike the Audi’s fine transmission, the 8C would bog under full power shifting.  It was also grumble backfiring on downshifts or when I let off the gas.  All of this – and it was the most expensive of all of the cars at about $300k!  They are only letting 75-80 of them into the US – so it is a rare collector’s car.  It is a good thing – because even at about $200k this would not see any sales volume when compared to a Lambo, Ferrari, or other car in that range.  It was definitely my least favorite of the five cars.  So I was glad it was the one that I had to waste part of my turn in city traffic as we parked back at the hotel.  I guess it has some appeal and some woman actually called out to us (another driver was my passenger) to let us know she liked our car…  So Italian sound appeal counts for something.

Ted Cahall

Click on one of the photos to start the gallery.

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Why does (almost) everything fun require a helmet?

While cleaning up the garage the other day, it occurred to me that I have a number of different helmets for different leisure activities.  I have a couple of motorcycle helmets for when I go on rides on my Harley Davidson.  I also have a different helmet for racing my cars. A helmet is required for both road racing with the SCCA as well as when I hit the drag strip.  While considering these helmets, I realized I also have a helmet up in St. Germain, WI where I ride my snowmobiles.  It seems like having fun equates to wearing a helmet…

I realize other friends get real exercise and often wear helmets on their bicycles.  I have a bike – but I do not own a helmet for it.  I probably should, but I ride it once every third year so it is not a good investment…  There are football helmets, and baseball batter’s helmets, etc, etc.

The head is a pretty important part of the body.  I think I will continue to protect it.  Being bald, I also wear a lot of hats in the summer to keep it from burning.  Not quite a helmet – but still a protective device for us bald guys.

Ted Cahall