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

EMRA Practice – Randy into the Gravel

This is a quick video of Randy Ramos from Meathead Racing heading off into the gravel pit in Turn 1 at the practice session for the EMRA 4 Hour Enduro.  Randy was being followed by Bad Al Bell in my car as we took some test laps.  They both pass the white Miata before turn 10 and head down the straightaway towards turn 1.  The only issue is that is was really wet and Randy decided to brake a little late…  Nothing a little tow truck action could not sort out.  It was a great day at the Enduro and the Sprints that preceded them.

Ted Cahall

My First Venture Off the Track

Since I have gotten fairly good at downloading my videos from my TraqMate and editing them, I decided to post a short video of myself sliding off the track in my final race of the year.  I recovered fairly well and still finished the race (after setting my personal best lap time in a few of the previous laps).

You can see the red #14 car sneak up my right side in turn 5 as we stack up into a line of cars.  He stays inside me for turn 6.  Instead of falling in behind him, I keep my line off his left bumper – and run out of track.  This is the old, “watch the track – and not the guy in front of you” lesson.

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

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

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 in the 2009 MARRS 1 Club Racing event (see photos below).

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.

Qualifying

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 Qualifying Race

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.

MARRS 1 2009 Feature Race

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.

Brake Lights and Tire Smoke

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.

Not Finishing Last

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).

Real Racing – Trading Positions

#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.

Definitely Not Last

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.

Personal Best Fastest Laps

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 to 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

Here is a gallery of professional photos from my first SCCA race. Click on any photo to begin the gallery.

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