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.