Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review : Turn In Concepts/MSI Collaboration Front Control Arm Bushings

A few weeks ago, Turn In Concepts made a post on NASIOC asking for some prospective testers for some new bushings they are developing.

Knowing the difference between driving the Camaro with the lower control arm bushings near the end of their lives and when I would replace them with new 1LE bushings, I have been considering an upgrade to the control arm bushings in the WRX for a while. In street prepared, offset bushings are allowed, and I'd been thinking about doing just that, but hadn't really done a lot of looking. While I've replaced many of the suspension bushings since last year, the control arms, trailing arms and lateral links are still on the "figure out what to do" list. So, I decided to toss my name into the hat. TiC contacted me a few days later to confirm my address and the bushings were on the way.

I immediately scheduled an install with IAG Performance so that I could have the bushings in before the next (and last of the season) Autocrossers, Inc. event. The bushings arrived on a Thursday, and were in the following Monday afternoon.
special delivery!

getting ready to press out the old bushings and put in the TiC/MSI ones, photo by Boris Petrovich

sad stock bushing next to the TiC/MSI bushing in the housing, photo by Boris Petrovich

all buttoned up, photo by Boris Petrovich

The install was relatively painless, except for a tweaked bolt that didn't want to come loose on the driver's side. It's difficult to say what caused that problem, considering the control arm/ball joint separation from last year, plus the fact that I bought the car used. In any event, that was the only hangup with the actual install, and had I not had a full plate before the AI event (league game, class, hockey class, etc.), I may have even attempted to do it myself. When time is of the essence, however, I prefer to leave things to the professionals.

I can't say I felt much difference in the car's handling on the way home. The WRX is generally a handful on the highways around here anyway, since it's got such an aggressive alignment, and the roads are fairly rutted. To be fair, my car is pretty set up anyway, and a small adjustment such as the rearward of the control arm bushings may not be immediately evident.

So, I took it out to the Maryland Renaissance Festival that Saturday (AWD is a necessity to get in and out of the parking field after weeks of rain), and then to the last AI event in Waldorf on Sunday. ESP was running first heat, and it was pretty chilly (mid 40s) when we arrived. Pat was driving his Camaro, and Rod McGeorge showed up with a new '12 Boss Mustang that he'd be sharing with Big Mike Snyder, but beyond that, there wasn't anyone else running ESP-Pro. Adam George was partaking of the AWD-turbo Kool-Aide by driving the Eskandari STi (STU-prepped) and Brian Burdette was driving a BSP-prepped 350Z. Still, Pat isn't called "Mr. October" for nothing, and having driven that car last month, I now understand how formidable it can be when driven properly.

My first run was pretty bad. I hadn't driven the WRX in anger since Nationals, and the rear tires still had tons of OPR all over them. Combine that with "cold," and "not really paying attention during the course walks," and yeah, this is what you get.

I was happy to not spin when the rear end stepped out across the bumps I hadn't noticed, and then I was pretty irritated with myself for the DNF. I don't know what I was looking at through that turn, but it wasn't what I should have been looking at. I only noticed the cone I was on the wrong side of at the last second, when I jerked the wheel to the left and tried to hit it to stay on course.

So, second run, I had a passenger, so I guess I sort of switched into a different mode. She just wanted to see what I was doing out there, as she drives a stock Miata on street tires, and really only does autocross for fun. Her primary motorsport is offroading (as in Baja). In any event, I improved my raw tire significantly (41.8) and ran clean and on course. I was still a few tenths behind McGeorge at this time.

I was really struggling with coming out of the turnaround, though the car felt great everywhere else. I figured I was coming in too tightly, and so not just slowing down too much for the turnaround, but also impeding my ability to just jump on the throttle and let the diffs do their thing.

Third run, I had another passenger -- an FS 335i driver from Russia -- and then on fourth runs, I got down to a 41.5, just under 0.050 back from McGeorge. At the time, Mike Johnson was top in Pro class, McGeorge was second and I was third. Pat, as usual, was have cone problems, and was back a little ways. When Mike Snyder ran in the second heat, he would get down to a clean 41.1 in the Boss.

So, come the end of the competition, and the AI "screw around time" was about to commence. I wanted to push the WRX a little harder, and Adam wanted to ride along. I think he was feeling cheated from his last ride along, which was in the rain at FedEx Field. So, after a "bleh" first fun run, where I was really just getting heat in the tires (and getting the pressures back to where they should be), I belted out a run that I was sure could have won the class.

Of course, the timer was spazzing, and we both knew it wasn't a 67. So, one more run, and I know it wasn't nearly as good as the previous, but it was still a 40.8.

The only things I've changed on the car since Nationals and the Packwood ProSolo are these bushings and the addition of the gauge pod. While the gauges are pretty and all, the bushings are the things that I was testing here. Did the car feel better than it did at Packwood, which has a more comparable surface (asphalt) to the Blue Crabs lot? Hard to say, considering I seem to just now be starting to harness the car's full potential. It did seem a bit better in the slalom, and less pushy in the off camber sweepers, but how much of that was just driving? I did finish better on index than I have in a while locally, so there is that.

So, I did the only other thing I could, test wise. I cajoled Pat Griffith into taking the WRX out for a few runs. Keep in mind that every time he's driven my WRX, he's not only won ESP, but has done so convincingly. The last time he drove it, he only got one run in before the rain, and he won over me by a second. That, like Packwood, was on asphalt (FedEx Field), and so a comparable surface to Blue Crabs Stadium.

He takes one run to reacclimate himself to the car (it's not like driving the Camaro), and then one run to get the cones out of his system. One the third run, it looks damned near perfect, and when I ask him what the time was, he balks then, grinning, tells me it was a 39.9, on par with Junior's raw time in the ASP C6 Z06 in the morning heat, and, had he done it during competition, easily good enough for the overall PAX.

When asked what he thought of the handling versus the last time he drove it -- again, keeping in mind that the only changes to the car since then are the gauges and the TiC/MSI bushings -- he emphatically said, "It's better."

Ultimately, I think for myself, I would want to change the forward control arm bushings as well. Again, I know how changing the bushings in the Camaro made a huge difference in the crispness of the handling, but that was also a stock class car without any other bushings. The WRX also has the Whiteline steering rack bushings, which certainly help with steering feel and input, but after driving the Subaru a little bit more on the street, I am starting to think that the improved steering feel isn't just in my mind. In terms of adding to the NVH of all the other bushings, there is little additional noise or vibration (which I only experience below 1800rpm anyway), except for slow steering, such as backing out of or pulling into a parking space. Then, yes, there's a little more "creaking" than I had with just the steering rack bushings, but nothing else.

Depending on the weather next weekend, I may try to take the car to Virginia Motorsports Park for another event, and more testing. We'll see how things go for that idea as the week progresses. There isn't a Capitals game that weekend, so I'll need something to do with my time. Until then, I've got to arrange for installation of the TiC rear trailing arm bushings I got from their 1/2/50/100 Facebook promotion! :)

Hopefully, by the end of the winter (and maybe even before the Washington Auto Show), I'll have all new suspension bushing throughout, plus a smaller battery, a master cylinder brace and a few other street-prepared legal upgrades.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Quickie...

I've got an 11PM game tonight and I want to take a nap, and I don't have time to give a full report about the autocross... just yet.

However, I continue to be amazed with how the WRX is handling. The only suspension change I've done since Nationals is the replacement of the rearward control arm bushings. Sometimes, when you do something that, in the big scheme of things, is relatively minor, it's hard to say what is real and what is conjecture. Did the car feel different on the way home from IAG when I picked it up after the install? Or was I hoping it felt different? With the street prepared setup, it's not easy to say.

However, I also let Pat Griffith take the car out for some fun runs. Okay, really, I cajoled him, taunting him with the fact that the keys were in it. Then he took it out.

I'd run a best of a 41.5 in competition, during the 45-50 degree first heat. Pat had run a 41.2, but coned it, and settled for a clean 41.8. Of the ESP drivers in the first heat, I finished second by less than 0.05 to Rod McGeorge, who now has a Mustang Boss that he's setting up for ESP. Mike Snyder ran Rod's car in the second heat, and got down to a 41.2 or 41.1.

So, after the third heat, I decided I'd take a few fun runs. Adam George wanted to ride with me too (since his other ride along was in the pouring rain at FedEx). So, I take two runs in quick succession. The first, I was just warming up the tires, and the second felt spot on. But the timer was out of sync, and I knew I hadn't just run a 67. So, one more time, still with Adam in the passenger seat, and while it didn't feel quite as "on" as the previous run, it was still a 40.8. I was happy, and of course gloated to Pat, who had already loaded his car up and was sitting in the Lightning as I jogged out to work course for a little bit.

"I just ran a 40.8. You know the keys are still in it...."

So, he goes and takes the car out, and on his first run, plows through the 90 degree at the end of the fast straight. This doesn't surprise me, since the WRX doesn't brake as well as the Camaro (even as well as my green Camaro). So, he goes back out and I can hear cones thumping on the far end of the course, and he hits another as he goes through the final turn into the finish chute. I guess he wasn't happy with that run, so he goes for a third, and it looks great. I yell across to him, "What was it?"


"What did you run?"

"What?" He is grinning stupidly. I just scowl. "A 39.9."

"Damn it. Get out of the car."

I asked him what he thought, since he hasn't driven it since the rainy event in mid-August, and again, the only difference between then and now would be the bushings. He said it was certainly improved.

So, more on that later. Here are my first two runs from competition, since that's all that fit on the card (I forgot to delete some other videos).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Testing Time

Looks like I get to play around with some testing this autumn.

I was chosen by TurnInConcepts to test out some bushings for the rearward control arm mounting point. These are a collaboration they have with MSI.

I had them installed at IAG Performance this past Monday, and will be testing them out at the Autocrossers, Inc. event this weekend.

And even before I can test these out and report back to TiC, I get another box in the mail.

These are the rear trailing arm bushings. Looks like I should try to make a couple of events this autumn. :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

You Always Remember....

It's so cliche. "You always remember your first." But, more so than the D Stock Ladies National Championship, more so than the E Street Prepared Ladies National Championship, I will remember my first open class trophy at the SCCA Solo National Championships as being one of the most incredible times in my autocrossing career.

It was only seventh in ESP. It was the last trophy position in the class. But, to me, it finally validates my driving in a way two ladies class championships and too many times on the bubble never could. 

trophy and picture (picture from Rupert Berrington Photography)
Let's rewind to the Friday after the Packwood ProSolo. I'd left my car at IAG Performance because the timing belt was about to fail -- talk about excellent timing! -- and so my departure to the Northeast Divisional Championships was being delayed. A couple of my west coast friends, especially Kevin Dietz and Mike Lillejord, had encouraged me to at least ask my principal about taking off time for the SCCA Solo Nationals. I was skeptical, because he hadn't seemed very keen on my going out last year, but I told them I'd at least ask.

I emailed my resource teacher first, to see if she had a feel for whether he'd approve it or not. I knew she'd let me go, but she wasn't the one who had to give final approval. Her response was, "If you're going to ask, you'd better ask today, since he'll be on vacation all next week." Crap. The last day for "early" registration (ie., $150 vs. $300) was that day, and I really wasn't prepared to ask. This was worse than asking Joel Fehrman about codriving Stompy, and that took an entire six-pack. Feeling sick to my stomach with nervousness, I crafted an email (which included a link to the "Why We Go" post on SoloMatters) and sent it. About an hour later, I got a response asking me to clarify which days I was actually asking for, and I emailed back, "Just Thursday and Friday." Shortly thereafter, he said, "Then I support your time off. Good luck."

I was incredulous, and so needed to find a sub, someone to take my car out, a flight, and a rental car, ASAP. When I got to NEDivs, I mentioned the need for a driver, and both Dan Shalkowski and Jeff Hurst said they might be able to do it. In the end, Dan's the one who took the car out.

Wednesday, August 31, I left work at 2:30, got home to finish up a few domestic duties and then drove the green terror to the airport to catch my flight. As usual, I was in and through security in about 15 minutes, and so proceeded to kill time on my phone until the flight. Having the inflight WiFi was pretty cool and got me another FourSquare badge.
about 40000 feet, on the way to Milwaukee
the "mile high" badge on foursquare :)

We landed in Milwaukee ahead of schedule, and I checked in with the gate attendant to find out that the second part of my journey was on a "regional jet." This would be a plane that would test my ability to deal with confined spaces. Fortunately, it was only half full, so everyone had their seat and space next to them. I slept for about 30 minutes, and as usual, the descent woke me up. I staggered into Omaha Eppley's terminal, blinking furiously to clear off my contact lenses, and encountered Mark Davis and Brian Larose, who were fresh from Lincoln. Evidently, Mark's girlfriend was on the same flight I had been.

I grabbed my craptastic rental car (a Hyundai Accent with rock-like seats), and headed to Lincoln and blessed sleep. While Pat had tracked down where Dan paddocked the WRX and changed the tires, the car still needed to be teched, and I needed to register and walk the course. I went to sleep probably around 1AM local time (after being up at 5AM Eastern time), and the alarm went off waaaay too early at 5AM.

Got the numbers on the car, and crap cleared out and into the rental, then took it to a nearby gas station to get the fuel level up to where it needed to be. Instead of going for the 95 octane at the Harley dealer, I just went for close and cheap and, yeah, sucked it up with 91 octane. Anxiety was setting in, and I wanted to make sure I got two course walks. I was happy to see Nancy and Mari at the registration area at 6:50, so got checked in, then waited 10 minutes at tech before anyone could look at the car. I took it straight to grid and walked twice.

We were on the West Course (designed by Kevin Youngers) first, and even though I'd been in town less than 12 hours, I'd already heard unflattering things about it. Sure enough, the first half of the course was comprised of fairly tight slaloms (wall-loms) and offsets before it opened up into a "regular" course. I'd been warned by a couple of people to recognize that the start lights were pretty far from the staging line, and if I gave it up a little bit before the lights, I wouldn't push out too much into the first slalom.

I have no idea where the moth came from, but it wasn't in the car when I left it with Dan.

ESP was in the second heat, and I was the fourth car off. It was funny that after me, in quick succession, was the rest of the DC area crowd -- Adam George (codriving with "Big" Mike Snyder in Strano's Mustang) was fifth, Pat was sixth and Brian Burdette was ninth. Some people like to play the numbers game and run as close to 99 as possible, especially at Nationals, but with the exception of Adam (because he was codriving this time), we all stuck with our usual numbers (me = 34, Snyder = 41 (141), Pat = 59 and Burdette = 75).

So, my first run was less than awe-inspiring. I was literally winded after making it through the wall-loms and into the five-cone slalom that marked the beginning of the "fun" part of the course. I did exactly what Strano told me not to do in the showcase sweeper, and turned in too early because of the trick cone, but the rest of the course (the last fourth?) was okay. I knew several places I could improve, and my 71.7 was quite poor in the big scheme. Pat was sitting pretty with a run that was 3rd quickest. Lots of people had cones, though my time was slow enough that several of those with cones were still beating me.

I tried to give it up a little more through the start lights on my second run, but I was carrying more speed due to a harder launch, and I still pushed out a little bit. I tried to be tighter on the cones through the first section, because I wasn't going to gain anything significant on speed, just on minimizing real estate. I saw the trick cone in the showcase, and wasn't fooled, gave up a bit too much at the bottom of what some people called the "banana", and came in with a 1.3s improvement. Back to the bubble.

So, third runs come up, and I launch hard, and push out into the opening slalom. Gahhh! I rein it back in and try to recover. The showcase feels good; I don't get fooled this time either. I dive harder into the end part of the banana, and then I see it, like Launcelot finding the Holy Grail.

Downed cone. Corner worker backing away frantically, knowing she can't get it before I get there.

I stop briefly and yell, "Thank you!!" while pointing at the cone, then take off again at about 80-85% so that I don't give Adam a rerun. Everyone in grid knows I just got the bonus round, and as I pop the hood, Courtney Cormier (ASP National Champ!!) is bringing Pat's spray bottle over and checking my tires. He sprays the fronts as I pull a psi or two out, Jay Storm is keeping tabs on the hood, and then I get the call to go to the line.

A photo from the West Course.
I correct my understeer from the start, and drive a little harder into the banana, while checking up just before tagging the outside cone at the end of the element. I manage to look a little further ahead into the final two sections, and make it even smoother than before, and the final time... 69.328, another 1.1s improvement. I know I left a lot on the table, but when the results come out and show me in 7th and final trophy spot, I'm kind of happy. Madarash, of course, is leading.

"Kind of" because it's the same damned spot I seem to be in when I run open class every year. "Kind of" because less than 1 minute after I look at those results, all of a sudden, "revised" results come out, and I'm in 8th.

I'm confused, and then I see Mark Walker has moved up to fourth, because where there had been two cones on his third run, now there are none. I am not happy, since I stopped for one of those cones, and I tell him as much. He seems a little less sure that his third run was clean after I say something to him, but he doesn't talk to the chief steward to tell this, and many people in the class aren't aware of the revision, much less why there was a change. I'm hoping for integrity to prevail, since he did seem a bit less sure his run was clean after I talked to him, and I can't believe the fates would let me be behind someone who knowingly hit a cone again (after Dale Klein knowingly coned his dry run on the South Course and I finished behind him, one out of the trophies), so I don't pursue the issue.

Our nemesis, class leading car owned by Mark Madarash.
Jason Kolk and Dave Heinrich aren't so nice though. After seeing the corner logs clearly displaying two cones (one of which was the one I stopped for), and no ambiguity in who hit the cones, they track down the girl who was backing away from the cone when I had to stop, as well as the corner chief, and in the end, the cones are added back to Walker's final run, putting him back in 9th position for the start of the second day. Not everyone knew that the cones had been put back on, including me.

Thursday night festivities included beer (of course), some of Shuman's carne asada at the ATL... uh, SEDiv tent, foursquare and just chilling with friends old and new. The new divisional tent idea was kind of cool, except that the Great Lakes and Southwest tents were so far away from the Southeast tent that it was difficult to interact with multiple people. Many went over to the SWdiv area for Bigwheel ProSolo, while others were at GLDiv for a cookout there.

I was pretty tired after an extremely long day on Wednesday, and so we headed back to the hotel "early." Granted, I still didn't go to sleep until close to 1AM, and I'd only done one course walk on Andy Hollis's East Course, so I wanted to be there early to walk at least twice again, which meant another day of 4-5 hours of sleep.
Brad Owen's '06 WRX.
PJ Corrales had warned me about the "boxes" on this course, and not to be greedy with them, while Matthew Braun came over to tell me his ideas on making it through this course's showcase sweeper. I was trying to internalize all of this when the start of the second heat came, all too soon.

My first run was, again, less than awe-inspiring; a 66.3 just wasn't going to get it done. I'd launched way too softly, was way too tentative in too many places, and just left a ton on the table. It was as if I was trying to sabotage myself and my attempt to get into the trophies. I picked a couple of spots to try to maximize my improvements (including the start, which Sammy yelled at me about, transmission be damned), and set out on run #2 to get it done.

A 1.3s improvement after charging harder from the get-go. The 65.082 didn't make me happy, especially knowing I'd left time everywhere, and in fact, my Facebook status reflected that I wanted even more time on my third run. I was still on the cusp of a trophy, and I knew there was still time out there that could be mine.

The Merideth Mustang and Heinrich's Boss (codriven by Jason Kolk)
My third run, I gave it everything, and I pushed out in the showcase sweeper, almost tagged a cone in the boxes, and then everything went to hell. As I made the right hand turn toward the finish run, I heard something in the rear, and just wondered. Then, on the brakes and tossing the car into the finish "bus stop," I heard it again, and got scared. When the car stepped out on me, I didn't even fight it to keep it off the cones, as I was more worried that I had an axle that had given up the ghost, like Martin Kriz at the Atlanta Tour. In fact, I had Andrew Howe listening to the rear end as I came back to my grid spot, but he pronounced it "okay." The time wasn't there anyway, as much as it felt like it, and while some people were already congratulating me on a trophy position, there were still two people behind me that had more than enough on me after the first day, they were very likely to get by me on their last runs.
bumper covers don't like hitting four cones in quick succession at 50+ mph.
So, it was with extreme apprehension that I watched Mike Snyder (who was sitting in 6th after the first day) and Kent Kroll (who was third after the first day) take their last runs. Sean O'Gorman was standing with me, letting me know that Snyder needed a "mid 65" run to get by me, but he didn't tell me what Kent needed. Both Mike and Kent were on the course at the same time, and my eyes are scanning back and forth to watch both of them so rapidly that I probably looked like I was experiencing vertigo. Snyder crossed with a 65.7.... enough for 8th, as Heyward announced, and twenty seconds later, Kent and his broken shock crossed with a 65.9... and when Heyward said that I had won my first open class trophy and Sean congratulated me, I told him, "No. I want to see the final results. And then I'll wait another 30 minutes until they are final."

And that's what I told everyone, because I didn't believe it. And when the finals came out, and they were final -- no weird revisions moments after I saw them -- that's when the tears of happiness started to fall. Heyward wanted me to come over to the announce vehicle to talk, so I pulled myself together enough to sound coherent on the mic, and thank Burdette and Snyder and Adam and Pat for the competition to make me better all year. And then Heyward turned the mic over to Raleigh Boreen (who was happy for me, but wished I'd done it in Pat's purple Camaro), and he cried too. He knows how hard it is to get a trophy, especially when it's "expected" of you, and he was honored to be the one who got to present me with that trophy later on at the awards banquet.

Parking in between BSP Champ Corey Ridgick and SMF Champ Brian Karwan had to help, right?
Ten tries in open class, and I finally did it. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen. I still find it sort of surreal. :)
I pinched my arm, and the trophy was still there.

And now... what to do to make the car better for next year? For one... maybe I'll get new tires just before Nationals instead of "making do" with last year's tires. As for the rest... well, there are more suspension bushings, and I guess I should do a lightweight battery. And maybe get rid of the rear wing? It's a street prepared car... it's always a work in progress, right?

I'm gonna need more than a snarky magnet to stay ahead of the DC guys in the future.

Final results are up on

Monday, August 8, 2011

Add a Dash of Salt

Before you read about the ride home, did you read about the ride out, the hike and the competition?

I'd already decided as I left Packwood that I didn't want to go home the same way I'd driven out, and the real question on Monday morning was simply how I was going to go about getting to I-80.

Was I going to take I-84 through Boise and meet up with I-80 north of Salt Lake City? Or was I going to take a three-hour detour through Twin Falls, ID and Wells, NV?

I had plenty of time to think about it, as I got on the road and into Idaho. I knew how US 93 was likely to be -- two-lanes, lots of nothing in between Twin Falls and Wells -- and I knew that I-84 was a "safer" bet. But if I didn't make that side trip, it wasn't like I could just decide later on to go back. In the end, I took the detour, even though construction on US-93 made it closer to four hours out of the way. And I don't regret it at all.

The view from the end of Salt Flats Drive.

The salt, close up. It was stickier than usual this year, due to lingering moisture.

I drove out about a half mile, at about 15mph, and put the magnetics on.

It was a beautiful, sunny day.

Nearly four thousand miles since home, and the bug spatter on the front is pretty impressive at this point.

Pointed poignantly towards the west, towards home, looking out at a horizon full of possibilities. I can not describe this picture to you. It is my favorite of all the ones I took.

After spending probably 30-45 minutes out on the salt, I slowly drove back in, parked the car momentarily to clear out some of the salt, then decided it was time for a late lunch.

Just a small amount of the salt packed into the rear fender wells.

My $6 lunch at the Salt Flats Cafe.

I dawdled at the Salt Flats Cafe for a while. I considered heading back into town to throw some money at a blackjack table, but in the end, I opted to get back on the road.

Eight more hours on the road, and I was pulling into Cheyenne, Wyoming, with lightning dancing in the sky. Lots of ball lightning rolling through the clouds, very spectacular with the lack of light pollution from the surrounding areas.

The next morning, I got an early start as Frontier Days were going on, and I didn't want to get caught in any traffic. Western Nebraska was as desolate as I remember, and at one point, I saw a Western Box Turtle on the side of the road. I stopped to either pick it up or move it off the shoulder, and when I got there, I saw that it had a shattered shell and had obviously died a slow death as it dragged itself to the shoulder. It made me quite sad to see.

As I trudged back to the car (it's hard to slow down rapidly from 80mph when you've got an unsecured load of tires in the car!), I saw a small cactus growing by itself in the sandy soil. I carefully pulled it out, and moistened the root with some water on a shop towel, and wrapped it up.
Nebraska cactus, at home in its new pot.

I don't know why I brought it home with me. Maybe to remind me of the turtle I couldn't save.

A few more hours down the road, I see the exit for Gothenburg, along with the notice for the Original Pony Express Station. I've seen this so many times, and wanted to stop every time, so I decide, yes, I'm doing it.

The original station, though not in its original location.

Original lantern outside the entrance

Obligatory pose with car

Back on the road, I make mental notes about the construction zones and such approaching Lincoln, so I can let others know what to expect come late August as they convene for the ProSolo Finale and the Solo Nationals. I see the Missouri River, swollen so much it looks to be a lake, and know that the danger for Omaha and much of Iowa is still very present. Signs tell me that I-680 is closed at the river crossing into Iowa and I-29 in Iowa is closed due to flooding. I make a quick stop just across the river into Iowa, grab another beer for the souvenir collection, and keep pressing on, wanting to make Illinois before sleepy time.
This was quite tasty.

I made it to Morris, IL, before calling it a night, and having hit some nasty construction zones, was wondering about the condition of my suspension the rest of the trip.

The remainder of the journey was uneventful. It was almost a relief on Wednesday to be rolling into Maryland, peaks under 1000ft and all, parking the Subaru in the driveway long enough to throw my hockey equipment into the black Camaro and bolting for hockey class at Kettler. In the space of eight days, I drove through 18 states (MD, PA, OH, IN, IL, WI, MN, SD, MT, ID, WA, OR, NV, UT, WY, NE, IA, VA) and the District of Columbia. Needless to say, I was bushed.

And I was supposed to be in Geneva, NY, in less than 48 hours for the Northeast Divisionals. But that story will have to wait.
Souvenirs : Air Force Bear from Cheyenne, American West recipe book (behind the bear) from Gothenburg, and the beers.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

High Anxiety

You might want to make sure you've read part I and part II of the road trip first.

Looking across the site from Grid B. Yes, that's Annie Bauer's car at the lights.

I was pretty anxious to get to the site Saturday morning, which is odd, because I haven't been this excited to autocross in a long time. But this felt different. It was a completely different group of people than I usually run with, and so ridiculous drama wasn't a dark cloud over every aspect of the event. I had a simple work assignment -- starter -- so I wasn't stressing out over making sure things were being done correctly.

Well, to some extent. I hadn't worked start in five years, and for the first time in recent memory, the shot clock was functional. I needed to get into a rhythm for sending cars, but it only took a few pairings to do so.
When was the last time you saw this counting down?

There were only three run groups, so after shift A was done, there was about a 10-15 break so that shift A drivers could get out of impound and go to their work assignments. In the meantime, I found I had downtime... something I haven't had in a long time at any autocross, whether a local or a National event. I wandered around a bit, talked to some of the guys who'd just driven (like Andy Hollis) to get some pointers. Then I leisurely made sure the WRX had air in the tires, and put it in my grid spot.

I didn't have a crew person with me, so I decided to just start my pressures low and let them come up, rather than worry about checking them on my own between runs. It was cool -- mid 70s -- and so I went with 39psi up front and 35psi in the rear, figuring they'd come up to something close to what I wanted.
Getting ready for Saturday morning runs

Bump class 2 was the motley group of me (ESP), Ryan Otis (SS), Steve Barnes and James Shepherd (SS), Tom Kotzian and Allan Zacharda (SMF), Dustin Burns (F125) and John Burns (F125). I wasn't sure how the ESP index stacked up against SMF, SS or F125, but I was more just concerned with driving. To start, I was paired up with John Burns in his F125, so I knew I just needed to concentrate on my driving and not on the fact that the kart should be beating me all over the place out there.

I started off on the left, and a lazy 3500rpm launch saw a mid .8s reaction time and a 1.9s 60ft. But as I came in, Ron Bauer was announcing me as off course. I wasn't sure where I'd screwed up, and when Ann Hollis came over and asked if I needed anything, she couldn't say where the DNF was either. So, I chalked it up to just being too lackadaisical, and decided to try to figure it out on my next left run.

On the right, after another "safe" launch, I made a point of telling myself to trust the car through the right hander into the crossover straight. A bit of a lift, and I was flying into a three cone slalom, then the turnaround back to the crossover. The car was feeling good as I zipped into the finish slalom, and I posted a respectable time of 26.9.
Heading back around to the crossover on the right hand side. Photo by Andrew Howe.

Gearing up for my next left side run, Ron Bauer is really hyping up my trip from Maryland while being complimentary of my driving. I wasn't very impressed with my driving right then, and on the next launch, was pretty tentative while looking to see where my off may have been.

I see it right away. Where the three cone "slalom" was after the crossover straight, I'd straight-lined it instead of wiggling. I made it through there, around the backside, and then came flying into the slalom a little too quickly. The backend stepped out, I gathered it back up without hitting anything, and posted a time, which is all I wanted. It was only good for fifth in class when all was said and done.

The lunch break was pretty relaxing, and I talked with a variety of people I rarely see except for Nationals. Fast Mike Lillejord gave me a hard time for missing out on margaritas on Friday night, while others asked me what made me drive a street prepared car all the way out to Washington State. Some quality quotes came out of this :
  • "Wait, what? This isn't the Washington DC ProSolo? Crap."
  • "I'm putting the 'street' back in 'street prepared'!"
  • "I wanted first place ESP points to, you know, scare Strano."
  • [someone else, as I stand next to my WRX, checking pressures] : "Did you fly out?" [me, looking confused] "Uh, yeah. And the WRX was checked baggage."
To be honest, the ride out was smoother and more comfortable than when I drove the car out to Wendover in 2008. The Sparco Evo seat is much more supportive and forgiving than the stock seats. My only complaint with the Sparco is that it doesn't recline. Even with all of the Kartboy, TurnInConcepts and Whiteline drivetrain bushings, the noise, vibration and harshness of the ride is more than tolerable, unless I let it lug around 1500-1700rpm (rare). The softer Swift springs on the zzyzx/Koni coilovers, and the brand new Koni 8611 inserts were probably a better choice for a cross-country road trip than what I had been using too. My only real concern was the transmission, as even on my morning "reconnaissance" runs, the car was definitely making more power in the cool mountain air than it does normally in Maryland humidity.
Heading into the finish slalom on the left side course. Mount Rainier is hidden behind some clouds.

So, around 12:45PM, we started up the second set of runs, and I'm back in the starter's chair, plugging along. There is certainly something sweet about being in that chair during particular pairings, such as Laurie Hyman (ASP GT-R) and Teresa Neidel-McKee (SSM RX7) or Stacey Molleker (BS GT500) and whichever S2000 he was paired up with at that point. Andy Hollis is a total machine at the lights, both in competition and in the challenge. Listening to guys give each other crap as they were staging (such as some of the STS guys) is pretty funny too.

Again, during shift B, I found myself very relaxed, and with plenty of time to take a quick jaunt through Packwood to put a couple of gallons of gas in the car. While there, some locals asked if I was doing "the rally" and everyone was very nice and supportive of what the SCCA is doing. In some ways, it reminded me of going to Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, and how it was a huge production for the SCCA to come to town and stage an event. The locals thought it was awesome I'd driven all the way from Maryland.

For the afternoon runs, I was paired up the the yellow Corvette of Steve Barnes. The karts had both had issues in the morning (Dustin's kart just wouldn't even run due to air in the fuel lines), and so were at the back, and Ryan Otis was paired with Tom Kotzian. Zacharda and James were in the second driver grid waiting for their turns. Like the morning, I was less concerned with who I was paired up with and more worried about what I needed to do. I knew I had a lot of time on the left side, and at least a few tenths on the right. So, starting on the right, I coned away a 0.6 improvement.
Stupid cone. Photo by Andrew Howe

I shrugged it off. The left side was where I really needed to improve. And as I pulled up to the stage lanes, I realized something.

My ProSolo nervous habits were back.

Pull up. Reverse. Ease up into the lights. Set the e-brake. Turn off the radio. A/C off. First gear. A/C off? First gear? Bring the revs up. Launch.

It was all back.

I tried not to let the realization throw me as I took off on my run. Thread the needle, get on it, ease up through the tighter-than-the-right-side section, hard on it into the slalom... whoa, whoa, get it slowed down, then back on it through the slalom into the finish.... now, breathe, and listen....

1.3 second improvement. Bauer was incredulous. I was smiling. The car felt awesome.

Radio on, back to the right side...

Overall, I would drop 2.5 seconds (0.8 on the right and 1.7 on the left) to move myself into second position heading into Sunday's runs. I was ecstatic, and I was loving how the WRX was feeling. Finally, after two years of ESP frustration, the car wasn't all pushy and irritating. I just needed to start trusting what it would do now. I had forgotten to tell myself to "trust the car" on my last right side run and actually tapped the brake before the right hander, so I knew I had time there. I also was leaving a lot of time at the lights. 0.6s on the tree and 1.9s for 60 ft times... I didn't want to push too much harder there, as that was a "I must drive this car home" kind of issue, but I knew the car had more in it.
I was the cutoff after Saturday.

Andy and I chatted with some people before heading out to dinner at Peter's Inn, and then I just found myself tired and not really wanting to push too hard on Saturday night, not with another 40 hour drive ahead of me starting the next evening. So, I laid down and eventually :facekindled: with my e-book while he went back over to Peter's Inn for Saturday night karaoke and Blue Spruce for some mingling with the rest of the autocross crowd.

Sunday saw people dropping time in the morning, a few tenths on each side. Classes were tightening up, and I knew if I was going to stay eligible for the Challenge, I needed to improve too.
Paired up with Ryan Otis for the Sunday morning runs

Unfortunately, I didn't improve at all on Sunday morning, while Tom Kotzian got half a second on the right side, and moved by me for second. I stayed in the trophies though, though a Hoosier tire for second would have been a nice souvenir for myself.

Brought this one back from Oregon for Pat

So, I helped out by working as starter during the Challenge rounds, and seeing how masters like Andy Hollis bowl their way from start to final round, then said my goodbyes, and headed off towards Yakima to come to rest near the Oregon/Idaho border (Ontario, Oregon) for the night.

In the end, I was pretty happy with how I did. Could I have gotten by Kotzian for second? Sure, if I had been anywhere close to home, I wouldn't have been as tentative at the lights, and just another 0.1s per side in the 60ft could have moved me up. Could I have caught Ryan? That's a tougher question. The WRX felt good, but I haven't competed with it since the NJ Pro, and it felt awful to me there. I know I wasn't driving it as well as I could have because I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall. I had a great time, and it was nice to know that autocross can still be fun, when I'm not on the periphery of drama queens and under the pressure of being a chief. It made the decision to go to the Northeast Divisionals when I got back a bit easier.

The next day, I had a decision to make. To Wendover or not to Wendover?

A new friend for Andrew Pallotta tagged along on the ride home.

To Be Concluded!

And I Shall Call It... Mini-Cone

Did you read part I yet?

Forty-two hours of driving after leaving the house on Tuesday, I arrived at the Johnston Ridge Observatory just minutes ahead of the 10AM time that my autocrossing friend Andy Howe had given me. It was a little chilly in the mountains, and I was nervous that I hadn't exactly brought appropriate clothing for the hike, much less the weekend.

The temperature as I was driving through White's Pass; compare that to the heat index of almost 120F on the East Coast at the time
A blasted "spider" sensor that did not survive the 2005 eruption

We stopped up at the visitor center to get our wristbands for the day and then prepared for the journey around the Boundary Trail by making sure we had water and snacks (I'd hit up Bass Pro Shops on my way out of Harmans for a new Camelbak and hiking shoes), and then Andy asks me an interesting question.

"You're not afraid of heights, are you?"

I considered the question for a moment, thinking of the CN Tower's "glass floor" and the drop on Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster. "Nope, not at all," I told him.

And off we went.

Looking down at the entrance road from the Boundary Trail.

Many of the clouds have dissipated only 30-40 minutes into the hike. The mini-cone is clearly visible.
Andy told me this was an "Indian Paintbrush" and very common on the mountains.
Another small flowering plant taking root amidst the ashes.

Maybe a third of the way into the hike, we came to a sort of stopping point around a bit of a crevice. There was a sign posted, warning that the next section was not appropriate for inexperienced hikers, and when I looked, I see a path maybe two feet wide, with a pretty steep drop on the righthand side. Andy says, "Oh, it's only 800 or so feet to the bottom." I'm a little apprehensive, but everyone else seems unfazed by this section, so I'm not going to wimp out. The first part isn't so bad, but then about halfway through it, I start thinking about how I'm not used to being at altitude, and what if I pass out, and then I freak myself out and have to stop for a moment. The rest of the way through this part, my heart is hammering in my chest, and I am just focusing on putting one foot ahead of the other, carefully, and trying not to think about the fact that I have to come back through on the return.
Looking at down (~800ft) at the valley filled with ashes. The trail continues to the left.
Looking back at the scariest part of the hike.
Sort of the halfway point, where the trail branches. We went up Harry's Ridge.

These little star-shaped flowers were all over the lower part of the trail. It looked and felt like spring.
As we got closer to Harry's Ridge, we started to see more and more snow.
All that remains of trees that were shattered in the blast from 31 years ago.

Mt. Adams stands watch over Spirit Lake. The remnants of the blasted trees make an eerie log jam against the eastern coast line of the lake due to the winds that were blowing in from the west that day.
Remains of cornices.
The end of the trail.
Looking back down the path we'd just taken.
Looking to our left, over Spirit Lake and a ridge of snow.

After chilling -- literally, it was maybe 30F with the wind chill -- at the end of the trail for 15-20 minutes, we started heading back. One of the other guys in our group also had problems on the narrow ledge portion of the trail, and told me that his "blinders" had worked wonders. He'd taken painters' tape and basically blocked off his peripheral vision. It made sense; and once we'd returned to the dreaded area, I just used my hand to block off my left side vision whenever it became overwhelming, which was pretty much just the center section, where the trail was the narrowest, and there were no shrubs or flowers to block the view down into the crevice.
Andy forges ahead, while I use "taking a picture" as an excuse to steel my nerves.

During the return through here, some impatient "hikers" behind us almost caused a disaster when I paused at an area to let some people coming the other way come through. They decided to rush past our group, and one of them ran headlong into one of those coming the other way. For a long moment, it seemed that someone might lose their balance, but fortunately, everyone was fine.
The view was incredible on our way back.

We made it back to the parking lot just around 2:30PM, and chilled for a little bit before Andy and I headed off to Packwood and the rest back home to Oregon. It would take just about two hours to get to the Hampton Mills lot and I was in for quite a surprise when we got there.

Indoor paddock. Covered impound. And a nice sized asphalt lot nestled behind in between those buildings, with a gorgeous view of the mountains, including Mt. Rainier.
There were motor homes in here too!

Very laid back atmosphere, easy registration and tech, saying "hi" to my west coast friends... at some point, I walked each course once, then we decided it was time to check into the hotel and hang out at Friday night karaoke at the Blue Spruce Saloon. Kyra Jenkins and George Hudetz were the karaoke stars until Ron Bauer and Karl Coleman showed up, but by that time, I was ready to sleep. My legs were killing me after the hike, and I was antsy for Saturday morning and competition, even if I was the only ESP car there and so in bump class 2 against the likes of Tom Kotzian and Ryan Otis.

To Be Continued!