Monday, July 1, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

What a long weekend! Two days of autocrossing with two different clubs. Three different courses. Lots of ESP competition. And me needing to scrape a lot of rust.... okay, let's be real here. It's not rust. It's fear I'm trying to overcome out on the course. Fear that the car isn't going to handle the way it's supposed to. Fear that the tires aren't going to stick. And, the biggest fear of all -- that the car is going to break again. I went through this two years ago after the driver's side control arm failure, and after last year's passenger side failure, followed by the head gasket, I find myself questioning every little squeak, groan and thunk, which can be pretty distracting on less-than-glasslike surfaces like FedEx Field and the Blue Crabs Stadium.

The Autocrossers Inc. double felt more like a triple when all was said and done. The morning saw ESP running in the last heat, and I had concerns about a sweeper leading into a far-too-short finish area. After a few cars did, indeed, have problems there, some minor changes were made, but non-ABS cars were still making things look a bit hairy from the timing van, where I was working the computer.

As for my morning runs, well, to put it succinctly, they sucked. The first run wasn't too awful in comparison, but while everyone else was dropping seconds, I dropped tenths plus coned. The third run felt great, but coming into the finish, when I went to hit the brakes, I only caught the pedal with the edge of my shoe. The result was that my foot slipped off into that little space between the gas and brake, the car was in that split second of overboost where it keeps accelerating, and I went through the outer wall of the finish chute, punching at least one cone so hard, the bumper cover popped off on the driver's side. Having been told during the first heat that anyone who coned in the finish area was a DNF, I just pulled around to get off the course. Of course, that run was a second faster than my first run, and clean until the end, so I was pretty angry with myself.


Then, just before my last run, Mike Lane had to come by and ask questions about my Crawford AOS, like why there wasn't a clamp on the tube off the top of it. I am often happy that I can bleed my own brakes, so knowing how the AOS works and what that tube on the top is... yeah. So, Mike squeezes the tube and proclaims that it's "barely on there," so I start messing with it to see if there is any "slack" to push it on further. Next thing I know, I'm holding the tube in my hand, and it's not connected to anything. Crap. I have no idea what I may have just done and how to correct it, but after a quick (and somewhat panicked) phone call to IAG, I find out that it's an unpressurized vent tube, and all I have to do is put it back on and make sure the other end isn't going to dump any possible venting on something hot.

I had to take a short mechanical for the phone call, and after the third run my head wasn't really in it. Still, my fourth run was sadly my fastest, almost a second slower than the blown run. :(


I managed to correct some of the craniorectal inversion in the afternoon. I knew the car was rotating more that I was used to on the Blue Crabs Stadium lot, so I started to try to trust what the car was going to do a bit more, and take advantage of it. I was still too tentative in a few spots, and I never did feel like I got the second half of the long slalom right, but I finished 7th in Pro class (versus 10th in the morning), and 17th on index (versus 20th). Baby steps.

 
In the end, while I wasn't particularly happy with my overall finish at the event, two things occurred that somewhat changed my mental approach to the next day's event. First of all, just before my third run in the afternoon, there was a significant timing delay after I was sent to get in the staging line. Bored, I pulled my phone out of the glovebox and saw I had a text message from an unfamiliar number. It turned out to be from a former student, who'd moved to the Clarksburg district last year, and she just wanted to let me know that I was "still the best." After all I went through this past year, at points literally being told that I was crushing students' hopes at being successful, this text meant more to me than I could possibly explain. I think it was little wonder than I dropped a second on that run.

The other thing was that I saw an older man sitting a few grid spots away in his faded red SN95 Mustang, sporting novice class magnetics. I went over to chat with him to see how he was doing, and after talking to him for a bit, I find out that he had just had chemotherapy the previous week. Why? He was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago, and given a year to live. !!! He's a Vietnam veteran who'd been exposed to Agent Orange, and after his diagnosis, he has been trying to cross as many things off his "bucket list" as he can. Going out and having as much legal fun in his Mustang as he can is one of those things. Talking to him suddenly makes finishing second or third against the rest of ESP so trivial.


The WDCR autocross was the next morning, and ESP was in the first heat. While I despise getting up so early, I hate working and changing tires in the rain even more, so this was actually a good thing.

I backtracked on the trust of the car that I'd been building on my first run, and was off the pace by 2+ seconds. When Pat says to me that he was carrying so much speed through the finish, he didn't think he was going to be able to get his Hot Wheels Camaro to slow down, I knew I was sucking. I knew it all boiled down to trusting that the tires would stick, especially on the wonky surface that is FedEx Field.

Pushing the car harder from the start, making sure I was looking at the correct spot through the showcase turn so that I didn't turn in early, getting on the gas earlier -- all of these things together made for a significant time decrease between my first and second runs. Of course, that put me where I should have been on my first run, so I was still behind the eight ball in the standings. So, on the third run, I needed to, as Pat would say, "make it fast or make it entertaining."


Well, someone else made it entertaining, so I was going to get a rerun. And it was starting to sprinkle. I did not have my hopes up as I went out for my third run (again), especially when I blew the right hander coming back towards the finish. The car just did not want to slow down, and I attributed it to the moisture.


With it definitely starting to sprinkle even harder, at this point, I was worried about stuff sitting out getting wet. Grid sent me back to the line at barely the five minute mark (I just left the car running, and nearly froze when I got back in since I had the air conditioning on full blast).


Shockingly, it was my best run, though only good for second in class, as Adam is finally getting his head around Vassallo's Mustang... more proof that I can't just sail through ESP on the merits of owning a fast car any more. Still, in a less-than-optimal course conditions, I was only 0.1 back, so I wasn't too disappointed.... except for the fact that all my stuff ended up getting soaked in the deluge, and the weather hasn't improved enough that I can leave the floor mats and such out to dry, so they are still mouldering in the trunk.

Next event? Well, for the WRX, it's Packwood, where Sam Krauss will be joining me. I might try to make it out to the AI event on the 14th, but since I plan to start my trek on the 16th, I don't want to play with fire there. Guess I'll look for a codrive or something.

Oh, and tremendous thanks to Gabe Dunn and Jerry Byrd for letting me use their GoPro cases this weekend! Hopefully, mine is delivered today.

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