Friday, April 18, 2014

Taking the Bull by the Horns

When the SCCA first released their National Tour and ProSolo schedule, my friend Greg McCance tossed the idea of a codrive out to me, way back in November.

"Are you serious about letting me codrive?" I texted. "I'd kind of like to do the Irvine (El Toro) event, since it leads into my spring break..."

After me asking several more times over the next two months if he was serious, I finally got plane tickets since I was planning three other trips simultaneously (two to Boston and one to San Antonio) and made hotel reservations.

And before I knew it, Spring Break was here. It probably didn't help that every week, there seemed to be a new snow storm here in Maryland, so that it felt like spring was never quite going to get here.
This happened any number of times between December and March.
I did laundry Thursday night and mostly packed (since most of the non-clothes stuff was already taken care of due to my NSTA trip to Boston the previous week), then after work, busted ass home to finish packing and catch my 5:30 flight.

Upon settling in to my seat, iPod going, I felt the first kick. Yep, it was going to be six hours of seat-kicking-screaming toddler behind me. I sighed loudly, and the woman beside me says, "I'll switch seats with you if he's going to be a problem." I guess she was his mother, but I still gave her a look of doom as I simply said, "No thanks, I can't sit in a middle seat." I really can't, especially if I'm by myself. It was bad enough during the trip to San Antonio where Pat was in the window seat and the woman whose body didn't obey the rules of personal space was in the aisle seat. I just wish she'd been as "accommodating" when she and her husband decided to put the child behind a stranger instead of in the middle seat (behind her, and the husband behind me). Meh, the worst part, for me, was realizing I'd forgotten my Southwest drink coupons, but the stewardess got me my drinks with a quickness and I was asleep before long.

I feel asleep shortly thereafter.
I arrived in San Diego around 8:30 local time, and grabbed my rental car to head up to Irvine. I'd received a message from McCance telling me that the Billy Brooks wasn't going to make the trip, so I could run open class if I wanted to. I was sad, as I was also looking forward to seeing Billy, but I was happy to run open class too. Greg said he'd handle the registration changes, and so I didn't worry about getting to the event site until the next morning.

The official fish of the front desk
I checked in, texted Greg to tell him what room I was in, set my alarms and then fell asleep.

Saturday morning, waking up at 5:30 local time felt great, considering it was essentially 8:30 my time. Greg had texted me telling me his phone had died, and what room he was in. I went downstairs to grab a bite to eat, thinking to meet up with him, and after about 15 minutes, we realized we weren't at the same hotel after all. He gave me his GPS coordinates so I could make it to the site via Google Maps, and off I went.
Walking course Saturday morning, there was a bit of wind.
Since he'd towed the car with Bret Norgaard's ambulance, there really wasn't anything to do in terms of car setup, so I just wanted to check in and walk course. The registration computers were acting up, so after saying hi to Jason Rhoades and a few others, we just walked course, then I checked in. One more course walk, and then it was hurry-up-and-wait until my work assignment.
Back in the chair
I checked in early so that Paul Russell could give me a quick refresher on the buttons, since I hadn't worked start since the Wendover ProSolo last July. I was working the shift just before I needed to run, so I started getting antsy towards the end of the shift, hoping my replacement (Kinch Reindl) or a substitute (Howard Duncan) would be stopping by soon. I still hadn't even been behind the wheel of Greg's car, so this was going to be one of those times where I was thrown into the fire immediately, learning the car as I drove up the stage lanes... on cold, sticker tires....

Howard stopped by soon enough, and I saw that Greg was in the process of bringing the car up to grid. Because we were running Greg's numbers (78/178), I would be unpaired for the morning runs, which I thought sucked. I always like having someone to run against. I told Greg, "If we ran 34/134, this wouldn't be an issue!" and I had my magnets with me (since I thought I'd be running #34, L1), but it was too late to switch.

As the time wound down, the fifth driver -- a third gen Camaro newbie who actually wasn't ESP legal, but was recruited by the rest of the guys so we had a seventh driver for Hoosier contingency -- didn't show up. So, to condense the launches and not have two bye-pairings, I got to run against Tim Bergstrom in the yellow Mustang that he shares with Britt Dollmeyer at the Tours. Chris Darquea and Elliot Speidell were the first pairing, and Greg would be matched up against John Hogan in the second drivers lane.

I asked Greg what I needed to know. He didn't really have any advice for me, but asked if I wanted to use the launch control. I balked, since I haven't really used launch control since I drove Stompy back in the day. I sat in the car to see how awkward it would be to launch how I was used to, and it was definitely awkward, since the emergency brake is on the far side of the console and required that I dig the bottom part of my arm into part of the driver's seat. Still, I felt I'd be better off without the LC.

I started off awful. No... awful doesn't even cover it. I completely boned my first two runs, and didn't realize it until halfway through the second one. There are no more "DNFs" but instead, you get assessed a 10 second penalty for "missing elements of the course." Really? SMH. So, crossing back over to the left side, I concentrated on staying on course, then did the same thing on the right side. I felt my times were pretty meh, and once Greg went out on warm tires, he proved me right.

So, after our first runs, Greg was leading, and I was fourth. I had so much time left to gain, especially on the left, and while I wanted to walk the courses during the break, I also wanted to get something to eat. We swapped the tires front to back, then ended up eating at Jack in the Box (such creepy photographs they have there!), and missed the walkthrough time. :(
 
Greg dropped a ton of time -- almost 1.5 seconds -- and stayed comfortably in the lead. I started off with a great 1.1s improvement on the right... but was DSQed for forgetting to take the 1s off the car. :( :| >:|

Greg told me to shrug it off, and I tried, I really did, but I never did match this time again. And it ended up being the difference between a trophy and nothing. I am so mad at myself.

Still the left side was giving me fits, and while I did get down to a 33.7 on that run, things went downhill from there. I spun on the next right side run, pushing too hard in an unfamiliar car through the crossover (Morgan Trotter thought it was funny how hard I was laughing as I brought the car to a stop), and then redlit and had a scary, scary DNF on my last, left side run, where the sun was in my eyes so badly that I literally couldn't see anything, much less the course, once I got into the "Chicago box" area. I haven't had that happen since the 2003 DC Tour, where the finish during the sixth (!) heat was more by memory and feel than anything else.

I dropped to fifth spot, knowing full well I should be in third.

We went to dinner with Annie Gill, opting for Mexican, and forgetting to set "no tolls" on our Google Maps. Eek. We eventually got to the place, and the food was good if a bit pricey for run-of-the-mill Mexican.
Greg called it the "John Holmes Special." I don't ever think I'll order flautas again.
I dropped Greg off at his hotel, and went back to mine to mull my myriad mistakes over... and over.

Sunday morning was less breezy and more overcast when I arrived on site. I wanted to walk the courses, especially the left side, and did so. My second walk through was punctuated by Tom Berry noting how well I was launching Greg's car sans launch control. It was something I'd been concerned about, and to have someone of Tom's caliber make note of it was nice and allayed some of my fears about driving the car. In fact, my 60ft times ranged from 1.708 (my last left side run) to 1.831 (my first left side run).
It didn't change the fact that I couldn't drive the way I wanted and needed to on the course. I'd rest on my Saturday afternoon left side time, and would never match my DSQed time on the right, only getting a 32.8 on my first Sunday run and coning a 32.2 (and not even realizing I'd coned). Frustrating.
Me driving the unicorn.
I'd get a chance to redeem myself when I had my name drawn for the bonus challenge. And, just like at Packwood, I'd throw it away with a poor launch; the 0.8 something on my left side run killed me, but I couldn't get the car staged the way I wanted to, and so knew I was staged too deep. I ended up losing by 0.044, and the guy I lost to ended up winning the whole thing over Ed Runnion who lucked into the final round by a double redlight on Joe Austin and Jeff Wong.
I needed air! 
It all ended up great in the end. Greg was in the Super Challenge, paired up with Mack Tsang to start. Mack coned, giving Greg the advantage as he headed over to the faster right side, and Greg came back with the win, putting him against Gary Thomason for round two. It was a similar story; Greg had an advantage due to a rare cone by Gary, but this time, Greg didn't let up near as much on the right side. He took the win again.
Now it's time to spray tires.
Tom Berry was the next opponent, and shockingly enough, Tom caught his first red light of the weekend. Having worked as starter during ASP... I mean, SPA, I had noted how machine-like Tom and Marshall were at the line, so that red light surprised me almost as much.

The other surprised at this point was how nonchalant Greg was about the whole thing. I've seen a lot of people in the Super Challenge, from both the grid and the starter's chair and seen the range from the stoicism of John Ames and Gary Thomason, to the machinations of Andy Hollis, to the giddiness of Tom Hoppe and Tony Savini. Greg was none of these things. He never seemed concerned whether Morgan and I were spraying the tires or checking pressures, he never seemed too concerned with what I was yelling at him when he'd come in from one side or the other.

I guess the only thing to say -- and anyone who knows him will back me up on this -- is that he was just being Greg.

The round of four was the first time Greg had to start on the fast side, and I was sad to note that I hadn't been paying attention to the crucial differential point -- the amount of time at which it seemed the person starting on the left wouldn't be able to overcome it. Greg was against the CS winner, Jeff Stuart, for this, and came in leading ~1.2s. As he drove by into the left staging lanes, I was telling him, "1.2, 1.2! It's going to be close!" because that was about what I thought. Well, evidently, he was more than covered, because he proceeded to lay the smack down and broke out.

He was headed to the final round, against the toughest of opponents.
Greg would take on Paul Russell for the top spot in the Super Challenge
Yep. Greg had to battle a kart, and everyone knows that a kart in the final round is nearly impossible to beat. From getting antsy at the tree, to overdriving to stay ahead of the buzzing in your ears, karts are a menace in the final rounds of a Challenge.

What the video doesn't show is what happens seconds later on the left side. Paul Russell cones. So, Greg -- working on a breakout run -- comes in 1.9 ahead plus the 2 seconds from a cone. I'm yelling at Greg, "He coned!! He coned!!"

Greg evidently didn't hear. But strangely enough, Paul didn't realize he'd coned either. Still, despite all that, McCance took a convincing win, not coning nor overdriving during what could have been a near victory lap for him.
Just another day for team #fastndrunk! Photo by Eric Hyman
We loaded the car up and Bret already had the smoker and grill going for celebration when we got there.

I had a great time despite what I felt was subpar driving. I guess I shouldn't be too awful hard on myself since I haven't really autocrossed since Nationals, and Greg's car wasn't exactly the easiest car to jump into and just drive. The rest of the guys -- Elliot, Tim, John, Chris and Adam -- were really cool too, and I look forward to running against them again.


I had nothing planned for the next day and a half, so I ended up just wandering aimlessly on Monday. I wandered a few trails for a little bit -- I didn't want to go too far with a busted knee (from Boston) and improper shoes, plus it was highly ill-advised to hike along due to mountain lions (!) -- then went to the San Diego Archaeological Center where I talked with one of the archaeologists there for a while. It was very cool being able to talk to another scientist as a professional and share views on how archaeology relates to forensics, biology and anatomy! Then, wandering the grounds, I find a small burial ground and go back to the building to ask her about it, and learn some more about the history of the area and its role in the Mexican American War.
A San Pasqual tribal burial ground
The large cross in the background is that of Felicita, the daughter of the last traditional chieftain, Pontho, of the San Pasqual. She lived to be over 100 years old herself, and various stories abound about her and her father being sympathetic to the Americans wounded in the short-but-fierce battle of San Pasqual.

Afterwards, realizing how close I was to Escondido, I decided to head over to Stone Brewing for a light lunch and a brewery tour. It was pretty cool to get to try some Stone brews that aren't readily available, plus they have a variety of other local brews on tap, such as Coronado and Avery.

I picked up a few things in the store, and texted Greg to see if he would be home to drop off the shirt and hot sauces I'd picked up. Bret had cooked up some more delicious meat, so I was invited back for that. I ended up staying the night, and was the only one who managed to see the lunar eclipse. 
45 minutes before showtime.
I wrapped up the trip with a quick visit to Heather and wandering around Balboa Park until it was time to go to the airport. I probably should have extended the stay a day or so, but hindsight and all that, right? ;)

Prickly pear native to the area
San Pasqual-Clevenger Trails, South. So tranquil.
Small plaque on the back of another memorial. I wonder how many people see it.
Part of the Desert Garden at Balboa Park

Vicious looking cacti
Iconic architecture of the Casa del Prado

Coronado Island from takeoff

I came home to freezing temperatures and a rain/snow mix. So, after Pat picked me up at the airport, I drove my WRX over to DuClaw and ordered a HellRazer. I thought it tasted like home.

I must make some decisions about car setup, and soon. The DC ProSolo is next weekend.