Track day #1… a rookie’s tale

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Yesterday was the intro.. today’s little tale is how a a nervous rookie survived his first weekend at the track.


I arrived at the Rosamond track early that Saturday morning. I had brought enough painters’ tape to cover the Queen Mary, and I wanted to make sure I had time to use it all before the 7:30 driver’s meeting. I got in line to register and turned in my tech form. I was given a yellow wrist band which indicated that I was part of the “novice” run group. I soon learned the hierarchy of wristbands… yellow is for the rookies and slow guys, white is for the intermediates, blue is for the faster guys who still like to be in control of who can pass and when, and the red wristbands were for the full blown race cars and really-fast crazy guys. (My life’s pursuit immediately became a red wristband.)


My heart was pounding all through the driver’s meeting and then we came to the part where they assign instructors. Somehow, the organizers had missed the fact that I had requested an instructor and nobody was assigned to me. Since nobody had been assigned, I asked if I could get the guy who I’d seen driving so incredibly well that first day, Rylan. My request granted, I knew I would soon be tearing around the track at similar speeds with my red wristband flying proudly in the wind.


Those who can, do… those who can’t, teach…

Rylan was having car problems that day and couldn’t have been less interested in teaching some rookie who’d never even been on a track before as a passenger. I remember three things about my first few laps… Although I knew I was going slowly, it still seemed very fast and very scary, I realized that it was going to take some work to get good, and Rylan looked really bored. By the middle of my first session, Rylan could take no more and asked me to drop him off so he could work on his car. I went back out and worked on improving my speed, but was pretty frustrated by the end of the run. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all…


Another S2ki member and first time tracker, Lawrence (human) struck up a conversation with me and I expressed my frustration. Fortunately, his instructor, Len, overheard and took me on as a student as well. Len spent quite a bit of time with us that day explaining driving line, where/how to brake, and the other basics of driving on a racetrack until we were not only comfortable out there, we were having the time of our lives.


As it was a weekend event and I’d elected to drive both days, I headed to my hotel room exhausted and ready for a good night’s rest. It wasn’t long before I realized why my motel was so much less expensive than the other choices in town. Not only were the rooms something less than plush, but there was no air conditioning.


The middle of the Mojave Desert in the height of summer is not a place you want to be without air conditioning… unless you’re an iguana.


At 4AM I discovered that towels wrapped around bags of ice cubes placed strategically between the sheets would create a sufficient refrigerator effect to induce sleep. When the wake up call came through two hours later, the ice cubes were gone, but so was any trace of moisture indicating they had ever existed. It was REALLY hot.


A lavish breakfast of Egg McMuffin, orange juice, and lots of coffee had me ready for another day on the track. Today I was determined to earn my way into the realm of the white wristband, so that I would never again have to wear the dreaded rookie yellow. I had used nearly an entire tank of gas the previous day as V-tecing full time reduces your mileage to around 10MPG, and being in V-tec all the time is one of the keys to driving an S2000 on the track.


As the day proceeded, I got more and more confident in the car and my skills to push harder and harder. The sound of my tires squealing around corners was intoxicating as my high speed fantasies were coming true. I drove more and more aggressively, following slower cars closely until they would point me by to pass. (For safety purposes, in all but the red run group, you can not pass a slower car unless the driver indicates for you to do so by “pointing you by.”) I got a deep understanding of the term “go fast crack pipe” that day, as the faster I went, the faster I wanted to go. In the yellow run group, there are really only two places you were allowed to pass on this particular track, they were in the front and the back straight. As I had gotten much faster, I would go well until I got stuck behind some slower cars, the try to pass as many of them as possible in each straight. Coming down the front, I tried to pass one car too many. When I approached the sharp turn at the end of the front straight, I was going much too fast and off the correct driving line. I entered the turn all wrong and tried to brake to bring the car under control as the rear began to slip away. (A move I now know to be the exact WRONG thing to do) Before I had any idea what was going on, I was spinning wildly through the infield. The cloud of dust I kicked up equaled some of the mushroom clouds seen over Los Alamos during the nuclear testing days, and I could see nothing. (The cloud filled the car as well) The car came to a stop without any collision and it was over.


Woo Hoo… I’m a real race car driver now!!!!!


The dust settled, I eventually got the car to restart, and the corner worker directed me back onto the track when it was safe. That’s the beauty of a track day. You can drive your car at the limit of your ability in an environment that’s safe enough for you to make a mistake or two. The same error on a street could have cost my life or even worse, some innocent stranger’s.


There’s another side effect of the go fast crack pipe that you learn about at times like this. When the body survives a dangerous or life threatening situation, it releases a little reward called dopamine. (The effect is apparently quite similar to morphine.) I didn’t know the explanation at the time, but I felt just great!


When the dust settled, I noticed that I was not in the middle of the infield as previously thought, but had actually spun all the way through the infield to now be in the middle of the track on the opposite side. I had neglected to get the clutch in fast enough when the car started to spin, and it had stalled. Realizing I was in the middle of the track, I frantically tried to get the car restarted as quickly as possible, but a motor that’s been counter-rotated take a bit of cranking before it can start up again. Fortunately, the corner workers were doing their job well, and they directed all oncoming traffic around me. I restarted the car without incident, pulled in to the pit area, and enjoyed all those endorphins and dopamine. I learned how to drive much faster, what not to do when the rear end gets loose, and now even had a pretty good “racing story” to tell. A reasonably successful first weekend, all in all, and I was truly hooked.


Tomorrow… “Confessions of a Track Addict!”


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