Six months after we acquired the RX-7 race car and started our race team, I was finally on track for our first race this Labor Day weekend. I was eager to race and also a bit frustrated that things hadn't moved faster on this front. My last track day hadn't ended so well. I had an instructor who was not comfortable with me running more then what I would consider a leisurely pace, which in itself was not a huge issue, especially since he seemed like a cool guy and signed me off to run solo after two sessions. After running solo for one session, I was pulled into tech right before I was scheduled to go out where they found an issue with one of the passenger seat mounts. I was sincerely sorry for putting anyone in danger with the passenger seat, but I did not know it was an issue at all, as I did not install the seat myself, and the instructor failed to point out any issue to me in the 15 second inspection on the grid before we went out for the first session. I was a bit surprised I was told somewhat threateningly that I was not able to run anymore even though I was already signed off to run solo, and no other issues were pointed out to me besides the passenger seat. The attitude gave me the impression that maybe these track days were not really where I needed to be at this point.

I decided to start racing, as I'd finally gotten all my paperwork through for my SCCA license, but I ended up having to skip the first race I wanted to run due to being busy with work and some personal things. All this, combined with spending more then I expected to get the car ready (this shouldn't surprise anyone), and being a bit overwhelmed with all the off track logistics of owning and running my own equipment had left me wondering if this was really the right thing for me. I just want to race!

So anyway, finally the day had come. I admit, I was still pretty stressed about the off track stuff and mechanics and I was going in with relatively low expectations and hoping to just learn as much off the track as I did on the track, where I at least knew pretty much what to expect. Fortunately I had my other team principles, Keith and Cris crewing for me for the weekend and I'm sure I couldn't had done anything without them. Still, things did not start that smoothly. We got to the track around noon on Friday to run the 3 afternoon practice sessions. We had an hour before I was scheduled on track, and we had to get the car from the garage/storage area, register, prep the car and unload and setup our stuff. It was tight, but we got to the grid at our scheduled start time. Strangely, I saw a bunch of Miatas and RX7s pulling off the track as I was held. I was confused but apparently they moved the schedule up and I was now stuck running in a different run group. I didn't really know who I was running with until T1 Corvettes and an ITR BMW M3 started blowing past me at 150MPH down the straight. It was like NASA HPDE but these guys can pull you in the corners as well! It was manageable but I really had to be alert and drive with my mirrors when guys will pass in the middle of corners and make some "late moves" even in practice!

The next practice I got into the right group but that meant we had only one group in between (there were only 3 practice groups). So I had what felt like just minutes of down time before I had to get in and do it again. The session went better though. By the third session, we had figured out our tire pressure issue (we failed to set the pressures properly and I came off the track the first session at 50-55psi!), and I was able to keep up with a slower pack of miatae, who were even banging fenders, Days of Thunder style! In practice! So the whole day was an interesting introduction to SCCA racing. Fortunately I car was feeling pretty good and I had gotten comfortable with my driving again, and although my lap times were still slow, they were 5 seconds or so faster then the limited times I was able to log from the track days!

After the practice was over, we walked around the paddock and caught up with a few people, then went to tech, which I thought would be a concern but ended up relatively pain free. We were good because our battery had a metal bar holding it down, the brake lights worked and the windshield had no cracks. The inspector did complain about the lack of an SCCA patch on my suit, so I had to duct tape that sucker on.

The next morning we got to the track and registered, but somehow something was lacking in the process and I failed to receive a "paddock pass". We had to park both cars outside the paddock and carry some stuff over. I had to get my tech sticker, and wanted to weigh the car, but apparently the scales were closed, although I was actually standing ON the scale and it was on. When I asked when they would open, they said basically, we don't know it's random! They also mentioned at least this weekend only the impounded cars would get weighed, and typically only the top 3 in each class get impounded, so basically, following the rules may be optional if you aren't running in the top 3! There were 9 run groups on race day, and we were 7th, so there was plenty of down time unlike during practice and most of the morning we just hung out and I kept walking back and forth to check if the scales were open!

I had gone over the data I had gotten from my My Tach GPS watch from the last practice session and knew even my best lap was not clean, so my pace was a bit faster and there was still a lot to be gained. For me, going over the data helps to give me confidence on where I can pick up time. During qualifying things felt a bit more slippary (perhaps because it was cooler), but I qualified at 1:35.7 which was good for 10th of 14 SRX7s. I was pretty happy with this. Between qualifying and the race, I was finally able to run the car over the scales, and found I was still 20 lbs underweight, even after adding 70lbs ballast last weekend, so we drove out to the gas station to pick up some liquid ballast. With a decent amount of time before our race, we went out to turn 5 to watch a few of the other groups. Formula Atlantics are ridiculously fast, Spec Miata racing is very close and great for spectating, and although the racing is for the most part very competitive, some guys at the back of the pack don't know WTF they are doing.

Race time neared and I think we finally figured out how to not get to the grid either late or 30 minutes early. My nerves were building up on the grid. In terms of rolling start technique, a friend had advised me to "jump it." Being my first race, I decided to keep that trick in my reserves. I found that this may be no secret though, and out of turn one I found myself DFL. Racing is so different from a track day or practice though, and I found myself pushing and focusing to stay with the pack. I was able to do so but was being careful and trying not slam into the back of somebody, which meant it was difficult to get close enough to pass. Eventually I attempted to pass one car, but he pulled an over-under and got back around. I was able to make another pass somewhere in the middle of the race and that felt good to not be in last anymore, even though I was not particularly concerned with results this weekend. By the middle of the race, with all the faster cars in other classes lapping by, I lost track of where the next guy for position was, so I was just clicking off laps and which meant half concentration on pushing my driving, and half on trying not to get run over. In terms of my driving, I could feel I was going faster and faster with each session this weekend, and approaching the limits in some places, although in others I still had a decent amount of work to do. I managed to not get run over, although things got tight a few times when guys caught me in bad places, but I think this is a bit inevitable when racing for position are lapping others. In the end I finished 11th, and although I would have liked to improve on my starting position, I was happy to see my best lap was 1:34.2 and again it was not even a clean lap. This was 9th fastest and pretty far under my goal of 1:35.x.

Although I had concerns coming in, it was a very successful weekend. After having some time to absorb it, there's really something about racing wheel to wheel that I don't get from practice or a track day. Racing gives me the motivation to focus and really push myself harder unlike anything else. I hope next year I will be able to run a full season, unlike the past two years, when I've only been able to run one race sparingly here and there, which forces me to re-learn and re-adapt every time. With a full season, I'll be able to focus on getting the results I know I can get.