Heading into my third Novice race, and first race at my “home” track, I was surprised at the combination of calm and tension I was feeling: Calm because this is the track I know best, my car had been ready for some time, and I was sleeping in my own bed at night; tension because Pacific Raceways is probably the least forgiving of the tracks we race at and because I was hoping to upgrade my license… and then feeling somewhat apprehensive about possibly racing with the senior drivers on Sunday.
Unfortunately, racing locally didn’t do much to ease my trip down to the track after work: My usual 45 minute trip took twice that, and even that was only possible because of some creative navigation. Still, I got there in plenty of time to register, unpack the car, and run through tech, so it was easy to put that small frustration behind me. My unresponsive transponder wasn’t back from AMB yet (who were eventually, of course, unable to find anything wrong with it) so I had another “transponder wart” taped to the side of the car.
Despite the spiffy 10’x10′ canopy my wife bought for me, I decided to park under some trees for the additional shade. I eventually discovered the trade-off to the trees is all the stuff you find under them, like the pine needles that proceeded to glue themselves to my gooey race tires, and the stuff that drops out of them, like the occasional dollop of tree sap I’d find on the windows or paint. Of course, considering the forecast of possible thundershowers on Saturday, setting up under some really tall trees might not have been the brightest idea… can’t have thunder without lightning, right?
My mom, dad, and sister came down for the first time to watch me race, along with Anna and Lauren, so I spent most of my time out of the car interacting with them. I also ran around quite a bit, talking to a few local racers I know that I didn’t see at either of the Portland races, as well as my new pals and “fan club” (ha!) from Portland, Dave Dunning and Chris Heinrich. (Chris, you really should’ve come to the luau!) And, finally, I made the acquaintance of Eric Krause, running his first Novice race in a nice-looking Porsche 968 and who, like me, loads & drives his race car to the track. I don’t know what class(es) he’ll eventually run it in, but I suspect SPM and/or ITE, which are both pretty tough. Judging by his first race, though, I suspect he’ll do pretty well.
When I was able to take time from my busy social schedule to get out on the track for the Novice practices, I took things easy and just tried to get my brain used to the idea of racing at Pacific Raceways: I had enough lapping days there that I was comfortable in my knowledge of the “fast line” (compared to the slower and more defensive racing line) and didn’t want to stress the car too much, on the assumption I was going to race on Sunday, so I spent most of the practices fiddling with different lines into and out of the corners. (My fast lap from the second practice, for example, was a reasonable 1’49.1″. Compare that to my fast lap from Sunday’s race!)
The start of the race found me gridded 7th, behind a classic Mustang, two BMW E30 325s, and three Miatas, next to Sage Schreiner and his self-avowed “fugly” E30 318. I had another of my good starts, passing two of the Miatas and one of the BMWs on the way down to Turn 2, but I spent the rest of that first lap keeping Sage behind me… well, more accurately, just unable to pass me, since he was next to me more than once during that lap. On the lap after that (the additional horsies I have on tap compared to Sage saw me finally drop him on the way down the straight to Turn 2) I got past Stan Bovetz’ BMW and began setting up a run on Carl Hatfield’s Miata as we approached Turn 8.
(Unsurprisingly, Carl has a slightly different version of this story, but this is the way I [and a couple other people] saw it. ‘Sides, it’s my website and I’ll tell it the way I want to.)
I was gaining on him rapidly as we went down the (very) short straight between Turns 7 and 8. I took the inside line into the left-hand 8, sacrificing a little entry speed for the chance to take the tighter line and get a better angle on the right-hand Turn 9. We were side-by-side as we came out of 8. I swung back to the left side of the track, so I could take a straighter line into Turn 9 and, therefore, hold more speed. Carl stayed more to the right, which meant he’d probably get to the turn a little sooner than me, but at the cost of approaching at a much sharper angle and, as I figured at the time, having to lose some speed in order to maintain his line through the corner. Now, Carl’s version has him ahead of me entering Turn 9 which, from overhead, he probably was (remember, he took the shorter path), although we’re still effectively side-by-side. But the closer we got to the corner, the more my angle developed into the better line and, as we actually hit the apex, we were completely side-by-side with me pulling ahead. The problem is that Carl never slowed up, expecting me to back off, and so he started drifting wider and wider as we transited the corner, with the result that the nose of his car was coming right for my passenger door.
There was no way I could lift off the throttle at that point (the weight balance of the car would shift forward, more than likely sending me into a spin) and so I did the only thing I could do, which was loosen up my exit and drift farther to the left. Trouble is, I was already as far left as the pavement allowed, which meant I was off into the dirt and the traffic cones that marked the edge of the track. I stayed on the throttle and hung with it, knocking over cones and launching one about 100 feet down the track, as Carl’s Miata got closer and closer before he was eventually able to haul it back toward the middle of the track. I got by him a few hundred feet after that, just before the kink, but the… um, “interesting” part of this story is that Turn 9 and the run to the kink is in front of the biggest set of grandstands at Pacific Raceways, so my family got to watch the whole unnerving thing unfold before their eyes. This makes the 3rd “moment” that’s happened right in front of Anna & Lauren; maybe somebody’s a jinx…? 🙂 (For his part, Carl did come by after the race to apologize and explain his view of the event. It was a good learning experience for me and, after all: No harm, no foul.)
The pole-sitting Mustang was well and truly ahead at this point, but a couple laps later I found myself unexpectedly gaining on him, so I kept my pace up and started to reel him in. He was really fast on the straights, of course, and could easily pull away from me exiting Turn 9 onto the front straight and the Turn 3b hairpin onto the back straight, but he was really squirrelly under braking and tip-toeing through the tighter corners, both of which are places my car excels. Within a couple of laps, I was only 2 or 3 car-lengths behind him. (This, despite constantly taking a ridiculously tight and momentum-robbing line through Turn 8, which I didn’t do at any other time that week-end, except when trying to keep someone from passing on the inside.) I chased him around like this for another lap before I decided that I was pushing really hard for no good reason… I was starting to worry about my brakes and tires, and there were a few times that I came uncomfortably close to outdriving my abilities. I backed off a bit going onto the back straight, let the Kahn Team Racing BMW I had passed at the start go by me exiting Turn 9 (he was going to get by me anyway, so why force the issue?), and then Eric’s 968 going through the big, sweeping Turn 2 on the same lap. After that, I just puddled along at my own speed as the three in front got farther away, until I noticed Stan’s E30 making a reappearance in my mirrors. Unfortunately for Stan, I decided I’d lost enough positions and increased my speed just enough to keep him behind me for the rest of the race, although he was getting awfully close to my bumper before running a little wide exiting Turn 3b and then dropping back for the last lap-and-a-half.
After the race, I got approval from the License Director to take his written test that, along with three approved Novice races, would allow me to upgrade to an “Area” license. I must’ve been paying attention during all those driver’s meetings, ’cause I’m apparently only the 2nd person to get a perfect score since he created the test a year or so ago. He upgraded my license and then radioed ahead to Registration that I was coming down to enter my first “senior” race.
I was ready to (ulp!) race with the Big Boys!