Monday, April 25, 2005

TSSCC autocross Event 2 "Just Drive"

My first REAL autocross event!

I was really excited to autocross again, and we had to skip a DSM meet on Saturday night to get up at 5:30am so we could get to Route 66 Raceway by 7-7:30am. We ended up getting there at 7am, and we were about the tenth car there. The course was set up, but registration, tech, etc weren't ready yet. So we stayed in the car with the heater on for awhile (it was about 30 degrees out and windy) then started unloading the car as more people arrived.

As soon as a line began to form for registration, we were in it. Then we got the car tech'd and received our work assignments. After that, we got the car to grid and began walking the course. The first time around I just make sure that I can read the course properly -sometimes all those cones just blend together and it's difficult to figure out which way you're supposed to go. This particular couse seemed pretty easy as far as direction went. There really wasn't anywhere I felt I might get lost. That's always a relief!

The second time around Ed and I talked about strategy. We basically agreed on everything, but I still wasn't sure about which way to take the slolum. When we got back we had breakfast (some beef jerky and a granola bar), then we heard that last year's club winner was going to give an instructional walk of the course. Ed and I ran out and met them on the course. Turns out our assessment of the course was pretty good, and when we got around to the slolum I felt better about it as well.

After that was the driver's meeting, then we were off to work on "Corner 2" which we found out was the furthest corner away. It was okay, though, walking kept us warmer. When we arrived I explained to Ed how corner working with TSSCC and SCCA differs from the club he ran with last year (JSCC). -Basically, there's an additional job of writing down each car that goes by for auditing purposes. The only other difference is that instead of calling in penalties in one shot, you say "Corner 2 to control" and wait for them to say "Go ahead Corner 2" before calling in the car # and the penalty. When our other corner workers showed up we divided the jobs (I did the writing, Ed was on the CB, and the others ran out and reset cones).

Writing is a good job 'cause you don't have to run. Running in driving shoes on hard pavement -especially in the cold sucks big time. The other problem with it is, there are 2 cars on course at all times and everyone was running the course between 42 and 64 seconds. That means, about 25 seconds between cars, and no time to see how others are driving the course. No learning from others' mistakes. Also, different from Joliet, the course at Route 66 is a lot longer (and bigger), so you can't use your work time to watch and learn the course better. You simply can't see it all!

We worked 2 heats, 3 runs each -it took maybe 2 hours? Out there in the cold it felt like forever, but when it was done we knew it was our turn to drive! Ed drove first, and like a lot of people he skidded around a lot out there. It was cold, so our tires lost a lot of grip. He ended up missing a turn as a result on his first run. For the second run, I chalked the tires, and Ed compensated with his driving for the reduced traction. It worked. He did better the second time, but the car was still all over the place. When he was done I checked the chalk marks and found that the tires -especially in the rear were over-inflated. I grabbed the tire gauge and let out about 15 pounds of air! I left the front alone.

Ed's third run was better, but after that it was my turn! My first run was over-agressive and I skidded a lot. I was understeering all over the place, and that's something I'm not used to in this car. Usually I get oversteer. I don't know if it was the cold, the turns, or just me braking in the turns rather than before them, but my second and third runs I held back some and went a little faster. "Go slower to go faster" really works!

When my runs were over, we walked back to Corner 2 to work again. (Usually you only work 1 heat, and rest the other, but there were only about 100 cars (only!?!), and they didn't have enough people to split up the work groups, so we all worked 2 heats. It was still cold, but when the wind died down alittle and the sun was out it wasn't too bad (we enjoyed all 2 seconds of that :-P).

When those runs were done we headed back to the car. I drove first this time since my numbers were already on the car and the seat and everything was set up for me. By the end of my last 3 runs, I shaved 3 seconds off of my first time and lowered the tire pressure on the front tires by 10 pounds to help with the understeer.

Next, Ed took the wheel and I again rode along. I must say that by the end of his runs I was angry at myself. My original goal was to be within 5 seconds of Ed's time. I ended up being about 3.5 seconds slower, so I reached my goal, but after seeing how much more agressive Ed was on the course, I saw a few places that I could have gained time. I think I could have gone at least 1.5 seconds faster if I was given one more run. It was (and still is) frustrating. But, Ed's got 2 seasons on me. I'll get better with practice.

I can't wait to go out again, but I don't think we'll make another autocross until June or so. Perhaps, in the meantime I can get my (very overdue) timing belt change done. No doubt I'll also be thinking about replacing my brakes (they're squeeking), and my shocks (12 years old, I'm hitting the bump-stops from time-to-time!). Blah. My car is my motivation for going to work everyday...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Dan Darrah's now with Hotel 45!

One of my favorite local musicians, Dan Darrah has paired up with a band! They are now collectively known as Hotel 45. There's snippets of their music from practice sessions on the site, and it's a little different than his old stuff, but it's not too much of a stretch. He sounds comforable with the slightly different style. I look forward to the album they're working on and I hope to get to see them live soon.

For those who don't know, Dan Darrah's music is kinda folk-y rock. Kinda like John Mayer. Check it out!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Special Intrests Groups Weigh In On The Next Pope

Ed and I were getting ready for bed, and I'm deathly afraid of silence, so I had the radio tuned into News Radio 780. They were talking about a woman's group who were down at the Vatican making pink smoke to signify the fact that they think that the Catholic church should let women into positions of power. They also interviewed some people about the possibility of the next Pope being black.

This got Ed and my heads churning. The conversation went something like this:

Ed: I think the next Pope should be a black woman.
Erica: Yeah. With a disability. And maybe AIDS?
Ed: And she should be gay.
Erica: Maybe trans-gender?
Ed: Or a child-molester? Think about it.
Erica: Yeah, at least they wouldn't have to cover it up anymore.
Ed: Ooh! I have it! The next Pope will be Michael Jackson! -Where else but in America can a promising young black boy grow up to be a beautiful white woman?

(He loves that quote.)

Anyway, I about fell off the bed when he said that, so I thought I'd share.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A review of the SCCA Learning Curve

I attended the Chicago SCCA Learning Curve on April 9 and 10 and after listening to a few friends who've said they were interested in going, I thought I'd share a review on the class as it was a little different than I expected...

First of all, for those who don't know: my previous autocross experience has been watching Ed, now my fiance (it's still weird to say that), autocrossing for the past 2 seasons. I also participated in the Mazda Rev It Up event last year.

The SCCA's Learning Curve, first of all, was worth the money to me. I started out very unsure of myself since I've only been driving stick for the past 6 months or so. This course was a nice way to get the feel of autocrossing with a knowledgable person at your side, then participate in an event that closely resembles an actual SCCA autocross. You also get to run the course that will also be used at the next (real) event, which is a plus! Saturday I was very nervous driving to the first class. Sunday I was just excited to get on the course. That was worth the money right there!

As I said, I think this course was worthwhile for me, but anyone who's been to an autocross event before and feels confident enough to try it themselves may not need this course. If you have a friend to show you how the event runs, and you don't mind asking people for pointers, you'd probably be fine just showing up. -Don't worry about your skills or your car. From the looks of things they see all kinds of people out there. Just go and have fun!

Anyway, on to the class. Saturday started in the classroom where we were given a booklet which followed a Power-point slide presentation page-for-page. Basically the instruction consisted of what autocross is, the basic rules, what to bring to an event, etc. There was NO TECHNICAL INSTRUCTION. After class (about an hour long or so) we were paired up with our instructors; there were about 2 students to each instructor, but some teachers may have had 3 students. The instructors varied from "seasoned" men who had been in national competitions, to one lady who won at nationals, and others were club members who consistantly pulled off good times. Basically, with the instructors, it was luck of the draw. Some may only be getting good times because they have a really well set up (and fast) car, or perhaps they know everything about driving their rear-wheel drive car, but nothing about driving your front-wheel drive car. I paid a lot of attention to the instructors talking to their students out on the course; some gave good advice and seemed very knowledgable. Others couldn't even answer their students (general) questions!

After introductions, the instructors tech'd our cars and we all headed to the two "mini" courses that were set up for us. We walked the courses as our teachers explained the best line to take, where you'd be accellerating, where you'd be braking, etc. After that was lunch, supplied by K&M Magnetics, and then we headed out to the courses. There were 85 students and we were all divided into 3 groups (orange, blue, and green) and given assignments (work, run course 1, or run course 2).

When it was our turn to drive the course(s), our instructor rode along with us. At first she'd call out the directions we'd be turning (ie "enter the slalom on the left"), then she'd let us find our own way around. Either way, at the end of the run she'd let you know where you could improve next time. We got 5 runs on each of the 2 courses, and only had to work once. After that, we made plans for meeting up the next day and went home to (hopefully) relax.

On Sunday, we were to show up at 7:30am which was difficult, but apparently normal for race day. Our teachers tech'd our cars again, then we headed out to walk the full course (they just combined the 2 mini courses from Saturday into one big course on Sunday). After walking it a couple times, we attended the driver's meeting and headed out to work heat 1.

There were 150 or so cars running that day (because instructors also ran their cars with students riding along), so it was decided that we'd all get 5 runs. Considering the number of cars, the heats went pretty quick, but it seemed like forever out there shagging cones on the course. After heat 1 was lunch, supplied by K&M Magnetics again. Then it was our turn to drive!

The instructors rode along again and gave us pointers on where we could improve. On Saturday they didn't time our runs at all, but I thought I was really fast because at the end of the day my instructor had no more advice for me. My first timed run on Sunday shot that ego down a bit. In the end, I knocked a little more than 5 seconds off my first run. Truthfully, I think I would have done just as well without the instructor, but I've had the experience of Rev It Up and watching 2 seasons of autocross before participating.

For heat 3, our instructors ran, so we took turns riding along with them in their own car. My instructor had a very nicely set up Dodge Neon (believe it or not), and being able to ride along with her gave me an even better idea of where I could improve (and how I could improve the car as well).

So, there you go. That's what the class was all about: experience more than anything. I got a confidence boost out of it. I CAN autocross, I just have to practice to get faster. If you're looking for an introduction to the sport, this is a great place to get it. If you've participated before and want someone to ride along with you to give you general pointers, it's not a bad deal (but it all depends on who you get as an instructor). If you've autocrossed before and are looking for more in-depth tips, this isn't the place for you.