I have always wanted to go road racing. I knew it in grade school and in high school. It remained a clear vision throughout the Top Ramen years of college and early employment. I even had the presence of mind to warn my wife-to-be that my desire to road race was a sort of dormant, genetic defect. Though not obvious at the time of our courtship, it would need to be addressed and treated sometime in the future. "Get it in the open before we were married," I thought. Best to give her the chance to back out while there was still time.
A number of events could be used to mark the actual start of my road-racing "career." My first kart race. The first time I drove on a road course. First racing school. Or even my first race in someone else's car. But the true point of no return occurred the day I paid to have a NASA/SCCA legal roll cage welded into my car. Everything before the cage was foreplay. After the cage, I was going all the way.
With half a lifetime spent mentally preparing myself for this, I assumed racing was something I'd be immediately good at it. Or at least wouldn't suck at.
I was wrong.
The orange paint on the upper half my car is a legacy and ultimate reminder of how wrong I was. It had been all one color heading into my first event at Thunderhill a few years ago. People even complemented me about how clean and straight it was for an EF. Buoyed with pride and overconfident, I rolled the car on its roof during the first qualifying session of the weekend. It was a slow roll onto soft earth. No injuries. No other cars involved. I'd psyched myself into following another car that I knew I should be able to keep up with. He was a local with experience. I was not.
The next event went better. With the ugly new roof installed but not painted, I took my first H1 class win in a two-car class. That I finished behind most of the cars in the "slower" H4 class did not matter. The taste of victory was just as sweet. But going fast was harder than I thought it was.
Another underestimation of mine was the number of windscreens I would buy. A windscreen just never seemed like a wear item in the same sense as brake pads, tires or oil filters. In my case, also wrong. The first one broke during the roll at Thunderhill. Others were soon to follow.
I entered the next round of NASA's West Coast Honda Challenge at Buttonwillow. A three-hour endurance race was scheduled in addition to the two WCHC sprint races. Feeling cocky after my first victory, I entered the enduro with driving instructor, friend and co-driver Don Alexander. Watching Don leave the pits and head onto the track was a big deal and made me feel as proud as a new parent. Right up to the point that the hood and borrowed rally lights flew straight up and back into windshield number two.
Hood pins, it turns out, work best when secured before the car goes onto the track.
Another bit of useful info came from the Enduro. Testing your alternator and battery's ability to keep up with billion-candle power rally lights is something best done any time besides during a race, after dark. It is, however, useful to know that headlights will dim and the fuel pump will stutter for two to three laps before the engine dies completely.
Storing new brake rotors on the upper shelf of an enclosed car trailer will also break a perfectly good windscreen. Although they are pretty heavy, those rotor boxes don't stay put as one might expect them to. Fortunately, the short fall onto a brand new windscreen will not damage the rotor one bit.
Another way to break a windscreen is by removing the factory hood prop rod to save weight and using a removable, sawed-off broom handle instead. A strong gust of wind, in the Willow Springs paddock area for example, is easily enough to blow a hood back over its hinges and into yet another windscreen.
Other tips I've learned the hard way:
Always check your lug nuts before every session. The car will brake straighter, corner better and break a lot fewer wheel studs than if you leave them finger tight.
Checking the fuel level before a race is another good To-Do list item. Back paddock fuel stops can really break your pace during a 35-minute sprint race.
Replace the oil drain plug before you refill the crankcase with oil. And if the car ever fails to start because the battery is dead, check to see if the alternator belt is still on the car before you start a race.
These lessons have come the hard way, but always amongst friends. My last three years in Honda Challenge have been more fun and rewarding than I could have imagined. More than anything, I've learned that nobody's perfect. You don't have to the best, fastest or coolest to have a good time. And if you wait until you think you are, you'll have missed a lot of racing.
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