Were you ever taught something you already knew, something you normally teach others? That moment of surrealism came for this regional LeMons Judge while attending the Newbie School in a new racing series called the World Racing League. Baruth already gave you a tease: I set aside the idiotic ironic Indian Chief hat of LeMons for a weekend stint as a racer/pit crew/errand boy with the same team that brought you the iconic Ford Fairmont Wagon: now with more Granada.
To see the stance is to know it: Property Devaluation Racing made a worthy successor to their Fox station wagon. So when these guys offered me a spot in the Granada and their similarly-spec’d Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, I took Friday off, forked over the fees, picked up another Fox Body loyalist from Hobby Airport (you might remember his Homer Simpson car) and hit the road for College Station.
I drove the Granada for 10 minutes during the Friday afternoon test ‘n tune session, and felt great: the Granada’s flat cornering with mild understeer was a natural transition from my street going Fox Body Cougar. But the first day of racing?
Logging 100-ish miles in the Thunderbird was a different story: the Granada’s tame demeanor was replaced with something a (handling savvy) teammate later explained as body roll induced oversteer. The Thunderbird had razor-sharp turn-in, so sloppy steering inputs netted body roll which reduced the rear tire’s contact patch, easily inducing oversteer. Lap 1 resulted in a huge spin entering a corner at around 50mph. Lap 2 was no better: a similar wipeout left me bewildered, frustrated.
Both times I self-reported my impending black flags before the staff received word from the corner workers. Perhaps LeMons taught me well.
Not well enough. The Thunderbird’s owner’s words in my Nerdie helmet kit were clear: spin again and you’re out for good. It was the reality check I needed, quickly swallowing my pride and methodically retracing the track at a slower pace. This let me understand how drastically the Thunderbird sits/lifts with my steering inputs.
Racing the Thunderbird was like a scientific experiment: repeat the process but alter a variable every time. Enter the turn at the right speed, monitor your steering inputs and smoothly accelerate exit post-apex. If you turned too hot, the rear tires howled: slightly dial the wheel back and they shut up. Thank goodness for TWS’ banked oval, it was the only place I blipped the throttle, downshifted to 3rd and comfortably unwound the Thunderbird’s wicked Windsor V8 to pass “slower” cars. Sure I was slow and hyper-conscious elsewhere, but the banked oval experience continues to give me goosebumps.
Now the World Racing League is an interesting series: damn near any class of car races on the same track. I was passed by far more professional drivers in LeMons cars, Spec Miatas and misc. track beasts to the point my left hand seemingly spent more time doing the “point by” for others than grasping the tiller. And a certain Poorvette absolutely clobbered every car out there, as you’d expect from the wholly under appreciated C4 Corvette.
I learned something besides the obligatory “damn that was so exciting I’d totally do it again” statement of any autojourno in my shoes: my racing technique toolbox just multiplied. The Thunderbird gave me a new set of tools, items previously more foreign than Portuguese. So now I Know What I Don’t Know. Several of my friends suggested I embrace this new addiction to hone my skills, as I’m now a racer.
Racing brought me a short term joy that I will gladly spend another $1000 in fees, gas, hotel, meals, etc. to replicate another weekend. But the Thunderbird helped me cross a (final?) frontier: I did what made moonshiners so famous, racing/working on a boring car made from bits of more impressive vehicles. This experience crystallized my plan to write the definitive story of Ford’s underappreciated chassis. I told others about this (including a working vacation to the Detroit Public Library) and they agreed: that’s a book they’d read.
Which isn’t exactly the point: like the benefits of grade school music programs, racing helps you in your real world.
It’s a deeply personal experience that everyone with a modicum of disposable income should try. Go race and then make yourself. Just don’t get motivated to write a book about Fox Bodies, that’s my schtick.