Category: Trackday Diaries

By on September 13, 2016

IMG_4444

He was delivered to me in a sealed plastic box, a wrinkled three-pound homunculus too exhausted and sick to make a single sound. Handle him with these gloves, they said. Don’t breathe on him. Eventually you can take him out of the box, out of the post-natal ICU, out of the hospital. But not soon. Everything was up for grabs. He’d arrived dangerously early. Thirty-eight states in this union would have permitted me to break his neck the moment I saw him; at just under twenty-four weeks of age, his life was legally forfeit. He wasn’t my son, wasn’t a child, wasn’t a person. He was tissue. He was a choice.

His mother and I made the choice to give him a fighting chance. The rest was up to him.

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By on September 7, 2016

challenger hellcat (zombieite/Flickr)

I’ve been doing this racetrack thing for sixteen years now, and I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Mustangs on fire off the shoulder of Shenandoah. I watched Xenons glitter in the dark near the Thunderhill gate. All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

As you might imagine, I’ve been exposed to pretty much every sort of idiocy that is possible on four wheels, and pretty much every sort of idiot who can squeeze or fold himself behind the wheel of an automobile. When I started my trackday career, under the tutelage of a private instructor who kept me on a very short leash and deliberately prevented me from indulging in the typical foibles of the novice driver, I was extraordinary contemptuous of the mishaps and mistakes I saw happening all around me. As the years have passed, I’d like to think that I’ve become a bit more accepting of my fellow track rats.

This past weekend, however, I believe that I observed the ne plus ultra of on-track stupidity. After a decade and a half, I’ve finally seen the worst, most dangerous, and most idiotic driver out there. There can be only one, you know, and this guy is the Conor MacLeod of open-lappin’ jamokes. If I saw this dude pushing a shopping cart towards me in the Kroger, I’d drop my Ketel One and run for the nearest exit. I think he should be nuked from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. But since I’ve renounced the use of violence in my personal life, let’s focus instead on what we can learn from him.

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By on August 30, 2016

Spinning Miata, Image: © 2016 Jack Baruth/The Truth About Cars

I didn’t race this past weekend at Mid-Ohio, but it was still useful to me for a couple of reasons.

The first one was that I got to have an argument with the nice but very naive fellow who banned me from competing in the event. That was primarily amusing because his wife kept sticking her face in front of his and screaming at me. And this dude was totally cool with that. Preferred it, I think.

Intellectually, I realize that in $THE_CURRENT_YEAR there are a lot of full-grown “men,” probably raised in a fatherless environment, who need women to defend them from super-mean, scary old cripples like me. But it still makes me feel like Tommy Lee Jones in that movie where that one guy with the great hair kills people with a pneumatic cattle gun. I’m already irrelevant. Already a relic. The national conversation has moved on. It’s okay. I will adapt. In the future, if you have a problem with me, take it up with Danger Girl. She’s much younger and stronger than I am.

The other useful part of the NASA race was that I happened to be holding a camera when a young Miata driver looped his car. I caught the whole thing. Click the jump and I’ll show you how he spun — and how you can avoid a spin like this, both on the street and on the track.

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By on August 25, 2016

neon

“Should I start racing with NASA, or should I build a car for SCCA?” That used to be the most common question that I heard from would-be novice racers. Nowadays, though, those two sanctioning bodies aren’t even in the picture. Today’s novice racer is looking at LeMons, Chump, WRL, and my personal favorite, American Endurance Racing. It’s easy to understand why. If you start racing with the SCCA or NASA, you’ll either need to be capable of doing everything yourself soup-to-nuts, or you’ll need a crew, whether volunteer or paid.

With the new endurance-racing series, you get five other dudes together (or, in the case of my AER team, four other dudes and one chick) and — PRESTO! — you’ve got a team, a crew, and a way to split the expenses six ways instead of, uh, one way. I know a fair number of people who have left NASA or SCCA to focus exclusively on street-tire enduros, but I’m not ready to follow them just yet. I like sprint races. I like being solely responsible for my success (or failure) on the track. I hate not being able to split the costs but I also like the fact that cars last a lot longer when you run them two hours a weekend instead of twenty.

This weekend, NASA is holding a race at Mid-Ohio. Danger Girl will be there driving her Fiesta in HPDE since her race car is still being prepped in Memphis. I’ll be there as well, to help her out a bit, say hi to people, and serve as random crew for people who need a hand. But I won’t be racing, because I’ve been banned. And, I have to say, it was my fault.

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By on July 12, 2016

Jack Baruth in his Neon duels with a Scion FR-S

Moneymoneymoneymoney … Money!

“GO RACING ON A BUDGET!” It’s the go-to headline of a thousand magazine covers. When you see that headline, you can be assured of several things: the cost of labor will never be mentioned; nobody’s time is worth anything; nothing ever breaks, fails, or requires early replacement; and certain costs, like transportation and storage, will simply disappear without comment from the final accounting.

Today, I’d like to change all that. I’d like to tell you what this past weekend cost me, and what I got for my money. I’m doing this because I think some of you are interested in going racing, and the rest of you are simply amused when I suffer, whether physically or fiscally.

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By on June 28, 2016

 

20160626_140719

“Hey!” Across the parking lot, my brother was yelling at somebody. “HEY! DO YOU HAVE A FLAG AT THAT CORNER? YES? YOU DO? YOU REALLY HAVE A FLAG? ARE YOU SURE? ABOUT HAVING THE FLAG? YES? THEN WAVE THE FUCKING THING NEXT TIME, YOU IDIOT, SO NOBODY GETS KILLED!”

It was ninety-four degrees at noon, with no shade available anywhere, and tempers were flaring. My son was sitting a hundred feet away in Bark’s Fiesta, making a waving motion at me that I interpreted as If you don’t leave your corner station and get me water, I’ll die in this hot car like a dog. But then he gave me a thumbs-up, which my paranoid mind interpreted as I just want to let you know you’re a great dad… before I die from the heat.

This was shaping up to be the worst autocross ever. For some of us, anyway. For my brother, who had already said that he wanted to go home at lunch. For my son, who was dying of heatstroke. For me, too; my leg hurt like hell wouldn’t have it and I felt sick to my stomach. Most of all, for the thirteen extremely annoyed men in their M3s and STIs and whatnot who were being taken to school by Danger Girl. For her, it was the best autocross ever. But it would get worse.

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By on May 11, 2016

fz1motor

Almost 25 years ago, I walked into a small-town gun shop looking for a surplus Chinese SKS rifle. At the time, the gun market was flooded with SKSes and the steel-cased 7.62×39 ammunition that they used. $99 for a gun, $0.02 a round for the ammo; it was pretty much the official rifle of Ohio rednecks for a solid year. If I had a nickel for every afternoon I spent with a bunch of worker’s-comp-addicted ex-bikers shooting at abandoned cars, ovens, and “empty” propane tanks, I’d have my very own Viper ACR already.

Most of the shops I’d visited in pursuit of my own SKS had tried to foist off recent-production stuff made for the U.S. market as authentic ’60s ChiCom army stuff. I was sick of it. You can imagine my relief when the fellow behind the counter at this particular shop had the right gun at the right price and was willing to go over every component of said rifle to make sure it was correct. He even helped me get the Cosmoline off the thing. I was impressed by that dude. So impressed that I ended up shooting competitively with him and traveling all over the Midwest to ride mountain bikes with him. He was the best man at my first wedding, and we stayed close even when he left the shooting world to start a mortgage brokerage firm.

Over the past couple of decades we’ve pursued all sorts of stupid ideas together, from riding bicycles off loading docks to running a Neon in NASA’s Performance Touring class. Our latest idea, hatched during a dinner in which we celebrated his divorce was this: How fast can we go for virtually no money at all?

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By on May 3, 2016

oneheadlight

It’s a plotline straight out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, albeit one with some help from Garth “The Art Of Racing In The Rain” Stein: A single mother in her early 30s meets a dashing, selfish, adrenaline-junkie on a blind date. A few months later, they’re in a terrible car crash that NEARLY KILLS HER, but she tirelessly rehabilitates for two long years so they can GET MARRIED IN THE DESERT right before running off to her debut in SCCA Solo II Autocross. Her husband agrees to return to autocross with her even though he was BANNED FROM ANNOUNCING IN A TRAGIC FEELINGS INJURY and hasn’t competed in FIVE YEARS. So he TAKES THE CAR COVER OFF HIS OLD PORSCHE JUST LIKE SWAYZE IN ROADHOUSE and follows her to the event.

But then there is RAIN. But she WINS HER CLASS anyway! And her husband SNEAKS INTO THE ANNOUNCER’S CHAIR! And then he WINS A THIRTY-CAR CLASS DESPITE HAVING NOT AUTOCROSSED IN A LONG, LONG TIME. And then they go home so they can OPEN THE GARAGE DOOR, HAND IN HAND, and GAZE TOGETHER at his SON’S NEW 50CC RACING KART and you JUST KNOW that EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE.

That was the plan, anyway. And it was going very well, up to the moment when my OLD PORSCHE decided to EJECT ITS HEADLIGHT FOR NO REASON.

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By on August 28, 2015

walker

You really can’t ask for a more pleasant, harmless example of schadenfreude than the recent, and well-publicized, decision by “outlaw” Porsche painter/sticker-applier/Vimeo-movie-star/used-clothing-retailer Magnus Walker to crash into his own car hauler. Nobody was hurt beyond his own sore back and no one besides Mr. Walker himself had any monetary loss from the incident. Heck, with the extra publicity it might be a net gain for the dreadlocked whiteboy from the United Kingdom.

Which leaves us, the viewers, absolutely free to laugh and/or gloat about the whole thing. But if we want to take a minute to be thoughtful about it, there’s a more important lesson to be learned, and it’s not “OMG THE 911 IS DANGEROUS EVEN FOR THE MOST TRAINED RACING SUPERSTAR”.

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By on August 14, 2015

barkkarting

One of the great secrets of TTAC is how little we, the writers, know each other.

I have met our fearless leader, Mark Stevenson, exactly once. I have met Sajeev exactly once — and he was wearing a judge’s robe and a headdress. I have met Murilee exactly once, and he was berating me for driving over the blend line at Carolina Motorsports Park. I’ve met Steve Lang once, and I was mostly drunk. I’ve never met Cameron, or Aaron, or Ronnie, or Tim, or several of the other contributors.

So when the opportunity arose to go karting with noted wheelman and TTAC author W. Christian “Mental” Ward this week in Atlanta, I eagerly accepted.

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