By on May 9, 2011

Where were we? After Day One of the SCCA National Solo Tour event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, I was in eighth place and destined to do some jort shopping. And yes, dear readers, I have a humiliating jort photo for you, because You Deserve It(tm).

What happened on Day Two? Well, it’s confusing. I got better, considerably so. But the competition got better, too. On Day Two, I finished seventh. In road racing, the results would look like this: one eighth place and one seventh place. (Also, in road racing I would have put somebody into the Armco before taking a crap result like that.) This being autocross, however, it’s only natural that I ended up with ninth place. And 113th. Of course. 113th place.

Sunday morning dawned bright and early, following a long night out with the team. After Day One, the B Stock standings were extremely tight: the two drivers of our “A” car, Jadrice Toussaint and Marc Pfannenschmidt, were first and second with times of 39.143 and 39.218 respectively. I was hopelessly adift with a 41.398. That’s like being lapped, kids. Just not good enough.

I knew that my major problem was simply not understanding the limits of our Honda S2000CR. The front end felt like it was “on rails” — which always means you’re pussy-footing it. But with a total time of two minutes and three seconds behind the wheel, I simply couldn’t figure out what it could do. I resolved to just turn up the volume a bit, and my first run of the day was a clean (no cones) 40.130. After the first five drivers had run, I was leading the event… and then Pfannenschmidt and Toussaint ripped out 37.842 and 37.831, respectively. God damn it, the gap was getting bigger! I improved to 39.794 in the second run. My third run was 39.631, good enough for sixth — but I’d barely touched a cone, which fell as I sped away. Want to know what it looks like to autocross an S2000CR at middling speeds? Here you go. Note that I have to steer ahead of each obstacle. Even at two seconds off the pace, the car is constantly at the edge of spinning out.

Edited: Now, here’s Jadrice’s run. His camera was poorly mounted so everything looks weird/choppy… but you can see that he generally carries 2-3mph more speed into turns than I do.

Luckily for me, I was beating my teammate. My brother was in the process of self-immolating with rage. He was a great football player in high school. In football, getting angry helps. In autocross, it does no good whatsoever. His first two runs were well behind mine, meaning that he would need to collect himself and deliver something fantastic in his last trip around the parking lot. Pfannenschmidt and I watched his launch. Everything looked good, he entered the slalom from the correct side (something I failed to do all three times; it probably cost me half a second each time) and he blasted through the back section. His time: 38.883. Good enough for fourth place overall and a coveted Solo trophy…

…but the second-to-last cone on the course kept wobbling until it fell over. “Yo, you got the jorts now,” I said to him as he climbed out of the car. His response was unprintable. Meanwhile, Pfannenschmidt was busy “coning away” a spectacular run and losing his last chance to win. With no pressure, leading the event, and with no other drivers running after him, Toussaint stretched out his considerable talent and recorded an eff-you-very-much 37.412 to close the door on the class by four-tenths of a second.

We packed the cars and the guys posed for a brief shot next to Marc’s Pilot tow rig:

National Solo autocross is scored two ways. The best time from each day is added up for class standings. Toussaint was our winner with a combined 76.555. Fourth place, the last trophy spot, went to Joel Fehrman with 80.409. My brother took seventh overall with 81.030. I was ninth, even though I hadn’t finished that low either day, with 81.192, seventy-four-thousandths behind eighth place. Looking at the results, I suddenly remembered why I quit autocrossing. Road racing lets you fight it out fender to fender, and the bravest man wins sometimes, but autocross is a technician’s game and things like seventy-four-thousandths of a second matter. That’s not really even a time that a human being can understand. Try counting to it. If you’re a fast reader, you might read one or two words of this article in that time. Ugh.

The second way autocross is scored is “PAX”. This takes into account how fast each class of car should be and adjusts the “raw time” of the driver to create a way to compare all 250 drivers. The top driver in PAX? Jadrice Toussaint. So he wasn’t just the best guy in B Stock, he was the best guy, period. Pfannenschmidt was sixth. Since all the guys in our class are hotshoes, even at the ultra-competitive National level, it turns out that ninth of ten was actually good enough for 114th out of 250.

“Hey,” I told my brother on the phone, “I finished in the top half.”

“That’s a disgrace to National Solo, that somebody could drive like you did and still finish there. It was worse than my finish and my finish was unacceptable. The worst in my career, and still better than yours.” We like to encourage each other. Oh well. I don’t think I will get out to another autocross this year, but it sounds like I shouldn’t bother trying anyway.

It is a lot of fun to do, however. For those forty seconds or less… you’re free. Nothing matters but those cones and the mad rush to hustle, to not lose seventy-four thousandths of a second, not to touch the cones, not to spin through the finish and terrify the nice girl who hands out the timeslips. (Yes, that happened. Four times.) And let’s not forget the outfits. Actually, I was kind of hoping you would forget the outfits. But here they are: “George” jorts from Wal-Mart. Drawstring closure, no fly, stonewashed for extra cool points, on sale for eight dollars and fifty cents. We’ll just keep this between us, right?

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14 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: Seventh place is the 113th loser....”

  • avatar
    Byron Hurd

    Insanely fast course compared to what I’m used to. I gotta get out there some day.

  • avatar

    Were you consciously avoiding shuffle steer in that video just to prove a point? ;)

    Yea as a college guy my friends and I are just sort of beginning to get the racing thing going- he’s got a crappy old miata he’s really excited for autoX- he’s technical, detail oriented, and pays attention to things. I’ve got a $500 grand cherokee that I’m gonna do some rally cross in and then on to lemons. I have no patience for detail, but no fear, and some sort of pathological need to be sideways…

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Shuffle steering absolutely is faster for auto-x… I just can’t afford to let myself get in the habit, even if it costs me a little bit of time. :)

      • 0 avatar

        Well since you were driving an S2000 you should have been using the god hand method to steer. Perhaps with some Initial D music blaring as you drift around those cones!

      • 0 avatar

        So you’re telling me that the best drivers in the world shuffle steer but that other drivers should lose their credibility for doing the same? Interesting ground you’ve staked out.

      • 0 avatar

        Jack has always said that the best auto-x drivers in the world shuffle steer. And he’s also consistantly maintained that only clowns use shuffle steering in road racing. Why is this so confusing to the haters?

      • 0 avatar

        I think CJinSD is just jealous of those Jorts.

  • avatar

    Dude, I think you picked up something from the ladies’ section by mistake! But props to you for coming out on an internationally read site…

  • avatar

    Lol nice pic… I’m thinking grateful dead show circa 1990 and you’re saying “who’s got my ticket?”

    P.S. I bet you could shave at least 3 seconds with some shuffle steering (I kid I kid).

  • avatar

    Your colour coordination looks shockingly similar to something I might wear (to my wife’s dismay). At least the shoes draw some attention away from the jorts.

    Good read.

  • avatar

    At every SCCA autocross I’ve driven in (which would be about 4, and 10 years ago at that) someone would utter the phrase, “You can make an autocrosser in a great road racer, but you can’t make a road racer into a great autocrosser”. I can’t say this is an empirical fact, though it was certainly repeated enough, but it does point out that they are distinctly different disciplines, like gymnastics and marathon running.

    I always enjoyed autocrossing, but it tends to land outside one of my key metrics for racing (overall time / seat time = sum of fun). It’s kind of like drag racing in that respect, countless hours or preparation and it’s all over in seconds. Don’t get me wrong, Jack, it’s a great story and I’m glad you reported on it. It’s a great way to sharpen a different set of driving skills. I also, though, will stick to road racing (ChumpCar) and probably show up for the occasional autocross as a change up.

    I say all this to admit that when I do show up at my local weekend parking lot Grand Prix, yep, I’ll be wearing the jorts too…but just figuratively speaking.

  • avatar

    The jorts don’t look THAT bad…how’s the chafing, though??

  • avatar

    Was entering the option slalom on the right a strategic decision, or a mistake? Seems like the entrance basically pointed you left, so I’m wondering if you preferred the right for some reason.

    Handing out time slips is a dangerous job. A few years back at a Detroit autocross, a lady in a Volvo turbo wagon ripped through the decel area at race pace on both of her first two runs, despite the track workers’ frantic arm waving and yelling. They didn’t let her finish her runs that day.

  • avatar

    Jack Baruth: lives his life 1000 cones at a time… lol

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