Trackday Diaries: Seventh Place is the 113th Loser.

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
trackday diaries seventh place is the 113th loser

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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  • ComfortablyNumb ComfortablyNumb on May 10, 2011

    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.

  • Mnm4ever Mnm4ever on May 10, 2011

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

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