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.


fiesta

It’s the oddest coincidence, but both Danger Girl and I spent some portion of our youth flying Cessna 172s without a pilot’s license. I was a cadet sergeant in the Civil Air Patrol as a kid and they would occasionally let me fly part of our missions even though I was 11 years old at the time. Not to worry; there’s not much to hit up there, although there was one hairy situation where, having spent the night before reading about how the Messerschmitt Me 163 “Komet” could reach the sound barrier in a steep dive, I put the squadron’s Cessna into a power dive the minute it was my turn to fly. That earned me a stern talking-to afterwards from a very sweaty-faced Civil Air Patrol captain.

Danger Girl, as well, learned how to fly in a Cessna 172, which was one of her father’s planes, before soloing for the first time at the age of 17. At some point, she’s going to get an updated medical clearance and I’m going to get around to putting my instruction hours in and we’ll both be licensed private pilots. In the meantime, however, she’s amusing herself with her new Yamaha R3 and by participating in a variety of motorsporty things.

Long-time TTAC readers know that brother Bark and I have both competed in SCCA National Solo events. He’s much better at it than I am. I haven’t autocrossed in about half a decade, however, and I haven’t competed in a regional event for almost nine years. You see, Bark and I used to announce all of our region’s Solo events. We thoroughly enjoyed doing so. Unfortunately, there were some complaints. I had a tendency to make up nicknames for people on the spot. These were not always popular. Bark had a tendency to point out when people were a little overweight. This was never popular. So we were asked to leave and not come back.

Operating under the principle that time heals all wounds, I accompanied Danger Girl to the… er, well, not “track”, really, let’s say “course”, on Saturday morning. She was going to run her Fiesta in the Street Touring Xtreme class and the Ladies PAX Class. PAX, if you’ve never heard the phrase in an autocross context, means that an adjustment factor is used to compare Fiestas to Corvettes and the like. PAX adjustment is a hugely involved and controversial process that would take a whole Nicholas Sparks novel of its own to describe, so let’s just assume for now that it permits different cars to compete on even ground.

I entered in the B Street class, but this region now forces all street-tire RWD cars below, say, a Porsche GT3 into one massive PAX class. So I was competing against 29 other drivers in everything from a brand-new Miata to a 1996 Thunderbird. After accompanying Danger Girl on a course walk, I excused myself from further course-walking and went to get a bacon-and-cheese biscuit because I value bacon over preparation in autocross.

Late last year, I managed to sweet-talk the nice people at Falken out of a set of RT615 tires for my Boxster. They’re reasonably well-regarded, so I figured that I had a chance to break into the top half of the 30-car class despite having no recent autocross seat time. I had a decent first run, not perfect by any means, but it was enough to put me into first place overall. You can imagine my surprise.

During the second run, however, I was further surprised when my Boxster ejected its fucking passenger-side headlight under braking. I crossed the line with the $1,400 Litronic unit hanging on by its power cord. I should explain how and why this happened. You see, 20 years ago Porsche spent a lot of time and effort making their cars cheaper to assemble and build. They did this so they could become massively profitable, so they could build SUVs and become even more massively profitable, and then they could attempt to take over Volkswagen — only to fail at the last minute and be helplessly absorbed into a company which is now primarily known for TDI emissions cheating. Great idea, everybody!

Part of the do-it-cheaper program, as applied to the 996-generation Porsche 911 and its identical-from-the-doors-forward 986 Boxster variant, was a single-unit headlight that is retained by a rotating bar. You slide the headlight in, turn a 5mm socket to the “lock” position, and that’s it! Super easy and simple. Compared to putting headlights and turn signals and foglights into an air-cooled Porsche, it’s the very picture of rational assembly. The problem is that sometimes the headlight retaining bar slips. When that happens, any severe braking will cause the headlight to eject.

But it’s okay! Why would you ever do any severe braking in a sports car?

I didn’t have the tool required to reinstall the headlight, so I tossed it onto the ground and continued competing without it. After the third run, I was back in first place. I was all set to collect my trophy and make a speech, but I noticed that the cars in my class were going back to grid instead of calling it day. “How many runs are we doing?” I asked the grid chief. In National Solo, you get three runs. In Regional, sometimes you get four.

“Five,” he said.

“Fuck me,” I replied. After the fourth run, I was still in first place. In the fifth run, I set the fastest time of the day so far — but I’d clipped a cone. I sat there and watched a succession of Miatas post times that were slower than mine but which after the PAX adjustment were enough to put me all the way back in 6th place of 30. Storybook comeback: denied.

But as I was busy feeling sorry for myself, I heard a voice over the PA system: “We need an announcer for the next heat.” I don’t run anymore, because my left leg is permanently screwed from my motocross crash last year, but I ran to the announcer’s chair. As I picked up the microphone and greeted the crowd, I saw one of the SCCA veterans in the spectator area start cradling his head in his hands. I’d like to think I did a good job. I only made up one nickname, which I felt showed remarkable self-restraint on my part.

Then the rain came down, thick enough to make the cones hard to see and slippery enough to send dozens of cars off-course in just the first few minutes. Naturally, Danger Girl didn’t let it bother her. Against the male veterans of the STX class, her time was only good enough for 4th of 6, but she was only two seconds away from being in second place. And in the seven-entrant Ladies PAX class, she beat the second-place driver by four and a half seconds, winning in a fashion that I can only characterize as “dominating.” They gave her a plastic SCCA cup. I got a T-shirt. If you want an actual trophy, go to Nationals.

When I got home, I put the headlight back in; used a 5mm socket to flip the lock bar into place, then gave it a tug. It seems solid. But I’ve lost faith. I might have to pull my headlights out from now on. Or tape them in. Did I mention that my Boxster just turned 50,000 miles on the odometer? If you want durability, buy a Camry.

We got home and unpacked. Then I went to pick up my son from his football game. I had all sorts of plans for him to race karts this summer, but he’s decided that football is more important to him for now. When football’s finished in five weeks, he can start running his kart in KidKart events. He’ll also be able to autocross with us; there’s a youth program for kids who are willing to kart around cones. “How’d you do?” I asked.

“Fine, Dad.”

“Did you get any touchdowns?” He looked at me like I’d grown a third eye.

“Dad, of course I got touchdowns. I got all the touchdowns for our team. Some of the other kids aren’t very good. I want to make fun of them sometimes.”

“You,” I told him, holding him close and ruffling his hair, “are going to be a great racer.”

(And yes, the title is a Pat Metheny reference. Thanks for noticing!)

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55 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: Auto(Cross the) Heartland...”


  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Power dive in a 172? Did you hit Vne?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The pilot in charge corrected the situation pretty quickly. I don’t think we went very fast at all!

    • 0 avatar
      SWA737

      What’s Vne in a 172? About 120?

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        158 knots/ 183 mph. A 172 can cruise at 120 mph.

        The reason I asked is that I used to fly one and was curious if it was possible to get to Vne. A 172 isn’t that slick and it’s not that powerful, so I was wondering if it was even possible to get it going that fast.

    • 0 avatar

      In a Part 23 certificated airplane, Vne is set at 2/3 of the speed at which the tail is calculated to flutter itself off, the Vd. So you actually have a lot of margin at Vne.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I know nothing about flying except what I learned in Microsoft Flight Simulator, to wit:

      1) If you tried to take off in a jet from the top of the old World Trade Center (yes, you could actually put a jetliner up on the roof and take off), failure awaited.

      2) One CAN buzz the Gateway Arch in a 747, but landing one on an aircraft carrier was out of the question.

      3) I have no idea where Bush’s cronies got that “no one could possibly imagine flying a jetliner into the World Trade Center” line. Are you kidding? None of them had ever tried out FS? Good lord, who DIDN’T run their plane into tall buildings or other landmarks in FS before 9/11?

      • 0 avatar
        philadlj

        These days, you can hit Vne and capture it on Vine…but you’ll need help. There is no “I” in “Vne”!

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Would like to give “X-Plane” a try, as the modeling is near-as-dammit to the real thing, better than the Microsoft stuff. (And besides, I don’t like the way Gates cut that whole division loose several years back, ending what was a cash cow for them.)

        A Private VFR SEL ticket WAS on my list of things to do, that is, until recently; being on even a “maintenance” dose of an SNRI for ongoing depression treatment is verboten by the FAA, I found out, not to mention that being on any drugs for ADHD is killer # 2! I could still go for a “Light Sport” license, which doesn’t require a 3rd-class medical, but I’m not sure about taking to the air in a mode of transportation which can’t go faster than a car, and powered by a jet-ski (Rotax) engine! (Besides, there’s few flight schools in Northwest Ohio as it is, and probably NONE cater to flying jet-skis!)

        Congrats on the wedding thing, Jack!

        • 0 avatar
          Flipper35

          There is a bill going through congress to change class III requirements. Below 6000lbs gross and 5 passengers you would self diagnose like LSA. All you would need is a valid drivers license.

          X Plane is very good but it does not do spin modeling very well. With a decent set of controls though there isn’t anything better at many times the price.

  • avatar
    SWA737

    Jack just remember, when you start studying for the FAA written exam, the correct answer is always;

    D) Roll inverted and pull.

  • avatar
    omer333

    Congratulations on the nuptuals Jack.

  • avatar
    caelaorn

    I’ve actually been on the receiving end of the boxster headlight ejection functionality at an autocross.

    Car spun towards me, came to a stop – shot the headlight directly at me.

    German quality always wins.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I’d have paid real money to see that happen.

      Oh, wait, what am I saying? Eventually it’s going to happen to me and I’ll have to pay real money to fix it!

    • 0 avatar
      toplessFC3Sman

      Not just german – my 2nd gen RX-7 tossed out one of the “Flash-to-Pass” lenses under hard braking in an autocross too. These are the lenses that reside in the front bumper and allow you to flash the high beams when the headlights are retracted. It got a little bit scraped up since it hit and bounced along the ground (no wiring, just a clear lens bolted in), but a bit of polishing & glue later, and its back in the bumper skin

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I’d say that’s a feature, not a quality defect. What other car gets so angry in a track event that flings parts of itself at other cars?

      • 0 avatar
        Willyam

        Kind of like the toy Viper and Cylon fighters my brother and I had as kids. You could shoot at each other once, then you had to run around under furniture and retrieve the projectile.

        (BTW Kyree love this comment)

      • 0 avatar
        baconator

        Famously, Lotus Elises. They invented that headlight-ejection maneuver, possibly as a clever weight-reduction measure that would still leave the car eligible for stock racing classes. But more likely just because they were doing more drinking than testing during development.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      The automotive equivalent of giving a person with a glass eye the Heimlich Maneuver…

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    Stick around long enough and there’s a chance you’ll be shunted down into CS with the rest of us RX-8 leftovers…

    It’s actually getting tough to insure the Formula Junior karts. I think SCCA insurance still covers it but many 3rd-part event underwriters have set the premium so high as to effectively block us from allowing them to participate. It’s a freaking shame since every kid over the age of 10 that I’ve seen compete has needed a grin-ectomy every time they pull their helmet off after a run.

  • avatar
    Dipstick

    His raised hand is missing a finger!

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    So you asked, “Are You Going With Me?” and she said “Yes.” Really? Talk about burying the lead– that’s the most subtle wedding announcement I’ve ever seen. You’ve proved you’re an honest man- In DG’s case, you followed the Pottery Barn Rule: You broke it, you own it now. Congratulations! Rise Up now, get your Third Wind and begin your Half-Life of Absolution.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Congrats on the new marriage, Jack!

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Congratulations on nuptials and congratulations to your wife on winning her class.

  • avatar
    bobharly

    Nice write up. It only adds fuel to my desire to begin auto-x. Just trying to work up the nerve to go an do it…

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    Umm, Swayze ripped the cover off an ’86 560SEC Benz in Roadhouse.

    Just sayin’.

    From self-removing headlights, to the fact those headlights look the way they do, it was all about keeping the company alive, while it continues to offer 911 derivatives – the car no one really wants.

    Like the turbo-diesel-6-speed-manual-AWD-station-wagon.

  • avatar
    06V66speed

    You two sound like quite the pair.

    Congrats, btw.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    As always , a fun read that’s also very informative .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Snavehtrebor

    I always dig the midwestern slice-of-auto-life from you, Jack. And I’ll echo everyone’s congratulations on your recent wedding.

    I vividly remember the day that my first car, a 1980 Corolla 5 speed, decided to shuck the driver side wiper blade assembly during a pouring thunderstorm at about 50mph. My Rain-X application skills had not yet bloomed so I had to hang my head out the window to get off the highway and limp home. Built some character that day!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Jack Baruth, married. In other news…a ski resort opened in Hell today. Tape at 10.

    (Congrats!)

  • avatar
    NeilM

    “[Porsche] did this so they could become massively profitable, so they could build SUVs and become even more massively profitable, and then they could attempt to take over Volkswagen — only to fail at the last minute and be helplessly absorbed into a company which is now primarily known for TDI emissions cheating. Great idea, everybody!”

    Yes, Porsche AG became part of VW. However in the process Porsche SE, the Piëch/Porsche family holding company from which VW acquired Porsche AG, also became the 50% owner of VW. The former owners of Porsche now control the new owner of Porsche.

    This is called going in a revolving door behind someone and coming out in front.

  • avatar
    Shinoda is my middle name

    Congratulations, Jack…

    Why do I get the impression that inimitable Ms. V. McB. threw DG a bridal shower?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Jack Got Married.

    LOL. Wait. Wut?

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “Why would you ever do any severe braking in a sports car?”

    Hey, it’s not like they thought anyone would ever drive a Boxster like that…

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I just hope they don’t teach the tyke “heads-up” tackling. That can be very dangerous when the opponent just wants to HIT you.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    I don’t plan to let his football days run much longer.

    I’d like him to live past fifty.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Well, live past 50 with all of one’s joints still functioning.

      Congratulations.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Really though, how much safer is racing (if that is the alternative you’re hoping for him to pursue)?

      Your brother was a football player through high school and seems to be in okay condition into his late 30s, while your various racing endeavors have left you more machine than man.

      You’d certainly save a small fortune going with the bat/ball/gym hobbies.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        Bark has a lot of lingering effects from dozens of concussions — and he didn’t even play college ball.

        If I had my way, I’d lock the kid in a bubble until I’m dead :)

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “Bark has a lot of lingering effects from dozens of concussions”

          Well, I guess that explains the Ford stuff…

          Hopefully, with all your injuries the universe will balance it all out or something and keep John unscathed.

        • 0 avatar
          Piston Slap Yo Mama

          My old man played football in high school. Apparently he was so easy to knock out that they had nicknames for him. Once, a concussion earlier in the day had him wandering the streets after school, unsure where his home was. Yes, he did have a long successful career in the Air Force retiring as a Colonel then working for Rockwell as a Space Shuttle payload something or other … but then he got Parkinson’s … and ten rough years later he’d departed this mortal coil in a particularly unpleasant fashion.
          Just like Muhammad Ali, I’m convinced it was the concussions that got him later in life. Keep your kid out of football, I’m sure karting and auto racing is, all joking aside, much safer from the specter of cumulative brain injuries.
          Oh – and also – Mazel Tov!

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          “If I had my way, I’d lock the kid in a bubble until I’m dead :)”
          .
          I don’t believe this from what I see .
          .
          Mitigating injuries is far different from keeping him in a bubble .
          .
          Football teaches so many useful life lessons , too bad the Coaches all seem to use the increasingly better equipment to call for ever harder hits….
          .
          That’s irresponsible as well as plain old stupid and why my Son was never allowed to even try Football ~ too many saps wandering around who’s Adult lives were ruined by avoidable contact .
          .
          Those ” DUH ” Footballers everyone likes to make fun of behind their backs weren’t usually born that way .
          .
          Another sad thing in America .
          .
          -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            “…too bad the Coaches all seem to use the increasingly better equipment to call for ever harder hits…”

            Exactly. In the days of leather (or no) helmets, the promise of immediate pain and bleeding from bashing heads probably lessened the chances for concussions.

            But, there’s an interesting (and seemingly counter intuitive) mitigation:

            http://www.cbsnews.com/news/device-to-protect-brain-from-concussions-inspired-by-birds/

            Woodpeckers, specifically – amazing.

  • avatar
    Paul Alexander

    Apropos of your plane story, this just popped up on my Tweeter:
    https://twitter.com/paprbckparadise/status/724662517482418177


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