By on June 28, 2016




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.

It had seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. Brother Bark had agreed to coach Mrs. Baruth through her sixth-ever autocross. The three of us would all share her Fiesta ST, which would allow us to compare data at the end of the day. It was, frankly, necessary. I’m an abysmal autocrosser, as long-time TTACers know, and Danger Girl had already progressed past the point of being able to obtain anything useful from my half-assed “coaching.”

The problem was this: When DG bought the Fiesta from Matt Farah earlier this year, it had come with some fairly beat-looking Michelin Pilot Sports on the factory alloys. When we reached Vail on our drive East, the road was closed to any car without chains or snow tires, so we pitched the Michelins and bought Blizzaks. Once we got home, we didn’t need the snow tires. So I bought DG a set of Sparco wheels and some tires.

The tires in question were Sumitomo HTRZ IIs. They have a treadwear rating of 360. I figured they would be good in wet weather and they would last a long time. They were also cheap. I did not figure that DG would decide to do a whole season of autocrossing and trackdays with them.

TireRack considers the Sumitomos to be “Ultra High Performance Summer Tires.” That sounds really good, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s worse than “Max Performance Summer Tires,” a category that arrived about ten years ago with the Kumho MX, and it’s even worse than “Extreme Performance Summer Tires,” the current belles-of-the-ball in the street tire game. Compared to the Bridgestone RE-71, the current favorite of Fiesta pilots on the SCCA Solo National Tour, the Sumitomos are about two seconds a lap slower.

For a Novice like Danger Girl, having greasy tires is actually helpful to the learning process. Everything happens at a slightly lower speed, so you have more time to correct your mistakes. This is why I do not, as a general rule, agree to coach novice trackday drivers who show up with Hoosiers or Toyos on their cars. You’d be surprised how many of them there are. It’s our modern consumer culture. Are you going to a racetrack? Good! Make sure you have special shoes, and special hats, and special clothes, and special tires!

The truth is that you’re best off starting your autocross career, or your trackday career, with tires that are less than perfectly grippy, for the same reason that you’re best off starting off in something slower than a Viper TA 2.0. You’re going to make mistakes, and not all of them are going to be recoverable. How much kinetic energy do you want to have when you make those mistakes? The most correct answer is: about as much as you get with a first-gen Miata on all-seasons.

For that reason, I never considered it a problem that Danger Girl had Sumitomos on her autocross car. She was still winning the Ladies class pretty much everywhere she went. For the first five events of the season, I drove my old Boxster S with year-old Falken RT615Ks. Four out of five times, they were good enough for me to take home a trophy and/or a top-five PAX finish. The Falkens don’t get as much love as they should from the autocrossing crowd. They are hugely durable but they’ll also let you hang the car’s tail out at will.

I knew I wouldn’t exactly set the world on fire driving the Sumitomos, but I hadn’t considered what Bark’s reaction would be to the situation. For years, he competed in National Solo at the absolute top level, driving fully-prepared cars as a teammate to two multiple National champions. Apparently, one year he and his team put on new tires for every run. Twelve sets of new Hoosier tires, each of them having just fifty-seven seconds in the sun before being consigned to history’s dustbin.

Well, if that was “the Show,” then driving the Fiesta with me and DG was like being sent down to the Durham Bulls. In our first runs, Bark put 2.5 seconds on me easy. Then I started getting better, and he got worse. “These fucking tires!” he screamed. “I don’t want my name on a piece of paper next to these times.”

“Hey,” I whispered over my back to Danger Girl, “get a picture of Bark’s name on that paper over there, next to those times.”

At the end of four runs, we were 0.4 seconds apart. Consider that I outweigh Bark by eighty pounds and I had my fifty-pound son riding along with me for my runs, and the true gap was probably even smaller. DG, to her credit, was just 1.2 seconds behind me. Bark had conscientiously coached her through three course walks and she was doing just what he’d asked her to do. At the lunch break, she was in fifth place of eighteen Novices, ahead of some fellow in an M3 who apparently was so angry about losing to her that he’d sent his friend over to look at her car to see how she was cheating and to offer some passive-aggressive commentary about “a Fiesta doesn’t weigh as much as a BMW, of course it’s gonna do better.”

At lunch, Bark stated that he wanted to go home, unless we drove over to his favorite tire shop in Florence and put Bridgestones on. There wasn’t enough time for that. My son stated that he wanted to go home, get his TopKart, and beat the Novice class. I indicated that I would be okay with going home. Only Danger Girl wanted to stay. Since the whole point of autocrossing this year was to get her up to speed, we stayed.

In the afternoon, however, the Sumitomos proved they had another treacherous trick; they got slower in the heat, even though we brought pressures down. DG’s form looked even better but her times were suffering. Then it was time for me and Bark to drive. While I waited in line at the start, it began to rain. Lightly at first, then with Katrina-esque force. By the time I got the flag, there was standing water everywhere. I drove straight from the start to the finish. Then I drove back to Bark.

“Do you want to…” I asked

“…pack the fucking car and leave? Yes, very much.” So Bark and I packed the car. But we couldn’t leave, because Danger Girl had won a trophy. So we stayed for the trophy. At the end-of-event meeting, when DG went up to get it, we three Baruth men yelled “Sumitomo!” all at once. To my knowledge, this was the best finish in a motorsports event ever recorded by the HTR Z II.

Bark and I took second and third place in class, respectively, behind a woman in a Miata. It wasn’t particularly close. “I don’t want to ever drive that car again,” Bark said, “until you get RE-71s.”

“I’ll order them today,” DG replied.

“No you won’t,” I interjected. “You need to spend some more time on these crummy tires.”

No you don’t,” Bark interrupted. “You need decent tires now.”

“I need decent tires now,” DG repeated. It was like a Jedi mind trick. They both turned and looked at me. As an admittedly third-rate autocrosser, my opinion was valueless. I walked off to talk to my son. “Did you have fun today?” I asked.

“Uncle Bark,” he said, looking me straight in the eye, “says we need better tires.”

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51 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: So Very Tired...”

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    HTRZ gonna hate.

    Seriously, I hate the Sumitomos I have on my car, which it came with when I bought it, in 2010.
    But since I swap them in the winter they will never wear out and I’m too cheap to toss perfectly usable tires. So, I will continue to be a HTR.

    (mine are supposedly all-seasons, but not even Symmetrical All Wheel Drive can help make them go straight in even a dusting of snow)

  • avatar

    Better order them hoosierstones quick before they go on national backorder again before solo nationals.

    • 0 avatar

      But then the revised Rival S will hit the market this fall and the Stones might not be the “it” tire anymore. And then those will be on back order. And then another tire will come out.

      I love autox but I’m starting to resent the tire game. Might as well go back to allowing Hoosiers considering the wear rate of the latest gen of “200 TW” (lol) tires.

  • avatar

    Tire Rack and those goofy ratings are ridiculous. What is the difference between Max and Ultra??? Who the hell knows.

    • 0 avatar

      There is a definite difference though. Usually you can tell from treadwear, but the way I look at it and in personal experience, extreme can handle serious heat, are super sticky, generally last less than 10k miles, and can get heat-cycled out.

      Max Performance can be nearly as fast as extreme in some cases like MPSS, but fall off once they get hot. This would be the lowest I would go as a novice tracking in the summer just because of the heat they can handle. They last roughly 20k miles.

      UHP sacrifice heat capacity for longevity and will take you north of 30k miles a set. They can be grippy enough to be fun at an autocross, but never to the track, at least if you prefer not having your tread coming off in chunks or delaminating from tire carcass.

      • 0 avatar

        I disagree, at least on my light, underpowered car. My Miata does just fine on 340 Treadwear UHPs (BF Goodrich Comp 2). They handle 20 minute sessions (the longest the group I ran with) just fine at my modest skill level. And while grippier tires would definitely be faster, I feel like they’d feel unbalanced on the car without heavier springs, even though mine are already about twice as stiff as stock.

        Results may vary on car, track, and driver combinations that can exceed 85 MPH.

        • 0 avatar

          > light, underpowered car

          And there’s your reason.

          I would say I’m moderately competent on track, and I’ll get Max Performance tires greasy way before my brake pedal starts going soft. With Extreme it happens around the same time with the brakes going first, which I prefer. I’m also running on tracks that require multiple stops from triple digits.

          That said, also I have roughly double your horsepower and 40mm more tread as well. The difference between EHP tires and mac performance that most sports cars wear is staggering on an extended track session.

          I had a few people ask me what was done to my car last week when I was catching e9x M3s on the straightaways in my S2000. My car is stock aside from tires and a moderately competent driver. They didn’t want to hear the fact that I had 15-20mph extra exit speed on the corners prior to the straightaway was the reason.

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            I put Extreme Performance tires on my S2000 (Re01-R, RE-11, Dirrezza IIs) solely because I think not doing it shows poor character and is bad for the car. The most “performance” driving I do in it is hanging the tail out a little around a 90* suburban corner before bouncing off the redline on a 1-2 shift on the way to work. It’s stupid and wasteful but I can’t buy crap tires. Call it a character defect.

    • 0 avatar

      There are real functional differences between their tire classes, but the actual words they use for naming is confusing and dumb.

      Extreme > Max > Ultra but it could just as easily be any order. Ultra sounds pretty good, and Max really should be the best.

      May as well throw Super, Mega, Hyper, Quantum, Giga, and Yotta performance categories in there, too.

  • avatar

    Sounds to me like you need to split the difference and get her something slightly better, but not supremely grippy. Maybe Dunlop Direzzas or something.

    Also, love that you keep calling yourself mediocre as an autocrosser but also mention your podiums. Come on man, you’ve got at least a LITTLE bit of an idea of what you’re doing out there. ;)

  • avatar

    This kind of article is what keeps me coming back to TTAC. Excellent!

  • avatar

    Were you down near the airport or something? If Florence was a close enough drive.

  • avatar

    Barks whining cracks me up. Mostly because I completely understand it. If I’m doing anything I’m even remotely good at and you mess with my tools or give me the wrong ones, it will drive me crazy. The mental aspect of things feeling off is probably 90% of it

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    Been autocrossing for about ten years, off and on, and when I work the course, I’ll work the radio and I’ll shag cones like a mofo, and I always stay late and help take down the course, but I avoid flag duty like the plague.

    Know why?

    Because if you see danger and wave the flag, somebody second-guesses you, and if you think the danger will pass by the time the next car arrives and don’t wave the flag, somebody second-guesses you. You know the type – the same sort of guy that ruins Little League games by berating the umpire and coaches and yelling insults at nine-year-old boys for their weak throws and poor batting skills, and then wonders why his kid doesn’t want to play baseball anymore.

    Don’t be that guy.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      In this case, to be fair to Bark, a massive F-150 Platinum Crew Cab had entered the course from an unmonitored opening in the curbing and was wandering around aimlessly. The guy with the flag was just standing there looking at the situation with his mouth open OH DEAR GAWD THATS A FORD TRUCK RIGHT THURR

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve done first aid at motocross and flagging is different for pro’s and everyone else. You flag the pro’s and it just gives them a heads-up that someone is down and they adjust with no fuss. The skill level is amazing. You flag a novice class and if they don’t slow to a crawl you black flag them because they can barely control the bike on flat ground in an empty gravel pit.
      But in the case of the truck on the track, I’d be yelling at the idiot too. Surprised no one threw a full beer can at him.

  • avatar

    In what bizzarro world does a Fiesta ST get bumped in with a Miata? Were you running STF/STS?

    If she schooled you on the HTRZ-II, it’s probably time to graduate her up to something stickier.

    I just jumped from 2.5 year old Hankook RS3v2’s to The Magic Pixie Dust RE-71R and holy crap they’re AMAZEBALLS!

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      ST Open. It was a PAX class; we were STX and she was STS.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting… I just mounted Hankook RS3s on my Z because the RE-71 don’t come in my sizes (yet?) and the RE-11 were out of stock. I’m normally a Bridgestone guy but so far I’m loving the RS3s on track. Granted I’m not auto-crossing but running full course HPDE events.

      • 0 avatar

        RS-3s were my last tire and I loved them too. They wear great, handle heat like a champ, grip like crazy, and have a fairly progressive breakaway. Not to mention they’re cheap as hell. I’d go out on a limb and say they’re the best all-around HPDE tire especially when you throw in cost and wear as factors.

        They were good at autocross but I never thought they excelled because they needed too much heat to get to their sweet spot. On track though? Probably my favorite tire in the last 7 years. I’m on Rivals now, but as soon as they wear out, I’m buying another set of RS-3s.

  • avatar

    Are the Sparco wheels on DG’s car the same size as stock? Ditto the tires?

    I didn’t see the RE71R on Tire Rack in 205/40/17, but they’re almost $200/ea anyway. Looked at RT615k for next summer but it sounds as though they like heat and hate standing water, which isn’t ideal for driving to work 99% of the time.

    Wondering if I get more options looking at different sizes…

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Wheels are stock size. Tires are 215s.

      For the RE71s we’ll drop down to 16 inch and 205/50R16, so that’s another set of Sparcos. She bent one anyway on the drive to the autocross… hit a hole in the road hard enough to bend the rim and eject the center cap.

  • avatar

    Entertaining read. It’s been fun to read about Danger Girl’s success in her new hobby.

    At least to this PNW native (we wilt whenever the mercury exceeds 80) that is just too damn hot to be sitting out in the middle of parking lots with no shade.

  • avatar

    I hope your son is over 12 years old, because a passenger under 12 is a violation of the SCCA’s insurance regulations and the region you’re running with could very well lose its sanction and insurance for such behavior.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s age or minimum height. Either one works per the rulebook.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        They’ve changed the rules recently.

        But the kid is pretty tall. He’s also an SCCA member in good standing, of course.

        • 0 avatar

          I am THAT GUY (board member, solo safety steward, solo chair, full comp. license and obviously local autocross super #1 best PAX champion).

          I also play a Lawyer in real life.

          Rules say 57″ or 12 years old.


          Don’t be stupid and do something that’s going to lose your region insurance, a site, or anything else.

          Definitely don’t talk about it on the internet.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Baruth

            Like I said, my son is tall. For context, I was six foot three at the age of thirteen. They had to cut bone out of my leg to drop me to six two.

          • 0 avatar

            I saw that in Gattaca. You do look a bit like Ethan Hawke.

          • 0 avatar

            Jack was nice enough to entertain my 6’3″ son when he was in Columbus earlier this year visiting a friend of his who’s at Ohio State.

            Took him out for pizza along with DG and John, then sent me a pic of our two sons together.

            One of my first thoughts was “damn, Jack’s son is really tall for his age”.

            I didn’t try to compute pic ratios to height in the real world, but I don’t believe there is any way that John is less than five foot something, with the “something” being non-trivial.

            Jack should consider buying John a basketball, for when he’s not running his TopKart.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for being “That Guy!”

  • avatar


    What’s the real risk of death from halfhearted flagging at a parking lot autocross event?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      There’s certainly some risk in autocross:

      A better question is: What’s the risk of hitting a stopped F-150 when you’re doing 50mph? Because that’s the situation that was about to happen, and I don’t think you can argue that’s not risky.

    • 0 avatar

      In this particular case, the woman who was actually doing the driving was a Novice who was completely lost on course, and was driving directly at some corner workers. She should have been flagged for that alone, much less the F-150 that wandered onto the course.

      However, the three corner workers at the station in question were doing the following:

      1) Checking his phone and looking downward toward it.
      2) Sitting down in the grass on the adjacent hill.
      3) Looking at the flag that was laying on the ground fifteen feet away from him, unsure if he should do something.

      Jack’s version of my comments is the nice, relatively edited version. He didn’t hear what I said when I grabbed the radio and called directly to the dipshit staring at the flag on the ground.

      The flag needs to be held at all times, and the rule is this: If there’s any reason in your mind to think you should wave it, you should wave it. The worst thing that happens is somebody gets a re-run, and you might have prevented a serious accident, injury, and/or death. Corner workers have been killed before.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Foley

        OK, Mark, now that I’ve heard more details, it sounds like you were right to be that angry with the inattentive course “worker” (loafer?), and I’m sorry I accused you of being That Guy.

        This one just hits a little close to home. I’ve been yelled at by a red-faced trackbro for waving the flag when an elderly courseworker had not returned to a position of safety before Trackbro came by, and I’ve been lectured by a Safety Nazi for not waving the flag for a squirrel on the course (yes, really). So now I just grab the radio or get to the station first and holler “I’m on cones” and let somebody else make that call.

    • 0 avatar

      Even if getting killed is perhaps a bit of hyperbole, I’m sure that playing bumper cars with an F-150 would pretty much ruin someone’s otherwise pleasant track or autocrossing day.

      And people sometimes do end up dead from a relatively low speed collision, depending on whether or not anyone ends up upside down, and/or with another vehicle on top of their vehicle.

      But I wouldn’t throw a full can of beer at the flag guy…that would be an unnecessary waste of beer, and wouldn’t send as noticeable a signal (plus close would be a miss)…an empty one would be an empty gesture, for sure.

      But a half full can…that can make a noticeable impression even if one’s aim is off.

      If the flagman was that unconscious, perhaps a bit of exaggeration was felt to be necessary, in order to cause him to get a grip quickly. Plus it was more polite, and less prone to starting a war, than a can of beer with any amount of its contents remaining.

  • avatar

    “Hey,” I whispered over my back to Danger Girl, “get a picture of Bark’s name on that paper over there, next to those times.”

    I so dearly wish this didn’t bring back as many memories of my brother and I interacting with the rest of the world.

    Write the novel.

  • avatar

    I can’t tell you how much it pleases me to see my old car not only racing, but also winning. Good on you DG and JB. That’s what I call sending your car to a quality home.

  • avatar

    Please don’t put better tires on the Fiesta. DG passed me repeatedly at my last track day, and that’s embarrassing when you’ve got more HP and better tires!

    Also… stickier tires won’t help _at all_ with this:

  • avatar

    Trackday Diaries: So Very Entertaining

    Makes me want to go out and buy a Fist… must resist….

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