This coming weekend, dozens of the best endurance racers in the world take to a bumpy old airstrip in Florida for the annual 12 Hours of Sebring. God knows I’d love to be there — but not in the stands. I’m a man of action, you know. I want to get involved.
I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but much like me, you aren’t going to be a world champion race car driver. Each year, there are roughly 20 drivers in the world with a seat in Formula One. Another 30 or so seats in IndyCar, and 40ish in NASCAR. Several scores of seats are available in IMSA, but bring a checkbook. If you’re reading this and you are not 10 years old with seven years of high-level karting experience, blessed with ungodly talent, or paired with a parent with ungodly money (see Stroll, Lance), you aren’t going to be spraying champagne on international television.
Facing this reality, what’s an enthusiast to do? One could always build or buy a race car or get involved in track days or autocross. But there is another option that comes with both minimal cost and risk — working on a pit crew.
Bark's Bites: Here's Why You Should Take an Autocross Drivers' School (and Why You Should Teach One)
There are two things that all men think they’re good at: sex and driving. While I won’t make any comment on the former, I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that most of you are really bad at driving. Sure, if you consider going back and forth to the grocery store and back without too much trouble, or putting the accelerator pedal to the floor and making very loud noises “driving,” then you’re probably okay. But any sort of combination of braking, turning, hitting apexes, tracking out, transferring weight, heel-toe shifting… yeah, you’re not good at that.
But before you get all mad at me and rush to the comments to make remarks about my mother — relax. Nobody is naturally great at performance driving. It’s a learned skill, just like anything in life. And while many of us might be hesitant to take a daily driver that’s currently on its 14th of 60 payments to the track, there is likely a place near you where you can learn some of the basics of enthusiastic piloting in a safe and friendly environment. Chances are that your local Sports Car Club of America region has an Autocross School with hotshoes who are ready to sit in your passenger seat to help you improve.
My local region, the Central Kentucky Region, hosted just such a school a few weeks ago, and I enthusiastically offered to be one of the coaches.
Tony Horton, the creator and lead trainer for the P90X series, has a frequent saying about not letting your ego get in the way of your success. Don’t use 25-pound dumbbells for an exercise when you really need to use 15s, etc. It can be tough, especially at the beginning (when you’re not terribly strong yet), and you’re using weights that look more like they belong in a Richard Simmons workout than a P90X workout, but it’s the only way to build up enough strength and get the results you want.
About five weeks ago, I realized that I was terribly out of shape. Well, that’s not really true. I had known that I was out of shape for much longer than that, but I hadn’t actually done anything about it. With the traveling for business and the parenting and the soccer coaching and the socializing, I had taken my concerns about my physical fitness and placed them in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.”
So it wasn’t until five weeks ago that I decided to take action and throw the old P90X3 discs back in the Blu-ray player and get my ass moving. Good news is that I’m down double digits in weight, my resting heart rate is down about 11 beats a minute, and I’m on the path back to being physically fit again. This is, of course, completely uninteresting to you, but there’s a point coming up here in a second.
I drove my loaner Lotus Evora 400 down to Atlanta Motorsports Park for an SCCA “Track Night in America” this week, and I’ll have a full write-up of whether or not it’s a good idea to drive 700 miles in one day for a track session next week, as well as the rest of my impressions of the car. However, today I want to talk about what I saw in the Intermediate session. It wasn’t good.
Talk about being careful what you wish for. I now have about 40 questions in my inbox for “Ask Jack,” with more steadily trickling in. I’m going to answer all of them, either here or via e-mail, and in a semi-timely manner to boot. So don’t be afraid to send your questions to email@example.com. I’m ready, and waiting, to give you the kind of bad advice you can only get from somebody who’s crashed more marriages than he has crashed race cars!
Hi Jack. In keeping with the mantra, “Want to be a better driver? Get a worse tire,” I do indeed want to be a better driver. Specifically, a better autocross driver. I’ve run the original equipment, 600-treadwear tires on my ’14 Honda Civic Si for my first four events. I suck, but I’m steadily improving with every event. I can get one, maybe two more events out of these tires before they’re down past the tread-wear markers. All the instructors I’ve driven with say the same thing: get Potenza RE71s because the tires I have are costing me 2 to 5 seconds. That gap would have gotten me on the podium at the last two events. But I know I’m still leaving seconds out there due to my inexperience. Should I go Potenza when I replace the tires?
This is the sort of question I love to get — thoughtful, easy to understand, and right in the proverbial wheel house. Even better, the answer to the question will be useful to many of you, even if you have no idea what an “autocross” might be.
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.
The fine folks over at The Atlantic (yeah, the fancy magazine) have posted a 5-minute short film on the experience that is LeMons. We love it.
(Spot fellow TTAC scribe Murilee Martin in the robe at 1:45.)
For the uninitiated, it’s a expertly captured glimpse at the personalities that make home-grown racing the best kind of racing. For the car nut, the film serves as motivation to get out and work on your race mongrel — now.
Some ink has already been spilled on TTAC — and elsewhere — about the SCCA’s new Track Night in America program. I won’t rehash the the excellent overviews of the program that Jack and Bark M. have already provided, so any reader unfamiliar with the program should avail themself of the linked articles before diving into mine.
I picked up a 2015 911 GT3 in late June and resolved to put my new toy on the track, with some helpful nudging from my buddy Bark. Bark’s job brings him through Atlanta with some regularity, and we’ve met up every few months over the past couple of years to talk cars and eat overpriced Mexican food. Atlanta Motorsports Park had a Track Night event on August 4th, and Bark would be in town that day; I had no excuse not to go with him and try it out. You can read Bark’s thoughts on the day at Jalopnik.
The year was 2008. I was working the course at the SCCA Toledo Pro Solo during the Ladies’ class runs. For those of you who don’t know what a Pro Solo is like, I’ll try to explain quickly. It’s a mirrored autocross course with two competitors, one on each side. Instead of being waved onto the course by a flagger, like in a regular autocross, there’s a drag tree that starts the drivers. It’s the closest thing to “racing” that you’ll find at an autocross.
As I watched one particular pairing of cars leave the line, I noticed that one of the cars, a Mini Cooper S, was getting up on two wheels in the first 3-cone slalom. As the car rocked back and forth from the left two wheels to the right and then back to the left, the front left wheel bent and caught the cement, tripping the car and causing it to flip forward. It bounced off of its roof, and ended up landing on its wheels, facing back toward the starting line.
I was once told that it’s good to start any piece of writing with a curious introduction – you know, something that makes the reader want to click through and find out more about the story. The more controversial the statement, the better. Well, here goes nothing.
You no longer have any excuse to not track your car. Want to find out more? Of course you do!
Were you ever taught something you already knew, something you normally teach others? That moment of surrealism came for this regional LeMons Judge while attending the Newbie School in a new racing series called the World Racing League. Baruth already gave you a tease: I set aside the idiotic ironic Indian Chief hat of LeMons for a weekend stint as a racer/pit crew/errand boy with the same team that brought you the iconic Ford Fairmont Wagon: now with more Granada.
Aside from “real racers” who insist The 24 Hours of LeMons is a joke, everyone else understands this series’ willingness to embrace engineering and artistic creativity, providing somewhat-wholesome entertainment and—best of all– giving away a metric ton of track time for little cash. As a member of the LeMons Supreme Court in their Texas races, well, bias from judicial bribes and heartless praise bestowed upon me aside…
…here’s a dirty little secret: you can go LeMons racing in any fully depreciated machine with ZERO PENALTY LAPS, no matter how awesome the vehicle was when new. Provided you bend (not break) the rules with your whip. And give everyone a good reason to love/hate you. The Poorvette is proof positive.
How often have you heard someone go on and on about how real road racers and autocrossers don’t screw around and endanger other people on the street? The answer to that probably depends on how much time you spend hanging around road racers and autocrossers. Radomin Delgado might be an exception: he was cited doing 105mph in a 70 some time ago, and is a “person of interest” in a crash that totaled his 2009 Ferrari F430 Scuderia, killed one man, and severely injured the man’s life-long partner. Yet he was an SCCA champion and NASA instructor.
Mr. Delgado’s actions aren’t sitting very well with police or the public, but you could learn a little from what he’s done, so let’s discuss.
Please welcome Ryan Patrick Murphy to TTAC. A college professor and automotive enthusiast, he’s owned two E28 BMWs, a couple of M3s, and an old 911. Lately, he has been nursing a Land Rover Discovery back to health with the aid of a local junkyard. His first contribution is a tribute to those low-eyed, Tilley-hat-wearing, steering-wheel-jerking parking-lot rats known as autocrossers — JB (SCCA autocrosser since 2002!)
I’ve been participating in a form of motorsport called autocross for about three and a half years now. It is in some ways an odd and unfamiliar sport to the general public. Broadly speaking, there are two ways of describing it, and I’ve noticed that avid enthusiasts are very particular about the language they use when explaining it to others. Let’s imagine a hypothetical conversation:
Her: “So what do you do for fun?”
Me: “I race old BMWs.”
Me: (casually) “Yep”
Her: “Tell me about it!”
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