Tuesday, July 29, 2008

(26) Getting schooled

I haven't talked a whole lot about Jim Russell itself as a school yet. So why not?

The school has an interesting doctrine; they teach us in the hardest environment, like being raised by wolves!

No really. The karts are hard to handle, on purpose. They stop if you slide, the tires are actually indoor kart tires so they don't grip as much, the steering is really heavy so that we can more easily feel the kart, etc etc. Ayrton Senna once said that if you can drive a kart well, then you can drive a Formula 1 car. I don't know if that's true, and it's besides the point anyway. But I have an ego the size of Alaska so of course I'd mention it.

But just being in a difficult environment won't do anyone any good. So there are fantastic instructors standing by. They do a review after every session and the amazing thing is they all seem to know exactly what our problem is and how to fix it. I mean, yeah you kind of expect that in your mind, but just their professionalism really goes above and beyond.

The other thing is they all seem to have the same kind of teaching mindset, too. They always give us an option, and then remind us that we can try our own stuff to see if it works, every driver is different, but their suggested fix usually turns out to be the best, anyway. At least for me it does. But maybe that's just because they all learned the same stuff we are right now? I'll have to ask some of the guys next time how they got started in racing.

And the thing is, and they reminded us of it last race, is that we are in school. No one is getting paid to drive, we don't have sponsors to appease. We have a race each month and that's great, but the most important bit is what we learn from it. And I think that says a lot about the school.

Anyway, before I start to sound like a Jim Russell ad (though they are starting to run commercials on TV, which are cool), I have my next practice on the 7th next month, with a race day on the 9th. Hopefully I'll continue where I left off last month, and the DNF won't hurt me too much. But, the points system is a "best 6 of 7" system, so if you score 160, 160, 160, 160, 160, 160 and 100 points in the series, the 100 points will not be counted, since it's your worst single race. So, with the DNF, my single strike has been used. I was 10th in points last month, so I still have a chance to make the top 10. If I can do that I'll be happy. And I think I can.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

(25) All quotted up and nowhere to pen

I feel compelled to write something. Yet I have no ideas.

So, being a writer (sort of), I will do what every other self-respecting writer would do given my frankly astronomical problem; quote. Here's some good racing quotes.

"Second is first of the losers" - Ron Dennis

"Everything was fantastic today. Had a problem with the engine, problem with the brakes, problem with the T-car, couldn't get a clear lap... Everything was fine!" - Thierry Boutsen

"Its not good. It doesn't turn, it doesn't stop, no traction... Apart from that, its great, having lots of fun!" - David Coultard

"Nobody remembers who finished second but the guy who finished second" - Bobby Unser

"On a given day, a given circumstance, you think you have a limit. And you then go for this limit and you touch this limit, and you think, 'Okay, this is the limit'. And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high." - Ayrton Senna

"After you've had Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna as team-mates you don't give a %$&@ who the next bloke is" - Damon Hill

"Aerodynamics is for those who cannot manufacture good engines" - Enzo Ferrari

"A weekend isn't a weekend unless you're in a flame-retardant suit" - ???

Interviewer: "Mika, can you describe your tires from the race?"

Mika Hakkinnen: "Well, they're round and black, and there's four of them"

"Giacomelli overtook Rosberg by the novel method of forgetting to break for the next corner and dropkicked Arnoux out of the race, Arnoux hardly laughed at all!"
- Clive James


And then, there's this:





Epic.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

(24) Stuffed

I stuffed it. Stuffed on the second lap. It wasn't any one person's fault. Here, watch.




Yikes indeed.

Basically what happened: Mr. White (who shall remain anonymous) and I (red/white) collided into Mr. Blue (who is also an anony mouse) after he spun. Blue dropped his wheel over the strip, which snapped his kart around. I was focusing on setting up White for a pass on the straight, so I wasn't really paying as much attention as I should have. I saw the dust from behind White and I figured I'd track out early and get them both while Blue recovered and possibly slowed White down. But since Blue hit it in just the wrong way he spun into our line, and after that it's history.

If I was more on the ball I might've been able to skirt around if I was really quick. But I wasn't so me and White crashed. Both my and Blue's left front tires head-butted each other so that bent both of our steering control arms and you can see as White rolls backward that his rear axle is very badly bent.

Funnily enough I don't remember putting my arm in the air. Doesn't really seem like a knee-jerk thing to do, does it?

Oh well. That stuff just happens and it wasn't really anyone's fault so there's no hard feelings about it. Actually one of these Saturdays I'm going to meet Blue at the track and he's going to let me try out the kart he just bought. Supposedly it's wicked quick. I can't believe I just said wicked.

Hopefully I won't stuff that one too.

But there were good points about the day. I got my time on the Reverse National down to 55.2 seconds which would have landed me in third in qualifying but I pulled out a 55.8 for that, so I was 9th. Then there was an all-time Russell Sprint Kart record set: 53.6 seconds if memory serves it's benevolent master. That was set by a new guy that raced in the bigger, better karts. Really the track conditions were ideal so it's not really too surprising that a record was set.

So anyway the time was good and I got moved up to A group because I am (was) 10th overall in points out of 25. But now with my DNF (Did Not Finish) I won't get any points so I may be in B group again next time. As long as I finish the series in the top 10 I'll be real happy. I overheard a ProKarter say that it took him about 5 years and 60 races to win his first single race, let alone a championship.

But by far the funniest bit of the day was the morning. They gave us sticker (new) tires, only one group of guys had been out so there was no rubber on the track, and it was mild temp and humid. What a recipe. I headed out of the pits and... my kart didn't turn. Seriously. Nothing happened. I went off in the dirt and I wasn't even on the track yet.

So I got back on pavement and went down to turn 1 at about 15 or 20 MPH, since the pits lead right into it. I turn in expecting massive and hilarious understeer which is normal, and, massively hilariously, I snapped around in twitch oversteer. I spun around at 20 MPH! Who's ever done that? That's right. No one. I was first. Seriously though the track was like ice so I just turned the first practice into a drifting competition, trying to get some wear into the tires and put a heat cycle on them for the next group.

It wasn't much of a show. The karts aren't set up for going sideways. It was fun though.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

(23) Not what I hoped

We're doing the Reverse National again (natch, because I said it'd be sprint). I like that track, but I don't think I'm very good at it. I mean I'm just as quick as every other setup, but I can't seem to make the passes happen or defend my position very well. I shunted pretty bad going down into turn 1. Good thing there's plenty of runoff. These new chassis really don't like to be late-braked. They'll bite yer 'ead off. But I did take my laptime time down to 56.3.

As for the Wall, I think I misinterpreted my problem. Fear isn't a factor any more. My big shunt proved that. Maybe stupidity, but not fear. I really, and lamely, think it's down to seat time. Experience. I don't mind. That means next year's decision is easy; build a kart, and race 40 hours a week. Well, maybe not quite that much. But I'll be able to go to the open track sessions they have and run almost any day.

My blog-o-sense is tingling. What's that? ANOTHER ESSAY'S COMING! RUN!

No really, stay. Please. I promise it will be quick.

As I said, I'm practicing on my permit before I get my driver's license. I'm about ready to go for my test but I gotta practice more parallel parking first. But anyways, a couple of things I've noticed;

1. Freeways scare me. To death. Every time I merge into some crazy Californian have-to-do-everything-at-110%-must-be-there-for-the-meeting highway I think I'm going to be killed. Honestly I can't believe some drivers can be so stupid. I'm more scared of merging on to a busy highway than I am before the start of a race. It's not shaking in your boots scared, it's "okay, here we go, if some crazy punk decides to follow his instinct he's taking me with him and we'll be passing through the Pearly Gates in a ball of fire". *sigh* *merge*

And 2. I'm amazed at how many people insist on going just plain way too fast. Look, I don't agree with the speed limit, I think it's bogus, but nevertheless it makes traffic move at similar speeds and when everyone is going the same speed you most certainly don't want to be the one person going a million miles per hour. If you're going to try and be a racing driver on the street at least do it in the middle of the night when you won't hurt anyone else. If you drive near the limit, you're that much closer to losing it and taking someone out. Yes, most highway corners can be taken at 100 and you'll be just fine. But what if there's debris, or a pothole, or a big gust of wind? Heck, I don't know. Anything can send you over the edge. Maybe my perspective is different. I've had speed. That part of my youth and/or masculinity is served. So I don't need to go everywhere like my pants are on fire.

And other than just the physical safety aspect of it, there are other repercussions as well. The more people that are caught speeding means the more strict the law will be for all of us. If you go and have your fun and run over an old lady the media is going to pick it up, there will be hearings, people will shout "speed kills" from the rooftops and tougher legislation will be passed and that will make the rest of our driving lives more miserable. If you want to get your kicks, a NASA (North American Sportscar Association) membership and 60 bucks will get you into a track day and you can go as fast as you like, safely, in any car, around any track, every month of the year.

That turned out more like a public service letter or something. DO YOUR PART! Basically, drivers; just keep your heads down, laws may go away, and then we can have a little fun again. Just not now.

Anyway, race on Saturday. Check back then.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

(22) The wall

Walls suck. People say speed kills. Not true. Suddenly becoming stationary is what kills you. In that respect walls are much more dangerous than 200 MPH. Yeh, I stole that. It's still funny. And true.

But other than the solid kind, there's the theoretical kind. Theoretical walls are everywhere. The sound barrier is a good one. As is the "Wall" in marathon running when the runner's body starts eating itself.

Racing has one, too. No, it's not that one on the side of the track, but you gotta watch that one, too. As far as I know there's not a name for it. So I'll just call it "Terminal Ability".

It's pretty simple. Terminal Ability happens when your ability or skill catches up with your bravery and/or understanding. We all have that little voice in our head that says "don't do that or you'll be killed to death". Even the bravest people have it. The trick is knowing when to sit it in the corner and carry on.

I think I've hit that wall. The last race I felt so at ease with what I was doing with the kart. I always felt like I had it under control and that I was doing great and that I couldn't push any harder for fear of crashing. But the fact is I was pretty far off the pace, if only by a second or so per lap (stingy me).

So! My challenge for tomorrow's practice is to break the wall. Up to this point I've been leap-frogging my skill and confidence. Now I just have to take my confidence and skill in both hands and... Well, I don't know what I'll do. Set a faster time, probably.

Speaking of, I think we're doing the sprint configuration this week. So no more big long straight. It's like a pure infield layout. Very technical.

Anyway, in other news (wot?) I went on vacation last weekend. They have a few nice roads in Tahoe. Kinda crowded though. If anyone's up for a really good drive you can try highway 207 down into Kingsbury. Very nice going up or down on the Nevada side. Not so great on the Lake side. Wasn't too crowded during the afternoon so it'd probably be deserted at 3 AM. You can find it. I won't hold your hand.

The racing highlights was buggy blasting (sorta) in Nevada near Minden. I say sorta because we weren't allowed to go too fast. Still fun. Also went to Harrah's Auto Museum in Reno. Got to see Keke Rosberg's McLaren F1 car from '86 and one of the 5 remaining Mercedes 500Ks which are valued at about 10 million bucks a pop. It's cynical of me, but they even let the McLaren run a lap of the track before they shut it down for good, judging by the tires. Race cars need to be run. Not sitting on carpet collecting dust. They don't even smell like oil any more. Maybe if I get rich I'll buy a few and give them the retirement they deserve. But anyway.

Oh, I also won a 1991 Corvette. But I won't know for sure until November.

So tomorrow: break the wall, set the fastest lap time ever, break the sound barrier with 30 horsepower, light the tires on fire and be home for lunch (but only after conquering the world).