Friday, March 29, 2013

(185) The yellow submarine and the black bee

Today, I finally have a moment to settle down and collect my thoughts. The last few weeks have been fraught with activity. Work has been busy. I'll update everyone on that first.

Working at Simraceway Performance Driving Center has been a dream. I've been keeping as busy as I can up there. I'm not working every day of the week yet, but the season is picking up and more and more people are registering for programs, so I will be even busier soon. Most of the days I'm working are open practice days where I act as the track marshal. Track marshal registers karts drivers and moto riders for the day, and keeps an eye on the track to make sure things are safe and running smoothly. If moto and karts are running on the same day, then it's the track marshal's job to divide the day into sessions because bikes and karts can't run on track at the same time for obvious reasons.

Despite the quantity of open practice days, I'm still getting involved with the instruction side. It's a bit rarer, as a junior, to get instructing days at this time of year because the class sizes are usually small enough that a lead instructor can handle teaching the school alone. Once the season picks up in the spring and summer, the class sizes will increase and the junior instructors will be called on more.

The new manager of the kart track, and my coach from my karting days, Jared Thompson, is making changes at the facility. Good changes, mind you. We have acquired a new fleet of karts, which we are calling Grand Prix karts. They are 270cc 4-stroke Stratos karts with about 9 horsepower. They have bumpers and a roll bar, so the are very safe for beginners, since the danger of interlocking wheels and flipping over is not as great as a regular "race kart" which does not have bumpers. Actually it is virtually impossible to flip, because of the bumpers and also because of the increased weight of the karts.

The Grand Prix karts will run on Wednesday nights for the most part. The opening night was successful, with a good amount of interest from both local karters and racers that were at the raceway for drag races and drifting. Unfortunately the second and third nights were canceled due to rain, but we'll be running the karts on  every Wednesday night we can, weather permitting.

In other instructing news, I just completed a two-weekend stint at Imagine Lifestyles, the supercar, aircraft, and yacht charter company that holds exotic autocross experiences at locations around the country. The past two weekends we held autocross experiences in San Francisco, at Candlestick Park. Business was strong and hundreds of people came out to drive and ride in the cars. The cars on offer were largely the same fleet as before - Lamborghini Gallardos and Ferrari F430s. One new, very yellow Lamborghini coupe was added to the fleet.

The new Lamborghini coupe.

I spent most of my instructing time in Lamborghinis, and I got to drive them quite a number of times. I got pretty good at wheeling them around the course. I really love the insane handling of the cars; they rocket off the corners with amazing ferocity due to the 560 horsepower V10 and all-wheel drive system. In first gear, it accelerates so hard it actually hurts. Even with all that traction, the traction control light blinks all the way through 2nd gear, even in a straight line. The cornering ability is not as sharp as a Ferrari, but the thing still grips like crazy and pulls some serious G force. I especially liked the added rigidity of the yellow coupe, and I loved the color and interior (below), but I couldn't help but sing Yellow Submarine to myself every time I got in the car.

The command center of the yellow submarine.

Doing the experience event again was a gas, as it was last year, and this time something extra special happened.

On Sunday, my parents came out to see what the event was like. My mom decided to see if she could get a ride with me. She could. This is what happened next.

Helmet cam footage of mom's ride.

I think she had a good time, don't you?

Moving on now to non-instructing news.

One reason why I have been so busy is because I've been looking for a way to burn the money I've been making. I decided that the best way to do that was to buy a car.

I looked everywhere. I found some very good cars. The ones I most liked were the Honda S2000, the BMW Z3 M Roadster, and the Mazda RX-8.

The Honda is a very good handling car, and it looks fantastic, especially in bright colors. I quite liked the yellow. But it was the most expensive of the 3 and most examples I found were out of my budget. I decided against the Honda because to get one in my budget I would have to get a very high mileage one that needed some work.

The BMW was less expensive, but also in some ways less of a performer. The Z3 chassis is notoriously weak, and is one of the easiest chassis to bend and break in the sportscar world. It would have required a sub frame reinforcement that would have been expensive. The engine is wonderful in the car, though. It also has a lot of personality. There is something about the smell of 1990s BMW leather that makes me nostalgic. It is a very fun car but it was also on the upper end of my budget.

The Mazda has 90% of the handling of the Honda, and similar amounts of quirk to the BMW. It also has a practicality edge on both the roadsters because it has back seats and a usable trunk. The trunks in the roadsters are all squashed because of the folding soft top. The RX-8 also has a unique rotary engine package that has wonderful characteristics; being high revving, smooth, and very light.

So I found a Mazda I liked and I bought it. It's a 2004 RX-8 Grand Touring. The only option it's missing is navigation. I paid $8,988 for it, not including all the extra charges they glob on. The car had bald tires, so rather than having the dealer slap on some eco-tires for $500, I had them fit my own and refund me the $500 they would have spent. I got some nice Michelins. Take a look at the car:

My new car!

It's absolutely infectious to drive. You have to try not to redline it at full throttle every time you set off again. It doesn't have too much power, so you still get to row gears (unlike, for instance, a Lamborghini that is doing 90 mph in 2nd gear with even more to give), and the close ratios make it a dream to shift up and down. I find myself heel-toe downshifting at most stops. Plus that rotary sound is really different and interesting.

Despite the lack of power it's still got enough to reward doing a full throttle run through the gears. I can't wait to get this guy on track. It's got a few little cosmetic issues, but nothing that can't be solved fairly easily. I'll be doing a full write up on the car after I get more time with it and really get to know it.

But for now, it's back to work. I'm leaving at 6:30 tomorrow morning to instruct a karting school.

Friday, February 15, 2013

(184) I'm late, I'm late!

The first autocross of the year sneaked up on us. It's good we are competing in the stock class, since a stock car doesn't need much preparation to go racing.

And at least for now, the Subaru will remain in the D Stock class. We are considering moving to the T1 Stock Street Tire class. That is an indexed (handicapped) class where stock cars compete with street tires. Oddly, Stock cars can compete with racing tires in open competition. T1 houses all the Stock classes, but requires street tires. It's a popular class.

But for the first round, at least, we stayed in D Stock.

Which proved to be a good decision from a championship points perspective. 25 drivers showed for T1, but only 6 drove in D Stock. In total 260 drivers descended on the Oakland Coliseum parking lot for the inaugural round of the San Francisco Region SCCA Championship series.

This flood of competitors meant the event was running a little behind schedule. The club debuted a new group format to hopefully make the event flow through a little more smoothly. This also has the side-effect of reducing work load on the workers. When one group gets done racing, they have to work to replace cones and call penalties for the next group. If there are more classes, and thus, cars, in a group, the workers have to be out there longer. If you have 4 groups of 25 cars, switching to 5 groups of 20 cars means the workers don't have to stand out there for as many runs. It produces new challenges, of course, as run groups must be switched out more efficiently, but the gains are pretty severe if everything goes smoothly.

And it did. Despite the slight delay in the morning, the day finished just before the sun went down. The first round of the championship last year didn't finish before dark, and had fewer entries.

Scott and I had some rust to knock off. Dad's first run was smooth, mine was a bit over the limit. I dialed it back and didn't gain too much time in my second run. Dad missed a reference point and DNF'd by missing a gate. Our 3rd runs were much better. Scott ended up with 48.4, 4th in class and I got down to a 46.2, 3rd in class.

Of course, I took video!

Round 1 helmet cam!

I'm sorry this is late, my week has been full and I have been lazy outside of my responsibilities.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

(183) Full circle

In recent weeks, I have been busy at my new job with Simraceway Performance Karting Center. The work I've been doing so far has been track support, such as running open practice and flagging for the 4 hour karting enduro we had this weekend. Officially, I'm an instructor, but everyone chips in any way they can. In addition to instructing and track support, I can also do shop support to help out the mechanics and learn more about working on the karts. Since I haven't owned a kart myself I don't know all that much about working on them, and the more I am able to do, the more useful I will be to the company.

On the whole, I am very much enjoying working for Simraceway. I get to choose my own schedule, in part, and the people in the company are fantastic to work with. I knew that already, of course, because I've spent plenty of time there as a student.

Since the racing school scene is very seasonal, I will continue doing track support until the season picks up. Once we get to the busy time of year the school is going to need every instructor, and I'll be incredibly busy.

In other news, the San Francisco SCCA Region Solo banquet was last week, and both my dad, Scott, and I picked up our trophies for the 2012 championship season. It was pretty special being able to finish 1st and 2nd in our first autocross championship.

The banquet itself was a great time. The event was held in the Blackhawk Auto Museum, which has a cool collection of cars. They had a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, which is my favorite pre-'90 car. Not the flashiest or the best looking, but for some reason I really can't explain, I feel drawn to it. Maybe it's the Dan Gurney/Brock Yates Cannonball connection. They did New York to Los Angeles in just under 36 hours. It just seems like a car that would go and do something like that.

Anyway, of course there were other, rarer, more exquisite cars on hand. Some of my favorites were the B.A.T. Alfa Romeo concept cars, the JMS #40 Porsche 935, and the Bugatti Type 50T.

After wandering through the history, everyone sat down for dinner and awards presentations. The ceremonies were fairly quick, yet entertaining, and many pictures were snapped.

Novice 1-2!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

(182) 2012 in review

I suppose in the greatest sense the best thing about 2012 is that we're not all dead, and the world has not ended. This, however, may be considered true and accurate for every year that has passed since the beginning of civilization.

In my own little sphere of society, a number of good things happened this year. I started, finished, and won my first autocross season, the banquet for which is due shortly on the 13th. I'll be reporting on that, as it looks like a good time.

I think autocross has had a positive impact on my driving. I am a keen believer in not just quantity of experience, but also breadth of experience being important to a complete and capable driver. I'm going to go on one of my complicated and convoluted analogies; I liken it to a tool box, as many do, and with increased experience you gain increased quantity of tools to pull out of your box and use in different circumstances. Continually doing the same project over and over will eventually lead to you having all the tools you need to handle the project and any unforseen complications that are likely to occur. At that point the only way to expand your toolbox is to adopt a new project and go to a new hardware store in order to get the tools to handle it. You might as well go to those other hardware stores as soon as possible to get the tools to be prepared for any project you wish to adopt.

If that makes any sense.

I also got to tick off a couple of bucket list items, being drive a Lamborghini and a Ferrari, which I got ample opportunity to do by instructing with Imagine Lifestyles' Autocross Experience program. In doing so, I found my love of coaching.

So I decided to act on it. Yesterday, I signed the requisite papers to begin my instructing career at Simraceway Performance Driving Center's karting program at Sonoma Raceway. I spent over two years as a driver in their kart racing series, so I know some of the people and the curriculum. It's kind of going full circle. I started my driving career there, and now I'm going to be teaching there.

So, this means 2013 is going to be a busy year. But it's also going to be exciting, thanks to everything that happened in 2012.

I may even earn enough money to go road racing again.