The Smell of a Cone, Dragging

Hi Patrick,

I’m just home from my day of autocross. I’ve got my load-in and load-out down to an art. That goes in the “good” column. In fact, several people stopped by my spot in the paddock, looked at all my stuff laid out, looked at my car, and said, “Do not tell me all of that just came out of THAT car!” And that was without the cooler and pop-up tent I bring to summer events. Ha!


OK the good. I met my goal of coming in ahead of one other person. Check! Also good, there were many sections of the course which I absolutely nailed, and man did that feel good. I learned the most when I pushed hard. I used some tail-happy sliding to my advantage on purpose, even. I used the throttle-stabbing trick I was shown last year through the slaloms, and felt like I really had that down pretty well. I was good and smooth through some of the scariest, hairiest features. The feedback I received from the novice instructor was that I had most of it really good, and most of the time was very smooth. But the one spot that kept beating me sucked the life out of my times.

The bad – I was second to last! Both overall, and in the large novice group that showed up today.* That would be due mostly to…

The ugly – and let me just say right here that when it was ugly, it was ugly. There was one feature on today’s course that I never quite got. OK that is an understatement. I blew it twice so spectacularly that – well, let’s just say that if you’d been standing there watching with my buddies? My handling of this particular feature would have made you laugh out loud. As it did me! Oh my god I was a mess for a few (very loooooong) seconds there. As in screeching halt. TWICE. Sliiiiiiiide…and what I should have done when I knew I was so far off that I wasn’t going to make it, was just let it keep on sliding, mow down the eight cones to my right, catch it on the other side, and keep on going as hard as I could. I think in the moment, I was just not willing to risk hurting my car, so I interrupted my slide, crept around the end of the feature and took off again. Twice. Pretty stupid!

Or not. I mean, it’s supposed to be about fun. And I don’t want a bunch of dings on my car doors. So who cares if I avoid hitting a pile of cones and screw myself timewise? Except that I am in a competition! I think I also figured in the moment that the time I’d lose doing what I did would be less than the time I’d lose from 16 seconds added on from hitting eight cones. Once I got my times on those runs, though, I retired that maneuver. The next two times, I went in slower and made it through cleanly. One other time when I put on too much speed? Buh-bye cones! Slid in, plowed right through the cones, caught it, and kept on going. I did not look to see if I have any (more) dings, either. I had to let that go the moment I decided to take out those cones. The awful smell that hit my nose right after worried me, but my co-pilot reassured me, “That’s just the smell of a cone, dragging.”

I got three different people behind the wheel of my car today, all really strong drivers, the kind of folks who love to hop into any car and who can suss it all out and kick ass in it in very short order. In autocross terms, I think it’s amazing to see folks do this. No test & tune, no lap after lap slowly getting acquainted. Hop in, move to the start, and GO! They all knew about that damned feature and my struggles there. And you know I was paying attention right there each time when I rode along.

ax-course-03-29-09I’m going to get the map and include it in this note so you can see exactly what I’m talking about because it’s hard to describe these things in words. But I will try! There was an offset slalom, followed by a super-tight 90 degree right-left box. The entry side for the slalom was optional. Since it was offset, there was definitely a “fast” and a “slow” way to go in. The fast way gave you a nearly straight-line through the slalom, but left you having to make a super tight turn at the end to get to the entry of the right-left box. The slow way required oceanic wallowing from side to side through the slalom, but left you with a nearly straight-in approach to the box.

In a nutshell, my problem was with steering input. I needed to be much, much quicker with my hands to keep up with the speed the car was capable of carrying through this feature, no matter which way I took the slalom. If I took the “hard work” way through the slalom, well, it was tremendously hard work in steering but the box was much more manageable. If I took the “fast” way through the slalom, I could not hold any speed through the turn into the box and had to slow waaaay down to get a clean run. Either way, I just. could. not. keep. up. Not with any speed, anyway. These features, in a car with power steering, would take just a flick-flick. In my car, it’s more like a heave-heave.

I guess the good news is that I can do things to fix this, and after talking with the more experienced drivers who both rode with me and who drove my car, I have a pretty good sense of what they are. The first thing is to get my mind waaaay out ahead of where I am and get my inputs way ahead in time from where they are now. As one of the guys who drove my car said, “If everybody else is two features ahead, with this car, you need to be four ahead.” It’s mostly a mind thing. There is also a touch of a strength component. I know from watching some well-muscled people handle my car that I can improve quickness in tight spots by being strong enough to really control the car with authority. Which I am just not right now. Not in those circumstances, anyway. I thought I was doing pretty well working out, but I am fairly certain that if I amp up my upper body workouts, I should reap some good benefits in handling my car. There are also a few small tweaks I could play with, such as front tire pressures, to ease up the front end a little.

I read a great little write-up you did last year on tips for driving 911s, in Grassroots Motorsports magazine I think, and I imagine reading my description, you would have plenty of helpful suggestions. Should you ever read this, feel free to chime in! I love that you are in the GT cars this year, much closer to my raw, primitive stock vintage 911 experience than the DP and other more racy race cars – in case we ever did end up talking cars and racing, the feel of the 911 will be right there in your mind, hands and feet.

So the driving was fun. It all goes by so fast once we get started, there’s hardly any time to think about anything except getting to the grid and getting in place to go. I felt sort of defeated as I was packing up, like I hadn’t really accomplished much of anything today. I felt so rusty, this being my first autocross of the season. I wish I could get a little practice in every day, or at least every week, but I don’t really have any opportunity for that. So…one step up from dead last. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that it was definitely time well-spent. If nothing else, it was really fun! These folks have all become good enough friends that even my most embarrassing moments hardly stung at all. They are a bunch of goofballs! At the beginning of one of my runs, as I sat at the start line, I heard the announcer, a 914 driver, say over the loudspeaker, “Start, please tell #41 that she has a massive coolant leak!”  With my full-face helmet on, all I heard was “#41” and “leak” and my heart skipped a beat until I realized he was playing a little joke on me. Harharhar air cooled cars don’t have coolant – very funny!

Funny was my near heart-attack thinking I was leaking something, which was the intention, of course. Some of the funnest parts of the day, in retrospect, were the smiles on the faces of the 20-somethings I tossed my car keys to. “You’re going to let me drive your Porsche? REALLY?” And the even bigger smiles after their runs. One of the guys was so tickled upon getting out of the car that he grabbed me up in a huge bear hug. And he is not known as a huggy kind of guy at all. In fact he’s the most curmudgeonly 23-year old I have ever met! I joke with him about being 85 going on 23. But he really loves these old 911s. And he’s a good driver who has plenty to teach me. Another of the guys, Mr. Muscles, sat there in the driver’s seat when we first got in and said, “God, I love this view…” “The view? Of the parking lot?” “No! The view across the front of your car, the shape of it, those headlights…I used to have one of these and I never realized how much I missed this view!” I love sharing!

It was damned cold and damned windy all day long. Of course, the sun came out as we were cleaning up the course. But the setting sun made for a beautiful hour-long westward drive home. As usually happens when I’m behind the wheel, I did not get the first picture today. There were several photographers around, though, so if anything gets posted online I’ll link it here. I’m such a ho for pictures of my car!

And I’m one tired woman. Time to walk the dogs, then it’s into the shower and jammies. I am hoping there’ll be another replay of today’s Australian GP on SpeedTV tonight, since I see I missed both the race early this morning, and the afternoon replay.  Off I go.



  • Edited to add – the results didn’t come out until Wednesday, when I found out that I came in 46th out of 55 overall, 49 out of 55 in PAX times. Still second to last in the novice class. But hey! 46 out of 55! I’ll take it.

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