Archive for June, 2009

Photos from Last Week at Barber

Posted in Me, Track Days, Uncategorized on June 26, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Dear Pat,

My friend Lori is a corner worker-turned-photographer. She was out at Barber last weekend, and she got some nice shots of me in my #41. Once I get them on CD from her I can post them myself, but they’re available for viewing now if you CLICK HERE.

No car stuff this weekend. Much as I miss it, especially my NASA-SE friends whom I am hardly seeing at all this season, this weekend will be devoted to unpacking and setting up the house. Especially since I spent our first weekend in the house at Barber! We couldn’t really get unpacked last weekend anyway. I had to get some helpers out here to get some big things moved from upstairs to down, and front porch to back, and we didn’t get that finished until today. First thing tomorrow, I’m heading out to Sam’s to pick up the commercial kitchen shelving and cabinet I’m setting up in the mudroom behind the teeny tiny wee kitchen. I can get the heavy boxes loaded into the SUV at Sam’s, and I’ve lined up help to get the boxes into the house in the morning.

Then I’ll have to put them together. Wish me luck on that! And also with getting the massive mountain of boxed-up kitchen stuff all crammed into the new storage space. Whee! Wild times! Ha!

We are finally settling in. My poor 911 hasn’t even been started since last Monday when I moved it in the driveway. I think I am going to get a pop-up garage as a temporary solution for the 911, by the way. It’ll be awhile before I can turn the under-deck space into a proper carport, and the interior of the car is in such good shape, I don’t want to leave it baking in the sun and mess that up. Parking under the deck is not the best solution right now either. Unless I modify the pop-up to fit under the deck, which is not a bad idea, actually. We shall see!

Meanwhile I’m still flying high from last weekend at Barber. It was such a positive experience. I learned so, so much and enjoyed it so thoroughly. As totally involving as driving is, it is the perfect balance for all the big pulls in life from other things. And I made a bunch of great new friends and spent some good time with old ones. I’m eager as hell to get out and do some focused work on braking now. I’m going to stay on JB about it and hopefully within the next few weeks we’ll eek out a few hours to devote to that.

I’m enjoying the new set-up out here on the back deck under the gazebo. The dogs are at my feet, finally settling into their new hangouts, too.

Life is good!
VroomGrrl

Missing Organs

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Heya Pat,

I had actually drafted a note to you during Le Mans – I was watching your progress best I could – but it’s kind of old news now. You are always so positive, even when things look gloomy. You did say it was a bit of a bummer, and of course it was, all that hard work on everybody’s part, only to be cut short by a failed gearbox. I am more like you in that regard than not. I mean, the only thing that comes from being miserable is…being miserable. Might as well put that away and look ahead. I’m excited about the rest of the season. Now the Vettes are going to come on board, and we’re all wondering what things will look like then!

Today was another gorgeous, if stiflingly hot day. I was up and out early. I had a 7:30 driver’s meeting, and then my run group was up first. Then again in the last slot before lunch. Again, I made some really good progress on the track. For part of the time, we focused on the hairpin. I’ve been taught variations of the same line through there by three different instructors. This guy’s line was by far the most extreme. He had me go way, way deep before braking or even thinking about turning. This made the actual turn as extreme as I’ve ever done it there, and I had to find a good way to move quickly and smoothly with my hands. I’ve gone back to planted-hands (from trying some shuffle steering) but there are times when too much turn is required for that alone to do the job.

I found my way with my hands and settled into a good technique, but let’s be real. That was the least of my problems! My instructor was of the “either on the gas, or on the brake, PERIOD, no in-between” school of thought. The hairpin comes at the end of one of the longest straights, so it’s possible to have some good speed on, and it only increases as the road dives down a bit. So what this guy wanted me to be doing was to be full-out on the throttle right up to a very late braking point – much later than I was accustomed to. I just could not make myself do it at first. I granny-braked my way to what felt like a near stop a couple of times. It felt awful! Eventually I got up the nerve to go for it. My brakes are good, my car is solid, and the worst thing that can happen if I don’t get slowed enough is I’ll go off where there’s lots of run-off before a nice big gravel pit. Obviously, a popular place to go off.

So there I am, foot to the floor on the gas, my instructor in my ear intoning, “Wait. Wait. STAY IN IT, DO NOT LIFT…gogogogogo!..brake! turn!” Of course, my best one was on what turned out to be my final lap. I nailed it one good time, and it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life. Just…wow. Staying in the gas like that – I had to get beyond the point of my head trying to explode. It reminded me of my ride with a racer friend at Road Atlanta last year, approaching the Turn 10 complex, with the bit of downhill at the end of a long, fast straightaway, then the 90-degree 10a and 10b turns. I could not get my head around the fact that we were absolutely going to make that turn just fine. Until we did it.

It was totally thrilling, but also, still, so scary for me. As I took off down the next straightaway, I said, “OK, apparently that requires a set of organs which I do not currently possess!” He laughed, “YES YOU DO! You did it! That was perfect! Awesome!” How I wish I could have done several more laps right then!


So I’ve got my work cut out for me. It’ll be at least another couple of DE weekends in the novice group before I’m signed off to drive solo at Barber, a question I had not even thought about asking until today, prompted by a look at the evaluation sheet I had to give the instructor from my packet. I am making progress, slowly, but I’m getting there. I am so grateful to have been paired with an instructor who was absolutely perfect for where I started this weekend. I got lots of positive feedback from friends and strangers.

I was one of two women in my group, so we tend to be conspicuous. I’ve learned to enjoy that. People remember me, and my sweet car. They look for me on track. I still didn’t pass a single car, but I was somewhat gratified to learn that several people in my group had the exact same experience. I held my own against a couple of faster cars for long stretches of time. My instructor keyed in to my competitive side, and had me chasing cars, or getting away from cars behind as they appeared in the distance behind me. I actually had a couple of cars who stayed behind me for most of the session, and I managed to put some pretty good gaps between us, both bigger-engined cars. This is a big part of what I have been missing to move ahead. I have approached it as “learning to drive” as opposed to “learning to race.” I said I didn’t want to be “a racer.” I have never called my car a “race car.”

But that’s what this is at its essence. Competing, especially with better drivers, brings me up. I know this from everything else I’ve done. Why wouldn’t it hold true in competitive driving? It’s supposed to be competitive! I had decided before this weekend that I was going to approach it like I was not just learning high performance driving, but learning to race. Because that’s how I’m going to learn to drive competitively. Of course, they intone in these events, “This is not a race!” And it’s not. But…you know! Sure, I can make my way around the track all la-di-da, hitting my marks and executing things very nicely. But there’s more to it than that. That really is just the beginning. There’s the getting faster, and chasing and being chased makes me faster.

What an awesome weekend! I am really looking forward to getting out there again. My Real Driving Coach swears we are going to get some track time in at Little ‘Dega, and I would really enjoy that. I’ve learned so much since my last time out with him, and I would love the opportunity to work with him on some basics. I really want to get much more confident about braking. If I’m sure I can slow myself down in time, I might actually pick up my speed, ya think?? It’s all me. Not the car, not the track, it’s me and my confidence level. It’s a huge challenge for me, and so damned much fun.

I think you have the best job in the world!

Well it’s late once again. I took a long nap when I got home this afternoon, but I had lots to do around the house to prepare for some work being done here tomorrow while we’re at work. The dogs were restless, so I brought my laptop outside and I’m sitting at the table we moved out here under the gazebo we put together a few days ago. I’ve been tapping away while the dogs enjoy a late-night romp in the yard. It’s been so damned hot, we can’t leave them out long during the day. It’s just now getting down into the 70’s, really lovely. And time for bed!

Sincerely,
VroomGrrl

Tanked Up

Posted in Me, Track Days on June 20, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat!

Well first of all, I totally missed your Blackberrying during Le Mans! What the hell kind of sorry-ass fan am I, I ask you?? I even have a nice link to the PCA site where you updated over the weekend. I mean, really. Wow. I’ve caught up now, you’ll be glad to know. Hee!

Not much time to write, but I wanted to check in. Friday, we finally closed on the purchase of our new home. We’ve been living here since last Wednesday, but haven’t really been able to make the place ours. We are up to our ears in boxes, and will be for a while yet, as we have some closet interior and other shelving and storage-type solutions we need to put in place before it makes any sense at all to unpack most of our clothes, books, and the kitchen. Which is in a mountain of boxes in my dining room. The living room is full of unpacked art and other large things. Enough of that – suffice it to say: chaos.

Then this past Monday night, I found myself fending off an intruder. My husband was upstairs asleep, I was moving things into the house from the car, and an unsavory punk from the neighborhood thought he’d help himself into my house, I guess. I was right at the door, pushed him out, threw the lock, woke my husband, called the police. They kind of blew us off. Thought just my cell phone was stolen. We found out the next morning that my car was also taken – the guy had gotten my keys. My Honda, not my 911! (everybody asks me that first thing). He left the car down the street, unharmed, but stole a bunch of crap out of the back that I’d not yet gotten into the house. Except! He didn’t take any of my Porsche spares I was hauling around back there. Nor my Porsche window glass. Thank you, robber! I guess. I had to get my ignition rekeyed, but rekeying the doors is so costly I think I’m going to put in a car alarm instead. For now all the cars are locked in back of the house.

Anyway!

None of that is any fun at all (except the closing on the house part, YAY!). Perhaps against my better judgment, on the first weekend I could really start to get unpacked and moved in, I was up early this morning and off to Barber Motorsports Park for a DE weekend with PCA. I had managed to take a few minutes each day of the past week and watch some track videos, kind of put a little effort into getting my head in a good space, remind myself about where I left off and think about what I want to accomplish this weekend – plus just basic refamiliarization with the turns, flag stations, basics. It was time well-spent.

Today was the most awesome day on the track for me! I am not blaming any of my instructors for any previous lack of progress or real mastery. But I am going to give some serious credit to my instructor today for helping me really make some incredible progress. It helped a lot that the novice run-group is really a novice group. First session was a mother-duck run, 1 mother to 3 ducks. Plus we had our instructors in the car. No helmets required, which was awesome, because my instructor had no chatterbox. Discovery Parts, one of my favorite vendors, was trackside for the weekend, and Ron set me up with charged chatterbox and headsets after that first session. I was ready to go for the rest of the day. The mother-duck deal was a good little confidence builder for me. I liked feeling like I was keeping up. It was a nice way to ease into the day.

I don’t know what to say except this intructor loved my car, took a shine to me, and was just an incredibly positive, encouraging guy. He asked me about my experience so far, and I think I set his expectations pretty low. At the suggestion of my last instructor (the NASA weekend), I told this guy first thing about my spatial processing issues. After the first three turns on the first run, though, he said, “Girl, you know this track.” “I tend to forget parts at times, though, maybe I’ve got it all at the same time, but maybe I will just forget where I am for a second. It’s hard to describe. If it happens, you’ll know.” He said later he was glad I explained this to him, because it happened, and he knew. I confused the second set of kinks for the first and got waaay off my line. All I had to say was, “Oops, wrong kinks!” and he knew what I was talking about.

But most of the time, I really did have the basic line down. He made several big tweaks. His approach to the back turns leading into the front straight was way different from any way I’d done that before. And the line he had me take into the hairpin was downright scary to me. But as I got more and more comfortable, I was able to hold off braking until he wanted me to. The things I have to do to get my car around that thing require some pretty intense input, smooth, but superfirm in my old car, and the end result of doing it “right” per this guy’s line made me feel like I was kind of throwing the car around.

Which is kind of the point! I mean, when I ride with others at speed, that’s what it is. It’s very intense, physically. It’s not a ride in the park. It’s some intense work. Maybe it will all feel like a walk in the park someday, but as I learn it and get used to the sensations of it all at greater speeds, it really challenges me on every level.

AND I LOVE IT SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH! I have never had so much fun in my life as I had today, really getting to the point that I could work on some isolated elements and get them spot-on by day’s end. And amazingly, the section that troubled me so much back in March, the two sets of kinks in the back? That one brain-fart aside, I really had all of that down. Staying in the throttle, even! The more comfortable I got with increased speed, the more fun I had zipping through there. I think I may like it so well now because it’s hard-won, and because the inputs required are extreeeemely subtle – very close margin through there, especially with speed. It’s not particularly dangerous, not much to run into most of the time, but the right line through there feels great, and the wrong line through there is treacherous. I love getting it right.

The best part of today was that I was able to find a car that was close to my speed, and stick with it for all of my last session. I didn’t pass anybody, but by the end of the day, my instructor was all, “floor it! if you get up on him coming out of here and put on some speed out of that turn, you’ll get around him!” It never happened – I was overpowered in the straights. But for the first time, today I found myself having to really slow up for other cars in the turns. If we were competing, this is where my light, tight little rear-engined flat-six would catch them, sneaking around them in the turns. But we were not competing, and no passing was allowed in the turns, so pretty often today, I had to slow up behind other cars whom I was actually faster than in the turns. And because I really wanted to work on my game in those turns, with my instructor’s OK, I laid back and let us get some track between us so I could work on my later braking and later apexing without running up on my classmates.

I only had three sessions total today, one early morning, one late morning, one mid-afternoon. I spent every off-track minute focusing on keeping my physical self well taken care-of. It was a damned brutal scorcher of a day and my gastric bypass surgery has left me struggling to stay well-hydrated on a good day. Extreme heat is a major challenge for me. I have to be so, so careful on a day like today in such extreme conditions. Actually, the title of this entry describes what I spent the entire previous week doing – staying tanked up on fluids. I think I doubled my fluid intake overall in the three days prior to the weekend. And today, I did OK, but I was pretty wrecked by the end of my last session. I had been in the AC from 11:30 until 2:30, and was out on the track 2:40 to 3:00, and that twenty minutes erased every bit of recovery I thought I had made in the cool. I had to go back and cool down another entire hour before I felt solid enough to drive myself home. So I have already made the decision that I will only drive the two morning sessions tomorrow, bagging the afternoon. I learned today that it just takes way too much out of me. I will be doing well to recover enough from today to be in good shape for the morning.

Speaking of which, I better get going!

Oops OK one more thing. No 2 things. First, I was by myself, and couldn’t find anybody I knew when I got there this morning. I hate it when that happens. I set up on one place, and then I had to move and by that time, I did see a familiar face, and it was one of the guys from the “secret team” I was inducted into at the last PCA DE. He and his buddies had three big tents, a generator, and a huge fan. Somebody had a gasoline-powered blender they kept full of virgin frozen margarita mix all day. This rag-tag bunch actually included my instructor from my last PCA DE, and I enjoyed getting to visit socially with him and his girlfriend. Being part of a bigger group really helped me take care of myself and to feel taken care of and looked after. Driving really is a team sport. Or at least, I prefer the team approach.

The other thing – just as I was getting set up with my buddies, a truck pulled up and out hopped My Real Driving Coach, JB! I had not talked to him in over a month. And not for lack of my trying to be in touch with him, I will add! But I did get busy the last two weeks and I hadn’t called or emailed him at all. And there he was! He was in a great place and told me briefly what he’s been up to at work. You actually know this guy from PSDS. I had joked with him that I was going to drop his name at the gate and crash the June Legends class – but as we know, that has been moved to October. He’s got a book by Vic Elford that I found online that he’s going to have autographed for me. And I haven’t seen the roster, but I have a feeling you’ll be among the Legends in October, right?

OK. Must go. Bedtime, then I want to be on and ready for the morning. I can’t wait to get back out!

Working at living up to my nickname,
VroomGrrl

Winning

Posted in Me, Pat's Races on June 4, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

I see some of your new articles are out – and now I know that you’re in Europe, perhaps in France by now. Je ne parle pas français bien. Mais je l’ai étudié pendant dix années.

Cessez de rire!

Well that was fun. I can use your time in France as an excuse to practice my sorry French!

Hey, thanks for explaining how it works with all the team-swapping, at Le Mans and otherwise. It makes sense, of course. And I can see how that element would keep things fun and interesting for you all. You are a wonderful ambassador to represent the USA on a quintessentially French team. They love you! And you love them. That’s good for us all, especially with that other element out there that seeks to foment strain between the US and France by focusing on the worst things about each country in relation to the other.

Me on a bridge in Brugges, Belgium, c. 1985

Me on a bridge in Brugges, Belgium, c. 1985

Most of the time, I feel like I’m about twenty years old. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. In my early twenties, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe as part of a big musical group made up of my college’s music students and staff. It was our big European tour, and it was awesome! We spent two weeks traveling through France, Belgium, and Holland, playing concerts in beautiful churches and concert halls in different small and large towns and cities each day. When I was your age…hahaha!

It was great. It was on this trip that I met some of my cousins for the first and only time, the children of my father’s sister, who left Beirut to live in Paris with her French husband. I have fond memories of my cousin, about 25 himself, in his ancient Citroen, driving me in mad circles around le Place d’Etoile with the sunroof open and Genesis blaring on the stereo.

Wow was that a great trip. I’ve been to England a couple of times since then, but never back to France. I have another cousin who’s just moved to a new horse farm way out in the French countryside…somewhere. He just friended me on Facebook so now I can figure out where he is and stay in touch. It’s good to have family all over the world!

In your PCA Raceblog, you talked about winning:

Winning is what drives me to crave being at the track week in and week out. As soon as the quest and the high of victory are gone, I think it’ll be time to start golfing!

Yeah, I don’t see that ever happening either! Now, having never won a thing in my car, there’s a way in which I can’t relate to you on this point at all. But in another way, it depends how you define “winning.” I’m such a beginner that I’m not even qualified to enter a race, you know? So what is winning for me? At this point, I think it’s showing up and getting out there in my car, and just not quitting. I confess, there have been times when I’ve thought I should just go back to working and leave the driving to the “professionals.” I am so far from really getting it that it’s hard to imagine kicking some serious ass in a race, or even just getting competitive lap times in, say, time trials.

But I trust myself, I trust my car, I trust those encouraging me, and I trust the process. If I want it, and if I stay in it, I will get it. I trust that.

So yeah, listen, I do get you about winning. And it’s people like me who crave it and yet are miles from even being able to think about winning something like Le Mans, it’s people like me who become whack-job fans to people like YOU. Ha! I’m going to be devouring everything I can find about the race, the Porsches in particular, and I’m going to enjoy the hell out of your performance, and if we are lucky, your antics. Man, I think they should put a video camera in your hands and set you loose for a “Behind the Scenes” feature every year! I hope you have something like that planned, along with your Blackberrying.

We’re still on pins and needles waiting for a closing date on the new house. With any luck, we’ll be in there this time next week. In the meantime, I’m planning to drive my club’s autocross this Sunday. Woo! I haven’t seen these folks in months. It’ll be a good time. Hot, but good.

I finally found a photo of your #45 Lizardmobile to morph into a title graphic. I liked the other photo infinitely more, but it wasn’t your car. So I like this one better for a header. I have the other photo as the wallpaper on my computer screen. Geek! Interestingly, visits to this site seem to have flatlined. I have no clue who the five people are who’ve been checking in here somewhat regularly, but for the past six days, not a single visit from anybody, anywhere. Not that I pay attention to such things. Hee!

Au revoir!
VroomGrrl

Humbled

Posted in Me, Track Days on June 1, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

Well the weekend was absolutely fantastic. I love everything about motorsports, the sounds and smells, all the different cars. Will I ever not get that little thrill when I approach the track and see it all festooned in flags, campers and tents everywhere, the paddock brimming with cars and trailers and drivers? Even after a year of working and driving these events, I get chills when I get my first glimpse.

The three clubs I’m active in have all brought me countless new friendships. But this club was my first, and they have become like family to me. I got so much support and encouragement from every one of them through the weekend, it was totally awesome. Even the “hazing” for my first time out as a worker-turned-driver. While it took some explaining to my instructor (in particular, the maniacal waving coming from my buddy at the black flag station that one time!), all the joking and ribbing just added to the fun for me. I love a good joke, and there were jokes a-plenty, from the black flag antics to the grid workers all running over and falling on their knees in front of my car the first time I pulled onto the grid – with our unofficial Pope Gridmonkey giving me his special blessing. Hee!

I had four twenty-minute track sessions scheduled for each day. Saturday, I was a bit rattled by all the traffic in the afternoon sessions, and I missed the last one thanks to that ride-along that made me so car-sick. Sunday, I was fresh and ready to go. From the moment I set my wheels on the track, I was after it in a very different way. I guess it took me all of Saturday to get my head back into it. Not surprising, really. I’m somewhat disappointed at how little I retained from my previous work on basics like braking and steering. I felt like I was totally starting over. And that was so, so humbling. I’m used to being the quick one in the class! The shining star! But here, I’m at the back of the class. Again.

Still, I had never really had to deal with traffic as challenging as what I encountered this weekend, and I learned so, so much from that. While it rattled me on Saturday, I was ready on Sunday. I gave point-bys on the straights, but did so while maintaining my driving line much more confidently. On Saturday, I hated knowing I was holding some of the cars up when I couldn’t let them all by, and I really let that distract me. But there’s no time for that shit! Sunday? Tough luck, my friends. You’ll have to wait, I’m braking and taking this turn and you’ll get around me on the next straight. When I did end up off-line in some of the passing zones, I quickly worked my way back in. A couple of my friends lapped me more than once. But I got great feedback on Sunday from many of them who noticed that I was handling things very differently than I had on Saturday.

My instructor was so great. He just rolled with it. He was clearly not expecting such a beginnery beginner! He told me he got carsick as a passenger, and that was his biggest challenge when he wanted to get into instructing. However, I did not go fast enough or get my car rolling enough to affect him in the slightest. Therefore, I told him that my new goal was to make him carsick! He even promised to ride with me every now and again to guage my progress toward that goal. He was brutally honest in his evaluation at the end of the weekend, which I appreciate in the extreme. He was not the slightest bit unkind. His attention to each of the evaluation elements was a real gift to me, as was the time and care he took in going over every bit of it with me.

Hopefully I will get out to my SCCA club’s autocross this Sunday. And I signed up today for another DE weekend with PCA for June 20-21. I wish I could get out every week! But I’m going to aim for monthly, which will beat the hell out of what I’ve managed so far. I am confident that I can be a decent driver. It’s not coming easy, but nothing worthwhile does, does it? And I’m having so, so much fun along the way.

I will get there.

Bye for now,
VroomGrrl