Missing Organs

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!



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