Archive for November, 2009

Red Velvet Cake Makes You Drive Faster

Posted in Lessons, Me, The Car! The Car!, Track Days on November 29, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

I wanted so badly to write about the day last night, but I was exhausted! I got a METRIC TON of track time. Turns out, it was just what I needed!

The photo of the red velvet cake that I posted here in my last entry was also posted to my facebook page, and I got a comment back from one of my Honda friends saying simply, “I hear red velvet cake makes you drive faster!” This was the guy who’d told me about this track day, and I had plenty left, so I packed some up and brought it to the track to give him.

But first, I needed to get my plug wire situation worked out. Sadly, My Real Driving Coach did not make it out there as planned to do this before the event started. But my Honda buddies? Oh my heavens. They just jumped in there. The red velvet cake guy? He found the wire that needed replacing, and rigged up one of my new wires in place of that one. Turns out many braces and brackets have to come off the engine to replace the entire set and it’d have taken a good couple of hours. No time for that. Replacing this one clearly bad one (and rigging it into place with zip ties) fixed me right up. My Real Driving Coach showed up in time to go out with me for the first three sessions. He was not feeling well, though, and riding shotgun was not sitting well with him. He ended up leaving after about three sessions.

Again, my Honda buddies bailed me out. One of them, whom I’ve seen in the paddock at SCCA AX events, the plug wire fixing red velvet cake commenting one – turns out to be a licensed racer, and a Porsche nut. He used to race a 79 911, and has had his 86 944 since 86. Who knew? He loves my car, and insisted that he would be my instructor for the rest of the day. How completely awesome is this? Of course, it was a bit of a risk in both directions. But it turns out he is an incredible teacher.

I’m still having a hard time coming up with the words to put on the whole experience. It was mindblowingly incredibly good. Having run this track twice already this year and once last year, it turns out I actually know the line around there pretty well. I had gotten used to doing it mostly in 3rd gear. I was ready to step it up, and changing that is ultimately what was THE NEXT LEVEL for me. Learning how to use my engine’s power. Throttle steering. USING the back end’s tendency to step out to my advantage. Taking turn 1 with NO BRAKES and carrying more speed through there than I ever had, and doing it faster and faster each time. Pushing the limits until, one time, I pushed too hard and around came the back end by about 90 degrees. I reacted by doing the wrong thing, letting up too quickly, and started into a tank-slapper – and it all happened so fast – but I saved it, keeping all four wheels on the track the whole time. I still got in my share of pointing folks by!

But very best of all, I got a real feel for the WHOLE thing, a real sense of the rhythm of the whole and the balance of the car as it moves through the course and and different ways of placing the car on track and using the balance and and….

Really, can you believe it? I’m nearly speechless. My instructor insisted that I shaved 5 seconds off my time in the afternoon with two crucial changes in the last two sessions, and it really felt like I did. I know from looking at some of my onboard video that in the morning alone, I took about 4-5 seconds off my time from the first morning session to the last before lunch. So all in all, I may have cut about ten seconds off my time over the course of the day (about 1:32 to 1:22). We’re talking about a tiny road course, 1.4 miles, so the change was dramatic. Utterly thrilling. So gratifying.

Pat, I am telling you, on the drive home, I just wept. Endorphin rush and physical release and…I’m so serious – it was that completely intense on every level, and I was completely overcome, in a good way, I guess.

Sometimes it’s like this for me with something new. I trudge along with the basics, a little part clicks in here, another little part there, but overall I feel I’m progressing on a very slow incline. And just when I start to feel bogged down, BAM a big leap. It was like this for me playing the violin. And it’s been like that learning high performance driving. It’s not always so dramatic, but wow…just…WOW. I cannot wait to get out there again!

Here’s the feedback from my instructor:

You drove GREAT! Your lines were almost perfect from the start . I am guessing you cut 5 seconds off of your lap times from the beginning to the end. I must admit you surprised me most all of the day. Very good job.

Here’s a video that starts with early laps and finishes with laps from around midday:

TGPR 11-28 snipets for comparison from VroomGrrl on Vimeo.

So I guess what my buddy said is true: Red velvet cake makes you drive faster!


Now I have next weekend to look forward to: PCA party at Barber Museum Friday night, then straight from there to Atlanta in my 911 to work pit & grid for NASA at Road Atlanta (LOVE). The Sunday race is a charity run and last year they had 83 cars in a single charity race that was a total scream! Then Monday, it’s off to Franz Blam with my car to introduce them. In between, miles to travel for work and much, much to do.

Hope this finds you happy & well!

Finally living up to the name….



Posted in Track Days on November 27, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

I am winding down and a little late getting to bed, but I have everything ready to leave at 5:30 in the morning for my impromptu track day. This is so awesome I can hardly stand it – a first chance for me and My Real Driving Coach to spend a day together working at a track. It seems so simple, but unless one has buckets of money to do private rentals, it is really tough as a rank beginner to find opportunities to work with a coach if it’s not part of some kind of club-sponsored thing. And as was the case with the track day I brought My Real Driving Coach out to, they are really not set up for doing it that way. When I’m further along, I can buy in to group rentals and there will be many more opportunities. I should be signed off to drive solo early next season.

As excited as I am, that excitement is tempered by recurrance of the skipping in my engine. Gah! On Wednesday, I came home at lunch and switched cars so I could get the 911 out to My Real Driving Coach to get my brakes bled. That went fine, but oh my heavens, on the way there, the car just ran like utter and total CRAP. Skip skip skiiiiiip. Not good. Not good at all. JB got in there and looked around, and it was another plug wire sparking and arcing in the engine. Dammit. This is the third one to crap out, or they may all be crapped out and they are each revealed as we replace them one by one. So when I got back to work, I got online and ordered a complete OEM wireset, and got next-day delivery to get it here by Friday. It arrived today as planned, and fingers crossed, JB will be able to deal with this in the morning.

It’s a 90 minute drive to the track, and I’m just going to take it easy and hopefully there will be no issues replacing the wires trackside in the morning. JB knows to bring tools to supplement my non-mechanic’s collection of bare essentials. We talked about it tonight, and I am braced for the worst but hoping for the best. If the wires go in OK and solve the skipping problem, off I’ll go on a super fun track day. If there are any issues getting the wires changed out, or if the wire change doesn’t solve the problem, that will be the end of my track day. My motto is that I do not want to kill my car, and I don’t need to be running it in a track setting if the engine is skipping. Just not smart. As I said, hoping for the best.

Oh, yeah, Thanksgiving was great! The Red Velvet Cake came out really well. The turkey was pretty spectacular for a turkey, beautifully browned skin and super moist, even as leftovers. Best of all was having my sister and her three kids here to share a few days with me. I’m glad we are continuing the tradition of Thanksgiving at Aunt VroomGrrl’s! Sadly, because of the skipping issue, I decided not to take the car out with the kids for another driving lesson. Maybe next year. Anyway it was just a great couple of days. It’s been a whirlwind with the keeping everybody fed and comfy, then cleaning up after the kid-cyclone once they were on the way back home, then we had the Crimson Tide football game to watch. . During that time, I used the last of the daylight to get my car prepped and packed up. Soon as the game was over, it was off to see some friends in from out of town, then back home and here I am and I better get to bed or I’ll never get up in the morning

Happy Turkey to you and yours! Wish me luck getting my car going in the morning!

Fingers crossed,

When Opportunity Knocks

Posted in Track Days on November 24, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hiya Pat,

Just when I thought I was done for the year, I got an email about an open track day at Little Tally – this Saturday. I absolutely cannot “afford” it. My husband is still unemployed (he’s found a job but his start date is iffy) and it’s been tight. But I have my priorities! I worked it out to bring My Real Driving Coach with me at no extra cost and he’s available and voila! SEAT TIME! Now I just have to get my brakes bled and I’m good to go. My Real Driving Coach may be able to help me with that as well. I wish I could pay him what he’s worth, but he’s offering a really low rate for a day of coaching and I appreciate the break – it’s going to be awesome! Of course if he can do my brakes I’ll be sure to compensate him for that as well. Seat time! Seat time! Woot!

And the good news is, even if My Real Driving Coach ends up not being able to make it, I know a whole bunch of awesome drivers who will be there, and they have assured me I will not lack for company in the car if I let them know. My Real Driving Coach allowed as how he is really glad for a chance to generate some extra holiday cash, so odds are it’ll work out as planned. I was kind of hesitant to tell my husband what I wanted to do, but I just laid it out there, and he was fine with it. There should be plenty of college football on Saturday to keep him amused. And it’s the cheapest track time around, so that’s good.

As I type, it’s Tuesday night and I have to work all day tomorrow and then my sister and her kids arrive after I get home from work tomorrow night and then we cook, cook, cook and then we get up at 5 and put in the turkey and come 11:00, it’ll be turkey time. I’ve spent a good bit of time getting everything ready, shopping, cleaning, food prep. I’ve made up a couple of dishes which will finish cooking on Thanksgiving Day. Squash casserole is underway right now. My niece asked if I’d teach her how to bake a Red Velvet cake from scratch, and I am all about sharing the kitchen love. So we will be up late Wednesday night doing that.

Well I just stopped in to report on my track day this Saturday. I am psyched for the opportunity to get out there. Yaaaaay!

Hope you have a fantastic Thanksgiving wherever you are!

Had I Been Paying Attention

Posted in Pat's Races on November 22, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hey Pat,

Had I been paying attention, I’d have noticed your post over a week ago about the Central American GT Championship race you ran in Costa Rica – and won pretty spectacularly, along with setting a track record, then shattering your own record. Way to make a first impression! Ha! OK well I have no idea what I’m talking about – I don’t know if you’ve done that race before or anything like that. But wow! Looks like there is very little “off season” for you. I will have to keep an eye and ear out.

Speaking of not having any idea what I’m talking about, I will be very curious to see what you end up driving in the 24 heures du Mans this year. I saw that the first round of invitations went out last week to all the championship winners in various series and classes. Your ALMS championship with Joerg gets you a seat that way, but I know from last year that you have all kinds of partnerships with all kinds of teams and drivers and organizations. I’ll just have to wait and see what you’re up to.

And speaking of alliances, Kevin Buckler has dropped your name a couple of times recently. He’s putting together quite a stable of cars for the coming year, and I think I read that his bunch, TRG, is running five cars in the Rolex series (!?!) along with a NASCAR entry and lord knows what-all else. I just cannot keep up with this stuff. One thing I can say for sure is that you keep it very interesting and I can’t wait to see what you put together. I’ll be watching!

The coming weeks are starting to look a little nuts for me. We’ll have family to our new place for Thanksgiving. Then I’ll be going to a party with PCA at Barber on Friday 12/5, then leaving straight from there for Atlanta for that Saturday and Sunday to work pit & grid for a big weekend of NASA races. I’ll stay over Monday and help my mom take care of some business in the morning. And if I have the 911, I’ll swing by to introduce my car to Franz before I head back home. Thomas will be in California that week, probably doing Lizardy things.

After that, all bets are off. I’m trying to put together my own off-season plan. Sadly, it looks like my doggone j-o-b is going to get in my way. Instead of getting quieter as folks would expect, my work schedule tends to go totally insane through the holidays. I’ll have to stay close to home. I keep threatening to do this, but I think perhaps a program of racing simulator work would do me some good. I just do not have access to real seat time in the off-season. We shall see – stay tuned!

Happy Turkey, Happy Everything!


Posted in Autocross, Lessons on November 18, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hey Pat,

This is totally cheating I guess. But I wrote a race report in an email, and it says all I want to say. Except my actual times: 57.266, 55.166, 54.715 (all clean runs). Perhaps I should call this one “Letters to My Imaginary Driving Coach’s Chief Strategist,” if you get my meaning. So! Here’s the note I sent him –

Dear Thomas,

I know you have been on pins and needles about how my autocross went on Sunday. Ha! I came in last in my class (OK ahead of a DNS and a guy who got all DNFs), and I was about third from the bottom in raw times. So that’s the bad news.

But the good news, as already reported – I started out WAY ahead of where I usually do. Usually my first run has been anywhere from (average – four prior events). My first run at this event was a! My fastest run ended up being a which I did during the non-points fun runs after the 3 points runs; the guy who got FTD ran a so yeah I have a long way to go.

I will sound like a crazy fan girl saying this, but I really took to heart what I read from you & Pat Long about preparation in the weeks leading up to this event. I had seen some neat interviews with Pat that I’d not seen before, and there was some great stuff in there. And you know I soaked up the article about YOU in Panorama. And I realized that I was not taking it all as seriously as I could. I was not “showing up to win,” and was in a kind of self-fulfilling-prophecy mode there, I think. I had super low expectations for myself. So…I changed my mind. As unlikely as it would be that I would “WIN,” I showed up to “win” for me – to do my very very very bestest best.

I read about all the data-gathering you do, and I also thought about the winners at my autocross events and what THEY do to prepare. I decided to emulate them. So I started my prep much earlier this time. I showed up super early to help lay out the course, a great and totally legal/ethical way to soak up info about the day’s course. Then I made sure to do three course walks, and I came up with a few little cues for myself at crucial points to remind me where I needed to be/point, etc. I worked hard to get into the right headspace leading up to my first stint at the start line – instead of running around hugging people, I sat in my car, got completely centered, and thought about what I was doing. When it was time for me to launch, I felt really ready in every way. This was new!

When I saw that coming off my first run, it didn’t even occur to me that this could be MY time, I assumed the clock had not turned over to my time yet, since I was expecting my “usual” for the first run. As “ready to win” as I thought I was, I did not even consider that this was my time. But I went to the timing station and it WAS my time. It sounds silly and petty but it felt like a big breakthrough to start out where I usually end up!

This will sound even crazier, but I realize that I get overly distracted with the course details, and lose sight of the “GO AS FAST AS YOU CAN” part. It’s a race, you think I would remember that! It is only ONE MINUTE that I have to maintain that focus, and even in that one single little minute, I am all over the place. I got on-board video of one of my runs, and it seems soooo slow. Until I am headed thru the last slalom to the finish. I asked myself, “Why didn’t I attack the whole course like I attacked that finish line???” I have my work cut out for me next year.

Here’s video of one of my runs:

Have a great Thanksgiving!


The (wo)Man with the Plan

Posted in Uncategorized on November 16, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

Well yesterday was completely awesome! I have much more to say about it all (you’re shocked, I know!) but let me just say this:

I ran five of ten events this season including this one. My average first run time for the first four events was, with a range of 60 to 96.

My first run yesterday?!

I drove by the timing clock and saw that and was sure it was the previous driver’s time. I’ve never broken 60 on my first run. But there you are!

And I feel really certain that the difference was in my approach. When it came time to leave the start line on that first run, I was readier than I’ve ever been, confident in my car, and confident in my plan of attack for the course. It seems to have paid off!

Now, my placement in my class is still up in the air. I hope to see the final results tonight, and I’ll be back with more to say about the whole thing. I just could not resist putting something here.

Planning to do more planning,

Showing Up to Win

Posted in Autocross on November 15, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

I am winding down before hitting the sack. Tomorrow I’m up early and out to the autocross course. I am so excited!

The topic of my last note has stayed with me. What does it take for me to believe I’m prepared? I confess, in thinking about this, I realize I have not taken the whole endeavor all that seriously. For all my talk, I just…have not. Not like the people who show up to win. Mind you, I’m defining winning in relative terms. If I actually took FTD tomorrow, nobody would be more shocked than I would! But preparing to do my very, very, absolute better-than-ever-before-best, I have not really approached it mindful of that goal. With my increased comfort level with the whole scene, I think I’ve gotten a little complacent.

So preparing like I’m showing up to win looks more like what I did today. I spent a good damned long time devoted exclusively to getting ready. I don’t have a crew or any support people. That’s fine. I just have to plan my time so that I can get it all covered. Easily done, really. So I went out to gas up the car, and got my car’s engine and tires properly warmed up. Teched the car. Checked tire pressures. I had a plan for this, and I got my pressures set. Cleaned all the glass inside and out.

Then I took a couple of hours getting all my schtuff together, paring down to what I really need, and getting all that packed. I went ahead and loaded everything into the car. After a four-hour intermission during which we watched the Alabama Crimson Tide spank Mississippi State, I got my race day clothes together, set my alarm clock, and started the wind-down. No staying up late tonight. Bedtime’s in 15. I have my quick, nutritious breakfast ready to go. I do need to make one stop on the way to get some cash (charity runs after lunch). Then I’m off. And I’m taking the hilly back-road route. I want to get there around seven, so I’ll leave here around 6:30 and take the long way, warm up enough to run through my rev-range and my gears and get them going.

I’m planning to get there just after the gates open. I may help in course set-up, the A-1 best way to get a heads-up on the course layout. Totally legal and ethical! Why not take advantage of that? I’m going to make sure I have time for a minimum of two course walks after that. This is when I will make my final plan for driving the course. Then depending how the schedule is set up, I will be taking my car around the loop road if she has had to sit awhile, and I will make sure she is 100% warmed up, not just the temperature gauge which indicates engine temp at the sensor, but my actual transmission and my tires.

At some point before the first runs, my husband is supposed to show up. He’s never come to an autocross, and I hope he’ll enjoy it. It should be a beautiful day. It’ll be nice to have another pair of hands, and I hope he’ll want to hop a ride with me or somebody else.

Having him there will make me want to be all social and introduce him around. But I’ll have to watch the time. Before I go to the grid, I’m going to run through my plan in my head. I’m going to launch like blazes and remember that the point of this thing is to get from point a to b to c to d to e as damned quickly as possible. This is going to sound like the stupidest thing I have ever said, and I fear what I am revealing about myself by admitting it, but I find that in the moment, on the track, I really do need to keep my mind focused on the “get there as fast as you can” part of this thing. It’s not that I drive like I’m out to look at the leaves or anything. I think I get caught up on the trees and forget the forest. I get caught up in this cone to that cone and whoooooa that was close and you know, there’s no room for that.

I mean, literally, there is no time for that. The whole thing goes by in ONE MINUTE. To do the gajillion complex things that have to be done in that one minute in order to be competitive requires a mastery of the basics so that the mind is free to make the many minute adjustments called for, and to remember the places here and there where adjustments or approaches can be tweaked to shave off a few more hundredths or thousandths of seconds on the next run. That very last part is how winners are made in an autocross competition, I think.

This all seems so boringly elementary. Figures I’d figure this out on the last event of the season, huh? Well that’s OK. Whatever it takes. My novice season ends tomorrow, and next season I’ll be running with the big boys and girls. Speaking of tomorrow, my fifteen minutes is up! Oh one last thing, when I had my car out today, I noticed that it was running better than it has ever ever run. It’s going to be a great day!

Ready to Vroooom!