Archive for the Autocross Category

After the Crash

Posted in Autocross, Lessons, Me, Track Days on December 4, 2011 by vroomgrrl

The following was originally written on December 4, 2011, but not posted until today, August 11, 2012.

Dear Pat,

Once again I’m apologizing for taking so long to post you a note! You’ll understand, I’m sure. My last note was written on the eve of Petit le Mans, which I had to miss for the first time EVER this year. I did keep up by whatever coverage I could attain (TV, ESPN3) and wow, once again you guys drove like demons possessed to your 2nd place finish.

In the bigger picture, that was one of your team’s three podiums for the year, if memory serves. Fourth in points for the championship. I followed your various updates over the season, and while it was rough for everybody’s exemplary efforts not to be rewarded with more podium finishes and points standings, your resilience was inspiring. Because while your ALMS season was rough, you were doing so many other things. In many cases, your exemplary efforts yielded the pinnacle of results, such as your World Challenge Championship. This is what I was thinking about in my last post, “How You Look at It.”

My driving year was very up and down as well. My one accomplishment, and for me, it’s huge, was to be signed off to drive solo at Barber. Due to various intervening factors, like car problems, and health issues, my novice season stretched from late 2008 until Spring 2011! To be quite honest, taking up competitive driving for the first time at the age of 50, I really needed all of that novice time to get good habits truly engrained. I didn’t grow up throwing karts around, or piloting a scooter. Yeah, I had a bike, and a car when I was 16, but soccer and swimming were my sports. I followed motorsports from early on with my dad, and loved attending races. But it wasn’t until my 30s that I started to get the bug to take up driving as sport.

So I’ve really relished this extended novice period. As I’ve been able, I’ve focused on getting as much seat time as possible, both driving, and riding shotgun with some fantastic drivers (something I would love to do with you…my car and yours!). The competitive driving principles my dad taught me as I sat in his lap behind the wheel starting around age 5 (“The car will go where your eyes go…the way to drive curves is to straighten them out…”) came in handy. Many brave, patient souls rode shotgun with me as I got my head around the whole thing. At the end of my three-year novice season, I may not be fast, but I am smooth. Smooth hands, smooth feet, smooth moves. Heh! I have much yet to learn, and I am looking forward to what’s to come.

Autocross is something I really enjoy, but the year was fraught with conflicts, and I made it out for ONE event all season long. Several Porsche Club folks ganged up and went to the October SCCA Solo event together and we ran in a club class. That was a huge bag of fun! I wasn’t very competitive. I was so happy to be out with my buddies, and hanging with the cars and the noise and the vroom and the squeal and the whoooooa-slides…but I had a hard time getting my head in it. In fact, my being there that day turned into an unintentional middle finger at the gods of fate.

The day before, I had found out that I had colon cancer, and the autocross event I was so looking forward to was on the Sunday before my hastily scheduled Tuesday surgery. There was no reason not to go. My cancer was discovered via routine colonoscopy – I never had any symptoms and was not “sick” or anything. But once you find out you have cancer, there is this time of abject terror and fear between the initial diagnosis, and the point at which they have enough info (from surgery, radiology, pathology, etc.) to say how advanced it is, and what your survival odds are. And whether you will need chemo and/or radiation that can make you wish you were dead.

Anyway, all of a sudden, in my mind, this one little autocross event took on HUGE proportions, and it became massively important to me to just be there, JUST DO IT. The fear and terror lurking with my cancer diagnosis kept trying to remind me that this might be my last. Autocross. Ever. So I went, and it was a cool, beautiful Fall day, and my friends were there, and I told a few of them, and got my introduction to The Cancer Eyes. The Cancer Eyes are the eyes that look back at you from a person who’s just gotten tragic news that their dear friend has cancer.

To me, the hardest thing about having cancer is having to tell your loved ones that you have cancer.

So the fact that I’m writing this is all you need to know about how I’ve survived so far. And I’m lucky in that they caught mine pretty early, and I have pretty good survival odds: 88% chance of living five years, 84% I’ll make it ten years. The jury is still out on whether chemo would help or hurt me; I’ll know in another week or so. But even if I need chemo, the kind they use for my cancer is not known for awful side effects, other than “thinning” hair.

I went to my first post-surgery social event on Friday, the Porsche Club holiday party. I finally figured out how to describe my experience. Other than a few rough days recovering from the abdominal surgery, I have not been “sick” at all. My insides have been seriously re-plumbed, and there are challenges related to that. But I snapped back from surgery like a rubber band, was released with no restrictions on activity at three weeks, and other than getting a little lazy from lying around in my fuzzy slippers and robe, I’m good!

So when talking to people at this party, they would grasp my arm and give me The Cancer Eyes, and I’d say, “Really, I’m good now! Other than having a lump of cancer cut out of me, I have not been sick a day.” Then they’d give me the You Are Joking Eyes, and I’d have to reassure them, “Seriously, I know cancer has the potential to really wreck a person, but they got mine early, and other than recovering from surgery, I have not had any symptoms or illness or anything.”

That really is the truth. I’ve got cancer, but I haven’t been sick. So, what a year, huh? This wasn’t the end I expected to my year, I’ll tell you that much. Travel is tough, being in the car any length of time, certain things about how I go about the day have changed, probably permanently, but I can live with the changes.

Crazy damn year. Catch you on the flip side!



Season Starter

Posted in Autocross, Pat's Races on March 19, 2010 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

Well all of a sudden, it’s here! In the dead of winter, it seemed like this day would never arrive. Tomorrow, it begins, the 2010 ALMS season. I’m so proud of you guys for putting the #45 on the pole! I wasn’t able to keep up with the goings-on today since I was busy at work, but I checked the blog for results, and I’m listening to the Radio Le Mans podcast as I type. So exciting! You came in behind the BMW, but they were disqualified in post-race tech, so you’re up front! Drive it like you stole it, guys!!

As for me, I have a lot to do tomorrow. It was a seriously busy week at work, with lots of travel. Tomorrow I need to get my car ready for my autocross school on Sunday. I’m looking forward to trying out my top secret tire pressure tricks recommended by FBR guys! I’ve got to check the weather to figure out when to head for Atlanta. The event starts at 9am Sunday. To drive over the same day, I’ll have to be up and out by 4:30am local time (I lose an hour going east). Or I can spend the night. I was thinking that if the weather was lousy for the morning and better Saturday night, I’d head over and get a hotel Saturday night. But I would actually save some precious tire tread driving in the rain so….undecided! Oh, the drama! Ha!

One way or another, I’ll have a busy Saturday and a fun Sunday. In between it all, I’ll be watching SpeedTV to see how you guys are doing, and listening to Flying Lizard Team Radio and Radio Le Mans to fill in the gaps. I am curious if any rivalries have developed during testing and practice, on the track, or off. I heard some commentary suggesting the Corvettes were sandbagging. I’ve heard that said about you guys, too. Tomorrow will tell the tale!


VroomGrrl Takes the Wheel

Posted in Autocross on March 1, 2010 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

Well it’s finally my turn at the wheel! Since spending the weekend at Daytona, I have had the itch to just get out there and get going! Saturday was the test and tune day for my local club autocross. It was pretty cold and windy, but nice as the day warmed up. It was so great to see everybody again – hugs all over the place!

I was not quite as organized in my prep as I could have been, and I really did not like how it affected my performance. I finally figured this out at the last event of last year. When I made the effort to prepare in every detail, wow – it made a big difference! I’m a little disappointed with myself that I let go of something within my control that could have made that difference.

Click to see video of Kathy driving Alabama SCCA Autocross 2/27/10 from Chuck Schultz on Vimeo.

But I was prepared enough to come out pretty well. We had a short course, and a practice slalom. On my first two runs, the front end of my car drove like a cow, and OK there you go, I should just go back and read what I said last year about my tire pressures. The front end is so much easier to handle with 5-8 lbs more pressure than “normal”. I bailed out of that session because I was hearing a really high-pitched whine intermittently. WTF?

A friend of mine was was car-less and I agreed to share my car with him for the day. We neglected to switch the numbers when he ran, and they only retained times for the first ten runs in the results, so it’s a clusterfuck! Ha! We each know which runs were ours, but my best run of the day was not recorded at all. Instead, my friend’s best time, two seconds faster than my fastest, was credited to me in the results! Oops! Well that’s why they call it test and tune – we were checking out new timing equipment, a new PA system, and a new computer program for the scoring. The other downside of this was that I did the first hour, and he did the second, and then they changed the schedule! So I was cut a little short. I did get a good ten runs or so, plus some time on the slalom.

So with all that introduction, how did I do? Well it’s hard to tell by the results so I’ll start with the subjective. I did pretty well! I was much more aggressive starting out than I was last year. I realized early on that had I hard work to do mentally to stay “ON” and remember to keep my attention focused on going as fast as possible through each feature and then off to the next. I quickly got into the zone, and during the time waiting in the long queue for my next run, I thought carefully about exactly what I waned to do differently each time out. One of my champion buddies hopped in with me for a ride-along, and when I asked him for feedback, he said he was impressed with my smoothness, and with some work, could shave off the few seconds to be competitive (!). He was one of the first to ever ride with me, so he is in a good place to speak to my progress.

What I know about the results is that my first run was a 48 when the first runs of the best folks were in the low 40’s. I improved each time with two exceptions – I pushed too hard a couple of times, and lost time to a few spins and slides. The next run after each of those was successively my fastest of the day. The friend who shared my car was the Rookie of the Year last year, and in my car, his best was only two seconds better than mine; the fastest time of the day five seconds better than my As the day went on, I listened to the times being called, and right through to the end of the day, my times were competitive with several truly decent drivers. If I work my real best time into the final raw results, I’m about five from the bottom, with at least two very good drivers just behind me.

Who knows what any of this means going forward, but I’ll take it for a start – NOT THE SLOWEST TIME OF THE DAY! WOOHOO!

Next up? PCA DE at Barber! I won’t be driving this one. As a club officer, I’ll be working. My responsibility will be Registration for all of Friday night and Saturday. I will go ahead and tech my car, because I’m promised some drive time on Sunday. I need to start asking for check-rides. I’m getting funny looks signing up for DEs as a “novice” with as many as I have under my belt at this point. And speaking of teching my car – I had arranged with my Real Driving Coach to finish the work on my brakes, in particular the fluid flush and bleed. My car has been outside in the rain all winter, and all the clubs I drive with require a flush or at least bleed of the brakes with a few weeks of each event.

I don’t know what’s going on with My Real Driving Coach, but we have had some communication problems lately. Or something. I’m not really sure. I just know that I made clear I had to have this done, and if he couldn’t work it in to just let me know because, well, I had to get it done one way or another. I should not have made arrangements to meet with him at a time after which there was no way I could get anybody else to do the work in time for the test & tune. Because it didn’t happen. And I couldn’t reach him on the phone. Basically, he made an appointment with me, then totally blew me off. I’d extend him the benefit of the doubt, but you know, I did that the last time. This is not the first time we’ve made an appointment and when the time came, he was nowhere to be found. I am a very forgiving person, and I have already forgiven him this one. But I am not a totally stupid person. I will not count on him for stuff like this again. Lesson learned!

No harm done, either. The tech guys all know my car and have been under the hood. I was honest with them about that line on the tech form. I have no symptoms of brake issues, and they got in and stomped the pedal to assess the travel and feel. They went ahead and not only passed me for the event tech, but approved my request for the annual tech sticker. This is great because I won’t have to wait in the tech line at any other event all year long.

Wow. As usual I’m way long-winded. It was a fantastic day. I had a great time. My car was spot-on! My friend heard the same high pitched whine I did a couple of times – it comes under power at high revs, hard to explain or describe except to imitate. I’ll follow up on it. No driving events now until my autocross school on March 21, then my first AX event that’ll count for points on March 27. I’m still working on my schedule of events. More on that another time.

Long, long day tomorrow. I’m on the road for work, sitting up too late in a strange but nicer-than-usual hotel room, tapping away as a way to wind down.

Be well & happy, wherever you are!


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!


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!

You Know What They Say About Plans…

Posted in Autocross on October 25, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hey Pat,

This will be short because I am whooped!

Beautiful day for autocross. It was a great competition between friendly rival clubs. I got to work grid, which I love! But I wasn’t able to do all the course walking I wanted to. And so that plan to have a plan didn’t exactly work out as I thought it might. But I was able to come up with a plan, and it seemed like a pretty good one. When it worked, it was good, anyway.

However I had some problems with my car. My gearbox started acting wonky going into second, and the skip returned with a vengeance. The gearbox was a real timesuck on my first run. The second was better, and by the third, I’d figured a work-around for the gearbox issue. The skip was a power suck and thus also a bit of a time suck also. I haven’t seen the results but I’m sure my first run was about 90 seconds! And a DNF since I lost concentration and missed a feature. My second run was probably just as slow but clean. My third run, at a, was my last run of the morning. My three afternoon runs were a little better – my best was a The FTD was so I was further off than I like to be. And I came in second to the last of twenty-three novices!

One more event of the season to come.

I’ve looked at some of the video I took and I used one angle that allowed me to see my hands, which I think were way too busy. I only got two runs, and again, no sound. But here they are on a YouTube video:

OK I’m outta here. More another day…


Goals and Plans

Posted in Autocross on October 24, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

First, I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your most recent column for Panorama (link to Pat’s Panorama Raceblog on the right). As I figured you would, you stayed out of the fray on the Joerg vs. Jan business, but still managed to express some of your thoughts about it, which I really enjoyed reading. I always wonder what must be going through your minds as these things are happening. It’s neat to find out after the fact. Kudos on a really great and well-written column, and again, on a great year in the car!

I guess I could have asked in my last post if you ever named your cars. I was never much into naming them, but at some point, I selected the name Cruella for my “race” car. That’s Cruella de Porsche to you! Ha! So it’s late Saturday night, and I’ve just come in from packing up the car for autocross tomorrow. It’s a big day for the club, the annual North vs. South battle, where our folks go to their club for an event Saturday, and they come to ours on Sunday. I had to forego the Saturday, just couldn’t spend my whole weekend in the car.

Instead, today I spent some time checking the car over, warming it up well to check oil and tire pressure, and all that fun. Then I took a break to go with my husband to a sports bar to watch the Alabama Crimson Tide game. It was pretty boring until literally the last minute when Tennessee scored a touchdown bringing them within two points of the Tide, then regained possession on the next play when Alabama fumbled, and worked their way downfield to within field goal range. Fourth down, four (FOUR) seconds to go, and it came down to this field goal. If they get it, they win. If they miss, Alabama wins. Amazingly, Alabama blocked the kick and won the game. By the skin of their teeth! Other than that, it was actually painfully slow.

Then it was back home to do chores, get my duds ready for tomorrow, and get the car packed back up track-style. I actually did it kind of backward, but for a reason. I got the car stuff done during the last of daylight, got my snacks and clothes and other things ready to go and packed into the car just at dark, then finished the night with some exciting bathroom scrubbing. Hey, it had to be done, and I’d rather be up late tonight doing it than having it still ahead of me when I get home from the track tomorrow.

ANYWAY. Good lord. So tomorrow. I hope to show some improvement. Drive like I’ve found some cojones. It’s weird, I have definitely improved generally over the year, but I feel constantly like I should be doing better. I realize part of this is the expectations of those around me. People are not shy about sharing them with me, all “OK well what’s the problem? JUST DRIVE FASTER!” I will be at the starting line, and the starter will come over and say, “OK now get it! GRRRRR!” trying to pump me up. I have been hearing this stuff all year long. And before everything I do, I find myself thinking, “OK, maybe THIS will be the day….” and I don’t know how I feel about that. Maybe it will be the day what, that I drive faster than lots of other people? That I surprise everybody by all of a sudden driving like a rock star? That’s a bit much on the expectations!

What am I not doing that I should be doing? What is the big secret? What is the big trick I’m missing?

Well there you go then. I’m glad I wrote about this because…there is no secret, no big trick. I really think it’s a matter of seat time and comfort level with pushing limits. Logic and reason (and several people who ought to know) tell me that when I am ready, it’ll come. I have had people in the car with me, the best help I could hope to have at autocross, and I love getting real-time tips and realizing immediate benefit in seconds shaved off my times with each tweak. And their feedback is always the same, and it’s the same at the tracks, too: just keep at it – seat time, seat time, seat time.

That said, it would be so awesome to kick a little ass and take a few names!

But I’m not going to focus on that. I’ve already got my focus honed on a goal, and I have my morning planned out. I am going to approach the course walk with much closer attention, and I am going to work on that part of this whole thing which challenges me most: the part where you get your head around the track and you make your plan and you execute it. THAT right there is something I could do that would definitely improve my times. And it’s not that I haven’t been doing it, but I haven’t been as intense about it as I know I could be in terms of making a plan and holding it in my head. I have said before that I have some cognitive issues with space and my place in space and directions and all that – and boy howdy does high performance require good spatial thinking!

So, I am going to use some aides. I am going to take notes. I am going to draw the course down on a note pad, and I am going to PLAN my attack. Again, this is nothing new. I have done several course walks at each event, and stopped along the way to plan approaches, braking points, directions on options and things like that. But I have never really committed to a plan for the whole. This time I want to see if I can get a plan for the whole course and hold it in my head and execute it. Making the decisions ahead of time and simply executing them should theoretically be much faster than making these decisions on the fly. Seconds, tenths, hundredths of seconds count here. Having decisions made ahead of time will also allow me to make thoughtful tweaks to things instead of feeling like I am going by the seat of my pants. I will have a plan, and I can adjust it if I want or need to. But at least I will have a plan!

No matter what anybody else does, or where I end up in the results, if I manage to get my head around the track as I know I need to, as I know the best drivers do, if I get a plan in place and execute it, then I will have met my goal and I will be a happy girl.

On that note, I bid you good evening. I’ll be back tomorrow night to report on the day!

Ready to Vroooom!