Archive for the Lessons 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!



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 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!


Sunday Driver

Posted in Lessons, Me, Pat's Races, Sim Racing on April 12, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Dear Patrick,

I thought I’d take a little different approach to things this time around. I am downloading the Long Beach circuit for rFactor, and I’m going to fire up my rinky-dink simulator and take a spin out there myself. Hopefully I can steal a few minutes between now and next weekend so that I can get to know the track, and have some clue what you guys are talking about when you talk about it. Continue reading

St. Petersburg

Posted in Autocross, Lessons, Pat's Races on March 31, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Dear Patrick,

Before I forget (again) I have been wanting to express my condolences on the loss of your friend, Bob Carlson . I went back to get a quote from your SpeedTV article, and realized I had yet to mention this in my previous notes. From the tributes, it is apparent that he was a wonderful friend to many people.  From what you wrote, it’s clear you lost a cherished friend and mentor. I’m so sorry for you and all his friends and family who are suffering the pain of losing him.

Well it’s hard to pick up from there, but I shall press on. Continue reading

The Smell of a Cone, Dragging

Posted in Autocross, Lessons on March 30, 2009 by vroomgrrl

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!

Continue reading


Posted in Autocross, Lessons on March 27, 2009 by vroomgrrl

Dear Patrick,  

I have some big excitement (and some big expectations?) about driving in an autocross event this Sunday. This will be my first autocross of the season and I’m stoked! Since I got started last Fall, I’ve been taking baby steps. For real, when I started out, I had no clue what I was getting into! It’s been such an incredible process so far. I have made progress, and I am having a blast! But at this point, I am getting impatient bringing up the back of every pack.   Continue reading