Archive for the Track Days 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!



Photographic Evidence

Posted in Me, Track Days on March 14, 2011 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

I still don’t have the CD of photos from last weekend, but I have a couple of shots to share. Nothing flashy, just me and my little 911 at Barber.

Here we are braving the rain down the front straight:

And here, coming over the tunnel turn on my first solo run:

It’s a big day here in Birmingham. Indy cars have been arriving all weekend for today’s testing at Barber, and I just got a Tweet about one of the cars having just arrived at the airport, waiting for a lift to the track. It’s threatening to rain but so far it’s holding off.

You have either been at Sebring testing in Florida, or at Le Mans testing in France. Bad, bad fan, I’m not sure where you are! I’m really curious to see what kind of NASCAR fun you may be having this year after your brilliant showing at Miller in the Camping World series last year. What DO you have in store for us??

Back to the grindstone…

And the Angels Sang!

Posted in Me, Track Days on March 7, 2011 by vroomgrrl

Hi Pat,

For such a big event in my motorsports endeavors, the moment passed without much fanfare – no flashbulbs, no video – just me, my 911, and Barber Motorsports Park. Well, and about 20 other cars! But that just made it more fun! I guess I really have come along. I used to say that I loved driving on the track…except for all the other cars! My head is now in a totally different place about that, to say the least. So finally it’s behind me, my first solo outing at Barber.

I was super extremely nervous sitting in grid. I thought about how relaxed I was about all the things that used to practically keep me up the night before a driver’s ed weekend – everything from what shoes to wear, to how the seatbelt fit over my boobs. You would not believe how much I worried about the damned seat belt and my boobs. As I yanked the thing into place today, I had to smile. Over the 3 years I’ve been doing this stuff, all the goofy crap has fallen away, and my focus was on the driving.

The funny thing is, leading up to this event, I joked with my club guys about who would be my instructor. I think more than anything, they were just flat tired of pairing me up after three years! I think I did my first DE back in 2008 just after I first got my car. 2009 was a busy year, but as you know if you’ve followed my notes here, I was sidelined for most of 2010. So this weekend, they were all, “What? You don’t need an instructor!” and I was all, “OK then, hook me up for a check ride, please!”

In the end, I sort of rounded up my own instructor, an awesome friend I know from NASA-SE, who is now starting up the new NASA-Midsouth. Matt bravely rode with me in the rain yesterday (and may I just add again here…OH. MY. GAWD. THE RAIN!). And this morning, my first session was my check ride, and I was pushed out of the nest!

vroomgrrlblueballsOf course, me being me, it couldn’t just be a normal thing. Normally one would be “checked out” of the novice group, and advance to the next group. But today, the next group was sooooo full, and I was still the slowest thing in my own group, still. So I ended up in my own little category, a group 1.5 or 1.75, Solo Novice? They just called the grid and told them I was going out alone. And then some of the guys put this on my glass to mark the occasion. Yes, that’s right, a pair of blue balls. Gotta love it!

So..all this yackity yack and nothing about the driving. Well it’s hard to know where to even start! My weakest point right now is still braking. Street braking and track braking are so totally opposite, and I really had to get a feel for that again on the racetrack. And I don’t think I really got where I want to be either, not consistently. Yet. I did improve, and got much MORE consistent, but I have a ways to go. I did not lift in the Esses/Kinks, and I did not brake around the back of the track AT ALL until I got to the turn-in at the last turn that leads onto the front straight. Someday when I am going faster I will need some brakes around those turns, but at my speed, I just did not. And NOT braking where I was so accustomed to at least a tap? Woo I earned those balls!

But then once I got used to it, it was awesome! I really got into feeling the momentum of my car, the weight transfers, the changing sensations from different levels of tire adhesion. So much to think about. Traffic management was not nearly as distracting to me today as it had been in the past. One time, I found myself following a car that had passed me – bad idea! There are some people driving some strange lines out there. MY line is where I need to be. I can change it any time I want or need to, but where I am on the track has to be by MY intention, not the result of mindless following.

I only nailed the hairpin maybe twice the way I really wanted to. Early with the braking. I just have such a hard time staying in the gas going down that little hill into the bowl! I worked so hard on this on a previous weekend, and I reaped the benefits of late brakes and late turn-in there, just never quite got back into that groove completely. Where I did feel much better was the Museum turn. Wow that thing is fun! Hard brakes, then hard turn-in, then back on the gas down the blind hill, then a quick hard jab, hard turn and when done right, you basically get kind of flung out of that thing by momentum. LOVE!

Ok well once again it is late, and I am tired. Back to the grindstone tomorrow, must grab a few winks. I’ll be back with some photos soon.

And I am going to go look at your schedule right now and see what you are up to!

Be well, drive purrrrrty!

A River Runs Through It

Posted in Me, Track Days on March 5, 2011 by vroomgrrl

Dear Pat,

Fw: pca march 2011 deLife has been happening so fast since I came back from the 24 Hours at Daytona! But at long last, today I got my 911 out on the track. PCA Driver’s Ed weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. A stuck passenger side window sidelined me for my first run session, but I was ready for the 2nd, and oh my heavens, THE RAIN. It got heavy as session 2 ended. By my 3rd session, there was standing water everywhere, and it just kept coming. I have done driver’s ed in my 911 in the rain before, but not at a track like Barber. WOW! WOWOWOWOWOW! Simultaneously the scariest and most rewarding thing I think I have ever done.

Fw: pca march 2011 deAnd speaking of happening fast, you know what? I am too damned tired to finish this note I’ve started. I may come back later with some photos. We are hoping for better weather tomorrow, and my instructor from today says I am going solo for the first time tomorrow. I’m soooo…so…so…WOOOOO! Haha! Must hydrate, get a good meal, and then to bed.

More later. Promise!

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!