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Autocross - Equiraptor's Journal
Well, I went to the autocross event yesterday. I quite enjoyed myself, and came in sixth out of nine in the novice class. I certainly didn't do great, but everyone said I did very well for my first event. Matt (mhat) was incredibly helpful. A special thanks to him.

So, I wake up at 5:45 yesterday morning. It's wet outside, but not actively raining. It was a little earlier than I had planned to wake up, but not by much, so I started getting ready. I got ready... This part of the day is somewhat of a haze, but everything seemed to work out, except I left the house 15 minutes after I had planned to. And my planned leaving time was based on going straight there, but I needed gas. So, I head out and stop at the Chevron at 183 and Anderson Mill. Dan had said I wanted to show up with a little over half a tank of gas, and I had that much now and 78 miles to go. So I got a couple of gallons of gas, and headed down 183. I hit I-35 and continued to fly along. There was some traffic, but not a huge amount. Maintaining my desired speed was easy. I exited for 123, a rather familiar exit, and saw a trailer carrying a Corvette at the light to turn left - the exact direction I was going. I pulled up next to him (two lanes turn left) and saw a radar detector. *ding,ding,ding*, I'm following him. Copbait + extra warning, and someone who knows where he's going. What more could I want?

So, the light turns green, and I start off following him. He's accelerating rather slowly, with that trailer on there, so many people are passing us. The truck and trailer makes it up to 80mph, and I follow a good distance back, happy as could be. Then, a white pickup pulls out in front of me, forcing me to slam on my brakes. The truck and trailer are long gone before I can pass the white pickup, so I'm on my own again... Until I catch a red Miata on a trailer and a yellow Mustang with black racing stripes. Yay! More people to follow! We're about to hit I-10 at this point, and I just put myself in behind the Mustang. We find the exit, and have to slow severely for it. The exits have very sharp ramps and the access road is of a rather poor quality. And then we turn onto a thin two lane road that has more gravel than asphalt paving it. And then there's a sign: "San Antonio Raceway, Pit Entrance." The Mustang turns in and I follow. We have to sign a waver before passing a gate, and I turn in. There's a lot of open parking lot, some with cones, and plenty of vehicles. I managed to spot Dan's truck, and decide I should head over that way. I park the Miata next to a silver NB, with Dan's truck trailering Sim on the other side of the NB. There's a rather large white trailer on the other side of Dan's truck. Things seem great, until I get out and don't see Dan. Feeling lost, again, I scan the lot until I see him walking toward the trailer, and therefore me. I meet him a few feet from the trailer, and he gives me a hug hello. He asked, "So where's your car?" "On the other side of Sim," I reply. "Oh, good, at some point you'll want to move it with all the cars back there," pointing to the edge of the parking lot. There's a rather long line of parked cars, but not many Miatas, and the only vehicle I recognize is that yellow Mustang. Dan also told me I wanted to check in and pay, if I hadn't done so online, and that I should walk the course and start prepping my car soon. He also introduces me to a couple of other Miata racers. We make our way to the registration line in a group, and eventually register. I get a little band to put on my arm (for signing the waver) and get "Look ahead" stamped on my hand, for being a paying driver. I promptly got cold and put on my oversize sweatshirt which managed to obscure both.

Having registered, I move my car to the line that is the pits, and stand confused for a second. So, the loose stuff needs to come out of the car and I need to put my numbers on. I'll also need to find a way to get my class designation on the car. Ummm... okay. I slap on the numbers, and stand around trying not to look confused while I try to see how busy Dan is. He's helping set up the course, so I figure I shouldn't interrupt. I watch people work on their own cars, and find myself in a few conversations with the owners of the vehicles around me. And then, I see a familiar face. Matt walks up and says hi. "Yay," I think, "Someone else who can help me, who isn't so busy!" Matt and I do a walktrhough of the course. We don't have a map, so we're having to figure it out as we go. There's a part with a slit, so we pause and think for a minute, and determine the correct path. I then follow Matt back to his car. He puts on his magnetic numbers and class designation, and discovers he's missing his "2" (he's 42, TCSP I think). He uses painter's tape to create it, and says I can use the tape for my class designation. Yay! He finishes, and I start applying tape. They announce that the novice walkthrough is starting soon, and I worry about finishing in time for it. Matt says when it starts, I can head off, and he'll finish my class designation for me. Yay for Matt, yet again. So the time comes, and I go through the novice walkthrough. In the group, I see someone who reminds me of decibel45. Same basic hair, though this person's isn't quite as long, same body type, though this person is a bit shorter and a bit younger, similar movement styles. I discover his name is Jeff and he's driving an MR2 Spyder. There's a bit of instant camaraderie between the two newbies driving similar cars. The walkthrough finishes, and the driver's meeting starts. I had planned on riding with Matt a time or two, and having him ride with me. It turns out I have to work during his runs, so I won't be able to ride with him. Novices, along with many others, are driving second and working first. So, out I go to work my corner, with two other people. We're in corner three, which is more like corner 20.

It's still wet and humid, and misting on and off. The track is quite wet - I think in the entire area we're covering there's less than two square feet of dry ground. There were also quite a few nice puddles of water. So, the three of us wander to corner three and wait for the runs to start. And we wait, and we wait, and we wait. Apparently, there was a problem with the timing lights. Then, runs are about to start, and our radio (walkie talkie) doesn't seem to work. It turns out, a number of radios were down. So, impromptu solution - we write down everything on paper on clipboards. This means drivers can't know their results immediately, but at least we can keep track of everything.

So, it's time for the runs to start, finally. A big, black Tacoma is between the starting cones. Ummmm.... Truck? Big truck? On wet? Going first? This will be fun... The truck heads out, and we discuss the driver. The truck's primary driver is part of the San Antonio club, and is a very skilled driver. His times in the truck are competitive with other drivers in cars more suited for autocrossing. He pulls something around 50 seconds for the first run of the day, and he handled the truck very well. Other vehicles come, among them a recent Jaguar E class that squealed around every corner. It was quite apparent the car was intended for luxory, not autocross. The annoying thing about this vehicle was it could knock over a cone, but not have the cone fall until a second or so after the vehicle passed. So it was difficult to notice the cone was down. There was a Scion tC, with a manual transmission and a driver who kept bouncing the car off of redline. I talked to him later, and he said he couldn't hear the car at all and that the tachometer was so small it wasn't readable. There was also a 1968 Jaguar E type... On many corners, this vehicle's inside front tire would come airborne, sometimes by a rather large margin. The car stayed under control, though, which was quite impressive. Another vehicle we got to watch was a red Ford Lightning. This vehicle was not nearly as impressive as the stock Tacoma - he had a faster, better handling truck, yet was slower and looked less in-control. Additionally, the Lightning tried to steal one of our cones. It was caught between the back of the truck and the pavement. Overall, it was great fun working the course and watching all of the vehicles go by.

So, the course workers for the second set came out, and it was time to go get my Miata. The spare was still in the trunk and I hadn't checked my tire pressure, but with such a wet course and inexperienced driver, I doubted it would make much difference, so I just placed myself in the grid. The grid is effectively a set of about 6 lines that wait for turns to go on course. The first few lines are for two driver cars - these get precedence over other vehicles, since the car must go around twice per run. We had three runs in this set. I'm waiting for my turn to run, and a few people stop by to give me advice. Dan comes and turns my rear view mirror as far around as he can - he said I didn't need to know what was behind me and it would just be a distraction. Finally, I made my first run. I think I was the last vehicle to go. I had a clean, relaxed run, but it was very slow. It took me 56 seconds - the Tacoma had only needed 50. Once I was back in the grid, the same set of people stopped by. Nearly everyone said I had a very smooth run, and that it was very good for a first time out. I had felt a number of places I could have gone faster. For my second run, Matt joined me. I made it through in around 52.7 seconds, and Matt had some good advice. On my third, John asked for a ride. He had had to go back to Austin for some of the timing gear and so never had a chance to walk the course. On this run, the clock said 79 seconds, but it was a clean if not fast run, so I knew that was wrong. Turns out there was a timing problem, so I got a rerun. With no passenger on the rerun, I had another 52.7something run. Well, at least I'm consistent, right?

I got a short break during the third set, so I ate. I was hungry before my time working at corner 3 was done, so I was starving by this point in time. The crackers, cheese, and meat seemed like a feast, as I ate and discussed MR2 Spyders with Jeff. Eventually, they called for the first set workers to check in again - each driver was to get another three runs in the afternoon. By this point in time, the course was getting a bit drier, but there were still enough puddles to keep tires wet. We watched the same set of vehicles go by - the many Corvettes, the two very different Jaguars, and the two trucks. The radios had been returned to working status, so we were able to call in hit cones and DNFs. Eventually, it was time for me to run again... Weee! On my first (fourth) run, I managed to spin at corner three - at least a full 360 degrees. When I tried to make my way back to the slalom, I briefly felt as if my tires had turned to mush. I turned the wheel hard, the car seemed to have to think about whether it actually wanted to turn or not. That only happened on one twist of the wheel. I suspect the soft sidewalls of the Proxes were at least partially at fault, but it was a rather distressing feel. That run took around 60 seconds. Next, I had a good clean run that took 51.894 seconds. My next and final run, I believed I had gone on the wrong side of one of the cones, though the run doesn't show a DNF... But, this belief caused me to drive a bit more aggressively than I did on other runs, and I spun yet again. Another 60 second run. So, my fifth run of 51.894 was my best. A CS Miata had a best time of 44.226, and CSP Miatas seemed to have 43 to 46 second times. As a whole, excluding me, Miatas seemed to get between 41 and 54 second runs, excluding runs with a penalty of some kind. My best runs seemed to be about in line with more experienced drivers poorer runs, frequently in more heavily modified Miatas. Then was Dan with 44 to 41 seconds runs... A great driver and a fast car combined.

The final sets of runs eventually finished up, and we worked on de-prepping the cars (putting trailered cars back on trailers, taking off numbers and classes, and returning tires to street pressures). We also cleaned up/cleared out the course, and then a few people gathered back by one of the trailers. Finally, the groups broke up and we headed home. It was just starting to get dark as I pulled into the garage, but it felt like it was around 10pm. I also managed to end up with a rather nasty headache, so I slept on the couch for a bit. Wee, end of a fun day.

Here's a hand-sketched version of the course. It's not to scale, and I'm sure I'm missing some cones, and maybe even added a few. But, it gives you an idea of what the course was like. Red dots are cones, the blue line is the basic run, and the two yellow places are were I spun.


18 comments | Leave a comment
nrubenstein From: nrubenstein Date: February 21st, 2005 10:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Glad you had fun.

Re: the headache, I forgot the number one autox tip: Take a small cooler and a 24 or 36 pack of bottled water. You should drink at least a quarter of that over the day, and expect others to beg for water. I had that problem until I started bringing absurd quantities of water with me to every event.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: February 21st, 2005 11:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Instead of water, I took Gatorade. It was a 32oz bottle, I think, though I didn't drink a great deal of it. I'm normally pretty good about drinking when I'm thirsty, so I doubt the headache was related to dehydration. However, since this was an activity I've never done before, maybe I got excited and ignored my thirst. :)
nrubenstein From: nrubenstein Date: February 21st, 2005 11:36 am (UTC) (Link)
I usually need to drink two or three times that to feel good after a day autoxing. The problem is often that you get dehydrated without feeling it.

Of course, I suspect I'm just a wee bit bigger than you are, but still.
decibel45 From: decibel45 Date: February 21st, 2005 01:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, it's trivial to get dehydrated while doing something engaging like this.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: February 21st, 2005 02:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I'm comparing it to spending all day riding horses. That's an extremely draining activity, as well, and my consumption was about the same as my consumption in the same weather conditions when working with horses.
nrubenstein From: nrubenstein Date: February 21st, 2005 02:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I dunno. There's something about the environment that really does it to me. Combine all the fumes with vast expanses of asphalt, and it just seems that much more brutal to me.
(Deleted comment)
peppermintrose From: peppermintrose Date: February 21st, 2005 12:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sounds fun! Think you'll go again? Tommy's good friend has a Lightning that is fast as hell, but I believe he added an aftermarket chip to it. Reading this just makes me want to go out and really let loose, ya know? Well, at a drag strip, at least (muscle cars from Dragon's era don't corner or brake, just accelerate, lol)!
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: February 21st, 2005 02:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm quite sure I'll go again, and I'll probably take nugget with me. The Lightning probably was fast as hell in a strait line, but it's driver just doesn't know how to handle it around a corner like the Tacoma driver could handle his. A truck (or a muscle car) at an autocross is like a fish out of water. When they make decent times compared to the Corvettes and Miatas, it's with a really good driver.
decibel45 From: decibel45 Date: February 21st, 2005 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, decreasing radius corner right before the finish gate... that would be challenging.

Your consistency is actually a good thing. You need to be consistent before you can start making incremental improvements. For example, playing with the line in turn 4 would make huge differences in your times; not only is it comming out of a major straight, it's leading into one, which then leads to a fast sweeper.

The lightning driver exemplifies a great point... the driver is much more important than the car. Smooth == fast (just like skydiving!)

Now I'm tempted to haul the suburban to one of these events. Too bad there's so much loose shit floating around in it.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: February 21st, 2005 02:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know if suburbans are allowed. I believe many SUVs aren't, because of the high risk of a rollover. If they call it a pickup truck with a full length cab (which is basically what that suburban is), you'd be running in H Stock (unless you've replaced something with non-OEM-equivalent parts).
decibel45 From: decibel45 Date: February 21st, 2005 02:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, one of these days the cougar will be running, with decent tires and a trans that isn't getting ready to blow.

BTW, I have a Car Craft with an article about rebuilding your first engine if you're interested.
busychild424 From: busychild424 Date: February 22nd, 2005 07:00 am (UTC) (Link)
We don't have a Solo II until March 15th. You've now made me VERY EAGER.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: February 22nd, 2005 09:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Meet me in Houston, March 6th? ;)
busychild424 From: busychild424 Date: February 22nd, 2005 09:35 am (UTC) (Link)
I think I meant 13th.


Wish I could.
From: maxim_masiutin Date: May 14th, 2005 11:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Where is the sketch of the course? I didn't find it, althought you've mentioned it.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: May 14th, 2005 11:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. :)

http://equiraptor.com/ljpics/Spokesevent12005.jpg <-- That's the link. The word "Here" is a hyperlink, but my chosen theme doesn't make hyperlinks easy to find.

There's another event I'm probably headed to tomorrow. Weee!
From: maxim_masiutin Date: May 14th, 2005 12:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like this track!

Do you practice besides the competition events?
18 comments | Leave a comment