Iowa, Illinois, Indiana… The truck is taking us further and further away from the Nationals site in Lincoln, Nebraska. The radio is playing something peaceful. We hardly talk for the most of the ride home. The racing car sits quietly on the trailer behind us. It seems that each of us has something to think about.
It was my first Nationals, I became a National Champion, and I almost missed it. My co-driver towed the car to Nebraska while I had to fly in on September 4, 2012. That day started slow with a few raindrops, when I received the first email from United about my flight being delayed for 15 minutes. I still had seven hours before the flight and didn’t worry about this minor delay. United continued sending emails and in a few hours it became obvious that my flight would be delayed so much that I would miss my connection in Chicago. I rushed to Logan Airport and tried to get onto an earlier flight with no luck. The lady at United told me that they could fly me to Lincoln the next day. At that moment the only productive thought in my head was that I probably could drive to Nebraska… 24 hour drive… I owe my appearance at Nationals to my husband. He performed a miracle that day and managed to get me a ticket on Delta. I was in Nebraska by midnight.
The Lincoln airport was tiny. It took me three minutes to walk from the plane to the airport exit door. There was an unexpected set of people waiting for somebody from my plane. Even though it was almost midnight, there was a family with a little child that held a huge bouquet of flowers. A few yards away stood a group of loud German young men laughing at something while searching the arrivals for their friends. Germans in Nebraska? They are probably really lost….
I originally planned to compete in BSPL, the class our BMW M3 was prepared for. However, there was nobody in my class. Two weeks prior to the event I made the decision to move into a higher class that would have competition. The next legal class up was SML and had some amazing cars listed, including the car people call Godzilla: a heavily modified Nissan GT-R. Some reported that this car has 3 times the power of our M3. But I did not know that until the competition was over.
On Wednesday we had many things to do. We started the day by unpacking the car and I pulled out nine pairs of shoes: driving shoes, sneakers, flip-flops, sandals, rain shoes. Everything that we absolutely needed for the trip! We applied a lot of stickers, tech-ed the car, and registered ourselves. In the registration tent I realized that I love SCCA because they give you a trophy at registration; nice beer glasses. I stood there debating for a second if I’m all set and could go home with such a nice trophy.
At 11am we headed to the test course with the goal of getting used to concrete. Hank purchased eight runs and we used them all. Everything was great with the exception of two little things. I decided to take a minor detour at the end of my first run and turned back onto the course heading against traffic. Scary and shameful. Second, we realized that we were being carefully watched. But I guess that after my detour performance my competition was reassured that I would not bring any disruption to the established class’s order.
We walked the course four times in the evening and left the site to find something to eat. Yelp recommended an Indian place in downtown Lincoln. Since both Hank and I are omnivorous, we decided to go there. The food was great and the best part was the leftovers that the waiter packed in containers for us. Even cold, that food served as a satisfying lunch the next day.
Thursday was the first day of competition and we drove the West course. We started the day by walking the course two more times, finalizing the approach to some tricky elements. Some elements were quit unusual for us and required more time to process. A bit later, reviewing the staging list, we found out that our M3 was assigned two slots in grid: one in the SML class and one in BSP. Kathy helped to resolve the issue and introduced us to the grid chief for our heat. He was terrific not only in keeping us on schedule, but also in protecting our precious 5 minutes, when other grid workers attempted to send our car out early. A few minutes before my first run, one of the grid workers discovered that we did not have the required event sticker and told us that we could not run without it. Hank ran off and returned with the needed stickers just in time for me to run.
The course was great. Karen Babb designed it as an open course consisting mostly of long sweepers. At the same time it left lots of places to interpretation. Competition on concrete is something that we both need to work on. The car had more to offer than I used. We did not clean tires that day at all, which was a mistake. I’m sure I left more than a second on that course just due to the OPR (“other people’s rubber”) build-up. However, even with limited usage of the car and without cleaning tires, I finished day one with a .1 second lead in my class. This was quite a surprise, given that the Nissan GT-R was presumably much better prepared for such type of courses.
The evening was hectic, busy, and tiring. We walked the West course only 3 times before leaving the site. Roger Johnson designed the East course as more technical and with a challenging mix of just about every type of element one could possibly imagine. Before leaving, I ran the car in circles on the wet skid pad trying to clean the tires, but with only partial effect. We drove to the store to get some cleaning liquids for the car, filled up the gas can, (there is no 93 in Nebraska), and went to the same Indian place for dinner.
We came back to the site at 7am on Friday morning, right at the crack of dawn. We started by cleaning the remaining OPR from our tires. As soon as it was bright enough, we rushed to the course and walked it two more times. When we started driving, I was confident that I knew how to drive this course. I knew I could be faster that my competition because we drive such technical courses at home. My competition clearly divided into two camps by the second day. One half was very supportive and openly cheering for me. The other half was regularly checking my times and attempting to play mental games. Hank did his best to provide a buffer so that I could concentrate between the runs. I finished my last run, but did not improve because I blew one corner. Sad, but nothing could be done about this. Josh was close by and tried to cheer me up. I was in first place with just the GT-R left to try and catch me. He suggested that I watch my competition’s last run. With nothing else to do, we did. I watched how the GT-R was going through the course, mentally noting its every little mistake. I was not even worried before the time was displayed. The display showed that the time was more than a second faster than me, but another second later the announcement came that there was a cone hit on this run. I won.
The M3 brought us a championship in SML and a trophy in BSP. Hank fought a much tougher battle against very talented drivers in BSP and improved from out-of-the-trophies in day one to the fourth place by the end of day two. I won my class by a minimal margin. I’m happy about the win, but I know I could drive better.
The course designers did an outstanding job with both courses and I hope that local events would be able to replicate at least some of the great elements.
Nationals was an amazing experience. I met many people I only heard about, or spent time talking to online. I was surprised how supportive and encouraging everybody was. I made friends in my own class and I do not know how typical this is. Some of them were openly cheering for me. People are just amazing there.
Special thanks to Kathy Barnes and Josh Parker who helped us navigate this whole enterprise. Shortly after the SML results were announced, Kathy was the one who sent me to the Info tent to be measured for a jacket. It turned out that my class was not even on the list for jackets. There are so many people who contributed to my win: my own family, friends, the NER family, and even my competition. However, it was my co-driver, Hank Wallace who played a pivotal role in making me believe I can do this and working with me toward this goal.
Thank you to all our partners: Ace Performance Tuning, D-Force Wheels, and VelozMedia.
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