Reflections on 2012 SCCA Solo Nationals

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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.

Check out the complete picture gallery on our Facebook page.

Driving in Norway

Southwest part of Norway. We drove 1,100 kilometers in 3 days, which is only 700 miles. This sounds like a small amount to drive per day, but there is the catch. If you like sightseeing and enjoy driving next to fjords to see beautiful water and mountains, you will be driving roads that are nothing like highways.

These roads have very strict speed limits, many cameras, and are occupied by many cars with drivers of different skill levels. In many places the roads are so narrow that you have to let traffic heading in the opposite direction through before proceeding. If it is raining, the fog is sometimes so thick that it’s hard to see 20-30 yards ahead.

Now, where was the fun? The roads! There are no straight roads next to the fjords. They all consist of endless turns. A majority of the turns are blind, so it’s impossible to predict or calculate the apex and the speed you potentially could carry through it. Only rarely you see 2-3 open turns that you could drive through with a technically correct line. It was good practice for slow-in and fast-out.

It was 1,100 kilometers of endless joy of guessing, enjoying the right decisions, and powering out from each turn. There were numerous tunnels, ranging from 50 miters to 7 kilometers, slow drivers, which are not that simple to pass on those roads, and other advantages. The last thing that’s worth mentioning was that we filled up the car only once, at the end of the trip. The small Volkswagen Golf did not want to accelerate well, but purred nicely and took us all the way without asking for more diesel. I would not say that a rental is the fastest car in this case, but obviously it was the most efficient one.

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A Beemer Vacation

Another February vacation in Florida. I lucked out, because after many days of rain there was finally nothing falling from the sky. I drove to Eagle Rider to pick up the bike that I reserved a month ago. In Florida, they had 10 BMW GSs to rent in that specific location and more BMWs in other locations. Why aren’t there any BMW bikes in MA to rent? Maybe I do not know something.

Anyway, the day was perfect, the bike looked great, and the paperwork took 10 minutes. While waiting for a friend, I took the bike for a couple of spins. It sounded great, but it became obvious very fast that the seat was too high for me. I came back and Eagle Rider’s technicians tried to adjust the height for me. They put the seat in the lowest possible position and put the suspension in Sports mode. This did not change things a lot, but I appreciated them trying.

My riding partner for that day was Mike Ryan. Mike currently works as a dive instructor at Horizon Divers in Key Largo. He is a very interesting person to be around. It seems that his life was never ordinary and shaped him into a unique and strong individual. If you like real life stories, Mike has many of them and he knows how to tell them. If you ever go to Key Largo for diving, make sure to dive with Mike.

That morning Mike showed up on his brand new Honda Touring bike and we drove to the Everglades. We stopped at the Robert Is Here shop, and then drove to the entrance of the Everglades. Between walking on the board walk and driving to the end of the Everglades we chose the latter. We sat for 15 minutes on the bench at the last stop of the park, stared at the peaceful ocean and chatting about why there in no diving on this side of the Keys. We drove back without any stops and had to skip lunch, since I was getting late for my plane. We put 160 miles on bikes that day.

I loved the bike. If I would be shopping for one, I would seriously consider some version of this bike. I could hardly touch the ground with my toes, so it was hard to handle it during stops and backing up, but it was an absolute beauty once you start rolling. It felt stable, powerful, and obedient; great brakes, smooth clutch, and great acceleration.

Looking back, between great diving and riding the BMW (a true Beemer), I remember riding more. I hope Mike will not mind that.

Lana’s February Vacation

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February is typically not a good month for a peaceful bike ride — at least in Massachusetts. However, I had to fly to Florida for a HIMSS conference and that’s where riding was just fine. First step was to find a place to rent a bike. There are many Eagle Rider locations around the US and one was found close to where I would be staying. This one was not a typical Eagle Rider, where one can find endless Harley Davidson’s of various models, years, and conditions. This place seemed to be privately held by a person who was renting out his own Triumphs. Well, we all have our preferences, right?  I had never ridden one, but I was up for trying something new. Good reliable bike, but not for me. Thank you for the person who let me rent it. It was a good experience. I learned more about what I appreciate in bikes.
By the way, it was almost too hot in a helmet. February…..  Bike…. Too hot…..I still struggle to comprehend this.

135 is here!

Finally, after ordering the car on 12/29/09, driving it all over Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic in early April, not hearing from a dealer for 2 weeks after the car was delivered to Boston, it finally parked in my driveway as of late May. 

The car is amazing, powerful, smooth, playful, and fun. I could go on, but after the run-flat tires and original suspension are changed, it should be even more fun.

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May 17 SCCA Event

It was one of those days… You wake up on a rainy morning and stare out the window for a while because you are not sure what you want to do with your day. If you decide to skip the event so that you can close your eyes and sleep a couple more hours, you know that you will beat yourself up later for being weak. The pillow and the cover are so attractive and they are already here for you. They are still warm… You also know that if you drag yourself out of the bed, you’ll be soaking wet in the first half hour at the site and soon after that you’ll be wandering the course with your friends while asking yourself, why did i come here? It’s so miserable! The rain seems to be in love with this particular little town!… This is why the pillow and cover looks so much more appealing at 6am on a rainy day.

However, something inhuman pulls you out of your bed. You wash your face hoping it will help to wake you. It doesn’t, but at least you tried. You finish packing the car and get a couple of bites of something. You don’t remember what it was and somehow you are OK with this. Your brain is still sleeping. Somewhere in the middle of your commute to the site you realize that you are awake! Check mark. Your brain runs through the list of important things to bring to the event. Amazingly, you managed to bring everything you need.  This means that your autopilot is still functioning. Check mark. You get to the site, unpack, cover yourself in layers of rain protected clothes… It’s still raining. You walk the course while asking yourself why on Earth you came.

Then it’s your time to run. That is the moment when you know WHY you came to the event on that rainy morning and why you abandoned your bed. It’s fun!!! Especially in the rain. Your autopilot is not needed any more and your body silently turns it off. You don’t even notice how smooth this change happens.  You are in control. Hopefully… Hopefully you are controlling the car that tends to throw its butt around…

We got our morning runs in the rain. By the end of the run group the rain was stopping, but the pavement was still wet… Driving in the rain was something new to remember, learn and appreciate.

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