Dear Road Atlanta. I love you. Part 2
After a wild day of learning Road Atlanta in a slow car placed into a very fast rungroup, I went to sleep with a belly full of delicious steak from Cotton Calf steakhouse and a bit of Crown Royal courtesy of OG Racing’s Johnny C.
Visions of taking turn 1 flat out in 4th gear (something that probably didn’t happen in real life, because I wasn’t driving well, really) danced in my head.
As many times as I watched other people's in-car footage between sessions, read “how to” articles on driving that track, and thought it through, there were just a few sections of that track that kept, lap after lap, scaring me into driving slow. Road Atlanta is a beast. Turn one was approached at WOT in 5th gear, shooting past the paddocks lined with people, with Nascar-esque v8 stock cars chasing and passing me in the braking zone. Every lap, after I exited turn 1, I knew the car could have gone faster, but that steep, uphill, seemingly off camber right hander kept spooking me into lifting early and rolling into the throttle to slow. The little CRX and I might have driven that turn at 65% of the car’s capability by the end of the weekend. Maybe.
Halfway through the night I woke up and laid awake for a few minutes with turn 12 on replay in my brain. Turn 12, one of the more fun, yet intimidating turns I’ve had the privilege of navigating in my trusty pile of 1980’s Honda-branded racecar . The car (with its worn out differential that we discovered saturday morning) would get very light at the top of the hill under the bridge, and spin the passenger side tire a bit as it clawed for traction, and I’d shift to 4th while going under the shadow of that bridge. The track disappears for a bit as it drops off in front of you, and it’s a bit odd. The pavement seems to drop at an increasing rate, and there is a couple of seconds there, with the throttle pinned in 4th gear, where you cannot see the road in front of you. Most of saturday was spent with me staying too far to the middle of the track while headed down the hill and not really holding as much speed through the bottom of the turn, as the old Toyo RRs would just scrub off speed and push toward the outside of the track (Where a very solid wall lies). A few times I turned in a bit hard, and the nature of that turn does not appreciate this, with the result being the car getting loose. Tail-sliding loose in 4th gear, under the walking bridge, with a wall RIGHT THERE. That was cool (would have been cooler with a working clutch diff….the car could do it better then!). Good grief this is a fun section of track. Very memorable, and hard to do well your first time there, at least for me.
In the morning I took a quick shower, and remember standing in the bathroom, surveying my lumpy dad-bod, and being disappointed in my driving of turns 6 and 7, along with my slight man-muffintop. Turn 7 is a seemingly simple turn, which leads into the longest straight of the track (turns 8 and 9 are IN the straightaway, but are not really turns in a car as slow as my CRX, or almost any car for that matter). Turn 6 is pretty fast….a lot faster than I likely drove it all weekend, as I kept getting bombed by loud scary cars as they drove it properly while I didn’t. Turn 6 would ideally be taken pretty fast in 4th gear in my car, and you’d hit the brakes hard entering 7, downshift, and floor it all the way down the big straight. I now daydream of carrying more speed through 6..... I can’t wait to try it again (hopefully not with loud v8 monsters haunting me the whole time).
Sunday morning, I went outside after again chomping down some Holiday Inn cinnamon rolls and a bit of fruit. It was a nearly flawless day, with sunshine and no wind. I was anxious to get to the track, and after hanging out with Gridlife’s Chris Stewart for an hour, talking about all the possible ways to use the giant facility that Road Atlanta has when we host our event there next August, I was on my way. I stopped at a few places on the way to try and find a cord to charge a GoPro camera with, so I’d have some in car footage of my incredibly mediocre driving to share with you silly people. Cord in hand, I walked out of the Pilot truck stop that took my money for the cord, and hightailed it to the paddock. The car was pretty well set, as I had trimmed the too-tall bumpstops on the front after the afternoon race on Saturday and nut-and-bolt checked the car over while it was up in the air for that procedure. I added a few gallons of gas, as Sunday only consisted of a single 40 minute race, so a bit more fuel would be needed.
My nerves were a bit calmer on Sunday as I drove up to the drivers meeting on the upper-paddock. Sunday’s race was a “fun race”, meaning it awarded no points, etc. Nasa official Jim Pantas explained that grid spots would be drawn from a bucket, and at some point in the race, the pace car would come out so the field could again bunch up , and have a second rolling start (just for fun). I was hoping for a high number, as I had nearly the slowest car and was likely the most nervous and cautious driver. To my chagrin, I drew a mid pack number. The Sunday field for the 40 minute race was combined of the “Thunder” and “Tornado” race groups, so we had roughly 60 cars taking the start. I enjoyed the first few laps, as I was much more comfortable and was several seconds faster than the beginning of my race on Saturday. Solid, clean, door-to-door action was a great way to start the race, and lots of fast cars passed me, but all very safely. I did my best to be predictable and hold a solid line in all the passing zones, while working going faster in a few sections.
About halfway through the race I had found a good pace and wasn’t in too much traffic, and out comes the pace car...... In front of me and another Honda Challenge car, the RSX of Vince Coker. I had a feeling that if Emmanuel Baako (Tracktuned contributor, all around good dude, and one of the Race officials for the weekend) had any say in who the pace car was going out in front of, it’d be me. That happened. Super. I was going to be shown how slow I was all over again.
All the big V8 cars piled up behind Vince and I as we dropped over into turn 12, and the pace car hugged track-right and entered the paddock. It was go-time, again. I was incredibly excited and nervous, again, and we were almost halfway up the straight before the green flag dropped for the second time in the race. Again, my goal was simply to be predictable to the fast cars behind me, and keep the race clean. Stock cars, loud Corvettes, GT3 Porsches, and thundering Mustangs passed me for most of the first lap after the restart, as I just tried to keep my sheetmetal as straight as it was when I arrived at the track . All the big-ole’-scary monsters got around me politely, and then I noticed my new friend Walter in the E30 was chasing me. We banged around the track for a few laps, having a great time. Walter at one point bumped me a bit in the braking zone of turn 5, causing the car to get a bit squirrelly, but it was fully recoverable, and I didn’t realize until after the race that his “Lovetap” was the reason I almost blew that brake zone. Again, really fun racing was had between he and I, and I was honestly sad when the checkered flag came out. I could have stayed out there forever, and was dropping time off my laps each time around. The last lap was my fastest lap of the weekend by almost half a second. I was finally finding a bit of a “flow” there.
What a track Road Atlanta is! Not only is it scary, fast and fun, it's a PHENOMENAL place to race wheel-to-wheel. Its wide, and you can pass just about anywhere. NASA Southeast put on an incredibly fun and welcoming event, and I can’t thank the NASA people enough for their friendly, fun, and casual demeanor. Intense and clean racing is something everyone should experience someday, and these people delivered that by the truckload.
As we packed up the truck and got ready to leave, I kept thinking about all those turns. I kept mulling over all the mistakes I kept making, and how I was about 4 or 5 seconds slower than I wanted to be. Yet, even though I didn’t drive that fast, I couldn’t stop smiling, even when Chris and I had a flat tire on the trailer an hour later. My first Road Atlanta weekend was one I’ll never forget, as long as I live. If you haven’t driven there, you must. Don’t show up with an ego. Don’t expect yourself to be fast right away. Do expect to never forget it.
I can’t wait to go back.