Racing for the first time at Road Atlanta....was.... Awesome. . I adore the place, but absolutely not because my crx or myself are any good at it yet. I wasnt very confident at all, and it completely didn't matter to me. Road Atlanta is unbelievably fun. This might be a long article....
-pictures by Adam Jabaay and Christian Shipp-
Our journey started out on Thursday as I finished up work for the day. I rushed around, hooking up the trailer to the truck. I would have done this all the night before, but it was 20 degrees and snowing, and I simply wanted to relax with my wife, because shes pretty and fun, and hooking up trailers in the snow is not enjoyable. A good friend, Christian Shipp, had been, prior to this, contemplating buying a new car for autocross fun. He decided on a low mileage STI prepped to dodge cones, which happened to be located a few towns over from me (yet Christian lives in Florida). Christian flew up to Illinois on Thursday, bought his piggy STI, and we loaded it onto the back of my trailer in the dark.
The tow down went pretty well, and was filled with the recording of a couple podcasts, Waffle House Meat jokes, popcorn, and farts. We left my house at around 8 pm or so, and cruised to Scott Gile's house near Cinncinati(actually one of the creators of Honda Challenge, the class I was running in this weekend). We showed up at CasaGiles' around 2am and promptly crashed for a few hours. We left at 7 am, after swallowing copious amounts of free coffee and oogling a couple of really neat little 1g CRX's in the garage.
Good grief, Indiana is boring. Indianapolis is cool looking at night, but lasts for approximately 12 seconds....and is swiftly followed by more corn. Neat. The rest of the drive to Atlanta , however, is quite pretty.
The Smokey Mountains are among my favorite places to drive through in the country, and several of the climbs we made were taken slowly with the 2 cars weighing us down.
Arriving to the track around 4 pm worked out well, and we unloaded the car. Another event was finishing up, so there was good opportunity to spectate cars in the paddock and on track. NASA tech wasnt a big deal, and I acquired my first NASA race logbook. Many thanks to Mike Pieko from Redmist Automotive for the tech inspection prior to my trip, which smoothed out the formalities of the tech at the track. Holy crap I talked to a lot of people about the podcast. You dumbies are really listening to this stuff? Cool!
A mutual friend of Christian's and mine, Peter St. Pierre, was tracking his enduro-prepped Toyota Supra at the Friday event, and was finishing loading up as we pulled in, so it was time for some tacos. Head east from Road Atlanta for some great tacos, served on plates that will scald your fingers. Do I remember the name of the place? Nope. It was just before the Wendy's and just after that rad looking BMW dismantler. You'll find it.
I should stop rambling, and get to the experience of the on track stuff, right? Nah. that doesn't matter that much.
I checked into the Holiday Inn in Braselton, and waited for my Gridlife crew to arrive ( Most of the core staff flew down, so while I raced, they planned for our upcoming August event). Chris showed up in the room around midnight, and I was asleep. Then I woke up a bit and had a conversation I dont remember even a little bit (so, did i wake up?)
Early in the morning , I jumped up, smashed some continental breakfast cinnamon rolls and an apple in my face, and headed to the track. A very interesting day was about to begin.
I showed up at the track before it was light out, and emptied the stuff out of the car I had left in there to keep away from the frost, as it was a cold night. I unscrewed the lexan door glass i use for trailering the car, and pushed it into the path of the rising sun to thaw the glass. I met a friend, Blake Meredeth, as he stopped by the track to drop off a shock tower bar. Blake confirmed that I was a scary track, and that I'd likely suck today.
Practice was at 8:40, and it was quite cold. I figured ...
A) It was an "all race groups practice'', with 90 cars roughly, so I'd just drive around trying to make sure the car was fine and start memorizing the track for the Qualifying session. If I spun I wanted to hurt the junk tires, not my only set of RR's.
B) It wouldnt matter what tires I was on, it was cold, and I was lost, so I left the 5 year old RA1's I use for "trailering" on the car. I purposefully didnt trailer the car down on the Toyo RR's (Honda Challenge is a Toyo-only class)I intended to race on, as it was quite cold thursday night and bouncing on the trailer in cold weather isnt the best thing for R compund tires.
C) I'd start at the back. On purpose.
Practice....was......interesting. The first car I saw when entering the Paddock was what looked like a Nascar-style stock car, parked next to a slew of fast looking Corvettes. They all passed me . A lot. I hugged one side or another and tried to stay out of peoples way. Near the end of the practice, I ALMOST knew what turn was in front of me. Sort of. After practice a buddy I've instructed with at the ITRexpo events, Andy Meek, stopped by, and I begged for a ride around in his ITR, as he was going out for a lead-follow session with an HPDE driver behind him. I think I l learned more in those few laps than behind the wheel all weekend!
Qualifying was late morning. I swapped the RR's in place of the RA1's, and the hit the track, again starting toward the back on purpose, simply so I could watch people. Despite mediocre times, I really was starting to enjoy the place. I went 15 seconds faster in qualiftying than practice (still just a 1:50), and felt less lost. I felt like the car was "weird", and was getting inside wheelspin on a few turns. "Is the diff worn out?" I thought on track, as the Mfactory Plate diff shouldnt allow much wheelspin at all. Afterwards we examined the car, and sure enough, It was worn out. With the front of the car jacked up, you could spin the front wheels independantly of each other with almost no resistance (they used to spin solidly in the same direction all the time), yet with the car jacked up on either side, with it in gear, you cant spin the wheels, so each wheel is still connected to the trans, but the clutch pack seems to be inoperable. I'll be pulling the differential out and reporting on how it works having it rebuilt. As with all things related to racing, I now think first "OOOOO I can write an article on that" .
As the car had some push without the diff, and was lacking a lot of what makes it truely enjoyable (WOT with some rotation). I softened the rear suspension a bit to make it "step out" less, as there are walls everywhere, and without my differential, I wasn't sure I could drive the car at the limit. Everything else seemed solid, so I continued driving it, while cautiously dodging all the other cars in the "Thunder" rungroup's high speed passes. I read Bowie's Road Atlanta article again and watched a few more in-car videos from similar cars after qualifying, and tried to mentally prepare myself for the race, and figure out all the turns I was giving up speed in. For those who havent been, Road Atlanta has a lot of incredibly fast turns, and car setup means a lot. For someone like me, its going to take a couple trips to really feel comfortable there.
Post qualifying, I ran across the scales and came in a 2057 lbs, so I'm nearing the goal weight of 2025 with the car. I had been too busy to check the weight at home and new I had dropped a bunch off with the lightened doors and removal of the heater core. We played with tire pressures and shock stuff a bit, but overall the car felt ok, albeit a bit bouncy in the long straight and harsh entering the braking are before 5.
Qualifying was fun,but felt I was giving up a giant amount of time in turns 1, 3, 7, and 12. I figured It was 99% mental, not ALL car related, but with the car not feeling right with the diff, I was back to my original goal of just learning the track, and having fun. Those missions were already getting accomplished, and the Gridlife crew was having a good time, taking pics, and laying out the details of running a festival at this spectacular facility.
We got some mediocre BBQ at the track, drove around brainstorming, and then I went back to the pits to check stuff over. I jacked up the front of the car to inspect all the systems and noticed after I jacked the car up the new bumpstops were slammed against the tophats. I lowered it down, and figured out that the newly installed spherical top hats combined with the new bumpstops meant that the car was on the bumpstops at static ride height. This explained some of the bumpyness in the straightaways, but I didnt have enought time before the race after figuring this out to remedy the situation, and it wasnt a harmful thing, so it became a post-race job to correct this.
The race was a blast. Again, I was way off my desired time of lower 1:4x's, but I dropped a couple more seconds and was starting to really get the flow of the place. I was pitted next to the guy who ended up being my closest rival, Walter Araya, in an PTD BMW e30, and we had a lot of nose-to-tail laps. I learned a lot being so closely paired with someone . As the first day drew to a close, I jacked up the car, yanked the shocks, and cut the bumpstops in half with a borrowed hacksaw. People kept coming up and chatting, and the Honda Challenge director Rob Oxford informed me I had won a bunch of stuff with 3rd place contingecies....so that was fun! Vince Coker was running 3rd and had an axle problem, so I was in 3rd by default basically. Toyo, Hawk, and HPD(Honda) contingency money added up to 225$ in product I was eligable for. HOLY CRAP I WAS STARTING TO LIKE NASA.
As with any track weekend, the people can make or break the experience just as easily as stuffing the car into a wall can. The NASA SE people know how to have a good time, and I left the first day at the track with an enormous smile on my face. If I could have one wish It'd be that the crowd at every race weekend would be as family-like and fun as the NASA SE crew. A good time was had by all. After leaving the track and heading to meet up with the Gridlife buddies, we had some amazing food at the Cotton Calf steakhouse, and met up with a small gathering of new friends at OG Racing's own Johnny C's house (a former guest of the podcast as well). What a spectactular day it ended up being. Despite driving around a bit timid and slow, I learned a lot, and there was still another day to go!
We'll finish the weekend wrapup in my next article, and there will even be some in-car footage from Sunday's race, as Chris Stewart of Gridlife fame had brought a pile of GoPros for me, but had no charging cords. I found a cord at the truckstop sunday morning, and set up the camera for Sunday's race. In the future we'll have 3-camera highlight reels from all my lame midpack races.....so, we've got that going for us, which is nice.