By Pete Lindberg
If you google poor financial decisions, my face should be the first image you see, I have student loans up to my eyeballs and no degree to show for them. I was sold my ’91 Honda civic on Credit, seriously the guy who sold it took pity on me and told me “take the car and we’ll figure out the money later”. “You’re the owner this car needs, I have only driven it less than 6 times in 8 months and it needs to be driven and raced.” He and I have since settled the money. But, this gets you a little background on me. So with that, I got my hands on a beautiful little 1991 Honda Civic Si. The car had been owned by 4 other autocrossers over 13 years and had Solo Nats trophies to its name. It was turnkey, nationally competitive in STS and had non-adjustable Whitener Racing built Bilsteins, perfect for a novice like me with no business messing with shock settings. It was simple, low HP, FWD and nationally competitive. A good combination for me to continue to grow into the potential of. In the process of paying for the car over the following months. I dried up pretty much all the money I was planning to use to pay for my trip to Solo Nationals, so the vicious cycle began again. It was 4 weeks before Solo Nats and I had yet to figure out how I was getting myself, and the car, to Lincoln or where I was staying. My civic has a stock cat and straight through stainless muffler with a turndown tip under my ass. IT’S LOUD..... lock yourself in the dryer with Go Kart engine mounted to it at wide open throttle...and you’re pretty much on point.
My first choice was trailering the car to nationals, but after running numbers on trailering the car using u-haul and my roommate’s truck, I realized the gravity of my situation. Trailering the car will increase the cost of my trip by $600, or roughly 4 times what it will cost in gas to drive the car 1800 miles round trip from Houston, TX to Lincoln, NE and back. I abandoned that idea and ordered a nice set of noise canceling earmuffs and a new set of earbuds instead for $50. Lodging ended up being fairly simple, as you can camp onsite at Lincoln Airpark, but when(not if: WHEN!), it rains, the airstrip will flood with standing water and your tent will become worthless as anything more than a place to keep all your soaking wet stuff from floating away. I was advised of this, and elected to find a roommate to split costs with and found the cheapest online option. Buy a room at a Hotel and you can spend as little or much as you want. I went Motel 6..... Lincoln has LOTS of options as a college town and SCCA also negotiates better rates at some places for you. I lucked out on packing clothes…..it was a very mild year temperature wise and it rained when I was able to take shelter. Bringing a little temporary rain poncho from the Disney World gift shop isn’t going to cut it. It WILL rain during your trip, so come prepared for it. If you’re bringing gear like you’re going to go catch king crab off the coast of Alaska you’re on the right path. Bring a good solid rain jacket and rain paints and good waterproof shoes or boots. It can be sunny and 80 one heat and Pouring and mid 60’s the next……more on that later…… I did my research ahead of time on what the weather outlook was, but historically, temperatures range between 40-90 degrees in Lincoln across various years, so pack clothes accordingly.
I packed all my stuff the week before into the little noisemaker and headed off for Dallas in the later part of Saturday evening once I got off of work. I broke the drive up because I was by myself, but I got the little blasted noisemaker 900 miles to Lincoln with my sanity intact for $70 in Premium after crashing for 4 hours on my buddy's Couch in DFW. Taylor is a good dude who Autocrosses a car MUCH different from my own. Here’s a photo of his cool Autox car.
I arrived on Sunday evening and took off my 14 inch transit wheel and tires and put on my race wheel/tire combo. I took a tour around the site in my car to get a feel for how big the place was and to have Bridgestone put on some new RE71’s for me that I brought along. They mounted and balanced for free on site. Awesome service.
I race my EF civic in STS class which is EXTREMELY competitive. I’m stealing this quote, but it’s essentially a Spec class or the closest thing you’ll find to one in Solo competition. It’s a lot of fun but also incredibly close racing. It’s a class where everyone builds very similar cars, shocks, and spring rates change, but the cars do not. You compete in a EF Civc Si, CRX Si or if you like a challenge, a NA Miata with a viscous LSD. Our class was running in the final heat, heat number 5, on Thursday and Friday.
Our first day was on the East course which was the Longer of the 2 courses. It had lots of places to lose time, and few places to make up time, with long straightaways out of slower corners. I am still learning the grip limits of my Civic and Lincoln didn’t help this by being the grippiest surface I have ever run on. Texas Solo National tour at Texas A&M riverside was the closest thing I had experienced and it still wasn’t as grippy. So….. I wasn’t carrying nearly enough speed around corners until my 3rd run when I went for broke(or so I thought) and still left TONS of time on the table. Only having 3 runs is brutal… But I came out of day 1 in 48th place out of 56 entries, which was ahead of my goal of not finishing in dead last as I had at the College Station Championship Tour.
Going into day 2 we had national weather service warnings about heavy rainfall and strong thunderstorms possible. So we all came out of day 1 unsure of what to expect on Friday. Our day 2 course was much tighter consisting of sweepers separated by small elements with a big slalom in the middle.
Friday Arrives and we now know our fate. Rain is supposed to rear its ugly head in a BIG cell that is due to hit us in the early afternoon. Heat 5 arrives and we can see the cell bearing down upon us. And then right as we are preparing to get started…IT COMES DOWN. Lightning strikes not far away and we go into a 1….then 2….hour delay. During said delay I discover I have brought my own couch to the rain delay and I sit in my backseat awaiting the call back to competition.
Once we get going there are 2 races going on…1 race on course and another race against mother nature as a smaller cell is bringing no lighting, but plenty of rain. First runs are wet, but it's not crazy and I turn in a clean time and prepare to dial it up a notch for run 2….and then we get to 2nd runs and the new cell is upon us dumping tons of water. Perry from Autoxpics.com snapped a photo of my second run that explains how insane it was.
My second run is awful running wide everywhere until I floored it out of the last corner, which was a huge mistake as I missed the RIVERS of water running across the course before the finish and ended up spinning out just outside the finish chute and narrowly missing the timing lights.
The Rain let up soon after and 3rd runs was a game of drying runs and Jason Frank was unable to beat the gauntlet put down by Jeff Wong early in the Heat. And I myself was able to put down a very solid 3 rd run and improve my position from Thursday by 5 places to 43rd. I was soaked, a bunch of my stuff in my paddock spot was soaked. But I had achieved my goal and had a tremendous time in the process. So yes, after my first time attending, my take on SCCA Solo Nats is this. GO, seriously, it’s a blast and you will have lots of fun memories to tell at your local region and you will see just how crazy the level of competition is at the National Level.
Tips and Tricks
Before you even think about making the trip to Lincoln, I heavily advise you attend a SCCA Solo Championship Tour event closer to you. That way you’re not trying to take in the differences between your local competition and the national level and figure out where everything is. Talk to your local Autocrossers, someone will have helpful advice. If not, keep asking around through the interwebs and you’ll find solid advice. Ask these people, they’ll know who to send you to in your local area! Take the whole Week off from work if you can, you’ll get to soak more in watching people compete on the days you are not, and it’s a gathering of the best solo talent in the country and you have a front row seat to the action, don’t miss out on watching some close battles in classes besides your own! Now onto the competition itself, you will not win on your first appearance, and you’ll be lucky to trophy if you’re already that fast. Come to grips with that before you even show up. Guys like Tom O’Gorman and others who race professionally show up and kick ass in their respective classes, As well as guys with years of solo national championships and guys with just plenty of experience. You will be so caught up in what you are seeing and experiencing in your first trip to not get caught up in pressure or nerves. So loosen up and have fun, it’s a great group of people competing around you and with you. Talk to the guys in your local region about what they are doing and see if you can coordinate with them for group food onsite. There’s a top notch food joint nearby called Toast that is beloved by some of my fellow Houston-ites. But otherwise there’s not anywhere close for food besides the grocery store about 10 minutes off site to the north. Everything else is a further venture into Lincoln, which isn’t really all that far, but not really ideal on competition days.