Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Convention Vacation – Part 2

Since last Wednesday was the first day of CORSA's national convention and also autocross day, last Wednesday was also a day of firsts for me. I'd never attended a CORSA convention nor had I ever competed in an autocross. It was, therefore, no trouble for me to hop out of bed at 6:30 AM. Even though I arrived at Stafford Motor Speedway right at the 7:30 start time, there were already at least a dozen Corvairs parked in the paddock. My experience with NECC's track events paid off and after emptying Lucy of all loose items as well as her spare tire and jack, I was able to find John Egerton, the NECC member who'd inspected Lucy at my first track day. He was inspecting for this event as well, so I asked him to sign her off again. After a thorough going-over, I was only lacking my number. A quick phone call to the convention registration desk and I found out I was #276. Once I'd artistically used masking tape on Lucy's driver's side rear window, John applied the green approval sticker to the corner of her windshield. Since I'd stupidly forgotten my helmet, I asked John about borrowing one. He assured me there'd be some loaners available on the grid.

With that hurdle out of the way, I made my way into the speedway to walk the track. Now would be a good time to educate those of you readers who've no idea what an autocross is. Unlike a roadcourse where the pavement indicates where you're supposed to drive, an autocross uses orange construction cones to mark out the turns and thus the course. Sometimes the turn is marked with a single cone at the apex, and sometimes two cones form a gate you have to pass through. The rules are simple: you knock over a cone or hit it out of the square it's sitting in, you get a two second penalty added to your lap time. Since I would only get four laps, it was VERY important that I memorize all the twists and turns defined by the dozens of cones and have some idea of driving lines before I strapped myself behind the wheel.

Next up was the driver's meeting where the organizers shared all the rules for the day. I was placed in the second of three sessions which meant I got to spectate first, drive next, and, finally, put in my time working a corner (more on that later). Out of the sixty or so drivers, only a handful of us were rookies. We got a special talking to by the head official. It was the basic don't-be-an-idiot-since-you're-here-to-have-fun-and-wrecking-your-car-would-not-be-fun spiel I'd heard at previous NECC events. Always good to be reminded to keep the red mist tightly boxed up.

As the first group headed onto the track, I grabbed our video camera and attempted to find a perch where the high catch-fence wouldn't block my view of the action. Sadly, I was unsuccessful, so I put the camera away and just watched and enjoyed the sights and sounds. Since this first group was almost all stock vehicles, the sound part was greatly lacking compared to the track days I've been to. After each of the sixteen cars had made two runs, I headed back to the paddock to make sure Lucy was ready to go. Per the veteran EM racer Terry Stafford's recommendation, I added about 5 psi of air to each of Lucy's tires, so she was at 25 front and 35 rear. After the announcement for all session 2 cars to line up, on an impulse and hoping I wouldn't need them, I grabbed my 9/16ths wrenches (one short and one long) and the spare fanbelt and safely tucked them away in the car before getting in line.

Even though I'd taken my time, I still ended up fourth in line. I really would have preferred to be farther back, but figured fourth car out wasn't so bad. Then I found out all cars with multiple drivers would line up in one line and those with a single driver would line up next to them. Departures would alternate, and since the three cars ahead of me were going to have two drivers, I was going to be the second car off. Needless to say my heart-rate was up a bit as we trooped onto pit lane – our grid for the event. It didn't slow down as I hopped out, grabbed one of the spare helmets, and then buckled myself in.

Having seen the first driver in session one completely miss one of the gates, I told myself to take it easy on my first lap. I had no idea where I'd be shifting either – another reason not to go all out. As I was sent to the starting line, I tightened my shoulder belts and reminded myself to breath. The starter waved me onto the course and then, magically, it was all over. Nearly forty-eight seconds had passed and I didn't remember a thing. I had been concentrating so hard on each turn, I'd actually forgotten doing the driving. I honestly don't remember going through all the turns, but a few minutes later, I received my time-slip and there were no penalties. I pulled off the helmet, unbuckled the belts, and climbed out, knees feeling a little weak. After I calmed down a bit, I was able to dredge up some memories of the run. I recalled shifting into second gear as I left the front straight and headed into the first infield turn, shifting into third going into the apex of the large back-stretch turn, and then immediately shifting back into second. Finally, I remembered I'd just kept it in second gear for the rest of the run being very careful to keep my speed down through the banked turns three and four of the main track.

With that first run out of the way, I told myself I'd do better of paying attention on the second lap. While waiting for the rest of the field to make their first run, I spent the time chatting with the guys lined up around me. Al, a NECC regular, was lined up in front of me in his drop-dead gorgeous LM, while in front of him was a Virginian in the only other stock-looking EM in my group. When he introduced himself, I knew him as one of the other crazies that had restored a Corvair with his daughter. We had plenty to talk about. The guy behind me was from KY and had a beautiful Corsa. Next to me was a racy sounding LM piloted by a pair of brothers that told me of their childhood start in car racing driving around their dad's farm on a dirt track they'd laid out themselves.

In no time, it was my turn again. I'd decided that once I'd shifted into second I'd keep it there for the entire run. That worked until I was in the banked turn and Lucy's engine started cutting out around 5300 rpm. I ignored it and kept my foot down until I got to the last set of gates. Pulling onto pit lane, I actually did remember a bunch of what had just happened. I got my time-slip and I'd been able to shave three seconds off my first run with a 44.98 second lap.

While waiting for my third run, I learned that the Aston’s car had flipped a belt and they’d left the spare and tools in the paddock. I was glad to come to their rescue with the wrenches and belt I’d brought, but warned them I was unsure about the belt being right. Wouldn’t you know it, the belt was too long, but Al grabbed his spare belt and within a couple minutes Brett had the car race-ready again.

Lap number three was a lot more exciting since I'd decided to shift into third as the tach passed five grand coming out of the backstretch turn. Doing around sixty on the banked turn seemed a lot faster as I felt Lucy's rear end want to come around and I prepared myself to have to catch it all the while knowing letting up on the throttle would hasten a spin-out. As I neared the gate at the end of the banked turn, I had waited too long before slamming on the brakes so I was going too fast to make the subsequent turn cleanly. Her rear end started to come around as I cranked hard on wheel while braking (a no-no), but I quickly steered back into the spin and straightened her out. At that point, though, my line to the next turn was all screwed up and I hit that cone. With the two second penalty my lap time was 46.45, so I was going faster. Now I just needed to go faster AND not hit a cone.

And that's exactly what happened on my final lap. I had the same exhilaration going through banked turns, but remembered to whoa down soon enough that I could properly negotiate the last turns. My last time-slip read 43.89.

After everyone had made their four passes, we all drove back to the paddock and then some of us walked back to the track to work the corners. I was responsible for re-setting any the cones in the banked turns that got hit and I had a couple opportunities when a couple of the faster 'vairs spun trying too hard through the turn.

Click here to see the photos I snapped in the paddock.

Click here if you'd like to see how all the participants did (more on my finish tomorrow since the results weren't available until the next day of the convention).

Around 4:30 it was over. I drove back to the campsite via the grocery store where I got the task of grocery shopping for that evening's meal. The gals had gone to Salem that day and I'd be beating them back by at least an hour, so I got kitchen duty.

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