Fall 1998 SCCA Driving School
well, after months of preparation, i finally got on the track this past weekend for my first scca drivers school. i'm running a 1985 BMW 318i in ITB. i purchased the car as a running beater this summer for $800. lots of time, work, help from good friends, and money have gone into it, and now i have a nice ITB racer which i hope can be competitive. while i knew it wasn't the smartest thing to go to school in an untested, untracked car, that was how the chips fell, and it worked out okay in the end.
my friend/mechanic/crew-chief brett and i showed up friday afternoon and set up the paddock. the car had been pre-tech'd already (thanks to walt best), so we only needed to have the cage checked and stamped. that done, my friend rich beebe (also his first school) and i went over to the jefferson building and sat through pete cage's opening speech, took the flag test, and watched the slide show. meanwhile our crew members attended the crew school in the tin shed, which they all enjoyed. once they were done, we headed home for sleep (i have the advantage of living only an hour or so from summit point).
next morning we were out at the track early. brett was getting the car ready and i was riding around with my instructor, henry brillinger. i was happy to find out the henry races a 2002, which is similar enough to my 318 that he was able to make some great setup and gearing suggestions.
nomex on, car on the grid, and i'm nervous. although i've driven summit point a dozen times, the car is brand new, and is totally different than the street car i'm used to, a '95 M3. throughout the first session the car is sliding all over the place. in turns 1 and ten it feels like it's on ice. i knew the car would be different, and very light in the rear, but not like this. i assume that the track is slick because of the spec-rx7 which was in front of me dumping fuel in the right handers (onto my windshield). the session wraps up and i head over to the debrief. meanwhile brett finds that the drain tube from the radiator had come undone, and coolant had been running down the side of the car and onto the left rear wheel. that'd explain the slick feeling, it was my car!
second session, car feels much better since there isn't any coolant on the wheels, but i find a new problem. as my speeds come up, i'm beginning to get wheel spin in the corners, particularly turn 1 and the carousel. i'm losing a lot of power and afterward my instructor suggests i need to apex even later, turning sharper in the slow part of the turn and straightening out the exit even more. makes sense, and in the third session it helps, but the bloody open diff would plague me all weekend. as my laps got faster, the wheel spin got more pronounced. so at this point we know one place the car will need improvement, a limited slip or even a welded diff.
rest of the day went well. we had minor cooling system problems all day, forced on us by the aftermarket radiator which was in the car. apparently the seal on the radiator cap was not enough to keep it from boiling out slightly. we finally fixed it by stealing the seal from the M3 and doubling them up in the cap.
i overcooked turn 5 and flat spotted my right front, but it wasn't too bad and i barely felt it. i also turned in late and hard for ten, lost it and spun off. i'm happy to say that i remembered to put both feet in and the car was still running when it slid to a stop. i got the signal and drove back on.
as the day wrapped up, brett found that one of the axle boots had gone south and needed to be replaced. we had brought some spare boots, but when he opened the boxes he found that one of them was wrong. a friend of rich and i (and ITS BMW racer), rick ricker was at the track watching the event and offered us a spare axle, but it was out at his place. we drove out there and picked up the axle, drove back to the track and tried to make the old CV joint fit the new axle. it didn't work. at that point we drove home and i hit the sack while brett stayed up and kept working on the axle in the garage.
by morning brett had found out that the axle we got was not going to fit this CV joint and it was time to switch to plan B. brett took the M3 out to the track and gave it to rich's mechanic bruce. bruce has a few older E30's and lots of parts back at his place in baltimore, and he raced back there for an axle. brett then worked on rich's car (an ITS BMW 325is) while bruce was gone.
meanwhile i had arrived in the truck (borrowed from matt yip, thanks matt) and was sitting around the track missing my first session. i spent some time with my instructor watching the sessions from the corners and listening to the debrief afterwards. but i was not in a good mood and wanted to be on the track. generally i was feeling pretty bad. i hadn't been mentioned much the day before, good or bad, by the instructors. i felt kind of invisible, just good enough not to be noticed for my errors, and not good enough to be noticed for my speed. the fact that i was now missing sessions made me feel worse. i was not a happy camper.
as the third session was beginning i was in my gear, waiting for bruce to get back with the axle. which he did just as the cars in my session were rolling out onto the track. i got in the car, and began to get my gloves, balaclava and helmet on, while holding the brake down for brett who was underneath installing the axle. another friend pat donahue was retorquing the lug nuts (just to make sure). five minutes later, the car was dropping off the stands and i was starting it up. i rolled out onto the track about halfway through the session, and the car felt great. maybe it just felt great to be out there, but all of the waiting and the missed sessions didn't matter anymore.
the fourth session was relatively inconsequential, but the car still felt great and i was passing folks too. i tried a pass out of turn three and got forced over, dropping two wheels near the black flag station coming into four. that gave me a little start, but it still felt good. the car felt great and i couldn't wait for the race.
for the race, i had a big advantage in that i've been to summit point for a school weekend before (taking pictures), so i knew what the race format was. for those of you who don't know, the session begins with a pace lap, then a full start. racing proceeds to the black flag station after turn three, then the cars proceed single file around the track and into the pit. the next start follows exactly the same format, pace lap, three turns of racing, then pit. the third and final start is the 5 lap race. additionally, any places you pick up in the practice starts you get to keep for the next start.
the instructors make up the grid for the race, and i was gridded 15th out of the 27 cars in my group (ITB/ITC/SSB/SSC/SRX7). my instructor told me that i needed to have a plan for the start, i should be ready to improvise, but it's good to start with a plan. he mentioned that in many cases novices will ignore the middle lane in the traffic rushing down to turn 1, and that i may want to try to get the inside line through one, and drift to the outside for 2. well, it worked perfectly. on the start, i passed maybe two rows of cars as i raced down the middle. i dove for the inside line in 1, got bumped lightly from the rear by an SSC talon driven by chip herr, then noticed an opening to my left coming out of the turn. i accelerated early and opened it up resulting in another pass before three. three was still full of traffic and i took an inside line there as well. when we regridded i was in 7th place and incredibly excited.
i watched the temp gauge climb as i was sitting there. the wreckers were sent out to clear some damage from turn three where some of the SSC miatas had gotten together with an ITB volkswagen. nobody was hurt, but some folks'll be spending some cash fixing cars. they had us shut down and my temp gauge started dropping, i was glad for the electric fan brett had installed as the scirocco behind me got pulled off the grid for overheating and losing a lot of coolant.
in the next practice start, the law of diminishing returns got me, and i only passed one car, coming back into the grid in the 6th spot. we were only in for a few minutes this time before we pulled out for the race.
in retrospect, most of the race is a blur. i guess i should've written this sunday night, but i was too tired. i passed a few people and was really close to the front for a lap or so, but then i overcooked 5, going wide, and lost two positions. i raced hard with jim stauffer's ITB 2002 which hooked up really nice and definitely pulled me on the straights. in the fourth lap i got a nice run on him coming out of turn 10, and if i'd had the horsepower i could have passed him. full throttle down towards turn 1 and it's chip herr's SSC talon all the way over on the left, jim's 2002 behind him and in the middle of the track and me behind jim and on the right. jim decided to take the classic line through 1 and move left behind chip, but chip got on the binders early and suddenly the both seemed to stand still as i rocketed by them on the inside. i braked somewhat late (late enough that the instructors later asked me if i really thought i was going to make it), got sideways but managed to keep ahead of chip herr who was already accelerating by then. the talon dogged me for the rest of the final lap, but i wasn't about to let him have the spot. he got a nice run out of ten, got next to me and it was a drag race for the finish. interestingly, we both thought he had won, because we both thought the start-finish line was the flag station. we were wrong, we had already passed the line by the time he passed me, and i ended up in 4th overall, 2nd in ITB.
took my cool down lap, waved at the workers, felt like a hero, couldn't keep the grin off my face under the helmet. what an amazing weekend.
after the debriefing, i watched the big bore sedan race, where my friend and paddock mate, rich beebe proceeded to beat everyone and come in first overall in his ITS BMW 325is. definitely a good weekend for us.
i want to thank everybody who helped. the DC region puts on a great school. everybody, from registration, to the instructors to the workers was nothing but friendly and helpful, amazingly so. the fact that these folks are out there so i can race is just amazing. thanks.
i also have to really thank brett anderson, my mechanic and friend. he built a lot of this car, and worked a lot of hours on it over the weekend, as well as spending the entire preceding week at my house working on the car. i would not have been there without him.
additional thanks... i can't ignore the hours of help preparing the car pat donahue put in. my wife beth was always there to lend a hand. rich beebe and i tolerated each other through the months of dealing with vendors and trying to find the right components for each of our cars, and lucy beebe for her enthusiasm. trevor griffiths at treasured motorcars for late nights working out suspension problems and bruce robertson, rich's mechanic, who originally found me the car and drove my M3 home for an axle. grant carter was also a great resource for bouncing ideas off of during development and on the school weekend itself. last but not least, thanks to ITA racer matt yip, without who's truck and trailer the car would've been stranded in centreville, virginia for the weekend.