by Victor Erbring
My adventures in SCCA SOLO II racing started after I had a set of KVR pads and Power Slot rotors installed at a Chicago area shop called Race Partners. Mike, the manager and installer was very friendly, and while installing the rotors he asked me if I intended to race my car. I said no, but he told me how much fun it is, and that the shop has a lot of cars that race, including Mike's BMW 318Ti. After returning home, I found an email message waiting for me from the Performance Chicago mailing list informing everyone about an SCCA SOLO II event in Rockford, Illinois, about 60 minutes from my house. I thought, what the hell, for $25 I could probably do worse, and I will see what I am made of.
I then called my friend Chuk, who 2 weeks earlier bought a new VW GTI VR6 (over my objections and pleadings to buy a Teg Type R) and he said he would join me. Sunday rolled around, and I woke up at 6 in the morning after a full 4 hours of sleep. Picked up my fiancee', LaToria (who is THE best!) and headed to Chuk's. To make a long story short, he punked out and I went alone. Needless to say, he made me 45 minutes late (more later.) I finally found the Rockford Speedway and saw the parking lot full of cool cars. I was nervous, pulling into the lot of 100 or so cars, with my bone stock (sans pads and rotors) 1995 Honda Civic EX coupe. Alas, I spotted my compatriots (budget racers): a 1987 Thunderbird V8 with rust, a 93 Civic Si, an 81 VW Rabbit (albeit nicely set up) etc. of course there was a beautiful Dodge Viper (complete with American flags protruding from the cockpit), new Camaros, Corvettes, RX-7 TTs, 300 ZX TTs, and so on. Well, I parked (it was 9:40, and registration closes at 9:15) and went to the registration desk. The very nice woman at the desk said she would still allow me to register and did so while the competitors meeting started. My car is unmodified and was entered in the E class Stock configuration, Street Tires division; ESST for short, and I was given number 171. I received a course map, signed the liability waiver and readied my car for the tech/safety inspection. For the inspection, all movable items in the cockpit must be removed (this includes the ashtray, floormats etc.) the engine compartment is checked for a secure battery tie down and the wheel bearings are checked for excessive play. Of course, all cars must have a working seat belt or harness as well. After passing the tech inspection, I looked for someone to ask for advice. I walked up to a guy in a Miata and told him I was a novice and that this was my first race. He immediately smiled and said that I have to go back to the desk and find out what heat I run in, and what heat I have to work in (you have to work on the course to participate). One VERY important thing I missed by being late was the course walk-around. This is when all the racers get onto the course without their cars and walk through the course several times trying to imagine the best lines, memorize the course and plan an attack. I missed this crucial part of the race. I was racing in heat 2 and 4 and had to work heat 3.
Well, I tried to watch the race from the grandstands, which were very nice (many courses are in parking lots and do not have grand stands.) However, I was at the side of the track and could not clearly get a feel for the track. When heat two came, the course Marshall called for heat 2 racers to get ready, I went to my car. I forgot that one had to wear a helmet. I mentioned this to Gabe, who was prepping a Civic Si, and since his car was in heats 1 and 3, he gave me his helmet to use in my heat. I also found out that there are always loaner helmets available at the races. I put the helmet on (it was a little small), and took my car to the starting grid. The grid is where all the cars sit until they are called to the starting line, since there is only one car on the track at a time. I was nervous as hell. There were a hundred or so spectators in the grandstands, my fiancee' was watching, and I missed the walk around. Well, no time to think, I'm next. I pull up to the starter and watch him for instructions. When the car ahead of me finished, he gave me the signal to go. I went. Went through the first two set up gates, and couldn't tell which cones I had to go around, so I went straight. I know I messed up, but it was my first run and I still went like hell. Big banked right hander into a decreasing radius decreasing camber right left right. Through the finish straight and hard on the brakes for a banked left turn. Hard on the gas, tires squealing, foot on the floor into the straight. Hit the brakes hard and move for the late apex into a decreasing radius left right turn. Hard on the gas and through the finish timing lights. It was over in a flash (38.xxx seconds actually.) My heart is pounding. I am a little disoriented and sweating. I pull off the track drained, and go to stage for the second of three runs.
Immediately after I stage again (there are about 20 other cars in the heat with me, so there is time between runs) Gabe hurries over to critique my run. He mentions the missed pylons, but says not to worry. He says I have to increase my tire pressure by at least 10 psi (I was running 32 psi) because the side wall was flexing on the tire. Oops. He fills my tires with air from his compressor and tells me to relax and not worry. The tire pressure increase should help. Meanwhile, a mid 80's carbeurated VW Scirocco just pulled off the track and stalls. I smell gas as he tries in vain to start it. I run over and ask if he wants a push. He nods and says thanks. I start to push and am quickly joined by 4 other people also pushing. Nothing. At the end of the staging lane someone tells him to engage reverse. We push him backwards. The engine catches and he's back on track, ready to roll. I get ready for my next run, a little more confident. Strap on the helmet and stage. I pull up to the starter and am ready to go. I'm off. Gas. Shift, right. Left Right Left Right, into the banked turn. Gas. Gas. Brakes and another hard right left right. Hit the gas and go go go. Brake and turn left. Hard on the gas hit the straight. Head for the outside and time the brake. Hard on the brakes and look for the left. Left right and the on the gas through the lights. WOW. The grin is from ear to ear. I finished, and did not hit any cones (worth 2 seconds per cone.) WOW! What a great feeling. My hands are shaking, more sweat and a light feeling in my head and stomach. A 38.757. nice. Gabe comes over to congratulate me on a nice run. Well, it wasn't as smooth as could be, but ok. One more run before I have to work the course. Ready! Set! Go! I hit the gas, right left right left right. Hard right and Bonk! My head hits the side of the roof liner in my car knocking my glasses askew. I can't straighten them out and abort the run. Damn! I was rocking on that one. Damn! Oh well, I have 2 more runs in heat 4.
I park the car and head to the side of the track waiting for the other racers in my heat to finish. I am to report to corner # 1 to work. Contrary to popular belief, working was cool. Except for the hot sun! I watch the other racers go around the course and can get a slower ground's eye view of the course and watch the others. My job is to run and reset cones if they are knocked over. I have 6 other people working with me doing the same job. We have little to do. It was cool seeing (and hearing) those cars hustle around the track. Nothing like a viper heading right by you! Then the heat is over and I have 2 more runs. I look near the start at the grid and see a bag full of helmets. I take a large. Aahhh. Much better. This helmet fits. I get ready and get off the line planning a better first right hander. Bam! Right Left Right Left Right. Hard on the gas, light braking, yank the wheel right, left right gas! Straight, hit the brakes outside and take a higher line in the banked left, exit with a tiny squeal and am in the straight. Look for the late apex on the decreasing radius left, right and shift to 1st to accelerate through the timing lights. Aahhh. Better still. A 38.557. Sweet. Still on those crappy ass Bridgestones *. Cool. One more run. I go back to stage and the course marshall comes out and asks me if I have raced before. I say no, and he looks very surprised. Says I have some talent, and am very aggressive. He suggests I take a "Fun Run" with Victor (also in ESST) in his 93 Integra. Sweet. He also says I should move my driving position forward a little and keep my hands at the top of the wheel. He is still very impressed with me. I say "Thanks." Get ready for my last run…ooh. A little to hard on the brakes (it's all about smoothness) and lose .05 seconds or so.
I am done. It's 4:00 o'clock and I take a fun run with Victor. WOW. HE's the aggressive, but strangely smooth one. Of course his car is set up. Koni adjustables, tower braces, 008 race tires (DOT approved though), racing harness and a flowmaster muffler. Hmm. I will have to practice the hard-yet-smooth technique. I am totally drained and can't believe that I am still smiling so damn much. I would have thought I would get facial cramps much sooner. WOW. What great time. And you know, I am a good driver, but can use improvement. I only beat half the field in my equalized time ;)
More to come next week. And my suggestion is, GO DRIVE AN SCCA SOLO II EVENT! And have fun.