In case you don’t subscribe to SportsCar magazine, here’s the the info on my performance this year, with course maps, results, and a write up, written by my friend, Jeff Anderson (check out his blog!). All maps, results, and the article writeup are from SportsCar Magazine. The Facebook screenshots are from the SoloMatters webpage. All other photos are mine.
At the National Championships, there are two courses to drive. You drive one course one day, and the other the next day. You get three tries on each course, and your fastest time from each course is added together. The fastest overall time wins. There are penalties – DNF means you did not follow the course, or did not finish the run (you’ll see that on Day 2 for me), and every cone you hit (the little orange dots on the map) adds two seconds to your time.
I started out on the West Course. Right before the “Odd Job” corner, there is a huge bump, which unsettles the car. Apparently I didn’t notice this on my coursewalk, and managed to hit it, loser control, and spin. My second run, I did a close-to-perfect run, until the end….right after “Die Another Day.” The last kink in the course, right before the finish, I pushed just a liiiiiiiiiitle too hard and spun. Again. Sigh. Third time’s the charm? I held back a lot on my third run – I drove slowly, carefully, conservatively…..and managed a class-leading time by nearly 0.350 seconds.
My class has a weight requirement, so I had to weigh the car after my last run, and I got stuck in a long line at the scales. Everyone was waiting for me, they were cheering and were so proud – and I teared up a bit. This is the single best memory I have from my competition days – really from any of my racing days ever.
Day 2 was less than optimal. I felt good – like I had done my job – put my name out there. I’m the one to beat, the car is the one to beat, and I’m a lot faster than people expected.
I’ve had pretty horrible Nationals performances every year I’ve gone – something always breaks, and I always end up 5th. In 2009, the oil cooler went, and it screwed me up mentally so badly I couldn’t focus. In 2011, the water pump on the engine failed (during the open class competition), and again, I couldn’t get my head in the game. 2012 was a shitshow from the get-go, with a minor suspension failure and tremendously bad miscommunication (and no communication, for that matter). This year, I was pretty sure it was going to be completely opposite – I wasn’t nervous or feeling anything. I was calm, relaxed, and ready to just have some fun.
I’ll spare you the technical details, but this effectively meant that unless we could a) find a welder, b) find someone to weld those back on, and c) test it, the guys (who were sitting P1 and P2 after Day 1 competition) were screwed. The car was towed back to the paddock, and everyone worked on getting me a ride. I was ready to quit. I had several offers to jump into another car before I even got back to the grid (we were stuck out on the course for a while), but I was too upset. A fellow competitor nearly had to force me into his BMW M3, a car that has won three national championships in the SM category in the past.
My friends kept me focused on driving, while this was going on behind me. They kept physically turning me around to keep me staring ahead, and not behind me, so I didn’t get distracted by the repairs.
There is also video from when the car broke – we left the cameras on and it captured everyone rushing to our aid. I didn’t realize it at the time, but people from across the country sprang to action. Competitors from San Diego, the PacNW, Atlanta, Chicago, DC….everywhere.
I’d never driven that particular BMW before – I’d driven similar cars in lower prep levels. And I was distraught. But I managed to pull off a respectable time on my first outing (attempt 2 of 3 on the course), and then cut even more time off on my third and final run of the event. After a Timing and Scoring SNAFU involving my first protest, I ended up in second place.
While I would have loved to win, and plan on it for next year, I think it was nearly better to have things happen this way. I proved a lot of things to a lot of people – I’m fast, I’m composed, I’m adaptable, and I’m a good sport. I had people I’ve looked up to for years take note of who I am – I’m finally in their group. I know that next year brings more challenges, and upgrades, and work, but at least I’m not a nobody anymore, and I’ve finally figured out how to have fun.