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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Unless they have some experience with club or sports car racing, many people's mental image of what I do is typically oval (NASCAR-style) racing, drag racing, or maybe even illegal street racing. Club racing is definitely a niche hobby, and not the most accessible to the casual or even interested spectator, so I can't really blame them for that. What I can do, though, is describe what it is I do and answer any questions folks might have about it.

The results charts on the Logbook are confusing
Huh? What's a run group? What's a class?
Okay, so what classes do you run in?
What kind of speeds are we talking about? What's your car's top speed? What's your best 1/4-mile time?
How safe is it?
Do you get scared?
What do you get when you win?
How much does it cost?
Do you have sponsors? How can get I involved with a sponsorship deal?
Where are you going with this? Will I see you on TV someday?
What organization do you race with?
Where do you race?
Where can I find this kind of racing on TV?
"The Fast and the Furious" was cool! How can I get into street racing?
What's a chicane?
What's red mist?
What's DFL?
What's DNF?
What does turn in/apex/track out mean?
What's trail-braking?
What's an enduro?
What's oversteer? What's understeer?
What's drafting?
What do the different flags mean?
What's breathing the throttle?
What's a stint?
What's an early apex? Late apex?
What are marbles?



The results charts on the Logbook are confusing
Race results in sports car racing usually come in pairs: overall and class. Overall results and lap times are for all the cars that were on the track during the race. Class results and lap times are just for those cars that are considered to be roughly similar in performance potential and that are prepared under a specific set of rules. (Although cars in the faster classes in a run group can legitimately compete for an overall victory, most of us are just competing against the other cars in our class.)



Huh? What's a run group? What's a class?
A "run group" is a way for the organizers to maximize the available track time for as many cars as is practical. They do their best to get classes of roughly comparable speed in the same run group, but sometimes (as in Conference's Group 1, which I run along with Group 4) you get purpose-built, tube-frame race cars with fiberglass body shells (a lot like the cars & trucks in NASCAR) on track with Miatas, Nissan Sentras, and Integras that have been prepared for racing. The qualifying results for a recent Group 1 race, for example, had the polesitter running 150% of the speed of the last car on the grid. That is a huge speed differential!

As mentioned above, a "class" consists of cars that are considered to be roughly similar in performance potential and that are prepared under a specific set of rules. Conference's A-B-C-D Production classes, for example, are purely based on a stock horsepower-to-stock weight ratio. They're also subject to a slightly stricter list of allowable performance modifications than, say, SCCA's Improved Touring classes. IT allows more modification than the SCCA's Showroom Stock classes (which are basically street cars with safety equipment) with Conference's Production classes somewhere between. Unlike Conference's HP-to-weight system for Production, IT's subclasses (ITA, ITB, ITC, ITS, and the catch-all ITE) are supposed to be based on complex calculations that class cars according to their "relative performance capabilities." Believe me, there's a lot of debate about the placement of various cars in the assorted IT classes.



Okay, so what classes do you run in?
I'm currently running in C Production ("CP") and Radial Sedan ("RS"). CP is a Conference-only class and is what my car is optimized for. The two other cars that consistently run CP are a 1993 BMW 325is coupe and a 1968 Datsun 2000 roadster. In conjunction with my 1997 Acura Integra hatchback, you can see that Conference's Production classes allow for some interesting combinations of cars.

Once SCCA classifies my car in Improved Touring ("IT"), I'll probably run it there, too, but in the meantime I run the SCCA Oregon Region's Radial Sedan class ("radial" 'cause you can't run with racing slicks). RS allows for a much wider range of modifications than either Production or IT, so my car is too heavy (by over 300 pounds!) and too stock to be really competitive. Since the rules are so open for RS, though, it's available as a second class to a lot of cars, so you get everything from Porsche 944s to RX-7s to (typically) a whole raft of Spec Miatas.

Update: As of 2006, I'm running a BMW M3 in SPM ("Super Production" cars with engine displacements of 2.0 liters to 3.99 liters) and the ITE variant of Improved Touring. SP is a pretty wide-open class for production-based cars with rules primarily about safety and engine displacement. ITE is very nearly an "anything goes" class; so far as I know, just about any production-based car with DOT-legal tires can run ITE, including cars with 4- or all-wheel drive and those with automatic transmissions.



What kind of speeds are we talking about? What's your car's top speed? What's your best 1/4-mile time?
From what I can tell of all the other classes, my Integra was a middling-fast car, even when compared to purpose-built cars. The fastest I've gone in the Integra is a little over 130MPH at the end of Pacific Raceway's long front straight (and only a bit over 140 in the M3 with its 3.73 rear diff), where the fastest cars do probably 170 and the slowest around 95 or so. But when you consider that my stock-engined, 4-cylinder Integra race car beat the snot out of my Dinan-modified, 6-cylinder BMW 330Ci street car [ed.: both of which I've since sold] over the course of a lap, you'll understand that top speed is far less important than speed through the corners. (Remember, this is road racing, not drag racing!) So, while the Integra was probably capable of something north of 145MPH (given enough room) with its current gear ratios, it's far more important to be quick into the corner, quick through the corner, and quick on exit. You want a light, nimble car with good brakes and decent acceleration that is capable of going through every corner with as little time off full throttle as possible. That's what makes a road race car fast.

(As a little illustration of why I think a fast lap around a road circuit is more challenging and ultimately more fun than drag or oval racing, allow me to relate a story from when I took my wife on a few laps around Pacific Raceways in my modified BMW 330Ci street car. When we were done, I asked what she thought of the whole thing. Her response was that she now had a lot more respect for what I did during a race. As flattering as that was, I pressed for details about why she would say something like that. While I know for a fact that she's driven at least 115MPH in a straight line, and despite the relatively sedate laps we took [and without 40 other cars racing around us], she said she was really startled by the speeds at which we approached the corners and how fast we went through them. Her favorite and least favorite parts of the lap? The same really fast section of left-right-left turns, which we approached at about 100MPH.)



How safe is it?
Organized road racing is every bit as safe as sitting in your house watching TV. (Hi Mom.)

Seriously, it's less dangerous than you might expect. We are all required to wear helmets and fireproof suits/gloves/shoes. Our cars (and I'm talking about former street cars) must have full internal safety cages, fire systems, and typically have all the interiors stripped out to minimize what could burn. And, while we're all going pretty damn fast, our speeds relative to each other are usually only 5-35MPH. Of course, while there is sometimes contact between cars, the biggest safety risk is going off track and hitting something as the result of contact between cars, mechanical failure, slippery track surfaces, or just plain ol' driving mistakes. Still, only in the most extreme instances will there be anything other than wounded cars and shaken-up drivers.



Do you get scared?
Well, "scared" might be overstating it a bit, but you bet I get nervous or apprehensive. Typically, it happens during one of three occasions: Sitting on pre-grid before the race starts, during the last few laps of a race (when I'm worried about losing a position or having a mechanical problem), or right after I've done something I didn't think I was going to pull off. :)



What do you get when you win?
I dunno, since I haven't won yet. :) Seriously, you don't get much. The vast majority of the time you get a plaque or small trophy, bragging rights, and a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, there's a small contingency fund available, but you're still talking a couple hundred dollars at most, which is not even enough to cover your entry fees. So it's pretty much about bragging rights.



How much does it cost?
Short answer? As much as you can spend. The longer answer is more complicated, in that it depends on what kind of car you want to race (old Honda Civic or new Porsche GT3 Cup) in what class (Showroom Stock C or GT-1), how much you're willing to spend to go faster ($4500 out the door or the sky's the limit), and at what level of competition (local club, national amateur, or pro) you wish to compete. Of course, at every level are costs like fuel, tires, brake pads, general maintenance costs, entry fees, hotel, food, travel expenses, and so on.



Do you have sponsors? How can get I involved with a sponsorship deal?
As part of my plan to get more serious about my racing (yes, I realize this is supposed to be a hobby), I started making an effort in early 2004 to gain some sponsors. I've been fortunate enough to have sponsors at varying levels of support ever since, which is as gratifying as it is helpful. If you would like to discuss a sponsorship—and at this level we're typically talking discounts on goods & services, or providing things like tires or brake pads—please e-mail me.



Where are you going with this? Will I see you on TV someday?
It's really hard to say where I'm going with this. As my wife is fond of reminding me, this is supposed to be a hobby, i.e., something that gives me relaxation and enjoyment. Problem for me is, I don't like to engage in any serious activity unless I'm willing to put forth the effort required to make some kind of progress.

Having said that, the biggest limiting factor in an aspiring racer's career (and I'm including drivers with way more skill than I) is simply the lack of sufficient funds. So, while I expect to do better over the years and (possibly) move to faster and/or more competitive cars, you're unlikely to see me drive unless you come to the track. (Of course, if you've got a few hundred grand burning a hole in your pocket, there are several professional racing series I'd dearly love to compete in.)



What organization do you race with?
I race with the International Conference of Sports Car Clubs (ICSCC), commonly known as "Conference." Well, "commonly known" among a very small group of people, as most other folks (if they know about club-level road racing at all) assume I race with the SCCA. While Conference is not as well-known or large as the SCCA, it has a long history (going back to 1957) and long ago worked out a deal with the SCCA that allows drivers holding a license in one organization to race with the other. Furthermore, not only can you run any of the SCCA National or Regional classes in Conference, you can run former (such as D Production) and region-specific SCCA classes (like the Oregon Region's Radial Sedan), as well as Conference-specific classes like Pro-3 (for BMW 3-series cars with the "E30" body style). For these and other other reasons, and for as long as I race in the Pacific Northwest, I intend to do so with a Conference license.



Where do you race?
The three main tracks Conference races at are Mission Raceway Park in Mission BC, Canada (about 2.5 hours north of Seattle), Pacific Raceways in Kent WA (about 50 minutes south of Seattle), and Portland International Raceway in Portland OR (about 3 hours south of Seattle). We also race sometimes at Spokane Raceway Park in Spokane WA (about 5 hours east of Seattle) and Thunderhill Park in Willows CA (about 10.5 hours south of Seattle).



Where can I find this kind of racing on TV?
If you have SPEED Channel in the US (or if you live in Europe), finding sports car racing on television is pretty simple. If you want to watch club-level amateur racing (again, if you're in the US or, possibly, Canada), the answer is that you pretty much can't. What you can do, though, is watch the SCCA's Runoffs, which is the national championships for SCCA National classes (as opposed to Regional classes like IT) and held every August. My car's preparation and performance levels falls somewhere between the Showroom Stock and Production classes.



"The Fast and the Furious" was cool! How can I get into street racing?
No offense, but only idiots with no concern for the safety of others engage in street racing. True, the "responsible" ones make an effort to do their thing in relatively deserted areas, but there are no safety considerations made for either the competitors or the spectators, and people from both groups are killed or injured every year. And don't even get me started about the mindless twits who think racing each other through traffic on the freeway is cool.



What's a chicane?
A chicane is a section of sharp turns designed to slow cars down in the middle of a long straight. Chicanes are typically a left-right-left or right-left-right combination, but sometimes consist of only two corners (also known as a "dogleg"). The "Festival Turns" (turns 1-3) at Portland International Raceway is an example of a chicane.



What's red mist?
This is a racer's expression that describes being just a little too "head-down" in your quest for speed, position, etc. Also known as "blinders."



What's DFL?
This is a racer's expression standing for Dead (ahem) "Flipping" Last. As in: "I was DFL after that spin but had a good run through the field to finish in the points."



What's DNF?
DNF stands for Did Not Finish. DNS is Did Not Start, while DSQ (or simply "DQ") is Disqualified.



What does turn in/apex/track out mean?
These terms are used to describe the three segments of a turn:



What's trail-braking?
First, a quick (and very high-level) note about vehicle dynamics: A car driving in a straight line at cruising speed essentially has an even amount of weight on all four tires. When you brake, some of the weight on the rear tires shifts to the front tires. (And, conversely, accelerating shifts some weight from the front to the rear.) Ordinarily, you want to get all your braking for a corner done while driving in a straight line in order to minimize the effects this weight transfer can have.

Trail-braking involves purposely braking while turning the car, which means that the weight shifts not only from the rear tires to the front, but more towards the tire on the outside of the turn than the one on the inside. While this increases the odds that too much weight will transfer in this uneven fashion and cause the car to spin (or "oversteer"), it also greatly assists in getting the car to rotate around the apex of the corner. When driving a front-wheel drive car that is naturally inclined to "understeer" (or go straight instead of turning), trail-braking can help the car to turn the corner.



What's an enduro?
The term "enduro" is short for "endurance race" and is a totally different style of racing from sprints, which is what almost all club-level sports car racing is all about. Enduros differ from sprints in the following main ways:



What's oversteer? What's understeer?
These terms are used to describe some of the problems in how a car steers through a corner:



What's drafting?
As a car moves, it has to push aside the air its driving through. The air, previously in a relative uniform state, is sent into chaos, much like the water in a boiling pot. The farther back from the car you go, the closer the air is to being back in its original state. If a second car is within that area of disturbed air, though, it doesn't have to work as hard to move the air out of the way: The air "wants" to move around the car. This second car can now use some of the horsepower it would otherwise use to push air to gain ground on the car in front. It is "drafting" the leading car.



What do the different flags mean?
These are the flags used by ICSCC and what they mean:



What's breathing the throttle?
Sometimes also known as "maintenance throttle" (but in a different context), breathing the throttle is simply the act of holding the throttle steady: not pushing it the remaining distance to floor, but not letting up on it, either. As with so many other aspects of driving a race car, it's all about keeping the car's balance even and/or predictable.



What's a stint?
Stint has a dictionary definition meaning any stretch of time. In endurance racing, it's used to mean the time spent driving the car between pit stops. (Every scheduled pit stop involves adding fuel, and may also result in a tire or driver change.)



What's an early apex? Late apex?
These terms describe both the location of the functional apex in relation to the true apex (see "What does turn in/apex/track out mean?" for additional information) and the act of turning for the functional apex (i.e., too late or too early). For example, nearly all corners in racing are late apex corners, while an inexperienced driver on a race track will typically "early apex" most corners by turning in far too early.



What are marbles?
"Marbles" is a term for all the small bits of rubber that get scrubbed off tires in corners of racetracks. Enough of them together makes driving over them like driving over marbles (or ice), and so that's where they get their name. Also used to describe any of the gravel, grass, and other junk that tends to collect on the outside of corners.

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