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The Fall Classic in Seattle

4 October 2003

In a break from the rest of the season's "tradition," I didn't drive to the track until Saturday morning. This meant that I had to attend the mandatory meeting for novices and area drivers (at 8:30 in the morning), get my car run through tech, and get everything else ready before Group 1's first practice session. So I get all the stuff ready for tech, get my other gear setup and ready to go, and then realize I probably have enough time to get my car tech'd before the Novice meeting. I drive the car over to tech, get that dealt with, drive back to my paddock space (a couple hundred feet each way, tops), and then go to the meeting...

Where the Licence Director promptly asks me if I've read my "supps," Supplemental Rules. Well, I had, but completely forgotten about the rule stating that no race car may be started before 9am, due to the noise agreements the track has with the neighbors, punishment being a $100 fine and getting asked to go home. Yeowch. He let it slide, which is cool, but please: My car is quieter (at non-race revs) than most of the fricking' tow vehicles that were driving around that morning. I mean, hell, my car is quieter than a lot of cars you'll hear on the street, fer cryin' out loud.

Okay, potential disaster averted ('cause once you go through tech, there ain't no refunds) and I'm ready to get drivin'. Only, being as this is early October in the Pacific Northwest, it's a bit cold and really, really foggy. So foggy, in fact, that the corner stations can't see each other, which is an unsafe situation. Much grumbling from drivers about being able to see well enough to drive, but it's a no-go by the safety people. (Although, as one wag put it, "Hell, I don't look past my hood anyway....")

The fog hangs around long enough that they cancel all the morning's practice sessions, but... the rules state that all Novice sessions get run, even if it means that some of the others don't, so I start gettin' seat time once the fog lifts about 11am.


Pictures from this event

Practice

It's been so long from the actual event to the time of this writing, unfortunately, that the only thing I remember about the practices (other than the fog) was the apparent increase in torque and top speed due to my new AEM air intake. It also made my car sound a little throatier which, believe me, is an improvement on the usual "sewing machine on steroids" from a high-revving 4-cylinder.

Oh yeah, and one other thing: My best time from the second practice session was my fastest lap at Pacific Raceways, ever. :)

Race

The Novice race is always the last event on Saturday and, for the first time all season, I wasn't sweaty, tired, or frustrated when it started. So, ya know, no excuses when the green flag dropped....

As we rolled around on the pace lap, I found myself gridded 5th behind Eric Krause's polesitting Porsche 968 (after doing his first Novice race in August, Eric did a race at Portland in September and was hoping to upgrade to an Area license after today), a beat-up blue Corvette I've raced with a few times, the Mustang from the mid-August race (and my target for the day; I was going to get past this guy one way or another), and a really nice-looking Porsche 914/6.

The License Director hadn't told Eric what speed he should run after the pace car left, so we approached the starter's station going a little faster than normal, with the end result that I didn't get my usual good start. In fact, the first 6 cars (at least) pretty much stayed in formation through the exit of Turn 2. As we approached the first hairpin at 3A, the 914 and I stayed a bit wide of the Mustang. The 914 got by him in 3A and I got past on the inside of 3B; my goal for the day accomplished! The 914 roared away down the back straight (which includes a bend in the road called Turn 4) but I was able to catch up to him in Turn 6 and passed going through Turn 7, leaving me in 3rd after less than one lap.

The Turn 4 station was displaying the "road surface" flag as we came down the back straight on the following lap, which usually means fluids (or, around here, rain) on the track and, sure enough, I saw a shiny line of something going up the hill to 5A. I straddled the line to keep whatever it was away from my tires and I still got a bit squirrelly as I braked to make the turn left. Slowing down for the fluid had helped the 914 get close enough that he started harassing me from Turn 8 and for the next lap-and-a-half, and finally just rocketed past me on the back straight. (The 914/6 is a 6-cylinder engine crammed into a small, lightweight, mid-engined car; looking back, I suspect the driver was probably just taking it a little easy for the first few laps.)

As we got to Turn 8 at the end of the third lap, and just as I was setting up to lap a slower car, the flag stations started waving two yellow flags to indicate a full-course caution, the reason for which was just around the corner after Turn 9: A black BMW had spun across the gravel & grass median toward the drag strip, scattering gravel (and some good-sized rocks!) onto the racing surface. What's worse, he was stuck where he had stopped, leaving himself a target for anyone else who might've spun there.

It took 3 laps to get him towed out of the way (but it was left up to us to clean the gravel & rocks away by driving over them) and I completely screwed the restart by being in the wrong gear when the green waved, getting passed by someone in a BMW 325. The good news, though, was that I was able to get back by the 914, as well as passing the backmarker from lap 3. The 914 passed me back at start/finish to start lap 8, but the Corvette had dropped out somewhere along the way, so I was still 4th.

It was also during this lap that I noticed a yellow & black Honda CRX approaching in my mirrors. My car is faster in a straight line, but the CRX is quite a bit lighter which, coupled with some good driving on his part and some mistakes on mine, meant he had an edge in the twistier bits; overall, we were pretty evenly matched.

I got completely blocked by a slow Datsun 510 on the exit of Turn 9 at the end of lap 11, forcing me almost to the grass, but more importantly costing me a lot of momentum, which then allowed the CRX to get alongside me, where he stayed all the way until the hairpin at 3A. He was on the inside (my right) and was able to take the line and pass me. I stayed on his left (the inside) as we approached the second hairpin at 3B, but I was only able to stay with him as we got onto the back straight... time for that superior horsepower! Unfortunately, I couldn't quite get the pass done before we came to a standing yellow in Turn 4. As we got to the waving yellow in 5A, I could see a car spun out on the apex of 5B. This caution area—right in the middle of the area where the CRX's handling advantage was greatest—remained in place for the remainder of the race.

I didn't get back on the gas quickly enough after the incident and the CRX got away from me a little, but we were back to the part of the track where I had a horsepower advantage and I was able to catch him just before "Turn 1" (as with the bend on the back straight that's considered Turn 4, Turn 1 is really just a bend in the road; although you're turning the wheel, you're definitely not lifting the throttle) and, finally, cement the pass going into Turn 2 on lap 12.

Near the end of lap 14, and still in front of (but just barely) the CRX, I found myself approaching my old "nemesis" from lap 11, the really slow 510. As we exited Turn 8, the CRX went left to pass him and I went right. I guessed wrong, as this was the direction the 510 chose to get out of our way. I figured this was the end of my chance to stay with the CRX for while, since this is when it's really important to maintain speed for the long front straight: I wasn't going to be able to keep my speed up while stuck behind a much slower car, so I let off the throttle a little and prepared to settle in behind the 510. However...

The CRX went really wide on the outside of Turn 9 while passing the 510, perhaps because the 510 drifted quite wide of the apex, leaving a nicely sized hole (in my opinion; I was to get dinged for it by one observer post-race) for me to pass on the inside. Thus the story of how three Novice drivers went three-wide through Turn 9, something you don't hardly ever see even the senior drivers do.

Exiting the corner, I found I had lost only about a car-length to the CRX and, once again, I was able to pass just before the "bend in the road" that is Turn 1. Best of all, and as I'd done for several laps, I was able to keep far enough away from him that I was still in front as we got to the no-passing area marked by the yellow flags on the back side of course, keeping in front on what was to be the final lap.

After the race, Todd-the-CRX-driver came by to laugh over how much fun we'd had fighting for position for all that time. (Amusingly enough—or not, depending upon how you look at it—he had come by earlier in the day to check out and talk about what I'd done to the car. Not knowing I was speaking with a fellow competitor, I told him everything, including the greater speed I was seeing from my new intake. Even if I'd known who I was talking to, though, I would've said probably 90% [or more] of what I had.) He was followed by several spectators who wanted to say how much fun it was to watch us racing. Best of all were the comments from observers about how tight and yet how clean (fair) our battle was. High praise indeed.

As it happened, my fastest lap of the race was nearly 2.5 seconds than my previous best... in fact, 4 of the 15 race laps were better than my previous best. Good stuff!

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