Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Repost from 2002: my first race

By 2002, I had made the jump from owning a modified street car to a fully caged race car. I wanted to go racing for real, wheel-to-wheel. I signed up for a race licensing school with the Easter Motor Racing Association at Shannonville in Ontario. This is the story I wrote about it back in 2002.

Licensing school and first wheel-to-wheel race, Shannonville, EMRA, May 25, 2002

Well, I survived. I attended the school and race with the EMRA at Shannonville in Ontario Saturday. The goal was to get the race license (for which I needed to finish both races) and have a good time while, if possible, not finishing in last place overall. After some trailer problems the night before the race, we put on the race tires and taped the lights at the motel. I drove the 10 miles to the track on race rubber.

When we got to the track around 7:30, there were maybe 20 other cars there. I was the only Canadian ( I think) and one of only 2 cars that actually drove to the event (the trailer had been for tires and tools, not my car). There was a wide assortment, including formula cars, a Sport Renault spec racer (SR), many other Hondas, VW's, bmw, MG, Fiat, a neat 3/4 Nascar, etc.  The cars were not all esthetic, but they were arriving on trailers and almost all had Hoosiers or Kumho’s.

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The 2200$ race car, ready for action
I brought my car over to tech inspection and watched them inspect the cleanest 1991 Sentra SE-R you'll ever see. They seemed quite meticulous and I was getting worried. I had to leave the car there to avoid missing the driver's meeting, but my friends Liam and other Vince stayed with the car during the inspection. I couldn't help but worry as I glanced over from the driver's meeting to see the guy looking over and under the car. 

Finally, Liam told me that except for a few little things (missing number on rear of car, protection for battery terminal, installed the extinguisher i had brought), the car was OK. I was already less nervous. Thank God for duct tape (I had brought 3 different colours!).

The day was divided into 2 practice sessions and 2 races for me (6 laps and 12 laps). They assigned me a great instructor named John who had a Civic of the same generation as mine, although much better prepared. He drove my car for 3 laps and then let me drive with him as a passenger (I don't know what the other students did, most having only 1 seat). He showed me the line and we were going SLOWWW. I had watched maybe 100 laps of in-car footage, but I still had trouble getting the line, so we went REALLY SLOW. Liam asked me after if I had a problem with the car, going slow as I was, I told him the problem was learning the line. My instructor said not to worry and to concentrate on learning the line. After this session, my confidence was low, knowing I had only one more session before the novice race. 

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Ready, but nevous

John's idea for the 3rd session was for me to follow him around for 3 laps and then he would follow me for 3 laps. I followed him and it really helped, then he let me pass and he followed me for one lap and then pitted. He later told me that I was doing fine (and that he was saving fuel for the enduro) so he did not feel the need to follow 3 laps. By the end of the session my confidence was growing, but I would have like a few more laps before the race. I really have to thank John. He was the most unselfish instructor of the group and he REALLY helped me.

The time had come for the novice race. They told us that there was no qualifying and it was first come first served. I made sure I wasn't first. I tried to be last, but the SE-R and SR arrived after me. I eased up on the throttle at the start to let them pass, knowing a pass in the 1st corner might be dangerous. I was in last place, but I really only wanted to finish. The car was going well, the laps felt pretty good and, to my surprise, the SR was not pulling away! In fact, I was faster than him in many sections (although not the straight, with my 92 hp Civic. I was following quite closely, but was afraid to pass, thinking that he was a novice too and might not expect anything fancy. There was really only one place for me to pass him, but if he closed the door on me, we would make contact. I decided not to risk it, I wanted the novice license, so I followed him to the checkered flag. Last place, but car still running well, confidence higher. The SR driver came over to talk to me later and explained that it was his first time driving the car. That would explain his cautious early braking. Still, I was happy to be able to hang with a real race car, even though it was less powerful than mine (although much, much lighter!).

For the real race, they paired us up after the last qualifiers. The SR was behind me again, but this time with its real driver. I again let him pass on the start, but when things had settled down, I was again right behind him. We passed a Fiat X1/9 as I continued to follow the SR. There was no way I could possibly pass it with this driver, but he could not pull away either, so we were having a good time. We passed a Renault 5 and an ailing Camaro, both safely in the straight. I noticed that we were soon going to lap the Fiat (now also having problems) soon. Then, suddenly, in the middle of a double-apex hairpin, the Fiat was right there, going like 15 mph on the racing line! I hadn't realized we were going to catch him so soon or that he was going THAT SLOW. My choices were to ram him or go off. I chose to go off. Shannonville is a flat track with almost nothing to hit. I had slowed down before hitting the grass and managed to drive around the Fiat on the outside, on the grass. I was back on track, but had lost at least 10 car lengths on the SR. I could not catch up, but he still wasn't pulling away. I noticed in the distance that an ITB Golf was lapping at the same rate as us as he was always ending the straight when we were beginning it. Then, to my surprise, I was black flagged. I went into the pits and the guy yanked off my front spoiler lip, which had come loose after the "excursion". He said my car was smoking, but it looked ok. It turned out that some oil from my oily engine bay had dripped onto the exhaust manifold. He let me back out on the track and there were 2 laps to go. I was lapped by an RX-7 and BMW in those laps and tried to follow them as long as possible. I finished the race behind the BMW. I had placed last among the non-broken cars, but I had had a good time and they gave me the license. The SR guy came over to talk about our little battle and the Fiat guy came over to apologize.

I had a huge grin on my face. Liam told me that he and others in the stands thought I was doing a decent job out there. I had done what I set out to do, the car and I were still in one piece and I had a road-race license. It was time to load up and go home.

It had been a huge day for me and I'm really glad Liam and other Vince were there with me. I was also proud of my little 2000$ track car, which handled the 90 minutes of track time without even breaking a sweat. The EMRA guys are great, helpful and friendly and I can't wait to race with them again. I'm looking forward to going back for Watkins Glen in the fall and maybe even doing the 2-hour enduro.

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Both the car and I made it through the event unscathed

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