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Old 09-06-2009, 12:29 AM   #15
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My story, a transition from auto X, to HPDE, to Racing.

WeeAsp, has really put together a great collection of info for anyone wanting to get into the road race / time trial scene.

Since March of 2007 I have run about 20-25 track events, and have probably logged over 2000 miles on track. Here's how it went for me.

Back in 2007 I started running autocross events in my Focus. It was about 12 years since my last autocross from the days I used to run a rusty but moderately modified Alfa Spider.

The Focus had a few mods, mainly Koni yellows, a big rear sway bar, some strut braces, SS brakelines, Hawk HP+ pads, and for AutoX the coveted Kumho V710's.

I was a decent autocross driver, and spent most of my first year learing how to toss a front wheel drive car around a parking lot, without burning up the front tires, or looping it due to abrupt power off oversteer.

In May of 2007 I attended my first HPDE, it was with NASA/PDA at Pocono East. It was an interesting experience, I not only had a chance to experience car control techniques at speeds close to 120MPH, I also learned about boiling brake fluid, and having a set of tires loose grip from overheating. The conventional Castrol DOT4 fluid didn't cut it, and using autoX tires for road racing is not adviseable.

I continued a mix of AutoX and HPDE's that year. In 2008 I concentrated more on HPDE/Time Trials, and only did a few AutoX events. The car recieved a few mods over the 2007/2008 winter, and I installed an Autopower bolt-in 4pt roll bar. (safety is everything to me) At this point it was still a daily driver.

Through 2008, both the car and I made some improvments. My driving was becoming more controlled, and the car was allowing me to post respectable times on every track. By the midpoint of 2008, I had made a personal commitment to cross over to competitive racing, and started taking a more serious approach to attending events, better planning, getting proper rest, thinking about my physical fitness etc.

In 2009, I was lucky enough to have a friend, and experienced SCCA racer loan me his RX7 to attend race school in March. My car was not converted to a race legal vehicle yet, so I needed something to drive in the Race School.

The good news is that I passed that school, I now have an SCCA regional license for racing and have completed 2, 2 day events with SCCA.

I have spent a small fortune turing my daily driver into a race car, I would not advise this to anyone, it's much cheaper to buy a turn key car, or build your own off of a worn out used car with a solid chassis.

Clubs I have run with:

NASA/PDA: - A good club with access to many tracks in the north east. They have some good instructors, but not always. Thier events are reasonably well organized, and they are well prepared with saftey and workers etc. I have seen them reprimand agressive drivers.

EMRA: - These guys run great low key/low cost events. It's a local club in the North East, with no national afiliations. Ego's are non-existent, and everyone seems to have a blast. There are plenty of experienced drivers in this group, you can get some good instruction and you will ALWAYS have fun.

SCCA: - I have only run one HPDE (SCCA calls it PDX) with SCCA, but I have done all my racing so far with them. With all respects to NASA and EMRA, in my opinion SCCA runs the most well organized and professional events overall.

I won't get into the politics of racing clubs and the differences between SCCA / NASA, they both have issues. The best quote I read on this subject was "SCCA is a club pretending to be a business, and NASA is a business pretending to be a club."

I will say that building a competitive car for SCCA can be challenging because of the way they class cars etc, typically only a handful of cars in any one class become competitive. NASA uses a point system, with base classing based on HP/WT, so it does not matter what car you have, there is a good chance it will get classed in a competitive base class. From there it's up to you to select the most effective mods for your car based on the points system (similar to BMWCCA and PCA)

Tracks I have driven:

Pocono International, Long Pond PA.

There are several road race configurations built on the infield of the Nascar Tri-Oval. I have driven the 3 configurations known as North, East, and South.

It's a great facility, ample garages/paddock areas, decent food on site, and showers, but the infield courses are nothing more than strips of pavement through the infield. The infield is very "lumpy" and if you go off track in the wrong place, it can get ugly. (I came off track on the East course, hit a big berm that KO'd my RF fog lamp, cracked the bumper cover, wiped out some air defelectors and trashed my lower radiator support. I was lucky to put it all back in place to drive it home)

NJ Motorsports Park, Millville NJ.

This is a fine work in progress. (5 year contruction plans, that include "rally stage" and 4X4 venues) I have driven both the Lighning and Thuderbolt circuits. These are well developed facilties, but amenities are split up between the 2 courses. Thunderbolt has the guest suites, garages and showers, Lightning has the larger paved paddock, and fuel tanks. I love both of these tracks, they have plenty of run-off and are among the best laid out tracks from a safety standpoint. There are some blind spots and tricky turns, but plenty of room to go off track safely if needed. It's biggest drawback might be the amount of dust that gets kicked up when drivers drive/spin off track. Your car will probably need to be detailed at the end of the day, and during my last event there, I had to drive through a heavy dust cloud at close to racing speeds. Probably the scariest 3 seconds in my past 26 months of track events!

As a lifelong NJ resident, I was excited to attend one of the first Road Race events held here in 45 years when EMRA ran it's sprints and time trials 7/12/2008.

Lime Rock Park, New Caanan CT.

This is an older race track with a great history. Former CT resident, Paul Newman turned many laps here! Since this track has been turned into a "membership" track, there are fewer open track days, and fees are a bit higher now than in the past. It's a very fast, fun and challenging track. The recent reconstruction/repaving means the course is now smooth as silk, and very predictable. The facilites are modest, but it's such a classic track who cares! Food prices are insane however, I strongly advise to pack a lunch! It's a great track for a Focus, lots of turns only one major straight so it's perfect for lower HP cars.

"The Glen" - Watkins Glen International, Dix NY

This is without a doubt my favorite course that I have been on. I guess it's mainly due to the fact I remember it from childhood seeing the formula 1 races on TV, with the likes of Jackie Stewart, Fittipaldi, Jim Clarke etc. My first event there was a holy experience, if I died on Rt17 driving home from that weekend, I would have died in complete inner peace with no regrets in this life!

This is a SERIOUS track, all buisness and everything a track should be. BUT, there are a few places you can get into trouble. (I'm pretty sure someone puts some serious damage on thier car there once a weekend) So if you do go there as a novice or for your first event, take it slow and listen to your instructor. The long course is over 3 miles long, has about 14 turns and 3 major straights. The elevation changes are significant, and some of the turns include technical features that make them difficult to master. It's one of the most expensive tracks I have been to, so you probably won't turn laps there for less than $350-$400. For an extra $80-$100 you can usually reserve a space in the NASCAR garages.

Summit Point Motorsports Park, Summit Point WV (Main Course)

This is another GREAT older classic race track, but unlike Lime Rock, or the Glen, since it has fallen of the professional racing circuit it has not been expanded or developed in recent years so the amenities are limited. (it's lovingly called "Scummit Point" by many....) There is food and fuel on-site, and a "pro-shop" if you forgot a few things, but no garages, and not much of a paved paddock. The track is split between a highspeed wide open circuit, and a tight, twisty and technical section. (much like NJMP Thuderbolt) The track was resurfaced in 2007, and they had to redo some of the corners this year, but it's in generally decent condition. It's a relatively safe track, but it's somewhat "carved" into the landscape in some places so if you really loose it, you might find yourself buried in a tirewall. Just take it easy in the tricky spots and you'll be OK. All in all, I think this might be my second favorite track. You can usuaully find a good bargain here, and the track is very challenging. Plus for me a it's a nice road trip, a chance to get away from the psycho pace of the NYC metro area.

Silverstone "Stowe Circuit" UK.

I was on an extended business trip to the UK in the spring of 2008, so I wanted to do something on track in the UK. For about $350 I rented a Formula Ford for 2 20 minute sessions around a small practice circuit at the famous Siverstone Grand Prix facility. One day, I plan on racing an open wheel car, and I decided this was a neat way of checking one out. It was too short, but what fun!

Some of the tracks I want to drive:

Road Atlanta (might do this one in 2010)
Laguna Seca


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