If you have ever done anything exciting you probably can relate to the rush of adrenaline that I was experiencing as I approached Barber Motor Sports Park to participate in the National Auto Sport Association’s Winter in July. I wasn’t sure where to park, how to get to the paddock, what to do when I got to the paddock. I did know that today we were meeting at lot G for early check in. I got my orange dot and got to meet who I was paired with for the drive. My instructor Tal Penfound. He is the guy on the left in the picture. Super guy and admitted RWD snob. So, my FWD did not impress him much at our meeting when I techistered (technical registration). He did like the sound. He said the exhaust sounded really good. I thought he might be wondering what an Altima was doing tracking. But to my surprise he started with a Volvo turbo wagon. He shared the story of how a missed turn changed that. Now he drives a spec Miata in the TT (time trial) class.
To the Paddock!
Here we go! I was thinking as I was approaching the track. I simply followed the signs to the paddock and looked for an unassuming place to set up. I certainly didn’t want to take someone’s favorite pew. I drove through two levels of professional drivers and parked myself on the third tier right in the middle and early enough to not be near anyone. Soon after a 2014 corvette pulled in next to me and I got to meet Jason my paddock mate. He was a second level driver that didn’t require an instructor. He later picked one up to get some tips. I took a video my drive to the paddock to give folks a view of how to get there and the fantastic views you get on the way,
HPDE 1 Drivers class
Once I was in my spot on the paddock it was time to look for the first “All Hands” meeting. Today it was held in the second floor meeting room. Here, if you haven’t already found your instructor, you will be paired with them. This is a good time to agree on where to meet pre-grid. After that meeting we adjourned to the driver’s class on the third floor.
This is where there was a lot of discussion about the track, basics about what an apex is, how to let people pass, where and when passing is allowed, flag station locations, and what the flags meant. At the conclusion of the class you get your track pass.
“HPDE1 first call to the grid!” By now my adrenaline pump was on high. Tal got in the car at the NASA hauler. He proceeded to adjust the seat assuring he could have a firm grip on the “OS” handle, his feet were plantable on the floorboard, and he had me adjust the passenger side view mirror so that he could use it like a rear view mirror. Then he guided me to the grid. This was a section of the entry to the track that was coned into parking spots where they collect your track pass and begin a count down. When they call 5 minutes, 3 minutes, and 1 minute you acknowledge with your hand high out the window with the number for those downstream to see. Tal and I had been discussing my background, expectations, and he reiterated the rules with the emphasis on no passing for the first two laps. Here we go!
1st session Boiling Brake Smoke
The Altima felt super coming out on to the track. Turn 2 you can not accelerate until you turn in to a late apex. I had been practicing my heel toe technique and rev matching for the week leading up to today. There are some great you tube videos on these techniques. Coming out of turn 3 throttling away you are blind to what turn 4 is going to look like. So, you aim for the right hand curbing. As I crested the hill I shifted right when the car became unweighted and I started tracking out leftward across the straight. I let up a bit and I was able to set up back to the right for the hairpin 5&6. The car was aiming well and feeling amazing at times. I began to push harder and go faster in the straight. Faster in the straights meant more brake to set up turn ins. By the end of the first session you could tell that I should have followed the recommendation to upgrade my brake fluid. Smoke was boiling from out of the front of the car and you could smell that unmistakable smell of smoking brake pads. Tal advised me to drive around the paddock to cool the brakes. While we were driving through the paddock he admitted to me that he was a RWD snob. He went on to say that he was very impressed at how composed the car was on the track. He asked me if the brakes showed signs of fading. I had to confess they were a bit sketchy at the end of the run. I shared my plan to shift from heel toe to straight in and out, not maxing out in the straights, and concentrate on holding the line for the second session. He agreed to let me try advising me to not go past the brakes ability to keep me on the track.
Re-learn How to Drive
HPDE1 call to the grid! I could get used to this. Not so wound up this time I am concentrating on brake heat management to keep from cutting my track time short. I am already missing two sessions to drive to Tennessee tonight for my favorite aunt’s celebration of life event that I wasn’t going to miss for the world. 1 to go! Index finger high out the window I am ready to see how the SR35 does this time. Again out of the gate the car felt great. It was so hard not to try to go all out. It was obvious that the car was a lot slower as I was being passed quite a bit. But, I was determined to hold the line, learn the line, be the line. At the end of the session I did not have time to get any feedback for tomorrow from Tal as I was just throwing my gear in the car and bulleting up to Cleveland, TN. Sidenote- I had pieces of rubber from the track popping off my tires for an hour up I59N! I wish my Aunt Alice Ames was still around to hear the story. She would have loved to hear about this great adventure. She was a big NASCAR fan and had pictures from events she attended with Richard and Kyle Petty back in the day.
Day 2 1st Session
We adjourned from the second day class and headed for the cars. Talking to Jason in the 2014 wrapped vette and a BMW guy about what they were seeing and feeling on the track was way too cool. One thing we looked at yesterday was the Firestone Indy 500 tires I was running and Tal showed me where the track and my tire were making contact. AH! It looks like I am running too much air pressure. The shoulders of the tires showed I had almost a half-inch of unused tread. We checked and the tires had gained 6 lbs due to heat. When I checked previously they were 32.5. They were now 38 and change at all corners. So at Tal’s advice I dropped them to 28 in front and 26 in the back (less weight back there). Also, that meant I could carry more speed in the corners and use less brake. Good stuff to know. HPDE1 first call to the grid! On the grid I am running through the track in my mind. How do I find a way to aim the car better. When can I hit a firmer and shorter brake to unweight the back and roll it around a bit. This was a much better run and I was getting how to drive the car this way (not heel toe). My evidence was the diminishing need for Tal to tutor me through and the lower number of cars passing me.
Day 2 Best run
Not perfect. But, I am one happy guy with this run. There were 21 cars during this run. No equal horsepower car passed me and, I got to pass someone. I will let the video speak for itself. I have some work to do on the car before I track it again. But, I am looking forward to when I can.