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7/30-31 and 8/14-15/2011: Four Rookie Races, One Amazing Experience

Written 9/13/2011.  This whole experience of my first sanctioned races I’m about the sum up would not be possible without:

I thought it be more fitting to sum up the last months activities in one post, since my first 4 races in NASA were so close to each other and I barely got time to breath, much less write about it.  But really, it’s been an amazing experience.  And because of the completion of my first 4 races with NASA, I now have a full license.  Each of the four days and races has it’s own separate epic novel I can write for them (in my head), so I really try to not bore you with too many details and get to the point.  Pictures and video will be used liberally here.

July 30-31: NASA Debut, PTE Races at AAA Auto Club Speedway

I was nervous going into the gates of AAA Auto Club Speedway during the morning of my first-ever NASA race.  However, it wasn’t from getting myself psyched up for the race; it was more about getting Monty to pass stringent safety technical inspection before setting foot on the racetrack.

Up until this point, Alex of 2nd Chance Roadster and I had worked around the clock to get the last little tweaks and pieces to get the proper required safety equipment to make sure NASA doesn’t think I’d die in a crash.  Manny, who lived minutes from the track, was one of my saviors for helping me install a kill switch and getting me a drill to make a last-minute modification to a seat bracket (thanks Ryan!) to properly mount the FIA-rated seat (thanks Erik!) I bought the night before to pass tech.  I had bought a very nice racing seat, a Cobra Suzuka Pro from Sube Sports in Huntington Beach earlier in the week, but I found out that my seat barely didn’t fit because of the cage design in Monty wasn’t taken to consideration.  It fit when I test-fitted the Cobra in both an NA and NB Miata (it fit fine in both), but both were street cars…  DOH!  Anyway, I’m currently getting a custom bracket to lower the seat and offset the seat slightly to fit in Monty for later races in October.

But back to the story.  Fortunately, Monty eventually passed safety inspection after much time working in the paddock, but only after both my practice and qualifying sessions for Saturday’s race was over.  This meant that I still could race, but had to start from the back of the grid.  This among other cars from other classes.  In my head, I didn’t care.  With friends there (Manny, Darryl and Brandon) and experienced fellow racers/mentors like John Wing, William Chen and Rob Burgoon helping me out, nothing else mattered.  Just like the Chumpcar race back in July, despite the setbacks, I was happy just to even be in it at all…or so I thought until the race happened…  What happened in the video below will explain it all.

From dead last in the grid to fight for 2nd in PTE (of 6 cars) by the end of the race.  A podium finish, with no testing and breaking in of the new mods (new 10kg front springs, new alignment, Nitto NT01 tires) and no practice or qualifying to get myself warmed up and refamiliarized with the track.  I didn’t believe it, but I couldn’t help the feeling of joy being in a tough battle with RJ Racing to earn that spot on the podium.  Now, I finally felt relaxed.

Driving flat out.

Sunday was a different story.  In short, I did get on the podium again, 3rd this time around, but it was relatively boring race with the rival RJ Racing getting his revenge for Saturday’s race early on and never looked back.  They overtook me at the opening lap and I never recovered.  I held 3rd for the whole race.

At least I have some cool photos, especially one with William going by me at the bowl.

But Sunday’s race, in this case, wasn’t the highlight for me, it was the rain prior the race.  In the morning hours, Fontana got some unseasonable summer rain.  I can’t tell you how much this made me grin to the corners of my ears.  I was excited, yet terrified to say the least.  But my anticipated joy overpowered my fear by the time I got on the track (after a coat of Rain-X and Fog-X so I could see without windshield wipers).  So much in fact, that I set the 3rd fastest lap of my race group and 2nd in class for qualifying.

Seriously, to podium twice in the same weekend and in my first-ever sanctioned races is something I can be proud of.  However, I still say that there is definitely room for improvement, which I would take lessons from this weekend to the endurance races at Thunderhill Raceway 2 weeks later.

August 13-14: Thunderhill 1-Hour and 2-Hour Endurance Races

This was definitely an important weekend.  And this was not about me; this was for Team 949Racing.  This would the final time the team would be able to preview the track and competition in a real race situation before our main goal, the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

Going into the weekend, I was stoked to drive Thunderhill after not driving it for over 2 years.  At the same time, I was hoping I hadn’t gone rusty was driving the track.  Weirdly, I decided forego practice before Saturday’s 1-hour enduro to let William drive my car to free up Emilio to drive William’s car during the PT sprint race events beforehand.  This was more to benefit the team to get more time for them at Thunderhill, since I’ve been there more times than they have.  And since William and Emilio were out racing, I was out helping Vanna, Murat and John setup the pit for the enduro right after the PT race.  And because of that, I had no time to set up my GoPro for Saturday’s enduro and didn’t get any footage.

Thanks to Vanna for taking this photo and a few more during the weekend.

Emilio being the crew chief for Saturday’s 1-Hour enduro for both William and me.  Emilio here giving me last-minute advice before the start while John is checking if Monty will catch fire from the heat that afternoon.

My first enduro since Chumpcar in July and first with NASA.  It was hot, 95 degF ambient air temperature, probably hotter track surface temperature.  And again, I still am without a Cool-Suit, but I persevered.  Even the race tires were greasy even during the start of the race.  Luckily, I made it through the initial melee ok and the race without a scratch.  I finished in 3rd place out of 7 cars in E3.  William finished 1st in E2.

And now Sunday’s race…  First, I’ll let you watch this.

In short, I was in nose-to-tail battle with Rob Burgoon, a rising star in SoCal Spec Miata, for about 70 straight minutes of the 120 minute race.  At the 5:05 mark in the video, I even got a little bumpdraft from Rob, of course after another green Spec Miata #88 decided that I needed a bit of assistance down the front straight a few laps before Rob helped me as well.  Don’t worry, Monty was fine and the bumper popped back into shape.  Note: PTE cars like mine aren’t required to run bumper supports like Spec Miatas, so bumpdrafting causes my bumpers to flex a bit.

In the end, I ended up leap-frogging Rob in the pits F1-style, thanks to Murat’s perfect fueling skills.  This gave me a comfortable 20+ second lead to cruise to a 2nd place finish in E3 (of 9 cars).  Murat performed well for Emilio’s pit stop (now swapping crew chief and driver roles with William on Sunday) and launched him to an easy 1st place finish in E2.  A great weekend for Team 949Racing to say the least.

Celebration time with the team.  Emilio took this photo.

With a bit of a break from now until October 8th, I can chill out, but still plan for my next race: the 3-hour Buttonwillow night enduro.  The lights will be on for Monty and I’ll be flying in the dark.  Hopefully my experience at Chumpcar will come into play.