September 10, 2013

My First Solo Nationals

Photo by Rupert Berrington - Rupert Berrington Action Photography
I survived my first SCCA Solo Nationals, and it was almost as good as when I went to Tokyo Auto Salon in Japan! People talk about Nationals and give you all sorts of stories or ideas of what it would be like, but none of them really capture what it is all about. I'll start with the non racing related stuff first, just to get it out of the way.

For starters, the drive was pretty rough, not just in terms of distance either. The van was having a lot of problems staying in one piece both on the way to Nationals and home. Big thanks to Brian for taking care of what he could quickly so that we could even make it there! Be prepared for a lot of driving though, as it was a 1,450 mile trip for us.
Photo by Rupert Berrington - Rupert Berrington Action Photography
Once we arrived and got to our paddock spot, it was like walking into a candy store for racers. The paddock was full of amazing cars, all prepped for different classes. After racing was over, people would walk one of the the courses, and then hang out and do all sorts of fun activities at night as if it were a big, week-long college party. I saw all of the following, in no particular order...
  • A truck with a trailer, and a swimming pool with people in it on the trailer, being towed around the paddock
  • Hopped up golf carts being autocrossed at night
  • Big wheel autocross battles
  • A little spot where you can get smoothies, breakfast, grilled food, and all sorts of other snacks
  • Hoosier and BF Goodrich offering to mount and balance tires on-site, along with other little stores
  • Tons of amazing cars (Can't emphasize that enough...)
  • Competitive Four-Square
  • Massive grills with tons of different foods at each region section
  • A massive Margarita blending machine
All that and more are just some of the things you should expect to find in the paddock. Be sure to check out my photo album on my Google+ for some of the pictures I took while there. Now with that fun stuff aside, on to the racing!
Brian, Charles and I before the first race
Charles and Jennifer Hill from Black Halo Racing showed up to check out what Nationals is all about and give me some support, as well as some great shirts to wear! On Monday, I was ready to take a few practice runs so I could feel the difference of concrete and see how I felt about the car setup. I ran a '29.3 as my fastest time, which was right inbetween where a few other DSP guys had ran, so I felt pretty good about that. This was while running the Hoosiers that I have been since the Match Tour back in July, and with the rear swaybar set to full stiff. Below is the video of me running the practice course. After I finished my runs, I was off to Hoosier to get my new fresh set of A6's mounted for Tuesday and Wednesday.

West Course
Tuesday was our first race day. Brian and I were running in the last heat, Heat 5, so we had some time to see what everyone else was doing in terms of lines, and how they prepared things in grid. The West Course was the first course for us, and from what we saw, it definitely was a momentum course. Brian did great, coming in with a '54.652, securing 9th for the day while I came in 14th with a '55.908, out of 20 in the class. I'll admit it, I was very nervous and excited at the same time, and getting that out of my head was tough. Once we were done our runs, Brian and I discussed some ideas a bit on how the setup was and decided to go back to my usual setting of having the rear swaybar at full soft. We also talked to Hoosier a bit and found out that on concrete, you'll want to run lower tire pressures than normal. That made it so we went from 37 PSI front and rear to 32 PSI front and rear. Videos below of our West Course runs (apologies for the blurriness, I think one of us touched the lens when placing it back in the holder).

East Course
Come Wednesday, Brian and I were ready to step it up some more on the East Course... At least, I thought I was. The car felt a lot better and was much easier to drive, allowing you to get on the throttle very early. My issue is that this course was a lot harder to read, to the point that I got lost...Twice. It's embarrassing to say the least, but it happened. Luckily I was able to put in a run on my last run and come in with a '78.034, securing me in 18th. Even though this course was more of a power course, Brian was able to keep up with the BMW's, coming in with a '74.062 and securing 4th place. BIG congrats to Brian for getting his 4th place trophy and showing everyone that the RX-8 can hang with the BMW's, even if it is still not fully prepared! The rest of the results are located here, with videos below of our East Course runs.

In the end, it was an amazing time. I really can't explain just how much fun it was meeting some great racers that I've heard about many times, or helping out other friends that were running when I wasn't, and other great things. I'm already looking forward to next year and what I can do better, such as not getting nervous before my runs!
The 2013 trophy winners of D Street Prepared!
Huge thanks to Black Halo Racing for being not only an amazing sponsor, but for being a great friend and supporting me out there for my first time. Thanks to Bob Lang for allowing Brian and I to use his van instead of having to rent a Uhaul pickup truck! Also a big thanks to Brian for ensuring we got there in the first place because of the van problems, and for some of the good times we had. A last shout out to Mike Casino for cheering me up when I was down in the dumps about how I did for my first Nationals, and showing me what Nationals is really about. It's about the racers. Everyone getting together, talking, meeting, collaborating, networking, and just having fun. That's what Nationals is about... A place that everyone gets together for week to hang out and share what they love the most; Racing.

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