Zennish Autocrossing Survives!

Two things of note have happened since my last post. One, the Solo Nationals Appeals Committee upheld the decision by the Solo Nationals Protest Committee to reinstate the first 3 runs taken, wet or dry, in the weather-interrupted Heat 5 on the last day of Nationals. Two, Howard Duncan sent out an apology for letting the Steward’s appeal get in the way of awarding trophies to the people who deserved them. Well done and well said, Howard.

Zennish autocrossing survives!

Not only was it affirmed that the Steward did not have the power to invalidate legitimate  runs, it was affirmed that the Steward’s action, which she claimed to be enforcing the intent of the rules, was, in fact, contrary to the intent of the rules.

Did she actually believe otherwise? I doubt it. All indications are this is a woman with significant experience in both driving and officiating autocross. Many of her even more experienced fellow competitors told her she was wrong. She threw out the dry runs anyway. Then they officially disagreed with her by filing multiple protests. She could have stopped it all then, but she did not.

So, the Protest Committee heard the protests and told her she was wrong by upholding four of them and reinstating the runs taken before the delay. By appealing their ruling, she revealed the final act in a misguided attempt to single-handedly change autocross… to make autocross more fair. I’m confident she thinks it was for the good of the sport. What she really did was to attempt an end run around the rules-making process, an attempt which, if successful, might also save some face. Sort of like going to the Supreme Court in hopes of making new law via creative interpretation. Ain’t the way it’s supposed to work, that’s the legislature’s job, but in the words of the comic Judy Tenuta, “It could happen!”

Not taking multiple no’s for an answer, she attempted to get her fairness improvement encoded in an appeals committee ruling. Hoping they would say, “well, it was within her power as Steward and things surely were more fair in the end…” Thank God they didn’t!

Instead, the Appeals Committee said, “…it has long been the tradition and understanding in Solo that the weather “is what it is”…”

They went on to say, “We believe the lack of a rule addressing fairness and changes in weather [especially as the Solo Events Board has declined to enact any such rule when suggested in the past] reflects an intent that changes in weather not be the basis for discarding runs or declaring results “unfair.”

Now go howl at the moon, autocross zen-doggies.

Zennish Autocrossing

The weather debacle and subsequent paper-flying uproar at the Solo Nationals last Friday got me thinking about how Zennish the sport of autocross really is. Usually.

If you haven’t heard, the 5th (and last) heat was stopped due to lightning, but only after 30 or so drivers had a dry first run. No big deal, happens all the time, right?

I left the site just as the rain began traveling sideways at high velocity. On the way to the hotel the windshield wipers were overcome by the deluge, the roads began to flash-flood and intense lightning cracked all around. Poor course workers, I thought!

No, that’s a lie. I was mostly worried about getting struck by lightning in my sheet-molding-compound (plastic) bodied Corvette, which I’m reliably informed provides no protection from 500,000 volt discharges.

Weather happened to our local club the last two events. In one case we called it and all had to stand on runs from the first session. The second case we were able to restart after a delay and get our remaining (wet) runs in, which were obviously slower than the first session. Anyone who coned the first three runs: too bad.

There’s something very Zen about a sport where you spend years in preparation, learning, and practicing, as much mental and emotional practice as physical, all the while banking a store of unconcious knowledge, accessible but perhaps not explainable, so that someday you’ll be able to perform at the highest level for 60 seconds, two days in a row, and win a championship.

Or, maybe instead, you’re the last competitive car to run in your class after 5 reruns from other classes get inserted between you and the next to last and it starts to pour just as the starter says “Go!” (Happened to me at Wilmington one year and, yes, they really should have let me go with my class.)

In Lincoln last week the racing was restarted after a two hour delay. I don’t mean they picked up where they left off, I mean they really restarted, as in, from the beginning. As in, the Steward decided to throw out the prevous dry runs. As in, no precedent for this ever. As in, no rule or authority given to the Steward to support such a decision.

A bunch of people threw paper, i.e., they protested the event. Because Zen violation.

Autocross has always accepted that weather is variable and therefore often unfair. It has always accepted that sometimes you’re the bear and sometimes the bear eats you, even if it means there are National Champions that might have just been extraordinarily lucky. Old Basho would have understood. No car, no course, no driver, no weather, nothing to strive for… the drive just is. The outcome just is.

Last week someone messed with the perfection of the stormy moment and tried to manufacture fairness. In Zen terms, this was an exhibition of the personality over acceptance of the weather-consequence reality. It took an act of ego to exceed given authority in this manner and accept or ignore the explosion of negative human feelings it was sure to generate from the competitors that got screwed (by taking away their luck) in a totally unpredictable and unprecedented manner. Zen teaches that any such act of the personality generates negative consequences, even if done with good intent. This is the Beware of Do-Gooders tenet within classical Zen. (I may have just made up that last.)

Then, bless their hearts, the protest committee upheld the protest and reinstated the dry runs. Thus, the Universe was restored to balance and all sentient beings became enlightened. Right? Not quite.

Unfortunately, in a second act of overwhelming lack of Zen, the Steward gave notice of intent to file an appeal of the decision. The upshot is that the question will be decided by a higher power and the result won’t be known for weeks.

I bet there was someone in that group of early drivers that deserved, by all that is Random and Holy in Autocross, to win their first ever Nationals trophy, after who knows how many years of trying, and walk across the stage at the banquet that night and accept it to the applause of their friends and fellow competitors, but didn’t get to. May never get to.

If you happen to see me in grid, muttering something that sounds like “no car, no course, no driver…” please, please give me the Zen stick by slapping the side of my helmet quite hard.


Mike’s Cup (at the West Course start, 2016 Solo Nats, ready to go)

Autocross Season Prep Gets Started

Prep for the 2016 autocross season started this weekend. A few pictures to show the plans and progress.

First up, new rubber: RE71Rs in 265/275-18. They’re so clean and sticky if it was summer they’d catch flies.


New Bridgestones

All disks have been sanded, ready for bedding-in new pads, Carbotech Bobcats that come painted red. I’ll replace the brake fluid as well.


Sanded Brake Disk with New Pads in the Caliper

The Pfadt/Ohlins shocks are reinstalled. No changes since RE Suspension worked on them last year. I’ve routed the line to the remote reservoirs a little differently than last year to better keep it away from any sharp edges. The upper right A-arm bushing has migrated a tad, but it should be good for another year.


Pfadt/Ohlins Shock Rebuilt by RE Suspension

The shock remotes are again strapped to the front roll bar, but reversed in orientation from last year. If I lay down in front of the car I can just reach them to turn the adjuster knobs.


Most modern roll bar bushings don’t really need any lubrication, but to reduce friction to a minimum I cleaned and lubed them with Energy Suspension super-sticky grease intended for polyurethane bushings. I noticed that the inner surface of the bushings have circumferential ridges that seem like they will hold some grease in place quite well. I don’t think this stuff will wash out.


Cleaned & Lubed Roll Bar Bushing

After the rears are finished, I’ll get the car aligned and corner balanced. Then, I’ll disassemble the driver’s seat again and figure out what’s broken in it this time.


Tires & Shocks- You’d better believe it!

Last local event of the year, this past Sunday, I was on last year’s Dunlop Star Specs, as the Bridgestone RE71R’s were trash. I also swapped the Ohlins shocks (which need new top mounts) for last year’s Koni single-adjustables. Unf! It was tough sledding in the coldish morning.

Slaloming was awful. The front end didn’t have the fast transient response of before. It took until the 5th and last run before I could slow down, get the timing right and turn in early enough to not get late and hit cones. No trouble entering the slalom on time, it was the following cones that were the problem. By that 5th run I was doing the two slaloms as good as I had last year, but man, it was not the same as this year on the Ohlins. Sure, the tires were also different, but I never noticed much transient response difference when I switched from Star Specs to RE71Rs in the spring. It was going back to the Konis that really made the difference, even though I had the rebound damping set to max. In my humble opinion, you just can’t compete in Street without both a stiff front sway bar and shocks with lots of low-shaft-speed compression damping. Edit- At least not if you are driving the widest and longest-wheelbase car in the class that also has the highest polar moment of inertia, which is a measure of its resistance to rotate.

The second thing was how long I had to wait to put power down out of the corners. I definitely noticed myself waiting longer before I could hit the gas as compared to before, as well as having to be more gradual with the application of power. The RE71Rs multi-task like nobody’s business.

Thirdly, lateral grip was less. [Edit: the data shows the car developed a max of 1.0G in the sweeper that cold morning. 1.15G  was normal this year on that surface with warm RE71R tires.] The good Star Specs, I feel, were about equal in this regard to the worn-out RE71Rs that last time I ran them. I was lucky to salvage 4th of 10 in our very competitive BS class. First was taken by a National Champ from Nashville… second outing in his newly-acquired Corvette.



TGPR Part 1

Spent the day in Munford, Alabama at the Talladega Grand Prix Raceway. This is a little 1.4 mile technical track originally designed for motorcycles. It was the first track I ever drove back in 2006 with the Heart O’ Dixie PCA region and years before I ever autocrossed. I like it because it’s got some corners not easily deciphered and there’s very little to hit if you go off.

TGPR Early Morning

TGPR Early Morning


I will never forget Alan McCrispin spin-proofing me on the skid-pad that January day. After going around in circles forever, intentionally inducing spin after spin and learning to anticipate and stop them, Alan finally had me head to the pits. I thought we were done (everyone else was) but noooooo. Alan says, “Now we swap the tires.” So, we swapped all four of the wheels left to right and did the same exercise all over again while everyone else ate lunch. Thanks, Alan! It came in handy again today, though I was sorely pressed to avoid a wicked spin on one memorable occasion. At these speeds my normally pushy autocross car wants to oversteer just a bit at the limit.

This event was the Fall Time Trial put on jointly by the Tennessee Valley and Alabama Regions of the SCCA. They traditionally do two a year, Spring and Fall, and I’ve been to several. Not being a time-trialer, I was running my B-Street autocross Corvette on last-years’ Dunlop Star-Specs (which pulled a steady 1.2g’s lateral) in the PDX group (Performance Driving Experience) and I took data all day with the Vbox Sport, reviewing it between each session. The next post will probably be a data-rich analysis of what I learned, or at least confirmed or disconfirmed today, but for now I’ll just mention the best lap for each of the six sessions, starting in the cold morning: 109.9, 110.4, 109.4, 108.9, 108.7 and, um, well, there seems to be a problem with the data for the sixth session. Oh yes, now I remember: some sort of agricultural excursion occurred that will require in-depth explanation at another time!

I think that a certain amount of track-driving is necessary for the ambitious autocrosser. Unless your local site happens to be very big, there just isn’t any other way to get experience at higher speeds. We autocrossers get really good in the 35mph to 55mph speed range. In National competition we run into courses from time to time that are quite a bit faster than what most see regionally. While we may hit the same top speeds briefly locally, we rarely have to maneuver violently at 55mph+ at a regional competition.  Where else are we going to get the car-control skills we need at the higher velocities that will allow us to do well at Nationals? Most of us can’t follow the National Tour to every event around the country.

One of the nicest race-cars in attendance belonged to Bill Coffey Sr., up from Florida, who bought the car brand-new in 1971:

Bill Coffey's 240Z

Bill Coffey’s 240Z

This beauty puts down 315 hp, weighs 2200 lbs, (which is 300 lbs over the class limit) and sports 11″ wide wheels at the rear. (Not sure about the front, except they are not narrow!) Bill says he won’t take any more weight out of it… he doesn’t want to cut on it further. One of the best-looking Z’s I’ve ever seen.

By the way, in the background of that picture, left side, is a 1976 TVR 2500M. I know this only because I had to ask the owner what the heck it was. All I could tell was something British and that it’s a really well put-together machine.

We had a great group of PDXers today, some of them auto-crossers from the area that I’ve met before. Everyone was enthusiastic, safe and polite on-track, no doubt due to the instructor group led by Chief Instructor Brett Whisenant and the safety talks given by Safety Steward Andy Tow.

As usual at TGPR, my day gradually ground down and was finally finished due to severe front brake-pad tapering. This track can be tough on brakes (I hit 104 mph and brake below 50 mph three times each 70 seconds) and while I use good racing pads which do not overheat and good, fresh fluid which does not boil no pad can prevent the tapering that results from the stock Corvette calipers not being quite stiff enough, especially when they get really hot. The modulus (E) of aluminum drops with rising temperature, about 10% by 300F, and these calipers don’t seem particularly stiff to begin with.

Here’s the track map. The running direction is counter-clockwise.

TGPR Layout

TGPR Layout