Aug 7, 2010

Are You Really a Racecar Driver?

Let's be sure about what you’re really going to be doing with your car. While track capabilities are impressive, don’t let the tail wag the dog. Your track days may be far less frequent than your imagination tells you. If track ability is affecting your street ability think hard about which way you’ll be going and how often.

I finished the Cobra and found I needed to get some serious track time. After all, I’d spent a lot on options that I’d only see used at the track. The events at SIR (now called Pacific Raceways) hosted by Don Kitch were great. I enjoyed the theory of driving the perfect line and read the requisite material Speed Secrets, by Ross Bentley with enthusiasm. The popularity of the Cobra was enjoyable too, especially since these people were my kind of folks. Their appreciation of my project was much more gratifying than that of the vagrants swarming me at stoplights in Seattle. These were my people.

After a year of going to every track day I could afford, I began to notice that I’d pit early and spend the remaining time watching and talking with people. Track time was tiring and I felt a lot of tension in my back and neck. A vintage designed car requires maximum concentration, so I’d pit whenever I felt the slightest bit fatigued. My car was pretty well known to the teachers at the school and one day Don (the lead instructor) asked if he could drive it. There was no greater honor for a driving school student. After all, Don was a real race car driver... he lived the dream. I happily gave him the keys.

When he returned from a few restrained laps, he handed the keys to me with some positive comment and a question, “how much do you think you’ve got in this thing?” I responded, “Probably about $100K after the second motor.” He nodded and said, “That’s a nice car.”

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What he really meant was, “can you afford to drive that here?” An expensive car that’s very hard to drive fast: not a very wise formula for a limited budgeter like myself. The answer was clear: I couldn’t. I managed to afford to build this car, yes. But I could not afford to repair it or replace it. I was taking a gamble every single time I went out. That tension in my neck was stress. I knew I was risking a lot every time I hit 155mph.

That was the last day I drove the car at the track.

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