Spec Miata Festival at Sonoma 2012

With as many laps as I have at Sonoma, surprisingly this would be my first SCCA event at this track. It would be a very special event, as it was host to the infamous Spec Miata Festival; known for a multi-race weekend and a loaded field of cars. On the registration list, a total of 73 cars were set to take the green, and would be the largest field I’ve run in yet.

With so many cars close in speed, with varying levels of driver ability in such tight proximity, you can only expect at least “some” carnage to ensue. The weekend started with a rather loose-handling car. After practice we reeled-in the setup, which made qualifying manageable. It wasn’t easy getting any sort of clear lap in my qualifying session, and no less than a few laps in somebody crashed. The black flag was flown and all of us had to come in and wait for the session to resume. I wasn’t happy with my qualifying time, it was a bit off pace than usual, but I would be a lucky driver to get any sort of clear lap without catching a slower car somewhere on course. Either way, I qualified in the top 27% of the field, among those were drivers who ran the National tire, Hoosiers.

Similar to my qualifying session, Saturday’s race was brief. 1.5 laps or so in, there was a spin at Turn-6, which collected a couple cars. Being not far behind them, I reacted as quickly as I could with the space I had, but I wasn’t going to be that lucky. The spun car backed into me as I exited the corner at the bottom of the hill, pressing my driver-side fender into my tire and crumpled part of my door. The impact was more than cosmetic, as it added about 3 extra degrees of camber on the left-front. My race was done, and there I was to sit between Turn 6 and 7, opposite of the 8a corner-worker station in 90 degree heat, inside of a car with limited ventilation.

Its always a humbling experience sitting in a car that cant steer straight to no fault of your own, which only adds to one’s discontent watching the race transpire in your rear view mirror. As sweat dripped into my eyes, I watched my heart rate monitor—not just because I am a technology-geek (I like to track my peak BPM and speed of heart-rate recovery), but I was watching the elapsed time. I had 40-minutes left to sweat out. Lap after lap I watched the leaders chase each other for the win, the mid-pack stumble upon each other in the exit of T6, and towards the end were the stragglers trying to catch up.

I’ve started just about everywhere in a SM field thus far, except the very front (which is always the goal, but expensive to achieve). I remember being that last car in the field, and how I wished the car and I were faster. Looking back, how far I have come in such a short period of time despite the setbacks. I’ve been fairly successful in what I’ve been doing, but with all things in racing there is always room to grow. While it was hard to stay positive sitting still for so long, it forced me to remind myself of the positives I had in hand.

However, with all that time to think much entered my mind in the form of debate—why I am exerting this much effort in the first place (and for what), how much this damage was going to ultimately cost me, and how much I wanted out of the club racing arena altogether. I suppose this is what people call “paying your dues.” Frankly, I am a bit tired of being crashed into. Can you blame me? Last November was a rough conclusion to my season, and while this was extremely minor in comparison, I was feeling a bit worn out with having to deal with drama that is more often than not, completely preventable. But this is a part of racing—there will be crashes, disappointments, failures, money wasted, and there will be more lows than highs. You have to embrace the highs whenever and however you can. If you don’t have thick enough skin while learning from these experiences, you simply wont make it as a driver, and will never become a quality racer.

After the race the tow truck pulled my limped Miata into the “bone-yard” just opposite of the hot pit wall. Officials did their part with the paperwork, and it was then upto me to find people to help me move it. Fellow racer, friend, and business partner Perry Richardson was at the track supporting one of his clients, but was able to designate some time for both me and the #21 car. As much as I wanted to pack up and go home, Perry refused to let me quit.

“Geri, this is totally fixable!’ Perry affirmed. “You are racing tomorrow, you are not quitting!”

Indeed, he was not going to take no for an answer!

Pulling the fender away from the wheel, Perry was able to drive it back into the paddock and resource someone for help. Ted May of Valaya Racing, a new acquaintance of mine but old time friend of Perry, was highly motivated to help get the car back into proper sorts. Both Perry and Ted brought out the saws, hammers, a baseball bat, among other tools, and commenced repairing the car. Ron Cortez of Aim tire happened to have an extra wheel to replace my bent one, and set me up quickly with a fresh tire.

With time running out, I missed my qualifying session for Sunday’s race. However, Ted obviously had a game plan, and had all the suspension parts needed to make the car good as new in terms of handling. He worked through the night getting the car repaired, and was ultimately ready for me to take it out for a hardship lap first thing in the morning. The car handled amazingly well, with only a slight push in right hand corners, which was quickly fixed with a toe adjustment. Thereafter the car was fantastic!

TED IS THE MAN!!

With the car back together, I was ready for the first of two races—starting dead last in a 70-car field. Admittedly, I’ve never made so many passes in one race—certainly a grand opportunity to exercise patience, aggression, and practice race craft. While I could have been a bit more assertive in my passing, I did keep the car clean while moving up in the field to 28th in class. The second race on Sunday was more or less the same flavor, a slightly smaller field of cars with National Competitors starting behind the Regional drivers. Again, starting in the back, I was able to move up to 22nd in class. Both of these what might be deemed as “comeback-races” transformed what started as a tough weekend into one of the most rewarding AND fun events I’ve had in a very long time.

As the saying goes: “It is not how well a racer does when things go right, it is how well a racer does when things go wrong.” People like Ted and Perry are part of the reason why I love racing, and were incredibly instrumental in my success that weekend. They are the type of people who make you feel like you’ve won. In the big picture, I most certainly did.

 

Posted on 07/12

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