When people I meet find out I race, they ask lots of questions. I'd like to post some of those questions and their answers to help anyone read this site learn a little about club-level racing.
How Fast Do You Go?
It depends on the track. At Pacific Raceways, I enter Turn 1 at a little more than 130 miles per hour. Because of its gearing, my car can't go much faster than this -- I'm at redline in 5th gear.
Is it Scary?
Kind of. I realize that I'm not going to win anything aside from a cool sticker and a plaque, or maybe an engraved beer mug, or some other trinket -- which I proudly display in my home. Since there's not much upside, I really don't take many risks. To me, driving fast at a facility designed for driving fast, with a well-controlled environment, turn workers, medical staff, and dozens of trained volunteers isn't very risky. All the drivers around me have at least as much training as I do, and often far more experience. I think it's more dangerous driving down Interstate 5 at 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.
How can I get Started Racing?
Attend a racing school! At almost any road track in the United States, there are racing schools. Most car clubs run track days, too. You can sign up for such an event and learn how to better drive your car, and those skills will directly contribute to your safety on the street in every day driving. If the introduction class gets you hooked, ask the instructors what to do next. Practice makes perfect! You'll need to get a racing license, and then find a car. Many racers rent their cars to novices; it helps the car owner pay for their race weekends. By renting, you can get a feel for different kinds of cars and different competition groups before making a commitment to a car or class.
How can I Get Involved?
If you can't afford to run your own car, check out my help wanted page. I really could use a hand!
All of the organizations I race with are run by volunteers. They need help, too. If you've got fire, medical, or rescue training, you'd make a wonderful addition to the staff at the races. If you have good communication skills or like to help people, you can also help the registration and administration workers. Organizing a race weekend is no small task!
It's not possible to be closer to the action than watching the race from a turn worker station; learn the flagging and communications procedures, and you could be at the side of the track, helping racers!
Why Do You Do This?
Well, it's fun. I've learned a lot about driving, and I'm learning a great deal about maintaining and fixing cars. Racing is an interesting challenge because it's almost always different. No matter how quickly I turn a lap, I always feel confident that I could have done it faster or better. Working on the car, taking care of myself, and becoming a better driver have rewarded me with greater confidence and some very memorable and fun weekends.
What are the Different Classes?
Cars are largely grouped into two categories: open wheel cars, and closed-wheel cars. Open wheel cars have no fenders; they're like IRL, CART, or F1 cars. Open-wheel cars are called "formula cars" because the car is built to a guideline, though not a very strict one. Closed-wheel cars can be like the sedan you drive to work every day, or they might have an open cockpit like some Le Mans cars. After that, cars are grouped together into classes by the racing organization to help keep cars of like performance together. Vipers race Corvettes and big BMW's, for example, while Volkswagen Rabbits race other small cars, like Fiats and older Hondas.
Some classes don't don't allow any internal engine modifications. This is done to keep racing costs low. Other classes allow any modification you'd like, and are won by very expensive cars that feature lots of custom components.
There are some "spec" classes (like Spec Racer Ford and Spec Miata) which involve cars that are all identically prepared. Everybody in those classes uses the same cars and the same parts--down to the same size and brand of tires! This eliminates variables and makes all the cars compete on a very equal basis.
The idea behind the classes is that each race will involve cars that have a chance at competing with each other. Realistically, at the club racing level, driver skill and car preparation play a huge role in a driver's success. The rules in the classes also help keep costs known; classes which allow fabrication or internal engine modifications are necessarily more expensive than classes which don't allow such modifications.
Which Classes Do you Run?
I run in two different classes: ITS and CP.
The "IT" in "ITS" stands for "Improved Touring". I believe the "S" stands for "Super", but some believe it stands for "Sedan". I don't think it stands for "Sedan" because practically all Improved Touring cars are sedans. (Of course, that means I'm using the definition of "sedan" that indicates a closed-cockpit car; not a car that has four passenger doors instead of two.)
ITS cars seem to exactly match my definition of a race car: the interior is hollowed-out and the engine is entirely stock. They can have loud, free-flowing exhaust systems, and aggressive intake systems. Drivers can make plenty of suspension modifications to their cars, and run very large sway bars, different springs, adjustable shocks, and other enhancements.
Like ITS, Production classes include cars which were built on an assembly line. They're not tube-frame, purpose-built race cars. Production classes offer some additional modifications and work. There are many Production classes, and in ICSCC the main groups are divided based on the car's stock horsepower to weight ratio. The car can become more powerful because of modifications like freeing up exhaust resistance and air intake, but the car can't weigh less than the designated ratio times the stock horsepower.
I run against several Datsun 240Z drivers in ITS. There's occasionally an Acura Integra, and there are a few other E36-body BMW 3-series cars.
I run C Production. According to the factory manual, my car originally generated 189 horsepower. The ICSCC Rule book says that C Production cars maintain a horsepower-to-weight ratio of 14.5, which means my car must weigh at least 2741 pounds (including me, the driver) to be legal for the class.
Unfortunately, there aren't many C Production cars. There are some Mustangs, and a Datsun roadster in the class.
What Happens on a Race Weekend?
I usually get to the track on Friday evening. I can pick out a place in the paddock to park the Jeep, get the car off the trailer, and set up my tent. If tech inspection and registration are open, I'll get signed-up and get the car through it's technical inspection. Finally, I get a good dinner, then hit the sack.
On Saturday, I'll get to the track around 8am. I'll take care of my technical inspection and registration if I haven't yet done so. In the morning, I'll run a practice session or two. This gives me the opportunity to see if anything is wrong with the car and re-acquaint myself with the track.
In the afternoon, I'll run two qualifying sessions--one for each class. I might hang around and observe the novice race to give feedback to the less experienced drivers. Or, I'll leave early and get some extra sleep.
On Sunday, I'll run two more qualifying sessions, again one for each class. For each class, my qualifying time is determined by the better of my two sessions. The qualifying time simply determines where I start in the grid; neglecting a few interesting rule exceptions, faster cars start towards the front.
If something goes wrong with the car, I have to quickly decide what to do. If I can fix it myself at the track, I'll do so, even if it means sitting out a qualifying session or practice. Of course, I can't miss the race because I won't get any championship points if I do. Between sessions, I might do some maintenance work at the track. Since the car is already off the trailer and I have many of the tools I'll need, I can take care of simple things like changing brake pads or rotors, or doing an oil change. Depending on the weather, I might also change wheels to switch between wet- or dry-weather tires, or to install newer tires.
On a good race weekend, there's a lot of waiting around.
Do you Ever Wreck?
So far, I've been lucky. I've spun out a few times, though I've never made hard contact with something. (I backed into a tire wall at about 5 miles per hour.) I was hit by another car on two different occasions with very minor results. I've not rolled or flipped. I run a video camera in my race car so that I can watch the tapes and learn from my mistakes. Plus, it's really handy when it is time to show off!
Does Your Lizard have a Name?
No. Does yours?
Is The Lizard a Boy or A Girl?
Well, we weren't sure at first. Recently, my wife decided the Lizard was female, so we'll go with that. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter as the Lizard isn't dating right now.