Saturday Morning, Day 1 of race... continued;
Having just avoided becoming public enemy #1 by evading and not squishing the previously mentioned Hare from Hell in front of dozens of kids and spouses that lined the fence, I continued onto the track and accelerated down onto the front straight.
The exhaust rang off of the retaining walls and was music to my ears, that Siamesed exhaust providing the distinct MGB engine song I have always loved.
I snicked the transmission through the gears and cruised through the set of downhill esses, listening to the car and checking my mirrors.
And I was frigging scared.
There are whole programs and established processes to help you become a race car driver. You join a club, they teach, you learn and practice, then eventually earn a license to do this crazy crap, AFTER demonstrating some brains and an understanding of the basic rules.
Me, I had never been through any of that. Online research aside, the only thing I knew for sure, was that there was a WHOLE lot of things I still did not know.
And yet here I was merging into a crowd of 100+ cars, one of the largest fields of automobiles stuffed onto a racetrack in motorsports.
It wasn't the going fast that worried me. Hell, any bonehead can drive fast right up until they go off in the dirt. It was the possibility of DOING IT WRONG. Of innocently doing something stupid that everyone BUT me knows about, of being punished, humiliated or banished from the island that worried me.
There are always unwritten laws in every group that newbies violate and veterans get to yell at them about. And there are really only 2 ways to learn these laws. A) Screw up and get yelled at, or B) Pay attention when OTHER newbies get yelled at.
What sets LeMons racers apart from other competition series is that they welcome newbies right into the mix. "Come on in, have a drink from the firehose, Ha-ha!" Sure, they do their fair share of teasing, but they also embrace and help the new guys in ways I have not seen elsewhere.
The secret here seems to be that this race is all about having fun. No one cares who wins. Much. So they say.
It is also much more accessible than the more famous clubs, where getting mired down in thick confusing rulebooks serves as a deterrent for many who otherwise would be interested. Here it is simple and easy to follow. And as a result, you end up with engineers, soccer moms and accountants mixing it up with veterans, professionals and mad men on the track.
My game plan was to play it safe, stay on the outside and out of trouble until I got in a groove. Perhaps find a car of similar performance on a good line, and follow them as I figure it out.
We did a bunch of caution laps under yellow/no passing conditions as they sorted out the transponder checks and such. It was pretty hot in the car but not unbearable as we played follow the leader around and around the track. We even had moments of spirited driving to make sure the cars were running ok.
Then my first mistake.
As I passed the start/finish flag station, the Honda from team LeMons Demolition merged onto the track, and I, being Mr. Polite and Conservative slowed down to give him space to merge in front of me. Besides, it was one of my favorites from the Altamont 08 race. How could you not love those caterpillar exhaust stacks?
I retrospect I wish I had goosed it and let him fall in behind me. The damn thing smoked and had a horrible stench every time he mashed on the gas. I'm kinda fond of old engine smells including smoke, especially the worn-rings blue-tinge perfumed variety, but THIS was the acrid engine of death kind of smoke. Awful. I soon found myself with a headache and watery eyes, trying to keep my distance for the remaining yellow caution laps. It slowly seemed to clear as the car warmed up, but then would come belching out again, and again for the next 15 minutes.
My tongue thickened and I wished I had some water.
Suddenly, a black and white panda screamed past! WHOAH! PANDA!!
I looked around and no one else was passing. I could not see any flag stations where I was so I resisted the temptation to floor it and held my position instead. It's a long race, I'll be dammed if I was gonna get a black flag at the very beginning, lol!
As we came around the final turns before the Start/Finish flag station, I finally saw the green, and of course so did everyone else. The smoking yellow Honda took off and got a few positions on us, allowing me to breathe some diluted oxygen at long last.
We filed into the long sweeping corner keeping our distances, then through the bends and hard to the right up the steep hill. This is the slow car killer. Not only is it steep, but it has a bump at the bottom that lifts your inside rear wheel causing it to loose grip and power when you need it the most. As a result, a bunch of us 4-banger cars got stuck in a clump behind the Pony Express unable to pass as we putt-putted up the hill.
After cresting the top of the hill the herd started to make it's way around the cowboy one at a time until there were just two of us left, team Delta Force (#.357) and the Killer Bee, which I thought was strangely ironic.
I figured it was now OUR turn to get by, but unfortunately we were now going downhill and the cowboy had gravity assisting him, just as the Bee started sputtering again. DAMNIT!
On the back straight team Delta Force out-dragged the cowboy and got by, while I floored the Killer Bee. But the damn horse was just as fast as I was. It killed me not being able to use 2nd gear, which had a super low and useless gear ratio. By the time the motor started making power in 3rd gear it was time to brake again.
Then it happened...
The horse went in a little too hot and started burning it's hooves trying to slow down. And as the contraption went around the corner, the cowboy on top looked like he was hanging on for dear life and trying not to fall over.
That was my chance. As he slid wide, I hung on the inside and out-cornered him punching it halfway through and emerged victorious! MY FIRST PASS!!
(The crowd goes wild)
On the video, after the pass I can be heard hooting and hollering once I realize I did not die. My heart was racing and I was full of adrenaline. (Also on the video, you can see that we weren't actually going very fast. How embarrassing.)
Next I set my eyes on that .357 car, and nearly got around him on the next straight... untill I realized I did not know which way the track went. "Uhhh.... you go ahead" and I fell back in line. Crap.
I stayed there for the rest of the lap until we came back to the right-hander up the hill. Somehow I hit the corner just right and got along side him with my momentum. Then it became a drag race of the pathetic as our heaps clawed their way to the top - mine with just a touch more momentum was victorious! Second pass!
Now feeling brave and cocky the track ahead of me was clear so I wound it out all the way down the backstretch, using the cone markers to gauge my braking and turn in points. This is cool! I can do this! I said to myself.
Then on the next corner I was passed by a brown and white Rabbit on 3 wheels like I was standing still. (AAHHH! A BUNNY!!) I was just pwned by Oolong, the bunny with a pancake on it's head.
I was awestruck. I had never seen anything like that before. I thought "Hey, I should follow HIS line!" Then immediately came to my senses "Am I STUPID? I can't follow THAT line!! He's on THREE WHEELS"
I barely had time to blink when I noticed we had somehow caught up to the pack. Huh!
Then I got caught behind a Biting Monkey and said goodbye to the rabbit as he bounded off in the distance. The Monkey tried to wave me by, but I was already wide open and had no more umph. Instead I held position and was blown off the road by the Swine Flu Pig and a turbocharged Shark.
(What the hell kind of race is this?)
The remnants of an Alpha Romeo (aka team Ecurie Ecrappe Autodenta) blew by Monkey boy and I just in time for another yellow, which would last for the next 25 minutes.
We slowly circled around and around, and I thought I was going to overheat at first. But eventually my heart rate slowed and I cooled off just enough to keep from frying.
Then at high noon - the horse was back!
SOMEHOW he managed to come out of the pits and slip RIGHT BACK IN FRONT OF ME!! AAAAHHHHGGG!! Are you serious? Ha-ha.. Ooohhh nooooo....
But wait, where was the cowboy? Oh that's funny! We have a Ghostrider! Runaway horse!
I got blown off the road by a pig wearing lipstick and the flaming Squirrel of Furry, who's claim to fame was it's meteorite impersonation at Thunderhill last year.
Oh, we're green! Go Go go!
I blasted past the horse and a black Corvair (Hey! Which way is that thing pointed? They should put an orange stripe on one end of it for easy identification!) and in turn was passed by a Star Wars Snowspeeder and Elvis' in a pink Caddi-Miata-lac, whom I followed for a while getting one of my best laps for the session.
When I got passed by a Windmill, a Bowling Ball and the LeMons Fire Department I decided it was time to pit, which fortuitously coincided with another yellow. Excellent...
One hour from pit to pit, a total of 16 minutes of green flag racing and nearly 45 minutes of yellow laps, where at least I was not loosing any positions, nyuck-nyuck.
I shut off the car and we swapped drivers; "Hey WOW man" Chong was up next, our supposed ace in the hole.
I approached smiling-bundle-of-cuteness-in-a-yellow-shirt-spouse and showed her my hands, which were shaking visibly from 10 feet away. I realized my arms were aching from the death grip I held on the wheel and tried to shake some blood back into them.
I asked how it looked and she said "Pretty good".
Did I look fast?
No, not so much, giggle
Next: Goin for Broken #2, Saturday afternoon.
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From the VERY begining... The Hook
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