Tuesday, May 28, 2013

21st New Thing ~ Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

So, remember way back in July of last year, my 3rd New Thing.... AutoCross Ride-Along ..... let me confess something about that.

If I had known for one second, what I was Google-mapping my way out to that day, I would never have left my house. Seriously.

I'm not saying I wouldn't have done the ride-along, I would have. It was one of the most surprising, amazing experiences of my life. But if I'd had a glimpse of what it looked like before experiencing the thrill, I would never have been brave enough go.

Fortunately, for my scaredy-cat self, by the time I had a clear idea of what I was in for, it was too late to back out. I'm so grateful because it turned out to be completely exhilarating and terrifying, in a good way.

That being said..... (Did I mention that it was terrifying?) ...in general, I try to avoid terror, if I can help it. And as scary as it was riding along in those careening cars (and Toyota X-Runner), there was one thing that looked even more terrifying than riding Autocross.
Driving Autocross. Driving! It was truly all I could do to ride-along. I couldn't imagine being brave enough to drive. Now, prior to that day, if you'd have asked me, "Are you brave enough to drive on a closed track?" I'd have said, "Absolutely! Sounds like fun!"

But after seeing it? No. NOT on your life! Nope. No frickin' way. NO MOTHER F*#&@!$ WAY! And the more time that past since riding at Autocross, the more I knew that I knew that I knew, that I could never drive.

And so, at the end of my ride-along day, when Matt said, "You can come out for Novice School next year. Drive the course with an instructor in your car," you can imagine my surprise to I hear myself say, "Yeah, sure! I'd love that." I was lying through my teeth and I knew it. Under no circumstances would I be out there driving my car or anyone else's. Period.

I felt guilty telling him that 'Sure!' I'd come out to drive, when I knew for a fact that I wouldn't. I was so grateful that he made the amazing day possible, introducing me to his friends and fellow enthusiasts, setting me up to ride in some stunning cars with exceptionally generous drivers. Yet not guilty or grateful enough to just tell him the truth.

Plus an extra complication in my dishonesty, was that I work in the same department as Matt. I enjoy and appreciate Matt, I didn't want him to know how chicken I was. My strategy would have to be avoidance.

Avoidance is NOT my standard operating procedure. I'm more of a 'let's get this all out in the open' type. I believe avoidance is for wimps. Cowards.

In spite of this dogma, I decided that I'd just not bring it up at work. ("Coward!!") Telling myself that surely he'd forget all about it. (Denial!) I'd avoid ALL eye contact with him.... for the rest of my life. (Chicken shit!) I'd walk the other way when I saw him coming. Or, when I had to, nod in his general direction and just keep walking. Just keep walking. Walking faster. Walking, walking....

Then one day in February, just going about my business, I got an email from Matt, with a link to Autocross Novice School on Saturday, March 16th. Oh no, no, NO, NO. Not on your life. I opened and scanned the email, with mocking, maniacal laughter in my head. "Yeah, right!"

That avoidance shit never works. I knew better! Okay, new Plan! I jumped up and ran down the hall, catching Matt by the back door as he was leaving for the day.
"No Matt, this is too scary," I said, breathless, grabbing his arm
"What?" I may have startled him.
"Driving Autocross. I can't do it. Too scary."
"Oh no, you'll be fine," he said and out the door he went.

Oh no! Matt is impervious to the straight-forward yet scaredy-cat plea for mercy. Shit! NOW, what do I do?

I spent the next couple days trying to work it out in my head. "How do I get out of this gracefully? Even ungracefully, I don't care. Maybe I could fake a debilitating medical condition...coma, perhaps? Temporary paralysis? Worth a thought. Or could I work up the courage to actually try driving? NO, don't even consider it."

After a few days of ceaseless internal debate and self-flagellation, I decided that as frightened as I was, I'd forever regret if I didn't try this. "Okay, good! Right! This feels good. Just do it." I might make a complete Autocross ass of myself but I wouldn't have to live with being a coward. I would do the brave thing. So I swallowed hard, held my breath and filled out the online registration form. "This feels good. It's the best thing. If I'm going to give Autocross a try, novice school will be the best place to start, right? Yeah. It's gonna be great!!"  I clicked Submit. I was so proud of myself. Done and done. The registration form disappeared from my screen and was replaced by "Sorry. Registration is full."

"Praise the heavens! Hallelujah, let the angels rejoice! Thank you, God!" Saved from the jaws of public humiliation.

At work the next day, desperately wanting credit for trying, "Matt, I registered for Novice School but it's full. Dang, I'm on the wait list." (Have you seen the new doll? Meet Pathetic Barbie.)
He looked at me, "I told you that it fills up fast," Had he told me that? I genuinely don't remember him saying it, but our puny little brains work this way sometimes, hearing or not hearing what's most convenient for us.

A couple days before the event, Matt asked me if I'd heard anything about getting in. No, I hadn't. He told me to email Michelle (Novice Co-chair) and ask her where I was on the list, what my chances of getting in were. At 2:30 p.m. the day before the event, I emailed her asking how it looked and how I'd be notified if a spot did open up. Her reply was that it didn't look good. That she'd usually heard of any cancellations by now. "Sorry."

So, that was that. I felt I should celebrate my narrow escape but in reality I felt terrible. I'd put off registering out of fear and missed my chance. There was nothing to feel good about.

Resigned to living with the consequences of my cowardice (otherwise known as self-pity), I settled in for the rainy evening. Feeling small and ordinary, when an email alert popped up.
From Michelle: "It's your lucky day!" 

A new land speed record: mopey regret to full throttle panic in less than 3 seconds. But fortunately this panic was mixed with relief that I'd get my chance. Regret would have been WAY harder to live with than giving it my best shot, even if I ended up stumbling, fumbling all over myself.

"I've had a space open up and you are next on the list. I'm going to add you to the list and here are the details."

Here are the highlights of the information she sent:

Event Preparation 

To make your day a little less stressful here are some helpful tips to prepare. 

The day before the event:
  • Empty your car: of all loose items before you get to the track, this would include, floor mats, clothes, bottles, garbage, etc. You will also be asked to remove your radar detectors, garage door openers etc once you are at the track.
  • Check your car: Please top off the oil/water/tranny fluid and air up your tires to the recommended tire pressures. Come with at least 1/2 full gas tank. Your battery must be securely tied down (bungee cords are not a tie down)
  • Pack: We will run the event regardless of weather. Please come prepared for any weather. When not driving you will be working, even in the rain. Please bring layers of clothing. Also bring a hat and sunscreen, there is no shade. Bring a tarp or plastic bin to put your items in, there is no shade or cover at Bremerton Motorsport Park.
  • Sleep: A good night's sleep will help you have a good and productive day at the track.
You can also find the rulebook and novice handbook
at www.bscc.net in the info section; both of which are helpful documents.

Arriving at the track:
  • Arrive no later than 7:30 am.
  • Sign the event waiver - mandatory
  • Unpack your car, removing all loose items
  • Register (bring your valid driver's license, it will be checked)
  • Prepare and get your vehicle teched (see rule book at bscc.net)
  • Meet the instructors, volunteers and fellow participants
  • Attend the Ground school and drivers meeting at 8:30 a.m.
  • Relax and get ready for a day of great driving starting at 9 a.m. 

Loaner helmets will be available 

Also, we will be having an After-Event Social at Puerto Vallarta Mexican Restaurant (1599
SE Lund Ave, Port Orchard, WA). Come join us for dinner, drinks and chit-chat with your
fellow racers and car enthusiasts. 

The Good News: I was in. The Bad News: I only had a few hours of daylight to get my car ready for the next morning. My evening of regret became the mad dash of car preparation. 

As relieved as I was to get this chance, the advice in the email to 'get good sleep' and 'relax,' just made me laugh! I was so nervous. And I wasn't the only one. The adrenaline of the other novice drivers was palpable. Chatting with each other, anxiously. Chris and his little white Evo. Curt and his zippy green Miata. (This was how we first came to recognize each other, by car color and model.) We were worried about doing it wrong, missing gates and cones. Generally looking stupid. I was relieved to be in such good company. 

My first run was with Mileen as my instructor.  As we sat in grid, waiting for my turn, I was terrified. Mileen and I talked about how I wanted to be instructed. Did I need her to be subtle in her suggestions? A quiet tone? Or did I want her to be assertive and direct. "Be loud and be bossy," I told her. "Don't hold back." I respond well to direct, strong energy. We settled that.

I confess, the biggest part of my terror was driving in front of Matt. He's my co-worker. One of the good guys in my building. I did not want to make a complete fool of myself in front of him. "Matt, could you turn around and not watch?" Okay, I didn't really say that but I was tempted. 

Plus, I didn't want to embarrass him. Make him sorry that he'd introduced me to Autocross. I could just see him looking over his shoulder, pretending that he didn't know me, "Who is that crazy woman driving her car into the grass, sending the course workers leaping out of the way?" 

When I finally was up at the front, next in line, waiting for the GO sign, I said to Mileen, "Oh I hope Matt's not watching."

Then GO! and off we went. In seconds (I'm not saying how many...), we crossed the finish line. It was a complete blur. I was stoked. Adrenaline pumping. Heart pounding. I did it. Drove my first Autocross run. No cones mangled and stuck under my car. No injuries. WHOO HOO!
My first thought: "Where's Matt? Did he see that? I hope he saw me!" 

It was my first run, but I'm pretty sure the object is to get quite a bit closer to that standing cone. 
For goodness sake, you could fit a Mini-cooper between me and that cone! 
The cones on their sides are directional cones. Telling me what side of the standing cone to drive on. (In case you thought, I knocked them over.)

This is better. Yea, me!

You really want way more of a lean in your car as you corner.

I had three instructors through out the day: Mileen, Matt & Michelle. 
I also did extra ride-alongs with Michelle, Matt, Mike and Mark. 
(I didn't notice the alliteration at the time.)

Matt's truck!

Mileen! She's a great, patient and bossy instructor. 
(I think that might be her Dad, Mike's Mustang behind us.)

Michelle took me for a run in my first Mini-cooper.
It was a fun car! Just my size. 

I drove six runs. Plus riding in the Fun Runs! 

The rain and wind were off and on all day long!

I went out there knowing just Matt. (Well, Matt...along with Volvo Mark and Porsche Jordan from last summer.) But after the last run, knowing the other Novices as well. Each time a student climbed out of their car, their face glowed with excitement from beneath their helmet. Jittery with joy and nervous energy!! And the instructors smiling with their passion for Autocross. The collective exhilaration was palpable and great common ground.  

At the end of the day, I gave Curt a hard time about his slight detour from the intended course in his little green Mazda Miatta "Who was that I saw spin around twice out there?" He shook his head and talked about it with some regret in his tone. But I was having none of that.
"Okay," I said. "But I'm impressed. I know it's not the goal to spin out but when you go to sleep tonight you'll know that you went all out. You didn't play it safe or hold back."  

It's my understanding that the intent is to be just barely in control. Or maybe just barely out. Pushing hard up against the limits of your vehicle and your courage. If you're too controlled, it'll cost you time on the clock. I was pretty much in control each run. No surprise. I have a lot to learn. I did hit a few cones, trying to get closer each time. But I never spun or skidded. All three of my instructors kept yelling, I mean telling me "More gas, more gas, more gas! Faster. Go, go, go!" They hardly had to tell me to 'Brake,' at all.

During the Fun Runs at the end of the day, Mustang Mike, Mileen's dad asked, "Want me to show you what your car can do?"(Was this a trick question?)
"Sure," I said. And he showed me. He was the only person to spin out my car.

Matt took me for a run in my car as well. Taking only seconds to acquaint himself with my automatic/manual shift transmission, and going for the non-existent clutch only a couple times, as we inched forward in grid. Waiting our turn, he also fixed my clock to the correct time and taught me the nuances of my cruise control settings. Got to appreciate a guy who sits down and takes charge without waiting for permission. Now every time I use the cruise, which helps keep me from practicing Autocross technique on public roads, I say "Thanks, Matt."

I had about a three second debate with myself about whether it was cheating....claiming Driving Autocross as a New Thing. Maybe not even three seconds. I'm calling it! I had to work up some serious courage to try this. It definitely qualifies as a New Thing.

21st New Thing ~ Autocross Driver! 

One thing about Autocross that seriously surprised me... riding is scarier than driving. Turns out I had my fear on backward. It hadn't occurred to me until I drove but it makes perfect sense. Driving, you have total control. You know your next move. Riding, you have no control. You have no idea if your driver will stop or turn in time. What they'll do next. If you ever decide to venture into Autocross, know that riding it far more frightening than driving. There's a life lesson, for ya! For me. "Drive your own car!"

It was a great day. I'm seriously proud of myself.  Next time I go out there, I'll let go even more. Actually allow myself to spin out of control. I get all giddy thinking about it. I know this is a long post but I am without apology. I could just keep writing about it except that I'm running out of superlatives. Autocross, I highly recommend it!

Important Post Script:
Both times I've been out to Auto Cross, I spent all my focus inside the cars. There was no time or energy for taking real pictures. I took a couple shots with my phone having deliberately left my camera at home. But my phone is the Fred Flintstone model. Chiseled out of flint; hence the name. Picture quality, not so great. So both times, I've depended on others for pictures of the day.

My deep thanks to Mark who knew I didn't have my camera but that I wanted shots of this event for the blog. He gave me permission to use his photos. Thanks Mark, for the pictures. I'm glad we finally got to finish our run from last summer.


  1. This seems like a big deal... not to say the other new things aren't important in their own way but this one feels brave. It feels like a power move and I think it's pretty cool.

    1. It seems a pretty big deal to me too. Especially the psychological shift between riding and driving. The analogy implications came to me weeks later while walking up to the Soltura workroom from the house. Our steps crunching on the gravel path. An important connection. A pivotal moment, weekend. More on Soltura later.
      Thanks for the comment, Darcy. Especially when you are so slammed with deadlines and assignments. It won't be long now. Graduation, dead ahead!!
      ~ B