Rusty Takes Names - And I Get My Novice License

My second SCCA race school, March 25th and 26th, 2006, came and went so fast it seems like a blur. After making some changes and improvements to Rusty Jr, (new 6 puck unsprung clutch, adjustable brake proportioning valve, shift light, and a bunch of new brake hardware) I was a little uncertain of the "reliability" of the new goods. I hate jumping into something like this "untested." But I had no choice, so time to play. Friday was the usual drill, load up, drive to Summit Point (SPR), and set up paddock with a friend, Carlos with his MR2. Attend the classroom session and take the written flag test. Get home at about 10pm and crash.

Saturday AM things started early at 8:30AM, and COLD. Someone mentioned forecast for snow at SPR - tow vehicle thermometer was reading 31 as I pulled into the paddock. Yeah 'twas a little nippy. I just prayed for no precipitation. Sure enough my two crew, Jeff P and Joel show up and provided fantastic support and some spot on technical help. I get my instructor assignment and do the early ride-alongs. Two students per instructor, the other student paddocked next to me had a spotless ITS E30 BMW fitted with everything money could buy - fuel cell, fire system, panasport wheels(?), new Hoosier track tires, two way radio system, carbon fiber instrument gauge holder, you name it. It looked quick. My instructor apparently seems to be well known in the ITS BMW circles (Marshall Lytle). Great, I wonder just how much I can trust what he's telling me (little old RX-7 driver)...especially with Joel and Jeff drooling over Charles' car and all talking Beemer-speak. Seriously, Marshalls instruction was great. Lots of positives and some good techniques and nuances to try to get that last bit of speed out of car and driver. With the ride-alongs done we go out for the first session. Nothing exciting. I get used to getting strapped in with the new HANS device (not too bad). New clutch is AWESOME and the shifting “crunch” is less pronounced (very-dead 3-4 synchro). Ah, but what's this? Two laps in the stock instrument cluster goes dead. Crap! Good thing I had the shift I tootled on my merry way. The only other annoying thing is the stupid vibration from some minor flat-spotted tires from last years brake bias issue. Not enough to blur my vision but enough to tingle my fingers by the end of the session. Hopefully they will round out. The session ends and then we have our first scare. Poor Jeff unhooks the safety net for me and then opens the door (note to self open door THEN release net), catching the safety net clasp in the door panel which promptly snaps it right off. Uh-oh. And this was a welded metal rod too! Jeff never batted an eye. Took the pieces, hopped on his bike, cycled around until he found someone with a welder, had it fixed and back in place by the time I returned after my 20 minute classroom. Now THAT'S what I call Crew! Joel jumped in and replaced the blown 5amp dash fuse with a 10 amp and I had gauges for the rest of the weekend. What a team.

"What?" Do I look, perhaps, a little scared?

Second session was uneventful. Lots of dicing with the bigger bore cars - American Sedans (Big Mustangs), corvettes, etc., but I find myself passing many more folks than are passing me. In fact I don't recall ever being passed except by the EP Miata on Goodyear slicks. On the downside I build up my speed but for some reason I just can't get the car to turn in for T1 and T6. Damn thing just wants to go straight. Some serious midcorner brief throttle lift is the only way I can get the car to rotate. T1 is slow and REALLY sucks. Into the paddock and a short talk with Joel and before we've finished talking he's unwrapping his shiney new toe plates. I knew he was itching for a chance to test them out so no better time. Sure enough I'm suffering from at least 3/8" toe out. Jeebus that's a lot! No wonder the car wouldn't turn. Factory spec is 1/16 inch. A quick adjustment by Joel over lunch and we are down to 1/8" and things were better...much better. Turns out lowering the car the ½" not only changes the camber but also the toe. Stupid me. Lesson learned. I'll let Carlos tell his story but it has earned him the nickname of "Stanley Steamer" due to some....errrr....cooling issues.

Bombing into Turn 3 [left] chasing down cars exiting Turn 5 [right]

Afternoon sessions were fairly straight forward, I got quite a few decent inside passes in T6a on a fair number of quick cars. Stupid Pintos were a royal PITA all weekend, driving erratically, and insanely SLOW. They were the only problem cars. Amazingly enough not nearly as many off-tracks as last October and no-one AFAIK hit anything solid all weekend. I saw poor Carlos's car parked in the grass on the outside of T2 with him sitting on the berm watching the cars go by during one of the afternoon sessions. I started playing with the proportioning valve and the braking bias got much better. I didn't feel the rear end doing as much dancing as it was last October. Ok so time to push the braking zone. Last session of the day, mid session, lets go deep into T1. Typical brake marker is the 5th marker (for me as I'm probably at about 125 (speedo was showing 140 hehe). 5th marker goes by, ok here's the 4th now stand on it. Car goes rear end hokie pokie... good...but what's that I smell. OH CRAP..that would be tire tire smoke. Release...release... dang it. Ok time to turn in now. Pull through T1 and there it is whumpa whumpa whumpa whumpa.....Ah nuts...I flatspotted a tire bigtime. The dash is shaking so hard I have to hold it down with my right hand while steering with the left on the straights. But I'm determined to finish the session. I pray the vibration won't crack my gauge panel or something like that. Sure enough the next time into T1, there it is, a BEE-YOU-tee-ful black streak from the 3rd marker all the way into the concrete, courtesy of my right front tire. Post session analyses...yup corded it. Ok lets break out the new rubber for Sunday. Unfortunately the tires had a few more weekends left on them but I did get some significant use out of them (bought used with 2 weekends on them plus my 6 track weekends). And that was about the extent of the excitement from the mechanical perspective for the bulk of my weekend.

OOPS! That can't be good.

Sunday AM, it's cold again (34F) but like yesterday the sky is partly sunny and looks to stay dry...Yippeee!. My "new" crew show up - Rich and Guido (my ace Mazda mechanic neighbor). Rich dials a little bit more toe out to help with that last touch of understeer and Guido immediately dives under Carlos' car to help with the SECOND water pump change. Rich warns of starting out on the new Toyo's saying they will feel "greasy." HO BOY was he not kidding. Made for some really entertaining driving into T5 as witnessed by my crew. I felt I should have been in a drifting competition rather than a racing school. Lots and LOTS of oversteer. We fiddled with air pressure and all was well in the world again but overall due to the new tires my lap times dropped a second. Bummer. Still all the nasty vibrations were gone and the car felt very smooth. And good news, Carlos FINALLY got his car running again. Mid morning Tom, another of my friends, arrives with words of wisdom about rear view mirrors and asks me how I like my convex mirror. I likes it, I says. Tom adds that they break easily. Ok I'll watch for that. Hop in the car for a session right after lunch, tap the mirror with my helmeted head and find myself covered with shards of the now broken rear view mirror. I motion to Tom. Remind me never to talk to Tom about mechanical issues during a track/race weekend! My crew tape the largest of the mirror pieces to the frame so I have some semblance of rear vision and I manage for the rest of the day.

Now how many years bad luck will THIS be? Pieces of mirror taped to the frame. [left] Duct tape holding the side mirror so I won't be looking at the ground after the first corner! [right]

Ok so now for the fun stuff. Up until now the test sessions have been decent. I'm getting good feedback from the instructors about my line and passing, etc., and the car feels good. And even though the tires are new their slightly shorter sidewall (225/45 vs 225/50) is giving me a little but more grunt out of the corners - redline is coming on much quicker too! Time for the practice starts and the 5 lap mini-race. As usual the instructors mix up the field and out of a field of 24 cars they put me 16th. Carlos was up in 7th and Charles (paddock neighbor ITS BMW) was 8th. Of course behind me somewhere were a couple of the big Mustangs, and the two Corvettes (one T1 C5 monster - came in a hundred foot semi trailer - and a EP C4). But of course wouldn't ya know it right in front of me was one of the damn slow ass Pintos, to my left was an AS mustang. Gonna be tough to pull him on the start. So two by two we roll around the track, pace car pits in, and we are going slow - 35mph, so I decide to see where 2nd gear puts me, right around 6000rpms. Oh, am I going to have to shift quickly! I shift Mad Quick YO! We round turn 10, I take a peek to the right of the Pinto, check my mirror... shards... for what the car is doing behind me, get a quick look at the starter and BAM second gear to the floor and the car literally jumps to 7800 instantly and bobbing to the left I'm past the Pinto on the outside. And just like last October it's as if the sea parted. Cars lined up on the right (protecting the inside line), cars lined up on the left and NO ONE in the middle! I shoot past probably 6 cars. The Mustang to my right got boxed in so he never had a chance to jump. A slower car in the right lane left an opening so I moved to the right joining the train going in the braking zone for T1 lined up behind a Neon. Ooooo...Oooooo there's a gap....the Neon has to check up behind the car in front of him (turns out that was Carlos -Thanks ‘Los!) and drifts a smidge to the left and I stick my big fat RX-7 nose right down into the inside of him entering the corner. Oh this is gonna be TIGHT! I'm dead even with the Neon. Oh no he's not moving over on me is he.....oh crap yes he is. Note I said door to door...No where to go but up on the inside gator strip. This is going to be close...CRUNCH...ah crap there goes my outside mirror. Can you say close? Close enough to take off my outside mirror but nary a scuff on the paintwork. I'm in second gear and I manage to lay down the immense torque from the rotary and pull the neon, and a few other cars, out of T1 and T2. 4 more positions gained! Into T3 side by side with an ITS BMW and we race to the T4 flag station. I see LOTS of white in my rear mirror shard...just gotta hold them off through T3. Yeee HAAA! I moved up 11 spots to 4th! We roll around and pick up the pace car at start finish.

Far left is pictured me on the inside and the white Neon just to my outside...seconds before my hat-trick - damaged all 3 mirrors in ONE weekend!
Close enough to crack the mirror and housing but nary a scrape on the body work. Now that's close! [right]

Second start is supposed to be a rolling single file "safety" car start the next lap around. Single file around T10..sorta. Dummy Mercedes lines up two wide on the front row. In front is the ITS BMW, ITS Mercedes 190, and some other car I don't recall (I think and ITS Integra). I admit I'm watching the two white cars behind me VERY closely (Datson 240 and a 944 Porsche who I've diced with before). The speed is a little quicker so I stay in 3rd gear. I see the starter jerk and nail flag comes out. Whatcha gonna do.... watcha gonna do...the Integra and the Mercedes go to the right to protect the inside line. Ok I'll go left and follow the ITS BMW. Sure enough the Mercedes brakes early for T1 and the BMW and I motor past both of them on the outside of T1 and I follow single file through T3 to the T4 flag station. This simply can't be happening. I'm on the front row for the race start! We cruise back around and into the pits to regrid. Stay calm, stay calm. Meanwhile I screaming in my head...FRONT ROW FRONT ROW.

Amazing...simply amazing. Crispy on the Front row...even if it was only at the school [left] note the two white cars behind me as we enter Turn 1 [right]

Out we go two by two behind the pace car, T8 the lights go out and the pace car ducks in to the pits. ITS BMW downshifts. I decide to leave it in third and creep the speed up on the pole sitter. By T10 I'm up to 4200rpms....not bad. Could be better but not bad. 240Z and 944 are behind us. They must have followed me around the Mercedes and into T3. No sighting issues to the starter this time. Same again...look for the starters twitch. There it is BAM...go go go go. I hear the BMW wind it out in gear. We were neck and neck the WHOLE way down the straight. I dunno if me dropping to 2nd would have been any better but I certainly didn't loose any ground by staying in 3rd...Love that rotary torque. Two wide into T1 the "white" brothers still right behind us. I inch over and crowd the ITS BMW on my inside right. He gives and I move him over some more. With his tighter line and my faster exit speed taking the wider optimal line through T2 I pull him coming out of the corner. OH MY FREAKIN' G*D! Angels sang and I saw a bright light and I swear the heavens talked to me....I had open track in front of me with a clean line going into T3. Yes indeed it is true, I actually was leading the race. Do I get any points for being a leader? ;-) A quick glance in my mirror shards and the 240Z is right on my tail. Now I've never played with him so have no idea how fast he was but I do recall seeing him on a new set of sticker Hoosiers earlier on Sunday. This is going to be interesting. Hold the line... hold the line I keep muttering. Over the hill down the chute, through the carousel, he tries the inside move in T6a but can't make it, we are too evenly matched. Through T8 up through T9...going wide going wide... dang it time to shift already (first time I've been through the whole lower complex, T6a through T9 flat)...crunch crunch...FARK! Yup I missed the 3-4 shift and the 240 just squeaks by barely beating me to T10. Oh well...he was faster than me so it was inevitable I just wish it was a good pass and not one due to my ineptitude. Still after the 240Z leads me down the straight I check my mirror shards and there is virtually no one behind us. WOW! Score one for "traffic." However I was acutely aware of the two corvettes as I knew...just knew they were coming... and fast. It was just a case of how much margin I had and was it enough? Way back I saw a blue 911 dicing with one the EP Corvettes. The Porsche doing a great job of holding him off by putting space on him in the twisties. Lap 2...hit your marks....hit your marks, stay on the gas, don't, lock up the brakes. Lap 3 the 240Z is putting about a second a lap on me..ah but what's this, tire smoke in T1, is he off?...damn he's still going. Check the mirror shards, where are the vettes? Porsche is still holding the EP vette but Uh Oh here comes the T1 vette. Lap 4, yep he's gaining but only on the straights. C'mon dang more lap just one more lap. Son of a B... He catches me on lap 5 on the main straight and we go side by side into T1. Could I have moved over and protected the line...sure. Was there a near certainty he would pass me between T2 and T3? Or up the hill after T9? (SCCA T8) Probably. Exit T2 and the T1 vette checks out but does not manage to catch the 240Z. Score ONE for the ITS class! I finish the race in 3rd but with the EP vette having finally gotten around the Porsche he was coming fast. Still, 5 laps is 5 laps and I finished 3rd overall out of 24 cars. Fairly respectable I think. I recall someone mentioning they expected nothing less that 3rd from me and whattaya know it happened...broken mirrors and all. As for the 240Z I learned from Guido (my crew) that that very same car was a class winner almost 20 years ago when he was racing and that the father now being "retired" has passed the racing duties and car onto the son who was now driving the car. Can you say well sorted?

In summary this was as good an SCCA school as I could have wished for. Excellent crew work, great weather, had a great instructor, had a car strong enough to hang with the best of the school and which didn't break anything significant, I didn't blow either of the red flag drills and generally got good feedback from the instructors, and to top it off was awarded, as quoted by the chief instructor: "without question," the Big Bore Class “Hard Charger Award” for the second time for gaining 13 positions in 2 starts and leading the race for half a lap.

Now it’s time to go racing for real....or maybe not (read here to find out why).

Chapter I: To Begin the Hooptie to Hotrod Saga: Part 1 of the First 16 Installments
Chapter II: The Saga Continues beginning with Part 17 through 21, A Good Rear End: Part 17
Chapter III: Picking up the Pieces. Part 23 (clutch, adjustable proportioning valve + more)
Chapter III: Shift Mad Quick, Yo! Part 24
Chapter III: The S5 Decision, Part 26
Chapter III: S4 to S5 Conversion - CRAZYNESS! Part 27
Chapter III: Oil System Upgrades, Part 28
Chapter III: More Suspension Improvements? Part 29



If you would like to contact me and converse about my experiences with my RX-7's:
please feel free to send an e-mail to

This page last updated June 10, 2006

Disclaimer: All images contained on this page are the sole property of C. Regan.