2001 SCCA Meridian National Tour

After the Ft Myers Pro, we got in some serious beach time, and Marcus and I spent a morning being dragged around Old Naples by our shopaholic significant others. The sacrifices one has to make for racing! :)

Thursday night, we set off for Meridian, Mississippi for the national Tour. We made pretty good time, and made a stop at the USS Alabama in Mobile, and spent a few hours wandering over the battleship and the submarine they have on display there.

Once in Meridian, we set up shop and had a look at the course. Meridian is run on a runway at the airport, so the course tend to be fairly linear. The surface is a course asphalt that offers little grip, and there's a high crown in the runway that makes every turn into an off-camber turn. It's hard to imagine a surface more different than Ft Myers concrete than this. The course was simple to the point of near stupidity, and very, very fast. It was going to reward power in a big way.

This was a source of considerable concern, as it meant I'd be spending a lot of time up at the top of the rev range. Normally, I like fast courses, but as I hadn't been able to solve my top-end leanout, nor the miss at 6600, and as my top-end EGTs were in the 1800F range, I wasn't really keen on spending a lot of time up top. For the first time in my career, I found myself wishing for a tighter course.

Turnout was good, roughly 6 times as many drivers in my class than was there last year. Of course, I was the only driver in my class last year (which made my "defending champion" status a little hollow :) but it was very good indeed to see Street Modified attracting so many new drivers. Aaron and Frank Miller, in their big-motor Neon, were slated to show, but didn't make it. Kent and Karl were at home, rebuilding their cars, and Mark was back in Florida, so that left me as the only "name" driver. However, we did have a heavily modded Supra, a turbo Civic, a Type R, and a 1G DSM (DSM list members David Cone and Matt Bates)

Saturday morning arrives, and the sky is overcast, but dry, if a little cool. I go out for the first run fully expecting the engine to melt down. What results is a combination between babying the car and a dumb-ass Sunday drive - the time is not good at all. Alex Tsortzis in F Stock is kicking my ass. The Supra runs faster than me, but hits a cone. I get mad at myself for driving like such an idiot, and the next run, I'm pushing a lot harder - if it blows, it blows. This time, I discover that there's really not a whole lot of grip out there, and spend a lot of time slithering around, including a full out-the-passenger-side-window Makkinen powerslide in the turnaround, which while it looks cool, is not fast. I also manage to blow the shift to third in one section too. Even so, I'm a full two seconds faster than run one. The Supra runs a second faster still, but hits a cone.

Now I'm REALLY mad at myself. This is a 3-run-per-day Tour, not a 12 run Pro, so I can't afford to be throwing runs away like this. 3-run events require you to learn as much as you can per run, and to come up to speed in a real hurry, but I haven't driven what I'd consider a decent first run yet. My last run is a little better, with the aggression level up to where it needs to be, but I haven't learned enough from the first two runs to put down a real screamer. It's about 6 tenths faster still, but the time is way off where I should be, and I'm not happy at all. The Supra spins, and by an amazing dose of dumb luck, I'm in the lead by a good 1.2 seconds. It appears that everybody in class was having as bad a day as I was, and I lucked out.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

In Impound, I discover that the other DSM is having problems with a bad coil. I have a spare, given to me by a Michigan DSM member when I needed one to test with when I thought I might have a bad one - that makes it Club DSM communal property, so I give it to them, and it fixes their problem.

For Sunday, the course is changed a little, but for the most part, it's the same. But when we get up on Sunday morning, the track is wet. It has rained all night, it's overcast, and threatening to rain again. This is good news for an AWD driver who's principal competition is a Supra.

Where the track had been slippery before, it was now like greased batshit. On my first run, every time I tried to go to WOT on the first couple of offsets, I'd just light up the fronts. Throttle modulation in a DSM? Inconceivable! After the first offsets, there was a long straight section with a slight kink in it, and after Saturday's pussyfooting I wasn't about to hold back today - full power! The car hooked up, and I went screaming into the kink, but as I bent in some steering (under full power) the back end wiggled and suddenly I was sliding. I had time to think "Shit! I'm going off!" and then I was struggling to regain control of the car. The pack of corner workers I was caroming towards scattered like flushed pigeons, and I got it back under control about 3 feet from the edge of the runway. I missed a gate during my moment of drama, and so no time was scored.

The second run, I was a lot more cautious, and it was a good thing too. As soon as I tried to load the car up in a turn, the back end would snap on me. Each and every turn had a lurid fishtail in it as the back of the car tried valiantly to pass the front. I put a clean time down, but it was slow - and the car was undrivable. Back in Grid, I wracked my brains trying to figure out what the hell was going on. The car had been perfect it Ft Myers, now it was an oversteering nightmare. Then it came to me - just before Nationals, we had stiffened up the springs, especially the rears, and every run the car had made from that point had been on dry concrete. This was the first time the car (with this setup) had been run in the wet, never mind run on wet asphalt, and it was becoming apparent that this setup was simply too stiff in the rear for these conditions.

So I softened the rear shocks a half-turn, and went out for the last run. MUCH better. The rear started sticking, and I started pushing progressively harder as the run went on. In the turnaround at the far end, I pushed a little too hard and scrubbed off a bunch of speed, but didn't spin it. The run was clean, and while it was still slow, it was at least getting into the ballpark.

I actually finished dead last on the day, but thanks to the huge lead from the day before, I wound up with the win.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

While I'm not happy with my performance at all at this event, we learned some important stuff about what the car needs in the wet in the way of setup changes, and I got a bit of a reality check after our success in Ft Myers - and hey, we won! I now have a list a mile long of things to do before the next big race, which is a couple of months away. Time enough to fix the things we discovered, and come out even faster at the next race.