I asked Bing and Zig to accompany me to the 6th Autocross run by the Northern New Jersey Region (NNJR) SCCA at Giants Stadium this past weekend. Sure, it was short notice and Bing was unable to swing a kitchen pass. Zig lives locally, but since President Trump was in Bedminster they had declared a 50-mile radius no-drone zone, and Zig won’t do no race event if he can’t get aerial footage.
So I asked a friend from town (the father of one of my younger daughter’s friends). He immediately upgraded me from “friend” to “good friend” and agreed to drive with me. We don’t use real names on this site, so I was planning to use his initials: SS. But we already have an SS so I was figuring that he could be “The Other SS”. But that produces the acronym “TOSS” and this guy has roots in the British Commonwealth, so that would be rude. So let’s go with NJSS to distinguish him from Maryland SS.
And so after helmet fitting from my spare lid supply, a shot trianing drive on Friday to make sure he was OK with the quirks of my car, and minimal preparation (mostly consisting of charging the batteries on my GoPro), we were ready.
NNJR tech opens at 8:30 and we live about 25 minutes from Giants Stadium, so I was at NJSS’s house at the crack of 7:30 AM. His last Lotus training was to drive to the “track” so that I could nap. Weather report was perfect: 0% chance of rain and a high of 78 degrees, so I didn’t even bother to bring the roof. Nothing but a baseball cap and sunscreen between me and the burning orb of the sun today!
Our confirmation email had said that we hit the Autocross jackpot. There would be 3 heats, we would race in heat #1 and do corner work in heat #2. That meant that we would be able to head home early and appease our wives. Upon checking the race officials revoked the joy. Too many corner workers in heat #2, so they moved us to 3. We would have to stay until the bitter end. A True Racer is happy to suffer for his speed.
Tech was a breeze (they don’t even make me open the trunk/engine lid on the Lotus – they just took my word for it that my battery was tightly affixed). Pumped an extra 10 PSI into the tyres and it was time to walk the course.
NJSS is resourceful and had a runner’s GPS app on his phone, so he was able to record a GPX file of the track. Here it is for your edification
Total Time: 00:13:32
Normally I would walk the course 3 times or more, but for some reason time got tight. I blame NJSS for spending too much time ogling the course as a first-time Autocrosser. The course itself was pretty large, and seemed like it should be easy to follow; no crossovers, no double-baks. Mostly a series of 3 slaloms connected by 180-degree turns and gates. It seemed like it would be pretty fast, but pretty easy to follow.
Or so I thought…
When it came time to run our heat (which is to say immediately after the obligatory driver meeting), I learned differently. I took my first THREE runs with an instructor because I discovered that the simplicity of the track was deceptive. There were several gates near the end of the course which just did not compute in my mind. I expect an Autocross to be made of twisty little turns, and so the last 180 kept fooling me. I would run inside or outside of the entry gate and DNF. Bastardos!
But I was right… it was a very fast course. Here are our first two runs:
My first run
NJSS’s first run:
My second run:
NJSS’s second run… sort of. Watch what happens in the first 10 seconds:
I spend a lot of energy telling friends that Autocross is safe. Nobody ever gets hurt. There is almost (almost) nothing to hit. Why, I have only every personally witnessed ONE car get damaged (err… ummm… totalled) at an autocross event. I had to go through this speech twice with NJSS.
Now I have witnessed TWO cars get totalled racing Autocross.
If you watch that video closely, when NJSS pulls back into the grid you can see the carnage. Just to the right there is a vehicle wrapped around the concrete base of the light pole. An, light poles… nemesis of overconfident Autocrossers. I don’t think I’m violating the “no social media” rules of Autocross accidents because A) I am not mentioning the car or date, and B) nobody reads this blog. But I saw it happen, and it was just like two years ago. The driver lost control, and instead of just giving up and going “two feet in” (slam the clutch and brake hard), he tried to control it and recover. The result was the same: he drove straight into the only object in 100 yards that could damage his car.
The car was nice one too. A particular model that is very rare and in huge demand. Shockingly, there were FIVE of them at this event. Well, now there were four.
Oh, also this crash cannot be a secret because a fire truck, two ambulances, and an NJ State Police car all attended to the crash.
If this was the Potomac Area PCA (Porsche Club of America), they would have hurried to pack up the cones and run like the cur that they are. But this is New-fookin’-Jersey. Rare car totalled in a crash? Just pour the goddamned kitty litter, sweep it up, and continue racing!
…but it still took 90 minutes to clear the course. That meant that they reduced us from 8 runs to 6, and we were going to be there very, very late even with the truncated schedule. (for non-Autocrossers: 6 runs is normal, 7 is good, and 8 runs in a day a phenomenal).
And so we went on to finish the rest of our six runs.
NJSS’s re-run of his second run:
NJSS run 4:
My 4th run:
NJSS run 5:
My run 5:
NJSS 6th and final run:
My 6th and final:
What happened to our third runs? I blame the user interface on GoPro cameras. It sucks, and it’s easy to get out of sync. So for those runs I got the talky-talk part with our instructors, not the actual racing. For an idea of what that looks like, you can watch it if you have a high tolerance for boredom:
After that we had heat #2 free. NJSS had packed some sandwiches, and I had packed Gatorade. That amused us for 15 minutes. Then we watched the other racers and… oh my God! Heat 2 was packed with Pros! In fact, one of the racers was the USA National SCCA Solo Champion from 2015! The big Kahuna. And he didn’t even come in first! There were a half dozen nationally-ranked pros racing that day!
So of course NJSS had to pester them until one of them let him ride along as a passenger 🙂
This is him in grid, waiting for the run to start:
And this is the pro on the course, with NJSS holding on for dear life:
And Perry (the Pro driver) was kind enough to share his video from that lap:
Here is the RX7 of the 2015 National Champion (heavily modified! Look at that intercooler!):
And here is what he puts in the gas tank along with 5 gallons of race fuel. Yes, that is two gallons of Xylene:
The rest of the day? Corner work. The course was huge, so there was the potential for a lot of running to reset cones. Also, because of the delays they are running on a very tight 20-second interval between cars. It made for great spectating, but when a cone did get punted, you had to move fast if you didn’t want to cause a red flag or get run over. Luckily, the section I was working on was a loose slalom and 180-degree turn, so drivers mostly kept the cones in place (except for these three Mustangs who did what Mustangs do and got a bit sideways on almost every run).
We did not finish until 5:30 PM. Very late for an Autocross. Luckily our wives are understanding (and we treated them to dinner at Arthur’s for being so generous).