Friday, February 28, 2014

Autocross Results In Depth

Below is a chart of the some of the results from the 84 drivers at the first autocross of the season. This list is just the "Street" categories, all lumped together with their modified PAX times.

The first column is easy enough to read, it's the placings from 1st to 28th place based on PAX time, so you can see the best driving time of each driver ranged from 29.115 seconds to 37.933.  The letter "T" on places 1-6 tells you that if a class has 28 competitors, then normally there will be a trophy awarded down to 6th place. If there had only been 3 drivers, then only 1 person gets a trophy.  Imagine that, like real life, not everyone always gets a trophy!

The second column is just the shorthand version of class of car, rated from A thru H (fastest to slowest), and they all end in "S" for "Street" category.  You can see Brian in 2nd place is in the ES class, and Bob is way down in 5th place in GS.

The third column is car number, and each driver can pick whatever two digit number they want. If you see a three digit car, like the #112 Scion, that tells you that it's a car with two different drivers.  One driver is #12, and the other driver adds a 1 in front of the #12.   Just like last year Brian is #86 and Bob is #77.  For what it's worth, Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas has also picked number 77 this year, so I'm sure he's jumping on the Nixon Motor Sports Bandwagon too!

Next up you can see the driver name, and then the make and model of car.  Lots of Miatas in autocross!

Third column from the end we get the driver's fastest time on the day (out of 6 runs we did last Sunday), and these times here have already been PAX modified.  

The next to last column gives time behind the place just ahead of you, so you can see that Brian in 2nd was just over 1 second down on 1st place, and 0.097 ahead of 3rd place.  Brian also wants you to know that he was 0.442 seconds ahead of Bob, and fastest NMS driver and fastest ES driver on the day. Remember, if you can back it up, it's not bragging!

Last column is total time behind the class winner.

So what does all this mean?  It might mean that the order gives a general idea of how good each car is!  Or it might be a general idea of which driver is faster too! My thoughts are that it's a combination of the two, with the driver part counting for more of the equation. On the other hand, seeing two Focus STs and two Miatas in the top 4 here might also be a good clue that if you are interested in autocross, that these models of car might be a good ride to be in if you want to be competitive.

Of course there are a few other variables, like what tires were used, condition of the car, what modifications allowed in STREET might be on each car, what the driver had for breakfast, what kind of gas was in the car, how hot the day was, and a lot of other variables.

That's what makes this so much fun and keeps you coming back for more: trying to tweak all those variables and hit the perfect autocross run!
 'Street Pax' Total Entries: 28
1Tgs26Justin PobinettFord Focus ST29.115[-]1.077-
2Tes86Brian Nixon2004 Mazda MS Miata30.192+1.077+1.077
3Tes26Tyson Bevirt1995 Mazda Miata30.289+0.097+1.174
4Tgs17Michael Arnold2014 Ford Focus ST30.297+0.008+1.182
5Tgs77Robert Nixon2013 Fiat 500 Abarth30.634+0.337+1.519
6Tes89Kyle Ray-Smith2001 Mazda Miata30.746+0.112+1.631
7ds47Chris Skidmore2012 Chevrolet Camaro31.005+0.259+1.890
8es93Schuyler Hidde2000 Mazda Miata31.050+0.045+1.935
9hs12Kelly Mezzapelle2007 Scion tC31.066+0.016+1.951
10ds24Nate Lehmannchevy camaro31.078+0.012+1.963
11cs77Bret Lucarelli2003 Nissan 350Z31.120+0.042+2.005
12es11Randall SmithToyota MR231.182+0.062+2.067
13cs27Garick Black2013 Toyota GT-8631.198+0.016+2.083
14fs11James FlesherDodge Challenger31.620+0.422+2.505
15es17Zachary SmithMazda Rx731.772+0.152+2.657
16es126Andrea Harrismiata31.842+0.070+2.727
17gs7Terry McClureVolks Scirocco31.845+0.003+2.730
18ds12Cody CarterCamaro32.037+0.192+2.922
19hs112Thom Mezzapelle2007 Scion tC32.521+0.484+3.406
20cs18Michael AdamsScion FRS32.637+0.116+3.522
21bs35Regina Ward2007 BMW Z432.758+0.121+3.643
22fs13Derrike Black2007 Ford Mustang GT33.199+0.441+4.084
23cs17Christopher KnightScion FRS34.745+1.546+5.630
24fs21Jerry ChrstopherOlds Holiday 8835.320+0.575+6.205
25str27Dan ChristopherMazda MX535.641+0.321+6.526
26gs46Robbie Solesbee2004 Ford Mustang36.214+0.573+7.099
27hs69Robert SmebyMitsubishi Mirage36.579+0.365+7.464
28bs4Clara KnightHonda S200037.933+1.354+8.818

Monday, February 24, 2014

Autocross #1 for 2014

Yesterday we drove in the first autocross event of the season, so ya-hoooo!  This event was a non-points event, meaning it doesn't count for the season long South Carolina Region standings.  With that in mind, it was a great day to get back in the swing of things behind the wheel, maybe try some different approaches on the course, and not worry about any competition.  We had really great weather, which ranged from chilly and needing a sweatshirt at registration time (8am-ish), t-shirt warm before lunch, and believe it or not back to the extra layer when it got a bit chilly and cloudy running til around 5pm.

Brian and I were both in the first of three driving groups, so while we lost the opportunity to watch other drivers and steal all their secrets or at least see how others drove the course first, we got right into driving!  It was a fun and small course, with basically most of the course done twice, which included a big long sweeping turn with lots of room to get on the gas before braking hard and trying to carry speed thru a corner. This one spot is probably where I could have done way better, and later in the day once I watched a lot of other drivers nail it a bit differently than me, I was slapping my head and thinking I'd really missed a chance to gain more time there. But learning by doing, observing others, and getting better for the next go round are what it's all about.

Thanks to the electronic timing and quick posting of results from our region, let's take a look at how we did, and once again thank the South Carolina Region of the Sports Car Club of America for putting on a well organized safe event.

Big picture wise, there were 84 drivers that recorded times, and each driver got six runs around the course, so that was very nice to get in that much practice. Some events we've seen as little as 3 or 4 runs, so 6 was great.  Without looking at classes of cars (horsepower and other factors), Brian out-drove me and placed 23rd out of the 84 drivers, while I was in 36th.  That put both of us in the top half, so depending on your outlook, that's either not winning, or, not bad for being second year drivers.

Once we factor in the adjusted time, the "PAX" time that helps those of us in stock classes, we did even better. With the PAX times, Brian was overall 10th out of 84, and that is just outstanding!  My time was 19th, so I'm happy about that, although Brian is still faster than me somehow no matter how you add it up!

Now let's get down to what class we are both in, which in our region this year includes all flavors of Street. Going from fastest cars to slowest, the Street PAX class that we will be competing in includes 7 classes from A Street (AS) thru H Street (HS), with Brian in E Street (ES) and me in G Street (GS). In other words, my GS car is rated slower than Brian's ES car, so he should beat my regular or raw time, but once we multiply by the appropriate PAX index number, then we are competing on equal footing, so...

...out of 28 Street drivers, Brian finished with the 2nd best time, and I was 5th.  In the top six places our competitors included two of the new Ford Focus STs and two other Miatas. Rounding out the other 22 cars in Street were a couple of Camaros, two Scion tc, a Nissan 350Z, a Toyota MR2, a few Subaru FRS, a Dodge Challenger, a Mazda RX-7, an older VW Scirocco, a BMW Z4, two Ford Mustangs, a Mitsubishi Mirage, a Honda S2000, and an Oldsmobile 88.  Quite a range of cars, and again, with the PAX system we can compare our times.

Those are the highlights, and more than anything we had fun.  Probably the most common car model at autocross events is the Miata, but as you can see from the small list above, just about any kind of car can enter, and we encourage anyone interested to check it out and join the rest of the car folks.

You won't regret it!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Novice School

It's the first autocross weekend of 2014!

Today I attended the annual SCR SCCA autocross novice school.  There were a number of experienced drivers pairing up with the newer and novice drivers to give us more seat time and some pointers on the way.

It was a great day, in the 70s and partly cloudy.  Met a few new folks and caught up with some of the regulars.  Looking forward to the autocross event and having the full NMS team driving tomorrow!  Below is video of most of my runs.  I was averaging about 29 seconds around the course. Fastest time of the day was in the 27 seconds, so I wasn't too far off the pace.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Is Autocross "Racing"?

I'm going to answer the question with "no", it's not racing.  Auto crossing is you all alone, driving as fast as you can as the only driver on the course. Are you competing with yourself and trying to improve? Yes!  Are you competing with your previous time and trying to go faster, brake and steer more efficiently? Yes!  Will you finish the day and compare your solo time with other driver's solo times? Yes!  But are you really "racing" the other competitors? That's up to you!

You can have a race with your spouse on who brushes their teeth the fastest, or ties their shoes the quickest, but I wouldn't call that racing either.  But if you just enjoy driving your car and being able to autocross at the level that pushes the capabilities of your car in accelerating, braking, cornering, steering, etc, then you will love auto crossing. 

One description of auto crossing is that it is the opposite of every day driving. Well, for most of us it is the opposite, because every day driving means I'm trying to drive smoothly, safely, stay on the road, stay in my lane, and not be so aggressive that I wear out my brakes every week and only get 1 mile per gallon!  Depending on how long you have been driving, you might have somewhere between 5-50 years of driving like that, so when you put on your helmet and fasten your seat belt for an autocross, a lot of that mentality goes out the window. I figured out last year that I had to FORCE myself to be more aggressive, especially with braking and cornering.  Cornering is probably where I need to improve the most, because while it's fun to have your tires squealing around a corner, (and sound like a chase scene in a "Dirty Harry" movie), that squealing sound is probably really a waste of tire grip making the car go sideways instead of forward and faster.

This weekend will be our first autocross of the season, and we'll be out there driving hard, being safe, having fun, and at least for me, the only racing will be to see if I have a faster time than Brian at the end of the day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pre-Season House Cleaning

While the SCCA autocross events are run to national standards, each event doesn't happen without everyone completing a work assignment for the day and all kinds of volunteer support.  No one shows up to drive without contributing to some time to make the event run. This evening a few of us pitched in to do some cleaning of the SCR-SCCA truck and trailer as part of some pre-season preparations.
There's a whole pile of completely destroyed cones that needed to go to the dump and a few that will live on to fight another season. Unfortunately I couldn't stay the whole time, but I'm setting a goal to chip in more time to support the club to keep events running smoothly.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

One Week to Go

Next weekend the NMS cars will be autocrossing for the first time in 2014!  Saturday will see Brian in the Miata participating in the South Carolina Region Novice School, and then on Sunday both the Miata and the Fiat are entered in the first single day competition for the year. While this event will not count towards points and the season long championship, the main thing is to get going again and have fun!

Brian has also entered an EVO autocross driving school this spring, so he is focusing on improving his driving technique, AKA "loose nut behind the steering wheel", which we like to say is the most important part of the car! With his Miata now classed in the E Street, which was a big change by the Sports Car Club of America for this year, there will just be tons of cars competing in ES compared to last year.

Robert will be staying in the G Street category, and over the off season upgraded the rear sway bar on the Fiat.  This modification is pretty much the limit allowed to improve the car and remain in the Street category, although new brake pads and shocks are allowed also, we haven't taken these steps in the Fiat.  Probably a bigger change in the Street categories is the requirement to run at least 140 UTQ rated tires, so with the 200 rated Dunlop tires, we think the Fiat is good to go for the season.

Speaking of tires, we'll be spending some time in the garage this week getting both cars on their autocrossing tires, checking the air pressures, and probably pulling out the shoe polish. You do have some shoe polish for your car tires don't you? Well, if you want to easily (and cheaply) check tire wear on an autocross day, you put some white polish on the edge of the tires, and then after your run you can get a rough idea if your air pressures are good by seeing how much tread is being used.  With this first weekend not counting for points, we'll try some different air pressures and try to get a feel for any changes needed.  Hopefully the temperatures will be warm enough for the tires to work, since even high performance summer tires don't grip so well when it's cold.

Later this week we'll pull out the check list for the weekend, and make sure we've got everything we need to autocross. The good news is that you really only need a car and a driver's license, and you can start autocrossing now. Well, it might help to have enough money for the entry fee. And then you'll want to borrow a helmet or maybe buy one. Then you'll be thinking about a nice set of tires and maybe upgrading the brakes. And the list goes on and on, but seriously, a car and a license is all you need to have a ton of fun in your car. Or even your friend's car!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Happy Birthday, Miata

The Mazda Miata was first unveiled at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show in February of that year.  This week Mazda celebrates the 25th birthday of the Miata and that unveiling.  I love my second generation Miata and I'm looking forward to the anticipated 4th generation to be revealed in the next year.

Here's a few cool links about the history of the Miata in conjunction with the 25th anniversary with some short videos.

Mazda's Official Page

Jay Leno's Garage

And here's a shot of my Miata, just a few minutes after I bought it on October 30, 2011.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Pre-Season Conditioning: 5 Mile Run and a Dozen Donuts

Making your car go faster has several basic components. One is to have more power.  Another factor is to make your car lighter, and one part of that is making the driver weigh less.  Brian and I have been working out a bit in an effort to reduce driver weight, but this weekend we took on a unique way to do that when we entered the Krispy Kreme Challenge.

For the past ten years, the Krispy Kreme Challenge in Raleigh NC has tried to answer this question, "Can I run 5 miles and eat 12 donuts in less than an hour?"  My thinking is that the first caveman came up with this when he tried to eat as much meat as possible, and then try to outrun whatever wild animal was trying to eat him!  In Raleigh though, the question apparenlty started with some North Carolina State University students, and after one thing led to another, we now have an annual tradition that this year found about 4,700 runners going for the challenge.

I figured I could run 5 miles in an hour, but didn't know about the 12 donuts. The way the run is organized, you have to eat them all at the halfway point, then get an official to confirm you ate them, and then they let you run the last half.  I've done my share of training to eat all my life, so didn't really practice eating donuts quickly, and figured that on race day my pulse rate and stomach would tell me if my body could go for eating all 12.

Race day was chilly, with just a chance of rain, so we headed out and lined up for the run.  One thing about running with thousands of people is that for the first mile or two you just can't run at a normal pace, since there are slower and faster paced runners all mixed together. Even so, Brian went ahead of me in the first mile and I decided to just keep a steady pace. This is a great excuse for any slow runner like me, and works well when combined with being twice as old.

I hit the donut station at about 22 minutes, so some quick math told me that I'd have 16 minutes to eat those donuts.  Walking with my box of 12 sugar bombs, I started eating the first one by itself. As you might imagine, when you have to cook and lay out 36,000 donuts, they aren't going to be HOT NOW, so that takes away a bit of the magic of eating hot donuts.  After the first donut, I continued walking through a mass of people who were all doing the same thing, or sitting on the street, or crowding around the water station. Funny how running a few miles and eating that sugary goodness makes you thirsty.

On my second donut I had to get more serious, so I smashed two together and took care of donuts 2-5. About this time I found Brian, and we both agreed that this was going to be tough, both in eating them all and with not really having more water.  Or a cup of coffee. Or a way to wash the sugar off our hands.  No matter, we were there to do our best, and continued eating, while at the same time calculating the running clock, the 2.5 miles to go, and that growing feeling of, well, something in the stomach.

I ate one more single, which got me up to 6, and decided that this was not going to be the day I ate 12 donuts.  Brian kept going and finished 7 or 7 and a half, and then we agreed it was time to finish the run, and not worry so much about the dozen donuts.

The route back to the start was a bit hilly up and down, and I enjoyed the down hill sections a lot more.  But somewhere on the way back, with 6 donuts added to my weight, well, I guess the physics just didn't work, and I finished in 1 hour, 2 minutes, and about 38 seconds.  Without standing around eating the 5 miles would have been way under an hour, and without the running, well, I still couldn't eat 12 donuts.

Brian finished just a few seconds over the one hour, so he takes first place for Nixon Motor Sports in the running and donut eating contest.  The Krispy Kreme Challenge folks donated a check for $200,000 to Children's Hospital, so in the long run, it was good to know that the hospital was the winner.

You can read all about this event at their website:

Krispy Kreme Challenge

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super Bowl Car Commercials

Just watched Seattle wipe out Denver, so off the top of my head here are some thoughts on the many car commercials! But first, special bonus points to Denver, since Ford used to make a nice truck called the Bronco, but I don't think anyone has ever driven a Seahawk.

Early in the game there were two Ford Fusion commercials back to back. That was kind of neat, but in these two and then another one later that played twice, I think they hammered home the message that the Fusion gets good mileage. The way they said it though, "about twice" the mileage of all vehicles, sounded like it also included dump trucks and SUVs that get 6mpg instead of compared to just mid size cars, but I'll give them a pass on that one.

Also in the first half was probably the most unique commercial, which started with a small kid giving a kind of inspirational speech about growing up to overcome the bullies and bad guys in the world. No clue what this commercial was about at first, and then all of a sudden it was a Maserati Ghibli commercial. I liked that it was unexpected, and being a fan of Italian cars I knew that parent Fiat has set a goal to increase Maserati sales in the US, so this was probably a pretty good way to do it.

One ad that was well done and funny was for a KIA luxury car, the one that featured Morpheus from the movie "The Matrix". Like in the movie, he asked someone to make a choice between red or blue, and when the couple chose the red or KIA car key, all of a sudden they were driving down the road in a Matrix like scene, complete with Laurence Fishburn (Morpheus) in the back seat. That was funny enough, but then Morpheus starts singing "Nessun Dorma", so that put it over the top for me, best car ad of the Superbowl.

Various Chevy ads highlighted their trucks, their support of fighting cancer, and the one with the big Chevy truck hauling a livestock trailer with a bull that eventually we see is being taken to some cows "hello ladies", came close to being really funny, but just didn't tickle my funny bone like the KIA one did.

Late in the game there was a Jaguar commercial that didn't really tell us much about the cars, but it did try to make a connection between movie bad guys being British, and I guess that Jaguars are British cars. Maybe since it's the Superbowl you have to have some funny bits in your commercials, but based on the Jaguars that I have driven in the last year, they would have done better by somehow showing how great these cars really are on the road.

Volkswagen was back with a pretty good ad, just not as good as the Darth Vader commercial from a few years ago. In this ad, a dad explains to his daughter how cool it is that his VW just hit 100,000 miles, something any car person that remembers the clunkers of old as a good thing!  The daughter doesn't get it, so the dad explains that it's like when any VW hits 100K miles, another VW engineer gets his wings. So of course we see various folks at a VW plant getting their wings, sometimes in funny situations. But the best line of the commercial then comes from the daughter who says something like "so when you hit 200,000 miles do rainbows come out their butt?".  Not your normal car ad, that's for sure!

Another original commercial and funny, was from Audi.  Audi? The German maker of the TT, and various other nice cars?  Yep!  To demonstrate that Audis are made with no compromise, this commercial played out a scene where a Doberman and a Chihuahua were crossed, so by the end we see Doberhuahua dogs running amok and terrorizing the world. Sounds silly, but it worked and ended up being funny. I'm not sure if everyone will remember it as an Audi commercial, but that's show biz!

Car Max, the used car guys had a good ad also, the one where the buyer drives away in his Car Max purchase, and all the way home he gets the slow clap from everyone along the way. OK, maybe it was just a little bit funny.

A Toyota Highlander ad featured a guy who stopped to help a broken down hippie bus, and it turns out to be Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, the band from the old Muppet Show!  I liked it, but there might be a lot of folks that aren't into the Muppets.  Apparently the Highlander is big enough for a lot of people, or Muppets, and drums and stuff. Or something.

Two Hyundai ads plugged the Elantra and the Genesis. The Elantra ad had the actor who plays one of the characters in "Big Bang Theory" (medium funny), and the Genesis ad eventually shows you the emergency automatic braking.  Like their cars, these ads were not bad, and compared to the recent non-Superbowl ad from Toyota that actually claimed that the Camry was "fun to drive", I'll put Hyundai ahead of Toyota until they prove otherwise!

Late in the game there was a very simple ad with Bruce Willis just talking to us. He reminded us that people, friends and family are important, and he suggested that we hug the folks around us. And since Honda makes highly rated for safety cars, that Honda cares about us too!  Nice simple commercial, with no special effects.

Last but not least, there was an ad for the Chrysler 200. It was mostly some guy talking about America being unique. That guy was Bob Dylan.  I still don't know what to say about this, given that he's been such an iconic singer and songwriter, and I can' think of anything else he has endorsed or advertised for in all this time, give or take 50 years. This reminded me of the Clint Eastwood Chrysler ad. If you can afford Bob Dylan to plug your car, it probably cost a lot of money. In light of Chrysler now being owned by Fiat, well, yeah sure, only in America!