Bridgestone Racing Academy
This past week has been wild. I've been anticipating it for some time, so I was ready. But not quite prepared for the outcome. Saturday (Aug. 12) I raced my kart at Monrovia, Maryland. In the heat race I drew a very high number and had to start from the back. As I was working my way up I collided with another kart at the end of the main straight. It was my fault. I didn't finish and had to start from the back for the feature as well.
As I tried to work my way up the order I was collected in another incident. The two karts in front of me ran into one another exiting the last turn and I had no where to go. I ran into the back of my friend Dion. His kart went up in the air and when it came down it must have made contact with my leg and cut it. All three of us were able to continue after getting restarted, albeit one lap down.
A few laps later I passed Dion and another kart. Unfortunately, the other kart spun and collected Dion. I did not see it as they were behind me. This happened at the end of the main straight where we reach speeds of approximately 55 mph (90 km/h). Dion could not avoid him and was launched out of his kart and over the hay bales surrounding the track. The race was red flagged. He appeared to have injured his ribs and was eventually able to walk back to the pits after the nurse looked him over. That was a disconcerting moment.
When the race was restarted I was able to gain position rather quickly, but with only a handful of laps left I was only able to unlap myself up to 4th place. That was my worst finish this year (DNFs aside). Dion was taken to the hospital for examination.
Two days later I went to the Bridgestone Racing Academy at Mosport in Canada. It was pretty much what I expected, except I was disappointed not to be the pace setter the first day. I only took the second half of the 4 day course since I already had previous training. What I did like was that the day was mainly made up of lapping sessions. Gradually everyone's times went down.
Open wheel cars are extremely exciting. The ones at this school were Reynard Formula Ford 2000 cars. The 2000 signifies engine displacement of 2000 cubic centimeters (2 liters). Since the cars weigh about 1000 lbs. (450 kg) they have very good acceleration, with 0-60 mph (0-100 km/h) in under 5 seconds. Top speed is in the range of 125 mph (200 km/h).
At the end of the day I went back to my bed and breakfast inn and relaxed. There were many acres of fields and trails on the farm, and a hound dog named Smokey. I took her jogging and just let go of everything. Concentrating for lap after lap on achieving the right lines and keeping the car just on the limit was thrilling. Afterward it was important just to unwind.
The next day we practiced passing and rolling starts. In the afternoon we had our practice races, in which the instructors also participated to spice things up. There didn't seem to be any particular starting order other than the instructors being on the front row. The first race I started from near the back and made a pretty good start, passing one or two cars into the first turn. The first two or three laps I made several more passes and was probably up to 3rd or 4th before braking a little too late and having an off track excursion. I had to bring the car in to be looked over and then the race was over.
In the final race I started closer to the front, perhaps 5th, made a great start and was in the lead after 2 laps. The rest of the way I just had open track and increased the gap to the other students. Near the end I did have an instructor, Ian, slow up and wait for me to go by. But then he chased me and we were pushing very hard. In fact, he was pushing so hard that he nearly ran into the back of me. I came over the crest into a fast, 2nd gear corner and heard tires lock up, except they weren't mine. In my mirror I could not see anything but his tires skidding. That was a close one.
On the next to last lap I made a small mistake at the same corner I went off in the first race. That was enough for him to sneak by and 'unlap' himself. However, I did set the fastest time of all four days among the students, three of whom were young, aspiring professional race car drivers as well.
In two days I learned so much. My lap times came down about 9.5 seconds and I feel ever more confident about my abilities and the future. It was tremendously fun and I felt very comfortable. The cockpit of a race car is where I belong.
The following day (Friday) I did the 12 hour drive home. Upon my return I received the news that my friend Dion had been examined further and that he had in fact broken his back. It really put a damper on things. I am positive though that he will make a full recovery.
On Saturday (Aug. 19) I was back at the kart track. In the heat I started from mid-pack and finished 2nd. In the feature I was on the outside and made a lackluster start, getting passed by at least two karts. Gradually I worked my way up to second and then I was rear ended in the S-turns.
It did not feel rough by any means, just a tap. But apparently the guy behind me ran up the back of my kart and popped the muffler off. I knew he had lodged his kart on top of mine since it wouldn't accelerate and I tried desperately not to stall. I managed to get going but the engine was extremely loud. I pulled into the pits and realized the race had been red flagged. He had flipped over.
At first I began to go out to see if he was ok, but I saw him get up and get back in the kart. So with the help of some other folks I mounted my muffler (which was still hanging on by a bolt) and back out I went. The race was restarted, but I had to start from the back since I had gone into the pits and worked on my kart. I had not seen the red flag since it was not waved until I had gone by. But that was better than getting disqualified.
At the start I went to work and passed kart after kart. Eventually I found my way up the order to 4th. I watched as 2nd and 3rd battled it out expecting them to take each other out. It was really close! Ultimately they did not but they slowed each other by fighting for position. I went by both in one pass. So I finished 2nd.
This week has been something else. While I was very quick and know that I've got what it takes to go further in the sport, racing school has provided more questions than answers. There will likely always be more questions than answers. But no matter where I go I want to enjoy racing. No pressure about tomorrow or next year. It is so intense and competitive that the joy of driving can be overshadowed. It's a lot more reassuring now that I realize this. This is a very serious business.