Racing 101 - Day 1 (personal view)

Racing 101 - Day 1 After years of saying "I will do it again" under better circumstances. I purchased a Spec Racer Ford for SCCA Club Racing last summer. There is a Pro Series but it is doubtful I will reach that level. I attended...

Racing 101 - Day 1

After years of saying "I will do it again" under better circumstances. I purchased a Spec Racer Ford for SCCA Club Racing last summer. There is a Pro Series but it is doubtful I will reach that level. I attended Phase I of the SCCA's driver school program this past weekend at Roebling Road Raceway in Savannah, GA. I am writing this primarily to aid any who might wish to become a participant in SCCA road racing someday. It might help in preparation for that occurrence.

Background: I drove in the IMSA RS series from 1979-1972 on a very part- time, low budget basis. No good results, some fun, some rewards, but also lots of disappointments. I had no budget, no talent, no talented help, and the competition was stiff to say the least. I've been saying for years that the only way I would try again would be if I could get in a competitive car. SCCA's Spec Racer Ford class seemed to offer that possibility if I could only scrape up enough cash.

The SRF: Spec Racer Fords are open cockpit, closed wheel, rear engined sports racing cars. Tube frame construction with a 3 piece fiberglass body. The car weighs roughly 1600 lbs. The engines are built by Roush Racing for SCCA Enterprises. They have about 110-115 HP I think. Top speed has been quoted as 135 MPH but I was told recently that the lead pack was radar gunned at 142 MPH at Daytona last year. The term "Spec Racer" is used because the cars are literally that - one spec racers. Paint, fluids, and suspension settings are free. Other than that - no mods allowed - none. If you get beaten it is for one of three reasons: 1) You can't drive as well as someone else 2) You can't set up the car as well as someone else or 3) Both 1 and 2.

The test and the decision: Last Memorial Day weekend I was offered a test in a Spec Racer Ford owned by a friend. I was sold. The search began for a car and the funds. A few weeks later I bought a car in Atlanta. Chassis #137 is mine and I think that there are nearly 800 in existence today across the country.

The wait: The car purchase wiped out my savings so waiting until 1997 to race was the result. I purchased new safety equipment during this period and a few specialized tools were needed such as a quick-jack as I can't get the old floor jack under a car with 3" of ground clearance.

The license: In most case the SCCA requires drivers new to the sport to attend two "Drivers Schools". Actually these schools are another of motor- sports misnomers. They are actually "racing schools" as they teach racing for most part. The private "racing schools" teach driving for the most part. You figure. There are exceptions made in many cases for attending two schools or even one for such reasons as previous experience, recent private schools, etc. In my case since I had not driven in almost 15 years, I was told to attend one school and ask the chief instructor to watch me closely for a possible sign-off after one school.

Requirements: New drivers attend these schools under a "Novice Permit". Oh well, if Mansell can be called a rookie at Indy and have to be oriented then I can be a novice. :) To obtain the permit one must join the SCCA and get the proper medical forms filled out by your doctor.

The school(s): When the SCCA Southeast Division schedule appeared for 1997 I looked for the early season schools. The first one anywhere close was at Roebling Road in Savannah, GA on Feb 14-16. This was followed by one at Road Atlanta the next weekend. I called for entry forms which came with the schedule for the weekends. I had decided not to even ask to have the second school waived as I need the cheap track time for a couple of reasons before trying any races.

We: The group consisted of the driver (me), the chief tea-maker (Chris, my wife), and the mechanic (James, my step-son).

The trip:  Savannah is almost 500 miles from my home.  We left early on
Friday morning in order to reach the Savannah area by mid afternoon.  It
was cold, low 40s, when we left home.   Stopped at the rest area at the
Georgia-Alabama line to check the trailer and drain our radiators.  The
rain starts and it is now 35 degrees.  Lunch at a Wendy's in Macon a few
hours later.  It is pouring and cold.  Fill up with gas before hitting
the road again.  There is nothing between Macon and Savannah.  220 miles
of pine trees and I-16.  Rain eases off as we enter the Savannah area.
Find the Quality Inn (very low quality BTW) and check-in.  Head out to the
track to register and hopefully unload the car.  Rain stops.

Registration and tech: Arrive at gate area at track at about 4 PM. About 15 other teams are there, waiting for the workers to arrive and begin registration. Registration goes smoothly and we cross the front straight into the paddock are at about 5 PM. Unload the car and push it up to the line for tech inspection. It's our turn. I hand the tech inspector my car's logbook and he asks "where is the old logbook?". I walk back to the truck to locate it. Only one problem found in tech. He wants the submarine belt routed differently. I ask "now?" Now. James dives in and arranges the belt to suit. Car gets both its annual inspection and the tech for this race. The tech sticker is applied and entries made in the logbook and we push the car away. After covering the car with a tarp, we head back to the motel where a mandatory 3 hour class is held for all students.

The chief instructor: The class was taught by Chief Instructor for this weekend, Don Robertson. Don has won several Regional SCCA classes in recent years. He teaches police and emergency vehicle drivers for Jacksonville, FL and does some vintage racing in cars from the Brumos team. Currently Don is the track manager at Gainesville Dragway, home of the Winternationals. He is perfect for a class of this type with the proper mix of humor and seriousness. The atmosphere is pretty casual. There were about 50 guys and a girl in this group. Ages ranged from about 20 to about 50 by my estimation. All were required to introduce themselves and mention any previous experience, etc. Very few are outright beginners. Many have done some sort of racing at some time and most have at least done some autocross, karts, or something.

Don begins by reminding us that we must put things in perspective for the weekend. In spite of what we may have been told or what we think, Roger will not be here looking for the next Rick Mears. :) He also mentions to keep in mind that you can get hurt at this. Savannah is a medium fast track with no slow corners and a long straight. Even the slowest cars average over 75 MPH per lap.

The class included a preview of the weekend, a period of instruction on the various flags, and "other advice" like how to be nice to the workers and officials. One comment was "if you have a mechanical problem and must pull off you should get your dead ass out of the car and help the corner worker push. Do not sit and wave for the corner workers." Has Don had exposure to some prima donnas? :)

A written test made up of questions from the SCCA GCR (rulebook) and stuff from the class not in the rule book is that last part of the class. Most of the test is questions about flags, starting procedures, etc.

Class ended about 10 PM or so.  I was pooped and ready for bed so it
was soon night-night time.  Part 2 of 3 tomorrow.

-rod

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About this article
Series SCCA
Drivers Rick Mears