SCCA All-In-One Driver's SchoolThe Nuts have been slowly working towards getting Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) competition licenses for some time now. To get there, we acquired track cars prepared to SCCA Improved Touring specifications, and participated in High Performance Driving Events in both the track cars and our street cars. The penultimate phase of this process began on 11 February, 2004, as we arrived at school. The next four days were hectic, hard work, and a lot of fun, and we came away with our Novice Licenses for SCCA Club Racing competition. The Novice License is sort of a “probationary” license, and we must complete two SCCA Regional Club Racing events in the next two years to satisfy the requirements and graduate to full Regional Club Racing licenses.
1. OverviewOver the weekend of February 12th through 15th, 2004, The Nuts participated in the All-In-One Double Drivers' School hosted by the Buccaneer Region SCCA at Roebling Roads Raceway in Savannah, Georgia. This event combines both of the schools that the SCCA requires of new drivers into a single long weekend. Attending a Double School allows drivers to go from unlicensed to Novice License (probationary) in a single weekend. If you don't have much experience on track, you may be better off to do two separate Single Schools a few weeks apart. OTOH, if you do have some track time under your belt, the Double School gets you licensed all at once.
1.1. The SchoolSCCA Club Racing Drivers' Schools do not teach you to drive a race car. They teach you how to properly participate in an SCCA Club Racing event. You're expected to already have mastered car control and basic “line” issues. They do show you the line at the specific track, since many of the students will not have run at that track before. This includes both driving the track with your instructor in a street car (or van) and walking the track as a group.
At this school, a total of about 125 students showed up. All age groups were represented, from teens to sixties. This group had a lot more experience on track than many drivers schools, and the on-track action was quite a bit more aggressive than we really expected.
1.2. The Track
Roebling Roads Raceway is a challenging nine-turn 2.02 mile road course (as seen in the graphic to the right). As road courses go, it's fairly wide, and there is a lot of room off the pavement, which makes it safer, especially for the new drivers that typically populate a drivers' school. It is a momentum track. There aren't any really slow corners, so you have to work to maintain momentum rather than drag racing from corner to corner. This means that, aside from the front straight, pure horsepower and torque don't play such a huge role.
To make life interesting, though, there are concrete patches and areas of surface sealer scattered all over the track. Add some off-camber areas, and the classic line often doesn't work very well. It also means that you have to be very careful in the wet, since the asphalt has a lot more grip than the concrete and sealer areas.
The track is pretty flat, but T7 is off camber to driver's left of centerline after the apex. That means the fast line through T7 is way to the right of where you would expect it to be. T7 is an important corner, because you have to maintain your momentum through T8 and T9, onto the front stretch, to get good lap times. The 2700' front straight often turned into a drag strip. Luckily the T1/T2 complex is pretty quick and can be negotiated two-wide if everyone slows down a little.
The RX-7 didn't have to go below 3rd anywhere on the course, and could stay in 4th for most of it if you didn't mind leaving a little lap time on the track. In the rain, Lefty often kept it in 4th and used a little 5th on the front straight, to reduce the chances of a spin caused by getting overly enthusiastic with the throttle.
One thing to remember about Roebling Roads Raceway is that there's no bridge to get to and from the infield. This means you have to wait for a break between sessions to go back and forth. That can be a problem if you're using pump gas and need to run out for a new load of fuel during the day. So make sure that you've got everything you need from outside the track before the day's sessions start.
Something else to be aware of is that the track colors are blue and yellow. The starter's stand is painted with a logo for the track. In the heavy mist on Saturday, Lefty repeatedly thought they had flags hanging as he went by, only to realize at the last second that he was seeing the paint on the starter's stand. This can really distract you if you're not ready for it.
1.3. The Run Groups
2. WednesdayWednesday, the 11th of March saw the beginning of our Drivers' School experience. Lefty set out from from Atlanta about 11:00 in the morning and arrived at the track gates at almost exactly 4:00 p.m. That worked out to almost exactly five hours, about an hour less than expected. Unfortunately, they had a test day or something going, so the gates didn't open until 5:00 p.m. While waiting for the gates to open, he got to meet some of his fellow students, and they shot the breeze and just got to know each other.
Righty and Sam Henderson, our crew chief, drove down from Greenville. They set out about 2:00 p.m. and it took them about four hours. Lefty arrived a couple of hours before Righty and Sam, so he picked out a paddock spot and got the tent set up. Once the whole team had arrived, we got the paddock area fully prepared, and saw a few drops of rain. That rain was only the beginning of our weather ordeal for the school. We took the tent with us, and set it up, but ended up sleeping in Sam's motor home and torturing him with our snoring.
3. ThursdayOn Thursday, we awakened to drizzly, cold, miserable weather. The rain continued off and on all day and through most of the night, turning the entire area into a large mud puddle. Thankfully the soil around the track is primarily coarse grained sand, which meant that it at least was not the messy, sticky, gooey mud The Nuts are used to in the Atlanta and Spartanburg areas.
Since the RX-7 and the Celica had already passed their 2004 annual technical inspection, we did not have to present them at the event's technical inspection. We got ourselves registered, which included buying transponders for the cars, unexpectedly, since we hadn't noticed in the supplemental rules for the event that rentals would not be available. Then we took our car's log books and our personal safety gear over to the “tech shed” to get the log books signed off and our safety gear checked.
At registration we received a complete information packet, which included the run group assignments. There were three run groups, with group one comprising the “wing and things” classes. That is, all of the sports racer and formula cars went into group one. Run group two consisted of ITB and ITC with a huge lot of Spec Miata (SM) cars. There were about fifty SMs registered for the school.
To our group three fell all of the other classes. That meant the IT7 class containing the RX-7, was at the bottom of the performance spectrum in the run group, with the ITS class containing the Celica right above it. The other classes in run group three went all the way up through the GT1, T1, and AS classes, the fastest non-formula classes out there. We realized right then that we'd be giving a lot of “point bys” this weekend.
Now that we were fully registered, we had a few hours to loaf around and study the GCR and get our transponders installed before the afternoon classroom session. This session ran from 1500 to 1900 Thursday evening. The classroom session covered a lot of ground, and it was interesting. Since we had studied the GCR pretty thoroughly, and worked several races as course marshals (“corner workers”), there wasn't a whole lot of new information for us.
4. FridayFriday dawned bright and early, with clear skies and warm temperatures. Everything around was still wet, but at least the rain wasn't actively falling anymore. In fact, it stayed clear and dry all day, and all of our sessions were on dry track. That made life easier for all of the students, since we were learning a new track and, in some cases, the limits of our cars at the same time.
The day consisted of five twenty-minute practice sessions in all. During the sessions, the Stewards threw a mixture of flags at us to make sure we were paying attention. Both groups one and two got practice red flags, to boot. In at least one case, the red flag almost resulted in a wreck as drivers stood on the brakes as soon as they saw the flag. Our group three didn't see a red today, but we saw Black Flag - All and a variety of standing, waving, and double yellow flags, debris flags, and, of course, passing flags. They even put an ambulance on course covered by a white flag during some sessions. The flaggers at T6 apparently got confused at one point, as they were showing a full course caution (double yellow) with an "ALL" placard, probably left over from a Black Flag - All earlier.
During the practice sessions, the AMB lap counting and timing system was in use, and we were able to get timing charts for each of our sessions. Righty, unfortunately, had some trouble with his new transponder, and several of the timing charts complained that his car did not have a working transponder. In trying to solve the problem, he visited the tech shed several times to be checked with the “wand”, and he and Sam even moved the transponder around to see if some metal on the car was shielding the transponder from the timing loop in the track.
As we had expected from the assignment of classes to run groups, there were some fast cars in group three with us. In particular, one fellow was driving an ex-John Heinricy, ex-Runoffs Corvette in the T1 (Touring 1) class, and he was blazing. There was also an ex-IMSA GTU Beretta running in the GT1 class that was almost as fast at the 'vette. And there was a nearly stock BMW MINI S that wasn't as fast in a straight line, but its traction control more than made up for it in the twisties.
Righty forgot his hood pins at the beginning of one practice session on Friday. He left the grid and headed for turn one. At about 110 mph, the hood flew up and ripped off. The hinges seemed to be designed to break away and be repaired on site. The repair was easy, and didn't prevent him from running the remaining sessions of the school.
As we returned from dinner, the rain started again, boding ill for Saturday. The rain continued through the night, wetting everything thoroughly for Saturday, including all of our tools. Check your toolboxes carefully to make sure they're actually water tight before expecting them to be.
5. SaturdaySaturday the weather was worse than Thursday. Constant rain and drizzle with temperatures in the 40s to 50s. It looked like fogging of the windshield and rear window was going to be a severe problem, and it was for some of the students. Luckily the blowers in both of our cars worked, and neither of us had fogging problems.
The wet conditions made our track sessions an adventure. Lefty used the Hoosier Dirt Stockers that came in the package with the RX-7 and Righty used full-tread Falken Azenis Sport RT-215s. We both had plenty of grip when on the asphalt, but the puddles and the asphalt sealer gave us trouble, just like everyone else. Righty got a little too aggressive and spun off once at T4. Unfortunately, he did it at a time when his instructor was observing from the T4 corner station, so he spun right in front of his instructor. With the rain, and just about everyone else spinning off, this didn't hurt his evaluation, but he did get some ribbing from his instructor.
As they did on Friday, the Stewards through a variety of flags at us to test our attention to the corner stations and knowledge of the flags. We had another Black Flag - All, but, again, no red flag.
During the first track session, the alternator in the RX-7 breathed its last, though Lefty didn't realize it. He ran the second session on battery only. By the end of the session, the battery was down below ten volts, and the tachometer wouldn't even work and the transponder wouldn't count, either. Thank goodness ISC Racing Services was at the track with spare parts for sale. A few bucks, a core, and a few minutes later, and Lefty was ready for the third session. The “bump box” saved Lefty by getting the car restarted after the new alternator was installed. The rebuilt alternator charged up the battery during the following sessions, and all was well electically from that point. We still don't know how Lefty finished that session with an almost completely dead battery and a bad alternator.
Oddly enough, Lefty's lap times got slower each session Saturday, but he climbed the timing charts all day. By the last practice session, he was twelfth overall. Apparently the other students were getting skittish from going off and seeing others go off in the slick conditions.
The poor fellow in the ex-IMSA GTU Beretta didn't have rain tires at all, and he had a very difficult day. By the end of the day, even Lefty was passing him. During session two or three, the GT-1 Corvette “pinballed” down the front stretch doing a fair amount of damage to the body work, but not much mechanical damage, apparently.
The last session on Saturday was a practice race. The session started off with a practice start behind the pace car, followed by a practice start with the leaders pacing the pack. Then the pace car came out again and we had a real start with a five lap race. That was a lot of fun, and the students seemed to maintain a much better formation than we typically see in the actual regional and national races that we course marshal.
Luckily for us, the defrosters on both the Celica and RX-7 worked well, and neither of us had any problems with fogging in the rain. Lefty did carry a “stick and rag” along just in case, but didn't end up needing it. RainX is great as long as it's actually raining. In a light mist we needed our wipers.
Thus endeth Phase 1 of the school.
6. SundayOn Sunday the weather was much more agreeable than on Saturday. It rained over night, and a little in the morning, but it stopped by 9:30 or 10:00 and everything started drying out. The track remained a bit damp for the first session, but it wasn't raining, so we went for dry tires. Things were a little hairy.
So hairy, in fact, that Righty drove off at T2 after getting in a little too hot. Lefty went past just before Righty came back onto the track, then spun just past the exit of T2. Just zip and he was pointing backwards, looking directly at Righty. Righty navigated past while Lefty was still rolling backwards, and Lefty put both feet in and zip, he's headed the right way again, put it in gear and drove away. It took about half a lap for Lefty to get it back together and get fully up to speed.
Then it sprinkled again for the second session and we went back to wets. By the end of the second session, a dry line appeared around the whole track. We didn't have any more rain, so went back to drys and had nice weather for the rest of the sessions.
As on Friday and Saturday, the corners threw a few flags at us to test our response. Our run group finally got their “test” Red Flag, which almost caused a pile up. Also, one accident in our run group triggered a Black-All. A 240SX went off the front stretch just past T9 track out and bunged up the car quite a bit. The crew told us that the hood had ripped through the hood pins. The pins and clips were still in place, but the hood was up and there were holes where the clips were pulled through the hood's sheet metal!
An RX-7 and a 240Z got together about ten seconds in front of Lefty. When he got to the scene, the track was 90% blocked by their cars. Six or eight of us had to go around them via a mud puddle on the edge of the track. Lefty was afraid we would all get stuck in the mud hole, but we managed to get through and finish the session.
Reprising Saturday's last session, the last session on Sunday was two practice starts, then a real start and a five lap race. Lefty started last and got lapped by an ex-Heinricy Z06 about 100 yards before the finish line. He did gaine one position through a racing pass. He temporarily gained two more positions when cars went off the course, but they quickly caught back up.
7. Getting HomeAfter the practice race Sunday, we came out of post-race impound just a couple of minutes after 1600. We took the cars back to our paddock area and got out of our gloves and helmets, gathered our documents from our instructors, and got into line for our final signoffs. There were fifty or so people ahead of us in line, but we didn't expect that to present a problem.
Well, it did. We stood in line waiting for our signoffs for almost three hours, getting our signoffs right before 1900. When the Chief Steward finally signed our Novice licenses, we hauled back to the paddock area and got everything torn down and packed up. We're pretty nervous at this point because the weather forecast calls for two to four inches of snow in the Greenville-Spartanburg area tonight. We can just see getting up there and hauling the trailers and race cars through snow and ice.
We got our stuff packed up and left the track about 2000. We figured we were pretty well screwed on the weather, and were very hungry, so we stopped near the track and got some dinner, and finally got away from the area about 2100. Righty and Sam didn't hit any bad weather, and got home between 0100 and 0200 Monday morning, and had to be at work at 0800.
Lefty didn't expect to hit weather, but wasn't paying enough attention to the fuel situation in the NutHauler. When he noticed that he was down to about a three-eights of a tank left, he started looking for fuel stations. He finally had to try four that were closed before getting an open one. There were only about two gallons of fuel left in the tank. It wasn't even 2300 yet, but it was middle of nowhere Georgia on a Sunday night. Leftyfinally got home around 0200 and unloaded until about 0330. Luckily, Lefty had Monday off and finished unloading then.
8. General Stuff
There were some spectacular "offs", especially during the rain. People did everything from snap spins to lazy spins to pushes off the track to big trench-digging, mud-flying broadslides through the grass. A couple of cars came back after a session looking like they'd been redecorated as “mud cars”. Both of The Nuts had cars spin off the track in front of them and behind them. Luckily none from the sides, so no damage, in fact, no contact at all.
The food at the track proved a pleasant surprise, being better than we expected. Roebling Roads also has pretty good shower facilities. The sandy soil around track doesn't get all that muddy, but does get quite soupy. Thank goodness, it also drains quickly. Many of the infield roads at the track had been recently paved, making life a lot easier. And the instructors and staff were great except for the wait for final signatures. The only down side was that the track gate closed at 2200 every night, which meant you couldn't lollygag when you went for dinner.
We also got a good lead on an RX-7 that could replace the Celica and a trailer to go along with it. It was driven in the school by David Hess of Nerds Racing. We heard from David after the event, and we've cross linked to his coverage. We ended up buying this RX-7 and putting the Celica up for sale.
9. ConclusionOverall we had a great time, and learned quite a bit. The entire weekend was a lot of fun, except for the standing in line for almost three hours to get the final signatures on our Novice Licenses. We accomplished all of our goals, too. First, we got our Novice licenses signed off. Now we just have to finish a couple of regional races to convert them to full regional competition licenses.
Second, we did it without bending either of the cars or having a major mechanical problem. The synchros on third gear on the RX-7 gave intermittent trouble, but it was easy to work around on the track. Its alternator also gave out, but we knew it was having trouble, and our crew chief, Sam Henderson, and ISC Racing Services was “Johnny on the spot” to get us going again. The Celica was rock solid all weekend.
And third, we weren't DFL (Dead Freakin' Last). Well, Lefty started the Sunday race DFL, but didn't finish there. The other students had more experience on track that is common at one of these school, which made the on-track action a little more aggressive than The Nuts expected.
The weather was miserable from Friday night through Sunday morning, but the days were pretty nice otherwise. We ended up with about three hundred track miles each over about six hours on the track. We consumed about sixty gallons of 87 octane pump gas in that time, about what we expected.
Sam Henderson of Precision Performance Corvette crewed for us and really made our lives easier. Sam is both a friend and fellow competitor and he was a huge help. In addition, a couple of our corner worker friends, Bob and Pat Ziner, came down to keep an eye on us, and did a wonderful job. We would have liked to get more time with them, but with them on station all day and us thrashing at night, it didn't work out that way. But a big Thanks! to them, anyway.
NutDriver Racing would like to
extend thanks to the following people and organizations for helping to
make this a very enjoyable and educational experience:
We sure hope we haven't forgotten anyone. If we have, please let us know and we'll get you listed. We'd include links to our instructors, but we can't find their web pages, so far. :-(
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