Solar was kind enough to invite me to his autocross club meet today. We mostly arranged things the week before, then firmed up the details yesterday. Of course, this involved getting up at 5 a.m. to get to Lakeland and set up everything — and he was working registration for the day, so we had to be among the first arrivals. Well, it seems like weekends are mostly when I’m ever required to be up that early. I was pretty well low on sleep anyway, so I went to bed at 9 and woke up at 4:40 without the aid of the cellphone alarm (set to 5). This gave me time to make some coffee before heading over to Solar’s.
Something was wonky with the cell service — both of us tried calling each other but couldn’t get through. He was relieved to see me arrive, and we got on the road (stopping once for more caffiene).
Our destination was Marchant Stadium, a place I’ve always wanted to visit during spring training and catch a Tigers game. But instead of watching people throw baseballs, we were there to throw cars around a parking lot. The first order of business, of course, was to set up the registration desk. People queued up right away, and Solar got to work.
Next up was to lay out the course. This involves strategic placement of traffic cones — lots of them, I figured helping out beat being bored, and got to it. I also spent a lot of time scratching my head and “WTF?”ing at the cones — it took a lot of staring at the map, and several walks around the course, to figure it out. Then I joked about it being almost as curvy as some Planet Georgia roads.
Meanwhile, Solar had arranged my driving situation: I’d be driving his car, a rare German-built Civic Si, and switching numbers for each run. He has #30, so slapping a 6 on the end made me #306. I took that as good luck, because 306 is a highway not too far from FAR Manor. Turned out we’d been assigned to Run A and Work B, which meant we would not have to stick around for the last group. This was good; we’d arrived early so we could leave early.
At last, it was time to do it. Solar and I were the first and second drivers on the course, respectively — he grumbled a little about that, since that meqant we’d contend with all the grit on the track. Both of us missed a turn (“off course”) on our first run, which earned us each a DNF. They added a seriously wicked zig-zag right at the end, to slow everyone down before they hit the exit chute, and that’s what caught me. But only once. AFter getting a little more familiar with the course, and a couple of pointers from Solar, I turned in respectable high-40 second times for my last two runs. As expected for one more experienced, Solar beat my best time by a good 3 seconds and change, and opined that he might have been able to shave another second off if he’d had one more run. Here’s my times, which earned me a respectible 22nd of 29 in our class, and mid-pack overall:
I have to say, it was a blast throwing someone else’s car through tight maneuvers, skidding on the edge on control around a bunch of cones and managing to not hit any. But the fun continued after I was done driving.
Around the course are a number of stations. People at the stations are out there to reset knocked-over cones and call in drivers going off-course, — or, in an emergency, flag down cars or hit 'em with a fire extinguisher. The latter two are rare occurrences, and neither happened this day, but they have been needed in the past. All we had to contend with was a couple of cones, a handful of “Station 5, Car 51, off course” calls… and a downpour. It was warm, so I didn’t care about the wet too much. The cars continued to run in the rain, with a little more drama — a couple of smaller rear-drive cars spun out at the same spot and had to turn around to continue. (They run essentially one at a time, they weren’t out there at the same moment.) The rain probably improved my standing a little, but Solar pointed out that most of our class (G) ran before the rain got started.
At last, it was time to leave. The rain continued, dampening the St. Pete Grand Prix as well. Fortunately, Solar has a large carport/overhang on the front of his house, so the planned grilling of cheeseburgers went on uninterrupted.
The Boy and Snippet locked themselves out of the condo (again), so I finally made my manners and rover back through the rain. With much less drama than in Lakeland.