Race Report: Thunderhill

I had originally planned on doing a pair of posts about the Laguna Seca race but then I decided to go SCCA racing 5 days later. This was my first SCCA race, so my first opportunity at real racing with higher quality cars and drivers. I was a little nervous because of that, but the practice and qualifying were like an open passing day in an HPDE so it seemed there was nothing to be worried about. The race was another story.

I was the only entrant in the B-Spec class. I believe this was the only B-Spec entry in California in 2017. Depressing. I had originally built the car to satisfy several different goals (1) SCCA legal (2) rally legal (3) street legal. It is all those things, but as a compromise, it doesn’t do any of them that well. The class has matured a little since I built it. I can now use better suspension, a rear anti-roll bar, K&N cold air intake, and more camber. Refreshing the build will probably cost $1500. And it still won’t be that competitive. The class is getting faster by opening up the restrictor plates in the faster cars. The Yaris’ engine can’t get any stronger. And with 170,000 miles, it’s not a very good example of the breed. Building a competitive car will not only cost a few thousand dollars, but also a lot of labor in moving as much weight to the bottom right of the car. I talked to one of the competitors at the race and he told me to put in a fake battery and put lead shot in the frame rails. I told him the class forbids such things and he looked at me like the noob I am.

Yeah, I suck at racing.

This point was further brought home during the actual race. Turn 1 saw the usual shenanigans as several cars kicked up dust as they went off track. This also happened in turns 2 and 3. I decided to stay well back from that crap and let the pack get ahead. A sweet yellow Lotus 7 had a similar idea. Later, as we approached T5, one of the Miatas that had gone dirt-tracking caught up with us and decided it would pass us on the inside. This is not a passing zone. It’s a sharp left at the top of a hill with a 40 mph top speed. I watched in horror as he locked up all 4 wheels and started skidding into me. Both the Lotus and I tried to evade him, but we ended up making contact with each other.

After a few uneventful laps, the race was over. When I returned to the paddock, they sent me to impound to discuss things. We all agreed that it was 100% the fault of the Miata driver. Although he agreed, he didn’t come over to apologize. See, he’s a real racer, and apparently they don’t do that. I looked him up later. He’s a career mid-pack SM driver whose been racing SM for at least a decade. Why would an experienced racer ruin the weekend for 2 people who were so obviously off pace? Because he has more money than sense I guess. How else do you explain driving like that? The race stewards levied some points penalty on him and asked us if we were satisfied with the result. Hell no. How about if he writes us checks to cover body damage? Oh, and then kick him out for a year. That would do it.

I feel terrible for the Lotus driver. He kept saying “I should have known not to bring the car to an SCCA race”. I guess it was his first experience with the SCCA too. What a first impression! I’m not sure either one of us will be back. It’s not just the incident that makes me say this. It was a very long day for very little driving. And it wasn’t cheap either.

I don’t think I have the sprint racing mindset. I like driving on racetracks and exploring the limits of driver and car, but I don’t need to win a corner if it means risking the vehicle. Endurance racing fits me much better. Now that I know that, I’m reevaluating my priorities. I was planning on focusing all my attention on going to the Runoffs at Sonoma in 2018. I’m not so sure now. Why spend thousands of dollars updating the vehicle to do something that doesn’t fit my personality?

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4 thoughts on “Race Report: Thunderhill

  1. this is such a bummer. i’ve thought about SM but it always seemed like the cars are a moving target and there’s a significant disrespect for hardware…. i was hoping the your experience in BSpec would be different. the other series i’ve looked at was SRF. at least there isn’t hardware development going on. don’ tknow if its crashy…

    good luck and thanks for your posts!!

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    1. I talked to an SRF team and they said that it was cheaper in the long run both because there isn’t any hardware development and because of the fiberglass body. I sat in one for a while and it felt pretty awesome. I want to do a track day in one some day.

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  2. the thing that i also noticed was used cars all cost around $10-15k. therefore, buy a car for $15k, use / maintain for a bunch of years, and then sell to others for about the same money. seems different than the “buy a used race car at $0.25 the dollar”.

    my personal worry is that short races would ultimately be not as fun / interesting as the longer endurance ones.

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    1. Building a car up from scratch will net you only 25% when you try to sell it. Buying used is a much better deal. But even so, used cars often have stuff that’s either out of date or not to your tastes. I’ve perused CL, Racing Junk, etc. for years and it can take a very long time to sell even an inexpensive racecar. So while you can buy a used car for $10K and then sell it later for $10K, it may be sitting a while.

      I break down my hobbies into 2 categories (1) those that I am happy to do alone (2) those that I prefer to do as a group. Video games, race simulation, guitar, and archery are examples of things I’m happy to do alone. I don’t watch TV alone or shoot skeet/paper alone. I’m finding out that I also don’t like to race alone. For me, the activity is better shared.

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