2017 in review

2017 was supposed to be the year I was going to the SCCA Runoffs. I was turning 50 years old and in preparation, I built the cheapest street legal SCCA car I could. Those plans didn’t quite work out as my deteriorating right knee had a loose piece of cartilage about the size of quarter swimming around in it. I needed to use a cane for a couple months before surgery and another afterwards. Fun times.

So it wasn’t until May that I finally got in a racecar, and it wasn’t even my car, but rather my brother’s Miata. Despite growing up 20 miles away, I had never been to Watkins Glen in person (I had driven it many times in iRacing of course). It’s a great track with a lot of history. It’s on most peoples’ bucket list. Later, in September, we raced at Thompson Motorsports Park and had just as much fun at a much less storied venue for a lot less money.

The WGI and TMP events were run by ChumpCar, which has now rebranded itself as ChampCar Endurance Series. ChampCar was an open wheel racing series that ran into financial trouble, and when the name became available, ChumpCar decided to take it. There is absolutely zero overlap in the history of these organizations. Personally, I find the new name morally repugnant. Apparently, most of the ChumpCar membership approves of the name. If you recall the Eddie Murphy movie “The Distinguished Gentleman”, Eddie gets elected to Congress using the campaign slogan “the name you know” because his name is the same as the former, deceased Congressman. It’s a comedy. I guess the ChampCar people think “the name you know” is a valid way of appropriating credibility. I do not.

On a lark, I decided to race in Lemons at Buttonwillow. I had only turned 2 laps at Buttonwillow previously because the MR2 we had rebuilt decided to break our hearts one more time. This time I was in a 1980s Celica with a Ford 5 liter, automatic transmission, hard tires, and OEM brakes. It was a terrible car, but once I embraced the terror, I actually started to enjoy it. I had never been in a car that could accelerate past most of the field on any straight. Stopping before the next corner was something else entirely. I came away with a newfound appreciation of Buttonwillow. I tend to like technical tracks, and while Buttonwillow is mostly flat, it does require you to connect the corners much more so than Laguna Seca, for example.

I raced my Yaris for this first time at Laguna Seca in a Lucky Dog race. It was quite the party with several drivers I had never been teamed up with and one who joined mid-race. Shortly after, I raced an SCCA Regional in B-Spec at Thunderhill. So finally, I had raced in the class the car was built for. And it wasn’t that much fun. Sprint racing at the back of the pack is less fun than an HPDE session and a lot more expensive.

So as I close the book on 2017 and start looking toward 2018, I find myself in a bit of a quandary. The SCCA Runoffs are going to be at Sonoma. It’s one of my favorite tracks and is less than an hour away. It’s a unique opportunity. I’m sure it would be fun to race with a bunch of B-Spec cars, but the costs are high. 3 Majors weekends to qualify plus the Runoffs itself will set me back about $3000 in entry fees and travel costs, never mind the consumables. Sprint racing is about 3x as expensive as endurance racing… So will 2018 be my solo sprint racing effort or another year of track parties? I still don’t know.

I’m also not sure how much coaching I will do in 2018. The cars are getting faster and faster and the rare but disturbing accidents make me take notice. Do I really want to be in the wrong seat when a car without full safety equipment goes out of control?

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