Faster Rats

Back when I was driving in HPDE3, I monitored the times of the Spec Miata race group. I decided that when I was fast enough to be a back marker, I’d make the switch from HPDE to racing and begin my racing career.

One of the benchmark tracks in our region is Buttonwillow Raceway Park. The track has multiple configurations, but the one we tend to use most is layout No. 13 run in the clockwise direction. Aside from the front straightaway, the track always seems to require input from the driver, whether it’s steering, braking, lifting or shifting. Sometimes all four. It has mild elevation changes and blind corners, esses, high- and low-speed sweeping turns and hairpins. It’s not easy to go fast there.

When I was in HPDE3, I was running, if I remember correctly, 2:17s around the track while the back of the Spec Miata pack was running 2:10s. The guys up front were running 2:07s. I remember thinking, “Where am I going to find 7 seconds on this track?” and feeling a little discouraged that even if I did find 7 seconds, I’d still be a back marker. Of course, I learned later that I had to improve everything everywhere and get a driving coach to help point out the most important gains to be made.

Fast forward a few years, many, many sets of tires, countless four-offs, hundreds of gallons of gasoline, a day of coaching and a couple of seasons of racing, and I’m happy to report that my personal best lap time is in the 2:06s and I can usually run consistent 2:07s. I felt pretty happy about that.

However, now the fastest guys in Spec Miata are now running in the 2:05s. And therein lies the rub in the rat race we all enjoy so much: The rats got faster. Now I’m thinking about how I’m going to find another 2 seconds and then run those times consistently. Granted, the gap is much smaller than it once was, and finding that extra time will be just as difficult and require probably even more focus than it took to arrive where I am now, but this time I’m not discouraged about it at all. Here’s why.

I really strive to be a better driver. I want to be good at it, and this pushes me to improve, to go faster and to develop my skills further. In fact, even the drivers that race in my part of the pack are getting faster and pushing harder. We are all pushing one another and we’re all getting faster. Nowadays, I find that encouraging.

I just returned from a weekend of racing where I saw this playing out live. Of course, we always check time sheets to see who’s doing what, and as sure as the checkered flag will fly, everybody was faster on Sunday than they were on Saturday. I don’t know for certain, but I’d bet money everyone was faster on Saturday than they were the last time we raced on No. 13 counterclockwise.

What that does for the competition during a race is remarkable. As faster rats, we not only have improved ourselves as drivers, but we also have improved the quality of the racing. There’s more intensity, more passing and dicing and all the things we love about this sport. It makes it a blast.

It’s not clear to me how I’m going to find those 2 extra seconds, but I’m excited about the opportunity to try. I’ll bet if you ask the rest of the drivers in my class, they’d tell you the same thing.

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