Lessons Learned

2012 was quite a year, and one in which I learned a lot.

For starters, I earned my racing license, first the rookie book and then my actual hard card. The days they arrived in the mail were two moments I’ll always remember. I immediately took photos of them and posted them to Facebook, to show all my family and friends what I had accomplished.

It had certainly taken me long enough to earn them, and I was feeling pretty proud. I had planned to take my time and, when I was able to “snatch the pebble” from the instructor’s hand, he would deem me qualified to advance to the next level. I was simultaneously building a car, slowly and with an eye toward safety, reliability and workmanship. No need to rush, I thought.

With HPDE 1-4 complete and two competition school weekends under my belt, I had a license and was ready to race. Or so I thought.

After my first real green flag, I learned that if you hope to get a shot at a decent start, you have to be on the bumper of the guy in front of you. And I mean on it. As in touching. I watch the video of my first race now and it seems I’m just lollygagging at the rear of the pack.

Even so, I was having a blast.

As the race wore on, I learned my competitors in Spec Miata don’t make many mistakes, but I still did. Lap by lap, I lost ground with each error I made, and I ended up running by myself. I did manage one pass that weekend, on an out-of-class car with the same “R” stickers and bright orange license plate I had on my car. The moral victory would have to suffice.

The next event I made better starts, but a guy I put behind me in Turn 1 had the nerve to pass me almost immediately in Turn 2. Again, by the time the race was over, I was running by myself, but I was learning, which was going to have to be my moral victory that weekend.

Here’s something else I learned. As much time and money as I had spent building my car, it was still underdeveloped compared with the rest of the field. By the time I got my rookie license, I had grown so tired of spending money on the car in thousand-dollar increments, I didn’t bother with cylinder head work or the adjustable fuel pressure regulator that are now legal in Spec Miata. I thought that my super secret air filter element and newly developed Borla exhaust were going to give me an edge over the other guys. Not even close.

So, the white board in my garage is full of winter projects that include removing and replacing the cylinder head and adding a new adjustable fuel pressure regulator. The lessons learned in my first season of racing didn’t come easily or cheaply to me, but my guess is they don’t for anyone else, either.

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