Back in August, The Southern Driver got the chance to experience Tracks Unlimited and their high performance driving program at Barber Motorsports Park. We sent TJ Theodore and his wife, Katie, along with a stock daily driver Miata to drive among other sports car enthusiasts who wanted to test the limits on one of America’s most impeccable racetracks.
Katie and I were stoked to try out a Tracks Unlimited event for the first time. While I have been racing in SCCA with my CSP miata, for quite some time, my wife, Katie, had only been on track once prior to this event and her stock daily miata needed to make a trip to Mecca in order to establish itself as a true sports car. My hope was that she would be able to gain some experience, and comfortability on track through Tracks Unlimited instructors and the enormous amount of seat time that we had been hearing about from their typical track days. Each driver could get 3 + hours of seat time PER DAY. With over 70 drivers each day this is a feat of magical logistics that UPS couldn’t even live up to! I was looking forward to driving on such a fabulous track again and getting some real time learning the lines and mastering the curves. With that said, I must begin to tell you that our trip from Greenville, SC started out poorly. I lost one of my favorite hats to the wind that caught up with my forehead which stuck up just over the top of the windshield while driving down I-85. Any man knows the value and sentimentality of a good hat and this one had been mine for almost 10 years, resembling lots of memories at the track and good times with friends . But, so goes the convertible life, and as they say, “long live the roadster”. We drove the rest of the way to Alabama on Friday night before the race and caught a good steak dinner before retiring at our hotel for the night.
In the morning, 7 AM came fast! We pulled up just in time to be involved in the driver’s meeting that turned out to be super relaxed and even had some nice door-prizes for the drivers. The instructors and event organizers went over the track and rules for the event well and described the logistics for getting everyone plenty of seat time. Afterwards, Katie stayed for a novice meeting which paired instructors and students and went over basics of flagging, getting on and off track. I went through the technical inspection of the miata which was quite simple but thorough enough to know that they cared about ensuring you drive home in the car you came in.
With plenty of time to get ready we checked out the paddock and got some excellent bacon, cheese and egg biscuits from the track food vendor. We found a place in paddock next to Julian Sullivan with his new Porsche GT3. I decided briefly that I was to own that car and somehow Julian and I would negotiate a trade so that Katie and I could drive it home. Katie wouldn’t let me have it, and muttered something about the expense of owning it or being realistic about something, but all I heard was the sound of that muffler as it fired up for the first session on track.
Julian had been to a Tracks Unlimited event before and unlike some people who garage keep their fancy supercars, he likes to take it out and drive it on the weekends. Katie and I do that too, so at least we had that in common with Julian if not the type of car that we drive.
Katie, who I thought was a little nervous, actually felt pretty confident getting on track for the first time that day. She took a few slower runs at first while getting used to the track and progressively got quicker and quicker with each lap. Wow, my wife can drive! We may just be able to really share this hobby after all. Even while dating, Katie has always been incredibly supportive of my expensive driving hobbies, so it's only natural that she enjoys being on track occasionally too. In talking with her after sessions, we quickly realized that the miata was a bit underpowered relative to the muscles being flexed by the likes of our neighbor Julian and other drivers with Corvettes, Mustangs, a Viper, and a few BMW M3s. Katie and I both got to practice point-by’s a lot that day!
My turn on track was fantastic. Again, our little miata got passed a lot, but everyone was very chill and relaxed about it. This was not a competition and everyone was there to have fun and play with their street cars. The only competition going on was that of my own. There may not have been timed laps officially, but my GPS enabled phone running TrackMaster was plenty accurate enough to help me get better at driving around Barber Motorsports Park. Looking at clean laps, I successfully dropped roughly 5 seconds over the course of the weekend just by learning and relearning the turns, trying different lines, and seeing the results by my lap times and split times. Surely, the next time I come back for a competition event, the seat time achieved here will be an advantage over my competition who only sees the track for 45 minutes once or twice a year.
Other drivers we spoke with had similar experiences on track. In talking with the owner of the Dodge Viper, driving his machine was scary fast as he neared the car’s limits. We saw some spec miatas and even a lemons prepared car getting the experience time on track. One car did have a bit of rear bumper damage due to overcorrecting and finding a nice railing to back into while on track, but nobody was hurt and I believe the car drove home in one piece. All comments from drivers were positive and everyone seemed to be having fun. If you are a novice or just interested in getting your daily driver on track for the thrill of the speed, these guys will help you get there and provide the instruction you need to do it safely and return home with your car in the same condition you drove it there (...Ok, minus a little brake dust and tire wear).
By the end of the weekend, we were ready to take it easy and drive home. Three hours of track endurance is enough for the average driver, but not for everyone. As drivers trickled out of the paddock for the day, those who still felt that they hadn’t had enough went back to grid up in one combined group. We checked out the action from several different viewing areas around the outer perimeter of the track and got some great pictures. We even saw Julian show some expert recovery skills at turn 12 in his GT3. His response about getting nearly sideways on an off camber uphill sweeper was that he would be back with a “bigger rear wing” next time.
In summary, Tracks Unlimited knows how to have fun at a racetrack. The tracks they have on their event list are fast, technical, and a blast to learn on. The only complaint I can have over the weekend is the cost associated with registration. However, where else are you going to get 3+ hours of seat time in one day? If price is the only thing holding you back, I found out that they allow one day registrations as well.
With our weekend coming to an end, Katie and I found ourselves back on I-85 and nearing our home in Greenville, SC. We talked about the events of the weekend and how we just knew that work next week was going to seem a little bit easier with those memories to look back upon. On our way back, I actually spotted my good ol’ hat we had lost on the side of the road! We left it there knowing that our memories of weekends spent at the track with cars and friends truly exist beneath the hat and they are absolutely unforgettable. Big thanks to Michael Peden and our wonderful hosts for the weekend - TRACKS UNLIMITED!
Contributing Writer - TJ Theodore September, 2016 Copyright
All Rights Reserved No Reprint without written consent of The Southern Driver
Try out Tracks Unlimited at their next event on November 12th at Nashville Motor Speedway.
Click Here for details.
For more information and registration for upcoming events : Tracks Unlimited Registration Page
Also, more pictures from this event are provided at the following link.
Part 2. Darlington 500 - Labor Day 1950 The First running of the Darlington 500
If you are not a big fan of NASCAR, you might still find this interesting because of the strategy involved by the winner. Last year, I met a 72 year old CEO and Chairman of a company in Greenville who attended that race in 1950. His name is Harold Gillespie and the company is Freeman Mechanical. He told me the story and I didn't really understand or grasp it until I did some research. So...here it is.
Part 1 - The Mille Miglia
In the year 1927, two citizens of Brescia, Italy were drinking wine and soaking their sorrows, embarrassed that the driver from their fair town had lost the Italian Grand Prix race to a driver from Monza. These two came up with a crazy idea and sketched it out on a napkin : a race across Italy that would create the chance to re-capture some pride for their city. They settled on the idea of with a figure 8 shaped course from Brescia to Rome and back. The first time it was run, they had 75 Italians competing in the "1000 kilometer race" (Millle Miglia translated from Italian) and the winner from car constructor OM - Officine Mechanique took 21 hours to pass the finish line.... average speed of 48 miles an hour.
Some of us still dream of being discovered and getting that chance to race PRO! Some of us have given up on our shot but have a son or daughter that you feel might have what it takes. The age old question in racing is... how do you unlock that magic door? What exposure, exercises, physical make-up or opportunities create that SPECIAL chance to run with the BIG dogs. All of us have seen great drivers who defied the odds and found a way... or were discovered in the most bizarre way. Mark Webber should never have been a race driver with his 6 foot tall 165 pound build when the average is the 5'6" to 5'7" of Hamilton and Alonso. Sure, there are freak occurrences but when you look at it from an analytical statistical standpoint, you uncover some interesting things. Here's how to help your son be a great race driver,
1. Take a look at this picture and answer the question?
If you guessed light color eyes, you are correct. There is a definite trend in all motorsports to a large portion of drivers having blue, gray to light hazel colored eyes. According to vision specialists, darker eyes absorb more light waves through the eye and less light reflects inside the eye. Meaning, darker eye colors are less susceptible to glare or have better contrast discernment while lighter color eyes have better night vision. Some have speculated that F1 drivers blink less... meaning they are focused on objects approaching at a higher rate than someone who blinks more frequently and has to re-focus after each blink. The truth? It might be they are perceived to be more physically attractive from a marketing standpoint ... not really any concrete evidence why but, there is a trend. If your son has blue or lighter colored eyes, you get two points.
Body mass is another hot topic. Massa is the smallest F1 driver currently at 130 pounds while Adrian Sutil is the heaviest at 165 pounds. F1 drivers lose anywhere from 9 to 12 pounds over the course of the average race. In 2009, Alonso worked his weight down by ten pounds to help the team. At the start of the race, his in car water bottle broke and he was unable to take in fluids during the race. He lost another 11 pounds over the course of the race and collapsed from dehydration shortly after the race. Low body fat and good physical condition is vital to success. Your inputs from your car come to you from your hands, feet and read. Additional padding (fat) reduces your ability to receive these inputs. So... the average height weight you are shooting for? 5'6" and 150 pounds with a low body fat.
Sex is another variable. While women have proven they can be excellent drivers, statistics still say it is predominately a male driver in the seat. Woman have the advantage of less weight, less body mass and less testosterone which are all sound advantages. One day, we may find the reason more women have dominated in this sport is the evolution of society giving opportunities at the wheel earlier enough for them to get good. Until then, expect there will be several female drivers who make good showings and shock the racing world. It will happen. The term of being "beaten by a girl" will hold a lot less damaging impact to the male ego in the future.
Parents - hands down single most common trait shared by successful drivers is parents of means. Mom and Dad finance junior's career beginning in carts and his career began at 6 years old. That many years of racing, latest in parts and best of machines and coaches... is a good way to give your kid a shot at the big time. If you look around, you will find a youtube video of Sebastian Vettel doing 50 in a kart on a banked track at the age of 5 1/2 years old. Experience trumps money but the money pays for that needed experience.
Attitude is another key. Many of us have heard stories of the kid on course to be a child prodigy concert pianist who at the age of 9 said, "I don't want to do it anymore." If your son or daughter has the passion, loves racing, wants to drive and wants to win... you may have a winner on your hands. The passion has to come from within but parents can have a positive affect through encouragement and support... and equally damaging if they push too hard and make the pressure too great.
So... number #1 statistically is parents with money that can create opportunities. #2 Passion. I think after that, there are too many variables to predict. Suffice it to say that after those two items, anything is possible. Perhaps it is wiser to want our kids to be happy and share our love for racing and motorsport... as it is less expensive, more enjoyable and builds friendships and memories that will last a lifetime... and your child's lifetime as well. Statistically, you have a GREAT shot at that one.
Article by Ted Theodore, The Southern Driver, Copyright July, 2014
"Amazing performance by Jaguar driver as he wins by almost a full lap."
In the sport of auto racing, it’s difficult to get good enough, quickly enough, to get a shot at driving professionally. While many are able to find mentors early in their career, the wisdom, logic and humor left behind by many great drivers of the past is available to all through quotations. This is a collection of some of the best quotations from all motorsport disciplines. I hope it triggers some ideas, starts some laughs and stirs some memories from the past. - Hans
If you are a car guy, send this link to your wife. If you are a car gal, send this link to your hubby and, please, do not take any offense to the term "car guy". You ARE a car guy too...you're just prettier.
It has been an honor to get to know Ted Tidwell, one of Chimney Rock Hillclimb's greatest drivers to earn the title - King of the Hill. Listening to his stories and clear recollection of so many events, it brings the event back to life. Many of us in the sports car scene in the Southeast remember going to the Rock and watching those brave men and women running that mountain. Not so many of us can recall the late 1950's when the starter at the bridge signaled a steward with a stopwatch at the top of the mountain by slamming two 2 x 4's (joined by a door hinge) together that a run was beginning. It's true. Here's the article by Ted Tidwell in his own words.
Over the last 10 years, I have heard many people asking the question :
What creates the desire to take the risk of running a race car flat out up a wild mountain road? Why take a perfectly good street car and put in a 4 point cage and belts so you can roar through the woods and up those hills? Adrenalin junkies? Death defying daredevils? OR… are these hillclimbers just “a few fries short of a Happy Meal?” I know what drives my passion but what is it for others? I asked and here is what I found.“
“It’s not about just racing up the hill.” – It’s selecting a car that fits your style, speed and budget. For many, it begins with a daily driver street car. You begin visualizing how it will look and what it will take to convert it to a competitive car in the class you’d like to run. Ordering the parts and… while shuffling a job, school, family and other responsibilities… finding time to do the build. Finding the resources to do what you can’t and doing what you can the way YOU want it done. Enjoying the feel of a car seat, steering wheel, pedal layout… custom built to your body. Painting, striping, numbering and decaling to give the look YOU want. It’s building the very personal TOOL for the job of climbing that hill.
“It’s about the road.” – On a race track, we make endless cycles of the course… learning turn in points, braking zones, squeezing out that tenth here and there. We run the same track 3 to 8 times a year in many cases. For road racers, that perfect line for qualifying is seldom seen in a race due to traffic, passing and yellow flags. On a Hillclimb – you see the road once or twice a year. There are no other cars or obstructions and turns are mostly blind. You can’t see through the mountain. Changing surfaces, weather conditions, going from sunlight to tree covered shade patches, driving reactively to what you see in a 2 minute all-out burst… this is a challenge to get the max out of your car, tires and set up… finding the golden line for the fastest time you and the car can make that day.
“It’s about the other drivers.” - Hillclimb is more social than many other forms of racing. When you climb out of your car at the top, there are 20 other drivers all standing around talking that just experienced the same thing you did. They are friendly, open… willing to help with tools and advice . Many great friendships begin on a hill. On the occasion of a mechanical problem, drivers frequently offer their car to a competitor for some runs. Twice at the Dragon, that driver beat them in their own car. More and more women are competing and the “Danica Patrick” advantage (less weight / less testosterone) is showing in the results. Six of the Dragon Hillclimb class records were set by drivers over 65 years old and four records are held by drivers under 25.
“It’s about the crowd.” – Spectators come from all over to watch these cars go up the hill and talk to the drivers in the pits. To kids, these drivers are heroes and give them something to aspire to. For adults, they are a source of memories of motorsports events past, of cars they remember and would loved to have driven and a chance to enjoy motorsports competition. The kids seeking autographs and ringing the cowbells to encourage drivers to go faster… they don’t want to just watch cars go by at speed. They want to take part in the event, touch the cars, meet the drivers and enjoy the beautiful natural surrounding you find on a mountain. The view from the Observation Deck at the Top of the Dragon Hillclimb is incredible.
“It’s about the event staff” - So many people come together to make a Hillclimb happen. All volunteers who donate their time to come be a part of a unique motorsports spectacle. They receive training so they can be there in a time of need when a car goes off… but their joy comes from a ringside seat for a safe event. The Saturday night social/steak dinner is a great time for workers and drivers to talk and tell stories. Many of the greatest moments a driver will experience on a hillclimb are shared only by the driver and a few lucky course workers that were there watching over them.
“It’s about the feeling” - You don’t have to race a carbon fiber winged monster to enjoy driving a Hillclimb. You don’t have to win a trophy or set a record for your class. It’s about the feeling of being at the line belted in, feeling the vibration of your engine, looking up at that giant tire arch looming ahead. Watching the starter count down and checking your gauges for last seconds “all systems go.” Seeing the view from inside your helmet, inside your car with only the first 50 yards of the asphalt visible and after that…nothing. Remembering where it goes and trusting your memory, your car, your tires, the workers that the course is clean and safe so you can give it all you have and …GO! You don’t see signs, you don’t see workers, you don’t see trees… you see green blur on the sides and a ribbon of gray road as it is revealed to you. In 2 minutes time (that feels like 10), you see the finish line and your heartbeat and breathing begin to return to normal. It’s a rush… and you will do it 10 to 16 times over the course of the weekend. Each run, turns begin linking together in your memory and you carry more speed and brake later. If you do it right, the last run is the fastest as it all comes together. If you do it wrong, any run can be your last run of the weekend.
I guess the bottom line is HILLCLIMBERS ARE NOT DRIVERS. Hillclimbers are the drivers, the workers and the spectators who all come to take part in making the event special. They all come together to compete, fellowship and bond with their friends and their cars at the non-denominational church called NATURE.
Yes, some of us hillclimbers might be a few fries short of a Happy Meal…
but we are also some of the happiest people I know.
Article by Ted Theodore - The Southern Driver (7/14) . Thanks to Darryl Cannon for pictures and support from Day 1 to make the Dragon Hillclimb a reality! See more of his work at www.killboy.com
The Porsche 944 LeMons car is making great strides in preparation for the Southern Discomfort race at Carolina Motorsports Parkway, May 2 and 3 in Kershaw , SC.
New additions include : new brake pads, transponder, cam lock racing harness, radios for communications with pits, window net, removal of a small family of rodents that apparently enjoy "wire du jour" and mirrors (mainly for drivers to see how cool they look while driving).
We are also glad to make the announcement.. ANOTHER German sponsor is coming on board with Team "GRUPPE NEIN 44" . We were contacted by a car insurance firm in Heidelberg, Germany that has offered to support our efforts. They were very complimentary about the pictures of our car and said "There is nothing like this in all of Germany." We welcome them and are proud to have them on board.
The car is getting a lot of attention and the Home Owners Association in our subdivision have written several letters about seeing the GRUPPE NEIN 44 car in our driveway. Stay tuned for more progress reports leading up to the race. We look forward to seeing you there! Thanks for your support!
We plan to be able to serve some good Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier to the LeMons judges from our own onboard keg.