The Midfield Report: Observations from an Autocross Apprentice

mike hinton headshot 2011
by Mike


Redwood AX-ers line up in
front of a beautiful Sonoma County backdrop
(photo by Randy Wentzel Photography)

 Hinton, Redwood Region Mem
sharon 914

Zone 7 Rep Sharon Neidel blurring
(not killing) cones in her 914
(photo by Randy Wentzel Photography)

ber, April 2012

At precisely 6:29 a.m., my eyes snapped open. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the big day arrived - the first Redwood Region autocross of 2012! On Friday night, I tried to take my own advice, and gathered my driving clothes and helmet in one place. It would be embarrassing to show up at the first event and have to use a loaner helmet!

Because I live 45+ minutes from the course, there wasn't much time to get ready and still arrive shortly after 8:00. As I've noted previously, it's much less stressful to arrive early, and early arrival gives you the opportunity to walk the course, catch up with friends, and relax a bit before the serious work of driving begins. I was especially excited for this first autocross, as it was going to be the debut of my new (to me) 1972 911T on the autocross course. The 911T, affectionately known as "Barney" (it's purple, and a dinosaur), was driven in autocross and track events by its previous owner, and it has a modified (very, ahem, firm) suspension. Over the winter, I had installed new rear brake calipers and brake pads, and had a transmission issue repaired. I had driven the car about 1,000 miles on the road (including the annual Members' Meeting drive in October), and was anxious to see how the car felt in competition. Barney was ready to go, with the exception of needing a bit of fuel to ensure that I wouldn't run out at the course. Doing so would ruin the day, so I planned a quick "splash and go" in Santa Rosa on my way over.

After loading the car with a lounge chair, numbers, and driving gear, we were off! The morning was cool and overcast, which is a good thing for old oil-cooled Porsche engines. I drove leisurely over the hill to Santa Rosa from the Napa Valley, and decided to put $20 worth of fuel (4.5 gallons or so) on my way, which would be plenty for the driving and the trip home. Right on schedule, I rolled into the 76 station at Old Redwood Highway and River Road, and hopped out to add fuel. There was a slight problem, though. In my haste to leave, I left my wallet at home! That meant no cash, no credit cards, no driver's license, no AOA badge, nothing! I was furious with myself and hoped that this twist wasn't an omen of things to come. Oh well, I continued on to the course (slowly, of course) and busied myself with the tech inspection and registration. I also sent a text to my wife, asking her if she could bring me $20 so that I could make it home. She had already left the house too, so she couldn't bring my wallet, but said she'd stop by later with my "bailout" funds.

After I completed tech inspection and registration, I took a walk around the course. As I gain experience, it's easier to visualize how the course will flow while walking it, and it was apparent immediately that the course had very few slow corners. If I had known the course would be like this, I would have driven my '87 Carrera, which has about 100 more horsepower than Barney.  Too late for that now! I was in the second run group, so I had a good idea of the times that other drivers were setting. The format in the morning was to complete a warm-up lap, followed by a timed lap. The first group did two cycles, then it was our turn.

On my first run, I honestly thought that my warm-up lap was better than the timed lap, but that's how it goes! As I rolled up to pick up my timing slip, I thought that Barney felt good around the corners, but a bit breathless on the "straights," so I wasn't expecting a particularly fast time. I almost fainted when I got the first slip, because it was about 3 seconds FASTER than I expected!  My second run was 1 second faster yet! Barney was doing great!

For the afternoon session, Autocross Director David Bunch decided to go back to single timed laps, and each group got 8 runs instead of 4 (including the warmups) in the morning. Good stuff, because more runs = more fun! My wife Brenda showed up with my bailout money and helped me shag cones for the afternoon session. Then, it was time to drive again. Naturally, on my first run, with my wife watching, I made a huge error exiting the fast part of the course, and nearly spun! I didn't hit any cones though, and made it back in one piece. The rest of the afternoon was a blur - it seemed that you started a run about 2 minutes after finishing the previous one. That sure beats waiting....

So, how did Barney and I do? Well, you'll have to check the results to get the answer, but here's a clue: we were solidly in the midfield, which is a happy place for both of us. I had a blast driving Barney, and can't wait for the next event. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who had fun; check out Tom Markovich's article about his first Redwood Region autocross experience!

So, mark your calendar for April 14!  I plan to attend, even though it's the last weekend before the tax deadline of April 17.  Barney and I hope to see you out there! 


Click here for detailed results from all Redwood Region autocross events.