• Adam Tilton

Driving With My Butt

Getting "signed off to solo" was easier than I had anticipated. After spending eleven days at the track, more than 21 hours in my 911, and a few hours in a Spec Racer Ford, I've discovered that, like most things in life, there is no final achievement. On the track, you can go as fast as you want to spend, but you will never be as fast as you want.

During the first 100 laps, everything was rushing by me, only available for analysis after it happened. I had no idea where to apply the brakes, how to maneuver the car into a curve, or how quickly I could do it without sliding off the road and onto the grass. My first spin off the track happened as a result of "pinching the exit," which is when you accelerate out of a turn before you begin unwinding the wheel. I've also "early apex-ed," which is when you initiate turning into the corner too soon. This changes the geometry of the corner and effectively makes it a sharper turn. However, I've found the most challenging incidents to avoid are those caused by the car's evolution during a session.

On a sweltering July day at The Ridge Motorsport Park outside of Seattle, the temperatures were above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. My brakes and tires were growing hotter than usual, which made them less effective and rendered the tires greasy. I hadn't experienced this before and couldn't react fast enough. After the third spin, they sent me home for the day to reconsider my approach to life. As you go around the track more quickly, you must learn to feel how the car is evolving and make subtle adjustments. It's called driving with your butt, and my butt is a bit dull, apparently.

Not everything that can go wrong is the result of a driver's error. I've had a few car failures too. The most harrowing was on the main straight at PIR at 130mph. I went for the brake pedal ... and it was limp. At first, I had no idea what was happening, and all I could do was plead with the car. With great relief, I discovered that when the brake pedal meets the floor, an electronic circuit applies full braking, which brings the car to a screeching halt. I later learned that I boiled the fluid in the brake lines and needed to "bleed the brakes" to keep it from happening in the future. I had a similar experience a few weeks later when my clutch failed. That was less concerning because I was stuck going slow instead of going fast, and it was the first time I had to be towed off the track.

Luckily, my mistakes have been modest, but that's not always the case. On a rainy day at PIR, I watched as a first-time driver discovered the limits of his Corvette. He was accelerating down the back straight when the rear wheels skipped out to the left due to the water on the track, sending the car darting off to the right. Immediately, the nose hit a cement wall, and the collision bounced him and his driving instructor back across the track and into the wet grass. They slid for 50 yards until they met the wall on the other side with the rear end, whipping the car around so that the driver-side door met the wall next. I was amazed to learn that the driver was uninjured. The car was towed back to the pits with the driver-side door loaded in the trunk, totaled.

It's so much fun. There are only a few track days left before the end of the season in the Pacific Northwest, and I plan to be at most of them. I also signed up to drive in my first Lucky Dog race on Halloween weekend.