The Doldrums Are Coming to an End
By Tom Swift
In the days of sailing, the Doldrums were infamous. A ship in these mid latitudes might unexpectedly experience wind speeds near or at zero, potentially for days or even weeks. Boredom and missed schedules could turn into scurvy, dehydration and starvation. As I write this, I am starved for motorsports. I admit, not exactly life threatening, but bad! No NNJR DE, no Formula One, no Indy Car, not even NASCAR. Even the garage is too cold to do car work. But the end is in sight: in a few days, we will have the 24 Hours of Daytona. And making the best of today’s blizzard, maybe I can have a bit of fun driving sideways? New Jersey as one gigantic Car Control Clinic! OK, maybe that is not such a good idea. I will have to rely on other activities for excitement, like making chili and drinking hot chocolate.
In April begins our DE season; a full and exciting one. We have confirmed eleven events at seven different tracks and we have secured more weekend track days. We are also working to build on the great progress we made last year with classroom training and materials. Our chief instructors and track stewards are ready for duty! As NASA used to say, everything is AOK!
As usual, we kick off the season in early April at Lime Rock Park, the venerable circuit in the Northwestern tip of Connecticut. Sometimes it is cold, and sometimes it is warm, but that area, the Berkshires, is always worth the trip. The circuit at LRP is a favorite of many. It is short and easy to learn if you are a novice. At speed, parts of the track become very challenging. Great fun and with some good restaurants nearby, I always look forward to the after-track festivities.
Our first of three visits this year to New Jersey Motorsports Park is near the end of April and is for upper run groups only – no students. This affords a lot of track time for experienced drivers and for instructors, more time to work on their driving skills (time to review data and video feedback!). We will also hold our annual instructor certification program. In prior years this was a Monday and Tuesday event, with Monday at Lightning and Tuesday at Thunderbolt. Prior attendees have expressed preferences for a weekend event, Lightning over Thunderbolt, and a dislike of schlepping gear over to Thunderbolt after a day at Lightning. I managed 2.5 out of 3.0: two days at Lightning, stay in the same paddock and a Sunday instead of a Tuesday (alas, Saturday was unavailable). Lightning is shorter than Thunderbolt, but most agree it flows better and has a wonderful series of connected Turns 2 through 5.
Are you prepared?
There is a lot of information on our web site about our DE program, including advice on preparation for an event (start at https://nnjr-pca.com/drivers-ed/). Nevertheless, I would like to highlight a few items as we begin the 2016 season.
It is 2016 and as usual, the Snell SA2015 helmets are now arriving. Our safety rules require replacement of helmets after ten years. Because of the late arrivals of SA 2015, we will not prevent anyone from running this year with a SA2005. However, we strongly recommend that you replace your 2005 helmets as early in the year as possible. My 2005 has seen a lot of use, looks awful and probably should have been replaced years ago. I am looking forward to shopping for a new SA2015 as soon as possible.
Instructors can self-tech before and during an event. However, they need to insure that they have a pro shop complete their annual track vehicle inspection. Aside from being required by our safety rules, it simply is smart to have a professional check over your car at least once a year.
If you have received cool car toys for Christmas, like cameras, data systems or smartphone apps, be sure to read the tech form about proper attachment to your car.
Check to make sure all belts other than factory installed are not older than five years. Our tech form has the details.
For those of you who have progressed down the slippery slope, do not forget attention to the tow vehicle and the trailer. Is the trailer cable and connector in good shape? Break away battery still good? Inspected trailer brakes, wheel bearings and tires? How about tow vehicle tires? Do not forget the tow vehicle tires! Ask me sometime how I know about this (hint: it is very memorable when you experience oversteer-induced yaw while towing).
Check on availability of track tires. Frequently I am surprised when I do; generally, not happily so when I find out which sizes are unavailable.
Lastly, how about a bit of mental preparation? Read or reread Going Faster or Ultimate Speed Secrets. Watch in-car track videos. Sit in a quiet spot and drive laps in real time in your head. On the latter point, as long as you do not make silly motor and braking sounds, your loved ones or friends will think you have taken up meditation and will be impressed. I won’t tell.