A Proposal for Some Unused Asphalt
By Trevor Alexander Hermance
This article was first published in PitTalk, September/October 2012.
New England Region routinely doubles up (or quadruples-up, with Racing Against Leukemia) on events at that asphalt mecca on Route 106 North, New Hampshire Motor Speedway. And yet, despite the Solo and Club Racing crowds driving their hearts out mere feet away from each other, a common quandary of those trying to keep the club thriving and growing is the lack of crossover between the two strong programs, with other companies and groups attracting all the "inbetweeners" who don't necessarily have a race car but want a taste of the triple-digits.
Meanwhile, we let precious useful tarmac at one of our other favorite playgrounds go untouched when we're at Lime Rock Park for the weekend. Huge demand for dates there by the same trackday groups has "allowed" LRP to raise prices to nearly insufferable levels for our racing-only events. On top of that, the inherent nature of a volunteer workforce requires Club Racing to leave the track dormant for a valuable hour each day. I think it would be worth pursuing opportunities in the young and highly customizable Time Trials framework to expand the scope of our activities at these race tracks, and thus broaden the appeal of membership in NER.
Personal experience with Lime Rock and the Skip Barber Racing School in particular leads me to believe that a safe and fun event on the infield autocross courses at LRP is something NER could feasibly campaign alongside the traditional race weekend there. Past attempts at single-day Performance Driving Experiences (SCCA's non-competitive program intended to provide seat time to inexperienced and developing track drivers like those available from other clubs) have not performed well due to established, experienced competition from other organizations and Club Racing-sourced organizers that were stretched thin and furthermore entering foreign territory.
My concept would employ a few volunteers to coordinate a group of 25 to 35 participants in a couple of activities, without having to meet some of the GCR's stringent personnel requirements. Likewise, the rudimentary mini circuits available don't have to be subjected to the racers' certification but have still proven safe enough for novices (or exuberant race car drivers looking for some low-speed drifting kicks). Piggybacking this Club Trials event alongside the school and races means Club Racing has already covered the costs of medical and track staff which have made the previous full-day-on-the-big-track PDX's unprofitable. My concept doesn't allow for nearly as many entries but exposes the region to significantly less financial risk. Plus, running one of the coveted unmuffled weekends could prove an attraction for any drivers whose cars have been shooshed out of the track over the years giving us an advantage over the other renters. I've brainstormed the following;
• Solo-style free runs of 3-5 laps on the 1400 ft. Autocross Courses (there are two which can be connected) in the morning, two cars at a time; instructors rotate through right seat duties (with novices who require them) and outside observation with the others who are waiting to drive
• A Skid Pad exercise (an expanse of wet pavement with no nearby obstacles is always a fun and insightful learning opportunity), one car at a time with instructor
• A migration of the group down to the full track during Club Racing's midday break (a couple of non-instructor volunteers will need to provide line of sight course coverage from 4/5 corner stations while F&C is at lunch) for two sessions - maybe lead-follow exercises for the novices or right-seat rides by instructors, should there be enough of them - followed by lunch
• Full .45 mi. autocross practice in the afternoon, 3-4 cars at a time, followed by timed competition (the course even has its own transponder loop, so if rentals could be procured, Club Racing's now-spare decoder could be put to use)
• To finish, a couple of awards are presented and the group can then partake in the social aspects (aka beer party) of the race weekend with all the others
• Volunteers who come out of the woodwork to help get the thing kickstarted could be rewarded with credit for an entry in the program after contributing 2/3/x days
Why make it a Club Trials event with competitive timing? Well, I see it as a way to make it something worth getting excited about, rather than some obscure driving exercise that is riding backseat to the Club Racers. Also, the participants won't feel that the event's climax arrived well before the end-of-day with the track time forced into the only free slot at noontime. Nothing would be more dramatic than a trophy chase to cap off the day!
So, these are all a few rough concepts with some overthought details thrown in that have come to me after witnessing numerous clubs' events and learning about Time Trials at the National Convention. The thousand-dollar selling point of some driving school curriculums is just a small chunk of time on a real, authentic race track. We won't charge that much and won't have to invest much at all. It would be a small start that could draw some Solo drivers to a place they may never have driven, some Club Racers who want to try something different, and, of course, some new people from outside the region. The whole thing could be translated to NHMS as well, I've only applied this concept to LRP due to familiarity. After a couple small projects like this, we could be ready for a more substantial Time Trials program.
Obviously this would need development and, most importantly, a small handful of people who would want to contribute a little time and effort to bring something new and unique to the region. Let me know; what do you think, and will you help?