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Infineon Raceway, April 11, 2008 It’s quiet tonight under this hill in Sonoma. A few lights gleam and the faint tink-tink-tink of a hammer sounds from some hidden pit area where work continues as it always does on a race car. Bright stars look down on a few early arrivals and the air is redolent of hay and the sea. All through the night the transporters pull in, towing their brightly colored cars. They’ve come from Oregon, Utah, Nevada and all parts of California to become a part of this temporary community, to see old friends, to make new ones, to race. Dawn reveals a small village sprung up over night. There are streets, traffic, pedestrians, wives, sweethearts, kids and dogs. Cars of all descriptions, from daily drivers to factory sponsored racecars have become the focus of attention as they are prepared to go on track. An air of festivity prevails over this day at the races, but an undercurrent of the potential for violence and wreckage is present as well as the tow truck rumbles slowly around the perimeter like a bright red velociraptor, tail high, looking for prey. One of the best things about a NASA event is that there is something for everyone. You can bring your daily driver and run a High Performance Driving Event. Anything will do as long as it’s roadworthy and safe. Looking out my door once, I saw a Ford GT40, a GMC pickup, a Toyota Camry, a Porsche GT3 and a Mini Cooper S, all lined up to go out in HPDE 1. As your experience and driving skills improve you can bring your modded up street machine, change to race wheels and tires and run with the faster HPDE groups, 2, 3 and 4. Some folks have been happily doing this for years. Since these are non-competitive instructional driving events with instructors on board, your insurance should cover any mishaps (NOTE: check with your own provider to be sure). In addition, there are many classes of racing to watch featuring exciting door-to-door competition. Add to that a free barbeque Saturday night and you’ve got a really fine weekend at the track. My Mini has a new setup for this race. Speed parts from my sponsor Mini Mania have been added by my sponsor Bay Bridge Motors and USTCC sponsor Nitto has provided four brand new NT 01 tires. This will be my first official race with the US Touring Car Championship and I look forward to hitting the grid with more horsepower and quicker lap times. Alas, it is not to be. I’ve fallen victim to modomania, something I have been warning people about for years on the Mini forums. “Change one thing at a time,” I’ve said, “otherwise you won’t have a clue if something goes wrong.” You’d think I’d listen. Instead, we made five changes to the engine and the ECU does not like it. Horsepower has actually gone down. But I’m stuck with it for the weekend, so I’ll do the best I can, break the tires in well and fix it before the next event. Even with the car being slow I manage to wheel it around to within a second of my fastest lap at Sears Point. Bob Scheer is back with his Ireland Engineering MCS. Bob is way faster than me but because he’s not used to the track, we qualify close and we’re side by side on the grid for the race. Finally in the late afternoon our turn to race arrives. The track is hot under a warm California sun and a little greasy with all the rubber that has been laid down today. Caution will be called for at the off-camber Turn 2 and the braking zone for the hairpin Turn 11. USTCC goes out first for the warmup lap, then pulls up by start/finish for the standing start. The furled green flag goes up (engines rev) it is unfurled up high (cars seem to lean forward in anticipation) it drops and the air is filled with the sound of roaring engines and screeching tires as the field blasts off for Turn 1. All except me. In all the excitement and adrenaline flow, I make the same mistake I did at Pahrump. I catch the detent to reverse on my attempted one-two shift and can’t find second gear. *expletive deleted*. Rookie mistake. The field streams by me on both sides and by the time I get it going, I’m behind the Honda Challenge cars. The Civic in front of me is just a little slower than me and is braking just a little sooner. I pull up next to him several times but I’m running with the pirates now. They show no mercy and give no quarter and I just don’t have the skills yet to shoulder my way by and get away. And so I finish last. In spite of the embarrassing start it was far from a wasted effort. I have completed two more events as a provisional rookie racer without incident or going off track. One more and I can apply for my NASA National racing license and the gloves can come off. Before that happens, though, I have homework to do. I have to find more horsepower for the car and I have to practice standing starts until that 1-2 shift is automatic. Next time will be different. It was great to have some of you Mini owners at the track cheering us on. Next time at Thunderhill on May 3-4, Bob and I should be joined on the grid by Rich Peterson in his USTCC MCS. Hopefully as more Minis join the racing we will see more of you out there, too!

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