My First ProSolo (or: Hook, Line and Sinker)
By Elizabeth Bacon
I pre-register for the ProSolo event in San Bernardino on March 13-14, 2004, and class my stock ‘00 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT with its Falken Azeni Sport tires into Ladies 1 (L1). I’m a newcomer to autocross, having participated in four regional SoloII competitions before signing up for the ProSolo. Nervous and excited about the novelties of the ProSolo format, I solicit online message board advice and get the usual bounty of friendly tips. Randy Chase provides reams of good reading material, and Mike Simanyi advises me how to stage deep – pull forward until the stage light goes out, then reverse until it lights up again. I practice this technique in my driveway beforehand, my husband acting the role of staging light. It feels weird, but manageable.
Arriving at the Norton AFB grounds Saturday morning and seeing the paddock full of trailers and people prepping their cars gets my adrenaline going as usual. There are ProSolo stickers galore to apply to my car, which gets all tarted-up with racing signage. Thanks to Randy for the special tip about bringing magnetic sheets and scissors! Despite feeling like a rolling advertisement, I rather think my black Eclipse looks pretty cool.
I try to remember all the staging info and advice as I approach the courses for a walk. I study the staging areas, and think that it was really too bad I couldn’t get some practice starts in on Friday. I sketch the courses on the back of the supplemental rules sheet as I walk, and keep this close to hand for the weekend. I try to remind myself that I should have no expectations except to have fun out there, but my competitive spirit is already humming away in high gear.
Watching and Waiting
As cars start competing, rubber burns and delirious sounds of engines revving and tires squealing fill the air. Reports float in about that difficult back carousel and the need to really settle down to nail the entry. The left side is slower than the right, by about 0.3 sec. As I watch the racing, I become mesmerized by the staging and starting lights. “Yellow-yellow-yellow-GO!” I imprint the rhythm on my mind. A constant crowd of onlookers hugs the shady spots while the morning runs play out. In the grid, people laugh and mingle, but in the staging area, it’s all business as cars zoom from the left side to the right side and back.
Time to Run
Soon I’m in pregrid with L1, and quickly the grid. Suddenly, it’s staging time! Good grief, what is it I’m supposed to do here? That timing clock is counting down way too fast! Forward, then reverse. Which staging light is supposed to go unlit and then lit again? OK, OK, now remember to rev the engine, now go! And while half my brain is still wondering how the start went, I must face the fact that it’s one tight, tough course. Then, WHEEEE! It’s my first-ever spinout, going into that back carousel! Right on, I’ve been waiting for this moment! I’m grinning like a maniac as I finish up the course. And then I go to stage on the right side…and, oh no, my car is rolling! My car is rolling forward - what am I supposed to do with this? With no time to finesse the situation, I take one crappy start. And then two more runs are over just like that, dominated by the unhappy excitement of over-revving, rolling at the start, and losing track of what gear I’m in. I get nothing clean on the left side, and poor times on the right.
Watching, Waiting and Working
For my work assignment in the afternoon, I go to the back end of the left side course to watch people handle that carousel. In between chasing down cones, analysis with my fellow course-worker reveals the best approach. Later, I chase down advice on my rolling problem. As always, I find people dedicated and helpful, working hard on improving their own game but never loath to share their advice and perspective. For starters, I learn that I should set and release the parking brake, and turn the wheel from side to side. I’m now reeling from the sheer number of things to think about in this wild, wacky ProSolo.
Time to Run, Take 2
In the blink of an eye, my afternoon runs are suddenly staging. Left side: dirty, yuck! Right side, I set my parking brake, turn the wheel…and I’m still rolling! With no time to recover, I red-light before I can even touch the accelerator. Shaken and angry, I pull right off and go back into pre-stage, which I thought I’d read one should do after red-lighting. Later, I recognize that pulling off was not actually the typical or smart thing to do…I should have just gone ahead and taken the run, even if only for my own personal benefit. My next left side run comes out dirty, then the right side isn’t much better. But I’m pleased to find that after Ken Motonishi tells me that the starting lights are really saying “Yellow-yellow-GO!”, I pull off a .506 start time. He also gently reminds me to look ahead, and I kick myself for neglecting such a basic principle of autocross.
Sunday, the Make it All Better Day?
The next day, Sunday, lots of people are banking on their morning performances to get them into the Challenge rounds. I watch my friends race with pretty impressive results, and catch a nice sunburn while working the course at 9:30 am. It’s neat to watch two of my Evo Phase I instructors racing this weekend – Tom Kotzian and Kevin Dietz are both tearing up Super Stock. Tom’s mantra, “smooth and flowing, smooth and flowing,” echoes through my mind, hopefully to good effect.
When L1 comes up to grid and staging, I decide to abandon all efforts to use reverse to stage deep, and so I simply creep up to the staging line. I’m rewarded by a much calmer start, plus nice reaction times including a .508. The car rolling forward on the right continues to plague me, though. As for my actual runs, the story is better left untold. In summary: not exactly smooth and flowing. I do little well, except maybe better looking ahead and settling the car down to enter those back carousels tightly.
I end up placing 11/11 in the L1 group. I tell myself there’s no excuse for such a performance, and place a despondent call home telling my husband it’s a good thing he wasn’t there. Ann Donahue, though, helps me remember that I do have a great excuse: it’s my first ProSolo! I tell several people that I prefer the SoloII format because there’s more emphasis on simply driving the course. Despite my disappointment, I decide to keep the air in my tires…just in case I get into the Bonus Challenge, jokingly sometimes referred to as the Losers’ Challenge (especially by those who get into it).
As the Bonus Challenge names are drawn, I recognize a bunch of the people announced, including Rita Wilsey, one of the acknowledged goddesses of autocross. Then, whoa - my name gets drawn! Laughing, I realize that I’ll have a pretty terrific index since I stank it up so badly all weekend. People throw me great advice: “Just keep centered in yourself” and “Finish the course, no matter what.” And like manna from heaven, Terri Mayo says to me: “If you’re rolling at the line, then pull up into a different spot!”
And shortly, we’re off. Up first against a fellow L1 racer in a ’93 Toyota MR2, she red-lights on the first run. Good advice ringing in my ears, I go ahead and finish the course. Up next on the right side, running against a ’91 Honda CRX, I pull up into a different spot and…I’m not rolling! Joy to the world, and thank you, Terri! We both get clean starts, and race each other neck-and-neck. I come out 0.3 sec ahead – and hear the announcer reminding us, “That’s exactly the time difference between these two courses!” We flip sides, and then my erstwhile competitor red-lights. I go ahead and finish the course.
I can hardly believe that I’m now in the final – up against Rita Wilsey! A volunteer pit crew swarms my car, and Ken checks my tire pressures. (He is rather appalled to find that I still keep the caps on my tire valves!) Then, boom, we’re both at the line. I’m on the right, but I’ve got my new lucky starting spot and I’m not rolling forward. We start cleanly, and race all-out. At the finish, I end up being 0.7 sec ahead. The announcer is shouting that I’ve broken out at just the right time, which I don’t entirely understand but it sounds like a good thing. We line up on the opposite side, and…and…Rita red-lights!? I don’t realize what’s happened until the back end, when I hear Ann screaming in joy for my win. And I go ahead and finish the course.
Onwards and Forwards…
Winning the Bonus Challenge at my first ProSolo was a miraculous feeling! I might well wish that Rita and I had had a square run against each other in the final go-around, despite receiving excellent advice from Glenn Duensing about not looking a gift horse in the mouth. All tortured thinking aside, though, it was an astonishing, delightful conclusion to a difficult and challenging weekend of ProSolo. People couldn’t have been happier for me, and I realized yet again what a splendid crew of people participate in this sport, competing seriously but just plain having a great time. I was honored to shake everybody’s hand when the final results were read and trophies awarded. And then…since I won a ProSolo license and free entry to another ProSolo, I daresay you’ll be seeing me at Atwater in April. Maybe I’ll see you there, too!