Return to Road Atlanta: Chapter 3. Goodbye Booty Scooty.

2015-06-12 13.40.27
The cutest thing at AMP: a puppy in the Racing Analytics shop!
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I love cars that look like puppies also.

Dragging the MoxieMobile into the gates of AMP felt like an impressive achievement.  In reality, what had I accomplished? I had towed my car. Big deal….for someone who wants to race, this is basic stuff. I’d better know how to tow! But, for a former all-girls-catholic-boarding-school-navy-uniform-wearing ex-cream-puff, it was something.

I met Clay at Racing Analytics and then headed to Discovery Parts. Ron, the owner, is very knowledgeable about safety and racing equipment. Swami had referred me. Ron and his wife Seanie, both track enthusiasts, were invaluable in logistical planning. Another local, Racers Retreat proprietor Alise, had referred me to Racing Analytics.

Coming from full stock everything in Bianca, fit had never been a variable I could determine. During every turn my body was used to scooting all over the place, and at least half my energy was on the dead pedal. Today, I would end my scooty booty action.

photo 1
It had to be you…and even Swami approved!

Before I bought Moxie, Vader had told me he could not fit in a Miata and wouldn’t be able to instruct me in-car. That was a loss; but I would deal with it. Later, I realized, that meant SCDon and Mr. LeMans wouldn’t fit either. Then, I began to worry: what if Swami couldn’t fit? Or Agt 007? Every time I looked at the Sparco I tried to imagine Ol’ SweetandSour in it. But, unless someone is my patient, I often forget to pay attention to personal appearances. Which means I can’t exactly remember the dimensions of my friends and mentor. Based on photos, my height just reaches Swami’s shoulder. Maaaaaaybe it’d work? I sent a photo of the Sparco asking if he’d fit. No reply. I fretted.

Ron patiently encouraged me to try every single racing seat in stock. It had to be comfy but snug. Only one came close. It wasn’t tight in my hips, and was too rigidly straight for the curves in my waist and lower back. But it was the smallest, and still a vast improvement over the alternatives.

photo 2
The seat and fire extinguisher that had to be moved.

Seat selection completed, Clay and Moxie moved to the workshop for the installation phase. We already had a Sparco Pro 2000, with a OMP Hans-compatible harness in the driver’s side. Although the Sparco didn’t fit me overall, it did have a lumbar support cushion that firmly nestled my lower back. I ended up using that in my new seat. Unfortunately, the plan for the Sparco to be re-installed on the right fell through. Clay very kindly found me a loaner, which I ended up buying: an aluminum one, installed with a new harness.

photo 3
Clay is a champion. Thanks, man!

Meanwhile, I was back in Discovery Parts, for more safety gear. My consultation with the Rennlist brain-trust, Gary R, JCP911, TXE36, MUSSBERGER, and others, taught me I needed to jump right into this. Due to the high costs, it’s tempting go step-by-step. However, the incremental approach is inadvisable in this case.

By design, all the pieces need to work together. The seats are contoured, and hold the driver in firmly using a full 5-point harness. This ensures the driver’s torso moves minimally during a forward impact, preventing maxillo-facial impact injuries. Paradoxically, this leads to a greater risk of neck and spinal cord injury. So, to prevent potentially debilitating or fatal outcomes, the driver must wear something called a HANS device.

The skull can catapult like a bowling ball.

The excerpt from Car and Driver Magazine below explains the physics of how it works: ‘…. Dr. Bob Hubbard, who earned his Ph.D. in engineering studying the mechanical properties of skull bones, invented the “head and neck support” now known and marketed as the HANS device. The HANS essentially works like an airbag. But instead of inflating a cushion to arrest occupant motion in a collision, it uses a raised collar and two polyester-fabric tethers to secure the driver’s head. The driver’s shoulder belts hold the tall, stiff collar securely in place. The tethers link the sides of the driver’s helmet to collar anchor points. When g-loads build during a forward impact, the HANS device assures that the driver’s helmeted head moves with his torso so vulnerable neck and skull bones aren’t overloaded…….’ 

So: seats, harness and HANS systems are critical to keeping the driver in place, and protecting the neck. The driver is pinned, which allows better focus on driving, instead of on holding their body in place, and conserves driver energy.

imgres Ochem's Razor: the simplest design is the most effective. The HANS is a life-saving device with a very simple design. Lat: Lex Parsimoniae
Ochem’s Razor: the simplest design is the most effective. The HANS is a life-saving device with a very simple design. Lat: Lex Parsimoniae (Image is property of Car and Driver Magazine)

But what if the car rolls over? With a stock factory installed seat belt system the driver can squeeze out of the belt and escape before the car collapses. But, this seating system slows exit from the car, with greater risk of the driver being crushed. Hence the roll cage. It protects the driver from the weight of the car while she exits the harnesses. Assuming she is still conscious.

What if there is a fire? A spec racer is required to have a fire suppression system which, again, allows for the delay in exiting the cockpit. That’s my Moxie girl!

My wussy HANS Pro.

None of this comes cheap. My research and friends had taught me what to look for in quality. One thing about the HANS: the basic device cost about 3 clams less and weighed 8 ounces more than the lightweight Pro version. As it is, I can barely muster up the muscle to pull the harness tight and hoist myself out of the car in full fireproof kit with helmet. I did not think I could afford the extra fatigue on track. For a puny shouldered person, the 8 oz difference in weight was well worth the extra money. Swami disapproved.

Eight sweaty hours later, I was finally positioned correctly in the new driver’s seat! I am so grateful to Clay for thoughtfully suggesting angle adjustments and harness placements which were critical. And, to his eternal credit, he maintained a solid poker face while I wrangled in and out the seat, adjusting the harness up and down, all day, while wearing a lobster-red billowing chiffon skirt. (I was still in my office clothes, because I had been too tired to unpack in those 45 minutes the night before.)

At last, we were done! Saying thanks and goodbyes, the MoxieMobile set an eastward course for Braselton. Vaderito had called. We arrived at the Road Atlanta paddocks within minutes of each other!

The Chin organizers welcomed us and I introduced Vader as my little brother. He just laughed and shook his head: The UHaul, the Dolly, my Moxie, me still in my office clothes, all gallivanting happily around the paddock.

We joked and laughed and unloaded our cars. After tech inspection, someone opened a bottle of cheer. New rounds of introductions were made. Then, as the sun slowly set, I covered up Moxie for the night and made for the hotel. Vader and I had a delightful dinner. I had last eaten an apple as I left Brandon at the hotel that morning.

My sweet partner in crime was left at home. I missed her.

That night I felt strangely alone. I felt skittish and worried about my instructor assignment. I missed Bianca very badly. I had never been to track without her. Swami sent a message of encouragement: “Tomorrow is a new day…. #getoffthebrakes”

I smiled, and fell into an exhausted sleep.

My baby Hair Gel kissed me.
My baby Hair Gel kissed me.

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