Return to Road Atlanta: Chapter 4. Spunky Sassy Moxie

Dinner at a cool little Mexican place in Braselton
Dinner at a cool little Mexican place in Braselton.

Phase I: To the track!

From registration, to unloading, to pitting, to bantering in the paddock, the evening settled into darkness, and we went to dinner. While savoring my nachos, I noticed thunderclouds rolling in fast. No! Moxie has no windows!  And, just as dinner was served, lightning split the sky erupting into raindrops of unnaturaly large dimensions.  Utter exhaustion coupled with acute epigastric gnawing overrode everything else. I chewed my fish dinner slowly. Shortly, the rain ended, and I finally truly relaxed. Later at the hotel, as we said goodnight, Vader thoughtfully suggested I leave my helmet and HANS in his truck.

Once in my room, grateful for my soft pajamas and warm covers, I re-read a message from Swami. As I wafted into dreamlessness, I remember whispering his words: “A new day… #getoffthebrakes”

‘Nuff said.

Next morning, I felt fresh!  But late…no yoga. My morning walk at Chateau Elan left me famished. I scarfed down my hot breakfast.

And then? Then…….. It finally was here! TRACK DAY! In my flip flops, I skipped happily to the lobby! I was jumping because ……TRACK DAY!

As we drove into the gates… I felt…..I felt…..Oh I felt so….so….TRACK DAY!

Remember when we were kids?  When that last school bell rang Friday afternoon? Right?Okay…Now remember when the entire year’s Fridays rolled into one? That big fat last juicy  Friday before summer vacation? Then the bell rings? Yessss! THAT is what track day feels like!

During pre-ops, I remembered: gas!  I had no fuel! Indeed, leaving the assembled MoxieMobile at the paddocks the night before, I had forgotten fuel. AND Moxie’s fuel tank indicator is kaput. I had no way of knowing how much was there. It was too late to do anything else: I’d have to buy at track. “Well… Maybe it wont hurt just this once?”

Wrong! It hurt. Badly. Yup. Paid 10 smackers a gallon for ethanol-free 110 octane. This demolished any last dregs of romantic illusions I held about trailering. I now understood why Mr. Le Mans avoided it. Preparation and foresight were key.

Vader thinks I am an insect: I reach up to his elbow. But I am not an insect. #shortgirlsrule #tallgirlsruletoo #allgirlsrule

Phase 2: Meet Instructor, er Instructor…er…

Still, being an optimist (and a junkie), I approached the day with enthusiasm! After drivers meeting, I was assigned to big and tall KMan. Honestly? I doubted he’d fit in Moxie. I gently suggested he might want to check it. He smiled, brushed off my words, and hurried me off to gear up.  I was still new at the whole HANS/harness thing and, debuting with Moxie, I appreciated the extra time.

I happily waved to Vader as he and his student drove past, entering the gird. Pulling the door handle of the truck to retrieve my helmet and HANS, I felt a sickening resistance. Locked! My helmet and HANS were locked in Vader’s truck! I had warned him to make sure the truck was locked, because of a recent rumors of a theft. Gahhhhh! A silent scream lacerated my brain! “Missingwarmupsnow! Missingwarmupsnow! Missingwarmupsnow!” The thought churned downward to my stomach pit. Blood pounded my tympanic membranes. Sweating overtly, still silently screaming, I dashed to my instructor!

Vader was not the only person who could not fit into Moxie
Vader was not the only person who could not fit into Moxie

He waved off my breathless babbling, and placidly, smilingly, sent me off to wait.  I paced furiously! I wanted to throw something. Then calmed I down. Then I paced more! Then I did not crumple into a fetal position and begin howling. Eventually I calmed down enough to attend my first classroom session. And, when my next track session was called, I was ready early. Shoes, gloves, HANS, helmet, already harnessed, waiting at my instructor’s car with Moxie’s idle thrumming a background bass.

Then? Helloooo….News Flash: KMan couldn’t fit.

No! Was I gonna miss my second session too? The grid call echoed, my fellow drivers were staging, and at this point, my poor adrenal glands threw in the towel. I calmly drove to the Chin trailer.

2015-06-14 09.03.15
My instructor, ThirdHalfCrazy, drives a momentum car on track. But on this event, he was not driving. His BMW Z4 convertible was in the shop. #whataguy

Enter Skip: about 5’7″, mustachioed, shiny of scalp, and built like an athlete. Friendly and no-nonsense, with a can-do attitude, he kindly and willingly slid right in. Without even knowing my name. And fit fine. While he harnessed up, I briefed him on my driving history. He nodded as we pulled to grid. Then, finally noticing Moxie’s outrageously high decibel mojo, I realized we had forgotten earplugs.

Skip coached me methodically: eyes up, smooth inputs, count the number of manned corner stations, let the tires warm up, kiss every apex, and sequential downshifts into turn 10. Lap after lap: very consistent message, very focused on talking me through the next turn. Any critical comments were only shared with me on the approach to that turn on the next lap.

And then I was paired with…another instructor. Meet this guy: He described himself as Half-Irish, Half-English, Half-Crazy.  I liked him immediately! ThirdHalfCrazy (3HC) is a Floridian, and Sebring is his home track. A truly gifted teacher, with a ready smile, and a happy energy, 3HC instinctively figured out the best way for me to learn. How? Well, he is a third grade teacher. And he gets it! Positive feedback is what an old track lady like me needs. Getting a “thumbs up” from 3HC was my equivalent of a Gold Star!

Phase 3: My Moxie and My Goals

Oh and Moxie? Oh baby… That little Moxie!  She really is a track darling! So light. So fluid. So natural. So impeccably balanced. She was louder than a fire-engine, but…She was sublime! Moxie squatted strongly on track, remained firmly planted, and roared through the turns. Not once did her tail get loose! I didn’t have to “finesse” the pedals to balance the car. I didn’t have to negotiate anything. She felt confident.  I just drove.

This is a baby girl who has some phat tires and awesome grip. Beautifully balanced. As Swami said: A love affair with the perfect car.
This is a baby girl who has some phat tires and awesome grip. Beautifully balanced. As Swami said: A love affair with the perfect car.

And my safety gear? Let me declare here today: I wish I had geared up with seats and harnesses back in March 2014. Being attached to the car was an eye-popping experience! Vader, Swami and SCDon’s advice was essential in getting me to this point. I relaxed my body in the seat, my breathing softened, I had energy plenty to finish the entire 40 minute session and then some. Dead pedal? What dead pedal? A first! 

After being thrashed last time at Road Atlanta, I was determined to improve. Being familiar with the track helped. I was taking the line that Swami had taught me, using the same reference points.

In the circle, you can see the red and black arrow lines are both touching the correct apex. But the black arrow is angled to allow earlier throttle application, which improves the line and the turn exit speed.

So, I began the weekend with goals to improve my line, and to familiarize myself with the new car. I worked on consistency at apexing turns 1, 3, the Esses, 6 & 7 and 12. Also, I needed consistency going under the bridge at turn 11. At 7, although I was improving at consistently apexing, I was still tracking out at a wide position and was spending time and energy having to manage the car. 3HC used diagrams to show me that I needed to apex with the car pointed at the optimal angle so I could carry more speed.

Other issues for me were suboptimal speed on the straights and overbraking at the faster turns (at RA these are 1, 4, 6 and 12). Both chronic problems that I had to address. In Bianca, I had been working against the momentum of the car, because I felt unsure of the dynamics, given her weight distribution. But with Moxie, there was no way I could get away with doing that. And, with her perfect balance and low hp engine, I knew spinning was nearly impossible.

The biggest no-no’s I committed that first day were: inconsistent acceleration going down the hill to turn 12, braking to early/too hard into turns 1 and 6, and using too much curbing at turn 10b. Things that I improved were my line, and my speed going down the Esses and in turn 5.  I stopped braking at turn 5, instead using a downshift before the turn, and this went well, and was fun! The downshift harnessed greater torque, allowing me to accelerate rapidly in that short straight before turn 6. I even passed another Miata there. At one point, I began to giggle uncontrollably between turns 5 and 6! It was just that good!

Swami gave me a D+
Last Road Atlanta trip, I scored D-. Barely.
ThirdHalfC gave me a B- range score
I worked up to a B average score by the end of Sunday.

By late Saturday, I had improved consistency in the maintaining throttle going into turn 12, and was better at avoiding the brakes entirely at turn 1 (instead briefly lifting off the gas to stabilize the steering before the turn), then accelerating the noisy little 1.6 liter engine up the hill. I had spent 180 minutes on track in a single day!

Phase 4: Grade Inflation

After the second day on track, I felt like Moxie and I were truly becoming a team. We had to miss one session (Quiet Hour) because of her unmufflered condition. ThirdHalfC patiently listened to my goals and worked with me to refine these. With my allies 3HC and Moxie, by late Sunday I was happy, confident, smoother and carrying more speed into the turns. What did I not improve? Speed in the straights: Moxie maxed out at 105 mph even with my foot stomping the gas to the floor. Hey, that’s probably why I could let myself stomp it down. Here, I missed Bianca sorely–I could give her a millimeter nudge, she would take it and book it. By the end of Sunday’s Happy Hour I felt a stronger driver, more skillful and more confident.  This time I scored in the B average range. ThirdHalfC was an absolute saint for sticking with me, in spite of the literally deafening experience.

2015-06-15 08.40.44
A stranger in the parking lot took this photo on my way back home. You can see his red Dodge camper van reflected in my sunglasses. It’s a cool deal: bike racks, kayak racks, 2 queen beds, a fridge and stove and bathroom all built it.

As things quieted down at track, people packed up and trickled out toward home. After saying goodbye to Vader and 3HC, I slowly began loading up the UHaul.

It had been a good weekend. I felt a love requited at last, at Road Atlanta. I kicked off my flip flops. While hauling my track junk, I day-dreamed of Sebring, Road America, Laguna Seca…Of course, I have never driven there. Maybe I never will.  But I have VIR. And Moxie and Bianca.

Up Next: Road Atlanta: Epilogue

4 thoughts on “Return to Road Atlanta: Chapter 4. Spunky Sassy Moxie

    1. Jay, thank you! And, yes, I remember the convo you and I had in the paddocks at VIR back in March well. Your 40 years of racing experience, and the rich knowledge gleaned from that is invaluable, and your advice was spot-on. As Vader said: you are One Cool Cat!


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