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From Near-Disaster to Smiles All-Round

Greg Troester May 7, 2023 1 comment

Contrasting approaches to racing hard

Author’s Note: This article has changed focus from my original draft, which was written to share my reflections on getting in over my head during the NASA Utah Round 2 Sunday race. Fortunately, after completing “Round X” — a make-up event from our snowed-out Sunday in March, I’ve been able to re-write this one to contrast a humbling and disappointing race with one that ended with a similar result (me losing a position) but with drastically better emotions during and afterwards. I hope this is both enjoyable to read and beneficial to all of my racing friends in SM and other classes.

Kicking off the season, I set a few goals for myself:

  • Podium at least four races
  • Win one race
  • Beat my brother Blake in a race (dig into that psychology, Freud)

I could speak to the preparation and strategy I’ve been employing at-length, but in short it is this:

Get better each day, even if it’s just a little bit; learn from mistakes and failed experiments

It’s taken a conscious effort, to varying success, to balance right on the edge of intensity/focus, humility, desire, and overall enjoyment. As my season started off with better-than expected performance, I’ve found myself aspiring to greater performance… but also feeling like I have something to lose, now.

In Round 2’s Sunday race, I tipped over the edge to become somewhat short-sighted and chose to fight tooth-and-nail against my buddy and close competitor Steve. As expected, he rose to meet the challenge and the race was exhilarating… until we had contact in the last lap that very nearly cost us major damage… maybe cars if things had “hooked up” just the wrong way. We ended that weekend with hats in hand, still very much friends, but regretting our actions.

Yesterday during “Round X”, a one-day make-up race from one we lost to snow in March (yeah, it’s Utah), we caught the other type of precipitation and I found myself again nose-to-tail with Steve… but this time we coexisted and even worked together to get through faster-class traffic and build a healthy gap to all other competitors to fight on the last lap — but cleanly and more respectfully. In the end we had smiles and exchanged multiple high-fives.

I’m feeling grateful today to have learned from my mistake two weeks ago and apply it with success. I just hope I remember this lesson for a long, long time.

My Approach to Round 2’s Sunday Race

Steve and I had qualified closely both days and I had only beaten Steve on Saturday because his gas pedal (the actual pedal!) had broken in Lap 1. In Round 1, I had just lost-out to Steve on Saturday by not making or taking advantage of potential chances.

Today, I resolved myself to stay ahead, believing that if I could just latch-on to my brother Blake and friend Jason ahead (competing for 1st and 2nd) that I might be able to get away form Steve and secure a second podium that weekend — but by driving better, not just by default.

Well… I made some mistakes early on and Steve poked his nose in. I went full-defensive mode from Lap 1 and quickly lost sight of P1–2 ahead. They were home-free and Steve and I were resolved to duking it out for 3rd. The intensity that results from frequent use of defensive lines and me trying to re-pass Steve once he got by resulted in both of us having rather greasy tires and running slow lap times within short order.

When the white flag flew I had scrambled ahead of Steve and was again driving defensively for all I was worth. But in this high-speed game of chess I had made a wrong move and found Steve driving around the outside of Tooele Turn and just ahead of me as we approached Clubhouse — the last real passing opportunity before the end of the race.

Steve legally pinched me and I refused to back-down and we came together — Steve sideways across my bow and me shoving his car onto the apron. I was amazed that our cars ran after that. We slowly drove across the finish line, keeping 3rd and 4th place due to somehow staying ahead of the faster-class race leader lapping all other SM competitors.

Amazingly… no car suffered significant damage — just tire donuts. We both felt bad. I felt like compete crap for losing my cool… even though I thought I was completely composed. Clearly, I had overstepped the line of risk/reward being worth it.

Tood, our SM Director, said it well when he reviewed our video and have this judgement (somewhat paraphrased, because memory fades):

I’m calling this a racing incident because you were both technically within the rules. However. You (looking at Steve) should’ve given room in that situation, and you (looking at me) shouldn’t have pressed the issue. This is regional racing and you’re early in the season, fighting like it’s the national championship and it’s just going to end in tears one of these times.

We nodded, said our apologies, and packed up. His point was spot-on, I quickly realized: pull our heads out of our asses and remember that we’re supposed to be racing for fun… not to wreck cars and do body work.

Round X — Rain Changes Everything

No surprise, I found myself aiming to out-drive Steve this day as well. To add to the mix, Jason had purposely qualified poorly so he could attempt to win from the back of the pack (my brother Blake, his closest competitor, was MIA for this race, so Jason was looking for a challenge).

So Steve qualified P1, myself P2 — comfortable gap behind us. It was on.

As we rolled to grid, the threatening clouds that had lightly sprinkled us during qualifying began to dump rain. Everyone was on dry tires — not good. This would be a chaotic race… maybe a chance to fight for 1st?

A lightening hold was called (corner workers in metal shacks = almost as bad as swinging golf clubs) and we sat. And sat. My leg was getting soaked. Then, we were dismissed to put on rain tires — the race was starting in 15 minutes.

Scrambling back to the garage and unloading my rains from the back of the truck, I was now musing about what this would bring. Steve is good in the rain (he and I had diced several years ago in similar conditions — with respect and enjoyment). But would Jason be able to work his way up from the back in this crap?

It turned out that I got past Steve due to him going wide on lap… four or something and he proceeded to bump-draft me every lap until the white flag flew. We cut through faster-class cars as they pushed wide and built a healthy gap to Jason, who did indeed make major progress and got into a very secure P3.

On the white flag lap, I knew the pass was either coming into T1 or T5 — Steve had been getting excellent runs on the straightways that proceed them.

My mentality this time? Don’t over-defend. Go for the over-under.

And it almost worked! We were side-by-side for half a lap again… but this time with zero contact and just as much fun. More fun, actually, because I felt confident he and I were on the same page: we were not going to hit each other today. Period.

Steve ended up winning the day, with me crossing the line a mere 0.37 seconds later. We high-fived and had big grins as we each received our highest finishing positions in the class — ever.

Final Thoughts

A few quotes stick in my head and they came true yesterday:

Rain is the great equalizer


The prize money ain’t that great

To me, this means that I need to continue to work on taking each day at the track as a set of conditions that, even though they’re not all going to be rain days, will provide nuanced opportunities to be the fastest of the day. I just need to look for the opportunities.

Second, it means that I need to keep perspective that even though finishing on the podium is still a big deal… at the end of the day and season, even with the coupons shelled out by Toyo, Hawk, Mazda, and other sponsors… it’s still just a plastic trophy.

I’m looking forward to Round 4. I’m willing to lose again because hot damn is it fun!

1 comment

  1. Michael Shumway

    What a crazy race! Especially considering the Miatas finished on or close to the same lap as the Porsche Cup cars. What kind of cruel world is this?

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