My first SCCA race at Thundehill

Had my frist SCCA race last weekend. That was quite a bit different from what I am used to from NASA, and I sure learned a ton, and also had a blast racing.
You see, SCCA has a much larger field in the Spec Miata class, to the tune of 40-60 cars, and that weekend we had 44. With NASA we usually have half that or fewer, and because there are so few of us, we have a mixed run group, with Spec E30 cars, for example. Anyways, fewer people to play with, which means that the field usually drives away from me and I basically just turn some laps and pit.
Now this time was different. On Saturday I had a competitor at my own level and got to race and pass that car, and get re-passed, and chase some more. I had so much fun doing that, that I think I couldn't have any more fun racing for the first place.
The day started less than optimal. In the warm-up session I discovered that my car has somehow lost all its power. I could not get the car to accelerate at all, and was even slowing down going uphill into Turn Nine while flat on the gas. Back in the pit, there seemed to be nothing obviously wrong with the car, but I remembered that the guy at the shop that had some cage work done on my car had opened my air flow meter housing. I don't know why either. But he has, so I thought, well, I can't race this way, so might as well take that car to the local dyno shop and have them try to adjust that bit, because it could be the culprit.
Luckily for me, it was. An hour later, I had regained 20 horsepower and was ready to qualify.

I start out and the difference is like night and day, my car is making all the power that I am used to from her, and we're doing pretty well. Then I get a meatball flag. That's the black flag with the red circle in it, and it means that you have a mechanical issue. I pull to the black flag station, and turns out that my transponder doesn't work. No qualifying times for me.
I go to pit, and with our mechanic Bradley's help, we find that the ground wire was pulled from the transponder at some point. It is a quick fix, but the qualifying session is long over when we're done.
Oh well, it's not like I was going for the pole, more like, I wanted to know my times.

I got to grid all the way at the back and did not have a very good start, but soon I realized that I could catch the car in front of me. Over the next several laps, I worked my way to catch that car and finally pass it in Turn Nine. I got re-passed on the front straight, and was working on catching up again when lapping traffic caught us and I got distracted and slid through Turn One, flatspotting three of my fairly new tires.
I resumed the race, but a few laps later, I got hit in the left rear wheel by a passing car in Turn Six. Both the other car and I went off into the dirt, and when I got back on track, I did not know how much damage there was (nothing visible), and I was fairly discombobulated from the impact and the bumpy slide in the dirt, so I went to pit.
Still, I think I had more fun that day than any other. I am looking forward to my next SCCA race, which will likely be at Laguna in October.

Broke 2000 monthly pageviews

This is only significant because it's a round number. I guess the more I write, the more people come to read, and I have been more active here on the blog lately, so no shock at the pageviews rising. But it is a round number, and I've been inching toward it for a couple months now, so here the graph. Whee.


Now you can buy a shirt with my design

A friend gave me the idea to begin offering shirts with my drawings on them, and this weekend, I created a few designs and put them up on Cafepress.

I can make most of the pictures published in my portfolio available as shirts, so if you have a favourite that's not yet in the store, just drop me a note and I'll create a shirt for you.

While I was at it, I also refreshed the home page of amaier.net to include the new offering, and also to highlight the art book that I published on Lulu.com a while ago, but somehow never got around promoting, and as a result only sold three or four copies. Lulu page is very slow for me, so be patient. :)


Just how exciting would you like your government to be?

Me? I like mine boring. Efficient, and boring to the bone.

Take the German Finanzamt, or the Zulassungstelle. The places are boring, their buildings are boring, the work they do is fairly boring, and their websites are just as boring. But they do their job, day in, and day out. They collect taxes, register vehicles, provide unemployment benefits, and whatever else public authorities do. In an efficient, and utterly non-exciting way.

Now today, I got a letter from the California DMV, sent to remind me that my vehicle registration was up for renewal in a few weeks.

So I decide, before I forget, let me take care of this. I go to dmv.ca.gov as the letter suggests, and am greeted with this:

Exciting new features are being added to this website on Thursday, July 14, 2011. Online services will be unavailable between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. We apologize for any inconvenience as we work to improve your DMV online experience!

Leaving me to scratch my head in bewilderment.

I am in the business of running web pages for a living, and I know that sometimes you have to take the site down for some major work, but it beats the hell out of me to figure out what exciting new features they are talking about.

I hope they won't convert the page to fucking Flash.


Do six-year-olds really need a sexy Smurfette?

And another Facebook ad. This time, I just have to scratch my head and to wonder what the fuck they are thinking.

The movie is obviously targeted at children. There may be a few jokes in there for the benefit of the adults who'd be taking the kids to see it, but that does not change the fact that it's primarily targeted at young children.

Now why would we need a sexually evocative picture of the Smurfette looking over her bare shoulder with this "come hither" look in her eyes? The six-year-olds are hopefully not even on Facebook, so I know that this ad is not meant for them (never mind the post title). The adults should be mostly interested in going to see this film because of their children, and hopefully not for some smurf soft-porn. It's utterly confusing to me.

Now, to be fair, this is not quite reaching the creepiness level of push-up bikinis for young girls, or child beauty pageants, but still, can we maybe keep the objectification of women at least out of the children's movies? No? Thought so.


Knowing your audience is everything

Just saw this ad in my Facebook right-hand bar, and at first thought: "Dang, that's so obscure, nobody will figure that out."

Then I thought, wait, they are located in SF, and are clearly aiming at the art-savvy audience, who would immediately make the connection between this ad and the Obey Giant.

If you don't happen to belong to this dogsitter's target audience, let me clarify. Here is the "Obey Giant" iconic image, created by Shepard Fairey (of the Obama "HOPE" poster fame). This image has adorned (or disrupted, if you are so inclined) many a cityscape as it became an international collaborative campaign between numerous street artists.

Anyways, now that you know what it's about, the dog ad makes more sense, dunnit?

Now the question is, why target the art-savvy group? Is it likely that those type of folks will have the disposable income to spend on a dogsitter? Presumably they did their research and this really is the niche that's going to pay off.

Have to admit though, it's very clever. Hopefully not too clever for its own good.

Striped Wasabi

As promised, I just spent three hours this weekend striping my race car, Wasabi, to make sure her looks match her name. In that time, I only finished the hood and the nose, roof and trunk still remain. Also, new numbers. I will keep the number 40, just apply a new set of vinyl numbers to spiff up the look.

I hope to finish the car this weekend, so that it will be ready for my first SCCA race later this month. By looks of it, the white contingency Mazdaspeed decal will work just fine on the striping. Whew. I really did not want to start adding neutral-color boxes for stickers to sit on to the new livery.


Driving that line

With seven races behind me, looking back I can say that I have learned quite a bit in these past three months.

While it may look the same from the outside, some major changes happened in my mind that I now plan to translate into on-track performance.

Being a NASA NorCal instructor has more benefits than free HPDE/TT on the days you work. The real perk that few people take advantage of is unlimited access to coaching from some of the best drivers in the country, such as Barry Hartzel, with whom I had several impactful conversations that led to a few insights about my driving strategy.

The video below from a Spec Miata race at Infineon last month is not really remarkable as racing videos go, but it is a good tool to discuss driving technique with your coach and single out habits that I need to change to improve my performance.

2011-06-11 Infineon NASA Spec Miata Race from Alex Maier.

So why are all these people passing me all the time?

If you are an experienced track driver, the answer is obvious: for one, I tend to brake too slowly (i.e. not as quickly as the car allows) and then coast for almost a full second before getting back on the gas coming out of the corners. With eleven corners, this can easily mean a ten to fifteen second loss of time.

Also--and that is less a matter of technique, and more that of an attitude--when faster drivers catch up to me, I tend to back off the throttle and meekly let them by in most cases. While this is certainly a nice thing to do in Time Trials or HPDE, it is not a useful strategy while racing, and something I will focus on in the next race.

"Get mean," as Barry said.