How much does your personal conditioning matter on the race track? The car is doing all the hard work, right? Wouldn't that be nice. As most of us have found out, it's all about the driver. And it's now also clear - what kind of shape the driver is in. My goal was to beat my record from last year. Could I do it?
I had high expectations for myself on my first visit to Palmer this year. It sort of snuck up on my, though. I had just done my first outing of the year at ADSI's autocross the weekend prior and I definitely was out of energy after that day. But I love Palmer. It's an amazing track, yes. But it's also been a joy to see it from the bare beginnings. Watching it grow...and develop...and improve...and inspire others...and show it's teeth - you just don't get to grow up with a race track in every lifetime. This one is special.
But special is also because it demands your focus and attention. It's not out to kill you or anything. That would be far too dramatic. But it has it's secrets and places where it hides some of it's tricks up it's sleeves. There is enough variety and diversity that it's not easy to get to all the secrets in one think. You need many mental runs at this track to appreciate it's many nuances.
It's best to turn up with all your focus and energy. But this summer has been a very busy one. Lots of amazing travel. And lots of great leisure time. But not much concerted training. Last year, I was deep into training for a half marathon. Don't get me wrong. Training is very sucky. The race itself was less challenging than the many weeks of waking up on a random Saturday morning knowing that your next two or three hours would be full of just running. That you needed to eat...and hydrate...and consider all your bodily functions...before setting off to punish your body into submission.
I didn't do that this year. And Palmer reminded me that there is a price for complacency. The price on the race track is measured by time.
My goal was to at least equal my time last year of about 1:56. Being under two minutes, in general, is hauling the mail. Nothing to be ashamed of, to be sure. The fastest time I've heard of so far is a 1:35ish time by a good friend, Ron, in his amazing 996 Cup car. What an experience to feel that kind of lap. Fast drivers are often in the 1:5x's. Really fast drivers dip into the 1:4x's. Notice, it's fast _drivers_, not fast cars. The car is part of the equation, but the driver is the key to fast. I spent some time talking to a guy in my run group who passed me out on track in his 997 Turbo. He said he was running 1:53's. He normally tracks his GTI. Lap times? 1:53's. He was amazed that no matter the car, the time was consistent.
How did I do? Not up to my expectations. My first run group saw a track that was moist but drying. We went out in a light rain, but it stopped. I was steadily improving as I woke up. Eventually I was able to put down a 1:58. Not bad, I thought. I'd go get 'em next run. The North Country Region, sponsors of this event, did mash together the White (Intermediate) and Black (Advanced) run groups....so to say it was a bit intimidating at first, well, definitely was an understatement. In my normal White group, there are a few cars that can definitely get by, but I pass quite a few cars too. Makes it fun. But with the Black crowd out there, I knew I'd be checking my mirrors quite a bit more intently than usual. I wanted to be sure to be humble and stay the heck out of the way when needed.
The first run and even into the second one saw me mostly hold my position out there with a little passing. "This is not racing or preparation for racing" - a constant mantra at HPDE events certain is absolutely true, so please don't think passing cars is much of a metric for me. But it was an open question as to whether I'd be that guy who was constantly getting passed or whether I'd be fast enough to find my place. Luckily, it was the latter. I was not a rolling chicane, at least.
But as the day went by, my pace did not improve. The weather got sunnier...and hotter...but I could not find any more speed. I was frustrated. But also very hot, a bit tired, and, in retrospect, just not in the same shape as I was last year. When your body is used to being out in the heat and being pushed, it just performs better. But you don't see this just mowing the lawn or playing catch with the kids. You do see it in lap times on a race track. I backed off a bit, purposefully, to try to be more precise with my line. I'm finding I'm reasonably quick, but not nearly as precise or consistent as I'd like. I can get freaked out when traveling at triple-digit speeds and needing to be right at the edge of the track to hit the next apex correctly. I think that's probably normal. But still something to overcome through practice and focus. But my focus was pretty well shot late in the day. I was dehydrated despite my best efforts to drink lots of water. And I was just not up to the heat this year.
So I now see how I can monitor my conditioning and fitness moving forward - lap times. All those folks with fitbits and smart watches? You can keep them. I'll be in my race car, thanks. And hopefully faster next time out.
Another round of thanks go to my wonderful family for letting me take another day to head to the track. Thanks to Alex and Eddie and Pete for keeping me in good company at the track. And to Lee Carpentier for sharing a few of the secrets of Palmer! Always great to have such a knowledgeable pro driver and all around great guy at the event!