Going Pro! ProSolo that is.
by Andy Bell
Wow, this summer is going by FAST! We are already half way through the season and the next big rush of events is nearly upon us. I wish I could say Iíve been taking it easy for the last few weeks, but instead we were at some type of activity nearly every night and racing on the weekends!
Our first real racing road trip started the in mid June. Drew needed to get two Pro-Solo races under his belt to qualify for the finale and he has been dying to try his skills against other kids his age. This led us to the Washington DC event where we could race with the children of one of my fellow KAC (Kart Advisory Committee) members Brian Garfield. The sign up for this race filled incredibly quickly and happened while I was on travel in Korea. Tammy got Drew signed up, but was not able to get me into the race. I had resigned myself to being crew chief and just enjoying our mini vacation in D.C.
On the way to DCOur trip started out late Wednesday night. After picking up a U Haul trailer, and loading up, it was 9:00PM as we pulled onto 70 heading east. Only 8 short hours to go! The up side of traveling at night is that there is almost no traffic. The downside is getting in at 3:00AM and knowing I had a business meeting the next morning!
Fortunately the trip went well, my meeting was short and we enjoyed the rest of Thursday at the new National Air and Space Museum facility near Dulles Airport. If you like historic planes this is a must see site.
FridayFriday morning we slept in a little before making the journey to Fedex Field. Our hotel was about Ĺ an hour from the site and on the way Brian called and asked if I wanted to drive. There were a couple cancellations and a spot was open for me if I wanted it. It took about half a second to say yes. Tammy said I never stopped grinning as we pulled into the lot.
We quickly unhooked the trailer, but nothing was happening and they were still working on the course so we decided to catch the metro train next door and go do some site seeing for a bit. We spent the next few hours walking the mall and seeing the dinosaurs at the natural history museum. When we got back to Fedex Field activity was picking up. The track was set and it would not be long till the novice meetings started.
The Fedex Stadium facility is very interesting. The asphalt is in good shape, but the thing that struck us was the amount of elevation change on their lot. From start area to the top of the track it must have risen gradually almost 2 stories. Brian said they use several of the lots around the stadium and that their regular autocross location had several rolling hills in the lot that make their race courses very interesting. Like most stadiums, shade was no where to be found so we were grateful for the easy ups in the kart grid.
Drew and I headed down to the first novice meeting of the evening conducted by the Evolution school driving instructors to find out about Pro Solo. For those of you who have not seen it, Pro solo uses a Christmas tree start like a drag race. The clock starts when the light turns green, not when you break the light beam. Therefore it is important to get a good start and learn how to anticipate the tree. It was also important to learn how to stage the light. There are only 20 seconds between car releases and you had to be staged when the lights run or your pass does not count! There are more differences too. Both courses run at the same time with mirrored layouts. You are scored on your best left and right side times. Finally, you take all of your runs in quick succession! For each run session, you run two right and two left side runs. You literally run one side, pull back around to the lights, run the other side and back and forth until you finish and then head off to impound. Each run group is only 6-10 cars to keep the cross over areas clear. That means you may have several run ďgroupsĒ that will run successively to cover a large class. It is also a key reason that entry for these events is capped.
After we had learned the format we walked the course. The course had a straight as you accelerate from the lights, a couple left/ right turns as you go up the hill, a sweeping turn to get to the top, small slalom, then into a sharp turn going back down the hill, through some off set gates and a small slalom to finish out.
When we came off track Brian encouraged me to get some practice start tickets so we could practice in his kart and get Drew some practice starts. Good thing we did because Brianís kart had a few new features I would need to get used to. The clutch was on the gear shift lever and the lever was positioned so that I had to use an underhand grip to hold it. The seat was also a form fitting style that you sort of twist into and once in place it pops around your ribs to lock you in. It took a little bit to get used to his clutch set up and teach my right hand not to be an on/off switch for the clutch. The starts were OK that night, but I noticed that the staging light would wink on and off. Brian noticed as well and realized that my accelerator foot was what was staging. As I blipped the throttle, the light would go out, when I let off, it would come back on. Brian quickly made a cardboard ďfenceĒ for the nose bodywork to block the light and solved the problem.
SaturdaySaturday morning we got to the track early and got the kids warmed up because they would be running first. Drew did a good job in the morning on the lights and pulled a 503. A 500 light is a perfect light. By contrast I think I only got a 660 as my best legal light all weekend. (Maybe Iíll have to go practice at National Trail! )We really noticed that Drewís Kart seemed very boggy and was not coming up to full speed. Initial thought was gearing for the hill. After the morning runs he was in 2nd. We clearly had nothing for Brianís oldest boy Julian. He was quicker just about everywhere. Drew and Carson Garfield (Brianís younger son)were pretty close after the morning runs.
My morning runs were no where near as good! All the things from past events were running through my head. ďDonít stall on the launch, donít go 10/10ths on first run in someone elseís kart, Be aggressive but smooth, etcÖ.Ē So what do I do? Stall the kart rolling into staging!!!! Brian came to the rescue to push me but by then the lights had gone and I was clearly 11-12 seconds behind and frustrated. I power into the first set of cones and start to slide. Again I do the cardinal sin and lift! Around I went and didnít catch the clutch. Once started again, I come hauling into the turnaround area for my run on the other side. This time I get away OK, but as I come downhill, I quickly realize that my usual driving technique for this type of corner has no bearing on a sharp, downhill, off camber turn. I try to over correct and loop the kart. Now Iím really rattled. Back to the right side course. Start is Ok again, but I get completely sideways on a left hander and come to a stop. Now my time is a 45 second run on a 26-27 second course. *#$%!!!! The grid worker comes up and screams at me for coming in too hot on the previous run to the turnaround. Iím mad at him, and myself, but I know heís right. Brianís questioning me to see if anything is wrong with the kart and pushing to just go get one clean run. Last run on the left. Decent launch again. Little slower on first part of the course. Set up for that downhill left hander. Crap! Went in too hot. Slid WAY out again. Now I have to drive back just to get to the course. Bump. Crap! Hit a slalom cone.
Four runs, four spins, three stalls and no clean runs!
Good God thatís embarrassing! Sad thing is Brianís kart drives just like Tim Rhodeís and goes right were I want it! I just seemed incapable of putting it where I wanted it.
As I came in to impound I had several non kart drivers congratulate me on my first runs in a shifter kart! The kart guys themselves didnít seem to know whether to laugh or have genuine concern about the lunatic driving Brianís kart. Iím sure Brian was having second thoughts as well. I really need to work on my first impressions at these events!
The day kept running along with a few delays from timing and broken car issues and soon we were ready for our afternoon runs. Drew once again pulled decent lights, but now his kart was running horribly. It was 4 cycling and studdering badly. Carson took advantage and slipped comfortably into 2nd place. When we got back to the paddock, Brian took a quick look at our needle settings. The high speed was almost 2 Ĺ turns out. We normally run in a 1 turn range! No wonder we had problems.
My afternoon runs went better. Still not great, but I had pulled up into 4th. The mood brightened up a bit in impound. I was still over cooking the turns leading back downhill, but at least I had demonstrated that I could get the kart around the course. Brian was in the lead. The DC regulars were right on his heels. It was shaping up to be a good race.
That night we headed up to Maryland for some genuine crab cakes. You just canít find them like that in Ohio!
Sunday morning we were up early and ready to go. We walked the course again and got ready to run our last race session. We double checked Drewís needle settings and everything seemed in place. As Drew went to pull out of the grid, the kart popped and made a funny noise and wouldnít move. The clutch nut had backed off a little allowing the clutch to slide off its keyway. Still not sure what caused it and made the funny noise. Backfire? Anyhow the clutch nut would not come the rest of the way off the stud. The clutch tool normally holds the assembly so you can remove the nut, but the key had fallen out and now there was not way to hold the shaft to get the nut the rest of the way off. The entire thing would just spin. I had extra parts, but we couldnít figure out how to get the assembly apart without an impact wrench. Brian volunteered Carsonís kart for Drewís last runs. Drew jumped in and after a sideways moment on his first run, noted that Carsonís kart had much better turn in than his. (Which Brian had specifically warned him about PRIOR to the run. Go figure.) We got on his case about abusing Carsonís clutch at the start and he finished out the day with some decent runs but no improvements. He finished 3rd and we were all happy that he had his first pro event under his belt.
My Sunday runs went much better. My first run was conservative, but second run was right on Brianís heels. My thoughts as I ran the third and 4th runs were,Ē Third run was quick. Finally nailed the turnaround that should move me up to at least third! Oh No a red light start! It didnít count! Last run. Felt quick again. Kart went where I wanted. Shoot! Still not as quick as Brian.Ē Now the question was where it the results would shake out.
In the end, the red light kept me out of the trophies. I would have been in third comfortably, but as it was I finished 4th by .083 seconds. My only disappointment was in coming so close to the trophies, but the guys ahead of me deserved their finishes and were a great group to run with. Considering I wasnít planning on driving at all, I was very happy with how things turned out. The DC guys were all great and very supportive all weekend. Brian ended up as our F125 winner so I was very happy for him. All in all we had a good time that weekend and we are going to see if we can make it back next year. The people at the event were all very friendly to us and answered our questions any time we had them. The DC region and National office staff seemed very receptive to the new people at the event. In our novice meeting there must have been 10 or 11 people and I saw the Evolution school instructors checking up on them all weekend to make sure everything was going all right. I highly recommend the event if you are trying Prosolo for the first time.
Sunday afternoon, we packed up and headed to Mt Vernon for some more sight seeing before heading back to the pool at the hotel. Monday we went back downtown and saw all the monuments and museums we had missed earlier in the weekend before heading back to Columbus. We only had a week to prepare for Toledo!