From The Depths of Despair: A Tale of Miata Racing

In Episode 6, I tell a recent story of despair and redemption that traces the ups and downs of a recent racing weekend. Every month or two, I trailer up and drag my race car to the middle of the California desert to compete against other madmen like myself. Racing is a lot of work, and it’s usually all worth it once the green flag drops. Occasionally, the equipment lets you down (it happens to everyone) and a great weekend of racing turns into a sad slog home. Here’s the story from Ep6 with a little more detail.

“There are only three sports: mountain climbing, bull fighting, and motor racing. All the rest are merely games.”
-Ernest Hemmingway

I arrived at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway full of anticipation and excitement. Friday night at the track is always a blast—over the course of the evening, everyone begins trickling in and setting up camp in the paddock. Cars are unloaded, tents are pitched, beers are cracked.

My excitement carried over into the next morning when I set fast lap in the first practice session. It was short-lived however as the car began to give me problems beginning in session #2. The handling was going away, and—worse—the brakes began showing signs of weakness.

My race series, Maxxis Supermiata Cup, runs two back-to-back sprint races each day. As Saturday’s race approached, I limped in and did my best to wheel a wounded car around the course. I struggled to hold onto 4th place in the first sprint, but as the second sprint wore on my brake really went away. I dialed it back to about 75% and jogged the last few laps, lucky to finish 7th ahead of some other competitors who had gone off track during the race.

Let me stop here to say that I am not particularly handy with a wrench. As they say, I know just enough to be dangerous. Unfortunately, I generally don’t know enough to fix a car that’s acting up. Once back in the pits, I took a hard look at the car hoping to see something obvious. There were no leaks or signs of obvious damage, and the symptoms were confusing. Along with a few fellow racers who actually know what they’re doing, we decided to bleed the brakes and hope for the best in the morning. Once that was done we turned our attention to beer and BBQ—the real reason we all congregate monthly in the middle of nowhere.

As Sunday dawned the braking problems persisted. I cut the morning session short and resigned to pack up and go home. I was bummed. It takes a lot of effort and logistics to make a race weekend work. There’s picking up the race car from storage and towing it home. There’s picking up the RV from storage and hooking it up to the race car trailer. There’s stocking the RV with food and supplies. There’s driving the 60-foot rig 4 hours to the middle of nowhere, parking, and unloading the car from the trailer.

Not to mention getting a hall pass from the family.

But I was philosophical about the weekend’s turn of events. You can’t win ’em all, right? And at least it meant I would get home early to see the wife and kids, which would make everyone happy.

My fellow competitors—the same gang from the brake bleeding session the night before—wouldn’t have any of it. “Get that thing back off the trailer and let’s figure this out. You’re not done yet,” they said. I acquiesced and prepared to drive the car off the trailer I had just moments before loaded it on. Anyone who’s done much trailering can tell you that it’s fraught with danger and potential pitfalls. As I inched the car back the rear wheels nudged the ramps backward, instead of rolling onto them. This caused the rear of the car to fall off the back of the trailer, leaving me high-centered, temporarily stuck, and totally dejected.

This was the low point of the weekend and of 2018, for that matter.

The gang sprang into action and soon had me jacked up and easing my way onto the ramps. When we finally had the car back on the ground, they quickly figured out the problem. One of my front hubs was failing causing the wheel to wobble just slightly, but enough to affect handling and cause something called pad knock where a vibrating brake rotor essentially slaps the pad/caliper away decreasing braking effectiveness. Miraculously I had a spare hub and the repair was done within an hour—thanks to my fellow competitors.

Sunday’s race was fast approaching, but I had time for a quick test session. Out on track the car was good as new. I couldn’t believe it!

Soon I was on grid with a healthy car and a new lease on my racing life. The first sprint unfolded much like Saturday’s first race; I didn’t have the pace to hold off the fastest trio and I finished 4th.

In the second sprint, I got a great start and made my way from 8th to the front by the second lap. The driver in second place did an amazing job blocking everyone behind him, and I had nothing but open track ahead and behind me. I set about putting daylight between me and the pack, and I managed to put together several of my fastest laps of the weekend. By the time the fast guys got around my blocking buddy, I was long gone. The second place racer got to my bumper with about three corners to go, but I made my car 20 feet wide and he couldn’t make a move.

A win for the Gersh!

The victory—only my second in 3+ years of racing—was an important one. I had hit a low point earlier in the day, and I must admit that if I had gone home early it may have been a good while before I found the motivation to get myself back to the track. Instead, I arrived home to a hero’s welcome. My wife was thrilled for me, and the boys were proud of their daddy which made it all worthwhile!

One comment on “From The Depths of Despair: A Tale of Miata Racing

  1. William says:

    Love the story !!! More racing.in podcast pls

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