May 8 - Georgia : Road Atlanta

Up at 615a again.

This morning would be a little different; Dad and Taylor would stay back at the hotel to do some laundry, shower, clean up, and rest a bit. I would head to the track, complete the morning session, then come get them at lunch. The track was only 10 minutes away.

This is his awake face.

This is his awake face.

I grabbed some breakfast from the hotel and was at the track around 7am. After talking with a number of experienced competitors during registration, it became clear that Road Atlanta was the most dangerous track we would visit, with high speeds, blind corners, and unfriendly runoff areas. Since I’ve had the most track experience in the last few years, we decided on Friday that I would drive Road Atlanta. No problem.

However, I really didn’t want my first time driving the Volvo on track to be at Road Atlanta; it was going to be scary enough being on a world-famous track without knowing whether the next turn on the other side of a hill was left or right, let alone doing it in a car I’d never driven. We all agreed, then, that I would race Memphis International to get familiar with the car, which I did yesterday. Unfortunately, Memphis would have been a great track for Dad or Taylor, but One Lap can be tough like that. So it was me for Road Atlanta.

Turns 11 & 12 are famous at Road Atlanta. You go flying under this bridge without being able to see the track because it goes hard downhill afterwards. Hard downhill and to the right. That’s 11. Turn 12 is at the bottom of the hill, a hard right, that leads onto the front straight. You’re carrying a lot of speed and if you get it wrong you go off track straight into a wall.

Even all of the talk about this situation didn’t properly prepare me for the reality of this.

Actually super steep and blind.

Actually super steep and blind.

The picture doesn’t really do it justice. The hill is really steep, and you can’t see the turns at all until you’re well past the bridge, at which point you’re committed. Yikes.

I reached the paddock, unpacked, and snapped a massively out-of-focus picture of myself.

Unpacked.

Unpacked.

Step aside, Annie Leibovitz, there's a new sheriff in town.

Step aside, Annie Leibovitz, there's a new sheriff in town.

I’d been trying to make time to watch some video online of other people driving Road Atlanta. I was hoping to at least memorize if the next turn was right or left, but I was proving to be a slow learner. I’d be watching the video thinking, “Okay, next is a left, then another left,” and it would be a right-left, or left-right, or right-right. I was doomed.

As I was sitting in the passenger seat contemplating my upcoming demise, I was approached by a young lady that I'd never seen before..

“Are you Damen?”

…”Uh, ya, hi there?”

“I’m Ashley, a friend of Taylor’s. We were on the race team at RIT together. My husband, Ed, is a couple minutes behind me, he’ll be here in a few.”

Nice! Taylor had arranged to meet up with Ashley and Ed Gliss. They live in South Carolina and had taken the day off to drive down the 100 miles to hang out with us and cheer us on! I decided that watching any more video was unlikely to improve my destiny at all, so Ashley and I sat and visited until Ed arrived, then we all sat and visited. 

Ed and Ashley both took an immediate interest in the tires on the Volvo- the Bridgestone RE-71Rs. There was much scowling.

Come to find out, Ed and Ashley both work for Michelin Tires. Ed was even a test driver! I had no idea; with those kind of friends, why the hell were we on Bridgestones?! I hassled Ed:

“Hey thanks for the hook-up there, chief!”

“Well, I had no idea you guys were doing this, let alone need tires for it. I would have been happy to help!”

Oh. I see. So we blamed the situation on (conveniently absent) Taylor, and moved on. Both Ed and Ashley did confirm, however, that the Bridgestones were good tires, so I felt better.

Soon, it was my turn to go on track. I was nervous, and now I had an audience!

As before, when I went out on the recon lap, I tried to go pretty quickly to get the best feel I could for the car and how it performed on the track. Seeing the track at speed more closely represents the timed laps, too. Flawless plan, right? Especially at tracks you’ve never seen that have a bunch of blind turns, right?

I’d watched some instructional videos on how to setup for turn 11 before the bridge. Look for the colors on the bridge, put the car in the middle, then put the right tires on some yellow painted line as you go over the hill. No problem.

So I went flying under the bridge on the recon lap, placed somewhere I thought was good, and out over the hill.

I came over the hill going pretty fast and saw the track sort of off to the left, but pretty straight. So I aimed for that.

Well, that wasn’t the track, that was the pit entrance. The track turns hard to the right.

“Oh, darn it!”

I saw the road to the left, the track track to the right, and a beautifully manicured triangle-shaped piece of grass in between. I had to make a decision.

I was worried that if I bailed out onto the pit road, I wouldn’t be able to get back on track properly for my timed laps, and we would be penalized or disqualified. I wanted to make it around.

The grass looked like a plenty nice place to visit, so I braked hard as I could in a straight line, which took me onto the grass, and then gently turned the car back in the direction of the race track. I made it back on and continued around to get in line for the start. The view from the stands is great for seeing that piece of track, so Ed, Ashley, and the other 200 people at the track got to see my impromptu gardening. Great. I would later hear that I wasn’t the only person to visit that patch of grass, which made me feel better.

Just like I planned.

Going off track is not a great way to boost confidence, so I felt pretty awful during the timed laps. I was slow and scared. In fact, I was caught on the last lap by a turbocharged Miata that started way behind me. I moved over and slowed to let him by. My time was trash anyway, the least I could do was not hold him up.

I finished my laps without any more drama, but I knew it had been a bad performance. My suspicion would be confirmed later- 57th place. Ribbons of shame.

I wasn't being slow on purpose- it was my first time seeing the track. Yikes this place is scary!

On the other hand, that track is really a great one. I hope some day I can return to do it justice.

I stopped in the pits long enough to have a laugh/cry with Ed and Ashley, then left to get Dad and Taylor from the hotel. They were ready to rock when I got there, so we were back to the track in no time. Taylor confirmed to me during the ride that the thought never crossed his mind to ask Ed about tires. We were so busy in the time leading up to One Lap, I’m sure this was just one of many things that all of us let fall through the cracks. Oh well, next time.

Ed later confirmed, however, that they didn’t even make the size we would need, so no harm anyway.

While Ashley, Ed, and Taylor caught up, I watched some more track video. The afternoon session couldn't really be worse than the morning, but I was pretty nervous about it. The event organizers announced over the loudspeakers that there would be parade laps at lunch. Parade laps are a slow drive on the track, following an official, so you can see what the track is like. The race drivers of the day weren't allowed to participate, but Dad drove Taylor, Ashley, and Ed around on the parade lap so they could all see the track. They agreed it was really sweet and not for beginners.

Ready to parade lap...safely and cautiously, of course.

Ready to parade lap...safely and cautiously, of course.

We all sat and visited, and Ashley and Ed mentioned they had brought food for us- score! Ashley made a crazy delicious pasta salad and had some fresh sliced apple. It was a hot day and the fresh food tasted amazing- we were so lucky! They are both track day pros, and it sure as hell showed. Thanks Ed and Ashley! 

Ashley had to leave shortly after lunch to take care of some work obligations, so we said our goodbyes- we hope to visit again soon!

Dad, Taylor, Ed, and I made our way over to the covered viewing area to watch the fast cars do their afternoon event.

Dad, Taylor, and Ed.

Dad, Taylor, and Ed.

There are some seriously talented drivers in seriously fast cars in this thing. It was made very clear even from our limited viewing spot. I soon left them there to prepare for my own laps.

I didn’t want to hold anyone up in the afternoon session- it messes up their time AND my time- so I moved to the back of my run group. I dialed the recon lap pace back a bit, and stayed on track for the start.

I had a much better session. I knew the track better, and I was starting to feel like I almost knew where to go, but 3 laps is pretty short, so I finished without being anywhere near the car's potential.

Nonetheless, I improved to 51st and dropped 20 seconds off my time from the morning. Even though it wasn’t a great showing, I was happy. I had fun and felt like I was racing, rather than just trying not to crash. Like I said, I really hope to come back to this track some day.

Back in the pits, we packed up quickly to prepare for our drive to Florida.

We thanked Ed for his company and the food, and we piled in the car to leave.

As we were leaving, we saw Ed hunched over the engine of his Ferrari with the hood up.

“What’s he doing over there?”

“Looks like he’s recharging his A/C...”

“Wouldn’t that be nice...”

Our A/C was clearly not doing the job properly, as mentioned yesterday. As we rolled by, we shouted at Ed.

“Are you recharging your air conditioner? Got any more of that stuff?”

“Ya, got a bunch in the trunk.”

!!!??!?!?!?!?!!

“OMG we’re saved!!”

At this point, it was well into the 90s and we were looking at a miserably hot drive until we could find an Autozone to repair/recharge the a/c ourselves.

Sure enough, Ed had some extra R134 refrigerant. I popped online to find the low-pressure port location on the Volvo (underneath the coolant reservoir, strangely enough), we busted out some tools and Ed filled ‘er up.

My new socket set. So organized. Much glory.

My new socket set. So organized. Much glory.

Ed! Ed! Ed! Ed!

Ed! Ed! Ed! Ed!

Holy moly, the A/C was freezing cold!!

Praise the Ed!!

We were ecstatic and henceforth called it the Ed/C. Thank you so much, Ed, you’re a real hero!!

Relaxed, cool, and unbelieving of our good fortune, we hit the road to Florida, some 500 miles away. We stopped for gas and food.

Tempting tamales on gas station rollers...mmmmmmm

Tempting tamales on gas station rollers...mmmmmmm

Well, we found an Arby’s/Popeye’s/Gas station combo. We decided on Popeye’s and had an almost decent meal. 

Tracking down chicken + biscuits.

Tracking down chicken + biscuits.

Don't get the seafood. We're at a gas station.

Don't get the seafood. We're at a gas station.

The biscuits, though, were magnificent. Flaky, moist, buttery and salty. Majestic.

Car + people fueled up, ready to roll on.

Car + people fueled up, ready to roll on.

We pressed on through the night towards Sebring, in central Florida, about 85 miles south of Orlando. It was flat, featureless, and then dark. They did have a turnpike that was over $20 to drive down. Zoinks.

Sony RX100 taking some sweet pics during transit.

Sony RX100 taking some sweet pics during transit.

We made it to the hotel a little after 1130pm to find another group talking shit out front. Nice to see you too, guys.

They said it was only because they loved us. How sweet.

They said it was only because they loved us. How sweet.

Chatting with Matt. Matt was cool, not part of the shit-talking receiving party.

Chatting with Matt. Matt was cool, not part of the shit-talking receiving party.

The nutcases driving this thing on the event arrived first, so they got to park in the lobby. Apparently they were getting delirious from heat exhaustion while driving through Florida. Brilliant.

The nutcases driving this thing on the event arrived first, so they got to park in the lobby. Apparently they were getting delirious from heat exhaustion while driving through Florida. Brilliant.

We visited with some cool people for a little bit, headed up the room, got ready for bed and were asleep around 115am.

Taylor’s driving tomorrow at this historic track, so we’re all excited!

The biggest smiles we could muster at the time.

The biggest smiles we could muster at the time.

Damen Hattori

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