Sonoma Weekend: Shifting in Different Gears

My husband and I enjoyed a weekend get-away to Sonoma. Most people hear “Sonoma”, the mind immediately goes to “Wine County”. While that is true, we choose the path less taken. We went for auto-cross and tracking days at Sonoma Raceway. Yup, it’s a different kind of race that I am used to. Different gears. Different speed. Different training. 

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Saturday was auto cross (AutoX) that started at 8am. While I’ve taken Skip Barber’s class last June, I have not done any AutoX. AutoX basically simulates the track’s course with design that tests a driver’s technical ability. I was very confused during the 8am driver’s meeting – there were words like “workers, pit, red flag, apex” If anything else running and meditation has taught me, it is living in the moment. There was no sense trying to figure out everything when it was new to me. 

Vlad and I were placed in two different groups. We switched off, which made logistical sense. Each group got to “run” the course (drive) while the other group got to “work” (making sure the cones were placed properly, if knocked over). After my first run, I finally understood the gameplay. And wow, the adrenaline rush was unbelievable! Part of it was because it was new. Part of it was speed. But most of it was just taking 180 degree turns, driving through “S” shape, and series of 90 degree turns! I don’t drive like that in real life! 

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Very quickly, I learned that training as a racer required both mental acuity and physical strength. The turns were technical, meaning there was a set of maneuvers that needed to happen to make it a smooth and quick turn. Handling of the steering wheel, timing of either the gas or brake, and turning of your head all needed to happen in correct order! Of course, I realized this at the end of the day. In the beginning, I was just trying to figure out the basics: let’s not knock cones over or spun the car! 

The hardest part for me was managing the adrenaline rush. Yes, running a road race had that element, like in the first 5 minutes. The “oh-my-god-i’m-finallying-running-a-half-marathon”. That quickly went away, usually after mile one. Then the monotone of “let’s put one foot in front of another’ set in, for rest of the 12.1 miles. Racing a car was completely different – the intensity of adrenaline was much stronger (speed!) and lasted longer (an hour with 6-8 runs). Imagine doing this the entire day – up (adrenaline rush) and down (working the cones). By the last session at 4pm, I gave up half of my session time to Vlad. I could no longer manage the “S” turns. I kept going off WAY to the side. It felt like a grind, much like the last mile of the half marathon. 

ImageAll in all, it was an excellent experience where I could start to understand what Vlad enjoyed (and appreciated what he talked about). The next day, Vlad continued with tracking at the actual Sonoma Raceway. The AutoX happened in the back parking lot of the track. I went on to one of the tracking session as a passenger. Immediately, my mind was engaged trying to see where I would turn/brake/accelerate as if I was the driver. In my previous time as Vlad’s passenger at Laguna Seca Race Track, all I could think was “oh my god, this IS FAST!!” Also, after AutoX’s training, I was not scared as I did before. I knew driving/racing was all very technical. You controlled the car certain way, the car would go certain way. You cannot defy physics. 

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In conclusion: it was good to experience something new. My “natural” inclination was still with MY KIND of RACING – road racing and running. In fact before I met with Vlad for track day, I went on a hike overlooking Sonoma downtown. That felt so serene. Birds chirping with deers feeding on grass was my kind of scene! This was what I needed to recharge after AutoX. 

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