Brake Early, Brake Often – Racing at Mid-Ohio

For my birthday a few years back, my wife gave me a pass to the Acura High Performance Course at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.  This year, my mom (of all people) gave me a pass to their advanced course, which took place on Tuesday the 19th.  In addition to learning basic racing techniques like braking and cornering, the opportunity to thoroughly wail on someone’s car, using their tires, gas, and brakes on a track is a complete blast.  You are allowed to bring your own car provided it meets some basic safety standards and you sign a waiver; while it would be fun to race the Tempest, it would only result in me oiling down the track when the rods inevitably escaped from the block (stock Pontiac V8s are not designed for road racing) and a fiery death when the old-school, single-piston, organic-pad brakes faded to oblivion.

After about a half an hour of in-class breakdown of every section of the track, the group of 15 students was split into groups of 3 or 4 and assigned to an instructor.  We then followed our instructor on half-speed laps around the track in our assigned cars.  The track is sponsored by Honda, so I spent the day in the number 18 Acura TSX.  The cars are pretty much stock with the exception of upgraded brakes, louder exhaust, and a rollbar.

After a few laps, our group pulled into the pits and the student immediately behind the instructor parked and rode along with the instructor for three increasingly faster laps, focusing on one section of the track at a time.  We then rotated through the group in this fashion until shortly after lunch, when it was time for open lapping.  After being repeatedly warned that the racetrack is an unforgiving place and that we would be liable for any damage to our cars, regardless of fault, we were turned loose with permission to pass only on the front and back straights.

Mid-Ohio is what they call a “momentum” course, meaning that there aren’t many places where you can make up time through sheer power – the key to fast times is maintaining speed through the corners.  There are really only a handful of spots where you can go flat-out, at least in these cars: the front and back straights (the latter after exiting the trickier-than-it-looks keyhole), the short straight after turn 1, and a short section between turn 6 and turn 9 (the most fun part of the track).  Since we were all driving similar cars, we were instructed to let any obviously faster drivers go by on the straights; I’m surprised to say that I only had to do this once or twice.  I’m frankly shocked to say that I frequently caught up to cars that were in front of me, once having to pull into the pits to let a pack of cars get ahead of me on track because I was tired of following them through the corners.  For not having driven anything close to this fast in nearly two years and having several experienced drivers on the track with me, I’m very happy with my performance. Even better, I never went off the track, spun, or knocked over any cones, which a few other drivers did.

One thing that struck me was that I never once felt bored.  Despite making dozens of laps around the same track over the course of a day, I never felt my mind wandering or wanted to take a break.  It really is that addictive.  Despite the hot day – it was hovering around 91 degrees during the afternoon – the cars performed admirably, even if the brakes and tires became noticeably less effective as the day wore on.  After reaching speeds of ~110 mph on the back straight, it took increasingly longer distances to slow the car down to make turn 4, and the tires were allowing the car to drift further through turn 2 than they had earlier in the day.  Making these kinds of adjustments is something I never gave professional drivers credit for.

Despite not wanting to quit when the day was over, I was physically and mentally exhausted – it takes complete concentration to not wreck and continue to improve on the track.  I can’t imagine what it takes to compete at a higher level, with speeds double what I was doing and races that last hours at at time with no breaks.  I don’t see myself taking up racing as a hobby – as they say, the easiest way to make small fortune in racing is to start with a large one – but it is undeniably one of the most fun things I have ever done.

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2 responses to “Brake Early, Brake Often – Racing at Mid-Ohio

  • Mike

    It’s been a long time since I’ve been down there, but I still have nightmares about the look of the wall behind Turn 5 there. They might as well paint a middle finger on it as far as I’m concerned.

    • themagicboltbox

      Yes – luckily they had lots of cones set up in that corner to keep us on the inside (and force us to slow down through turn 4). I had more trouble with that little “s” before the keyhole, because they were telling us to go flat out and only brake a little in the middle of that left-hander. It was hard to not let off the gas as I turned right off of the straight, because I felt like the car was going to slide right off the track.

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