After blowing through $400+ dollars on travel expenses alone for Petit Le Mans, I returned home feeling bummed out that I didn’t quite get my money’s worth from that event. Maybe my expectations were unreasonably high, I don’t know. So to end the year on a high note I decided to take Jessie up on her invite to come to New England Region SCCA season finale at Thompson Speedway for some club racing. Good thing I did!
A number of things went well that I’ll blog about, but I must apologize that on this event I took hardly any pictures so prepare to read a lot of positive words without much photo evidence to illustrate the experience. I’ll write about my foodie tour separately, though I should mention that of all places: Who woulda thunk that Connecticut was such a foodie destination? Not me… Besides the food, seeing the leaves change color up in New England was neat, it was fall foliage in full effect with various shades of green, yellow and red all around.
The drive to Thompson, and well to Massachusetts where Jessie lives, was also to test out the new tires I just bought for my Miazda, which turned out to be a lot worse than I thought they’d be. I’m talking about the BFGoodrich g-Force Comp 2 A/S that I had recently purchased for my 16 inch winter wheels. I don’t know if it’s the aggressive tread pattern or the idea that maybe they weren’t balanced correctly when I had them mounted, I felt a very noticeable but slight vibration throughout the entire trip. It came from the front, I felt it on the steering wheel, I felt it on the gas pedal. But it also came from the rear, because I felt it on the seat as I was driving. So I’m not happy about that. I wish the ride was a bit smoother like the old Yokohama’s I took off to go with the BFG’s. That said I got to test the tires out in the dry for about 200 miles and then another 200 in the wet, and the grip was perfect. So maybe that’s the nature of the design after all?
I was so glad to catch up with Jessie once again over dinner and for the whole day of racing. She was working Race Control and had a great view of my Starter station below the race control window, which means the only pictures of the event with me in them came from her taking spy shots. Thanks Jessie! Also thanks to her I finally got a chance to experience the Starter role, it was something I wanted to do forever but was never given a chance. I am hooked on this role now and don’t really see how I could go back to regular F&C after this experience. Not willingly anyway…
As with any SCCA Club Racing there were many Mazda MX-5 Miatas racing. So that was by far my favorite sight to see at the event. Among them was a true red NC Miata with a bunch of Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge stickers, which I assume was a hand me down IMSA car from a few seasons ago. It went very well, much faster than most other NA and NB Miata’s though unfortunately it broke down during the last race of the day. Luckily though I saw it win it’s class during an earlier race in the day, and I’m kind of kicking myself for not taking a picture of the driver receiving a small checkered flag directly under our Start stand for his victory lap (in the paddock – since they weren’t doing them on track because of time constraints). It was awesome to see and I’m very happy for the driver. It was nice to also see “Flatout Racing” stickers on that car and many other Miatas which are apparently rental cars for someone who wants to race but doesn’t have the money to buy a race car. What a cool concept!
Anyway, I had a fantastic trip and I’m very happy I got a chance to go. The New England Region threw a big tent party for the workers at the end of the day with delicious pasta on the menu, and some prizes and other awards for volunteer participation. I was amazed to see that I won something again, a nice envelope with some gas money which basically covered most of my cost to go up there, in fuel anyway. So I came home really happy! Thanks to Jessie! and Thanks to the NER!
One more event of the season and 2015 is in the history books 🙂
…and a few more pictures:
I love seeing the British influence in New England:
Almost forgot to mention some fuel stats. This time I noticed something interesting, the cheaper New Jersey based BP 93 octane gas seems to give better gas mileage than the more pricey Massachusetts BP 93 octane premium gas. I topped off before I left NJ, re-fueled in MA adding 5.672 gallons after doing 201.1 miles, getting 35.454 mpg. After reaching home I topped up 6.899 after doing 228.8 miles getting 33.164 mpg. Which leads me to believe NJ gas is superior MA gas all other things being equal. Unlike my previous trips where I normally keep the car between 60 and 70mph, this time I was in a more of a rush doing 70 to 80mph so maybe that was a factor. Overall I did 429.9 miles and used 12.571 gallons, averaging at 34.197 mpg. NJ gas price $2.29/gal for 93 at BP, MA gas price $2.45/gal for 93 at BP. And now I’m at 5,000 miles since the last oil change, so the little Miazda is due for it’s second service.
Forget marshaling as a Blue Flagger, working as a Starter is the most involved job while marshaling there is. Thanks to Jessie Lynne Honigs I was able to finally get a chance to experience working the Start Stand and I don’t think I want to go back to working regular F&C ever again. The Starter job is where it’s at!
So a little background about my plan on becoming a starter. I got the bug more than two years ago where after much thought about my “picture taking” issues from the previous season I thought all my problems would go away if only I could get a job marshaling closer to the paddock, right near the pit lane. Start stand was the obvious choice. I knew I couldn’t just jump into the role at any old Pro event and I’d have to work my way up by participating in some Club racing, so I asked the flag chief of the New York Region to give me the opportunity to learn the next time I come up to Lime Rock Park. He agreed but when the events came around I found myself on some random station working F&C and was very disappointed and discouraged to come back. This year I didn’t go back to Lime Rock at all. But I did go up to Thompson Speedway after Jessie invited me with the thought that maybe there I’d get a chance to finally learn. I registered through MotorsportReg.com for a club event, ticked the box for Starter, but knew full well going in that if they were terribly short on F&C people it’s likely that’s what I’d end up doing. And sure enough I got put on Station 3. This was cool because I wanted to help out in the time of need, and actually got to work with Jessie. We had a hell of a good time, but it wasn’t the Start stand and I had to delay my plan further. Until of course the second time Jessie invited me up to Thompson Speedway for another NER SCCA club event, where finally I got a chance to work Start.
What did I discover working as a Starter at Thompson Speedway?
I learned that it’s the best possible job there is marshaling, bar none, for me anyway… Here are the top few reasons I find the role of a Starter to be incredibly awesome:
You get to Blue Flag!
You get to keep track of all the cars in the field through Charting
You get to throw the Checkered Flag
You get to throw the Green Flag
You get to Black Flag and Meatball Cars
You get to work out the timing of Last Lap and when to Checker
You work on the Front Straight and Pit Lane
You are close to the Paddock and Garages
You have a lot more Responsibility than any other station
Your Mistakes are more visible than any other station
I could probably come up with a dozen other reasons why the Starter role is awesome but I’m too excited to think about them right now.
Suffice to say I was blown away with how awesome that position was and a little bit sad that I waited this long to finally try it. And I’ll say a few words about that:
F&C or any other specialty volunteering a club event will always be short on people. Hardly anything is done about recruiting, and the participation numbers are insufficient at most events. There’s nothing noble about being a nice guy and trying to accommodate the flag chief to work a random turn especially those that don’t make you personally happy because chances are after a bad or even less than good experience you won’t come back to work another race again, or at least not return frequently. So what’s the point? I think the most important thing to do while volunteering is to do a job that makes you personally happy. And for me that is working as a Starter.
The irony about being selfish is that SCCA as a club advertises volunteering positions by saying there’s a job for everyone! Of course in practice that isn’t always the case. I asked to work Start, someone didn’t feel it was worth it for them to oblige to my request, and so instead of having a satisfied volunteer working a position that person enjoys doing, they lost a volunteer altogether. And that’s stupid. But people do get that way. I pissed people off by taking pictures and calling some high ranking club members incompetent because they refused to offer training which the club should provide, and they would rather get rid of me as a volunteer than to put me in a position where I would receive the training I was after and perform the role I wanted to perform. Of course before they decided to “get rid” of me, they wanted to teach me a lesson against picture taking by placing me at the most remote areas of the circuit, so that when I did want to take pictures legally during our lunch break I had to chose between trekking all the way to the paddock or to actually eat lunch. It’s hard to change the politics of any organization even those where nobody gets paid to work. And volunteering is very political, clique’ey, and not always welcoming to new people.
So, I’m glad I got a chance to discover a role that I think I would really enjoy doing from now going forward. If I can’t get that role again in the future I simply won’t go to future events. But my goal is to do what it takes to master the role of a Starter so I could do it at Pro events. I definitely could use more practice. Even though waving flags on the start stand is no different than that on a random station as an F&C marshal, there’s definitely more work to be done, and I had made some mistakes while learning this weekend. For example: keeping time is a very important job of a Starter. The experienced starters I was learning from had two stop watches set to 18 minutes each to time the race. My job was to push the start button as the cars crossed the start line, and yet I pushed it when the cars received the Green flag even though the starter explained to me what I was supposed to do a few times. Why did I do it? I have no idea, I knew better and yet I did something anyway. Maybe from being nervous, or maybe from being premature and worried that I’d miss the correct start time by doing it too late. Starting the clock early is as bad as starting the clock late, so to get it right consistently requires practice. I also ran into a situation where the leader of the race was about to take the Checkered flag but was fast catching to a back-marker of the race. I threw the checker too early without pointing at the leader, who in turn wasn’t convinced it seemed that he was the leader because he drove around and took the checkered flag again. So I learned to point at the car that is about to win the race to inform them they are about to receive the checkered flag. I even made a mistake with blue flag which I enjoy the most. In a group of a combined field of fast wings and things and slow Formula Vee racers, I displayed a stationary blue flag to a slower FV car where I should have waved it because a faster Formula car caught it well before Turn 1. The starter told me to do this but for some reason I hesitated and he reminded me of his instructions immediately after my mistake to correct it. Props to the chief starter of the New York region for being patient with me and giving me good advice and training. I really appreciate the opportunity!
The best way to end a racing season in the US is to go to an event where Jessie Lynne Honings is the Assistant Flag Chief and be her VIP guest!
I had such an amazing time again hanging out with Jessie at Thompson Speedway I wanted to share this note of my gratitude and appreciation to her for being so amazing.
I wasn’t event planning on marshaling any club events this year thanks to some thickheaded people that I had the misfortune of interacting with before, but certainly Jessie turned things around for me and it was really enjoyable experience to go to Thompson Speedway Motorsport Park in the Northeast corner of Connecticut just south of the Massachusetts border and flag some excellent Mazda MX-5 Miata racing along with a lot of other groups.
Not only that, more than two years since “expressing” my interest in working the Start Stand, Jessie saw to it that I finally got the opportunity to wave the checkered flag. What a rush and thrill that was, and I am absolutely convinced that is what I want to do in the future as the next step in my marshaling hobby.
I am not ready for my marshaling / racing season to be over, so I just signed up to flag one more day at Thompson Speedway… hopefully this time I’ll get a chance to get on the Starter stand to do some learning.
Jessie from SponsorAFlagger.com and NER SCCA is looking for more volunteers, so IF you can join, please do!
Join us for New England Region’s last race of the 2015 season! Planned for this weekend is the John Stim Memorial, NERRC Championship Finale & Historic Race Group. Friday dinner will be served at the Clubhouse Tent, featuring the Annual NER Workers Award Presentations. A garage party is planned for Saturday evening. And don’t forget – double tips for those who are flagging on Friday!
For the campers: new showers are now available under the oval track grandstands. TSMP has been advertising this as a spectator event, so we can expect to see more than the usual attendees. Maybe we can recruit a few new flaggers!
If you plan to attend, please register on motorsportreg or drop us an email specifying which days you’ll be there. In your email, please include any special station assignment requests you might have.
As if by chance I noticed Jessie (from SponsorAFlagger.com) looking for more volunteers to marshal NER SCCA event where she’s the assistant flag chief, so I signed up. With her help of course, because MotorsportReg.com was giving me all sorts of problems. But between the two of us we figured it out. I’m so glad I got to experience this new (to me) circuit, because everything about the trip went absolutely perfectly and it’s all thanks to Jessie. I think I’ll use a new strategy for volunteering the US races from now on, I will attend all events as Jessie’s guest… I could definitely get used to the VIP treatment that comes as a result 😉
Thompson Speedway has recently re-opened. It still has that brand new smell to it like a new car, but in reality it’s America’s oldest in several respects. Did you know that it was the oldest banked oval in the US? Or that it was the oldest American purpose built road course? I certainly didn’t. But all that Jessie told me that I need to know about it is that it has the best ice cream… I was eager to find out for myself.
The drive up to Thompson wasn’t terribly long either. It’s only about 30 miles further than New Jersey Motorsports Park and the price of tolls to get there is less. I’ve already blogged about my foodie tour of New England which you can read all about here: Best Lobster Rolls in Connecticut. And that was a very cool way to start the trip. But what was even cooler was hanging out with Jessie, Jason, George (their dog) and Stevie (their Miata). Jason is a very accomplished race car driver with many trophies to show for it and a history of racing various Mazda’s from rotary RX-7’s to the Miata. Check him out at Angry Pork Racing: angrypork.com/ While Jessie of course is an accomplished marshal having won worker of the year in 2013? and running a successful Sponsor A Flagger site: sponsoraflagger.com/ But most impressively to me she likes Durian shakes at a local Vietnamese place we went to for dinner, which probably means she would totally enjoy marshaling in Singapore or Malaysia and it’s my goal in the future to help facilitate that opportunity!
For race day on Friday Jessie and I got to work together at turn 3 on our elevated station which was very cool. I’m a big fan of these things. Why? Because it gives the marshal working that particular turn good visibility of track before and after the station. And the drivers get a good visibility of all the flags as they approach the turn. I wish more tracks would use the same idea when applicable. Behind the station there was a golf course and many a golfers came around to spectate at different times. I even found a Callaway golf ball near my car when leaving. Kudos to Thompson for being a multi-purpose facility. At a time when everybody in Motorsport is struggling it’s nice to see diversification.
The day went by pretty swiftly. We had a few spins, one resulting in a light impact of two Formula Vee’s getting tangled up. But otherwise it was nice and quiet. I had a great time checking out the paddock during lunch and seeing some amazing machinery.
Kudos to NER SCCA for providing $10 cash to workers for lunch which went towards a box of very greasy fries and chicken fingers that were delicious. At the end of the day we had a nice banquet reception with great food for the workers and drivers all mixed in one big room. There was a chit for free beverage, and of course Jessie treated me to a huge ice cream cone with really awesome “Maine Black Bear” flavor. I tried her “Chrunchasaurus” which too was amazing. Needless to say, I loved every minute of it. NER SCCA had a raffle where I actually won something! That doesn’t happen often. We were asked to pick envelopes containing cash and mine practically covered the whole gas bill to get up there, so I left quite surprised and happy.
I think Thompson Speedway will be seeing me again in the future, especially if I get to play Jessie’s guest again 😉
My marshaling rig has turned into quite a road trip machine lately, with several trips Upstate New York to Watkins Glen and my most recent trip to marshal at Thompson Speedway via the Connecticut coastline. Not only did I enjoy the foodie tour of New England I got great gas mileage doing it. That’s going to be the surprise takeaway from this experience. From the 450 mile trip I only stopped to get a splash of gas somewhere deep in Connecticut while on the hunt for a BP gas station (Public Service Announcement: there are no more BP stations in the state of Connecticut! – sure as hell wish I would have known that before wasting a good half an hour of my time on this search… this must be one of those deals like we had in NJ where all Mobil stations were converted to Lukoil, or the current HESS stations being converted to 76, damn you high level corporate branding deals)
The reason I was searching for a BP gas station is because I had accumulated quite a collection of used BP cards with a $3+/- balance from using them here in New Jersey. We don’t pump our own gas in NJ, so every time I fill up using a BP card there’s a chance that there will be a leftover amount on the card. And it’s a bit embarrassing asking the attendant to use three or four different cards in order to use them up and fill the tank. Long story short, I found a BP station on the way to Thompson from Jessie’s house early Friday morning, happy to see the lights on when the rest of Worcester, MA was still waking up. But as I pulled in it was obvious that they were still closed. And so I postponed getting fuel until after the day at the track. Trying to find a BP in Connecticut was like a treasure hunt. The first one right off of i395 exit turned out to be re-branded to a Gulf station. I should have given up at that point, but NOPE! I continued to search for another one closer to Norwich, CT… that took me about 15 miles off the interstate and again, while the gas station looked like it once was a BP station, now it clearly wasn’t… as all the BP branding was pulled off. Since the low fuel light was already on by the time I got there, I pulled into the nearby Mobil station and started crunching numbers to see how much I’d need to get home. My math said 4 gallons, I put 3 instead and to my amazement I actually made it. Although the low fuel light came on somewhere in Westchester while passing White Plains before the Tappan Zee Bridge. I went into fuel save mode (real world Formula One reference for you there) and got to my regular BP station nearest to my house about 30 miles away. It was pretty late in the evening, so I decided to break the law and get the attendant in trouble by pumping my own gas. It was like a ritual using three different cards, lol
Why BP and not some Joe Schmoe gas station? Because I bought a bunch of BP gift cards on eBay with a 10% discount that are good to be used for CASH price instead of the higher Credit Card price at the pump. Why Mobil and not Joe Schmoe in Connecticut, because I trust brand name stations more than I do the off-brand names.
And the fuel hunt story was about the most interesting thing that happened on the whole 450 mile drive. The car performed flawlessly. I managed to avoid most of the traffic spots by actually following Waze. I had an amazing time doing the lobster roll / New England foodie tour. Had a blast chasing Jessie around in her 2009 Miata at Thompson, CT and I very much look forward to another long road trip this summer. What a surprisingly good car for road trips this MX-5 is.
Oh btw… the best roads going up to New England are smaller highways like Merritt Parkway, perfectly smooth surface all the way. The Interstates I took, including i95, i395, and i91 turned out to be really shitty with all the massive pot holes and other road imperfections caused by trucks and other heavy vehicles. I found myself diving into quite a few craters and other unavoidable pot holes that made me cringe. I hate that shit! At this pace I think I’ll be doing suspension work on the car soon. Note to self: take alternate routes even if they are slightly more out of the way to avoid damage.
13.06 gallons used, 450 miles traveled = 34.5 MPG mostly highway with the few detours for the lobster rolls and around the circuit. Total spent on fuel $38.78 with average price per gallon under $3 thanks to the fill ups in NJ. The cheapest gas $2.87 in NJ and priciest $3.25 for 93 octane premium fuel in Connecticut.
I think the prospect of meeting Stevie was the deciding factor in going to volunteer at Thompson Speedway for the New England Region SCCA thing… sure meeting Jessie was cool, going to another new track was nice, eating lobster along the way was delicious, but seeing another MX-5 Miata up close to compare with mine was really neat. I don’t think I could explain it, so I’m not going to. Instead here is just a small fraction of the bazillion pictures I took of the cars:
I think George the Basset Hound was thoroughly confused seeing another Miata in his driveway.
First comparison: Oh look! the 2009 looks exactly the same as my 2007. Except that it doesn’t. The front bumper was changed from a happy oval mouth to a more pronounced one. The headlights were different, bigger slightly. I know the engine internals were improved. I was a little surprised to see the base model not have fog lights, I thought those came standard pretty much on all NC Miatas but not so. The steering wheel looked a little bare without all the controls there. Even the roll hoops didn’t come chromed, and instead were painted gray, but not the same color as the car, or the dash piece, just gray like the plastic. That was a little weird.
Next thing you know we’re at Thompson Speedway, going around the oval for a little photo shoot on the embankment:
And so that was that… now any normal person would be happy they got their pix and be done with it. But with me, nope… I took more:
In the paddock area by the garages.
At our station, Turn 3.
At the end of day party…
It was just a cool thing to see, and do some more comparisons. Like the rear bumper that is quite different on the NC2 vs. NC1:
Not only did they delete the reflector to integrate it into the tail lights, they also created a slightly more aerodynamic look to it making the car look wider and lower in the tail pipe area. The trunk lid was also different from a soft top to the hard top models:
Don’t even know where to begin to describe the amazing time I had volunteering at Thompson Speedway, except by thanking Jessie for making this whole trip possible. Thank you Jessie!
It was a sensory overload in every sense. The trip was so much more than just cars on race track, it was a road trip, a foodie tour, a chance to hang out with awesome people and of course race cars on track. So besides thanking Jessie from SponsorAFlagger.com for her contribution to my personal happiness I’ll also use this post as a preview of follow up posts about all the other aspects of the trip.
WARNING! There will be a ton of Miata pictures in all the posts.
WARNING! There will be a ton of foodie pictures in some posts.
So I’ll start at the beginning. The three hour trip to Jessie’s place in Massachusetts turned into a full day of driving, stopping multiple times along the Connecticut coast to sample their delicious and very fresh lobster rolls:
I’ve never met anyone that has ever said: “Oh… I’m so full on lobster!” never happens… so I arrived Massachusetts nice and hungry in time for dinner with Jessie and Jason and that was a hell of an experience trying a nice Vietnamese restaurant in Worcester with Durian shakes on the menu.
My first impressions of Thompson Speedway Motorsport Park were very good. It reminded me a lot of tracks in New Zealand with their relatively flat setting, lots of turns in the course to fit into a small area, to a point that most of the track is visible from any marshal stand. Of course Thompson has a speedway that’s partially used in the road course which is not like any Kiwi track, but still. I’ll talk more about my impressions of Thompson in greater detail, and be sure to mention their delicious ice cream.
Jessie now owns a Miata! Well, technically it’s Jason’s Miata but it didn’t stop Jessie from taking it to the track so we could do a few shots of our cars on the Speedway… and by a few shots I mean like bazillion of them. It was so cool comparing the NC1 and NC2 miatas, and all the differences between the GT and a Sport model, a PRHT and a soft-top… believe it or not there were plenty of differences. I’ll talk more about it in it’s own post.
And finally I’ll conclude the series with a chat about another 450 mile road trip in my marshaling rig. Once again got great gas mileage, had a very comfortable ride… and took a ton of pics along the way. Stay tuned for the posts to be published in the coming days.
Noticed Jessie from SponsorAFlagger.com seeking volunteers for next week’s New England Region SCCA club racing event at Thompson Speedway, so I signed up.
Between the two of us, it took a good ten minutes trying to force MotorsportReg.com web site to allow me to register. On my own I was getting all kinds of warning and error messages highlighted in Red and Yellow, either preventing me from registering or making the event invisible altogether. I guess it helps that Jessie is the NER Assistant Flag Chief now and dismissed the idea of me being banished from working SCCA club events as a silly notion, as I did.
I’m looking forward to working Thompson Speedway for the first time. I have not been to that track yet. It shall be my 15th circuit I’ve volunteered in the US, and 37th worldwide. I’m also going to push my luck and try to see if I could observe the Starter there to learn a new skill marshaling. That is if they’re not desperately short on people by next Friday, in which case I’m happy to work whatever station Jessie assigns me.
If things go to plan I may even check out some fisherman’s towns along the New England coast line whether in Connecticut or Rhode Island… sure it’s a bit out of the way, but I’ve driven up for their delicious lobster rolls before… and this time I have race cars as an excuse to go there.