Competition School Story – Ben Beames
February 6th, 2017 by James Chartres
Story by Ben Beames
My competition school weekend didn’t have the best of starts. It began at 2:00 AM Friday morning as I set off on the four hour towing trip from Santa Cruz to Thunderhill. My wife needed me to watch our one year old son Thursday evening so this was the only way I could get up to the school and get the car ready to run in time. I later found out from some of my paddock neighbors that I got off easy. Some there had worked on their car all through Thursday night and left for the track around the same time.
Registration and Tech went pretty smoothly but as a rookie who didn’t have crew with him on Friday I was a little stressed trying to find time to warm up my car after the 7:45 AM no race engines sound restriction was over but before our first meeting. Having a big two stroke motor in my F-500, lovingly dubbed the “World’s Fastest Weed-Wacker” means I don’t have a quiet motor.
Already I was amazed at how friendly and helpful everyone was. My instructor, Jim Lepetich even offered to help me with my car as my crew couldn’t make it out until Saturday.
The first session did not go well. The car had a number of issues, the two most glaring involving the brakes. Too much rear brake bias meant as the speed increased and my braking got harder the back of the car kept wanting to take the lead. This built up until I spun and got to do some actual weed whacking just before turn 8. Then my brakes went a little soft. This helped the spinning part a bit but now I was getting slower as I lost confidence in the car.
After the session I didn’t think I could handle it. I checked my data logger and I hadn’t been going that fast and the car was really starting to scare me. I was tired, and wondering if I should just pack up and head home, not wanting to be in everyone else’s way the whole weekend. But Jim and my paddock neighbors rallied around me. We found a few things to fix in the car and I headed back out for session 2 thinking I’ll give it another shot, but if this doesn’t work I should cut my losses on this trip.
But the car did wok! Or at least it did until I blew the drive belt. But it was enough to spur me on. I changed the belt and session 3 went great even if I was slow and still unsure about pushing the car hard.
After a good nights sleep, Saturday was much better. I still felt I was in other peoples’ way but the class got good at passing me so it seemed to work out and with Jim and everyone elses’ help including Dan Wise who came out to crew for me and take pictures, my lap times started to fall and consequently I wasn’t getting passed quite so much. Another fun bonus was that by midway Saturday my car and I were already being regular referred to as the weed-wacker so I felt I had picked a good name for it.
By Sunday my lap times were a full 15 seconds faster than when I started (and this is on the short 9 turn course) and I actually got to pass a few cars. More over the driving had completely changed from stressful, to challenging to downright fun. I was having a great time! So much of a great time that things started failing on my car left and right. But it wasn’t just me. I got to help a few others in the paddock as the sheer amount of track time was taking its toll on our cars. We all got used to hearing the phrase, “welcome to racing” as we tried to stitch things back together with loads of help from everyone.
In the end I got to graduate and look forward to being a part of this amazing group of workers and drivers. I can’t thank everyone enough for such a great weekend and I look forward to seeing everyone at the track… my one year old son permitting.
Ben Beames is a Racer and Member of the San Francisco Region Sports Car Club of America. He has also produced a video providing details on what you need to get your Racing Competition License.