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My first track day in the Miata

I spent the wee hours of the evening poring over a Miata forum, trying to figure out if my engine would blow up or run out of oil first, and then hunkered down for some restless sleep in anticipation of the track. A while back, the people who saw me drive an Ariel Atom suggested very politely that I might want to learn to drive around corners, and that a Mazda Miata had suitable training wheels to allow me to do so. Six months later, and some spannering about in the garage, my Miata was ready to possibly make the 30 mile journey to the track – Harris Hill Raceway.

A few hours of sleep later, my number one son awoke and spent an hour throwing a ball at my head. At the appointed hour, I left the family behind to get to the track. It was uncharacteristically foggy out. Eerily misty. Looking for a sign of my ascendency to the thrown, I peered around corners for a moistened bint with an armful of scimitars, but there were to be no farcical aquatic ceremonies to be had.

It was about ten minutes later that I noticed that my pop-up headlights hadn’t. Every day for all 220 miles that I have owned the car, something new and exciting has gone wrong. This time, it was a distinct lack of illumination. Well, the lights were on, but they were doing an Anne Frank, shining brightly on the inside of the engine compartment. An omen perhaps.

I arrived at the track alongside maybe fifty other Mazda owners. They had their bonnets up so that we could admire their superchargers and neatly plumbed air filters. The bucket seats in their cars probably cost more than my entire car, but I wasn’t perturbed. The young man next to me polished his RX8, while I was glad that my torn roof was folded down, so people couldn’t see the duct tape that was blatantly failing to hold the plastic rear window together.

The referee beckoned us all together and told us the rules of the track – no passing, no passing, no passing, and no passing. After that was an orientation session where we all went around in a slow circuit to familiarize ourselves with the course. I had a supercharged car behind me and a 100HP Mazda 2 in front. The lead driver promised to go slowly so that we could learn the course – entry, apex and exits all politely marked by orange cones. It was all about learning the track.

MiataHarrisHill

Except that I couldn’t keep up. Left to my own devices, I would never have cornered as fast as I did on the orientation lap. I was convinced that my wheels were going to drop off, or at least the car would leave the course. Despite going faster than I thought possible, I was still struggling to keep up. With a Mazda 2. Ha!

After returning to the paddock shaking and excited, I asked other drivers if it was normal to grip the steering wheel with a white knuckled, python strangler’s grip. Apparently it was, especially for a novice. The girl in the Mazda 2 came over to offer fer condolences and gave me a few tips about aiming at cones and looking into the distance.

Soon enough it was my turn to go out with three other lucky contestants, though of course it wasn’t a contest. Starting at the back, I found that on the warm up lap, I was almost keeping up with a Mazda 3 in front. I felt pretty good, though this was of course me flat out. After this warm up lap, I found a veteran with a turbo-charged Miata looming in my rear view. Determined not to let him drive my car from behind, I shrugged and thought that him being much faster than me was his responsibility, and did my best to ignore him.

As the five laps progressed, I got a little faster, and could almost anticipate the severity of the corner ahead. On reviewing the footage from my GoPro Hero2, I discovered that there was none, so I can’t even guess at how fast (slow) I was doing laps. It was equal parts exciting and terrifying. Wondering if the spannering would hold, if the car would flip, or if I would enshroud the course in a new mist of atomized oil and coolant.

After the track and a snack I headed back towards I35 to get back to the family. It was about a half mile from the track that the car started to miss fire. Having ignored all the portents of doom and warnings, I was thoroughly expecting to have the car’s engine expire at the side of the road. I decided to limp the few miles to the highway so that at least a rescue party might easily locate my position. I turned off the ignition, thinking that the engine may never start again. Nervously opening the hood, shielding my face in case a piston flew out, I noticed one of the ignition wires that I had fitted the day before had popped off from the coil. A simple if hot-fingered fix later and I was on my way. The car managed to get me home, and I want to do it again, and learn to go around corners better. Onwards and sideways!

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