In mid August I was planning to do a RoadRally with Indy Region SCCA. As the event neared, a family commitment emerged that would keep my wife and usual driver, Angela, from being able to attend. I put out a couple feelers for a replacement driver but came up empty handed. If I was honest with myself I’d admit I didn’t try all that hard because there was another event scheduled for the same day that was looking more inviting, one I could do without a partner. The “Subaru Challenge” is an annual autocross event held at the Subaru plant is Lafayette, Indiana. Open only to Subaru automobiles, this event has been on my “want to do” list since 2011. Despite my interest, I was planning to skip the event again this year as the available points at Rally were critical to my pursuit of another SCCA RoadRally National Championship. When I heard the week before the Challenge that Subaru Rally Team USA professional driver David Higgins would be there with a 600hp Global Rallycross spec car, however, I really started to 2nd guess what I really wanted to do. When I heard that one of my co-workers had signed up for the Challenge, I was feeling serious regret about not going. I discussed my dilemma with my wife. Her wisdom was simple: go where you’ll have the most fun. While I certainly enjoy RoadRally, the thought of running a small local event, likely unopposed in my class, with an unfamiliar driver (assuming I would even be able to find one) did not sound as appealing as a Subaru-only autocross fully sponsored by the corporation. Mere hours before the registration deadline, I decided to change course and signed up for the Challenge.
The next day was a bit of a scramble to get the car ready. My autocross tires were stacked in the attic; I needed to get them mounted on a set of rims and balanced. I also needed to change out my rear sway bar. Fortunately for the store, but unfortunately for me, it was a very busy day in the shop. I was sweating as the hours passed by and my car sat untouched in employee parking. Customer traffic finally let up just before the very end of the day and I was able to get the necessary changes. Thanks to Ray and C.J.! I got home, got the autocross gear loaded in the trunk, packed some snacks and drinks, and went to bed early.
The next morning I departed at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am. Lafayette isn’t too far a drive, but there’s a time zone change at the Indiana border. I arrived at the Subaru plant at a little after 7:30 Eastern time. My co-worker, Alan, was already in the paddock. I parked next to him and unloaded the gear. I made my way to registration, go the car through tech, and then met Alan at the start line for a course walk. Because of the constraints of the lot size, the course was fairly short and reasonably simple to remember. After a couple strolls through the course, I wandered over to the corporate vendor area. I ran into several colleagues from the Subaru of America Central Region office.
I drew a cushy work assignment in grid for the first heat. Before long it was over and time to get my car to grid. I sized up the competition in my class. There were 5 other cars in my class. One two-driver car in particular stood out as a potential serious competitor; a white 2006 WRX sporting a brand new set of BF Goodrich Rival tires. On my first run I found myself a getting a little behind the car. I was ending up deeper into some of the turns than necessary and having to use more steering angle to get around. I managed a 44.2 but had up a couple cones. I was pretty sure I had clipped one of those cones with one of my rear mudflaps which I normally remove for autocross but hadn’t had time time to do the day before. I took to the course for my second run conscious that I needed to leave a little more room for the wide rear mudflaps. My scratch time was a little slower at 44.4, but it was a clean run. After the rest of the cars had finished their second runs I went to check the standings. I was in first place but Chris Smith in the white WRX was less than 8/10ths behind. I improved less than 2/10ths of a second on my 3rd run. I watched nervously as Chris made his last run. His final time of 44.5 left me with a lead of just 2/10ths of a second going into the lunch break.
During the lunch break, David Higgins did a demonstration run in the Subaru he ran at the X-games Gymkhana competition. He started at the start line and ran the first two sections of the course, but then turned off and proceeded with a show that consisted largely of vaporizing a set of Continental tires in a series of All-Wheel-Drive donuts. Having seen a similar demonstration at the Subaru Annual Business Conference in Las Vegas a few months ago, I left the course area and went to the lunch line. It was a move that saved me much time waiting as it seemed almost everyone else there was watching the demonstration. After I ate I took off my rear mudflaps, a procedure that necessitated jacking up the back of the car and taking off the rear wheels. Because of the heat I was a little tuckered from the effort. I grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler and sat in the car with the AC running while everyone else finished their lunch. I knew from experience that I would drive better if I kept myself hydrated and cool.
After another heat of working in the grid, it was time to drive again. As I was doing a visualization exercise Pat Hayes, one of the Subaru of America staff members, came over to my car and told me “you should be able to get into the 42s, most of the guys in the third heat dropped that much time from their morning runs.” I replied that I didn’t think it was possible, but I would give it my best shot. On my first run of the afternoon the tire just seemed to have more grip. I also was driving a better line through the early, technical part of the course. I knew I had gone faster than in the morning, but I was surprised to see that I really had gone over 2 seconds faster, posting a scratch time of 42.1. I knew, however, that I had collected a cone making my official time 44.1. I watched Chris Smith come across with a time of 43.2 and knew I was going to have to clean it up if I wanted to finish in first. On my next run I laid down a time of 41.9 and was quite satisfied with myself. That was faster than 30 of the 36 Street Tire Modified class competitors! I had cut one corner very close and thought maybe I had hit a cone. I got my car back to it’s grid spot and went over to the timing trailer to wait for an updated standings sheet to be posted. While I was waiting for 5th run provisional results, I saw that Chris had hit 2 cones on his 4th run. In the meantime, he put down another run in the 43s but was dirty. I had to go back to my car for my 6th run without knowing if my 5th run was dirty or clean. As I drove to the start line I considered the situation. Not knowing if my 41.9 time would stand or have a cone penalty added, I decided to be a little cautious. If my 5th run was dirty and I coned again on the 6th run, I would be standing on a 43.9. Chris had been in the 43’s twice on scratch time but had coned away both runs. I had to assume he could clean it up and finish with an official time better than 43.9. I left a little extra room in the Chicago box and on the slalom (2 areas where I knew I had coned earlier) and finished with a time of 42.3. I was all but certain THAT was clean time. I waited nervously for Chris to finish. I was pretty confident I had him covered, but you never know when someone is going to pull an hero run out of nowhere. When he crossed with a time of 43.7 I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I had held on to win the class!
Normally that would be the end of the story. This event, however, had a twist. All the class winners were invited to compete in a final “Super Challenge Shoot Out.” Each of us would get one single run and the top 3 PAX Index times would be awarded an trophy. Since my car was already in grid I went over to the results board to see size up the other class winners. My 5th run of 41.950 had indeed been clean and it looked like I would be seeded around 5th for the Shoot Out. I surmised I was going to have to lay down one of those aforementioned “hero runs” if I wanted to finish in the top 3. When my turn came I attacked the course aggressively. The back stretch of the course was a 6 cone slalom. I decided this was the place where I might be able to make up some time. My attempt to carry more speed, however, was greeted with oversteer that increased with each cone in the slalom. Feeling a big spin coming on, I opted to abort the run. I was certain that if I had tried to continue, I would have lost control and taken out a bunch of cones. It was close enough to the finish that I might have even hit one of the finish lights. I let out an expletive as a drove off the course. “Choke” was the second word that came to mind. My DNF earned me a last place in the Shoot Out standings.
Still it was a decent day. I had won my 7-car class by over a second and finished 6th out 81 on the PAX index. I had made a positive impression on a few of the important Subaru corporate staffers. I enjoyed watching Alan, my co-worker, experience his first autocross, and made a new friend in Chris Smith. Overall it was a great event to be a part of. One of the most memorable things of the day for me was seeing David Higgins and several of his crew members sitting on the curb watching us drive; normally it’s the other way around! When it was all said and done, I had accomplished my primary goal of having fun. The choice to do this over the RoadRally probably cost me a Championship but it was worth it. My wife, being the sweetheart she is, promised she’d make me a trophy to replace the one I let get away.