Over The Top

by Scott Fisher

Racing doesn't make sense. You know this if you've ever sat in pre-grid while your crew tightened the harness so snug you can barely breathe, the straps doing very little to keep those butterflies in your stomach from metamorphosing into pelicans. You know this if you've ever looked at the ruins of a checkbook at the end of a season of what racers, without the slightest hint of irony, call "development."

But there are moments on track, no matter how successful the overall effort may be, that make it all worth while. In this column, I'll get to relive a few of those moments with you, sharing what it's like to go over the top in open competition, what makes us go back again and again.

The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca is one of those experiences that makes up for the effort and expense it takes to get there. If you've seen in-car camera from the event, you have an idea of what it's like, but no camera can capture the sensations of this particular roller-coaster ride.

What it's like:

You've been climbing the hill from 6 through 7, and as you reach the crest you check the flag stations looking for yellow. In front of you there's the grey streak of the track that you're trying to stay on, but that ends abruptly and leaves you pointed at blue sky. In the distance, you can see the tops of oak trees, but there's nothing between where the track ends and the ground where, presumably, those oaks sink their roots into the sandy ground of the Monterey peninsula.

You put the car over to the right-hand edge of the track and watch the braking markers, squeezing the middle pedal till the harnesses cut into your chest. Blip down from fourth to third, blip down from third to second, and now you can't see anything but sky in front of you and Jersey barriers off to your sides, with those oaks beyond them.

At speed, you have to start your turn-in to the first part of the turn, 8A, before you see it. You can't see the apex of 8A as you begin turning to hit it; you just have to trust that the rest of the course hasn't disappeared since the last time you went by here. You dial the wheel to the left and feel for the telltale bump-bump as you clip the berms. That's good, it means you're on line.

Then the world falls out from under you. About the time you clip the berm, the track has dropped maybe four feet and you have to start turning toward 8B, the right-hander at the bottom of the hill. You can't see that apex either for a second, then you can and it doesn't help, as it's a couple more stories down and to the right-hand side of an off- camber chute.

The car wants to skitter off to the left, and now you can really see those oak trees, a dark green blur as you focus on keeping the car on track. You feel your stomach ballooning out above and behind you like the drogue chute on a space capsule -- and if you pay attention to it, it'll slow you down just as effectively.

Your goal is to bump-bump the right-hand wheels over the berm in 8B, which (if you do it right) happens about the time you see the apex. Then it's down the hill hard, gravity working with you to accelerate, and next is turn 9.

But that's a different story.

Along with this column, I've include a short "slide show" that illustrates one of the dangers of the Corkscrew. It's from a race during the Monterey Historics about ten years ago, and it shows what happens when you come unstuck in the camber shift between 8A and 8B. No cars were harmed in the production of this slide show (with the possible exception of certain pieces of upholstery...)

Click Here to see the five frame slide show. There is a modest delay between frames so that you can read the text and look at each picture fairly closely.

This article copyright 1997 by Scott Fisher. All Rights Reserved.

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