I drove about an hour and a half in our team’s The Producers-themed 24 Hours of LeMons Civic today, and you know what? Everyone (including me) has decried the adverse effects of red mist in a race car before, but it certainly comes in handy when you really, really need to get by someone.
If you’re wondering what red mist refers to, it’s that point where madness takes over, rational thought takes a backseat and you have to do something about whatever it is that made you mad in the first place, be it pass a slower car, pass all the cars, or thrash-fix a car in the paddock.
Within reason, red mist can be good. Hear me out here: I’ve never driven for this team before, so the struggle as an arrive-and-drive is real. Let me tell you about our collection of the most first-world of first-world problems. First, my boyfriend and I didn’t know what to pack because I wasn’t bringing my own car and fussing over boxes for the entire week (and/or month) before the event.
Secondly, we showed up and everything was prepared. There was food. There was lodging, in a comfortable RV on-site. The cars even ran! There was, of course, a massive party because it’s LeMons and especially because we were paddocked by the Sorry For Party team and their Magic School Bus neighbors. There’s even an air show nextdoor to the track, and I can’t even be mad that the pilots came over to hang out with LeMons in the wee hours of the night when I was writing #content for the #web #site. Not even mad.
All I do is show up to race. What? I don’t understand, but I kind of like this. Actually, I really like this. Any Class C teams need a fly-in for Miller?
But where’s my to-do list? Why am I not panicking the week before because things that should have been done haven’t been yet? Why do I not feel the all-encompassing need to farm out the entire operation to a Porsche shop? “Hi. I’m sick of dealing with this. Can you do all the annoying mechanical things so I can just race a car?” This weekend’s operation has been pre-farmed-out to someone else. It’s fantastic.
The flip-side of just showing up to drive a car is the overwhelming sense of insecurity you might encounter if you have the slightest bit of doubt in your driving abilities. I am not good at driving. I will admit that I am not good. Should Jack Baruth challenge me to a throw-down, I’ll make excuses about my car being an over-prepared, reliable, efficient piece of German engineering. When you run some of the slowest lap times and still end up third in class at a ChumpCar race, you’re doing something right. It’s all in the car and my teammates, though. It’s a great car.
But I’m not in my car. I don’t have my usual excuse of “my 944 is awesome, and I put the fear of God into my drivers not to crash or rack up flags.” It’s all me. I suck. I really, really suck, I have no idea what to do in race traffic, and I’m slow.
I haven’t driven New Jersey Motorsports Park before. I’ve only driven in other cars in Texas. and this time, I didn’t even bring my own race car! So, naturally, I wanted to make a good first impression with my arrive-and-drive team and not bin their Civic, which I got put in as the second driver of the day.
The Civic “springtime tank” of ours was a little tippy even when compared to the 944. The center of gravity was a bit higher due to the big fake turret mass on the top. I’m the shortest person signed up to drive this weekend, too. When I got in the car, I could sort of see around me and ahead of the car, but seeing behind me took some effort. I had a blind spot a mile wide and had to definitely tip my head upwards to see the in-car rear-view mirror because I sat so close to it.
Whenever I hit traffic, it was a bit unnerving. Is there someone still in my blind spot? Err, I don’t know. Keep calm. Don’t move over just yet. Relax. Wait. No, keep waiting. Oka—hmm. No. Someone’s there. I can’t move back over onto the main racing line from wherever I’ve been pushed just yet. Okay, now? Now.
For too many laps, I was behind this one car. I like this team. They’re nice guys. I just didn’t like being behind their car. I was the person who wanted to pass for a change, and I couldn’t. I kept getting pushed over to a slower line. This one car was the source of all of my problems for a little while. I kept catching up to it, but would end up in traffic whenever I wanted to pass, or he’d cut over in front of me whenever I tried to pass in a turn.
I kept thinking, “I should get past this car,” but there were many polite and caring reasons why I couldn’t. I’m not in my car, after all. I had two instructions: don’t crash, and stay out of the penalty box. I was doing a pretty good job with that!
Then red mist took over.
Somewhere around half an hour of catching up to and then losing this slower car in front of me, I decided enough was enough. They’re slow on straights! I’m faster in the corners! Why am I behind them?
There was a part of the track where it made the most sense to stay in fourth gear. You only blew through more fuel by downshifting to third, and didn’t make enough up in time to make up for it.
This time, I felt like I needed to downshift and make the run. It was red mist, but it was red mist that seemed to be under control. Vengeance for slow laps! I must pass this car for ULTIMATE RACE CAR DOMINATION.
Leaving it in third just this once let me get right up on the car’s bumper. I stuck my nose inside of him in one turn, only to immediately have the other car rocket past me on the short straight after it. Boo. Whatever. Don’t shift up. He’ll be just as slow in the next turn. I can feel it. I can smell it. It smells like bad gas and old car parts. Coming up was one of the slowest turns on the track, and if there’s anything a Civic does well, it’s turning.
I stuck on the inside of that slow turn, where I was supposed to be in third gear anyway and floored it as soon as the turn started straightening out. Pass achieved! Hahaha. HAHAHAHAHA. NEMESIS. HahahaHAHAHAhahahahaha.
It was great. Otherwise, I would have been behind that slower car forever. They were either great at defending their position or terrible of knowing when faster traffic was behind them, and with LeMons, it’s hard to tell. [Update: Turns out, it was one of the more experienced dudes in the more experienced teams, and I didn’t realize who I was behind or which team was running the car until afterwards. He left me room a few times before I worked up the guts to take the pass, and then he would run away whenever packs of faster traffic would catch us because he was far better at managing traffic than I was.] Either way, they kept me behind them for a long time.
Hahahahahaha! I made a pass! I made several other passes during my stint, although more of them happened after I got a little angry. Imagine that.
Red mist (within reason) is kind of great like that. Just don’t end up in the penalty box for doing something stupid.
Photo credit: W. Christian Mental Ward
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.