Chapter 304 : October 2022


AKA: UTA AX Weekend

"it's uh....been a long time since I dodged cones...."

Above: Gorgeous day for an autocross - Below: most of the TAMU contingent 

Dr Bob Woods ("Dr. Bob" or "Dr. Woods") and UTA have put on this event for 20+ years and although I've been invited many times and it just never falls on a weekend I have free. It used to be in the middle of summer (oof!) but was moved to fall and the weather is a ton better. This year Make (Dr McDermott...the retired TAMU FSAE advisor who still helps them!) invited me to drive the '14 car since he now owns it. Now, I've been helping the TAMU FSAE kids since the program started in 99, with a gap for a few years while I lived in Arlington. I always tell the kids I'm happy to help but they need to reach out to me. I have a full time job, family, my own racing (mine and GSpeed...), composites, coaching, etc etc. Some years they don't reach out, other times I am heavily involved both on the composite end and car/driver tuning. 

So, of course, for Doc I cleared the decks. With a week to go the car was not ready (every racer reading this smirks in the "been there" fashion and mutters "of course"...) and the big surprise was he was taking the dampers off and putting in solid links to make it a kart. Wait, what??? FSAE kart! He's wanted to do this for ages and worked with Neil (Roberts, on a plan for it. I had a work trip prior to the event and didn't get to help prep much but Cole (old TAMU FSAE guy, owns local machine/manufacturing shop, also helps TAMU teams, etc) went by a few nights and got it "ready enough" to put on the trailer and he took it up on Friday. Make picked me up well before the sun arrived on Saturday and we headed northbound, quickly. 

So...the event is kindof a "big deal" in the FSAE world. A ton of Texas teams show up as well as Oklahoma, Kansas and various others including some Canadians (eh!). This is strictly for "fun" and bragging rights. There is no real tech or anything, just a ton (over 30 iirc) of past and current FSAE cars driven by current owners, friends, etc. In fact, there is no entry fee and UTA (through sponsorships) provides free meals, snacks, drinks and even porta-potties!!! SCCA brings equipment and timers and graciously runs the event (and they did a top notch job!!!). Some teams are SRSBZNS game on (that would be us) and others are there simply to chat with like-minded folks who also did FSAE and play with cars. Other than the actual FSAE competition, this is likely the biggest gathering of FSAE knowledge that can be found. Heck, since this has tons of old guys n gals, the knowledge here might actually beat the real official competition!! 

Some of the very diverse wings I've had a hand in constructing...

The current (2023) TAMU FSAE team is here as well, running last years car with the aim to get the drivers more seat time while the braintrust gets trackside experience making changes hunting faster laps. I worked with them a bit and was slated to slide in the car as well, but it broke before I could get in. I think they got it running the last hour or so, but I was already running the '11 car with Cole making rapid-fire changes as we hunted faster laps ourselves. 

Speaking of Cole (Easterling)...jeez we could NOT have done anywhere near as well without him and the rest of the crew. He and his brother Brice Easterling, Tim Ebert and Shaun Lide did a freaking MOUNTAIN of work getting cars going, making changes, keeping cars going, etc. Ride height changes, zip-tie fixes, safety wiring, gaffer taping, alignment changes, fluid checks, fuel filling...the list goes on. And on. I don't recall seeing them sit down and relax at all, other than like 20 minutes to eat some of the really good BBQ that was served. Huge kudos to the mechanics....damn blessed they were there and there is zero chance tamu old guys would have stood on the top step of the timesheets (#foreshadowing) without them. *hugs* Cole, Brice, Tim and Shaun you have my eternal gratitude!!!

Above: Huge bruise on backside of right leg where rack bit me. Taller drivers don't have this issue.

Below: Rapid fix with cut up water bottle, gaffe tape and zip tie. No more bites!!!

While we are there to have fun and learn, the underlying current is to win. Set the quickest time. Sure we all chat up other teams and help when asked, but the competitive folks keep an eye on those timers when cars wrap up a run. Typically this is a two-day event but there was 100% chance of rain on Sunday so they simply ran all day Saturday. We had one course in the morning and then another official one in the afternoon. Both were decent courses with a bit of everything thrown in, but they used a metric-crap-ton of cones to line basically the entire thing. You all who've driven autocross courses know that challenging courses have some elements that are very open allowing drivers to chose a line/entry/exit that might shorten the time needed for that element...or it might lengthen it. In fact, the best courses I've driven had a few of these elements and different cars (let's say slow cars with small tires vs big power and grip) will drive them different in order to set their individual best time. The courses here were fairly well lined with cones to keep you from exploiting elements and that was a bit frustrating to me. I understand WHY it was this way, there are a lot of rookie drivers and we don't want them getting lost and potentially meeting another car...but I prefer the "less is more" and use chalk to line the course. Just an observation from the peanut gallery. 

Cole on the left fixing more cars....and a test-fix that shows ultimate McGuyver-ness. 

Below: Sadly, one of the cars that we could not fix....

Speaking of frustrating, I have not autocrossed in ages. Yes, I can cone-dodge pretty well, but it is certainly a skill-set that you must hone frequently to maintain sharpness. Since autocross is commonly referred to as "a knifefight in a phone booth", I was anxious to get going to blow off all the rust that had accumulated on that particular skillset. The first few laps I did in the '11 car were not pretty. I was not smooth on my inputs, I was not looking far enough ahead and I was not positioning the car exactly where I needed to. All these are huge rookie mistakes and thankfully I could holler at myself in the helmet while I was driving and nobody heard. Soon enough, on my second set of runs (you get 3 runs together, then go back to paddock...wait a bit for chassis changes or whatnot, then get back in line) when I was making my 5th and 6th passes, I felt that I was not driving horrible. Or at least....less horrible. My times were on the quick side (~top 6 out of ~30 cars) and I was feeling good about the progress. 

Then Wade Marcantonio shows up and b!tchslaps everyone. Like epic beatdown. Now...there is a reason he is a TAMU's because he is likely the best autocross driver to come out of the Aggieland area in forever (and that's saying something). If you're having trouble believing that, please remember in an incredibly hotly contested national event that saw thousands of top autocrossers try and win a car that Chevrolet was giving away, Wade walked away with the keys to a brand new car since nobody could beat him. WDMS story from way-back here: Yeah....the guy is a freaking master at the cones and (excuse generator: ON) he'd been in formula cars a ton and much, much more recently than I have. Speaking of: (excuse generator: still ON) my FSAE car experience is limited to a handful (like....six) of laps in the '14 car back in 2014. I've driven at least a handful (giggle) of exclusively full-size cars since then (on full size tracks...not autocross) and honestly couldn't even remember driving those laps. I have pics, so apparently it did happen. LOL. 


Wade and I both ran the '11 car in the morning, and on his shakedown set he put a half second on me, after I had six freaking runs in. Thankfully (LOL) the car had an issue and he didn't get to go back out in that chassis and find even more time (which he would have)! The '11 car is actually a former 250cc Hybrid with the electric driveline removed. This car won Formula Hybrid in 2011!! During lunch the course was changed and sadly we both didn't drive the same car on the afternoon course and he had to leave before the end of the day to get some family time in. Typical Wade: Shows up late, Punishes everyone (he had fastest tamu time and overall!!), Eats some bbq, Dishes out more punishment. Leaves, All the while smiling and being helpful. Love that kid. 

Love this car...partly because so many folks told the aero team the "stanchion style" wing mount would not work. It worked.

I was struggling a bit in one area and Wade and I along with some other TAMU drivers were talking about it and Wade quickly said 'run a gear higher, carry more speed, it'll help a ton', and I just wanted to slap myself. I've given that advice (literally) hundreds of times in the roadracing world where folks are in a corner and running high rpm in a gear and each twitch of the throttle moves a ton of weight and so the car isn't very stable and it is tougher to keep on the limit. By shifting up a gear, we can roll into more throttle, the car is dramatically less pitch sensitive to throttle input and the result is smoother and faster. Again, I've preached and shown that honestly over 100 times....but I was so behind, and inside the car so damn much is happening every single frakking moment that I hadn't come to the conclusion that I freaking know like the back of my hand. Argh. When Wade said that and saw the realization on my face he just gave that typical Wade-lopsided-grin. Ug. #AutocrossRookieAgain


Doc bought the '14 car and that is a car I had a LOT of time with as I helped the '14 team a ton. From the wing builds to a ton of testing, I know the '14 pretty good. However, Doc has pulled the Ohlins dampers and replaced them with straight rods to create a big kart, albeit one with a functioning diff! I had done 9 runs in the '11 car and was getting used to driving it and actually starting to drive it well...and when I walked over to Doc and Cole I was told to get in. Cole had spent the first bit of time wrapping up the electrical stuff and we were not even sure the '14 would run in anger today. So, I slid in, and limped around the paddock making some big circles and the car seemed to run fine. Cole: "Send it!" So, I slipped on my brainbucket and went over to get in line.

Note: Cole, his brother Brice, Tim and Shaun were absolutely amazing. One or more of them always walked over to the start line to babysit me, answer questions, discuss strategy, etc. Lots of cars showed up in line alone and had issues. Always having that helper with another set of eyes and hands was freaking awesome. Huge HUGE thanks to those guys. #Teamwork

And honestly, that's it: Teamwork. Same thing I get at GSpeed. Doc oversees the effort, but folks like Cole, Brice, Tim, and Shaun work damn hard (and have the right skillset) to give fast guys like Wade the proper tool and the results naturally come. GSpeed preps a fantastic car, I'm blessed to drive it pretty well and shazam: Wins.


So, I go line up in '14 (damn these cars need proper nicknames) and the plan is to 'do an easy lap....take it easy at the start then push more and more'...and that's what I do. Now, I could write a thousand words on the differences between a car with 4 wheel independent suspension and a gokart (no suspension, but with a diff), but suffice to say, the driving dynamic is dramatically different. After 9 laps in '11, I began to drive '14 the same way and it suuuucked. Near the middle of my second run, I started to push it pretty hard and all my DKC technique came flooding back and I put that into practice. By my third run, I was deep into 'that's a quick time' category and was a grinning fool. I'd also tagged some serious cones (like...a herd of them. Or perhaps a clue what a dozen cones constitutes nomenclaturely) as the lot isn't very smooth and with zero suspension you can have the car on the braking and/or turning trajectory that will make the corner and then hit a pavement undulation which reduces grip and WHAP there goes those damn cones I was trying to miss. Still, Stupidfun to drive. The power delivery difference between '11 and '14 was pretty big as well.

Coming back in, there is a few issues to fix and I've got some time on my hands so I meander over to check on Rex and his old UTA (UT Austin, not UT Arlington) car. Now, I've known him a long time, took some cool vid of his car while chasing him in Scratcher at COTA, and also did some instructing for his wife in her Viper at TWS. He offers some laps in his car and again, this is polar opposite of the two cars that I just got seat time in. Both TAMU cars are small 250cc or 450cc ultra-lightweight cars with no fancyness. Rex's car is fancy personified. Paddle shift. Adjustable real-racecar ABS. Adjustable traction control. Custom dampers with shock pots for the MoTeC logging. Launch control. She's a stout girl at 600lbs, but she also has a 600cc motor and a full undertray with front/rear wings. I first saw this car years ago when he showed up to a TAMU FSAE practice we put together for the TAMU team to get passing practice. Worked like a champ, TAMU won that year, crushing endurance (where they have passing lanes and drivers need to pass efficiently to not lose time) on their way to victory. I slid into the car and it seemed like I fit reasonably well ('11 and '14 were challenges too) and so I trotted back to get my helmet to go play in Rex's racer. When asked where to shift, Rex told me and then quickly said to not worry if the motor blows. It has a ton of time on it and so no big deal. Now, first off, I hate breaking cars and honestly I turn down a lot of offers to drive at the track because I'm worried something bad might happen on my watch. Second off, I dang sure don't want to blow something up here and be 'that idiot' who oils down the track. So, mentally I tell myself to take it easy and not overdo it, and that's what I do. After a smooth acclimation run, I push pretty hard on lap two but have to slow for a course worker fixing cones...and then on my third lap I skate wide in one section and bring it home at a 95% clip instead of full-fangs-out.

Rex's car, being so heavy and damped really well, was a freaking joy to drive. Now, it was not lightning quick on the transitions and slaloms (as compared to cars with 200lbs less mass on the same tires!), but with the race ABS and TC it was freaking awesome. Part of me wanted more laps in that car, but his buddy was co-driving as well, and I felt blessed to just simply sample another car that came from such a different design philosophy and execution level that I didn't want to push my luck. Huge thanks to Rex for the laps!!!!

Rex's car...not a great snap but it clearly shows the floor/diffuser (which is the point). Also the high sides!

Back in the tamu paddock area the '11 car is back on the ready-to-go list and I slide in and after the quick mental adjustment from just driving Rex's car, I am putting down really good times and enjoying it. The course is pretty long at nearly a minute and with all the pavement undulations and changes, it is darn tough to get each critical section exactly right. I'd do the first half of the course really well and then botch the entry to the next section. Then do the exact opposite and run within .1 second of my previous time. Near the end of the day, I finally felt pretty good about my runs and that I was getting most (but certainly not all) out of the car.

Why do Texas teams win FSAE so darn much? These two guys. Dr. Bob Woods (UTArl) and Dr. Make McDermott (TAMU)

Dr. Woods was instrumental in getting FSAE on the right trajectory since its inception....we would not be here without him! 

Sadly, the '14 car had an issue we could not fix near the end of the day and I didn't get to slip back into Doc's go-kart. I'm looking forward to the '23 team having a test day and taking the '14 car out as well to play traffic and get more seat time. That will be fun! Eventually I guess we will do a test over a long day where we swap back and forth from suspension to no-suspension and take a ton of data and compare lap times. I can tell you this, the more smooth the track is, the more the kart version will shine (of course).

Looking ahead.....but likely not far enough!!!

* * * * Onboard vid of one of my decent runs:

Overall I had a great time and huge thanks to Dr. Woods and UTA for the event, Doc for the invite (and letting me drive his car!!!) and again (worth saying again!), huge thanks to Cole, Brice, Tim and Shaun for working so damn hard to keep us drivers in running cars and improving them as the day progressed. There is absolutely no way this would have been a success without those three doing all the work they did (not just there, but the prep-work before as well!!!). THANKS!!!!