It's the Monday after my first street course race, a week after I returned from my first road course race.
It's 7:30 am and, despite not setting an alarm so I can catch up on some rest, I am wide-awake and need to get my thoughts out. I rarely listen to country but CMT music videos are on TV and Sugarland's "Little Miss" is playing and its lyrics are nearly shouting at me.
I am truly basking in the epitome of the definition of "mixed feelings."
Some of the feelings I should have are accomplished and relieved.
Some of the feelings I do have are frustrated and determined - and, quite frankly, mad at myself. That's the racer in me.
March 14th... Race week #1 of the 2011 USF2000 season... Sebring International Raceway.
Honestly, I didn't have any expectations for myself other than getting laps and keeping it together. We hadn't done much testing prior to the first race so I needed to use the time at Sebring to get acclimated to the cars and the new road racing techniques I'm learning.
The week started off with a nice big spin into Turn 17 and some fuel filter issues. After getting through that, the week had ups and downs but I kept the car together and I picked up time every time I went on the course.
Here are the stats:
Test session #1: 2:21.747
Test session #2: 2:12.420
Practice #1: 2:11.030
Race #1: 2:10.433
Race #2: 2:14.113
I won't go into details about what happened in each session and each race - but it was a very trying weekend; lots of downs and frustrations. Here I am, a driver who has always been competitive. I am someone who has never run at the back - and yet I continue to see the time sheets with my name at the bottom.
The thing about what I am doing is that I have to separate that right now. I must learn this weekend, that in order to be where I expect to be - at the top - I need to focus on me and only me. I need to concentrate on the finite details of road racing techniques that make my competitors so talented so I can get up to speed, catch up on what I've missed, and then be a serious contender before the end of the season.
The times speak for themselves. I made huge gains and between the second test session and the warm-up on the last day, I gained four seconds... nearly a full second per session every time I went on track.
Still, even with the progress I made, at the end of the Sebring weekend, I was quite down. I was letting things get to me that shouldn't. I knew going into this that it was going to be a tough feat, but when you're as competitive and hard on yourself as I am, nothing is ever good enough.
It's now 9:30am and I've already saved this document four times in an attempt to walk away from it to gather my thoughts and compose myself before moving onto a recap of the St. Petersburg weekend.
All I am feeling right now is built up frustration and regret, even though I came full circle and had a truly successful weekend at St. Pete.
And I'm struggling with the fact that there are things that make this story good that I don't want to talk about...
...like the first session out on Friday morning, when I had a bad line in the S section going into Turn 11, and I got out too wide and onto the grass. I tried to correct and get the car back on the track, only to go shooting across and right into the wall. That was one of the lowest points in my career. It was like a waking nightmare. Exactly what I didn't want to happen. Exactly what I told myself not to do the first time out. But ya know, how many top-level drivers, whether it's INDYCAR, NASCAR, or Formula 1, have done the exact same thing? How can you learn the limit of the racecar if you're not willing to push it and risk going over it? You can't. And you won't be fast unless you can find the limit of the racecar, so at the end of the day, I've moved on from that and am okay with that mistake that I had made.
...like the second race of the weekend where I started 8th and was running up front with the "fast guys" in 6th place and drove it in too deep, locked up the tires, and spun in Turn 11.
...like when I got back on track after the spin and became a lapped car and then lost the car again with a damaged front end.
The funny thing is, I do know that these aren't the focal points of the weekend. My times improved again. More importantly, I got some critical and necessary experience in racing traffic - and those aren't things you can explain properly in text.
Practice #1: 1:17.812 (spun at end of session)
Practice #2: 1:18.088 (mechanical issues)
Race #1: 1:16.475 (started 14th, finished 8th)
Race #2: 1:17.090 (DNF)
There were three significant positives from the weekend for me:
- Race number one - I started 14th, avoided a massive wreck in the first lap, and went on to finish a clean race in 8th place. I made some passes, kept control of the racecar, and felt super confident. I had the 8th fastest lap of the race and would start 8th in the second race on Sunday.
- Getting a clean start, and hanging with the "fast guys," making a nice pass and going from 8th to 6th place at the beginning of the second race.
- Pulling in with damage before the end of the second race and seeing how excited my guys were. Feeling and hearing that they know I am capable of winning and seeing that they were impressed with how quickly I'm adapting and getting up to speed.
Racing incidents happen, and when you're trying to learn a completely new craft, there is a TON that goes into it. It's not all what you see on paper. I am 110% confident in myself, in my team, and in the future that is ahead of us.
I can't express how grateful I am to all of those who support me. The amount of support I got this weekend from not only fans but people in the racing industry has been AMAZING. So many people believe in me and I am so happy that I've shown my drive and serious capabilities of making it to the top in this business.
The ongoing trials and tribulations will surely be huge but I promise it won't be long until I'm through the growing pains. I am dedicated to doing what it takes to make myself the driver I know I am.