Solo Contendere: Finding the racing line and discovering a passion

In this piece local gearhead Jon Havener details his first racing experience in a SOLO event held at Fort Devens in Ayer, MA. If there is even an inkling that you may potentially like to race someday, running in a Solo event is the best possible thing you can do. Check out the SCCA’s New England Region website at Read on and enjoy!

Contrary to the pun, Solo racing can be a fantastic contest; however, even if competition is of no interest to you, they can serve as a way to mark your improvements as a driver.  It is a low risk, low danger environment with fantastic support from the volunteers who run it, each and every person at the events is an automotive enthusiast.  This article describes what I experienced at my first Solo event: The SCCA’s New England Region Episode VIII – Attack of the Cones.

Naturally, at any SCCA event you will come across people of varying degrees of automotive enthusiasm, such as the diehard “My watch always reads local Formula1 race time” gear-heads, and the “I better smell like friction metals by 5 p.m.” types.  Even so, everyone I met was more than happy to offer assistance, guidance and/or advice and my case share their equipment, tools and lunch.

When I first arrived, I was greeted warmly by my paddock neighbors Scott and Nancy.  They helped me get my car prepped for inspection, lent me tape to put numbers on my car and Scott actually let me borrow his helmet since we were racing in opposing heats.  After getting ready, I joined the rest of the Novice drivers and was introduced to the Novice instructors and proceeded to be bludgeoned with advice until the first heat.  I spent every possible moment before I was called to the grid reviewing strategies and trying to imagine the line I would take.  I had years of delivering pizzas, tempting speeding tickets, eye-balling snow banks, and melting my retinas playing racing simulators to contribute to my plans, but even with all my driving experience in front of me, I wasn’t able to lay it all down at once. 

Perched on the start line, I reviewed my plan one last time.  As soon as the flag dropped, I left everything behind.  It’s like the mental map, my strategy, and the line I had been imagining for the last hour had never existed.  My consciousness plunged into nothingness.  I had become fluid, electric… seeking the path of least resistance.  During those 59.936 seconds of my first lap, my conscious mind was in a place without need or expectation.  I observed, analyzed and acted… it was stunningly primal.  The vehicle and I were in complete harmony.  I simply was.  It was all very Tao.

Once the heat was over, there wasn’t a second to waste.  I ran out to Corner 3 with a few others and watched as the other drivers in the next heat screamed through the course.  A blur of numbers flew past me and knocked over a cone in the tight slalom section, forcing me to sprint out and return it to its’ home in the tiny white chalk-box before the next car came through.  Between trying to remember the number of the last car that passed, counting the cones hit, and running to return the cones, I realized what a great form of exercise this is.  I did not anticipate how tired I would be at the end of the day.

In my final heat I ran a 57.138, almost 3 seconds faster than my first lap.  I was left overwhelmed; between fetching cones and racing my brains out, I had no energy left.

I felt ruined and renewed, repurposed and refreshed.  And while it may not have been the most dramatic improvement that day, I can tell you the next time I went, I was able to see further down the track, analyze more, and do better in every turn.  Each time I go to a Solo event, I look forward to discovering something new or doing something better.  The course layout is always changing so you never end up seeing the same course twice. The results are posted online so you can view your time and gauge your personal progress.

So, what is the Solo experience really like?  My advice is to go and find out for yourself.  It doesn’t matter if you’re running a Prius or a Porsche, you will learn how to push the car to it’s limits in a way you’ve never done before. And besides, in the end, you’re really only pushing yourself.


– By J.R. Havener

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