The Continual Beginner

PPIHC 2012 – Photo by Eric Gearhart

The Continual Beginner

by Christy Carlson


Repetition leads to boredom. Boredom leads to unrest. Unrest leads to new beginnings. Well, that, and running out of means will force a person to “reconsider the options available” in a fairly brisk manner. I've been precariously balancing the pocketbook of life for a while, be it health or wealth, youth and unrest, ambition and means. This is my life in motorsports, starting at 25.

My ambition knew no bounds in my mid-twenties and I dove into motorsports and out of storm chasing looking for that adrenaline fix. Starting with my transition from playing Gran Turismo 2 on a Playstation 2 into autocross at 25 years old, and now FINALLY transitioning into track at 36, like the games I used to play. Took a very expensive detour, however, before my skills evenly matched my ambition. I could fault youth, ADD, (any number of things, really) but my story isn’t all that uncommon for us in daring enough to give motorsports a try.


A 24-year old storm chaser-turned-autocrosser with her new car.

Autocross was my gateway drug, and a 2004 Subaru WRX was my needle. It was close, cheap, and easily accessible. High energy and no instruction, I was driving without a compass, continually beyond the limits of my tires. This time came before the breadth of knowledge on YouTube, in the height of internet forums like NASIOC. I knew nothing of hand placement, torque-curves, or suspension geometry. At least I had a large stack of ambition and ignorance, so I proceeded without shame.

I made several mistakes, being the beginner that I was. One of the first I made was throwing MORE tire at my car rather than learning to drive on street tires (it did not help that SCCA stock class was all run on the 'purple crack'). I was forced to modify my vehicle to be competitive in a Street Tire class (which I was clearly not ready to in my first 2 years, coming from an earth science background and no mechanical knowledge), or use the crutch of the tire. I didn't know any better, and drove on R-Comps for a couple years, using the tires to save my bad lines. Since I wasn't progressing as quickly as patience would allow, I asked someone faster to drive my car.


Local SCCA Autocross in the STU-prepped STI – Photo by Tyrone Phame

Boom. “That's the line!” “You can take it at this speed?” “That's what camber I should be running at?” I owe it all to joining forces with someone who knew what they were doing. I provided my vehicle to them for use and in return they gave me knowledge and a goal. Took some swallowing of pride and then world of autocross began to open up. I continued my journey by going down the rabbit hole of modifications. STU here I come. Suspension setup, sway bars, brake pad compounds, ideal tire temps, it all started to line up. Soon I was winning championships locally, then at the division, then Nationally. Of course, I might have gotten there sooner if I hadn’t made my next mistake.


SCCA Rallycross National Challenge Winner – 2008 – Photo: SCCA Archives

Mistake #2: “Let's go check out that other event they are running called Rallycross”. Now some might not think that's not a mistake. What’s a little rallycross thrown in the mix. It's just autocross on the dirt, right? WRONG. Here I was, finally getting into a serious committed relationship with autocross. We were happy, everything was going great. Then she happened, that sexy, dirty vixen calling me over to the dark side. “Come play with me” she said. “Let's fling some gravel over here and have a completely different car setup, oh and throw out everything you learned about your lines for autox, it's all about momentum and throwing your weight around out here, let's dig into those corners and slide baby slide”.

By competing in both at the same time, I sacrificed seat time in one for the other, with neither having adequate seat time to be at the top. Luckily I discovered my physical skills from growing up on gravel and playing as a kid on the farm turned me into an ace in the field of urbanites. This was my element, or so I thought, because I was winning championships almost immediately in rallyx. But my brain hadn't ingrained the lessons from autocross yet. I wasn't fully physically trained in one skillset and I now I've jumped both feet into another. My brain and my feet started having confusion. I started overbraking in autox because I was left-foot-braking on tarmac too heavily and often. Where rallyx favored consistent conservative times, autox rewarded those willing to take on the most risk from the start. I started losing confidence in my ability to compete in autox because those that were dedicated to one sport were pulling away from me.

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