How I (almost) Won a National Championship In My Daily Driver:

This story took place in 2012

Who in their right mind decides to drive across the country to race their brand new, daily driver against the best in the country to compete for a Time Trial National Championship?

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Me. That’s who.

I managed to snag one of the first Scion FR-S’ sold in Florida. I picked mine up in March 2012 and the very first weekend, I took it to the track. In fact, I literally drove it from the dealership to the dyno at Titan Motorsports, where I was working at the time. I started time trialing the car at NASA Florida events, breaking the track records at Roebling Road and Sebring in 2013.

Initially, my plan was to compete at the 2012 NASA Nationals at Mid-Ohio for a Spec Miata championship. One week prior to the event, I decided to make the trip in my Scion FR-S, my daily driver, and see what it could do in Time Trial competition. I already had it on track a few times and knew that it was competitive in the street class that it fell into for NASA Time Trial competition. The car is relatively close to stock: it has single adjustable, BC Racing coilovers, Hawk brake pads with Motul 600 brake fluid, a Visconti E85 tune and Hoosier A6 tires that I swapped on to my Enkei RP-F1 wheels when I arrived at the track.

This would be my second trip to Mid-Ohio and first in 5 years, it was also my first time driving the FR-S with a truly sticky tire and I was thrilled with how it felt. The steering remained light and precise, the chassis dynamics only got better with more grip. People have asked me if it loses that “tossability” – the ability to achieve a slightly irresponsible slip angle at any given moment– when you fit wider tires. The concern is that once you bolt up a stickier tire, stiffer suspension, or both, that you are trying to cook up a better recipe than the OEM engineers - that somehow, if you have the brazen audacity to mess with perfection, the car will reward you with terminal understeer. This perception speaks volumes about what people think of the car as it comes out of the showroom. But it’s pure bullshit, the car only gets better with more grip.

The Scion FR-S is like a hot chick who can kick your ass. It has great lines, gets more fun as you get comfortable pushing it to the edge and it punches far above it’s weight. It also responds really well to bolt-ons.

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The car was designed to be thrashed on the racetrack, and the more time I spend doing that, the more I understand just how good the boffins made this car. The package that rolls off of the dealership floor is brilliant, but they knew that some wouldn’t leave well enough alone. Instead of ignoring the tuners and racers, the engineers embraced and planned for it.

After a few installation laps, I wanted to make some changes. The car was a little too darty when changing directions, so we made a shock adjustment. The tire pressures started didn’t come up fast enough. Running on Hoosier A6s (autocross compound) meant that we needed to start at a slightly higher pressure and that we would only get 1 or 2 laps before the peak grip in the tire dropped off. These were easy changes that netted improvements immediately. At the end of the first day, we ran a 1:42.5 and I felt that should put us somewhere near the front of our class.

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Just call me Spartacus. Agador Spartacus.

After checking the times, I wasn’t feeling so confident in our chances. We were not near the top of the sheets; I had slightly underestimated the competition. If I was going to land on the podium, I needed to find over a second and if I was going to be in contention for the win, it was going to take a full two seconds of improvement. Two seconds is an eternity! The Saturday morning session was up next and I knew that if there was any hope of improving it would happen then, when the track was clean and the air was cool.

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Saturday morning came and so did the rain. With the session washed out, we retreated to the trailer and went back to the drawing board. We reviewed data, looked at video and made another shock change and a further air pressure adjustment. To our surprise, the track did dry out for the next session – and to our further surprise we went faster! 1:41.5, a full second faster and within spitting distance of the podium! But the competition went faster too. Bill Brees in his Mazdaspeed Protegé dropped another few tenths of a second, flirting with his own track record. With Saturday done, there were only two session left on Sunday – and rain was threatening again.

On the final morning of competition, we were greeted at the drivers meeting with crisp, cool, dry weather. This was it; this session was happy hour. I drove the car a little bit deeper into the corners, braking a few feet later than ever before. I released the brake sooner and carried more entry speed everywhere that allowed for it. I was focused, hitting my marks, lap after lap. On the last lap, I peeked down at my lap timer as I crossed the line and let out a whimper. It read: “Fastest Lap: 1:41.3.”

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Only two tenths faster!? To add insult to injury, my time wouldn’t count. I was using a battery-powered transponder for the weekend and I had charged it the previous night. However, I had forgotten to take it off the charger and put it back on the car that morning! Deflated and embarrassed, I returned to the trailer to review the in-car video and data we had recorded with the AIM Solo DL that the AIM support guys had graciously lent us. With only one session left, I made the only adjustment I could think of to help the car record a faster time: I attached the transponder.

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Determined to improve, by any margin, I rolled onto the track one final time. By the end of the first lap I was catching the TTD class Mazda RX-8. The Hoosiers were coming up to temperature, the little Scion felt the best it had all weekend. On the second lap I was all over the back of the Mazda, which is not a good thing in a Time Trial session. He was slowing me down! I made a pass into the brake zone at the end of the main straight and now I had clear track. The lap-timer was showing I had run a 1:40.1 – while losing some time behind the RX-8! The next lap: 1:39.7. I pushed a little harder, but made a slight mistake and had to lift at the exit of turn 9: 1:39.6! On the final lap of 4 days of competition, as the checkered flag waved, the lap-timer read:

“Fastest Lap: 1:39.385”

On the cool-down lap, my heart was racing. That was good for the win, I was sure of it. A new track record and faster than anyone in my class had gone all weekend. I parked the car in the tech area and congratulated my fellow competitors on a great event. Mark Domo in the Mazda RX-8 came over to shake my hand.

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“Sorry for holding you up there, but congrats on taking 2nd! Incredible that you took your daily driver up against our racecars and managed to take 2nd place at Nationals!”

Second place?! I asked if he was sure about where I had finished. His crew radioed updates to him during the session; we had all set our fastest times. Bill in the turbo Protege set a new track record, a 1:38.997, just over .3 faster than me.

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Me, left, with douchebag-white sunglasses and patchy facial hair

So we didn’t leave with the victory. The competitor in me is always a little disappointed to walk away with anything less than a win. However we showed that with a little prep and a lot of enthusiasm, the Scion FR-S platform very nearly won the first national championship it has competed for. I couldn’t have been there at all withouth the support of Visconti Tuning, Titan Motorsports, Coastal Technical Services and Cawley Motorsports. Major thanks to them for supporting the effort along the way. With another year to prepare and learn, you’d better believe we’re going to be aiming for the top step in 2013. (Note: Yeah... That didn’t happen.)

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The story doesn’t end there. Oh no. Two weeks later, I woke to this sight:

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They never found my wheels. This was right around the time that lots of wheels and cars were being stolen in Orlando. A friend had her car stolen around the same time and it was eventually recovered. I trolled craigslist, hoping to find my own wheels for sale, but instead ended up buying a replacement set from a nice kid with a WRX.

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For those wondering how the Spec Miata National Championship Race went, I think I finished 12th. I don’t remember because it doesn’t really matter. I qualified .8 off of pole and that put me 16th! It was a field of 60 of the top Spec Miata drivers in the country, in some of the best built “Spec” Miatas anywhere. The rumor is that the winning driver had over $100k into his build and owns multiple engines, all built to the razor’s edge of legality. But all credit due, he still wheeled it to victory against the best prepped, best driven cars on that day.

I did manage to get some TV time for my terrible facial hair:

About @JonLeeMiller (not the Jonny Lee Miller who was married to Angelina Jolie): Jon is a racing driver and coach who competes in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge. He collects Hot Wheels and action figures and hopes to race at LeMans or appear as an extra in the new Star Wars films. A University of Central Florida graduate, he now lives in California with his wife, Denise and Bob Barker, their adopted pet Boxer.

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