This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Tue, Sep 20, 2011
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
DRIVING A SEIDNERS COLLISION SKID PLATE CAR AT TOYOTA SPEEDWAY A First Person Report by Doug Stokes Well, honestly your honor, the term “driving” is actually used quite loosely in the above entitled article. No, WAIT. This isn't a new episode of "CSI Irwindale". I got the call on Saturday afternoon about 1 pm. It was Bob DeFazio the boss at the Speedway. “Stokes, where are you, we’ve got a Skid Plate car for you to race tonight.” Me: "What?" “We’ve got a Skid Plate car that's being set up for you, get over here, you’ve been saying that you want to drive one. Get your helmet and get over here.” He was right, I’d been saying that for quite a while, and, well, what the heck. So I dug out my (subtle product placement) Impact helmet and headed for the track. Upon arriving, I borrowed a fire-proof (Simpson) driving uniform top from the accommodating folks at track’s official driving school, The LA Racing Experience. Turns out that the above two items are the total driver safety gear requirements for the Skidders. Oh yeah, gloves are “suggested” but the rest of the “ensemble” is up to the driver’s very own personal mood and fashion sense. (After driving one I'd suggest a set of those carpal tunnel wrist wrap things… hanging on to the steering wheel on one of these is like trying to stick your hand into a very large whirling fan.) If you’ve seen one of the Seidners machines, you know that they are basically (very) used-up compact front-wheel drive cars that have been carefully “prepared” for competition by gutting the car of the rear seats, door panels, floor covering, insulation, headliner, spare tire, headlights, and all window glass. Interpretive paint schemes are a big part of the deal here, much of the work rivaling the best of the some of the worst freeway overpass graffiti vandals out there. Objects like flags, dolls, phony machine guns, and all manner of attachable paraphernalia (all reminiscent of some top DD machines) are also part of the competition livery. My machine, a Ford Contour, with an (almost) working radio, a lot of (ominous) left side damage, and a very trusting car owner (I think that it was Mini Stock racer Daryl Skoggins' car, but I could be wrong).
There's a strong sense of a communal sharing of these clapped-out-looking machines which still have quite a bit of fight left in their unibodies. Everyone works on whatever car needs to be fallen upon and hammered out, welded-up, or hand-painted up with slogans (like "DON'T HIT ME!" or "MISSED ME!" and other such pithy statements and (sometimes unquotable) sayings. By the way, Scoggins, who seems like a sensible enough fellow, swears that driving a Seidners Skid Plate Car (a green and yellow former compact station wagon … hmmm … I wonder if that elongated wheelbase might be a speed secret?) gives him a edge in driving his Mini-Stock in a very loose condition. He was leading the points in that division when we did our Skid Car test run (August 20) so there must be something to it. The actual driving is so very backward from everything that you ever might have done in a car that it almost has to be experienced to be understood. We've all kicked the rear end of a car out by jacking the handbrake and turning the steering wheel. Heck, I got really good at that over a freezing weekend in Pontiac, Michigan … able to put a car into a parking spot at the motel like some movie stunt pro, but THIS IS DIFFERENT. First of all, the "park brake" is on all the time. In fact, these cars work "better" with the park brake pulled up until the cables are just under their ultimate yield strength. Even with the park brake holding the rear wheels from what they really want to do, there's a hell of a clatter coming from back there … I had expected a scraping sound, after all we were riding on two steel plates instead of a set of rubber roundies, what I was not ready for was the clanking and banging that the skids make as they … well … skid along. About the steering (or the lack thereof in general): Yes the front wheels are still steering the car, and they are still powering the car, and they are still braking the car, and are doing everything else that is dynamic in the semi-bizarro-world that we'll loosely label "car motion control". And therein lies the wonderment and weirdness.
One. If you are on flat and level asphalt with the steering wheel pointed dead ahead and push the gas pedal down (most likely) you'll go (pretty much) straight ahead (unless you've mistakenly parked on a place that has anything more than a one degree cant to it.) I nearly spun and wedged my car across the track entry ramp, "saved" it and then went into a snap spin as soon as I hit the little transition between the big track and the inner track (which looks quite a lot bigger through the side window while one is holding full opposite lock). Of course all the opposite lock in the world ain't often near enough, and racing driver fast reactions can cause even faster bad reactions from the skid-mobile. Two. You must try to remember that putting a crank into the steering wheel and kicking the throttle, does lovely, flat nothing to get the tail out for a nice (noisy) drift round the corner. In fact the harder and more blatant you are on the loud pedal, the worse it gets. At least that was for this would-be racer. The correlations are all up side down and backwards … like learning to tie your tie in the mirror and then trying to do it without the mirror. Your butt says: "Gas it," and the car's saying, well, er … something like "Hey screw you buddy!" Three. After the fact, some of the regulars took the time to talk about the experience with me. They had waited until after I drove, knowing that any pre-experience advice on driving theory would have flown out of my sieve-like brain before I could get to turn two. The deal is that the car is front wheel drive (I know: "Duh!"). I drive a front-wheel drive car every day, but I don't drive it with the rear end locked up. In the Skids, the front diff really makes a difference, meaning that when you are turning hard and stomp on the loud pedal, you just might (might?) be giving more power to one wheel than the other … which means that the power is applied eccentrically and the need for straight line speed is overruled by physics. Exacerbate that effect by sawing on the steering wheel (like me) and further upsetting the already poor, overstressed front "tars" and you'll be repaid with more and more degraded performance … which invited MORE fevered sawing, which results in … aw you know. Four. The closest thing to a Seidners Collision Skid Car Whisperer out there, Robert Rice is like a monosyllabic Obie Wan you-know-who, "… Just drive the thing." Brilliant advice. "Use the force" would have been just as useful and driving blindfolded might make me a skoche faster around the wide/low-banked Toyota Speedway inner third-mile. As it was my hands hurt from the death grip (and constant re-death gripping) that I put on the steering wheel. My thumbs kept getting whacked by the steering wheel spokes as I tried desperately to dial in the magic number for relatively-straight progress. The whole exercise was half-thrilling and half-humbling. I had the racer’s equivalent of “fun” (that is, being able to mash the gas hard with a helmet on). even while trying my darnest not to end up in one of those multi-car “big ones” that the Skids always seem to produce at least once every night it runs. Five. In truth, there is a way to drive one of these very smoothly, very quickly, in a two-wheel metallic "drift" all the way around the third-mile. It is a talent rather than a skill, something akin to patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time back in kindergarten, or mastering the Vulcan split-finger salute a few years later. No earthly reason to know how to do it, no application in the real world, but great fun, and a half-way decent subject to squander some 1,777 (so far) words on. I remember a bumper sticker from the golden age of bumper stickers (most are now either vulgar or inane) when they spoke in enigmatic phrases and challenged personal philosophies, this one read EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG. Whoever came up with that one had to have Nostrodamus-like abilities, being able to read my very thoughts before I was even born. That is the exact state of mind that one needs to be in to effectively drive a Skid Plate Car. Part whimsy, part wacky racer, part competition, part just plain old survival. I suggest that everyone try a few laps behind the wheel of one of these machines, if only to ratchet down an inflamed ego, or as in my case just to see (with a low bow to Chris Economaki) "What its like out there." Answer: Fun as hell! -Doug Stokes And check out "Skid Plate Racing at Toyota Speedway" on YouTube ADD: Hey the crowd at the Speedway loves watching the Skidders as much as the drivers love the spin-happy competition and camaraderie. It is a show, it is a race, and it is something of lifestyle now. You can have fun, wear a helmet, and have a big NASCAR crowd cheering for you! The Seidners Skid Plates always run last on the night's bill just because there's sometimes a little "clean-up" (bumpers, doors, wheel, grilles, you know … extraneous pieces) after they work their corps de ballet contretemps on the third-mile. But here's the newsflash about the show: No one leaves early when the Seidners-sponsored machines are on the bill. That would be worse than sitting for a great supper and then boogying right before Aunt Florence brings out her lemon soufflé chocolate sponge cake ice cream flambé. Not very likely, Louie. Are you kidding? NO ONE leaves the Speedway grandstands 'til the last spark is thrown. Ya just gotta see it for yourself. Check the Speedway schedule on the web and set a date to Hit the Skids! (Me? I chose not to run in the race, seceding my machine to a much younger driver with great potential … But I want to come back for another test session … I think that I know the driving drill … Now, if I can only re-train my brain to not believe my butt … -DS) Author Doug Stokes was the PR Manager for the Speedway for the first nine years of its operation. He "came home" last year, taking the Speedway on as his company's PR client. Stokes raced Karts and formula cars on road courses in the amateur ranks and has a newfound respect for the Speedway's third-mile oval. "Going fast here is all about concentration…Now what was I saying?" For more information on Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, go to toyotaspeedwayatirwindale.com