In a car that puts down power from an end of the car that he is not the most familiar and one that is also not commonly perceived to be competitive, the 2008 F Street Prepared National Champion Kevin Wenzel showed that he still has the moxie to compete at the highest level. Moving away from his Volkswagen roots Kevin claimed the 2008 title driving a 1968 BMW 2002 on Hoosier tires. He is a member of the Colorado Region SCCA.
RR: Is this your first attendance at Nationals?
KW: Nope – I’ve been to 10 Nationals events (’97-’08, missing ’03-’04).
RR: Is this your first National Championship?
KW: No, 2008 was my fourth win – the first three were 2000, 2005 and 2006, which were all in 1981 VW Sciroccos, run in FSP.
RR: What was your favorite memory of the competition?
KW: My second run on the first day – I had doubted my ability to drive at that level since 2007 (the only year I didn’t at least trophy at Nationals).
RR: What do you think was your key to success?
KW: Sweating the small stuff, although not always the same small stuff that other people were sweating… Also, having a very clear idea of how I wanted a given car to behave.
RR: Who has most influenced you?
KW: For driving, I’d have to say a combination of Bob Tunnel and Dave Fauth – Tunnel for being *so* fast, *so* consistently, and for being generally unflappable to whole time. Â Fauth is a very different kind of driver than I am – I’m amazed to watch how precise he is, and how well he executes the plan he creates during course walks, so I’d like to develop more of that skill. Â For car preparation, my biggest influence has been my friend and former employer, Dave Stone of Performance Machine Works. Â He has a breadth of knowledge and attention to detail that I will always envy.
RR: Who inspires you?
KW: Largely, the folks that I run with in X class at local Colorado Region/CDR events. Â The level of competition has been very high for so long in these regions that local events sometimes feel like National Tours, and facing a challenge like that all year long can go a long way towards making up for not attending lots of Tours/Pros (which I’ve not always been able to do).
RR: Do you have any special pre-race routine, or any superstitions you follow?
KW: At the start, I tend to do some specific things with my hands, which amounts to rubbing the steering wheel and checking the gear and parking brake position over and over again. Â I’ll also spend some time looking at the first few significant cones, and intentionally change my focus from the first gate to the next, and back again. Â Before running I tend to do the same visualization that every else seems to, although I don’t walk around in circles with my eyes closed (I’m clumsy enough without *trying* to trip over things).
I also like to drink orange Moutain Dew before running, although I’ve been less consistent about that in the last year or so. Â No idea if the sugar and caffeine helps or is ultimately a hindrance, but it’s tasty!
RR: Do you have any driving aids or tools you use to help you?
KW: Video, definitely. Â Data as often as possible, although I’ve never been able to afford (or been able to prioritize in a budget, compared to Other Things to Do) the acquisition system that I’d really like to be using.
RR: What do you think you do differently than your competition?
KW: I think that when I’m really in the right place mentally, I’m quick on the first run – I think it helps to put the competition in as big a hole as possible right off the bat. Â I tend to be aggressive in slaloms and transitions (and try to set cars up to allow this, more than anything else), and I think a lot of folks don’t quite place the same importance on that particular aspect of autocrossing – this seems odd to me, because I think it’s often the difference-maker.
RR: Have you attended any driving school?
KW: I attended at least a couple of local autocross schools in 1997 (in Colorado, that tends to be a nearly Evo-like experience, IMHO, since we had names like Ames, Bailey, Klingler, Raymond, Ott, Tunnel, Fauth
etc., etc. as instructors…! ). Â Other than that, just a Colorado-based road racing school to get my club racing license.
RR: Describe your driving style.
KW: Other than aggressiveness in transitions, I’m not really sure. Â I tend to have very fast hands, and I’m not as precise as I’d like to be. Â I try to apply the “strong opinions, weakly held” maxim to course walks, since I don’t seem to be very good at predicting exactly what I’m going to need to do in a given corner, and thus I approach driving as a friction-circle-tactile situation – do whatever I can to keep the car at the edges of it *and* stay ahead of the course *and* maintain a tight enough line, but I tend to rely on adaptability to get that done. Â If I’m looking ahead and am on top of things, it works out pretty well most of the time. Â If not, I suddenly end up in thrash-land and I’m playing catch-up. Â At least that’s how it feels. The video often looks so boring that I have to doubt my own perceptions of what happens in the car.
RR: What was your first â€“and favorite autocross car?
KW: First car was a 1981 VW Scirocco (one of three) in DSP (at the time). Favorite (and most-hated) would have to be the 1984 VW Rabbit I built for EP (and ran between 2001-2002): http://www.timelord-racing.com/alba/ . That car changed my understanding about what was really important about developing autocross cars.
RR: If you could change one Solo rule â€“ either for your specific class or in general — what would it be?
KW: Having spent at least a little time on an advisory committee, I have a hard time focusing on one rule. Â The difficulty is that it’s very hard to both correct clear inconsistencies and errors and also adapt the rules and classing to match the constantly-changing automotive marketplace (and level of technical skill/commitment within individual classes, which is also not very static), so it seems like more of a continuum to me. Â I personally dislike the tendency towards inconsistent naming conventions between parent classes, but maybe that’s a meaningless aesthetic preference…
RR: Who would you like to thank for your success?
KW: Three people – one, my long-time co-driver Iain Mannix, Dave Stone at Performance Machine Works, and my ex-wife (and still a dear friend) Carol Coen, who, along with her whole family, got me addicted to this racing thing in the first place.
Photos courtesy of www.gotcone.com
For copies of photos email david @ evorticity.com