Driving Forward Together had the pleasure of talking with Street Touring Roadster driver and repeat trophy winner, Jen Fox!
What region do you belong to? What class and car do you drive?
Washington DC Region - 2016 Miata in STR for the last 2 years
When did you start autocrossing? How did you get started?
I came out to a CDC event in 2013 sometime to watch and ride along and thought, "I don't want to just ride along - I want to drive!" I think I did a few CDC events in 2013 in Greg's Mazda 3. I never liked Miatas (shocker) but I went for my first Miata ride-along in a very quick turbo NB driven by Larry Casey around September 2013. My first reaction: "OMG, Miatas are awesome. I need a Miata." We brought home our first Miata (the STS car) on Halloween 2013 and it's been Miata-life since. I was obsessed with autocross from that point forward.
What other cars do you own?
I co-own 7 cars, a truck, and a trailer with my other half, Greg Pollack:
1990 Mazda Miata (STS)
1999 Mazda Miata (10AE - ES)
2004 Honda S2000 (mostly stock - awesome daily driver - very occasional under-prepared autocross car)
2004 Mazdaspeed Miata (BSP - planning to run this nationally next year with Greg)
2013 Subaru BRZ (STX - raced nationally for a few years before moving to STR, still raced locally sometimes)
2014 Dodge Ram (finally caved to tow life and I love it)
2016 Mazda Miata (STR - raced nationally for the past 2 years - my favorite car that I've ever driven. Every time I drive that car I fall in love with it again)
2017 Subaru WRX STI (daily driver and occasional trackcross car)
Do you drive with any other clubs?
I race frequently with Capital Driving Club (CDC) in the DC area. It's an awesome local club and great place for novices. Sometimes I'll show up to local events with other clubs in the mid-Atlantic area, as well.
Do you wrench on the car?
Yes, after we brought home the STS car, we realized it needed a fair amount of work to make it the amazing autocross car we wanted it to be. I knew next to nothing about working on cars, but that car was a great learning opportunity. We worked on it a lot the first two years we had it and I learned a ton about building and re-building a Miata. By the time I bought the ND Miata in September 2015, I felt fairly comfortable working on it. I did a lot of the work on that car myself, but had help from Greg Pollack, Brian Karwan, Marcus Pyne, and Nate Atkins for various jobs. Of course, once Brian started co-driving the car, it went through various rebuilds at his hands (you've gotta try every possible shock, right?).
Did you make any significant changes on the car during the season?
We switched from JRZ 3-way shocks to MCS 3-ways at the beginning of the season. I think both felt very similar once dialed in, so that didn't feel like a big change. The biggest change was switching from Bridgestones to Yokohamas in May for the NJ ProSolo and never switching back.
Do you like the Yokohama's? Can you share any details on how they feel? Or on how they changed the car handling?
I love the Yokos. I feel more confident driving the car on them. The Yokos feel great from the first run, where with Bridgestones or especially BFGs, I was always afraid to push the car on the first run. Yokos have helped me to be more aggressive from Run 1.
How do you approach a course?
I like to walk course as much as I possibly can. I do much better racing if I'm really really comfortable with the course. Locally, I never get more than like 2 walks, due to running the events or not getting enough time. So I'm always a little hesitant my first run out. I've gotten better at going hard my first run at national events, since there's usually plenty of time for walks. Locally, I ride with other people every chance I get. I especially make sure I get to ride with Brian once in my car at every event possible. It always helps me to see what the car can do. And I always drive more aggressively the next run and pick up time. Riding with people is (IMO) one of the #1 ways to get faster.
What went into your class choice this season?
I love my STR ND and wanted to run it for a second season.
What goes into deciding if you are going to have a codriver and choosing one?
I prefer having a co-driver over driving alone. It makes it more fun, plus you have opportunities to work together and learn from each other. Plus, I like warm tires. :) Last year we had a team of 4 people in the car - Michelle Knoll and I ran in ladies and Brian Karwan and Greg Pollack ran in open. Michelle and I had a blast co-driving ("make it rain") and I think it helped to make both of us faster drivers. It's challenging to have one of your major competitors in the same car, but it pushed us to do our best. This year, I was lucky enough to trick Karwan into co-driving with me in open, so it was a great opportunity to learn from the master. Greg and I have co-driven locally, but never nationally, because I was running ladies until this year and then we ran different cars this year. I'm excited to co-drive nationally in the BSP MSM next year.
What was it like to drive with Brian Karwan? In what ways did it help you?
Running with Brian all year was awesome because he's crazy fast but he's not an overdriver. I didn't know I could be fast and still be smooth. I wasn't sure I could keep my style of driving and ever be competitive. Also Karwan and I watched video between runs and it was so helpful to see how he approached the course. And he would also watch my videos and point out places to improve between runs. Co-driving with him served as a constant reminder that "smooth is fast" and that the shortest line is almost always the quickest. I'm not an overdriver so it's nice to see someone showing that you don't need to overdrive to succeed in autocross - focusing on smoothness and precision can lead to great things. Also, being able to show up to every event and know that the car is reliable and well set-up (because Karwan wouldn't have it any other way) made it easier to just focus on my driving this year.
What are your plans and goals for next season? Are you keeping your STR ND?
Next season, I'm planning to run BSP in our 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata. My goals include trying to figure out how to drive on Hoosiers and continuing to push my comfort zone as far as speed and aggression while keeping my smoothness. As for the ND, I had planned to sell it at the end of this season, but every time I drive it, I'm reminded of how much I love it. I am so happy every time I race that car. I've got a year left of the warranty, so I think I'll keep it another year and enjoy it locally, even if I'm not racing it nationally. Who knows, maybe I'll make a really dumb decision and turn it into a BSP car one day - we need two of those, right?
Are there any words of wisdom you would give to someone new to the sport?
1) Buy good tires. Don't waste your time with extravagant mods if your tires are terrible. The biggest thing that will give you confidence is a good set of tires.
2) Ride along with people - lots of different people - everyone's driving style is a little different and you can learn from many different drivers. Put someone fast in your car and ride along with them so you can see what your car can do and what it feels like to go fast.
3) Drive other cars if you have the opportunity - I think hopping into different cars has helped me to learn faster and to feel confident with different set-ups, different cars, and different conditions.
4) If you want to try a National-level event, just do it! Don't wait until you're comfortable. It's not as intimidating as you think it will be, but you should find someone who's been before and is willing to take you under their wing and show you where to go and what to do. (Thanks Alan and Kate Claffie for doing this for us back in 2014!)