David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/3/05 6:40 p.m.

Twice each year our local Martin Sports Car Club holds their Mini-Prix event, which is basically a higher-speed autocross. Legend says that they've been holding these events for a few decades. They used to hold them at the Martin-Marietta plant in Orlando, but tightened security regulations after the Sept. 11 attacks forced them out.

Lately they have been using the road course at Gainesville Raceway, but this fall they tried something different, the St. Augustine Technical Institute. This police/fire training center has a winding road-type course, and multiple layouts are possible. The good news is that it's a fun stretch of asphalt; the bad news is that leaving the pavement will put you in the drink, as the area can be called quite marshy.

Anyhow, we were the lone STS competitor at this weekend's event, which means we got the win no matter what. Still, our times dropped each time we went out, which is always a good thing--especially with that huge penalty for an off-course excursion.

Before our final run, however, our Civic gave us the international sign that said "I don't want to play anymore." While in the staging lanes, turning the key didn't make the engine start.

First reaction was to check for a dead battery or a loose lead. Leads were tight. When we asked fellow competitor (and Civic owner) Jason Young if he had jumper cables, he said no, but provided a "jump box" instead. Well, that didn't do the trick either.

Fortunately, two Honda techs happened to be walking by at the moment--Nikki Barbara and Chad Wilken. Bum starter solenoid? A quick tap told them that wasn't the problem. About a minute later, they diagnosed the problem: The clutch pedal stopper that engages the starter safety switch had come apart, a common problem, they say. (So that's what that crumbly blue stuff was....) Manually pushing in the safety switch while turning the key provided confirmation, although thanks to the position of the switch this was a two-person job.

Once the problem was diagnosed, we went looking for a paperclip so we could jump the safety switch's plug. Hard to believe, but we couldn't find a paperclip at the site. Jason again saved the day. He didn't have a paperclip, but he did have a spare clutch safety switch on hand. (Pretty wacky, huh?) This second switch is now dangling from the plug, meaning it can be reached from the driver's seat, allowing us to start the car without a helper. Thanks, Jason.

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