2019 – 4 TCR Rounds 3&4, Streets of St. Petersburg

Dateline: Sunday, March 10, 2019

It wasn’t supposed to end like this…

Thumbs up out the window, but I don’t think there is enough Hello Kitty duct tape to make this better.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Let’s back up the calendar a few days.

Thursday, March 7 (written at 39,000 feet while flying back to Texas)

Welcome to rounds 3 and 4 (or, in retrospect, rounds 3 and 3.75) of our rookie TCR season. This event was held in conjunction with the IndyCar race through downtown St. Petersburg.  For those unfamiliar with the concept of a street race, the whole idea is to lay out a course following the city streets.  Next, you line the entire length of the track with large blocks of concrete.  And not that nice, squishy concrete – we’re talking about the kind that is completely unyielding.  It’s sort of like driving though a tunnel.  A very unforgiving tunnel.

While this may sound massively intimidating, in reality it is MASSIVELY intimidating.  But I can’t lie. I loved every minute of it.  Well, until that final minute, I suppose.

Upon my arrival at the track on Thursday I was informed that I was required to perform a baseline concussion evaluation.  While I had performed an evaluation at the previous event, I was told that my results were “missing” and as such I needed to go to the medical trailer and again read these silly numbers off of an iPad in a certain order in a certain amount of time so that Tracy would clear me to race.  Naturally, I gave her a hard time about having to sit through the whole ordeal a second time, but in good humor she administered the test and cleared me for competition.

The rest of the day was spent preparing the car for practice on Friday.  That, and taking laps around the circuit in a golf cart for about 30 minutes.  Which reinforced the fact that the track was MASSIVELY intimidating.

I SO want to jump ahead and tell everyone about the crash at this time, but I’m going to continue with the weekend in chronological order.  But you should know that I am typing this newsletter with my left hand only, as my right collarbone is fractured in not just one, but two, locations.  But I could not be more thankful for that.

Really good doctors tell me that all of these things should be connected to one another.

Friday, March 8 (written while waiting in the orthopedic surgeon’s waiting room)

In a normal newsletter I would spend a good bit of time talking about the two practice sessions.  But I really want to jump ahead to the part about the crash, so here’s the Reader’s Digest summary: by the end of the second session we were the fastest TCR car of the day.  Our 1:21.726 was only marginally faster than the #72 VW in second place (1:21.875) and the #71 VW in third place (1:21.929).  But fastest is fastest.  The little Giulietta was really moving.

Finding speed on the Streets of St. Petersburg.

While I would love to take full credit for the lap times, Rick, Mark, and Miles put me in a car that was simply delightful to drive.  There was zero drama on track, and once I put on my helmet the walls faded in the background.  A race track is a race track, and frankly, if you’re staring at the concrete you’re staring in the wrong place.  We were highly optimistic about qualifying on Saturday morning.

Friday was wrapped up by competing (I use that term very, very loosely) in the Firestone Grand Prix 5K run.  With only a little bit of prodding from Anna, I donned my running shoes and completed my slowest lap of the weekend.  But hey, I finished 420th out of 955 entrants, and 139th in the Master’s Category.  Which made me feel not only completely exhausted, but old.

If Anna wasn’t there, I would be collapsed on the ground.  Yes, she beat me.

Saturday, March 9 (written from the pre-op waiting room)

In a normal newsletter I would spend a good bit of time talking about qualifying and Race 1.  But I really want to jump ahead to the part about the crash, so here’s the Reader’s Digest summary: through a variety of on-track circumstances we did not put in a great performance in qualifying.  Our 1:21.702 was marginally faster than our second practice session the day before, but relegated us to fourth place on the grid.  The #71 VW sitting on the pole pulled off a 1:20.838, but our data showed that we had that covered (plus a little bit) with an open track.

I love Mike, but he’s not the most attractive Umbrella Girl.

And then the race.  The race was freaking awesome.  We finished in second place, only 1.105 seconds behind the first-place #71 VW at the checkered flag.  Our fastest race lap of 1:21.291 was a substantial improvement from qualifying, and only 0.166 second slower than the fastest race lap set by the #72 VW at 1:21.125.  At this point in time, I was loving the idea of racing on a street course.  Click here to watch it online.

Our first TCR podium appearance.  More will follow.  Yes, that’s foreshadowing.

Following the race, the team huddled to strategize for Sunday’s grand finale.  We would be lining up in third place on the grid, and were feeling very good about the car’s overall performance.  The team from Romeo Ferraris was back in Italy, but stayed up LATE to watch the live streaming, providing input in real time to help us optimize the car as well.  Those guys are just outstanding and are such a large part of our success to date.  It’s a privilege to be racing their car.

Making just a few small (but meaningful) adjustments to the car, we were highly optimistic about Race 2 on Sunday afternoon.  Since the green flag would not be flown until late in the day, we had plenty of time to prepare and strategize.

Sunday, March 10 (written in my living room while heavily sedated)

So everything was going perfectly to plan until it stopped going perfectly to plan.

As you have picked up by now, I crashed.  Badly.  If you watched it live like my mom did, you probably held your breath and said a little prayer until I was able to walk from the crumpled car to the rescue vehicle.  Click here if all you want to watch is the crash.

And now, switching to Q&A mode for dramatic effect.

Q: How did the race start?

A: Awesome.  This was the first time all season I had the go-ahead to push for position at the start.  And so we did.  At the green flag we advanced our position from third to second, effectively wedging ourselves between the two VWs.  Knowing that we had cold tires, we gave the spot back going into Turn 4 when the car behind got a little racy.  With 39 more minutes still in front of us, we reasoned that we had the legs to go the distance at race pace so hooking a tow wasn’t the end of the world.

Battling for the lead in Turn 1.  Photo props to SRO – I blatantly stole this image from their website.

Q: And did you then crash?

A: No, not yet.  That’s coming.

Q: What happened before you crashed?

A: Our strategy dictated that we camp out on the VW’s rear fascia until there were 12 minutes remaining.  The leading VW (#72) was about three seconds in front of us at that point, with the #71 VW stuck in between us.  When Rick came over the radio announcing it was game on, we proceeded to set our fastest lap of the race (1:21.962), focusing on making a move three laps later.  If you want to watch Sunday’s race in its entirety, click here.

Lap 19 approaching Turn 9A.  This line doesn’t result in disaster.

Q: Sounds like you didn’t get to make that move?

A: Nope.  One lap later, in an attempt to squeeze out every last fraction out of a second, I drove into Turn 9A – the fastest turn on the course – at roughly 105 MPH (according to the Vbox it was 104.6, but I am rounding up).  Like I had done 100 times before over the course of the weekend, I gently turned the wheel to the left, aiming for the very edge of the concrete wall to my left.  This time, however, the very bottom of the tire scraped up against the concrete barrier, wrenching the steering wheel to the left and kicking off the worst eight seconds of my life.

Lap 21 approaching Turn 9A.  This line results in disaster.

Q: How badly were you off line?

A: According to the Vbox GPS data, I wasn’t.  On my fastest lap just two laps prior, the GPS positioning of the car at the apex was a dead-on overlay.  We do know that the while the left-front tire left a scuff mark on the concrete wall (you can see it being deposited in the video), the left-front fender didn’t have a scratch on it.  Said differently, the tire must have been sticking out of the fender by just a fraction of an inch as it was turned, exposing just its leading edge to the unyielding concrete surface.  We’re talking literally about a fraction of an inch, here, folks.  This wrenched the steering wheel to the left and kicked off the worst eight seconds of my life.

I already said that?  Well, I haven’t changed my mind.

Q: That sounds really bad.

A: No shit kidding.

Q: How did the next eight seconds unfold?

A: Sort of like an old-school Batman cartoon.  Bam!  Pow!  Whap!  Thump!

If you’re squeamish, skip down to where it reads SQUEAMISH PEOPLE PICK BACK UP HERE.  If you’re not, read on for the play-by-play.

Q: So you hit concrete four separate times?

A: Unfortunately, yes.  After the left front tire hooked on the inside concrete wall (impact 1), the car rotated counterclockwise and hurled itself toward the outside concrete wall.  The right-rear corner of the car struck the wall at over 100 MPH (impact 2) in what appeared to be (thankfully) a glancing blow.  And then it really got exciting.

At this point the left-front tire completely locked up (I love data acquisition systems) and caused the entire car to pivot to the left and drive head-first into the inside concrete wall again (impact 3).  Just before locking up, however, the left-front brake rotor shattered and, due to its high rotational speed, punched through the inside of the wheel.  And then the concrete wall thing happened.  It’s painful to even type this, but the freaking concrete blocks moved back due to the hit.  I’ll say, based on my first-hand knowledge, this is where my right collarbone checked out.

Q: But that’s only three impacts…

A: Yeah, I know.  Just for good measure, the car then ricocheted back across the track as it rotated another 180 degrees and whacked the outside concrete wall again.  Head-first.  By this point my collarbone was already toast, but thanks to the miraculous design of the human body, this fourth impact didn’t register any pain that I can recall.

SQUEAMISH PEOPLE PICK BACK UP HERE

Q: *pause*

A: Yeah.  I know, right?

Q: What happened next?

A: My first thoughts turned to my family.  I knew that everyone was at home watching the race live, and would be freaking out over what they just saw.  Not that I wasn’t freaking out myself, but it’s funny how that didn’t seem relevant to me in the moment.  Simply to communicate to them, I dropped the window net and gave a big thumbs-up sign out the window opening for all to see.  It hurt like bloody hell, but mom needed to know that I was ok.

As the rescue crew arrived on the scene, they went about their business with surgical precision.  Pun intended.  Tracy made me read those silly numbers again (I passed with flying colors, no concussion) before the ambulance transported me down the road to the local hospital.  And then some parts of all of this began to sink in.

Q: Were you by yourself at the hospital?

A: Thank goodness, no.  Shortly after I was checked into the ER, Anna and Jim (the SRO TC Business Class Manager) found me and walked me through my trials and tribulations when I literally could not do so by myself.  They will never know (I hope) what it meant to me to simply have them there while I was poked, prodded, x-rayed, and manipulated.

Q: Man, you must have been completely devastated.

A: Naturally, this sucked.  My car was broken.  My body was broken.  And I was in post-traumatic shock.  Shivers and all.

But as I sat in the ER for those three hours, a lot of things came together.  Ok, maybe it was just the pain meds.  But in either case, as I inventoried the day’s events, it didn’t take long to realize just how incredibly blessed I had been.  To recap: I was freaking competing in a freaking TCR race supporting freaking IndyCar and was doing so driving at the top of my game with a good chance of winning outright in a car that had Giuseppe Risi’s name (and reputation) on the hood.  And then I walked away from a horrific wreck because Mario Ferraris’ car was not only incredibly fast, it was incredibly safe.

How can that not be massively uplifting?  How could I not be thankful beyond measure?  Excuse me as I tear up for a moment.  Seriously.  This is a big deal.

Q: So, is this the end of scR motorsports?

A: What the hell are you thinking?  It’s just a flesh wound!

Q: It wasn’t just a flesh wound!

A: Fair enough.  But we’re coming back stronger than before.  This afternoon I visited an orthopedic specialist, and on Wednesday I am undergoing surgery to implant a piece of titanium in my right shoulder.  Recovery times are variable of course, but it’s probable that I can be cleared for racing again before our next scheduled event at VIR.

I asked the nurse to please avoid clipping the corner at the apex.  She didn’t get the joke.

Q: But what about the car?  It needs a little more than a titanium implant!

A: Good point.  We’re on it.  And I say “we’re” in the grandest sense.  While this is clearly a brave new word for me, the team at Risi Competizione has been through this fire drill before.  In a classic case of divide-and-conquer, it’s my job to heal while they focus on rebuilding #34.  She’s a tough little thing that selflessly sacrificed herself to protect me, so the least we can do is try to put all of the pieces back together again.

But I need to be honest here – the car is pretty jacked up.  We may end up needing to switch to a different chassis.  Once the car returns to Houston we will be able to look at it under the microscope and determine the level of repair needed to get it back on track.  Which sounds like the topic of the next newsletter to me.

Q: So do those pain meds make you sleepy at all?

A: Not so much so far.  But as I…..sit here and wrestle with the keyboard my eyes….are getting heavier and heavier and heavier and….

JWJr
teamscR.com
TCR #34

By |2019-04-24T07:49:13-05:00April 17th, 2019|