Dateline: August 22/23, 1998

Mid-Ohio National Race Report

Editor’s note:  photos are from miscellaneous races from earlier in the season – not from Mid-Ohio.  Our camera failed to make the trip…

Since very little car prep was required following the Grattan National, the two weeks prior to Mid-Ohio passed quickly.  This time our crew list was much shorter – John C of SPS – but we felt it would better allow us to focus on the task at hand – we needed a race ‘in the points’ badly!

Saturday Qualifying

In practice Saturday morning we threw on some old tires and casually ran around the track.  The conditions were humid but clear, and we ended up running a few laps in the high 1:53’s.  This was rather encouraging, since our best lap at Mid-Ohio was a 1:53.5 – and there was a lot left in the car (and driver).  We were looking forward to qualifying!  For the afternoon session, we installed our best set of tires and headed to the grid.

There were 14 cars on the grid in SSC.  By turn 7 there were 13.  A Honda went off right in front of us in turn 7 and whacked the wall pretty good.  The car then returned to the track and stopped halfway back on to the pavement.  There was cool smoke and body parts flying, but fortunately we were still at warm-up speeds and were in no danger of punting him back off.  Since the car came to rest on the racing surface, the pace car was called out and we ran 4 laps under a full course yellow – no passing, no qualifying, no fun.  The moral of this story is make sure your car is warm before you start running hot laps!

Once the Honda carnage was cleared, the course went green and qualifying began.  Unfortunately, the car never really felt good, the weather was hot and humid, and, well, it just felt s-l-o-w.  To cut to the chase, we turned in a best time of a 1:53.5 – equaling our best lap at the track – but placing us 6th in the 13-car grid.  Although we were sure there was more left in the car, our 6th place start sure was better than our 11th place qualifying effort at Mid-Ohio earlier in the year.  Sure is funny how your perspective changes when you start expecting success.

Later that evening, we were joined by the rest of the SPS crew.  Over dinner, the discussion focused on how to catch the 5 cars in front of us.  We decided that in order to succeed on Sunday, we would have to do something radical.  Something different.  Something out of the ordinary.

We skipped Dairy Queen.

I know, I know – but drastic measures were called for!  We figured this move alone would be good for 0.5 seconds per lap just due to the weight reduction…

Sunday Race

Sunday morning brought sun, a light breeze, and about 10 more spectators.  With everyone lending a hand, the race car was set and ready to go before the first morning practice session.  The only thing left to do was hurry up and wait.

Sitting on the grid felt different that morning.  The car just felt ‘lighter’.  Must have been the DQ boycott.

During the pace lap, John was busy giving a motivational speech over our new 2-way radios.  Rounding the carousel headed for the green flag we made a great move to the inside, got next to the Nissan in 5th, and rounded turn 15 wide open to see that the start had been waved off.  Damn – we had a great start going!

The second time by the start line everyone expected the green to fly, so we could gain no real advantage.  By turn 1 the field had spread out nicely without ANY changes in position taking place.  We were in a solid 6th place, but with a car hanging off of each of our bumpers.

The next 10 laps were quite uneventful.  While the gaps between the first 7 cars grew in length, there was absolutely no passing taking place.  By lap 12 the Nissan in 5th was 8 seconds in front of us, and the Neon in 7th was 8 seconds behind.  Sort of felt like running a Solo event.  The one positive, however, was that our first lap was a 1:53.2, and over the next 12 tours around the race track, our lap time spread was incredibly tight – a fast lap of 1:53.0 and a slow lap of 1:53.4.  How’s that for consistency?

As we came around for solo lap 12, John got on the radio, and in so many words said, “Hey James – how about TRYING to catch that Nissan, buddy?  This is getting boring to watch!”

He should have acted sooner.  With that little bit of encouragement, the next lap fell to a 1:52.7.  Followed by a 1:52.5.  Followed by a 1:52.3.  And another 1:52.5.

With the ‘1 lap to go’ sign flying, we had reduced the Nissan’s 8 second gap to 2 seconds, and stretched our lead over the 7th place Neon to 14 seconds. Everything was in place to catch the Nissan when time ran out.

So, although our 6th place finish was nothing exciting to look at, we evidently learned a little bit more about the track, the car, and the driver.  We even got 4 more National points.  Our 1:52.2 ended up being the third fastest lap of the SSC race – had we run those times all race long, we could have challenged for 2nd place.  Of course, the race leader was still running high 1:54’s, but he had a draft (an SSB car) and fresh tires.  Our ’52 in open air and used rubber has us feeling pretty confident that with a fresh set-up we could run right there with the fast guys.

After packing and thanking everyone for making the trek to the track, Dana and I were walking back to the van by the Mid-Ohio gift shop.  She summed up how were feeling pretty well with just one comment.

“Well, you could go over there and BUY a checkered flag…”

So, where does this leave us?  With 1 month to go before the Runoffs – the National Championship – we are sitting in 10th place in our division in points.  Since the top 10 competitors in each Division are invited, we are ‘on the bubble’.  For this reason, we have added another race to the schedule in an attempt to gather a few more points and pad our 10th place standing.  Heck, we even want to improve it!

Therefore, make sure you leave your calendars open for September 4,5, and 6 – we will be racing in Canada, eh!  The event will be held at Mosport, just outside of Toronto.  From what we have heard, the track is fast and technical – and our car seems to like that.  See you there!