Dateline: July 29, 2000

Watkins Glen, Reader’s Digest Version

Our first “big track” race of 2000 brought with it a host of new parts (bearings, spindles, tires, and brakes), crew members (Marcus Mansfield made his official scR debut), and teething pains (read on).  So, no fancy pictures this month, and no door-to-door excitement to write home about either – just some real-world racing hard luck.

Are we there yet?

Following a six-hour drive to New York on Friday night, the team (that would be Marcus and I) decided that “we can just stop in Rochester for the evening and drive to the track in the morning…” It would turn out to be the second-best decision made by the team all weekend.  The best idea was to rent a garage space on Saturday morning, as the weatherman was calling for – you guessed it – rain all weekend.  Break out the Dirt Stockers and let’s go racing!

Practice – laps 1-3

As we were group #1 for the weekend, we had to register, set up base camp, prep the car, and make our way to the false grid all within a 1-hour period.  Fortunately, the team was well rested (except Patrick who was, well, partying until 3am) and up to the task.  The skies looked favorable as we rolled out onto the racing surface on full race rubber!

After 2 laps of ‘warm up’ we turned up the wick.  The car felt loose, but since the temperature was cold and the track was green, we wrote it off as “normal.”  Coming around for our first hot lap of the weekend Pat relayed a lap time of 2:32.  Ugh!  Our Showroom Stock car was capable of 2:28’s…what was going on?  Unfortunately, there was not time to find out, as somebody lost an oil line on the back half of the track which led to a full course Black Flag three turns later – our session was over!

Qualifying – laps 4-7

Three laps in practice were not enough to even get the oil up to temp, but we had to make do with what we had.   After going over the car from head to toe we idled to the false grid for qualifying.  The skies remained clear, so full race rubber was again the compound of choice.  With four new tires beneath us we headed back out to the track, uncertain of what to expect but knowing that a 2:32 wouldn’t cut it.  Not even close.

After one warm up lap the times began to come down – 2:32, 2:30, 2:29, 2:28…but still maddeningly slow.  To make matters worse the car was still way too loose – frequent steering corrections immediately after turn in were killing driver confidence as well as making for slow exit speeds.  Topping it off, our trap speeds at the end of the two major straights were actually no faster than in the old SSC car.  Damn!

Of course, as the driver I simply continued to try harder and harder, but naturally the car fought back.  The car ultimately won on lap 6 as we slid sideways onto the pit straight at 85 miles per hour.  Fortunately, the car stayed on the track and out of the large Styrofoam blocks, but the two left side tires were, shall we say, square.  We thumped our way back around the track and called it a day, not even besting our fastest SSC lap.  At least dinner that evening was good…

Race – laps 8-8.25

Guess what – it rained!  After an abysmal 8th place qualifying in a field of 14 we were ecstatic to see the clouds roll in.  Our 2:28 was five seconds off the pole sitter, but within 1 second of the cars in 3rd through 7th spot.  We figured with the rain, our tires, and a little bit of luck we could land on the podium.

Two out of three ain’t bad, is it?

As Marcus finished prepping the car on the false grid the three-minute warning was given.  The rain continued to fall on the windshield and the race motors revved to life.  The excitement was thick as I sat back and focused on the job at hand – turn one at Watkins Glen can see cars four wide, and in the rain everyone needed their wits about them to avoid certain disaster.

It was at about this time that I noticed the tach had stop working.  So much for focus.  Revving the engine didn’t do much as the tach needle randomly began to dance around. No problem I thought – I can drive by sound and reference markers.

Pulling down pit row in grid formation the tach remained comatose – and as a new twist a 3,000ish RPM rev limiter made itself apparent.  Hmmm, I thought – this would be a little harder to drive around.

By turn two, the car, which had begun violently sputtering and missing, was basically coasting.  Turning all of the knobs, pressing all of the buttons, and muttering several choice words couldn’t bring it back to life, so in a very inelegant way the course workers pushed the car behind the turn three guardrail.  Dead.  Completely dead.  A mild flurry of explicatives were then directed at the car and its origins, but it didn’t seem to care.

Thus ended our weekend at the Glen.  Our first ever DNS, sitting in the rain watching the race go on without us.

The long ride home

Canada is a big, lonely country – at least the part that we Americans use as a shortcut between New York and Michigan.  Consequently (and because all of their radio stations are in French), Marcus and I had plenty of time to reflect on our successes (we didn’t hit anything), our disappointments (what turned out to be an alternator that most likely failed during practice), and our plans to win the ARRC in November (we’re still working on that one).  It didn’t take long to raise our spirits enough to look forward to Waterford Hills in August – yet another chance to put the ITA teething pains behind us.  Eventually, parts have to stop breaking, right?

Mark our words, this Saturn is going to fly – eventually.  Until next time…see you at the track!