Dateline: November 10/11/12, 2000

A Well-Deserved Rest

Now that December is right around the corner, it is finally time to sit back and take a good, hard look at the 2000 season.  This comes, of course, after a speed-laden October and early November.

Shelby Club At Waterford

“Shelby Club?  Isn’t that a Mustang thing?”  Absolutely!  On October 8th we attended an open track lapping session at Waterford Hills, sponsored by the Detroit chapter of the Shelby Club.  Several scR crew members and supporters from the Detroit area were signing up to run their street cars to get their own taste of the action, and we tagged along for the ride.  The event was open to all makes and models, so we elected to bring a Saturn – but NOT our #34 ITA car.  Instead, Dana’s daily-driver 1998 SL2 was subjected to the rigors of lapping (ssshhh – don’t tell her).  There was no need to set fast lap times, after all – it was just for fun.

The day opened with snow, followed by rain, followed by sleety stuff, followed by…well, you get the idea.  Because we were running on street tires, we ran all four sessions regardless of the conditions, but Big Bend merited an extra degree of caution.  Dana would not have been too happy with the consequences had we driven over the edge.

The day ended cold and wet, but with smiles all around (except perhaps from Matt “the coolant system just needs to burp itself” Hawkins).  Maybe next year we will actually get to play with everyone in the dry.

Vintage Trans-Am Test At Grattan

Talk about going from one extreme to the other!  In contrast to running a bone-stock SL2 around a 3rd gear road course in the snow, on October 27th we were fortunate enough to attend a test-and-tune shakedown of a Vintage 1969 Trans-Am racecar.  However, unlike most vintage cars this one was brand-spanking new.  The car was built over the past three years by a small group of dedicated Pontiac enthusiasts from the Detroit area.  They started with an original 1969 Firebird and ended up with a modern stockcar which sort of resembles a 1969 Firebird…from the outside anyway.  The car was armed with a 302 small-block Chevy making north of 400 horsepower, a Ford 9-inch rear end, brakes from a C4 Corvette, and all the standard racing amenities of home – roll cage, fuel cell, Halon system, harness and nets, etc.  My list ends here, but it goes on and on and on…

To make a long story very short, the car experienced the typical new-car teething pains at the track, but nothing serious enough to keep us from running a full test day.  Chassis set-up, suspension clearance, final drive venting, and brake pad performance all will be addressed over the winter months, but by the end of the day we were only running three seconds away from the pole-winning time set at Grattan earlier in the year.  Not bad for fresh off the trailer.

One last curious note:  while the Firebird only managed (this time out) to run one second per lap quicker than our #34 ITA car (it is on vintage Bias-ply tires after all), its speed on the front straight was THIRTY-SIX miles per hour faster!  In a straight line, this thing just plain hauls…and next time it will be geared down even farther.  Hold on!

Did I mention that steering the BACK end of the car with the throttle is addictive?

This Is Work?

Back to reality…sort of.  On October 30th and 31st, I was forced to attend the Mid-Ohio Driver’s School as part of my required on-the-job training.  Yea, I know – it’s tough.  Along with twenty-one other Bosch Associates, we made the trek on Sunday night in preparation for the two-day course.  I could lie and say that it was boring and uneventful, but who would believe it?

While day one was spent in the parking lots doing lane change and skidcar drills, day two actually had us out on the racetrack lapping in the school’s Honda Accords.  I know, I know, it was a blasphemy to run a Honda at Mid-Ohio, but hey – it was for work.  Unfortunately, our final lapping session was truncated when a car went off in turn 1 and “nudged” the tirewall, but by that point we were ready to call it a day anyhow.  We packed up sore, tired, windburned, and spent the ride home dreaming of being race car drivers.  For that one day, everyone was.

Oh Yea…What About That Red Car?

So much for having six weeks off between Mid-Ohio and the ARRC.  With the help and assistance of several new and old scR local crew members, the car was meticulously torn apart and put back together for the season-ending IT Championship at Road Atlanta.  New bearings, brakes, alignment, fluids, and tires filled the pre-race checklist.  The most important item on the checklist, however, was a new Sony CD player for the van.  Crew chief Tom McCready vowed that without tunes, he would not spend twelve hours straight in the van with me…

Tom and I packed up on Tuesday, November 7th and left the following morning.  Twelve hours, six CD’s, one tray of brownies, and seventy gallons of unleaded later the mini-scR caravan arrived in Atlanta, Georgia only to be greeted with a 9:00pm traffic jam.  In the rain.  Six lanes wide.  Boo hiss.

We had arrived in Atlanta one day early in order to take advantage of the Road Atlanta test day on Thursday.  Unfortunately, the rain which had greeted us Wednesday night continued through the day on Thursday, literally washing away any chance to dial-in the car set-up.  Tom and I did manage to run the car for two sessions on rain tires, but spent most of our time wondering how we were going to dry out our only two pairs of sneakers for the rest of the weekend.

After setting up camp in the rain and heading back to the hotel that evening, we decided that Friday qualifying was to be our set-up time – after all, we had no other choice.  Shortly after finishing dinner and reviewing the in-car video from the rainfest (Tom added to the pre-session checklist: bring canoe) we turned in for the night.

At 1:00 that morning Pat and Dana landed in Atlanta and showed up at the hotel.  Their first thought upon entering the room must have been “Why are there four sneakers on the heater outlets?”

Let The Sun Shine!

 Per Tom’s request, Pat and Dana arrived with sunshine, and lots of it.  The rain on Thursday would be the last precipitation we would see for the weekend.  Let’s hit the track!

Our first qualifying session on Friday consisted solely of keeping the car on the track and slowly building up speed.  Since this was our first time on the track in the #34, we had no idea what to expect.  We ran hard for five laps, came into the pits for a full-course black flag, and returned to the track for four more tries.  Tire temperatures taken during the black flag cool-down were discouraging, and were confirmed after the second outing.  In addition, the car was pushing in nearly every corner, making for a disappointing first impression of the track.  When the lap chart was posted, we were pleased to see that we were 8th fastest in a field of twenty-six, turning in a best of a 1:47.3, but we knew several cars behind us were not yet up to speed either.

Prior to our second qualifying session we ran the car through its usual battery of inspections, but made changes to shocks, alignment, and the rear anti-sway bar.  All of our changes were made in an attempt to correct both the tire temperature issue as well as to help the car turn more quickly.  We crossed our fingers and headed out for round two.

The stopwatch confirmed what the driver quickly realized – the car wasn’t any faster.  At all.  In fact, we struggled to keep pace with our earlier times.  We brought the car in halfway through the session and made yet another shock change, but the best we could muster was a 1:47.2.  Although the handling balance was finally coming around, the tire temperature profiles were getting worse.  Group consensus was that a big change was needed for Saturday morning, and our fall to 14th on the grid confirmed it.  As the crew decreed, both the driver and the car needed a “big kick in the ass.”

Race Day

We rolled to the grid Saturday afternoon with yet another set-up, hoping to find the magic formula.  When the green flag flew, the group quickly spread four-wide in turn 1 and the bumping began.  After running Nationally in Showroom Stock, I thought I would be prepared for the ‘leaning’ and the ‘rubbing,’ but these guys were a step beyond anything that I had experienced.  Consequently, by turn 5 the #34 had lost three positions.  Passing by start/finish for the end of lap 1, I swear I could hear Pat yelling from pit lane “Take the dress off and drive!”

The next lap quickly put two of our competitors back behind us, but while making another pass on the inside of turn 10a, the car’s left front wheel struck the inside edge of the curbing and made “one of those really bad sounds.”  I neglected to inform the crew at the time, but the steering wheel ended up off-center and the car picked up a front-end vibration when turning right.  The pass stuck and the car didn’t explode, so we kept the pace wondering when the wheel was going to fly off.  One lap later the car was still driveable (although twitchy), so I stepped up the pace as much as possible and focused on the rear bumper of the #26 car in front of us.  It just so happened to be the only other Saturn in the field, driven by our friend Gary Lippert.

While catching up, the team managed – what would later prove to be our fastest lap of the race – a 1:46.3.  We got close enough to the #26 to stick a nose out once or twice, but the car’s handling continued to decline.  A full-course yellow on lap 12ish was much-needed as the field bunched back up behind the pace car for four laps.  At this point the crew was informed about the front-end issues.  I believe their reply was along the lines of “Why the hell did you do that?”

The restart with five laps to go was simply horrible.  Driving a car with unknown chassis issues into turn 1 with a frenzied horde from behind made for a five-position loss by turn 5.  Running down the back straight with the pack just out of reach I radioed to the crew, “That restart SUCKED.”

Their reply?  “Ah, yea.”

Over the next four laps we did manage to pick our way back by every one of the cars that had passed us on the restart, but managed to get no farther ahead than where we had started.  Consequently, coming under the checkered flag on lap 20 was a melancholy experience.

While we had come to the ARRC without practice, without set-up time, and without experience, we knew we were better than a 13th place finisher.  At the same time, Tom and Pat worked tirelessly throughout the weekend, continually improving the performance of the car while we were chipping away at the lap times and managing to hold off half of the field…all of this in spite of an ill-handling racecar.  We packed up that night, congratulating Gary and his team on their 11th place finish and started the long drive home, still unsure of how to react.

364 Days Until ARRC 2001

During the twelve-hour trek back to Michigan, Tom and I slowly realized that the glass really was half full.  In our very first season, #34 managed to make a presence at the ARRC, and to be 13th fastest in the country really isn’t anything to be ashamed of.  Of course, scoring our first win, finishing 4th in CENDIV points after only competing in 5 series races, and keeping the car happy (read here: uncrashed) made the season all that more enjoyable.  The ARRC may not have met our every expectation, but as high as they were, perhaps that was inevitable.  Racers unfortunately have a tendency to do that to themselves and their teams.

So where do we go from here?  In between Pearl Jam and Boston CD’s, Tom and I laid the groundwork for scR’s 2001 season.  Unlike this past season where we ran “a little bit of everything,” 2001 will be focused quite narrowly on two objectives:

  1. Winning the CENDIV points race
  2. Winning the ARRC IT Championship

To that end, our preliminary 2001 schedule has already been established, and as you can see, we are running only those events which will prepare us accordingly.  High-speed handling and seat time at Road Atlanta are the driving factors – nothing else matters.  So, let us present scR 2001 – short, sweet, and to the point:

May 6 Indianapolis Raceway Park Double Regional
May 27 Grattan Raceway Double Regional
July 1 Mid-Ohio Double Regional
July 29 Mid-Ohio Double Regional
September 2 Road Atlanta Double Regional
October 7 Mid-Ohio Single Regional
November 11 Road Atlanta ARRC IT Championship

Does this mean that we expect to win the Championship?  You never know until you try…but you can rest assured that we will not settle for 13th place next season.

See you at the track!