Dateline: July 9/10, 2011

ChumpCar put on notice: the Saturn Art Car has arrived!

Every been to Wampum, Pennsylvania?  Chances are, probably not.  However, last weekend Wampum was ground zero for our second Saturn Art Car ChumpCar World Series outing.  Why Wampum?  Because it is where you will find BeaveRun, a 1.5-mile road racing facility that, although relatively obscure, was playing host to our prestigious event.  You just know it’s a high-class facility when their t-shirts read “You Haven’t Raced Until You’ve Lapped The Beaver.”  It’s a wonder that NASCAR hasn’t picked up on this place yet.

Cue Dramatic Music

All was well until the proverbial eleventh hour when the Dream Team driver lineup from Texas World Speedway – Mark, Tom, Patrick, and James – was decimated.  Tom was forced to abandon the effort due to some “I Have This Really Important Job With This Really Cool Company And My Boss Needs Me To Coordinate A Corporate Boondoggle That Weekend” excuse that we didn’t believe anyway.  Our bet is that he had a date.  Finally.  Anyway, this threw us into an e-mail, text message, and voice mail frenzy.  Yes, with chemistry tossed to the curb, we were forced to change up our driver lineup!

The initial requirements were that the substitute driver be 1) insanely fast, 2) incredibly consistent, 3) easy on equipment, 4) charismatic, and 5) fully sponsored.  In other words, just like us (minus the sponsorship of course, but we’re always open to offers, so if you need an irresponsible way to turn your big pile of money into a much, much smaller pile of money, please feel free to contact any one of us directly).  Unfortunately, NOBODY, and I mean NOBODY, in our collective Rolodexes was available on two-days’ notice to blow a weekend at the track with us.  As such, our list of must-haves was reduced to 1) could drive a manual transmission, and 2) owns fire suit, and we were flexible on the fire suit part of the equation.

Turns out that we simply could not rummage up a single warm-blooded individual to drive both days in Wampum, so we ended up splitting up the duties between two highly qualified individuals.  Larry volunteered to drive for us on Saturday, but was unavailable on Sunday due to some really prestigious something or other in Los Angeles that required an airplane to attend.  Nevertheless, his driving credentials sort of humbled the rest of us.  As a former editor for Car and Driver magazine, Larry has been there and done that behind the wheel.  Between sprint races, endurance races, karting, and a host of things I am forgetting, Larry brought over 20 years of wheel-to-wheel competition experience to the team, including a working knowledge of BeaveRun itself.  Tom?  Tom who?

In mild contrast, Mr. Caherty stepped up to serve as our fourth driver on Sunday.  Note that I refer to him here as Mr. Caherty because 1) his name is Patrick and that would cause confusion with the other Patrick and 2) he is older than me.  By his own admission, he had never driven a race car, had never possessed a competition license, had never driven on a race track at speed, had never…I’m going to stop now.  It’s still unbelievable after the fact.  What were we thinking?  He also didn’t own a fire suit, but that didn’t stop us from signing him up and strapping him into the $500 pearl.  He could drive a manual transmission AND as a bonus knew a guy who knew a guy who once worked with a guy that had a fire suit that was roughly his height and weight, so we were locked and loaded for action.  We were ready to Lap The Beaver (sorry, couldn’t pass that one up)!

Saturday’s Race Report

Now it gets boring.  We won.  By five laps.  No, seriously.

Let’s get this over with quickly, as Sunday’s race gives me so much more material to write about.  The high drama on Saturday morning actually came about three minutes before the start of the race when we could not figure out just where Mark had put the car key.  After frantically searching for the better part of at LEAST ten seconds, we figured out that Patrick – already suited up and snugly strapped in – was sitting on it.  It was a tense few moments staring at each other trying to figure out who was going to have to put their hands under his, well…you know…to fish out the key.

After “an unnamed member of the team” successfully extracted the keys out of Patrick’s, um, parts (what happens at BeaveRun stays at BeaveRun), Patrick fired up the SC2 and took to the track.  One hour and forty-five minutes later he brought the car home in the lead.  Larry got in the car and fired off rock-solid laps.  One hour and forty-five minutes later he brought the car home, still in the lead.  Mark got in the car and fired off rock-solid laps.  One hour and forty-five minutes later he brought the car home, still in the lead.  James got in the car, managed to not pass under yellow, and took the checkered flag with a five-lap margin of victory one hour and forty-five minutes later.  Yawn.

Sunday’s Race Report

One of the beauties of ChumpCar is that if you are in the enviable position of having just won a race, you are thereby penalized for the remainder of the season by your margin of victory.  In plain English, on Sunday we were given a six-lap handicap at the start.  In plainer English, we were effectively starting the race on Sunday NINE MILES behind EVERYONE else.  Flat-out dead last.  Now while you may argue that’s just not fair, them’s the rules.

Just to make things even harder on ourselves, we elected to re-use the same four tires and same brake pads that we had used on Saturday.  In science-experiment mode, we were looking to determine just how much life we could get out of these parts before the year-end championship (or ChumpionShip, in ChumpCar speak) in Iowa.  Fourteen hours would be a stretch, but with our nine-mile deficit we figured we didn’t have much to lose.

Unlike on Saturday where everyone held back just a little, full-attack was the instruction on Sunday.  James led off the race driving as if we could actually win.  One hour and forty-five minutes later, the car rolled in for its first driver change…in fifth place.  Mr. Caherty then entered the car with eyes as wide as saucers, heading out for battle in all of ChumpCar’s splendor.  In spite of his novice status, he quickly got to work and began to pace his way through the field.  One hour and forty-five minutes later he brought the car in without a scratch and drove well enough to move us up one position into fourth.  Well done, rookie!

Patrick then took the helm and charged as hard as he could.  In what seemed like no time at all, he had moved the car from fourth to third.  A brief black flag incident regarding an alleged pass under yellow (it runs in the family, apparently) delayed him slightly, but after the pit stop shuffle, he handed the car off to Mark in second place, only three laps behind the leader.  It sure helped that the second-place car fell out of contention with a transmission failure, but in racing you take what you can get.

As Mark pulled out of the pits, the following discussion took place over the radio:

James: “Ok, if you can pass the Honda three times in the next hour and forty-five minutes, we win.”

Mark: “How am I supposed to do THAT?”

James: “Um…by passing him three times.  GO!”

Driving like the car was on fire (some part of it probably was), Mark began to turn in fast lap after fast lap.  And another fast lap.  And another.  The Art Car was running two to three seconds per lap faster than the race-leading Honda, and by our math a win was mathematically possible…almost.  The team just needed a single bobble or miscue from the Honda guys to pull off the double win, but in the end there simply was not enough time.  In hero fashion, Mark did end up passing the Honda twice to put the Saturn on the lead lap, but finished 56 seconds behind at the checkered flag.

To put that in perspective, a seven-hour enduro is 25,200 seconds long.  In spite of our nine-mile handicap, Mark crossed the finish line on the same lap as the race leader, a mere 56 seconds behind at the finish.  That’s a 0.2% margin of victory, with the third-place car a full eleven laps (or sixteen miles) behind us.

All The Things We Didn’t Mention Because They Didn’t Fit In The Newsletter

  1. The trophies we received were these really cool scrap auto part sculptures of angry death aliens and post-apocalypse mutant insects welded to huge, rusty truck rotors.  I think one was supposed to be that bad-ass Predator guy.  Anyway, thank goodness Mark didn’t send one home with me, as Dana would have never let it in the house.  Heck, TSA would not have let it on the plane!
  1. One of our fiercest competitors was a Taurus SHO owned by a long-time friend of mine, Jack.  Finishing in second place on Saturday, they showed that a 4000-pound Ford sedan could *almost* keep up with a 2000-pound Saturn coupe.  It was a blast sharing the track with them and telling racing lies during dinner on Saturday night.  Hope we can do it again some time!
  1. A special congratulations should go out to the race-winning Honda guys on Sunday.  They were taken out of Saturday’s race early due to an on-track skirmish and wrenched all day to get the car put back together for Sunday.  Apparently, the repairs included pulling the frame rails straight using a Suburban and a tow truck engaged in tug-of-war, but we can’t verify that firsthand.  Makes for a great story, though.
  1. For those of you wondering why we didn’t go to Dairy Queen on Saturday night as we are known to do, it’s because the town of Cranberry decided to hold their Fourth of July fireworks on the ninth of July.  How unpatriotic is THAT?  Turns out that the DQ is directly across the street from the fairgrounds, so by the time we got there for our Blizzards we couldn’t get within 800 feet of the place.
  1. Upon returning home, I found that my oldest son, Zack, had called and left a message.  Sounded kind of urgent.  When I called him back he asked, very seriously, “Daddy, did they post the race results yet?”  Expecting that my first-born was eager to continue wallowing in our success, I replied, “No, but why do you ask?”  He stated very flatly, “Because I want to know how the Snoopy Car finished.  And the Duck Car, too.”  So much for Saturn pride…

See you in Iowa!