Dateline: Saturday, October 16, 2021

If it feels like you just got done reading our Indy newsletter, it’s probably because you just got done reading our Indy newsletter. Here in Part III of our year-end trilogy, we present our post-season racing recap from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I’ll warn you again that there isn’t much to immediately celebrate in the paragraphs that follow, but maybe in a few weeks I’ll be able to see through the present-day disappointment and realize that this weekend at The Brickyard was a definitive turning point in my 24-year racing journey. And for that, I am just so grateful.

Wait a minute. Am I repeating myself here?

New car. New number. New colors. New co-drivers. Weird, right?

Q: Hold on, now. We have had three newsletters in a row without Q&A.

A: That’s a valid observation. You want back into the game?

Q: Absolutely.

A: Ok, then. Take it away.

Q: If the regular season has ended, why are you still racing?

A: Because we just can’t get enough of this stuff. And it was time to get back on track in an endurance racing format. And because my awesome wife didn’t say no. Although, to be completely transparent, she didn’t exactly say yes, either.

Q: So please explain what this extracurricular activity is all about, please.

A: In a parallel universe, there is a racing series called the Intercontinental GT Challenge. It’s sort of related to SRO, our GT4 SprintX sanctioning body, but please don’t ask me to draw you an org chart or otherwise try to explain it to you. In 2021 they hosted three separate endurance races across three continents – Europe, Africa, and the United States of America.

Q: You know that the United States of America isn’t a continent, right?

A: Got me! North America, then. Although it would have been awesome to compete at Spa (France) or Kyalami (South Africa), both would have pretty much blown the racing budget completely out of the water for the next five years. So, we elected to stay closer to home and entered the eight-hour endurance race held at Indianapolis (the IGT-8 for the cool kids) held two days after our season-ending SprintX races at the same address.

Q: What does “endurance race” mean anyways?

A: In this context, it’s a race requiring things like multiple driver changes, refueling, tire changes, and a heck of a lot of pacing around on pit lane while you are waiting for your stint behind the wheel. This specific race was limited to the GT4 (production-based cars like us) and GT3 (these are spaceships with wheels) categories. A total of 39 cars showed up to compete, with 13 of those being GT4 competitors.

Q: This sounds very different from the GT4 SprintX deal. Who were you racing with?

A: I was part of BimmerWorld’s two-car GT4 assault on the IGT-8. Long-time readers might recall that BimmerWorld actually won this race in the GT4 category last year with Bill Auberlen, James Clay, and Chandler Hull sharing the driving duties. I had some lame work excuse that kept me from being a part of that action. This year, however, was a different story.

Attempting a repeat victory, Bill, James, and Chandler were sharing the Red Line Oil car again this year, so I was teamed up with James’ regular-season co-driver, Nick Galante in the Barney purple Racing for Alzheimer’s #82. The third leg of our stool was Devin Jones, a spindly twenty-something young enough to be my son without raising any eyebrows at all. These guys sure know how to make me feel old.

The BimmerWorld IGT-8 driver lineup. And a yard of bricks.

Q: Tell us more about this Devin kid.

A: Well, I can tell you as much as I know. Which isn’t a whole lot at this point. He’s quiet, he’s fast, and he’s back. In 2020, he shared a GT4 car with James Clay over in that “other” series, but he had a pretty big wreck at VIR during a practice session which ended up with a trip to the hospital. And surgery. And a long recovery period thereafter. It makes my little Florida collarbone incident back in 2019 seem pretty innocuous.

This weekend was going to be his first time back in a racecar since the crash, so there was a small amount of trepidation and uncertainty about which Devin would show up. To make things even more challenging, he had never raced at Indy. Oh, and his practice session was completely rained out. What could possibly go wrong with this?

Meet Devin. He’s half my age. And probably close to half my weight.

Q: And tell us some more about this Nick character.

A: Where to start. You might recall that at Sonoma this year he broke out a case of PIiny the Elder. So, we pretty much love Nick.

Q: You have said enough.

A: No, I haven’t. Nick also just loves to have a good time. So, after we were done taking our prim and proper team photos at the base of the Pagoda on Saturday morning, Nick insisted that the two of us do something a bit more “creative” for the camera. Team building and all. Clearly motivated by James Clay’s proclivity to pose in front of racecars seemingly at random, well, this happened:

I truly cannot explain how this came to be. Please forgive me for sharing this.

Q: That looks oddly familiar.

A: It should. It’s high art, ripped straight out of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Inspired by The Creation of Adam. I’m just glad Nick let me keep my clothes on.

Q: I can’t believe I am reading this.

A: I can’t believe I am writing this.

Q: Can we get back to the IGT-8 storyline, please?

A: That’s probably best for everyone involved.

After a singular dry practice session on Saturday morning, we were ready to qualify. Well, not really. While Nick and I were already warmed up from our regular season activities on Thursday and Friday, Devin was still getting his sea legs under him. While Indy is not a horribly complex track, it does take more than five timed laps to figure the place out, and because of the rain on Friday, Devin was a little bit behind the curve. Not for lack of trying or talent, mind you, but simply because of circumstance.

Devin finding his way around the track (literally) early on Saturday morning.

Q: How does qualifying work for an eight-hour-long race?

A: Great question. Our qualifying position was to be determined by averaging the fastest qualifying laps set by each individual driver. In other words, Nick, Devin, and I would all take a shot at qualifying, but our grid position was to be based on our collective team effort.

In another twist, we were only going to use one set of tires for all three qualifying attempts. Fortunately for me, I was the first qualifying driver, so I was the one to go out on stickers. Or in plain English, I had the best tires under me. Nick and Devin would have to deal with the slightly degraded performance of older tires for their two qualifying sessions that followed.

Queued up for qualifying on Saturday afternoon.

Q: I hope you took full advantage of that.

A: Oh. Yes. Without hyperbole, I had the best qualifying session of my life. But it wasn’t just the tires. Maybe it was subconscious, or maybe it wasn’t, but for the first time in two years I didn’t have the luxury of leaning on Bill to carry the day. It probably also helped that I really wanted to show off for my new teammates, but regardless of the reason, I knocked out a 1:43.8, taking nearly 1.2 seconds off of my prior personal best. That just doesn’t happen on a regular basis. As I crossed under the starter’s stand and saw the lap time pop up on the dash, I literally shouted out loud inside the car.

Remember that last bit, as we are going to come back around to it at the end of this newsletter.

But continuing with the story for now, Nick and Devin followed my lead and gave it the boot. Once the session was over, our collective effort was good for fourth place on the GT4 grid. This was a solid showing considering that Devin still had less than 20 laps around the place under his belt.

Nick, contemplating how to recreate the Statue of David during our driver change.

Q: I don’t have another question ready. I regressed back to that picture of you and Nick.

A: You can’t unsee it, can you?

Q: Nope. So just keep storytelling for a bit while I collect myself.

A: Ok. There’s not much else to talk about until the start of the race on Sunday morning. Can we just skip ahead to that?

Q: Sure. Go there.

A: The pre-race activities on Sunday morning started off around 8:00. We were up bright and early, greeted by perfect weather and an incredible sense of optimism. Our 4th place qualifying position in class put us 30th overall on the starting grid. Devin was nominated to start and end the race for us, with Nick and me planning to fill the afternoon hours in between.

And that’s the end of the newsletter.

Q: I know you’re not happy with how the race went, but you can’t just drop the ball like that.

A: You’re right. But instead of giving eight hours of play-by-play, let me provide “small morsels of narrative” that might help you better understand what it’s like to be in the eye of the endurance racing hurricane. I think that might be fun.

Here’s Wayne engaging Devin’s dad in a top-secret discussion. Or maybe he’s just talking about his cat.

First of all, you are TOTALLY amped up for the start, even though it’s kind of meaningless. For the first 30 minutes or so, you are diligently paying attention to every second of the action simply because you are still TOTALLY amped up from the start. You realize that small talk passes the seconds, but not the minutes. And you have hours to go.

So, you start pacing. You don’t dare leave the pit lane for fear of missing something that might be interesting. Or even important. You quickly learn the exact locations of the fire extinguishers and the air hoses because you invariably will trip over them two or three times. And even though the two monitors located 20 feet apart contain the exact same information, you will walk back and forth between them just in case one of them randomly displays something unique or unusual. Which it never does.

You count the bottles of Gatorade in the cooler, noting their colors and relative buoyancy. Does yellow really float better than red? You re-tie your racing shoes just in case you forget to do it before you hop in the car. And because you don’t want to race hungry, you try to estimate the amount of time it takes to digest the various snacks laid out in front of you that look oh so appealing. In the end you pass on all of it because you surely don’t want that peppered beef jerky to come back to haunt you in the middle of your stint. Tension!

Every 60 minutes or so, the car comes into pit lane for rubber and octane. It’s hungry too.

Stop what you are doing and watch, for this is high drama. But stay the hell out of the way. The well-choreographed ballet of men with funny helmets and expensive tools requires less than a minute to change four tires and dump 25 gallons of incredibly flammable liquid into a machine that will return in an hour needing the same prescription filled. Luckily, you have seven refills available, but don’t tell my wife that each one costs about $3,000.

The ballet plays out as Devin waits in the cockpit.

After the first few hours, you are out of small talk. You haven’t eaten, so that’s on your mind. The monitors are making your eyes water. With the Gatorade bottles counted now for the fifth time, all you want to do is drive. And instead, you wait. Some more.

Q: So far this sounds like it would only appeal to a very small group of people.

A: Exactly. It is so awful. And so awesome. Why? Because eventually you get the signal – the car is on pit lane.

Q: I just realized you described the first four hours of the race without telling us about the race.

A: Endurance racing is like that. Between the ebb and the flow, Devin and Nick did a great job of keeping us on the lead lap, generally running in the top five all morning long. The crew had knocked out the earlier stops with precision and did the same for me as I strapped into #82 for my two hours of fun and games.

Q: You drove for two hours straight? Aren’t you too old for that sort of thing?

A: Adrenaline is the wonderful thing. As is Advil. But I would be telling only part of the story if I didn’t share that my single largest concern of the day was that I was going to get worn out behind the wheel. Driving a GT4 racecar is a very physical thing, and the last time I drove ANY racecar for two hours straight was…never.

Q: What about that ChumpCar stuff you did? I thought that was endurance racing too.

A: Ignoring the fact that that was eight years ago (Mark, we still need to have a discussion about this), you just can’t compare the two. In the Saturns we would indeed drive for the better part of two hours, but 1) stopping for each corner required perhaps 30 pounds of effort on the brake pedal and 2) the tepid cornering on street tires required your neck to resist maybe 0.8 g of lateral acceleration. The mighty M4, with its racing-bred manual brake system, requires the better part of 200 pounds of brake pedal shove to haul it down from speed, and the Pirelli slicks can generate cornering forces twice as high as our cherished $500 specials.

Not all endurance racing is created equal. And I was more than a little bit intimidated by the task at hand. The longest time I had ever spent in a GT4 car was about 30 consecutive minutes, so going four times that long was uncharted territory.

Here I am strapping in as the guys replace the worn out bits.

Q: Don’t play-by-play your stint, please. Do that “small morsels of narrative” thing again.

A: First of all, it’s initially pretty weird joining into a race that is already four hours old. Through no fault of your own you are where you are, and it’s just your job to circulate the track as efficiently as possible until the small voice in your ear tells you to come in for the next $3,000 bill. You sort of feel like a voyeur or an interloper, someone who just doesn’t belong.

Q: How long does that feeling last?

A: Until about the middle of Turn 2. Because suddenly there’s a GT3 car (or five) screaming up from behind and you don’t have time to think about such silly stuff anymore.

Don’t think. Go. NOW!

This is Nick but pretend it’s me. It would look the same, less the grass in the grille.

Q: Did you survive all 120 minutes?

A: Yes. With style and aplomb. I consider it a major accomplishment that during my stint I neither passed anybody for position nor was I passed by anybody for position. At least not that I recall, so we will go with that. I did the requisite middle-stint thing: do no harm, take no chances, and make sure the closer has a car to race to the finish line. Check, check, check. Good little Bronze driver.

That said, by the end of my stint I was completely fed up with angry GT3 cars, double yellow flags, and an inane wave-by and restart procedure. I promised somebody that I would not say anything more than that for fear that the seven people who might actually read this online may have a negative reaction to this part of the narrative, but I was every bit as happy to get out of the car at the end of my stint as I was getting in two hours earlier. Which is a shame, because I frankly was kind of proud of myself for having survived the mayhem.

It was so awful. And so awesome.

Q: So, take us through to the end.

A: This is where it starts to hurt a little. With about one hour left to go in the race, we had moved all the way up to second place, one lap behind our sister BimmerWorld entry being driven by Bill Auberlen. We would have been on the same lap, but a technical pit lane infraction mid-race resulted in a painful drive-through penalty. But then it got worse.

I don’t know the best way to explain this, because I still don’t understand it myself. But essentially what happened is that when the final caution period of the race occurred, we got screwed. Our timing was perfect, our strategy was perfect, and our execution was perfect. We should have re-entered the race still solidly in second place with less than 30 minutes to go. But instead, the pace car sprinted around the track, pit lane closed, the two cars behind us got waved by the pace car, and we inexplicably lost more track position during the final stop than had we simply fueled up during a green flag. And just like that, a BimmerWorld 1-2 finish became a BimmerWorld 1-4 finish. Which is not NEARLY as cool to write about after the fact.

So happy for these guys and the crew behind them. Race well run.

Q: Um, that still doesn’t suck.

A: Agreed, that still doesn’t suck. But standing on pit wall cheering the #36 to victory on the final lap felt so miserably shallow. I had to excuse myself from the podium ceremony and afterparty, as I selfishly could not put aside the tsunami of emotions that had my eyes watering. The whole experience was likely exacerbated by the fact that I had not eaten all day and I was sore as hell, but I could not help but draw the parallel between the IGT-8 and our 2021 SprintX season: it was a Championship-caliber effort without a Championship-level result. Apparently that theme followed me into the post season.

Q: Now you’re going to start pouting again, aren’t you?

A: No, I already did enough of that. Just ask the guys in the trailer. Instead, it’s now time to talk about the “definitive turning point in my 24-year racing journey” that I have been foreshadowing for the last three newsletters.

Q: Oh, right. The thing for which you are just so grateful. Or something to that effect?

A: Something to that effect for sure.

This two-year program with BimmerWorld, Bill Auberlen, and BMW has been some of the best racing of my motorsports “career.” I have been surrounded by people that care, people that know how to win, and people that have literally written the history books. As a result, I am faster, smarter, and more skilled than ever before. I’m still an amateur, but gosh darn it, I fancy myself as now being one of the best amateurs. Why? Because I had no choice. And therein lies the rub.

While I would not trade the past two years for anything, it was hard work. A lot of hard work. And somewhere along the way I got too caught up in the hard work part of it. Success, when it came, was more of a relief than a celebration. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. That’s just plain messed up.

Now to be perfectly clear, I’m not laying this on anyone but myself. If you spend just five minutes with me, you will understand that I am my own harshest critic – it’s not as if anyone on the team created this predicament for me. It’s not a new thing for sure, but over these past two seasons it got so out of control that it became an encumbrance. And it slowed me down in more ways than one.

Q: I’m not a therapist, but it sounds like you simply need to chill out. As a clinical observation, of course.

A: Bingo. And Indy was the trigger. Trying to be Bill Auberlen for two years resulted in me not being James Walker. At least, not the best version of James Walker. At the end of the day, I forgot the fact that I’m a 50-year-old guy with a desk job, a wonderful family, and just enough disposable income to race on the SRO stage. I’m supposed to be out there burning gasoline and melting down tires because of the love of the sport. Period. Nothing more.

This really all came together during the IGT-8 qualifying on Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t realize it at the time. When I went out for that session, I didn’t have anyone to impress. There was no pressure. I could just be myself, spending 15 minutes behind the wheel at Indianapolis. How cool is THAT? I was having unadulterated fun, and as a result, I simply went fast. Really fast. Without a doubt, the best qualifying session of my life. And now I think I know why.

Q: I sense you are now going to reveal next year’s plan to have more fun.

A: Yes and no. The pieces of the puzzle are still being arranged, so it’s premature for a fancy press release. But I can tell you with conviction that while some of the pieces might look pretty darn similar, next season is going to be very different. More to follow once the plan formally comes together, but I sincerely hope that you are able to enjoy it with us. Because we are going to have a blast.

Next season’s number one goal: more of this.

Q: Any final, non-secretive closing comments, then?

A: Next season will mark the 25th anniversary of scR motorsports. Let’s celebrate that milestone by returning back to what made this hobby so enjoyable in the first place. You can start getting in the spirit right now by reading some vintage scR newsletters. And somebody find that roll of Hello Kitty duct tape. It’s time to get back to the basics.

See you at the track!

#34 GT4