Savannah is the perfect place to break in a new car. I have done more than 35 races and a gazillion laps there over the years. I know the way around and this high-speed circuit suits my driving strengths. I was looking forward to the first outing for my new Speads car.
Kathy and I drove down Thursday, so I could do the Friday test day. Hasty Horn would be there with his new Maloy toy, but was using Leslie Racing Services to provide support. Eric Cruz would be coming also with his FSCCA car and would be joined by the ever-helpful Frank Malone. Brian Little would join us to crew. It’s nice to have help. Little did they know that I would work them all hard.
After waiting for the track to open the gas pumps, I got out late for the first session and ran about 4 laps. I immediately noticed that the throttle pedal was very hard to push and had excessive throw. I couldn’t hard push hard and far enough to get full throttle. The car seems very driver friendly and was very stable and easy to drive otherwise. I did 1:18 laps. I am running a bone stock GSXR motor and was using the used R25 tires that came on the car…. Probably left over from Steve Otts runoffs week. Tires were mostly used up. At first, I had a hard time finding the brake pedal, since it is different from the Cheetah, but that passed quickly.
We checked out the car and removed one heavy return spring from the throttle pedal end and tried to take some slack out of the cable. Turned out the threads on the cable end were buggered up, and we had to resort to cable ties to secure it. Annoying. I ran most of the next session until it got blacked flagged. Throttle was better, but not really acceptable particularly when trying to get back on the gas under heavy g loads. This problem was aggravated by not having a dead pedal for the clutch foot. It just flopped around and made controlling the gas foot harder. I occasionally got unintended clutch engagement. Best lap time was 1:13 and change. As a point of reference, I turned low 1:10 laps in my Cheetah last year. Cheetah had a mildly “built” R1 motor and new tires.
I ran about 8 laps in the next session until the spitting rain drops talked me into coming in. Since they old tires were not allowing me to run flat out in turn 3, I decided it was time to mount the new tires. I bought two fronts and used rears that Sean used for a couple of qualifying sessions at the Runoffs. As we took the wheels off, I discovered that the right rear wheel was covered with grease. The CV boot had a hole in it. There was grease all over the rear corner. Upon a close look, the boot had been repaired (by the previous owner or the factory) with a considerable amount of black RTV. We tried to find a new boot, but were not successful. After cleaning up the mess, we also applied RTV, allowing one coating to dry before adding another. The hole was relatively small. Wishing we had a heat gun, we waited. Missed a couple of sessions.
I planned to run only a few laps in the final session to scruff in the tires, but was having too much fun dicing with several cars. Our practice group included the SRF cars, and getting a clear lap was impossible. Did about 10 laps and turned a 1:12, not great, but the throttle was still a problem. The boot did not leak. Kathy, who was off shopping in Charleston, SC called about 5 PM and said she was lost and would be a couple of hours before returning. I got a ride back to the motel with Eric and met her there. I was pooped after a long day at the track, and recalled why I avoid practice days. Too much work. Dress, drive, piddle with the car, repeat, repeat, repeat…..
I had chosen to run R35 tires. Savannah is so abrasive that usually R45 are at best marginal. But, the weather forecast for race day morning (we were group two) was around 50 degrees and Bob Schader had told me that the Speads is very easy on tires and he had never run anything but R25s.
Saturday brought cool temperatures and considerable and constant wind. Gusts were 40 mph and were straight in our face on the long straight. Since Savannah is basically a sand field, there were frequent mini sand storms and several people’s tents took flight. Track stayed coated. The morning session was untimed practice. After a half of dozen or so laps, the session got black-flagged to remove stranded cars. I decided to retire. Turned 1:12 again. Motor didn’t seem to be too willing. Jim Downing (Mazda Kudzu and HANS fame) came by to inspect the Speads and sat in the seat for a bit. Beautiful car, he said. There could be yet another DSR manufacturer in the near future. Interesting.
The early afternoon bought our qualifying session. Time to get going. I found myself behind a guy in one of those Loyning CSR cars. (Its got tunnels, right? And should be fast in corners.) Anyway, he was slow in the corners and I would pass him only to be blown by on the straight. This happened for 3 laps. He was slowing me down. I set him up to pass again in turn 4, and he overcooked it and spun rigorously. I had to take to the sand to avoid hitting him. Went fine for a bit, but found a sand hill with a rock. It destroyed my front splitter and folded the left nose under the wheel. My session was done and I was royally pissed. The luster of the new car is now clearly gone. Like my Cheetah, the Spead has the splitter bolter to the underside of the nose section and any minor digging in of the splitter caused the nose to fold under or to get knocked ajar. A design flaw that will have to be remedied. (Clark Lincoln is developing a solution, I understand). I got a 1:12 lap and would be gridded 4th in DSR and 12th overall.
I had a spare diffuser, but the nose would require considerable work. Using dozens of cleckos and bits of aluminum, we began piecing the nose back together. By now, we had drawn lots of visitors. Ken Kaplowitz hung around long enough to get drafted into helping. Hasty assisted with hands and hardware (working long and hard with me while the Leslie guys prepped his car). Frank and Brian worked like demons also. Three of us applied cloth and epoxy resin to the underside of the nose in a wild flurry of activity. We sat it out in the sun to dry. We were on somewhat of a deadline since Kathy had made dinner reservations for a large group of us at Churchill’s pub in downtown Savannah. We bolted on the splitter before the epoxy was totally dry. The task was made somewhat difficult due to a lack of appropriate hardware. Scronge. We test fitted the nose without a problem and headed off for dinner, malt beverages, and bench racing. (Churchill’s is excellent and if Laura reads this, Hasty was very good and had double veggies instead of potatoes and passed on the bread pudding).
We got to the track early. Frank, after removing the cleckos, covered all the cracks and repairs with racer’s tape (or “paint on a roll” as Brian calls it). Lacy Lodmill, who found us DSR racers on SportsRacer.net, came out. He is from Montana and is in Charleston courtesy of the Navy. I asked him for his impressions, and he was most awed by the number of BIG rigs at an amateur race. Gas it up and get ready to play. Kathy went around and took photos of everyone. Hell, it was already 80 degrees, not 50. It was still windy with about a 10 mph headwind. My radios did not work, much static, so I would have to look for the green flag. Unfair.
I was behind Craig Stafford. The pole guys rounded T9 to the starters stand VERY slowly. Craig and I got bottled up by some inattentive CSRs in front of us, but Pete Frost found a crease and blew by us. Drat! Craig would get by Pete in a lap or so. We three would run nose to tail while being held up by a white Radical SR3 for many laps. I would miss a downshift and fall back about 25 to 50 yards. I could occasionally catch up, only to fall back again. I was pedaling hard. About mid race, traction began to rapidly disappear. Tires were suffering. It was increasing hard to hit an apex in the slow corners. People began to have spins. With two laps to go, while negotiating some lappers, Craig would spin in T3. (Ah, back to forth place.) Glenn Cooper would slow considerably from second in DSR with (as Ben Johnson, the car owner, would explain) trashed tires. (Ah, third place). One lap from the checker, I would get by Pete in T9 as we lapped a couple of cars and finish second. Unexpected but Sweet. Rodger Cook would win DSR by 45 seconds. Bad news is that he keeps getting faster.
Speads is easier to drive than my old Cheetah and very forgiving, and I thought the Cheetah was superb. I really didn’t notice the differential (Cheetah didn’t have one) on the track. It is sure easier to push the Speads around the paddock. It didn’t think I would like the cable-operated clutch, but it worked flawlessly. The throttle situation can be fixed with a bit of metal and welding. The front splitter situation is annoying, but a fix is on the way. Speads after the race was about 50-60 pounds heavier than the Cheetah. (Driver needs to lose some ballast). Overall, I would judge the Speads to be a qualified success. It sure is pretty, and I got lots of compliments (even after the racers tape). I am definitely not a Steve Ott. The car will get better. Driver, not so much.