Adversity, Adversity, and Surprise!

Savannah, March 2004


Well, the weather forecast looked good for the race weekend and I like the track at Savannah.  Kathy would be working over the weekend, so SAKs at Hilton Head would have to do without the revenue stream.  Sean would come along as he continues his search for the replacement racecar.  


My car had seen some attention since the race at Sebring, where the clutch slipped and the front wheel bearing/spindle failed.  I took the motor out to replace the clutch discs (turns out it really wasn’t needed  . . . more careful adjustment of free play would have cured the problem)  While I had the motor out, I installed the “All Bikes” windage tray in the sump.  I sent the damaged front corner upright, etc off to Bruce for renovation. 


The 500-mile haul is a relatively boring trek.  It is pretty much a straight shot down I95.  We got to the track about 4pm, just in time to wave to Hasty Horn as he exited for the day.  Hasty and Dave Gomberg had saved me a pit spot and most of the DSRs were together.   Dave was having his usual motor problems and would be slipping into the nearest phone booth to change into his “Steward” attire.  I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the steward’s famous flannel cape, but Dave was elusive.


In our little area could be found the DiRenzo’s, Tom Robertson, Mike Schmidt, Ed Dickerson, Rodger Cook, Hasty Horn and of course Dave.  I was surprised to spy Craig Stafford sitting among the DSR greybeards.  His prep shop jilted him and his car would not be ready to race.  Apparently, a compromise solution was brokered and Craig’s car was due to arrive on Saturday morn.  Craig was in a much better mood than when I talked with him a few days ago.  Travis Duder was around, keeping his motor home and trailer across the road at Formula Car East.  Most of the guys had done the Friday test day and the group consensus was that the sessions were too crowded and has not much use.  There was much visiting around and the usual story telling, until it was too cool after the sun was down for a while.  Wait a minute; I think everybody left after all the beer was gone.  We resolved to buy lots more beer for Saturday night.  Brian Little showed up to assist in the story telling. 


As group 1 (CSR, DSR, S2) we would be on the track early each day.  I dragged Sean out to the track at 7AM, so we could stand around trying to keep warm while waiting an hour of so before we could buy gas or warm the racecar motor.  Once the “quiet time” was over, we warmed the motor as I got dressed to play.  We pushed the car out on the pit tarmac and I buckled in.  As I dropped the clutch to go to the grid, I stalled the motor.  (Drat, clutch adjust not right yet)  For the next twenty minutes, the motor absolutely refused to start.  At first, we figured maybe it was flooded.  Crank, Crank, Crank, Sean went off to borrow a third auxiliary battery.  NO GO.  We took the rear engine cover off, and verified that there was no SPARK.  Where did it go?  We changed the ECU.  No effect.  We fiddled with all the wiring.  No effect.  I pulled two connectors apart on the Yamaha wiring harness, the crank trigger and the coil fire.  Took a good look at them.  Nothing.  Put them back on.  Shit, the engine ran (as it would without a hiccup for the rest of the weekend).   Anyway, no practice for me.   Matt DiRenzo, that 130 pound kid with loads of talent, a Stohr, and the SCCA Rookie of the Year Award (^#%#$%!!) went out and did an unbelievable 1:08 lap in less than ideal conditions.  We were all in trouble,  Matt unfortunately seized his motor later in the session, and wouldn’t have us to humiliate further over the weekend.  However, Travis was lurking around, scratching his bearded chin, radar gun in hand to scope out the competition, and wondered perhaps if he should play. 


Our official qualifying session came just after lunch.  By now, temperatures were near 70 and it was a beautiful day.  I ran 11 laps at speed; heartened to see a couple 1:11 laps times on the display.  Shifting was difficult and vague (no discernable clicking into gears), so I figured more linkage adjustment was needed.  On the 12th lap handling went totally away, like turning a switch.  I continued on for a few corners, but situation was BAD, I wondered if someone had totally oiled the track.  I came in.  We played with the clutch adjustment, bled the brakes, etc.  Then we discovered that my new left front corner was EXTREMELY loose.  The nut (which gets staked down) was only two turns away from completing its great escape.  Although I do have some recent experience driving 3 wheel racecars, I am not anxious to repeat it.  It would give me something to think about hanging on with my toenails at maximum g’s in turn 3. 


Hasty provided the drama for the qualifying session.  At lap two, I saw a red Radical under full blaze on the inside of  (very high speed) turn 9.  I didn’t know it was Hasty until later.  He had a fire at least equal to the one Mark Bakhit had at the runoffs.  The Radical has a huge fire bottle and Hasty pulled the handle, but since the gasoline fire was concentrated in the right side pod around the filler neck where there are no nozzles, it didn’t put out the fire.  The nearby corner worker was slowly meandering over; mainly because he was very old and could not walk well.  Hasty ran over to him and seized the fire extinguisher then returned to the burning car, removed the engine and nose sections and put out the fire.   Hasty was unhurt but his firesuit was blackened from the right shoulder down.  Scary. 


Saturday evening, the DSR groups congregated around the banquet table (my car) and consumed considerable malt beverages (which is broadly defined to include rum and coke).  Travis couldn’t stand it any longer and decided he had to race also and brought his race toy over.


Some say that adversity builds character.  You would think mine would be finished by now.  I dragged Sean to the track early again on Sunday so I could the run brief “warmup” session to see it the cursed nut would stay tight. It is not really advisable to run a warmup session just minutes before your race (group one, remember), but I need to verify the fix.  Running a warmup with all the other “closed wheel” cars (Tin Tops!) is a big risk.  Saturday that little bitch of a racecar refused to start, NOW it refuses to shift.  There is suddenly big friction in the cable.  It really wasn’t there the day before.  Maybe, it time for a divorce from the ungrateful bitch.  Maybe she has overheard my indiscreet chats about finding something new and fresh.  Sean and I disconnected the linkages at the cable ends, and confirmed that it was suffering huge friction.  There was no time to take it out of the car and try to lube it (not a likely fix anyway).  Sean told me to shift with Gorilla arms . . .  there were no other options.  With four DSRs with essentially the same qualifying time (1:11.5xx) for spots 2 thru 5, trying to keep up with bad shifting was quite depressing. We quickly buttoned up the car and made it to the grid.  I was not at all optimistic.


Race began pretty much as expected.  I searched for upshifts as several cars passed me.  There was absolutely no feel to the shifting.  I missed several shifts.  However, the lead pack stayed together for the first few laps with me bringing up the rear.  At the car got up to temperature, shifting was a little bit easier.  Little bit.  Mike Schmidt would spin in turn 2 on lap 2 causing the lead pack to string out some.  Craig Stafford, showing nice horsepower, would blow by me on the front straight.  I would retake a position going inside in turn 6.  Craig was smoking the brakes in several corners.  Craig would exit turn 9 maybe 30 yards behind me, but would easily overtake before turn one.  We did this for 3 consecutive laps, before Craig finally disappeared in my mirrors.  For many laps I would run third in a group of a red S2000, and a red Radical.  (I wasn’t sure if the Radical pilot was Ben Johnson or Paul Parker).  The Radical was being quite wide in places to keep me at bay.  We caught many backmarkers, but it didn’t generate any opportunities for me.  About 2 laps from the checker, I managed to sneak inside Red Radical in turn 5b and steal the apex.  After that, I quickly opened a big gap.  The Red S2 was still in front of me and I knew I was a bit faster.  Since no one was close behind me, I (amazingly) talked myself out of risking a pass. 


I would finish 2nd in DSR with a impressive 1:10.8 best lap ( a personal best).  This wildly exceeded my expectations!  Rodger Cook would take the DSR win (1:10.6 best lap) and was 8 seconds ahead.  Now I have to live for a while with the question of how well I MIGHT have done, if the shifting hadn’t been a problem.  Such nagging thoughts are what keep us addicted to racing.


Ps: Boy does my right arm hurt today.