August 10, 2003
VIR is a world-class facility, and I have done reasonably well there over the past 3 years. Its 3.23-mile circuit, with lots of hills, is definitely a HORSEPOWER track. I don’t have lots of that HP, but I was thinking it is not yet needed with Sean running a stock motor and knowing that I am usually faster than the rest of the DSR field.
With Kathy out of town, I would be flying solo. I left for the four-hour drive mid-morning Friday. Long time racing friend, Eric Cruz, would be doing the test day is his hastily assembled, new Formula SCCA car. He picked up the motor just 6 days prior. Sean would be there to hopefully bag his needed finish so he would qualify for the Runoffs. We had fitted at stock motor in his car, and he had sent his “prepared” unit back to JJ Justice for freshening. Sean, with Mark (Walthew) would arrive about 6PM. Thor Barbru and his son Carl (new owner of Eric’s Zink CF) were there to crew for Eric. Dan Carney would also be there with his Swift FF. With the exception of Frank Malone who was still unpacking from his return from years in Germany, the entire old racing group was having a reunion. Fun.
When I got to the track, they were still drying out after a two-hour rain/flood delay. Eric had only gotten in a couple of laps. I had just gotten a vinyl cutter on Monday (Eric urged me to make the purchase (after much deliberation) by offering to be half owner) and had made graphics for Eric’s car. It is red and we would be decking it out in Ferrari F1 like stickers. The vinyl cutter is a neat toy and I had spent a couple of late nights learning how to use it.
Eric would get in a couple of sessions Friday afternoon, learning that his new car was fast and very forgiving. The new Formula SCCA cars would provide some drama as several broke their transaxles. Seems that some “pins” involved with the shifting mechanism were breaking.
The rest of the weekend would be quite busy, with me and Eric running both the National and Pro races. The first qualifying session (Group 3, National) went without adventure and I ran about 6 laps and came in when I saw a 2:04 on the lap display. The track was quite “green” and early on traction was severely lacking. I went out behind Eric for the first (Group 6, PRO) qualifier. I went under him in T1 and he came over hitting my left front wheel with his rear wheel. Bang, the new was suddenly off his new toy. I felt really BAD. Turns out his car is far more robust and he suffered no damage. My car had major toe and camber. The front upper cross member was torn and had to be replaced. Not an easy job. Sean and Mark jumped in and repair went without complications. I did miss the next National qualifier. Sean was having major overheating problem and his newly rehabbed data system was malfunctioning. Running only a few laps, he did bag second best qualifying time in DSR at 2:02. Not bad for a junkyard motor, etc. He and Mark would send quite some time bleeding the cooling system and eventually find a leaking hose.
We went to the grid for the second Group 6 qualifier, only to be told we were in a weather/lightning hold. I drove back to the pits and waited. We would be treated to a two-hour storm and the day was ended.
Some of the PRO guys had organized a Saturday night cookout. Very nice event. There was a drawing for two prizes from Enterprises. Eric won the first, an alternator kit for his car ($600 value). He was shocked, thinking he would get a hat or something like that. The second winner got a free entry fee ($300). First class.
There were “warm-up” sessions Sunday morning. I went out to see if my repaired car would point straight. It did. The PRO racers were given their second qualifier just before the quiet hour. It was 20 minutes, and my car performed well and I got a decent time, of 2:04.
The surprise of the weekend was Paul Parker, who had recently acquired Mike Sirianni’s GSXR powered Radical. He was very fast in all sessions. He will be a force next season. He was running out of the same prep shop as Craig Stafford. Both Craig and Ben Johnson were turning fast times in their Radicals. Competition is getting tougher each race. Ron Gardner, from Delaware, was there in his just completed Stohr kit car. He was having the usual teething problems.
National. I started 29th of the 36 car FA/FC/FM/FSCCA/S2/DSR/CSR group. With my previous times of 2:02 at VIR, I knew I had more speed than several of the cars in front of me. I needed a good start, but heavy traffic prevented it. At least I didn’t lose any spots. I found myself in a group of 2 FM’s, 2 S2s plus Craig and Ben. Ben had the point. I got past 2 FM’s and Craig quickly on the first laps. One of the FM’s would dive bomb into my side pod (I fortunately do like fiberglass work) on about lap 3. One of the S2’s would slide off and I would take the other S2 in turn one. That left one FM and Ben to overtake before the checker. I needed a few more points to overtake Ben and Craig for 3rd in the SE Division and thus get some Runoffs tow money. I was motivated. My car was running nicely and shifting well. I could pull even to the FM at the end of the back straight. Ben was only a few yards ahead. On lap 10 of 14, my car refused to up shift. I struggled with the lever and managed a couple of downshifts. I did almost a full lap in 2nd or 3RD gear before coming to the pits and retiring. Apparently, this caused a HUGE heat load (it was a 90 degree day) and holed my muffler and the motor started to run poorly, almost cutting off a couple of times.
According to Sean, his race was an adventure also. As his temperatures kept rising, he backed off, safely in second in DSR. Then his data system/dash stopped working entirely. He said what the HELL and kept on, not having any idea how hot the motor was getting. He bagged second.
With about an hour or so before the Group 6 race, I borrowed a tiny FSCCA muffler from Comprent and made a hasty repair. I checked the clutch actuation system, topped off fluids and drove the car around the paddock to check shifting, etc. All seemed well so I went to the grid for the PRO race. All went well on the warm-up lap. When I nailed it at the green flag, the motor went BLAAAAAAAAAAAAA, not revving above 6000 rpms. I fell back immediately. Within a lap, I could no longer up shift, but was at least in a higher gear now. The muffler fell off. I came to the pits and had Sean check wires. No apparent problem. He said to go back out and get a finish for PRO points (I am the series points leader) and purse. I drove around with both eyes on my mirrors turning shameful 2:30 laps. I got passed a lot. It was no fun. Eric had a fun race, lowering his lap times nicely.
I have been trying to find the cause of my motor BLAAAAAs. I have systematically replaced plugs, ECU, carbs, battery, etc. I have checked fuel pressure and flow and all the wiring. No solutions yet. I want to take a look at the clutch plates, but must pull the motor to get the cover off. I started that today. I did discover, as I started removing parts, that the wires from the crank ignition pickup were fried. They were in tact, but seriously baked. I do know now not to take a lap at high RPMs in a low gear. Heat kills wires and muffler. Still looking for a clue on the shifting problem.
The motor has now been pulled and clutch plates measured. They are on the low end of acceptable, with only one is below the wear limit. Still no smoking guns.