Runoffs 2002

I looked forward to my sixth straight Runoffs with moderate expectation of doing well. My Cheetah had been faster all season with my new Yamaha R1 motor than the previous Kawasaki ZX10. With the "DSR Revival" is full swing, there were 30 cars entered, a record for DSR. Sean would be making his second DSR entry in his slick (aerodynamically) Stohr. We would both be running stock motors rescued from the bike salvage yards.

Kathy had a work conflict, so I would be going alone. Frank Malone would be joining me late Monday to crew. Drove up Saturday and checked into the motel about 7PM. Sean and Mark got there later after a trailer tire adventure.

Sunday was for registration and getting the car through technical inspection. Registration was poorly manned and took a long time. It started to rain as we started to unpack and it stayed with us all day. The DSR guys had roped off an area for 19 cars. Unfortunately, there was a lot of poaching and only about 12 cars ended up together. We all got pretty wet while waiting in the tech queue. A young lady was my inspector and looked at practically nothing. When I took the engine cover off, she said "Boy, there is a lot of stuff in there!" After tech we took our new tires off to be mounted and bought gas. There was little car prep to do and we mostly visited around. I felt a little sorry for the guys who had spent $400 for the test day.

Monday provided a 9 AM "practice" session so we returned to the track early. (It wasn't even light before 7AM and there was considerable fog about.) This year the DSRs were grouped with the S2000s for all practice and qualifying sessions making the car count around 55. I expected way too much traffic in practice, but it wasnít bad. I spent the first 6 to 8 laps discovering again which gear to be at various corners. It took most of the session. I messed up many shifts. About midway in the session, Mike Sirianni passed me in turn 7 braking under a yellow flag. I got called to "protest central" to give testimony. I would be 12th fastest. Not great, but not too bad. Sean got 10th. After the session, Sean told me that my right front was smoking at corner entry in several corners and suggested that I may have my brake bias wrong. Turned out to be a rubbing tire on the nose fiberglass. The nose section was a rebuilt one that I had retrieved from the retired fiberglass pile in my garage attic. I had killed a nose in the prior race at VIR. A bit of sawing and filing restored the needed tire clearance. Of course, I had played with brake bias some before discovering the rubbing tire. Oh well, it probably needed checking anyway.

Tuesday was a busy time. A couple of "stewards" came around and asked if we DSR guys wanted to have our qualifying session split from the S2000 guys. Proposal was that each would get a 10-minute session. We all said no. With a 10-minute session, there would only be one lap at speed after getting tires up to temperature. SCCA, at the request of ONE S2000 guy, decided to split the session. The DSR guys got up a petition to get it changed back. Thirty-one DSR drivers signed the petition. SCCA made us file it as a "protest" along with a $200 fee. We did, but they ignored us. They treated us poorly, especially considering the DSR group was the largest class of purpose built racecars at the Runoffs. Qualifying began after lunch. I improved my lap time by about 1-second but ended up 15th fastest. At least, by now, I had figured out my shifting.

After coming in, I found that my ackerman arm was loose allowing toe-in to vary by at least 1/2 inch. Surprisingly, the car didn't handle too badly but turn-in was vague. I also found that my air box was loose. Frank and I had to put heli-coils in the front upright for the ackerman arm bolts. I would have to wait until the next day to begin my assault on my Runoffs personal best lap times. Wednesday we would go out at 5PM. There was plenty of time to fiddle with the car and reset toe-in.

Qualifying Session 2. After a full day of sessions, the track was slippery. My tach was not working and the motor seemed down on power. It was hard to guess at shift points. My best lap was a very disappointing 1:34. Cars were blowing by me on the straight like I was towing an anchor. Boo, Hiss. Back in the pits, I was able to quickly find an ignition wire that was shorting out. Easy fix, but a wasted session. Sean came in on three wheels as his rear axle nut had come loose and there were many trashed parts. We would all work on his car until dark at 8PM before going off to the RoadHouse to celebrate his birthday. Frank would spend an hour or two with a file returning his brake caliper to useable. We would return to the track early on Thursday morning to visit the machine shop guy to press in a new bearing and finish assembly. With our Thursday session going off at 9:40, there was no time to spare. Sean would finish repairs 2 laps into the Thursday session but still manage to improve his time to the 9th best time. He was pleased.

Thursday Qualifier. This should be my best chance to do well. I ran hard but still only managed a 1:33.3 best lap. Car seemed fine, no problems, but just wasn't fast. Damn. I would end up 17th fastest of 30 DSR cars. I was 2 seconds off my previous personal best lap time. My one race junkyard Yamaha was lacking and top speed was decaying as the week progressed. Running a stock motor, I really didn't expect to make the top five, but top ten was expected. My previous R1 motor (killed by a radiator hole at Savannah in July) had been 2 seconds a lap faster at all races over my ZX10 motor of prior years. This motor must be its weak sister. (Thank God for data systems to document motor "softness" or else I could have concluded that the driver had suddenly degraded). Mike Reupert, as he had done in a couple of prior years, bolted in his "qualifying" stuff and set a new lap record. He took the pole position from Mark Jaremko in the factory Stohr. Jaremko had been the fastest in all sessions up to this point.

My race strategy would have to be to run carefully and hope for attrition. Sean was very happy with his qualifying time and 9th position and felt he had a good chance for a podium finish. He even put the "contingency awards" stickers on his car (for the first time ever).

Friday was a race day for others and we just hung around, got new tires mounted, and watched a couple of races. Friday night brought the second annual Sportsracer party in the Florida guys pit area. It was well attended and I, as the chief cook, with Roy Rosmantiz's assistance, grilled 40 pounds of hamburgers, 30 pounds of chicken, and 15 pounds of Brats. There was a major downpour about 2 hours into the party, but the hearty group just huddled under the tents and continued to party/drink. Mike Schmidt was voted the DSR driver of the years (yes, the Florida guys do block vote) and I presented the DSR Manufacturer's trophy to Radical.

Race Day. Our race was last at 5:10, so we had the whole day to waste. We dried out the cars in the morning. Then, we watched a couple of races and waited.

On the grid, I was behind Jim Boehm (he finished just ahead of me last year) and in front of Chip Haddock (who finished 4th last year). Although, only in 17th, I knew I had to hustle to keep that. As the pack exited the "keyhole" on to the start straight, the pack started to fully accelerate well before the green flag flew. I got a good start, getting by a couple of cars, and took the inside line in turn 7. As we crested the hill to turn 8, there was one car (Roger Cook) facing us and we almost had to come to a full stop. On lap 2, Mike Phillips drove by me on the straight, but I went under him in turn 7 and re-took the position. There were already several cars off in various places and there were major grass clippings in the keyhole. In my mirrors, I could see Chip Haddock and Dick Colburn behind me about 100 yards. They were not closing. Good. On lap 3 or so, there was a double yellow for a couple of laps and we closed back up to the rear of the lead pack. I counted about 9 cars in front of me as we approached turn 8. I was making progress. Of course, now Chip and Dick were back on my tail. In a couple of laps after the restart, I had put Chip and Dick back to 100 yards behind me. Nice. By now, I am beginning to encounter cars to be lapped. About lap 10 into the race, going into turn 8, I see Jaremko sitting 90 degrees to the apex. I decide to go under him as yellow flag comes out. He starts rolling to the apex. I am forced to cross the curbing to the grass to avoid hitting him. (I'm sure this will be a TV opportunity).

On the next lap, I encounter Sean in the keyhole (he had been punted and his rear suspension was broken). Shortly, another double yellow comes out and the pack reforms. Chip is on my tail again. Not to worry I tell myself; I certainly distanced myself from him before. Not so quick. I am trying to find a gear in the keyhole as the pack goes on the straight for the restart and find the cursed "false neutral" and lose momentum. Chip passes me going into turn 7. I hang on his tail for a couple of laps. I am faster in the turns, but he has straight-line speed. He is way off the prescribed fast line in turns 1 and 11 and I can pull even, but can't quite get by. He is taking defensive lines at corner entries. I decide to pass him in turn 13. He pulls a car width in from the edge of the track at corner entry protect his position. There is an oil flag being shown. I do not know where the oil is, but Chip finds it and goes sideways. I never see him again. For the final two laps of the race I close to the back of the Tom Robertson and Jim Boehm battle but can't make up much more ground. Just need a few more HP!

Checkered flag come much too soon for my liking. I had a great time and finished 9th. Jaremko took the victory. Sean had gotten to fourth before being punted by Mike Sirianni in the keyhole. The impact broke his rear suspension. He had a real chance for a podium finish. He was pissed, packed up quickly and left.

Frank and I packed up at a leisurely pace and I headed out for my 10-hour ride home with race instant replays running about in my head. The DSR race was a barnburner with cars off and crashes everywhere. I can't wait to see the TV tape. As I neared home, I picked up my towing pace considerably, and cooked/blew a trailer tire 50 miles from home. A final, but thankfully small adventure.