Summit Point National

May 2012


Sometimes it is the trip, not the destination. This time, the trip sucked.  I didn’t get to drive my new Piper race car at VIR since I gave up my seat to Sean, whose car had a problem.  Summit would be my maiden voyage.  With entries at Nationals being very sparse, there were just two other FF’s in the race “group” which also included 13 FV’s and 6 F500.  There would be plenty of practice of overtaking.


Pro 1600 competitor, Mike Scanlan would provide a good benchmark for me, as he would likely be running on used PRO hard tires.  Bob Perona (Indianapolis, IN) was the other FF in an updated Piper DF3/Kent on new soft compound Goodyear tires.  Bob is a mechanic for an Indy car team.   Bob had to move some chassis tubes in the cockpit in order to fit the driver (who was relatively modest in size.)


Blowing off practice day, Sean and I left a little later than we planned midafternoon on Friday.  The traffic on I95 came to a complete stop 5 miles before our Fredericksburg exit.  One of those highway info signs said there was a multi-car accident ahead blocking all lanes.  After sitting for bit, we decided to get off at the next exit (cars were streaming down the shoulder to do so) and find another path to Route 17.   With so much traffic jammed onto streets, it took about 2 hours to clear Freddysburg.  (With Northern VA traffic now routinely extending below Freddysburg, it is time to explore a new route to Summit.)


AH, but my day’s fun was not yet over.  We got to the registration building at the track about 8:30 PM.  We were the only customers to entertain the 15+ workers milling about.  I was told that I could not race since I did not have a National license.  My PRO license was not sufficient.  For the first time this year, Pro Series did the licensing for SCCA.  I sent my paperwork and copy of physical to them as did all Pro Series competitors.  For example, Sean’s license listed Pro, National and Crew.  I was told to come back in the morning and the registrar would call Topeka (one hr time difference) to get me a National license.  As race group 5, it appeared I had enough time to get this done. 


Sean and I took my trailer to the paddock and found a space on the pavement (did I mention that turnout was sparse?), quickly unloaded, and took the car to tech for the annual inspection.  We got to dinner around 9:45.


Saturday.  We got to the track, put on the racing tires/wheels, bought and added gas, etc. while waiting for the time to return to registration.  Registrar lady called Topeka and the guy there said since Pro Racing didn’t work on Saturdays, my only option was to buy National license.  Credit card number please, KA-ching, $95 spent. (For something I had already paid for).  I’m trying not to get very grumpy.


The first qualifying session got off at 10:30. Unlike the test sessions at VIR in February, I was immediately comfortable in the Piper and missed no shifts.  Guess my few driver fitment tweaks were good.  I drove at 95-98%, not wishing to ding my new toy on its first outing with me.  The shifting was like butter and the brakes were (NASCAR speak here) “awesome”.   I ran 14 laps and got down to a decent 1:20.1 (my best Summit lap in the Swift/Honda on sticky R25 tires last year was 1:18.5); Scanlan did a 1:19.1. 


The second qualifying session, late in the afternoon and warmer, found many NOT improving their best lap.  I did 18 laps (a lot!); most in the 1:21 range, but didn’t find much speed.  Piper seemed lethargic and geared too tall.  The SmartyCam was installed, but didn’t work.  We would waste hours on the SmartyCam over the weekend and get no video.  After looking at the data traces, we decided to change gears Sunday morning.


Race Day.  With our race going off after lunch, we had plenty of time to piddle with the Piper.  Gear ratios were selected, and the change went quickly with Sean on the wrenches.  Gear changing to the Staffs box in Sean’s Citation is a MAJOR pain by comparison.


I would be gridded 7th overall for the start of the race with four fast F500 in front of me.  After the substantial gear changes, I would take a very conservative start lap getting passed by a F500 and a FV (!!) going into turn one.  I repassed quickly and cranked it up some to stay in sight of the lead pack for a while. I liked the new gearing and was turning laps in the 1:19-1:20 range routinely.  During the course of the race, I lapped 18 cars TWICE.  It was hard to get a clean lap and I lost track of who I was passing.  Jeremy Morales in a F500 nipped at my heels for many laps.  Twice he hit me in turn 5 while trying to  pass on the outside. On some laps, I would gap him pretty good and as we worked traffic.  Four laps from the race end while coming up to pass the closely packed lead group of four FV’s in turn 10, two of them spun causing me to test my brakes and allowing the winning F500 car to sneak past me.  I managed to catch and pass him before the checker.  He would finish without a nose cone.  The Piper would have no obvious damage (I think he hit tires).  I would finish 3rd overall in the 22 car group, and 3rd in FF.  My best lap was 1:19.4


The forward facing Smarty did not turn off (supposed to be automatic), but my old camera facing aft did work fine (despite a very dirty lens…. Forgot to clean).  Watching Morales attack my rear is entertaining.


While my primary goal for the weekend was to get comfortable with the Piper, I would have been pleased to have bettered my best Summit lap in the Swift.  Next time.  I need to acclimate to the great brakes and stop over slowing for corners.


Sidebar.  There is so much vibration transmitted to the Piper roll bar, I had to relocate the video camera.  If my Hans contacts the head rest, the vibration is transmitted to my helmet and makes seeing difficult.  We tried a softer pad, but it was not sufficient.