VIR Double National

April 2008


In past years, the VIR National was held in August.  The event had the potential of being a premier event at a world-class track.  But, the heat was terrible.  The inaugural race had decent entries, but the oppressive heat had taken it toll in recent years.  The North Carolina Region (NCR), which organizes the race had taken to adding tin top (I call them jalopies) regional cars to supplement their income.  It cheapens the event in the view of many racers.  Some of the Region’s “officials” had gotten very angry with me for pointing this out.  They didn’t seem able to distinguish between Sean and me, so he got lots of hate email also.


Well, it took a few years, and quite frankly I am surprised it ever happened, but the NCR moved the race to a nice Spring weekend.  Even better, they made it a Double.  (I’m thinking some of the cranky old fossils in the NCR had finally died off.)  Marketing genius.  The event will now grow to become one of the premier races of the SCCA season.  AND it is only a 200-mile tow.  Great!


Kathy, saying that Danville, VA is no place for a shopper to spend 4 days, opted to stay home.  Sean and Eric would be there.  Engine guru from Seattle George Dean would be flying in to hang.  I would use Thursday to drive to the track.  The paddock was full but not bursting at the seams.  I found Eric, he was doing the test day, and had saved us a spot.  I practiced my trailer backing up.  Sean would arrive a few hours later.


Sean, Eric and I were in group one. (all wings and fast Sportsracers).  Despite being in a major economic recession, suffering record-breaking gasoline prices, and a substantial entry fee ($550), 67 plus cars were signed up in our group.  Some would not survive practice day or qualifying, but the mob of testosterone-laden, impatient racers was imposing.


Friday Qualifying

We were on the track at 0810 for a 30-minute session.  Track was, of course, cold and slick.  My tires were from last season and my skills were rusty.  I approached speed gradually and carefully.  Most of the group were going balls to the wall.  Within a lap, some wacko in a white FE dove inside me at the Oak Tree apex with no hope of making the track out.  I went wide into the dirt to avoid him.  Unnecessary and Dumb!  Dave Gomberg would spin at the top of the roller coaster turns and would almost block the track.  For whatever reason, the track crew was not moving him.  He sat there for 3 laps or so.  Increasing, with cars off in also every corner, I decided to come in a few laps early.  Best time 2:04. 


Sean came in on the “hook.”  He had grenaded his engine after four laps.  George, the engine builder, came over to investigate.  The engine had one race on it.  Eric came in with rear suspension damage having been hit while slowing for a yellow flag. 


“Pepe” (Joseph Rome) the offending FE driver came over to my paddock space and yelled at me for holding him up (5 Laps alleged!) and said he had to push by me.  (I found out later that Pepe is very deaf and always talks too LOUD.)  I explained that he was very mistaken, but he was not listening.  He got very agitated and I eventually ordered him out of my space.  Nice way to start the weekend.  Time sheets would later show that his and my lap times were essentially equal.


Track conditions for the afternoon qualifier were, of course, much better.  Traffic and standing yellows were everywhere.  Dave got parked this time in turn one for a few laps. (He was having brake bias problems.)  Still on old tires, the car and driver was getting more comfortable.  My dash showed a couple of 1:59 laps, so I decided to come in.  Timing had me at 2:01.  I’ve noted this disparity before at VIR.  Must figure out what is happening.  I could have stayed out for a few more perhaps productive laps.


Sean and George had found a donor engine from Kevin Allen to put in Sean’s car.  We would spend the remainder of the day removing Sean’s lump and prepping the Allen replacement.  Rain Loomed.  After several hours of work, George deemed the Allen lump not a good risk, something about the quality of the oil in the pan.  Sean and George were beat.  We went out for BIG steaks. 



Began the morning with a cold track 15-minute qualifier.  I had left my battery cutoff switch on all night and my car would not make the call.  To make matters worse, the clutch wasn’t engaging properly either.  (One of the three bolts on the standoff plate had sheared off in the engine block.)  Sean and I would spend the morning fabricating a “band-aid” for the clutch.  We also got the rain tires out and ready.  There were some significant showers. 


It hadn’t rained for a while as the time approached for our afternoon race.  Some of the guys, who had them, went to the grid on intermediate tires.  My five-year-old rains enjoyed getting out of the trailer.  As we sat on the grid, rains and some hail came.  Those who qualified in the top half of the field got spots under the covered VIR grid.  I got wet.


The race had a split start with the FE and FM cars being in the second group.  Starting mid pack of 30 cars in the rain is surreal.  You can see nothing except an occasional glimpse of the car in front of you.  I chose not to use my radios.  As the pack came to the starter’s stand, there is no way one could see it.   Did the race start?  I didn’t think so, as the cars around me pretty held station for the next 5 or so corners, except exiting turn 4 where someone spins and blocks the track, Field splits and goes around him in the grass on each side.  Finally someone blasts past us in the uphill esses.  Race must have started. 


Found out from a post from Peter Krause after the race that VIR had “sealed” turn 4 and Oak Tree, and they were “diabolical” in the wet.  I was discovering this myself in turn 4.  Despite careful slowing, I pushed off there 2 ½ times.  Unreal.  Slow, but still a learner, I took an extreme inside line in turn 4 and traction was reasonable for the wet conditions.  I really didn’t have any problems in Oak Tree; maybe I needed to drive harder.  Brian and Marian Little had showed up to crew.  They were watching the race at the roller coaster.  I was comfortable in that sequence, but suddenly near the end of the race, I went off exiting the left-hander.  Had to sit for a long time to wait for a break in the traffic to rotate and return, pissing away at least 15 places.  Brian said the car behind me had given me a tap causing the off.  Never felt it.  Finished 5th of 8 in DSR and 34th overall.  I was thinking later, 60 plus cars with a combined value of $2.5 million heading into turn one totally blind.  We ARE a crazy lot.


After the race, we added a band-aid to the clutch band-aid and cleaned lots of mud from the car.  My off-course adventure in the roller coaster had slightly damaged the nose and splitter.  We fitted the spares. 



At this point, a couple of weeks after the race, I have no memory of the brief morning qualifier.  Likely a cold and wet track prevented much useful lapping.  Our race got off just after church time.  I at least have video of the start.  I would start directly behind John Fergus and could easily out drag him to turn one.  I saw the green flag wave clearly and gassed it.  Unfortunately my old dog brain faded and I missed the next shift, over revving the motor.  It immediately protested and slowed.  By the time I got to turn one, I had pulled to the right to get out of everyone’s way.  I pulled off at the turn two exit and parked it and watched the race.  As to be expected the WF-1 guys were flying and dicing with the fast FA cars.  There was attrition, and Dave finished 3rd in DSR (without his nose section.)  Second place was near as Kevin Allen was slowing noticeably for the second half of the race. 



With the new generation of DSR cars so much faster than our old dinosaurs, it is difficult to generate any enthusiasm for the races.  Seems so futile.  The fact that it has taken me more than two weeks to scribe this report, indicated that it is time to move on.  My car is for sale.