VIR -Fading Glory

3 Aug 02

VIR is a wonderful racetrack with first rate facilities. However, the North Carolina Region has figured out how to drive entrants away in droves. This year, they included an IT (jalopy) enduro race at a reduced entry fee, with more track time than the National competitors and compressed our schedule greatly. My race would be run on Saturday afternoon, leaving no time to tend to the car should a problem arise. They also scheduled the race to conflict with the double National at Pocono. Seven or eight DSR drivers, including Sean decided to stay home in protest. Only 140 entries showed up for the National races, where there were over 300 two years ago. Good moves NC Region.

Our old group of racers was going to converge on VIR for a reunion of sorts. Thor would be there in his FA as would Eric in his recently resurrected FF (actually CF). Dan was going to go also but decided to add his absence to the boycott with Sean. Mark refuses to resurrect his FF and go down the dark path of racing expenses. Mark would come along as Eric's crew.

I went to VIR, but it wasnít easy. I got my replacement Yamaha motor (junkyard stock) on Tuesday. Put it in the car on Wednesday. Solved a couple of water leak problems on Thursday and loaded up the trailer. I hate last minute preparation. I got to VIR mid afternoon Friday and roped off spaces for Thor and Eric. As it turns out, space was very plentiful and every driver could have had 3 to 4 spaces. I watched a bit of the "practice day" and noted that one yellow Radical that I had never seen before was turning respectable 2:05's. Maybe there would be some competition after all.

Eric, then Thor arrived after a while and I got to practice those "unloading" skills a couple of times. Kathy had decided to stay home for this race, also not liking the one-day format - no shopping time. Since I was alone, I used this race for my annual camping out. Although the days were HOT, the nights were mercifully tolerable at about 70 degrees.

Sean drove down to crew and hang out on Saturday. Being group one (FA, FC, FM, S2, CSR and DSR), we were on the track by 0830. There were only 3 DSR cars. The Radical and another apparently didn't survive the practice day before. Terry Busby was there in his newly homebuilt "Buzzard" (a very nicely done car and very low drag). Jim Bonsey was there but, as it seems to always be, broke early. I am a slow starter on race weekends, and this time was no exception. I drove somewhat ragged, with lap times of 2:05 showing on my display. About 5 laps into the session, the throttle pedal came off its shaft (where did the cotter pin go?) and idled slowly to the pits. I was also unhappy with the shifting vagueness. Sean and Mark fixed the pedal and took the slop out of the shift linkage. With only five National groups, the qualifying session came around before lunchtime.

The qualifying session went well. My racing rhythm had returned. The new junkyard engine was running fine and I was turning laps in the 2:01 range. I told myself, that it was good enough and came in after about 6 laps. (Turns out my laptimer was occasionally seeing someone else's beacon and I was really turning 2:03 laps.) Busby, would turn 2:04. The DSR's got sent to tech for a fuel test and the FM's for an ECU check. We sat on the hot pavement for 45 minutes to an hour (after they took the sample) while the officials diddled with the fuel test. We pleaded with the Chief Steward to be released, since we had a race coming up in an hour or so. He sympathized, but said he would not interfere with the tech guys' agenda. Very annoying. My time put me 25th on the combined grid of 31 cars. It was gonna be difficult to avoid trouble for the first lap or so.

Our race got off at about 3PM. It was 98 degrees HOT and sunny. My radios decided not to work again (have since found the shorting wire) so Sean would be showing the pit board. At the green flag, 7 or 8 cars in front of me were on their brakes and I was accelerating hard. I could have passed many, maybe having to put two wheels in the dirt on the inside of the track, but decided to "cool it" and stayed in line. At turn 3, a front running FA spun and caused a BIG stackup. I saw a gap and went inside, putting two wheels in the dirt at the apex curbing, and passed MANY cars. For the next few laps, I was running with a group of 3 FM's and a FC. Slowly and carefully, I picked each of them off. One FM repassed, but I retook the position again going into the rollercoaster turns. (I was a bit faster down the straight). I was looking for the pit board going down the front straight, and could plainly see 2 or 3. Thing was, they were all showing different numbers of laps left. This was no help. I really couldn't make out which one was Sean. Later in the race, a FM got by again when I blew an upshift exiting "Oak Tree". I decided to let him go after a lap or so, particularly since he was blocking at most corners. There was another FM on my tail and I resolved to keep him there. No more letting cars go! Two laps from the end, my tail stepped out a little in the last high-speed esses turn. I was thinking the track was getting slippery. I see a one lap to go on a pit board at start finish, but don't see a white flag/one to go signal from the starters stand. My laptimer is showing 2:02 laps and I am having fun, so drive on. This time my tail steps out more in the last high speed esses and I cannot save it. I drive off (at about 130 mph) into the dirt. As Cheetahs are prone to do, my left side pod dug in, spewing off the nose section and making the aluminum pan under the sidepod look like a sardine can. I get the car refired, after a bit, and rejoin, dragging tin on the track surface. By the time I neared the pits, the corner workers are waving, etc indicating that the race is over. I have pissed away many positions and maybe the DSR win. I would finish 20th overall.

And pissed away for no good reason, as Busby had retired at mid race and I had no reason to be running so hard. DUMB.

Good news: The replacement motor ran fine without problems, my best time was better by 3 seconds over the race in 2000 (stock ZX10 motor) and .6 second faster than Sean had done last year in my car (Wirth built ZX10), and I got a win. Bad news: I have fiberglass repairs to do before the Runoffs, and I got the world's ugliest trophy.

Other notes: Throughout the sessions, I could not negotiate the first two turns in the esses flat out. I was able to this when I last raced at VIR two years ago (except for the one lap when I hit the apex curve in the second esses too hard and crashed into the guardrail). With better tires, and less track heat, maybe they can be taken flat out.

Stupid SCCA official's trick. Pit marshals decreed that all lap beacons had to be in the same spot. I pointed out that if there is not some separation between them, the signals overlap and they donít work. Officials would not relent. Finally, the marshal I was dealing with agreed to look the other way.