Apprehension on Ice


Feb 24, 2002

Having just finished swapping the old ZX10 motor in my Cheetah to the high-tech Yamaha R1 and renovating the chassis with all new bearings and such, I was viewing my first outing with apprehension. The weather at Kershaw, about 50 miles from Charlotte, NC, in February could be very miserable. It was last year, but fortunately, I chose not to go. I spent a lot of time with the Weather Channel and before deciding to load up.

I really needed to do a test day to ferret out teething problems, so I headed out Thursday afternoon for the 380-mile haul. Kathy, showing good sense, chose not to join me. Hasty Horn would be there with his two DSRs with the intention of deciding which one to keep.

The test day was brisk, but tolerable. Track used three groups, with ours including about 60 cars in FA thru FV. Way too many and all the sessions were chaotic. Every session I ran lasted only 5 or 6 laps before the red flag came out because there were too many cars off course. Two sessions lasted only 2 laps. With temperatures in the forties, grip was non-existent on a track with four consecutive sub 40-MPH corners. I did a couple of early sessions to make sure everything was bolted on properly. Car was fine and I immediately noticed that the Yamaha seemed to rev up much quicker than the ZX10. My only problem was a throttle cable that released too slowly, and it was getting worse. My datalogger wasn't working, so I had no real idea how well I was doing. After my third (2 laps!) session, I decided to remove the throttle cable and see what could be done. Hasty had some spare cables, but they didn't fit, so I reduced the radius on the carb end and lubed the cable like mad.

Putting the throttle cable back on is an annoying exercise. I used a couple of screwdrivers to hold the butterflies open while I groped to put the cable end back on the carb. By now, Hasty had run the Stohr car and determined that he did not fit in the car. His legs and jewels interfered with turning the steering wheel. The reason my prior session was cut short was because Hasty had crashed his Cheetah in turn one. He had a rear brake line rupture (too close to the exhaust, maybe) and whenever he applied the brakes, fluid was sprayed on the hot exhaust causing a lap long FIRE! His car uses a large single reservoir and he had emptied it of fluid as he entered turn one after a high speed straight. Corner workers said he got some "air" as he left the track and found a tire wall. Damage to his car was not too bad and fixable, but by then the flu he was fighting got the best of him. He would spend a lot of time in the motel over the next two days.

With the throttle cable back on, the dragging was gone, but the motor seemed to have a big miss. We (Roy Rosemanitz came up from Atlanta to help while he waits for delivery of his new OMS car and Dave Gomberg who was along to assist Hasty) changed the plugs. No effect. We changed the coils. No effect. Had spark, had fuel flow, no clue. By now, the temperatures were falling and a 20-MPH wind had joined into the fun. I decided to call it a day. I went over to registration about 5:30 for a nice long stand in a slow moving line. After that fun, I put my car in the Tech line (annual tech needed) in 13th place. I would be there for nearly 3 hours! Seems that the Central Carolina's tech guy, an egomaniac named Lemmons, will not delegate any tasks and is outrageously slow. I got to my motel at 10 PM without dinner, and very cold and cranky. What should have been righteous sleep, was frequently interrupted with analyzing the cause of the miss. Had I hurt the motor?

Saturday was even colder. The practice session in the combined FA/FC/FM/S2/CSR/DSR group was a bit less chaotic than the practice day. Brian and Rick Little arrived to crew and got some lap times. My best was a 1:46 and cars had no problem blasting past me on the straights. My water temperature at the end of the sessions was 145 degrees. I decided to take the air box off, and take another look at the carbs. We checked the butterfly openings and found that two were opening about 80 percent and two were opening only about 50 percent. Two problems. First, the cable end was in the wrong hole causing the less than full opening. Secondly, I had dislodged a small spring that maintains the relative opening of the butterflies while poking around with the screwdriver the prior day. We borrowed a spring off Hasty's carbs and my miss/bad running problem was solved. I was now looking forward to qualifying later in the afternoon.

My qualifying session was brief. Car ran well for a couple of laps, but started to fade. With cars off in many corners and two corners fully oiled by lap 3, I had already decided to come in early. When I came into the pits, crew said I was leaking water. A small hose adjacent to the water pump (used for bleeding the system) had ruptured. This is a stock Yamaha hose and I really hadn't touched it during the installation. We cut a couple of inches off the hose and firmly clamped it back on. My best lap was 1:41, which was 1.2 seconds behind Vic Moore in the only other surviving DSR. Since Vic in his factory Radical had typically been 2-3 seconds faster last season, things were looking up. We departed the track fairly early to find a decent restaurant.

My race on Sunday would be just after the lunch break. I would start in 26th place along side of Vic. Gridded just behind me was Rich Mullin in a S2000. Knowing that wild and crazy guy for years, I knew he would likely try to drive over/whatever me at the first turn. I would let him go and treat the race as my final session of the car test. There was a split start with the FA and FC cars going first. Interestingly, several pro FC teams were there with the new Zetec motored cars and they were allowed to run as FA. Our group never got formed on the pace lap and everyone was full on the gas exiting the cursed 130 degree turn leading on to the front straight. Turn one was awash with tire smoke, spinning cars, wing pieces and assorted fiberglass bits. As the first lap sorted out, I found myself about 30 yards behind Vic with Mullin and a FM between us. Rich was holding me up and I found a safe place to pass on the back straight (I wouldn't dare try going under him in a corner . . . he hits). Vic and the FM traded places a couple of times. I was on their tails. In about 3 laps, the FM missed a shift or something and I blew by him (and never saw him again in my mirrors). I was hot on Vic now. I was faster from turn one thru turn 7 and he did the turn on the front straight better. My motor seemed a touch better. My shifter was a bit vague on upshifts and I missed a few. I got beside him several times. Our battle was spiced up by lapping FA cars and several cars we passed/lapped including one pitiful S2000 we lapped 3 times. On lap 15 I got past Vic and put maybe 50 yards on him. However, my brakes were going soft and I overcooked corner entry in a couple of corners. Vic got back by in two laps. By now I was learning to deal with the brakes. PUMP, PUMP, Brake. I was turning laps in the 1:38-1:39 area, which is likely under the lap record. (I set it two years ago on a nicer day in late April at 1:39.4). Our battle raged, but Vic finished a car length in front of me.

I didnít stay around for the official results. There were a couple of protests working and I had to get up I95 before the NASCAR race let out in Rockingham. I donít know at this point if Vic or I had the fastest lap. I do know we were lapping within one second of the FC poleman, which is a good indicator of excellent performance. Vic asked after the race if I would be buying a HOT motor from Graves. I said no. He will have a new factory improved car with a Suzuki GSXR motor by mid season. Overall, I have to consider the weekend, my car rehab and new motor a big success.

Bring on the season and warm weather. (Now what was Graves' phone number?)