Hot in Atlanta

June 2000

With my arm muscle on the mend, I decided to do the National at Road Atlanta. It turned out to be an adventure. With all my racing buddies on competition vacations, I would be racing solo. Kathy did decide to go along, lured by the primo shopping at Phipps Plaza. (She had a business trip to Seattle on Monday and was in search mode for "business casual" attire).

We departed Friday morning for the long, boring 9-hour drone. Somewhere in South Carolina, I noticed a noise in the drive train of the tow Jeep. It was in the front and was much louder when I backed off the throttle. We pressed on and played the radio louder. We got there by 5PM and went to registration. They did not have my entry. It seems they had put the wrong ZIP code on the form and many entries where lost in Post Office never-never land.

The paddock was surprisingly not crowded. We unpacked, headed out to dinner and discussed the Jeep noise a lot. We decided to risk mechanical disaster and Kathy went off to Atlanta Saturday morning. She took the AAA tow card and the cel phone. I was in group 2, which included FA/FC/FM/CSR and us. There were over 40 entries in group 2. Six DSRs were entered but only 4 showed. I really hate sharing the track with those cautionless, testosterone laden and generally faster guys. Sharing the same view, Brian Little had decided to stay home. Schedule included one brief practice and two brief qualifying sessions for Saturday. Practice was difficult with re-learning the challenging course, while constantly being buzzed by the formula kamikazes (most who had run the Friday practice day). DSR pilot, Bryon Stauffer (Radical/new motor), ran the Friday practice day but decided he "…hated the track" and parked his car. That left me, Bob Urso and Vic Moore (Radical) to do battle. In the 7 laps of practice, I got down to decent lap times. Our first qualifying session got off before lunch and the beastly heat. I went out last to avoid most of the crazies and turned better times and bested Bob and Vic by 2-3 seconds. I was banging the curbing at T5 exit and broke my radiator subframe (I did this last year also -slow learner) and ground down my front splitter. Despite old tires, the car was very stable and I was able to do T12 and the esses without lifting. Since it was unlikely my DSR competitors would better my times, I decided to live without replacing the splitter.

For the second qualifying session, I tried downshifting 3 times going into T10a, which helped me lower my lap time to 1:32 and Vic got a 1:36 and Bob 1:37. The afternoon session was stinking hot and most others turned slower times. I was wishing for my "race" motor which has gone, it seems, to live forever at the local repair shop. My stock motor now has near 30 races (I stopped counting) on it, but it is a real trooper.

With my qualifying over at 3PM, I set around for a couple of hours wondering if Kathy would/could return. She made it. That evening we plotted plans for getting home. She had to be sure to make it home so she could catch her flight to Seattle. Our plan was to put her on a plane Sunday afternoon and I would stay and take the Jeep to a dealer for repair on Monday. We found a Jeep store within walking distance of our motel. Plan B, in case repair would take days (waiting for parts, you know), was to trade the ailing Jeep for another vehicle. (Talk about costly race weekends!) Kathy would get a ride with Vic Moore on Sunday to a rapid transit station that links to the Atlanta airport.

Race Day. My qualifying time (27th overall) put me mid pack of the FM's and in front of some FC's. Officials decided to have a somewhat odd split-start. We were grouped with the FM's and were the first to start. My plan was to AVOID becoming involved in any first lap exuberance and to run a hot few laps before cooling it when I got a 10-15 second lead in DSR. I needed some SE Division points and another finish to qualify for the Runoffs. Kathy would give me time splits on the radio. At the start, I let a couple of FMs by. I ran some 1:33 laps and built a gap of 15 seconds over Vic.

At lap 8 in T2, I noticed some heavy smoke coming off by right rear. I wondered if a tire was rubbing. The smoke got bigger at times in the esses but seemed to dissipate as I exited T7. I carefully studied the gages and all seemed normal. Going through T10a I saw FLAMES at my right elbow. I know from sad experience this means oil on the headers. I looked for a flag station to visit. The station at the bridge was up a hill, so I continued into the pit entry lane. Pulled the fire bottle. I saw some fire bottles and stopped, as it turns out in front of the fire truck. The flames were back big time. The fire crew more than adequately doused the car and me. I bailed out quickly.

We loaded the car into the trailer without even looking for the problem cause (blown motor, oil line, whatever?) I reserved the thrill of discovery for if and when I got home again. I did note that the fire had melted the roll bar pad adjacent to my right ear. Vic took the DSR win and Bob came in a few laps early as the ups and downs of Road Atlanta was making him seasick.

Jeep got fixed Monday (leaving $1120 for the local economy) and I got home Tuesday at 1AM. There was a message on the answering machine from Kathy. She was in Denver, still flying around storms, and hoping to eventually get to Seattle. At least my run of bad luck was over.

Postscript. Banjo fitting on a manifold that carries oil from the head back to the sump had backed out some. This allowed oiling of the headers/muffler on left-hand turns. Race motors can be evil things. I think the motor is unharmed, but I will have to replace some fried wires before I can test it.