Life is Good.
I was kinda iffy on going to the Double National at Pocono. After winning both races at Savannah in July, I need a single first place to lock in the SouthEast Division DSR Championship by ONE point over Travis Duder. Son, Sean was encouraging me to give it a try. The championship is not worth much more than a nice plaque and a jacket (at least so last year). Kathy would be away on her annual summer trek to her family cottage somewhere North of the Arctic Circle in northern Wisconsin. So I went.
Sean would not be playing this race weekend. He was crew chief on wife Marsha's delivery on Tuesday of future racer Samantha. He would be needed back at the race shop.
Pocono, that 2.5 mile NASCAR Tri-Oval, is about 375 miles from here, with Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia in the way. I decided try the Eastern Shore, Bay Bridge tunnel route to avoid the DC and Baltimore mess. There are WAY too many stoplights along that way. Not good for towing heavy trailers. At the convergence point of I95, Wilmington, DE and the river, I made a wrong turn (I'm blaming the inadequate signage on Route 13) and made a brief visit to New Jersey. Pay toll, re-cross bridge and return to course. I began to appreciate my absent navigator more.
SCCA was running a practice day on Thursday. I got to the newly configured road course as the day was concluding. I ran at Pocono a couple of years ago. There was a squiggly section that cut off the left end of the NASCAR tri-oval. It was tight and narrow. This year, SCCA added a similar squiggly section to the right end and decided to run the course in the opposite direction (clockwise). This would be the first National race to use the new layout. Some racers had run the Regionals to learn the course; many had run the practice day. I talked with a couple of the FC drivers who had run the practice day, the consensus was:
I managed to find a small space for Dan Carney and me on the paved section of the pits. Most Thursday afternoon arrivals got stuck way out in left field. Qualifying day on Friday could be most interesting.
There were 38 cars in the combined FF/S2/CSR /DSR group. I enjoyed the thrill of discovery as many cars, armed with knowledge of where the course was going, zoomed past. I found the speed JUMP. Won't do that again. The 7-lap session passed quickly. At the end of the session, several other cars and I got pulled aside. I was told that the corner workers had called in and said that I wasn't watching my mirrors and that if I did it again next time, I would be sent home. I was really pissed. I explained the need to learn a totally new track and that I would stay on the racing line as soon as I figured out where it was. I was told that I should have run the "test day." Shit HEADS. Dan was told that he had spun twice, and that if he did it again, that he would be sent home. My best lap of 1:43 put me in 24th of 38. I love being treated like a child.
The afternoon qualifying session got stopped mid way while they cleaned up some other BAD BOYS who had spun. I went 3.5 seconds faster and was beginning to explore the "Scary" turns. I went off in turn 2 into the rock-laden field and ate the front splitter. Dan destroyed a nose section in one of his off road excursions. My brakes were a big problem, getting hot and requiring several pumps after about 3 laps. I would bleed them after every session without much success. I discovered that my rear sway bar mounting bolt had sheered off. I qualified 23rd and 3rd in Dsr. Dan was 25th and 11th in FF. Afterwards, we went to dinner with Todd Bardwell, some other S2 racers and Joe Stimola, the FF prep icon and storyteller extraordinaire.
We had a brief qualifying session Saturday morning that once again got shortened, but this time for no apparent reason. I managed to go another 1.5 seconds faster. The on-board computer data confirmed again that the time is made up in the high-speed turns coming off the NASCAR straight. With uncertain brakes, I was unable to brake late in any turns. It was really hurting my times.
Saturday Race. The FF's would have a split start behind us sports racing cars. My car flooded and would not restart on the grid and I missed the pace and first lap and a half of the race. I finally got started (after Tom Forte went back to my pits for the jump battery) and fell in behind the lead pack of CSR cars (surprisingly, there were 8 of them and most were quite fast). I did one lap at speed before the first of two double yellows/ follow the pace car/ came out. No way to make up lost time. We got 8 laps of racing after that before the pace car came out again. We would end the race under yellow. I could see two of my DSR competitors just in front of me. I really needed another lap of racing under green to pass them. Not to be. I would finish 23rd and 4th in DSR. Dan would spin on course on lap 10 and not get restarted. Race got stopped because the two FF leaders got into each other in the braking zone and the end of the NASCAR backstretch. J. Parsons ended backwards with two wheels up on top of the outside wall (it is about 3 feet thick and 4 feet tall). Spooky site as you are braking from 135 mph. No one was hurt, but cars were destroyed.
So far, our weekend was going very badly. SCCA race control was also having a bad day. They got the race leader wrong with the pace car and a protest ended up having two CSR's declared the race winner. Amusing. Results finally got posted mid morning Sunday. Both Dan and I had very pleasant news. Dan had the second best FF time of those who finished. He figured he could have finished well had his starter not died. My surprise was to find my race times had improved another 4 seconds and I ended up 4th fastest overall (damn those 250 HP CSR cars), fastest of all the DSR's and new holder of the Pocono DSR lap record.
The Sunday race was beginning to look quite promising. We epoxyed Dan's last nose section back together and he installed a new starter motor.
The dreaded rain greeted us Sunday morning. We decided to skip the morning qualifying session, but many went out to practice on their rain tires. Our race would be after the lunch break. Rain had turned to occasional drizzle by noon. We all mounted our rain tires and did the rain setups, but went back to the dry setup just before race time. Good choice. The race line was reasonably dry. Not so off the line.
Sunday race. I actually got to participate on the pace lap. Starting 3rd in DSR and 17th overall, the front row was a long ways ahead. The start was very sloppy and strung out. I was just happy I was running. One of the leaders spun in turn one and was sitting broadside in the middle of the track. This bunched things up! An impatient S2 gave my right rear wheel a healthy shot in turn 3. What is it about S2's and them running into me? Car feels good and the brakes are mostly working OK. I'm passing a car or so each lap. I pass the top qualifying DSR who seems to be making a grinding sound. I see Dick Knoblauch, in the now leading DSR, a couple of cars ahead. He had been much faster down the straight yesterday, so passing him was gonna take some doing. Yesterday's "co-winner" in a Mazda powered Ralt RT5 CSR has spun, raced back by me, and slowed again. We are catching up to the back of the FF pack. I am now on Knoblauch's tail but get caught up in the squiggles with two slow FF's. Dick opens 100 yards or so on me. I clear the FF's and start to close. Dick, the Mazda and I exit on to the back NASCAR straight. Mazda guy pulls to the outside (dry line) and I fall into his draft. We easily pass Knoblauch. I open up some space on Dick. The next lap, there are two cars parked on the track in turn 8 before returning to the front straight. We get the dreaded double yellows, and an abrupt and unexpected checker the next lap. We do only 12 laps of the 15 lap, already rain shortened from 22 laps, race. Dick is hoping, of course, for more laps to have a try at me. Not to be. I win DSR and finish 9th overall. Dan was struggling with a sway bar problem, and we passed him on the last green flag lap.
Let's recap. Friday: BAD BOY we may have to send you home. Sunday: Race winner, new Lap Record Holder, clinch SE Division Champion-ship, win tires; go faster than all but 3 CSR cars.
I smiled all the way home. Good Boy.