I really hadnít planed on returning to Road Atlanta for the second National race this season. It is a long 530-mile tow and the interstate section between Durham and Charlotte, NC is always annoying. But I had only completed two races this season in the SE division and there were only two race weekends left. So I set my web browser on Atlanta weather and got ready for the trek. I even convinced my wife Kathy to join me this time; there was an antiquing destination she wanted to revisit.
Son, Sean, still battling his new FF racer startup problems, had dropped his recalcitrant motor off in Greenville, SC the prior weekend on his way to the Road Atlanta superbike races. The tuner would have it ready on Friday, and we would stop on our way down and pick it up. We took a couple of hours in a nice cool bay in Rollin Butlerís shop to install the freshly dynoed motor.
Fellow DSR racer, Brian Little, had saved us a spot in the pits. He had arrived for Fridayís practice day, but scattered rain had convinced him to save the $200 fee. We see little rain on our way down from Virginia.
As is their custom, the Atlanta Region had included a PRO IT race with the weekend. Unlike the April National where the pits were extremely crowded, the pits this time were merely full. Over 60 cars started the IT race, and we other guys numbered about 130. My group consisted of FA, FM, FC, S2, and DSR and numbered 34. They ran FF with the FVís and F500ís. Iíve never seen that before.
Saturday morning began with rain showers despite the weather channel. Sean, who is getting quite a lot of rain practice lately, was the fastest of the FFís in the first practice session. Fellow DSR racer, Tony Branco, packed up and headed back to south Florida. He doesnít "do" rain. By the time we had finished putting the rain tires on the car and putting the rain setups on the suspension, the rain stopped. It would be nice and sunny and increasingly hot for the remainder of the weekend. (Tony, you should have stayed!)
The track was dry on line for my 30-minute practice session. I was trying my Vance & Hines ignition box. It had gotten soaked in my engine expiration/fire at Savannah in March. I had poured the water out and dried the internals (that nice O-Rings seal is obviously there just for cosmetics) but it had refused to work for a couple of months. It needed a LONG rest after the trauma, I guess. Anyway, the box allowed 500 more rpm before the rev limiter activated (could run a lower gear) and produced 2 more HP due to ignition advance. I had mounted the stock box adjacent to it, should a quick changeover be necessary. It wasnít. I ran 19 laps and had several laps more than a second under my previous best Road Atlanta times. Nice.
Seanís afternoon qualifying session goes badly. Now that it is dry and you need HP, his carb stumbles badly in high G corners. He is slower than last April when his car was also running poorly. Rollin, who had been listening to the car on the track, shows up and they scratch their collective heads and disassemble the carb. A "new style" nettle gismo is suspected. Sean is fourth in the 6-car FF field.
The FC guys, with their future aspirations, can be generally characterized as impatient, adrenalin charged, wacko, assholes. Been there, done that. FM regulars can be included, but there are several rental seats in the SE and some of the driving skills are at best bizarre. Add in six FAís with their very fast cars, huge egos and budgets being threatened by the upstart FCís and you get an entertaining race group.
My qualifying session runs but three laps before it is stopped to clear the carnage in turns one and two. Brian Little gets his nose section removed by an out-of- control FM. My Hoosier tires, although not showing much wear, have over 12 heat cycles on them since I bought at the RunOffs last year. Fading tires plus 90 degree temperatures mean that I must lift in turn12 and turn 4. I am having some fun racing with John Newcomb, a newcomer in DSR. He is the new owner of Mac McDonaldís Yamaha powered Prince and is VERY fast down the straights. He can pull me by at least 100 yards. I will be in real trouble, once he learns the cornering a little better. I get under him and a FM in turn 6 and put some distance on them as they interfere with each other. In a lap or so John would get over the alligator teeth while battling the FM in turn 10b, break his oil pan and create havoc for the next cars. The two car crash in turn 12 would cause an early end of our qualifying session.
Mike Schmidt, the Zink Z-15 DSR pilot from Florida and relative novice racer, was the star of qualifying. His time of 1:29.9 put him mid pack of the FCís and was more than 4 seconds better than mine. I stopped by timing and scoring to mention that I thought he was a NO SHOW for the weekend and was puzzled by the time. They assured me that there was a car #35 and the time was correct. By Sunday morning, car #35 had morphed into a FC to be driven by Arnold Brinkmann. We DSR guys are a resourceful lot.
John would qualify 1st in DSR and 29th overall with a 1:34.2 time. I would be next with a 1:34.8. The race could have been a very interesting battle, but John could not repair his oil pan and would be a DNS. Weíll have to wait until Savannah in July to see if old age and cunning can overcome HORSEPOWER.
Seanís is the first race on Sunday. He decides to mount new tires, hoping his carb woes are behind him. FF pilots Don Baggett and Steve Brooks (Road Atlanta guru) take the point. The second group is the "Ruptured Duck" FF, the very fast F500 of Wilfong, and Sean. He is running laps about 3 seconds quicker than qualifying. Brooks spins after passing Baggett in turn one and drops back of Sean by about 20 seconds. Sean could use the third place points to insure his RunOffs invite. About six laps were left of the 18 lap race when apparently some FVís got together and the Pace Car and full course yellow came out. By now, Sean is slowing significantly. The field closes tightly on the pace car, but since there are several cars between Brooks and Sean, I figure his third place was secure. Sean said the pace car stopped on the course for a period while the wrecker hoisted and removed a FV. It also stopped in 10b again. What happened as the pack emerged from under the bridge to be big downhill to turn one was UNBELIEVEABLE. The pace car darted off and Brooks from about 10th or 11th place passed everybody but Baggett. Then the green flag fell. Of course several others back in the pack joined his opportunistic jump. Seanís motor was going south (likely a battery going flat) and he could do nothing. Baggett held off an aggressive last corner pass attempt by Brooks to take the win.
Sean went to see the Stewards after the race. They admitted that they had screwed up. They were attempting to get a green lap for the race to end. Sean let it goÖ. The prize money was the same.
My race promised to be a bit of a snore with my chief competitor sidelined. But, I should have known better given the formula car kamikazes. I dialed in more rear wing, so I was able to take the esses flat-out. At the start, I was directly behind Pete Harrison who is fast and steady in his S2000. I got a good drive thru turn 12 as the flag fell. I knew it would be INTERESTING in turn one when I saw the field go about 5 wide, with one FC fully on the grass as we went down the front straight. I decided to back off a bit and move to the inside line. A least 5 cars were in the spin cycle in turn one. One was drifting down to the apex as I tried to slip through. Putting two wheels over the curb allowed me to sneak through. My racing drive took a couple of beats to absorb the "event" and a couple of cars (including the erratic FM) blasted by before I got turned back on. By turn 5 the full course yellow was out. We got 5 laps at speed (one of them setting a new personal best for me at 1:33.8), before three cars got together in 10a (hard left at end of back straight). Bits littered the track and the casualties were all residing in the gravel trap. It happened just in front of me, so the yellow flag wasnít shown yet. I crested the ridge into the blind, steep downhill 10a braking zone doing 135 mph. Maximum braking while downshifting 3 times . . . Surprise, surprise lookout ahead. I managed to miss all the big pieces. Three more laps behind the pace car before it is green again. My brakes had gone soft requiring a double pump in the corners, but the yellow laps had allowed them to cool and return. Nice (need to go back to the CF90 compound).
As the race resumed, I quickly went inside a FM in turn 6 and closed to about 25 yards of Pete Harrisonís S2000. I could get close but could not get by. He made no mistakes. He and I both took first in class. I ended up 17th overall with 27 of the 34 starters still running. As part of our race winning booty, they gave us a nice, big checkered flag and a victory lap. One problem, this table cloth sized flag almost ripped my arm off as I took my lap. I ended up hooking it into the steering wheel to survive. I took the slowest victory lap in history, I bet.
After impound and packing, we left the track at nearly 7 PM. We would be home in time for Kathy to take a short nap before going to work. Are racers crazy or what?