Not too Bad…
Time to find those winter clothes that you haven't seen since last March. It's Runoffs time again. Now where are those wool socks, long pants, sweaters, ski jacket, lined gloves and coffee maker? It hard getting into packing for Mid-Ohio when all you have worn for the past 5 months is shorts. Don’t bother packing any shorts!
None of the FF guys would be playing this year, so I would be doing a solo. Kathy would be coming along to base her shopping adventures from Mansfield, Ohio. Sean and Mark would come up for Thursday and Friday to crew. Pete Becker, a NE DSR competitor from New York that I met at Pocono, would come up on Wednesday to hang/pit. I would be sharing paddock space with Brian Little, and Paul Shinsky and Duane Dyckman from Houston. Brian's crew would assist me early in the week.
Kathy and I departed at 4 A.M. so that I could get to the track in time to do the car Tech Inspection on Sunday afternoon. With an early practice session on Monday, I needed to get the chore out of the way. We got to the track at about 2:30 PM and shoe-horned my trailer into a nice paved place behind a big semi-trailer team with a loud and constantly running generator. After a couple of days, we stopped noticing it.
The tech line was about 20 cars long. The tech guy didn't like the way my battery was held down. I explained, with the usual futility, that it had been delivered to me from the builder that way (who had 3 other cars pass tech with no question) and no one had questioned it in three years. I took the car back to the paddock and fashioned an additional hold down. I know the game: don't question, and just change the car.
Brian's very pretty Ralt chassis car sported a new paint job. I had chosen not to re-spray my car this year. In the past two Runoffs, I arrived with a fresh paint job only to be hit by an S2000 in the first session. I figured if I didn't spiff up the bodyworks, I could avoid being hit. It worked!
Monday 9:15 Practice. In good Mid-Ohio style, it was cold , dead DARK until 8AM, and wet. It was either a heavy MIST or a light rain. I had a new "West Coast" motor that I received the week before. I was anxious to see if I had significantly more HP. I went out behind Reupert ('97 winner and lap record holder) and figured I would try to follow him and learn something. On cold tires, he went straight off in T9 into the tire wall. In fact, many impatient guys (we practiced and qualified with the S2000 field) went off during the first two laps. As I got up to speed, I noticed that my motor went BLAAAAA in T1 and T13 (high speed left hand turns). Must be that new QuickShift thing is malfunctioning. In a couple more laps, the chain starts CLUNKING and I come in early. New chains stretch a lot the first couple of sessions. I've got to remember to bed in a chain before the Runoffs. Despite the problems and conditions, I still bag a 1:33 lap, which is only 1/2 second slower than my personal best. I am 5th fastest and things are looking up. Brian's motor has a mystery ailment and he came in on the HOOK. I disconnect the QuickShift system, check all wiring, re-check fuel pressure. Seems also that I overlooked tightened the chain tension bolts and the chain was VERY loose. (I'm blaming my neighbor Jay who stopped over as I was putting on the new chain… distraction, Good thing that I don't chew gum anymore.) By late afternoon, I had put all my warm clothes on and was still shivering while watching the FC's practice.
Tuesday, 11:15, Qual 1. Heavy morning frost. Where did that ice scraper go? By 11 AM, it is still cold by my standards (50degrees) and overcast. Engine still doing the BLAAA thing. Tried down shifting going into T1, but it only helped a little. Motor seemed strong on the long straight, and the data system confirmed that I was getting competitive top speed (139 mph versus 125 last year). I was randomly selected to go to impound to get weighed after the session. I did turn a slightly better time, but fell to 8th fastest and more guys got up to speed or avoided crashing. After the session, I decided to take my carbs apart. This is a bit of a hassle, with the cool air box to remove first. I was relieved to find a problem. A small screw that holds the float pivot shaft for the #3 carb was very loose, allowing the float to move about. It was flooding the cylinder with excess gas in T1 and T13. I had new tires mounted and felt more confident for the next session. Brian continued his liaison with the HOOK and his crew continued their search for the gremlin. We all did dinner in town.
Wednesday, 2:00 Qual 2. Partly sunny, very windy and 70 degrees. Pete showed up to assist. Track was trashed with oil and whatever. Cars were off early in T6 and T13 gravel traps. Caution flags flew for many laps as the wreckers hauled them out and lap times suffered. It was particularly difficult for me as I was fourth in a group and had no place to pass them easily. Al Beasley, Jr., last years runner-up and local Mid-Ohio expert, came out spewing out great quantities of oil and water. He ran a fast lap, but covered my car and face shield with so much junk, I could only partially see. Good news was that my motor was running fine. I was locked in a battle with Beasley Sr., Shinsky and Ben Smith. As I passed 3 cars in T6, another yellow flag came out and I had to back off and let them back by. At lap 7, a S2000 oiled the track big time from T13 to the pits. Hot laps were effectively over. Most people went immediately into the pits. I stayed out 3 more laps to practice T1. I need to practice T13 also, but the oil prevented it. Again, I improved my time by nearly 2 seconds but fell to 10th fastest. Annoying that I keep falling further down the order despite going faster. Again, I got selected to be weighed. Brian blew his only motor. He bought the "practice motor" from Barney Powers and we all helped him cleanup the shrapnel. When Kathy and I returned to our motel, we ran into Florida DSR gang of Dickinson, Haddock, Schmidt and Branco. They had driven the 18+ hours to see the DSR race.
Thursday, 3:00 Qual 3. Sean and Mark arrived. Despite a cool track, I ran hard early in this session. On Lap 3, I lost it going into the T3 by carrying too much speed into the second turn of the "kink". Again, I improved my lap time by 0.3 seconds but fell now to 12th fastest. We took tire temperatures after the session and decide to reduce camber at all four corners by 1/4 degree. I had reconnected the QuickShift but forgot to try it. I had forgotten the radios also. They were still in the Jeep with Kathy and went shopping in Cleveland. Brian's new motor ran, but lost fire. He decided to call it a week and parked the car. My crew retired to the RoadHouse for major animal flesh and malt beverages.
Friday. Race Day. I did the 9:15 brief warm-up session to check the validity of the camber changes. Times were not bad and the camber change seems positive. It was a cold, dreary and very windy day. By noon, we had a rain shower and the guys got my rain tires ready. It did not look promising. As I went off to the grid, there were a few raindrops. They took my rain tires down to the pits in case they need to change them at the last minute. We would have to be very careful on a very cold track for the first few laps of the race. Fun.
We sat at the "one minute to go" position for about 4 minutes while apparently Speedvision went to commercial. The field was well formed as we exited T3 and waited for the green flag near T6. I was in the outside line and we accelerated hard, got on the brakes and then the green fell. I got past no one as all bunched up at T6 and they all came over at the exit. In a couple of laps, I passed Shinsky going into T6. In no time he disappeared from my mirrors. Next I caught Ben Smith and passed him going into T1. I next caught Colburn, but he seemed to have ample 2-stroke power. I couldn't pull him on the straight. After a couple of laps, I got a good drive out of T3 and took him in T6. He also quickly disappeared from my mirrors. Kathy was on the radio with a warning of a blown motor before T1. When I got there, the car was parked near the braking zone and the dreaded "oil flag" was being waved. I took it very carefully for two laps. I couldn't see a next victim in front of me, and no one was in my mirrors. I looked down at my lap timer display and saw a horrible 1:36 and turned the fire back up and got my fastest race lap on Lap 17. I saw two cars in front of me; I didn't know if they were ahead of me or about to be lapped. I got by both of them the last race lap (Rawson actually spun in T6 as I closed). Good news, I finished 8th, passed 4 cars that qualified faster, and didn't get lapped by the race leader. Bad News, race time was a bit slower than last year despite the better HP (but worse track conditions? ).
Bruce Sunseri, the maker of the Cheetah, took the win after several years of finishing in the top 4. He had to survive a passing under yellow protest from the Stewards. His West Coast paddock mate took second after getting passed on the last lap. The next four racers were the Mid-Ohio Mafia, guys who are fortunate to have the track as their home field. I am still not competitive with these guys. I need to buy some Mid-Ohio seat time/instruction. I took second place of "the rest of the country."
After the race, we quickly went over to the grandstands at T6 to watch the remaining races. The FF's were the last race of the day and it was quite dark by then. Three of the five cars in the lead FF pack spun together in T6. By the time we got back to the pits at 5:30 ish, the rains came. All of us got quite wet as we loaded up. We retired to Buck's for warm food. We would all head out the next morning, which is good since my trailer lights were not working again. Kathy says it is a sign that I should buy that new, bigger trailer I have been wanting.
The Radical Motorsports cars showed up on Friday for viewing. Price $35k. Tom Robertson (Connecticut) the EP Lotus 7driver that I talked with at Pocono had bought one. A Brit (Neil Crilly?) from Atlanta also had one; he will be involved in the US distribution. They were in DSR configuration with the Yamaha motor (no dry sump or accusump). One had a wing; Tom's used the undertray/diffuser. At 945 pounds, the Radical Motorsports should be too heavy to compete with the 750 pound Cheetahs. They are nicely done, very pretty. They were planning a test at Kershaw next weekend. They will be at the early SE Division races including the Florida races in January. I may have to go!