Sean and I would be racing at Road Atlanta this weekend. Mark would be celebrating his birthday by being our crew. He probably won’t be doing that again. Kathy, in a fit of good judgement, would stay home. I left Friday morning for a somewhat leisurely 9+ hour jaunt. Sean and Mark would leave Williamsburg, about 3 PM and arrive at the motel around midnight.
There was a big entry for the race. By the time Sean got to registration early Saturday, there were 72 cars in the formula/sport race group. (They would have to split it). Atlanta Region, showing their love for the IT (that is Improved Touring… but are in reality old jalopies) included a "PRO/IT" group. Result was, less track time and pits that were extremely and unnecessarily crowded. Rigs arriving after 5 PM on Friday were relegated to a distant dirt (NO, make that permanently staining Georgia red clay) field.
This was Sean’s and his newly acquired used backup motor first outing of the season. Sean’s stated goal was to test, finish and get some points.
I had spent my spare time during the past 2 ˝ weeks replacing the motor I had blown at Savannah with my very stock one. I had also been replacing all engine bay wiring (fire damage) plus ignition box, and a clutch hydraulic line. I wanted some no hassle seat time. Travis Duder, current RunOffs DSR champion (who also had won four of his five National Championships at Road Atlanta) would be there. I had no illusions of keeping up with him. There were 7 DSR’s including Al Beasley (Sr.) who was running Al, jr.’s Runoffs second place car and John Newcomb a NEW guy in the former Mac McDonalds’ Prince.
We got out for practice about 10:30. It took me a few laps to find some rhythm and to get used to the Road Atlanta blind apexes. Despite its 16-month hibernation, my stock motor was fine, and in fact seemed crisp. It was turning too many revs dropping down the "Dip" into turn 10A. I would need to change gearing (sprocket). I noticed that Sean was leaving a smoke trail . . . not a good sign. At about lap 8, my car started to run poorly. It got worse. Could it be low on gas? Short answer is yes. Dummy!
Sean had a major oil leak. He had not adjusted his new motor’s oil pump and oil pressure was too high. Maybe. He decided to pull the motor and change the crank oil seal. Major undertaking. Engine builder, Rollin Butler, stopped by to (1) pick up the Runoffs wounded motor for repair, (2) to commiserate (but keeping his hands clean), and (3) to offer some expertise. By now Sean and Mark are pretty good at motor removal: disconnect plumbing, wiring, hydraulic lines, remove exhaust and a few other bits; remove about 8 fasteners and roll the engine/tranny/rear 1/3 of the car away. For a total of four hours, the mechanical ballet of wrenching, scrapped knuckles, smashed fingers, and bull-dogging of a couple of 200# lumps unfolded under warm sunny Georgia skies. The guy with a 6 cylinder Mustang IT car in the adjoining pits was awed. He had been quite proud that he had been able to change his own electric fuel pump. With Sean’s motor lying on its side on the tarmac, the oil seals and gaskets were carefully replaced. Sean did find that the oil pan bolts were loose…. Likely his assembly oversight. By 2:30 all systems were bled and the car was read to race. The Mustang guy was now extremely impressed. Sean and Mark were pretty dirty and wasted. I had helped at those several lift, push, grunt points, but mostly Sean and Mark had all the fun. I bought gas and changed sprockets.
I had not spent enough care with my sprocket change. I threw the chain on the second lap of the afternoon qualifying session. I coasted to a safe spot next to the flag station on the long back straight and talked with Mark on the radio. "Was Sean smoking… Yes, seem to be around the exhaust pipe…. Should I call him in? Nevermind, he is coming in." I get out of the car and sit. Sean appears on the track again late in the session, not smoking. Good sign. I got to sit at the flag station for the next 1.5 hours as SCCA decided not to tow in cars until the end of the day. Seems that Track was anxious for SCCA to finish so they could demo their "spec" Panoz cars (as they had done during the lunch hour). Very annoying.
Sean had a loose valve cover which had not been noticed since the other leak was so big. He spun on his only good lap at speed, so the Maisey team qualified very poorly. Very Poorly. Since we didn’t race until late Sunday, we buttoned up the cars and deferred working on them. We visited Travis in his nice, air-conditioned motorhome and drank his beer and ate his peanuts.
Sean discovered that he had also left the shipping (junk) spark plugs in his motor. Given his preparation oversights, he also checked his timing. I CAREFULLY put on a new chain and worried a bit about the fact that a new chain stretches a lot initially, but there was no other choice. I also add a bunch more rear wing, thinking it would add a comfortable safety margin in T12.
I started 22 nd of the surviving group of 25 S2, FF, DSR, CSR cars (and 4th in DSR). Sean started 18th and 8th in FF. C. T. Hancock, 1991 Runoffs winner from Austin, Texas had the FF pole. Travis, of course, had the DSR pole with a time 3.5 seconds better than my last season winning time. Hor$epower! I am thinking a second place finish. I had raced "in anger" with Beasley in both practice/qual sessions and had passed him, so I should be able to take him. Newcomb is an unknown.
Pack was nicely formed on the pace lap, and I was just entering turn 12 as the green flag fell. Cars were immediately 5 wide; I chose the inside line passing two/three cars including Sean. Space was very tight, and I am thinking that it will be a miracle if I make it as far as T3 without being "tapped" or otherwise punted. But, I survive.
Beasley, Newcomb and I are in the midst of a gaggle of FF leaders. It is 2-3 wide everywhere. Early on, I pass Brandon Dix (last season’s FF champ in SE Division) but decide to let him back by so that I wouldn’t interfere with the FF lead. However, we are all too intertwined. I quickly abandon being a nice guy and go for any opportunity. I am on Beasley’s tail going into the T7 braking zone (one of the two great places to pass). I drop inside him and steal the apex and exit path. He gives me a small nudge as we exit the corner. Hmm. In addition to the close company of 3 to 4 FF’s, I am now directly behind Newcomb in the second place DSR. He has exceptional HP on the straight but is slow in the esses. I pass him going into turn 7. He blows by me on the straight. I close to his tail in T12 and am forced to brake. This is going to be interesting. Next lap entering T7 amongst the FF gaggle, I stay behind him. A totally out of control (Red Mist) FF takes the inside line, passing at least 3 cars and having no hope of turning in. He ricochets off Newcomb’s rear wheel. The offending FF (likely Hammette) continues, but Newcomb retires. Somehow (I didn’t see it) Dix and Steve Brooks are also involved and Dix ends up parked near the T7 apex. (Dix was arranging a protest of Brooks after the race; outcome unknown)
Mark gives me the 10 laps to go on the radio. Geez, I had already gotten my money’s worth. What more could happen? Well, a lot!
Lap 9. Sedivy, pole sitter and race leader (CSR-Mazda-Ralt) spins in T7 rupturing his oil tank. He drives the race line thru turn 10A applying a heavy oil layer. He spins on his oiled tire in turn 10B, stalling the car and leaving an oil POND at the apex. Pond you say? There was sufficient volume that it ran across the track there for the remainder of the race. As I approached T10, workers were frantically waiving the oil flag. It was impossible to not drive across the oil and the car became quite entertaining. The steep downhill braking from 135 mph in T10A is fun enough without this. By now there are no FF’s in my mirrors, so I resolve to cool it and keep my 2nd in DSR. I spend the next few laps trying to find a quick way around the oil
Mark continues the lap countdown. About 2 laps from the end, the car seems to be running funky. By the last lap, there is smoke from the front (!?) of the car. Mark radios that something must be broken. I slow some more and welcome the checker flag.
In impound I discover my nose is grinding away, and is riding on the right front tire and slowing machining it away. The sub-frame holding the radiator and nose has had a fatigue failure. I am only a lap away from blowing the tire. The FF guys are in a major snit and organize a protest. Remembering last year and Sean’s being protested which kept him at the track for an extra two plus hours, I stayed out of discussions.
Sean was already loaded up and ready to leave when I got back to the pits. He was very unhappy with lack of performance. He worried that perhaps he had set timing badly. (Turns out he had two bad exhaust valves… cause unknown). I reminded him that he met his goal for the weekend, but it was of little consolation. He wanted to race hard but the slug motor was not willing.
Given the first day of Daylight Saving, a 520-mile drive home, and a 2 AM arrival, I was a Zombie on Monday. No time to rest, though, as we have Summit Point in 12 days.