Runoffs 2K

Bill Maisey, Oct 2000

Racers get a lot of practice dealing with adversity. Either you learn to cope with it or you move on to some less annoying hobby. My Runoffs certainly provided me a lot of learning experience.

First, my "race motor" did not arrive before I departed due to a shipping snafu. I had removed my stock motor and stored it in the trailer and chose not to re-install it. After about 20 phone calls to arrange for the motor to be dropped off in Ohio, I packed up the car, sans motor, and left Virginia Saturday night for an all night drive with trepidation and hope that the motor would make it to the track. I hate the stress of going to a race unprepared, but the apprehension helped keep me alert for the 10-hour drive. I was going solo, since Kathy had work commitments. She did provide a big stash of homemade cookies.

The motor was in Tom Robertson's pit when I arrived Sunday morning. I got a couple of guys to help me lift the motor into the chassis and spent most of the day doing the installation. Thankfully, it was warm and sunny. My helpers would not be arriving until late Monday. I finished about 4PM (with the usual two bleeding knuckles) and fired it off. Water leak at the water pump. Drain fluids, put in an another O-ring with lots of silicone sealant. Problem solved. By now it was 5PM and the tech line was very long. Since it had been many hours since I had slept, I decided to do tech on Monday and headed off to the motel. At check in, I discovered that I had left my billfold and cash in the trailer. They let me check-in despite not having my credit card. I found just enough money in my pocket to buy a fast food dinner.

Monday morning, I stopped to buy gas since the Jeep was running on fumes. Oops, no credit cards or cash. I was getting a little punchy. Tech line was long, but all went smoothly. Practice session was at 2:45 so I had plenty of time to get ready. Since it had been two months since I had last raced, I was feeling rusty. However, the session went fairly well, and I was 11th fastest with a lot of 1:33 laps. I did have a lot of chassis instability in the turn 10a to 10b section of the course. I decided that I needed to soften the shocks. I also discovered after the session that I had an oil leak. I have tweaked an external oil line while putting the motor in. Frank Malone had arrived and we replaced the oil line, yet again inflicting my hand with a not too minor cut.

Tuesday our qualifying session was mid morning and it was again 65 degrees and partly sunny. The car handled like a pig. I went two seconds slower. I decided to walk the track at the end of the day to closely look at the turn 10 complex. Turns out there is a big rise and drop between the turns and the car was getting a bit airborne. I had not noticed it in my prior 3 runoffs. I visited the Penske shock guys on Wednesday morning and got good advice on where to reset my shocks. By now Brian Little and Pete Becker had arrived to crew.

Our Wednesday qualifier was scheduled at 5:45 and we got off after 6PM. It was getting quite dark and I sent Brian off at the last minute to buy me a new helmet visor (mine was tinted!). I had mounted my new Hoosier R45 tires and set out to drive a few laps to scuff them. On lap one, I got hit hard in the right rear by Bruce Sunseri who was already racing with Al Beasley, Jr. (as he explained later). I got punted off across the curbing and ate a good part of my front splitter. Car seemed OK, so I continued on but did not turn very good times (1:33 again for 12th fastest; but since I had turned 1:31 laps last year, I was disappointed). The chassis was more stable. Looking at my RaceLog data after the session, I found that I was 5 mph slower on the straight than Monday. We checked my suspension alignment and found 3/8-inch toe-in on the hit rear wheel. It was like dragging an anchor. We fixed a couple of bent body brackets, and Frank attempted to scrub off the "Earnhardt" doughnuts from the side of the car. The rim was slightly bent, but useable. Tom Robertson and Pat Prince were very busy every day trying to find a good suspension setup for their beautiful new car. They finally decided that some design changes were needed.

Thursday was cold and wet. I chose not to risk any track time, as did most of the DSR guys. Sunseri and I watched the session from the keyhole hill. We got to see many spins in the chicane. Robertson killed his clutch during a spin. Vic Moore, a Brit, was quite good in the wet. Frank and I went shopping. At the Racing Wholesale tent, a protruding shelf jumped out and attacked my cheek. I got a nasty 4-inch gash and bleed a lot. As we went off to the medical shed, I announced to the vendors that I now owned the entire contents of their tent. They were not amused. Later in the day, Bob and Nancy Urso were visiting and Nancy insisted on putting a Band-Aid on my still bleeding hand. By now, my crew was speculating on where I would be bleeding next. We visited with most of the DSR guys. Radical had provided new cars for Rich Leslie and Moore and well as crew help from England. The new cars had the Kawasaki ZX-11 motor.

Friday was a spectating day for us. It was cold and wet and we spent some time sitting in Brian's street car with the heater running. The EP race, after a 6-car pileup in T11 on lap one, was quite entertaining. Our racers were agonizing on wet/cold race setup. Many were buying gumball tires. I added a bit more front wheel camber and tried to stay warm. We left the track fairly early to visit the warmth of Buck's. I did manage to lose my billfold at a vendor's stand and it took some time to find the SCCA lost and found guy.

Race day. With warm-up session at 8:45, we got to the track early. It was 32 degrees and quite threatening. There was some sleet and a forecast for snow flurries later. I changed into my driver's gear in Brian's warm car. We watched the FM race before getting ready for my 11:45 race. The track was dry but cold. We warmed the engine oil and then the motor. Despite this, the motor was very balky on the warm-up lap and almost stopped running. (I should have taped off the radiator some since the oil never got above 140 degrees in the race).

As usual, we were poorly bunched at the green flag, I took the outside line and got a decent start picking up one position. As I approached T7 (first turn of the race, at the end of the long straight), my helmet almost came off my head. I had forgotten to fasten my chinstrap. A last minute drivers meeting had caused me to unbuckle and to get out of the car,) I pushed the helmet down and considered my options. I decided not to pit. The helmet would ride up to the point where the chin section would cover my eyes at the end of the three straights. Holding the helmet with one hand, the steering wheel with the other, made good shifting difficult. There were rain/sleet drops on the shield and I was wondering when traction would go away.

I was locked into an intense battle with Jim Rawson, Al Beasley, Sr. and Ben Smith. Beasley soon faded, and I led the battle for a couple of laps. A sloppy shift caused me to fall behind Rawson and Smith. Rawson, who runs the new Yamaha R1 motor, would pull me 4-5 car lengths on the straight. I could pull even with Smith on the straight.

By now I was stuffing the helmet microphone in my mouth to hold the hat down. I could only do it for a couple of laps before my jaw would ache. Rest, and do it again. I got inside of Smith in turn 7 but he hit me a little at the apex and I backed off. Rawson misjudged some lappers and fell back a few feet. I missed a shift in the carousel and he got back by. I was faster in the turns, but his straight advantage was keeping me behind him.

On lap 18, the lead pack of four cars passed us. Hoover spun just in front of me entering the keyhole. I clipped his departed nose section as we both came to a near stop. Smith and Rawson were now 50 yards in front of me. I drove hard to catch up (my best lap was the final one), knowing I had a chance to pass them. Rawson went too deep in T7 and went off. I closed to Smith's tail when the race ended. Too bad. I knew I could take him in T7 given one more lap. I was so occupied with the helmet and Smith, I didn't see the checker. I saw the yellow flags and corner workers waving, so I quickly concluded that the race was done. Finished 7th, not too bad considering the helmet fiasco. Finished 8th last year, so I improved.

After the race, we packed up quickly so we could get outa Dodge before the snow showers got more earnest. Of course, Brian left before I discovered that my billfold still resided in his car. Fortunately, I had enough cash stashed to buy gas/tolls/food on the trip home.

Despite the adversity, I still had FUN. Are we racers crazy or what?