It Ain't Rocket Science

Runoffs, 2003


Kathy and I took the trek for my seventh consecutive Runoffs.  The driver and the trusty Cheetah are getting a little long of tooth, but I couldn't miss the gathering of the DSR faithful.  I did have a "built" motor this time from JJ Justice to make things a bit more enticing.


Sean, however, would be staying home, having been uninvited at the last minute by SCCA.  Boy is he pissed at them and their incompetence.  Frank Malone having just recently moved back to the USA from Germany, would again be my crew.  Brian Little, sweating out the impending arrival of hurricane Isabel, planned to arrive to crew/party on Thursday, if disaster had not hit his coastal home.  I was ignoring the threat of Isabel. 


KB and I arrived Sunday afternoon and set up in the DSR "compound."  With new security management at Mid Ohio not allowing us to reserve a block of spaces, the compound was infiltrated with some interlopers, but we were mostly together. 


With Tech consisting of them looking at my helmet, we thought it would be a breeze.  NOT SO.  I got some power hungry lady who held us hostage for 50 minutes while she wrestled with imagined ramifications of my car having an additional logbook stapled to it.  It was flat ridiculous. 


I approached the first session with much fear and apprehension.  My new motor had a rattle somewhere on the top end.  I had talked with the builder, and he said he had not noticed it when running it on the dyno.  It sounded a lot like the rattle made by the flat slides that I used a couple of years ago.  I decide to go ahead and run and see what happens.


Monday's practice session would come late in the day that began with rain.  We would share the session with S2000's and the car total would be a crowded 55 or so.  I hate running with S2000's.  They have a big weight advantage and more torque (better corner exit oomph) and several drivers use DSR's as corner berms.  I have been hit many times this year alone.  The rain cleared by midday, and I went out driving carefully as I was bedding in new brakes and tires.  About 2 laps into the session, I noticed rain on my visor.  Totally unexpected.  As I exited T1, I could see cars off in the keyhole.  It was raining hard there.  When I got there, there were unbelievable 10 to 12 cars off.  I drove directly, and carefully to the pits.  The session got black flagged and ended.  At least I was out long enough to bed the brakes and to find out that shifting was working well for the first time this season.  (Amazing what a new cable will do!)  The best news was that my rattle had gone away and the motor seems to be running fine despite making an occasional puff of smoke.  I was 12th fastest.


Frank arrived Tuesday morning with dire stories of the impending hurricane back home.  KB and I had become Weather Channel groupies, but figured that we were better off in Ohio rather than at our waterfront home.  We told ourselves that we had just done an early evacuation.  Frank would fly back home Tuesday night to evacuate his wife to the mountains of Virginia.  Isabel was getting weaker, but we stayed glued to TWC. 


Tuesday's qualifier was a DSR only session.  It was time to go faster.  My car was laying down a MASSIVE trail of smoke.  I drove quite tentatively, keeping my eyes on the mirrors and the gauges, but went a little faster than practice (but was only 17th fastest).  Tom Becker, who I covered with oil, reported that I was also showing flames at the rear of the car.  Engine builder came around and said I was making major smoke.  We did a major motor check out before he discovered that it was missing one bolt from the ignition side cover.  Could this be the culprit?  We really didn't think so, but there were no other obvious problems.  We put in a new bolt with lots of locktite.


Wednesday's qualifier had us with the heavyweight S2000's again.  I gave them plenty of room and kept an eye on the mirrors to see if the oil leak was cured.   It didn't return.  On lap 3, a S2000 hit my right rear tire going into T11 causing a spin and I just avoided backing into the tire wall.  Damn.  By lap 4 there was carnage in several places, and the session got black-flagged.  In those few laps at speed, I did improve my time by half a second and was just beginning to tip toe up to the limit in a couple of corners.  I would end up 14th fastest in the session with a 1:31.5.  The faster guys (leaving aside Jaremko who was blazing fast) were in the 1:28 range.  KB and I began the shopping for the Friday night SR party. 


Thursday, Isabel hit the coast.  My neighbors, who were house/dog watching for us, provided frequent storm reports.  Another neighbor's pier had washed into my back yard.  My basement was flooding and the racecar garage had 15 inches of seawater in it and was being battered by white caps.  The weather in Ohio was beautiful. 


Thursday afternoon the SpeedTV crew visited my pits to do one of those "up close and personal" bits.  KB had submitted a story idea to them based upon her working for NASA, the space agency, not the racecar association, and the possible technology trickle down to racing.  For the TV spot, I sat in by drivers suit in the car and smiled like an idiot while she chatted with John Bisignano.  Her part was nice, mine dumb.


The Thursday qualifier was a DSR only session again.  I was running out of time to go faster.  Mark Bakhit's (ex Hasty Horn) Stohr had a HUGE fire on the first lap.  He came to a stop along the front straight with flames leaping high into the air.  He had a big oil leak, ignited by the exhaust and got out visibly shaken but unscathed.  Session got black flagged while SCCA cleaned up.  We got one lap at speed when they casually and prematurely draped the checkered flag over the flag stand.  (We still had several minutes left of our allotted 20 minutes.) With the sun low in the sky in the late afternoon, it is nearly impossible to see the flag stand.  Several drivers did not see the checker.  As Steve Pommer, Matt DiRenzo and I came around to the front straight, some death wishing flagger ran out into the middle of the track with a red flag.  I got sent to impound and suffered a lecture, but nothing more.  SCCA singled out Matt and disallowed his qualifying time and said they were going to boot him from the Runoffs.  Oh yes, my oil leak had returned.  Matt protested the pending action, and several of us filled out witness reports.  Matt won his protest (sorta) and was allowed to stay, but his time was disallowed and he got a "bad boy" driver's point on his license.  Go Figure.


As I was facing up to an engine swap to my stocker, JJ discovered that the same bolt was missing again.  The bolt hole was likely stripped.  Since the hole was not accessible to tap, we applied thread making goop and lots sealants.  Much apprehension for race day.  In my maybe two laps at speed, I did lower my time to 1:31.5 and was 10th fastest for the session, but was with a second of six others.


Thursday night and Friday morning bought Isabel rains.  Friday, I watched a few races, and KB and I went off gather party stuff.   The Florida "pigs" arrived Thursday with the grill, tents and beer.  Bob and Nancy Urso arrived with party stuff.  Things were looking up.  Brian Little arrived also.  I put on new Hoosier R35 tires for the race and worried some.


The Friday night party was a big success, despite some annoying wind and a few raindrops.  Partygoers should be thanked for generous contributions to the party milk jug.  Brian Little was awarded a "Lifetime Achievement" trophy for over 30 years of SR devotion, and I was voted the DSR sportsman of the year.  Bruce Sunseri got the DSR Manufacturer of the year trophy.  The Forum provided some door prizes and well as several provided by Racer's Parts Wholesale.  Party ended about 10 PM when the keg went dry. 


Saturday, KB and I cleaned up after the party and she went off for her last day of "gathering."  I watched a few races and hung out.  At this point, the day is pretty much a blur.  I did make a shield to prevent the possible dreaded oil leak from spraying on the exhaust.  I also did some wheel maintenance/repair.  Seems that most of my three-piece wheels leak some/alot.  Annoying. 


Sunday, we had to get to the track very early since our warm-up session when off at 8AM.  It was still a little foggy and damp from the dew at that hour.  I did a couple of 80% laps to see if the oil leak fix was working.  Paddock neighbor, Steve Pommer (Marty Nygard's homebuilt) discovered fading oil pressure and decided not to race.  Dick Knoblauch and Bruce Sunseri had swapped motors and were raring to go.  The Merloy boys, many strong, had been thrashing on the car all week on the Al Beasley, Jr. entry.  Despite having all the resources in the world (tractor trailer, spare car, shock dyno, etc....), they were still searching for GRIP.  Building a fast racecar is obviously a difficult task.


Jim Boehm provided some excitement on the pace lap when he spun in T9.  He later surmised that he had a broken CV joint.  Pole man, Jaremko brought the field slowly to the starter and everyone was closely bunched together.  I got a good start, passing a couple of cars.  There was no appreciable contact for the first lap, but Boehm would spin again causing the double yellow to come out.  At lap 5, we were back to racing.  I was on the tail of the Paul Shinsky and Ellen Ferguson battle.  At this point, my clutch started to SLIP coming out of slow corners.  Big RPM but no drive.  Damn.  I discovered that the problem was reduced if I didn't downshift too far.  I looked down at my lap time display and saw I had turned a 1:29 lap and was pleasantly surprised.  I got balked in the carousel coming upon two lappers and Steve Jondal and Mike Sirianni got past me.  With the early day sun, I could actually see the turn in point for T1, and doing that corner much better.  Damned slipping clutch.  I was turning fairly consistent 1:30 laps.  On the next to last lap, I got by Jondal in T13.  On the last lap, I got a good drive out of the keyhole, and took Sirianni and finished 11th.  I just missed my Runoffs goal of a top 10 finish.  Jaremko, of course, ran away with the race and Stohr's took the top four spots.  A Stohrsome!  Mark Bakhit deserves a special perseverance award.  He and his crew spent as couple of stress-filled days getting his badly fire damaged Stohr back into action.  They fashioned new right rear bodywork using aluminum bits and a huge amount of yellow duct tape.  He would bag the third podium spot.  Quite impressive.  There might be something to the concept of using duct tape for bodyworks.  Mark is a pilot for an airfreight company and the company airfreighted his car, trailer, and tow truck to Mid Ohio from Arizona (and back).  Neat.


I didn't put a wheel off all Runoffs (except for being punted once), so I must conclude that there is considerable room for improvement.  Next year.  Runoffs are a highly inefficient race event.  I bought 10 gallons of gas and came home with two of the gallons.  We didn't get many laps (and I even took an extra one) for the 8 days invested.  There has gotta be a better way.  Regardless, I still had lots of fun and enjoyed the visiting around.  Next year, I will need a faster car, fewer problems and more skill.


On the way home, we stopped a bought gas cans, gas, ice and some supplies.  We would be facing a huge cleanup and many days without power.  More fun.