Thank God for Spares!
With certain dread, we faced the SE Division final race of the season at Savannah over the July 4th weekend. By now, most racers were tired, road weary and their equipment and budgets were also in need of a rest. To bake under the Georgia sun for 3 days with 100 plus temperatures and certain violent thunderstorms is not promising.
Dan would be joining our group for his first race of the season. He has just gotten his FF motor out of lay-a-way from the builder. He brought along his wife and crewmembers in training, Shannon (age 4) and D7 (Dan 7th, age 1.5).
Son, Sean would be playing too. The new car gremlins are still haunting him and his '98 Van Diemen FF. He would spend yet another long weekend swapping parts and running off the pace.
SCCA, which owns Savannah (Roebling Road), had apparently rented the track to motorcycle racers on the Monday holiday, so SCCA racers and workers got to take an extra day off from work with Qualifying being on Friday.
My car had run well three weeks prior at Road Atlanta, with the exception of fading brakes. I installed new brakes of the compound (CMF#90) that had remedied my fading problems at the RunOffs last season and was ready to run hard. The season had taken it toll on the DSR drivers, and few indicated an interest in coming out this weekend. Branco and Schmidt were pre registered, but did not show up. At least this time, Mike did not out qualify me.
Friday, my Cheetah ran very poorly. It would not pull 8000 rpms (red line is 11,000) in the top two gears. I was relieved when I came in to find a wire off one of the two coils. It had gotten knocked off during shoulder harness adjustment. Easy solution. Of course, this was not to be. Next session, problem returned after the car got up to full temperature (4 or 5 laps). I visited the pits and switched ignition boxes, no improvement. After the session was over, I changed out the coil, the battery and added extra gas in case there was fuel starvation. End of day one. Sean was not having any luck either as his car significantly cut out in the high-speed right hand corners. He changed to another (borrowed) carb, which promptly broke its float.
Saturday it continued to be a relatively COOL (for Savannah) 90 degrees. In the morning qualifying session, my car ran no better and Sean's just quit after 1/2 a lap. Sean's distributor had gone wacko. We were treated to a couple of hours of thunderstorms as we got ready for our afternoon race. Everybody got their rain tires out while hoping they would not be needed. Sean, as usually, was rooting for rain since he does well driving in it and it minimizes the power deficit his car has. Our combined race group of FF, S2, DSR was few in numbers (14) but had many fast and experienced racers. Tom Schwietz, a perennial Runoffs and Pro series winner, was down with his new Van Diemen from Northern Virginia. Dixon, Baggett and Brooks, front-runners at last years Runoffs, were competing. Being able to run a few laps before the motor went completely off, I was able to qualify 7th. Dan and Sean took 9th and 10th. I changed the spark plugs (although the old ones looked fine); changed two plug wires and added a bit more fuel pressure.
I took the inside line into turn one with Brewer, in a new Citation FF, more inside with two wheels in the dirt/sand. By turn two, I had moved up to forth, just behind the lead gaggle of FF's. Car is running OK, but not great. I hang behind the trio for a couple of laps. No need to insert myself in their race yet. Sure enough, I begin to lose engine speed. I practice keeping up momentum in the corners. Soon the second group of FF's blast by me on the straight. I'm going 3 seconds a lap slower now. On the next lap in turn one, the second FF group (Brewer, Brooks, and Hammette), all get together in a cloud of tire smoke, dirt, and fury. I had a front row seat as they all suffered damage and could not continue. Brooks got a four race probation from the officials. Dixon, in second place, begins to smoke heavily and goes into the pits. Brandy, in a S2 and the winner of the March race, appears in my mirrors. I am unable to hold him off as we enter the last couple of laps of the 23 lap (45 mile) race. A light rain adds to the suspense of the final laps. Sean spins exiting turn 5 and cannot get refired but still bags 7th overall. Dan takes 5th and I (thanks to the crashers) take 4th.
I had arranged for new tires for this weekend. The Hoosier R33's that I have been using have about 15+ cycles on them since I bought them at the Runoffs last year. Although the car wasn't running worth a damn, I decided to go ahead and mount them since the new (and allegedly improved) R45's are difficult to obtain. Kathy, who had returned from her shopping daytrip to Hilton Head, took my wheels over to the Hoosier guys. I fiddled with my car a bit more. Sean was still changing parts without success.
Kathy and I escaped the track fairly early Saturday for a quick dip in the motel pool before heading into old town Savannah. There can be found many fine restaurants, pubs, art galleries, and an active street scene of young people, bands, and lots of motorcycles. Itís a happening place. We had a nice dinner and liberated a piece of neon art that Kathy had found the day before.
I would use the Sunday morning qualifying session to scuff in the new tires and to see if perchance my car ran any better. It ran a little better, perhaps. I decide to change the other coil, wires and add another psi of fuel pressure. Sean talked with John B., the Van Diemen importer who was at the track, about his problems. He found out that many of the '97/'98 cars had a fuel pickup problem in high-speed sweepers. His suggestion was to put a LARGE fuel filter between the pump and a carb to provide a fuel reservoir in long turns. Sean went off to town to buy a BIG filter while I changed his carb one more time. Sean decided not to buy new tires since his car was running badly. The prospects for the Maisey racing team were not too high.
For the Sunday race I, Sean, and Dan were qualified 9th thru 11th. It was 95 degrees and the sun was blaring. Dan's pit crew was playing in the wading pool and I was anchored in front of my big fan. Kathy was having her usual good time playing with Shannon. Somehow our encampment would pale by comparison with, say, the Penske team.
With Kathy manning the radio for the Sunday race to give me the GREEN, GREEN, GREEN call at the start, I can concentrate on engine rpms and the cars directly in front of me. It is a real big advantage. I got a good jump and went again to the inside of turn one. As before, I was in fourth by turn 2. Again, I decide to hang back and follow the lead trio for a bit. Car is running stronger than any time this weekend. The cars in front of me seem very slow. I quickly pass two of them. I pass Schwietz on the inside of the 180-degree turn 6. By the end of the front straight, I cannot even see him in my mirrors. I do a few laps waiting for the performance to fade, its not happening yet. I look down at my lap timer and see a 1:11 second lap (a personal best for me). All my laps are in that range. I begin to lap some of the slower qualifiers. I have no idea how big my lead is. Kathy reads the laps remaining down for me. I start to short shift and watch the water and oil temperatures. I don't want to blow this. Despite short shifting, I continued to run 1:11 laps. I am on the tails of the 3rd and 4th place cars one lap from the end. I decide to stay there rather than risking passing them. For a long time, it seemed that the laps would never count down, but suddenly it was lap 23 and I took the checker. Kathy SCREAMED congratulations over the radio. I am pumped! And Hot! My best time gives me the race Lap Record.
With long tows in front of us all, we didnít stick around for the final results, so I don't know exactly where Sean and Dan finished. Sean's car finally ran OK. Fuel filter thing must work.
The ride home was made an adventure by blowing a tire on my one axle trailer. I had often wondered if such an event would be catastrophic. It went quietly and without so much a wagging of the trailer. But, changing a tire, in total darkness on Interstate 95 while constantly passing trucks buffet the trailer on the jack, was not fun.