Spring Break at Savannah
March 13, 2000
After my crash and suspension problem at Sebring, I had lots of car tasks to keep me busy before the Spring race. The nose section and splitter were repaired and resprayed as I spent hours in the garage with the heaters going full blast on the few coldish days of Winter. My shocks went off to Stimola for a long sabbatical for repair and improvement. Cheetah builder, Bruce, sent me a large box of replacement parts.
I like the road course at Savannah. It is fast, flat and has many places to pass. I have done very well there over the past 3 years. Son, Sean, had bitten the bitter pill of expense and bought the triple adjustable Penske shocks for his FF and was looking forwarding to the test day. Kathy and I arrived Thursday afternoon and had time to visit downtown Savannah for dinner in an English Pub (Churchhill's). Downtown (about 15 minutes from the track) is a happening place with dozens of good restaurants and artsy places.
Friday is an open practice day, or in Kathy's case, shopping day. I go out for the first session for a few laps to see if the gearing, brakes, etc are OK. I pedal quite conservatively, but still manage a few competitive 1:13 laps despite a cold/green track. Mark Walthew is along with Sean as crew and Matt Weston (new son-in-law) is along also for his first race crew experience. We would be keeping them busy.
About 6 laps into the second practice session, I decide to push harder. Going into Turn 1 at 140 mph, I applied the brakes quite hard for the first time and the front suspension collapsed. The wheels folded under and I skidded to a stop. The lower a-arms were bent (I felt them hit my calf), causing other parts to bend. Stimola was at the track, so I took him my damaged shock for repair. The failure mode was the same that had happened to me during the Sebring race where I had theorized that I had hit an apex curb too hard. Now I was thinking the new big brakes I had installed were exceeding the strength of the lightweight a-arms.
Pat Prince (well-known racecar fabricator) was with Tom Robertson as his development engineer. He looked at the parts and his seat-of-the-pants opinion was the a-arm was underdesigned. He offered to fabricate a "Band-Aid" brace for the new spare a-arms I had in my trailer. The guys at Formula Car East (shop across the road from the track) would do the welding after the practice day. I spent the rest of the sunny, 80-degree day removing the broken parts and telling my sad story to many racers who stopped by.
Sean wasn't having much fun either. His car was slow. He tried several changes without success. He decided to go back to the softer suspension setup that the car came with for Saturday.
The official race weekend begins Saturday with a 20-minute practice session. Matt and I are busy putting parts back on the chassis. Sean goes out and goes slower. Having gone thru all his setup options, he concludes is motor is a slug. He decides to go home. He and the boys help me do my chassis setup before they fold their tent and head home. He had brought the alignment pad and scales to the races for the first time; they were well used.
I suited up for the 3 PM qualifying session, thinking my problems were behind me now. There were 15 DSR's entered including 5 of the new Radical cars (plus one in CSR). There would be many cars to race with. Again, I went pretty conservatively for a few laps. I did maybe two laps in anger before the suspension collapsed again under braking in turn 1. This time the car went straight off into the sand flats toward the tire wall. I am in a huge cloud of dirt/sand/flying fiberglass and thinking this could HURT. Fortunately, the chassis digs in and stops before hitting the wall. My weekend is done. I am becoming an expert in connecting my car to the dreaded HOOK. Damage is greater this time.
Sad irony is, despite only a few laps at speed and old tires, I have the fastest time (only 0.6 seconds off the course record time) and the pole position. Loading my two-wheel car into the trailer took quite a few guys. The Savannah Gods thumbed their nose at me one last time by providing a big downpour as we struggled loading the battered chassis. We left the trailer at the track and went into Savannah again for a nice consolation dinner at Seasons. Since the DSR race group would be the last one for the day on Sunday, we decided not to hang around to watch the race.
Some had good weekends. Brian Little has finally gotten his DSR up to speed and turned very competitive times. I don't really know how the race worked out, but Brian tells me Radicals took 1-2-3 with Byron Stauffer taking the win (qualified 2nd).
This is no way to start a season. So much for Spring BREAK.