It's like I was never there.
Savannah National, March 2001
Over the past few years, Savannah has not been too kind to my racing hobby and me. There have been engine deaths, car fires, and many crashes. Seldom has it been my fault. Bad karma. But I still like Savannah. It is a fast and exciting course. FUN. I have been fast and competitive there and came within a whisker of breaking the twelve-year-old course record in 1999 with a stock motor. I still want it.
Kathy and I drove down on Friday and arrived near the end of the track day. Hasty Horn and Dave Gomberg with their nearly new Cheetahs were already there and practicing. It would be Dave first visit in 8 years and Hasty's first in a four-wheel device. I was the den mother for the Cheetah gathering. I led a course walk after practice and immediate caused a rain shower. Dave and I made it to turn 5 before retreating to the dry trailers. Hasty had run 5 sessions during the day and was feeling comfortable. Dave was dealing with a balky motor and not having much fun.
Saturday practice session got off about 11 AM. Weather was tolerable in the low 60's and it was sunny. It was immediately obvious that I had selected the wrong sprockets as I was at redline 900 feet before the turn one brake point. The car was also not sufficiently stable in Turns 3 and 9 where one must go through flat out if a decent lap time is to be made. My lap times were improving, but were rather mediocre at upper 1:13's. Datalogger showed a top speed of 140 mph and a minimum speed in slowest corner of 70 mph.
I changed the rear sprocket (two less teeth) and added 3 degrees to the relatively flat wing. I considered buying tires since my current set was bought on day 2 of the Runoffs and has lots of heat cycles on them. Brett Lane (CSR driver and unofficial DSR groupie… we invite him to our parties) and I were discussing tires and I convinced him to try something other than the Goodyear 160's he was going to use. When I got to the Hoosier truck to inquire about tires, they told me that they had just sold the last set in my size to Brett. Guess I'll just have to scare myself in Turn 3.
Dave's lack of fun was continuing, as he found broken rockers and set about to change the head and would miss the qualifying session. About two laps into the session, my motor had a high-speed miss, It would not pull down the front straight. I checked the gags…. And everything looked OK. The miss got worse with each lap, but the good news was that the wing thing was making T3 and T9 flat-out. I came in and checked the plug and coil wires. Found nothing and went back out. I ran a couple more laps, with the miss still there, and came in. Best lap, 1:14.97 which would put me 6th on the grid (in DSR and 10th overall) and .001 second in front of Hasty. Speaking of Hasty, he had gotten his car over the alligator teeth on the last turn of the last lap of the qualifying session and caused considerable damage to his body sidepod. He would decide to go home rather than spending hours doing makeshift repairs. Tom Robertson would take the DSR pole with a 1:10.9 which is under the 12 year old lap record held by John Finger in a Zink 22/AMW (1:11.6). That record held so long because the Nationals are now held in Feb/March and on July 4th weekends. Either the temperature is very cold or raining in Feb/Mar or blistering hot (always) in July. This year the March weather cooperated.
Thankfully, it only took a few minutes to find the likely cause of my ignition misfire. I pulled the sparkplugs and found that one of those little screw on tops had backed off and lived in the wire boot. When you pushed the wire down on the plug, the threads caused enough grip to make you think the wire was on OK, but it vibrated off at high speed. I would be doing the Sunday morning warm-up session (10 minutes) to test. I had another set of wires, plugs, coils, etc at the ready should the miss still be there. Kathy and I joined Hasty and Laura Horn at a nice restaurant in downtown Savannah for dinner. Dave was still working on his car.
Race day. I did the morning warm-ups and the car was fine. Now we would have about 7 hours before our race group took the track for the last race of the schedule. We helped Hasty load up and assisted Dave who would eventually declare his motor problem terminal. We visited around the DSR encampment. All of the DSR guys had managed to paddock with 50 yards of each other. Chip Haddock was busy changing motors as he had hurt his new "fast motor" in qualifying. Tony Branco stopped by for a visit, as did Brian Little (who was on his way home from visiting his mom in Florida). Long time FF pilot and SE Division champion, Brandon Dix, visited with several of us DSR guys and is considering the switch. Mike Nilson and his family from Ottawa stopped by also. He is building a Royale FF based DSR. He said he was escaping the perpetual 3 feet of snow on his driveway.
I was gridded 10th for the race and was beside Brett Lane. Brett has straight-line speed with his new Honda motor but is slow in turns 1, 3 and 9. I need to get clear of him ASAP. I went to the inside at the green flag and quickly got past both Brett and Mike Schmidt. I was also closing on the two red S2000's but they didn’t leave me enough space on the inside (track significantly narrows here) and we approached T1. The lead DSR/S2 pack of 7 cars was very closely locked in battle. I was stuck behind the S2's. I noticed that my exhaust note was too LOUD, but since I had checked it (routine) before the race, I ignored it. But since I wasn’t able to pull the S2's on the front straight, my motor wasn’t up to snuff. At lap 3, Bonsey (three cars and maybe 50 feet in front of me) got wheels off exiting T5a and shed some body parts. I ran over them a lap later . . . when you run in a tight pack, there are few options for last millisecond corrections. My LOUD exhaust note got MUCH LOUDER. It was hurting my ears . . . good thing I had my radio ear plugs in! Poleman Robertson slowed on Lap 4 and dropped out (differential, he says). I continued to dog the two red S2's. One goes into T4 too hot and spins wildly. For once, I manage not to get collected by a S2. I pass the other S2 on the front straight, but am now about 75 yards behind the DSR leaders. In a couple of laps, there are no cars appearing in my mirrors, but I am not making up any space on Haddock and Vic Moore. I do pass Bonsey (those snowmobile powered cars always seem to fade) in a couple of laps and am 3rd in DSR. I am turning laps in the 1:12 area and going flat out in all the right places. I notice that the big g's in T3 and T9 are taking big physical effort to steer and my shoulders are in some pain. I am trying to find some more speed in order to catch the leaders. About lap 19, I overcook it in turn 5b and go wide. I don’t lose a position (in fact I lap the next placing DSR), but lose contact with the leaders. The 23-lap race goes very quickly.
At impound, I am told that I am disqualified due to excessive noise. Not surprised. Muffler is not longer connected to the exhaust collector. There are three sound readings of 104dB (103 dB is the limit). I can hardly hear what anyone is saying to me. My ears would ring LOUDLY for 24 hours and buzz for another day. I don’t want to do this again. Vic Moore would take the win with his Radical and set a new lap record at 1:11.4. Chip would finish a close second with his "slow" motor. Vic, who is the Radical importer, is definitely getting the car competitive. Should help sales. My best lap was 1:12.2 which is OK considering the exhaust system losses, old tires, and cranky driver. I am beginning to question my "Do no practice days" pledge.
Disqualified. No points, no start, no finish. It's like I was never there.