Kathy wanted to go to Sebring. She wanted to visit the warmth and she enjoys hanging out with the DSR guys (insert you own cheap joke here). I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the trek, but decided that the opportunity to run the 12 Hour course made it worthwhile.
We began our 15-hour drive Thursday. I decided to treat Kathy to the experience of staying at the “quaint” 1910 vintage Kenilworth Lodge. The plumbing left a little to be desired as only the tub had sufficient water pressure to actually wash one’s hands.
In keeping with my “casual” racing philosophy, I would not be participating in the Friday practice day. I would help Hasty, fiddle with the car and hang out. The collars that hold my front sway bar in place had fractured on the long tow down and I borrowed replacements from Bob Urso (who has enough spare parts in his trailer to build another car) Kathy would, as usual, go off to help stimulate the local economy. There were 319 cars participating in the test day! Hasty would have a productive day and would begin to get comfortable with his new Radical. Friday was a nice, warm day. It was 14 degrees and snowing back home.
Saturday would be overcast and VERY windy and COLD. The first qualifying session would go off with some dampness still on the track from the overnight rain. Having run some 100 laps on my computer game (F2000 version), I basically knew where the racecourse went. Driving the game did not prepare me for the extreme roughness of the racing surface, particularly in turns 1 and 17. It was so rough in T1; it was hard to keep your eyes in focus. My clutch was still slipping coming out of slow corners, as it had done in the Runoffs. Apparently, my “adjustments” were not sufficient and I need to change the clutch discs. I would live with it for the weekend. In 7 laps, I would get down to 2:19 laps (and 5th of 15 in DSR) with plenty of room for further improvement. Travis Duder, who had hired a “pro” driver to help him with car setup on the test days, kicked everyone’s butt with 2:12 laps.
The second qualifier would be 5 minutes longer. My car would not start on the grid. After a push start, it would barely run. I came in (the session got black flagged on the first lap) and found a short in a coil wire. I put the rear body back on, buckled in and headed back out. Unfortunately, I had left my gloves on the side pods. I hoped the grid workers would not notice. They did, and refused to let me out. I drove slowly along the pit lane looking for a worker with driver gloves to borrow. A very nice lady at the black flag station lent me her gloves. They had a HUGE hole in one palm, but no one noticed. I was only able to get one lap at speed. So much for improvement. After the session, I got yelled at by the stewards for trying to go out without gloves. I took my last season’s (intact) gloves to the little old lady (she was at least 75 years old) and thanked her profusely. She was pleased. A couple of drivers improved their times, and I was now only 7th fastest. Drat! My rebuilt muffler had developed a small hole, and Hasty and I bolted on the spare.
The POAFs annual DSR party Saturday night was tough. Mostly people huddled in Chip’s trailer around the heater. We didn’t stay long, as Kathy was trying to get her sinus infection under control and I was cold and miserable. Even the more than ample supply of designer beer didn’t help. Too bad the weather put a big damper on the excellent party.
Sunday was at least sunny, so it was a bit more tolerable. Our CSR, DSR, S2000 race group would race after lunch. There was much time to visit around. The FF, F500 race just before lunch would have a huge multicar melee in turn one at the start. Six or seven cars would be severely damaged, but no one would be injured. Frank Malone, who was down to crew for Eric Cruz, and me would check out my chassis extensively. We found one loose bolt on the front suspension. We were ready.
I was gridded 15th overall, just behind a factory Radical CSR, Chip and Mike Schmidt. The first lap was unbelievable. Turn one is ROUGH, wide and gets narrow. There were at least 6 cars side by side there with more than a little bumping and such. Turn 3 is a slow, tight bottleneck, but our pack survived. I passed a couple of cars as we went down a relatively long section to the “hairpin.” Two or three cars had spun in the hairpin, and I had to take to the dirt to get by losing some track position to the cars in front of me. I caught back up to the pack as we came to the turns leading to the back straight. Chip spun (said he got “brake checked”) in the relatively tricky turn onto the straight. (Hasty had gone off here 3 times in the practice day; one must go off the prescribed racing surface about 3 car widths onto the old runway concrete to get a good arc). Chip was sitting nose first to the on coming cars, and an inattentive S2000 driver took about 2 feet off his nose. Once again, I went to the dirt to avoid the chaos. The pace car would come out for 3 laps while they cleaned up the mess.
Once the race got back underway, a couple of cars would spin on the first lap in turn 7. I was able to hang on the factory Radical’s tail but could pull it on the straights. My brakes started to act up like they were overheating somewhat. Dick Colburn was on my tail. On about lap 6 going into the hard braking hairpin, my car lurched to the right and slowed poorly. I managed to save it and keep Colburn behind me (but undoubtedly causing him some concern). Immediately, there was a huge vibration and I thought maybe I had flat spotted a tire. I continued on. At every corner, the car pulled hard under braking. Scary. As I came to the hairpin again, the front of the car started to scrape badly, and I pulled off. I noticed that the left front wheel was at 45 degrees. I visited with Jacek Mucha (got hit) and a CSR driver as the race unfolded. Travis had a big lead, and Paul Parker got by Rodger Cook on the last lap to take second in DSR. When the tow truck hoisted my car on the hook, the front wheel fell off! The bearing was gone and the brake hat had broken off. It took a bunch of us quite a while to get my three-wheeler into my trailer. Another car eaten by Sebring. I wonder how anyone survives the 12-hour race. Dick Colburn came over after the race and said that trying to stay up with me had “motivated” him to reduce his lap time over qualifying by three seconds. Glad to help.
Taking stock: Tow 30 hours, get 12 laps at speed. Spend $6.30 per gallon for race gas and $6.25 for a hamburger at the concession stand. Tear up parts, and abuse the driver’s body. It was fun visiting with the racing fraternity.