Practice Day Curse

April Summit Point

For the third straight time this season, I bought the track practice day and got to run only a few laps. This time I got to do an engine swap all day for my $150 fee.

I was looking forward to the Summit Point race. Last year I was within 0.8 seconds of the lap record, but I would have several car improvements to challenge the repaved track. My race motor makes an additional 15 HP. I had new shocks plus bigger brakes to cure the chronic fading after 6 laps. I also had new, stronger front suspension pieces to solve the front suspension collapses I had suffered at the first two races.

Dave Gomberg came out on Friday to crew, since his new Cheetah is still in the pipeline. Hasty Horn came out also; he had his new Cheetah but is still doing engine installation.

Kathy and I left Hampton at 4 AM and got the to track at 8 AM. The place was jammed full of cars; many of them had run the Thursday practice day. I got out for the second session, but our group was RED flagged within one lap. There were way too many cars on the track in the all open wheel group. Summit is the first race of the NE Division; any many were driving with intense pent up emotion and aggression. During the day, there were MANY crashes, a fire and several got a trip to the hospital. In short, it was scary out there.

I did a few laps to test the suspension and to warm the tires. Cars were swooping past me on both sides. Engine was running a bit erratically, but it always does so a bit while it is cold. I ran a couple of 1:18 laps which were respectable, before the oil pressure started to fluctuate and finally sunk to about 5 psi. I came in before an expensive BOOMs occurred.

We first made sure the oil pressure gage was working. There was ample oil flow on the scavenge side of the oil pump. I decided to pull the motor and put in the stock spare (I had almost decided to leave the spare at home, but fortunately hadn't). I told Dave and Hasty that the engine swap would be good training for them. By the end of the day, we had the spare motor running. We were dirty, oily and tired.

Kathy returned from her usual shopping adventure and we pushed the car to the slow moving tech line. We got to dinner at 8 PM after stopping to buy a big bag of oil dry. I owe Dave and Hasty big time.

Being the first race group, we got to the track early on Saturday for qualifying. (Sorry about that Dave, I know you prefer to sleep late.) The weather forecast was for rain (80%) but the day started dry but cool. Without sharing the track with all those crazy formula cars, qualifying looked to be saner. My muffler came adrift on my out lap, and the motor was loud enough to hurt my ears. I knew with the looming rain, I had better get at least one good lap before I got black-flagged for noise. I had setup the car with BIG rear brake bias to minimize stress on the front suspension. I was busy dialing in brake balance. I pushed too hard on cold and fresh tires and went off in turn one getting the front wheels stuck in the gravel trap. The cute little corner worker girl came over and kept yelling for me to back up. No can do. After a few laps, a truck came and pulled me back 3 feet so I could continue. I got black flagged within a lap and came in. Not a great start so far, but the suspension problems had not revisited.

Son, Sean, and Mark Walthew arrived to crew. After changing Sean's motors three times last season, they were glad to have missed this drill. Other than a few sprinkles, the rain held off all day so I got another opportunity to qualify on a dry track. At last, the session went off without a hitch. I qualified second in DSR with a 1:16.3 (5th overall of the CSR, DSR, S2's) and Richard Leslie, Jr. took the pole with a 1:16.1 (lap record is 1:15.96). We seasoned, grizzly, well-feed, mature typical DSR pilots decided we should declare 22-year-old skinny kids like Leslie ineligible for our class. He was having none of it.

I was wishing for my race motor. Will have to wait until next year. Damn.

I was running out of revs at the start finish line, so we changed to a higher gear for the race. Sean, who had just sold his recalcitrant FF, was roaming the pits doing data gathering for a possible DSR.

We figured that rain was not longer a threat. Was surprised to find a wet parking lot on race day. My race would start at 9 AM and we got a brief, but heavy, rain shower at 8 AM. Mark said to run rain tires, several times, I should have listened. It was cloudy and not drying quickly (or at all!). We added a bit more rear wing.

I got a pretty good start. The pole sitter S2 went off hard in turn 3 and was joined but other behind me. On lap 2, we got a double yellow and a pace car while they cleaned up the mess. Tom Robertson, third place DSR, did not see the yellow flags for a few turns and passed about 4 or 5 cars, including me. He got a stop and go penalty. Race got back underway at lap 6, and a CSR went off in the chute hitting the tire wall and going airborne in a shower of fiberglass parts. Another car would crash into him a lap or so later. Leslie was about 100 yards in front of me. I was sure I could catch him toward the end of the race. Two CSR's spun in turn 10, and I had to slow to weave my way thru them. In a few more laps, Robertson came past me easily. What is going on? Am I driving too carefully? I am faster. I start to push harder to keep up. I overcook it in turn 1 but keep it out of the gravel trap. I overcook it again in turn 5 a lap later, loosing more track space but keep it going. I decide to behave. I finish 6th overall and 3rd in DSR. Robertson, as it turns out was running rain tires was 3 to 4 seconds faster than my times (and had the fastest race lap). He ran out of laps to catch Leslie who was running narrow, soft slicks. The overall winner, Buzz Hooker in a S2 had qualified 11th (1:18.1) but was on rains. Yes Mark, I should have been on rains.

There were some bright spots: my suspension did not fail, my brakes did not fade and my old, 4 season, 30+ race stock motor ran fine. On to Kershaw next weekend.

Race Motor footnote:

Pulled the pan and found aluminum bits, a few a big as a fingernail. Bits had clogged the oil pump filter/screens. Bob Wirth suggested that I check the clutch basket. It was broken. When you lockup the rear wheels long and hard (Savannah crashes!) it puts a huge load on the basket and it typically breaks. After cleaning out the aluminum fragments, the engine MAY be fine. All I have to do is clean up the mess, replace the basket, install the motor and see if oil pressure is OK. Two days.