Guarded Success

VIR August 2000

I had raced at Virginia International Raceway in the late 60's in a Bobsy FV. I had last raced there in 1972 in an enduro kart. I was looking forward to returning there, in its beautiful resurrected form, for the final national of the SE Division season. Has it really been more than 30! years?

Making the race was a bit of a challenge. I had incapacitated my two motors at Savannah in July along with doing a bunch of fiberglass damage. Fortunately, being mostly retired, I had time to find solutions. I bought a stock motor from Bob Swenson (thanks Bob, it ran flawlessly) and spent many hours up to my elbows in epoxy resins.

Son Sean had taken my car to VIR in May for a double regional while I was recovering from a muscle tear, so he would be my coach. Kathy and I headed out VERY early Friday morning so I could do the practice day (highly recommended for the tricky, 3.26 mile VIR . . . I really don't know how many "official" corners there are, but I do know that there are 17 flag stations). We shared paddock space with Hasty Horn (his first National race) and long time racing compatriot Dan Carney and his Swift FF. Brian Little, who also raced at VIR in the 60's, Don MacCluskie (new Beasley), and Byron Stauffer would round out the DSR group. Dave Gomberg (new Cheetah) and David Latham (new second generation Kokopelli) were last minute scratches due to problems the previous weekend at Pocono.

My first practice session ended in one lap when the throttle cable broke. Let's face it, I just donít know how to solder. The second session was worse. I was trying way too hard and one lap 3 significantly misjudged the approach to "Hog Pen" at the bottom of the "roller coaster" and drove 5 feet inside the apex. I ended up parked on the nose, which had folded under the car. A couple of laps later, Stauffer did the same thing. Kathy, of course, had gone antique shopping for the day but not before telling me, "Donít do anything stupid."

I missed a session replacing my radiator subframe. I put on my spare nose for the next session and tried to behave. With old, hard tires I was not up to doing the long, seemingly endless esses ("Snake') flat out as my coach had said I could do. I turned times in the 2:09 range. I was beginning to learn my way around by the end of the final session equaling Sean's best time (OK Sean, I know the motor - now dead- had 30+ races on it and was a bit lame) of 2:07.

I mounted new tires for the Saturday morning SCCA practice. I behaved, did the snake flat out and turned a couple of 2:04 laps. (Course record is 2:06). Things were looking up. By now Stauffer had parked his Radical not wishing to race without a front spoiler (He said it handled like a pig without it) and fellow DSR's guys were still searching for comfort and turning 2:15 laps. Our race group included 21 SRF's, which are on the average are about 15-16 seconds slower. Passing in the tight sections is not prudent and this made getting a clean lap impossible. Hasty had a nasty high speed off course excursion. He was passing a line of 6 SRF's on the front straight when one pulled out of the draft chain. We spent the next hour or two, removing his battered bodywork and doing some precision metal forming with hammers and blocks of wood. His pristine new Cheetah is now beginning to look like a real racecar.

Sean had to leave mid day to join his family at the beach and left me with the advice to "cool it" during the afternoon qualifying session. Dan had already suffered the agony of a 15 year old Swift in the Group 2 qualifying when his rear wheel studs sheared off and he lost a wheel in the slow (very fortunate for him) "Oak Tree" turn. I told myself that I was going to run 6 laps at speed (after that the tires begin to lose some grip) and come in. My cockpit display showed that I had run a couple of 2:05 laps despite being held up by SRF's. I though I might have a clear track so decided to stay out for another lap in hopes to breaking into the 2:03's. I got a really good run, best all weekend, going into the Snake. I hit the apex curb at the first esses (a definite NO NO) and the somewhat airborne car would not turn for the next turn. I exited the track on the right and hit the GUARD rail a bunch at about a 30-degree angle. (Data system says doing 80 mph). Not wishing to appear punchy, I jumped out of the car and joined the corner workers. I had to go to medical. Other than a cut on my braking foot, and some tender ribs, I was fine. The car wasnít too bad either considering I put a pretty good bow in the VIR guard railing. It had a flat tire, two bent rims and, of course, another damaged nose and splitter. Suspension was fine but now needed alignment. Kathy returned from shopping, says Greensboro NC is a nice place to visit, as I began my fiberglass repairs with the great help of Ted Glass and Don MacCluskie. She used that stupid phase again. I did take the poll position and set a new course record for DSR, but I am feeling "stupid".

I have to dismount two rain tires to use their rims. I am hoping the weather forecast for 30% rain showers on Sunday doesnít come to pass. Being the last race (Group 6) of the day allows me plenty of car piddle time on Sunday. Hasty lends me his spare front splitter and the epoxy has hardened nicely from the Saturday night patches. He even offers to let me use his rain tires, should that nasty four letter work happen. I spend a great amount of time peering skyward.

Just before Group 4 takes to the track for their race (FA, FM, and FC), we are treated to a big thunderstorm and HEAVY rains. It was brief and the track dried quickly and they only had to run the first few laps on a wet track. Many spins. Storm clouds were closing in as we went to the grid for our race. There was a long wait while SCCA cleaned up the big bore causalties. We were begging to get started and were seeing lightning in the distance. Since I am on the front row and will not need to be told when the green flag is out, I decide to forgo the radios. Hasty, who has qualified second, and I use our DSR power to pull clear of the pack at the green. Hasty disappears from my mirrors in a lap or so. About lap 3, I run over something fairly big while entering the Roller Coaster. It was either a car part or a BIG rock. My nose section is slightly ajar. It flutters when I drive down the long back straight. I consider coming into the pit to have Kathy, sole pit member, reattach the hold down. I donít recall if she had ever done it before, so decide to continue. I am wishing I had the radio. I am short shifting at about 9000-9500 and trying to be cool and turn 2:07 laps. Kathy is showing me ahead by 60 seconds on the pit board. At lap 8 or 9, I pass MacCluskie entering the back straight. Suddenly, the nose folds under with a giant display of tire smoke, sparks and flying fiberglass. I sure got Mac's attention. I drive slowly to make it back to the pits. By now, one front wheel is on the fiberglass and I can't steer. I drive to a corner station in the Roller Coast and gesture madly for help. A corner worker, bless his soul and his disregard for oncoming traffic, slowly approached and tore away the remaining nosepieces. I continued on. By now it was beginning to rain somewhat. I am still running well and repass the couple of SRF who got by while I was parked. Thunder, lightning and intense downpour came next. Kathy and Laura Horn were getting extremely wet in the pits. I could not keep the car on the track, nor could some of the SRF's (kinda makes you wish we all raced on treaded tires) who passed me. I drove off, with no prayer of turning for a corner a couple of times. It just got worse. I was down to barely maintaining forward motion in first gear. As I made it to the front straight, I could see the checker flag was being shown early, thankfully. I must have fish tailed 15 times while crawling to the finish line. To make matters worse, I went off three times while doing the "cool off" lap. The car was impossible on slicks. I noticed Hasty, nose ajar, parked outside the NASCAR turn (named so because so many guys when off there in the sole NASCAR race at VIR circa 1970). He had been punted by 3 spinning SRF's. Hasty has to be developing a dislike for the Spec Rambos. The other DSR guys had intelligently pitted when the rains began. I still managed first in DSR and 7th overall. Hasty took second.

My weekend casualty list: two noses, three splitters, two rims, one radiator subframe, and sore foot. Kathy's shoes are still damp after two days. The sun was brightly out by the time we left impound, but the rain returned by the time we were packing up. Good news is that my last minute second hand motor worked fine. I just wish the driver had worked so well.