VIR National

18 April 2009

  My racing season got off to a very late start this year.  A couple of years, I did the January Sebring race, but generally began my season at the March race at Savannah.  I missed it this year for the first time in 20 years. Why? Simply because my Cheetah is not competitive anymore at National races.  (It was leading edge in 1997).  I signed up for the Savannah weekend, but after looking at the entry list with 8 super fast Stohr WF1ís entered and me, I just could not summon up any interest in being completely outclassed. 

  Well the next race on my dance card, was the VIR double national.  Great track, short tow, and a warming spring, little chance for rain.  Again an army of fast WF1ís, a factory West car, and me. Anyway, with Sean and Eric planning to be there, it would be a gathering.

  I drove up midday Thursday.  Kathy is bored with the shopping opportunities in Danville, chose to stay home and supervise the contractor tiling our newly redone bath.  Arrived about 4 PM unloaded in the Cruz compound and took the car off for itís annual technical inspection.  Registration and tech was a breeze.  Sean arrived a short time later and we repeated the tasks.  I donít remember what happened to the time, but Sean and I got to the restaurant about 9 PM.  Tired, very tired, Motel, Sleep.

  Weekend got off with a practice session Friday morning.  Out Formula and SR group numbered 63 (!!!) cars.  Way too many fast cars and adrenalin junkies.  About 2 laps into the practice, a guy got high sided in a very dangerous, blind spot at the top of the esses.  Before long the yellow flags gave way to a black flag all.  As I pulled into the pits, Mark Walthew noticed that my car was leaking water.  My session was over.  Frank Malone got the golf cart and towed my car back to the trailer.  Found that a rubber thingy about the size of a pinky that plugged a vent in the radiator had a crack.  Easy repair, but 90% of the water was gone, so I worried that maybe I had hurt the engine.  This will give me something to think about for the next session.

  The afternoon qualifier was for the Saturday race.  I put on my best year old tires.  Since there were so many cars in our group, officials (who had ignored a drivers petition to split the group) decided to send the cars off in waves of 12 separated by a few seconds.  This was a total disaster, with the first group coming around before the last FEW groups were allowed on the track.  Many dangerous situations.  Huge traffic, cars off everywhere and no clear track to nail a good lap.  My car was shifting badly.  Very difficult getting downshifts.  Missing shifts amidst a stampede wasnít cool or safe.  I wasnít having much fun.  I came in after 3 laps.  Best time 2:03, which got me 53rd place in the field of 58 surviving cars.  The fast WF1ís were in the 1:49 range.  Fantastic speed for the new generation DSRs.  Hell, three years ago the DSR lap record was 1:58.

  The sleeve on my shift push-pull cable had come apart, making the PUSH part (downshifts) mostly impossible.  Not having a spare (NOTE, always carry one), Frank and I set about to make a fix.  The cable at the engine shift lever is near lots of aeroquip lines (some a bit frayed) and in no time both of my hands and arms were showing Blood. Actually lots of blood.  At some point, Sean relieved me, I suppose getting tired at the sight of bleeding. Getting the cable in and out was a real chore with the exhaust header running interference. After a couple of tries, we got the sleeve to stay put, but the push-pull was VERY stiff.  No other option, but to tolerate it.  My right arm will be getting a primo workout.  Another late departure from the track.  Tired.

  Saturday, race day one.  Officials decide to do a split start with the Sportsracers going second.  This meant I would be dead last since my times were faster than a few of the formula cars in the lead group.  The split start worked out to be a bad idea.  By the time for the green flag, the Sportsracer group was only 20 seconds behind the formula cars, many of which were quite a bit slower than the sportsracers.  By turn 2, overtaking had begun.  A long full course yellow came out after a couple of laps and stayed out for 3 or 4 laps.  The conga line of 50 plus cars was brutal and we at the rear had to come to complete stops several times.  I was at least Ĺ mile behind the leader at the top of the roller coaster series when the yellow flags came down.  Me and a couple of S2000ís were still warming our tires when Dwight Kelly in a Radical came charging by hitting my car a pretty good lick on the side.  He had radios and knew the race was on.  Not us.  I drove carefully for a few corners to see if everything was OK.  It was.  Now to race.  For 5 or so laps, I was very entertained passing lots of cars, mostly FMís (video shows 9 cars passed.).  Despite the hard shifting, I didnít miss many shifts.  On lap 10, I came up #72 FE in the uphill esses.  I was shocked and spooked when he braked in the middle of the esses.  Traffic in Oak Tree prevented me from getting by him there.  I took the outside line going into the Roller Coaster turn pulling along side of him.  He came over on me hard; maybe he didnít see me.  Regardless, I took to the grass and ate my nose as it folded under my front tires.  Race over.  Finish 46th.  Number 72 took 36th.  Got good video.  Must stop trying to pass FEís there.

  Fitted the spare nose for the Saturday afternoon qualifier for the Sunday race.  Ran 10 laps turning a 1:59.0 and getting a 37th place.  (At least I got on the front page of the results sheet.)  My AIM system showed a 1:58.1 lap so I came in.  Shifting was still a problem, but I had to persevere.  Qualified 47th.

  Sunday race.  Warm (80 degrees) and sunny.  No split start this time.  Start was fine until turn one, where racing buddy Eric Cruz would barrel roll three times. A FM got hit from behind shoving him inside of Ericís rear wheel under acceleration.  Launch.  Write off a FE.  Fortunately he was unhurt, but had his bell rung and went to the hospital.  A three lap double yellow came out.  I hung back some distance not wanting to play the conga line thing again.  Cars got spaced out pretty good.  I followed Anthony Sleathís S2000 for a while.  The slower cars were already behind me, so there was little passing until encountering the back markers near the end of the race.  I was turning 1:59 laps consistently.  Got passed by the race winning FA just as the checkered flag came out.  My AIM system tells me my best rolling lap was a 1:57.1 and best theoretical lap (sum of best split times) was a 1:54.  Not too bad for my outdated Cheetah.  Clutch travel was getting to be a problem late in the race and of course shifting was even more difficult.  Finished 37th of 53.   Sean would blow his engine on lap 7 but he had a good time all weekend and turned some nice 1:55 laps.