Flying South

Sebring and Moroso Winter Nationals

I hadn't really planned to go the Winter Nationals in Florida this year. Many reasons, first I had rotten luck last year at Sebring and came home early, the stock market which provides my racing budget has really sucked, and finally it is a long boring drive. Kathy was interested in going, no doubt hot on the trail of some new antiquing destinations, and I was fairly easy to persuade. We mapped out an agenda to entertain us during the week between the Sebring and Moroso events. Suffering the coldest temperatures in recent winters in Virginia, it was odd to be packing shorts and suntan lotion.

We left on Thursday morning, 4 January. I decided to forgo a stop at Daytona to visit Travis as he practiced for the 24 hour race and drove directly to Sebring (about 14 hours). One of these days, I have to teach Kathy how to drive the tow vehicle with the trailer. We arrived at the track hotel (Chateau Elan) and visited the nice lobby bar to unwind before going to the room to crash. Panoz's hotel is new and nicely situated overlooking the hairpin turn. However, the walls are paper thin, the water stinks, and you feel lubricated all over after taking a shower.

After dinging my car several times last season during "practice days," I plan to avoid practice days this season. (We'll see how long this resolution lasts.) My plan for Friday was to help/crew for Hasty Horn and to generally hang out. I did this without damage. The DSR gang numbered 16 with Paul Shinsky from Texas and Dick Colburn from Chicago getting the longest haul distinction. Hasty had a good learning day and only consumed one front spoiler. Kathy, of course, went shopping. Ed Dickinson, still recovering from his back surgery from last July, showed up and provided some very useful coaching (his "home" track). Tom Robertson and Pat Prince were there with their upgraded Prince PR01 and were turning laps 2 seconds better than anyone else. Friday night we spent 1 and 1/2 hours standing in the registration line, a foretelling of future disorganization to be tolerated.

Saturday, we had a morning un-timed practice session (despite SCCA requiring all of us to buy/rent transponders). The course had been changed with a new chicane at the hairpin turn. I liked it better than the old configuration. Everyone was stroked to earn a place in the record book for fastest lap at the new configuration. With a 28-car CSR/S2/DSR field on the 1.7-mile circuit, traffic was fierce while I was trying to relearn my way around. The afternoon qualifying session found me still in the discovery mode as my lap times were still coming down. I qualified 6th fastest in DSR at 1:11.4 and 14th overall. Michael Vergers, the hired pro driver the Radical guys had bought over from England for the race, turned a 1:05 in the 1500cc CSR. Vic Moore, still very much suffering from his December operation, was very fast and smooth and turned 1:10.99. Tom Robertson took the DSR pole with a 1:09.8. Weather was 60ish and cloudy and we even had FROST on the windshield in the morning. .

Saturday night brought the second annual DSR bash at the track. Much fermented grain based fluids were consumed and many stories were told. Great gathering. I left at a reasonable hour, but I understand there were those who lingered until midnight. Unfortunately for me, their driving did not show it on race day.

Race day was 70ish and sunny. Still a bit too cool for shorts. The race start was annoying. The pace car peels off at the hairpin and the front rows start accelerating in earnest. The second half of the field (including me) was still in the 30-mph hairpin when the green flag fell. I immediately found myself in close combat with 3 S2's. These bullies are bigger and 300 pounds heavier. They particularly liked to lean on me in the slow corners. Rich Mullin, an old fellow racer and general rascal, was the most difficult. In a few laps, one of the S2's had fallen back. About mid-race I drove under the S2's entering T3 and found myself on the tails of fellow DSR racers Chip Haddock and Mike Schmidt. They had home track advantage and were going quite well. Next lap I went a bit too hot in T3 and went off a bit. Damn, the S2's were by again. It took me another 5 or so laps to get past and back to the DSR guys. Oops, I did it again the T3 and was behind the S2's. I managed to pass one S2 before the checkered flag. The race seemed much too short. My best time was 1:10.1, which was faster than the DSR winner Tom Sedivy. Tom Robertson had changed his springs before the race and was fading. Maybe, I should have done practice day. Hasty finished 7th and was still improving his times.

The DSR guys had built a special DSR podium and presented trophies. The little cars on top of the trophies looked very much like PIGS.

We packed up and drove to Moroso to drop off the trailer and spent the night in West Palm Beach. On Monday we drove up to the Kennedy Space Center (Kathy works for NASA) for the tour and went to Celebration (Disney's planned city) near Orlando. On Tuesday, we went to Delray Beach and stayed in a quaint 1920's hotel. On Wednesday, we drove to Key West (way too many tourists) before retreating to Marathon (mid Keys) to party with the Laura and Hasty Horn, Pat Prince and Lou Sell at Tom Robinson's beach house. Again it was too cool for a beach day, but we fortified ourselves with grilled grouper and adult beverages. Many tales were told, as usual. Lou Sell is a formal pro race from the 60's and 70's (F5000 champion and CAN-AM competitor) and entertained us all. Thursday, we drove back to Miami Beach to visit the deco architecture and for Kathy to visit an upscale shopping center. That night it was back to West Palm and dinner with one of Kathy's old TV station cronies, Mike Fabrizio. Mike, a former sports guy, is mostly a man of leisure now, but dabbles in importing "brides" from the Czech republic. I could send you his phone number if you have a need.

I went to Moroso on Friday to watch practice day and maybe assist Hasty. Moroso is really a drag strip but had a road course using part of the strip and the return roads. Facilities are nice by most standards (real rest rooms, paved pit roads, etc). Course consists of two long straights with a series of rinky dink corners on the far end and an interesting wide 180 turn on the other (it is really the drag staging parking lot). They put in a new low speed chicane (Turn 8) at the end of the back straight. Many would go off there. The brake markers they put up (as Tom Robertson would warn me later) for T8 were WAY past the latest possible braking point. Hasty would go off there on the first lap of practice (he didn't know) and damage his Cheetah's fiberglass. Damage was significant and he decided to head back to Virginia. I spent the most part of the day preparing the car and watching from the various corners. I had gassed up the car and buttoned it up by the time Kathy had returned from the Ft. Lauderdale antique show. We retreated to our motel for the second straight night in the same bed.

Saturday we would have two timed qualifying sessions. Again we were using transponders. I went out in our combined FF/S2/CSR/DSR group to learn my way around. Except for the wide sweeping turn 9, the 2.25-mile course was easy to learn. My buns were burning and I was squirming alot. I continued. I qualified 3rd fastest with a 1:30.6 behind Tom Robertson (1:26.4) and Dick Colburn (1:27.7). Tom was playing with various tire compounds and found some new Hoosier sticky tires he liked. There were 14 DSR's who qualified, but Lou Sell was having motor problems and went home. Vic Moore eventually decided he was in too much pain and decided not to race also. The session was shortened considerably as they had to clean up a couple of wrecks. Went I got back to the pits, I discovered that I had gas in my seat and the drivers suit was soaked. I doused my seat and suit with water. A guy from the adjacent pit came over and asked what the hell I was doing. I coated my very red buns with sunburn lotion. Moral, don't FILL your tank in the cool of the evening because the gas will expand and slosh out! Did I mention that it was warm and sunny at Moroso and I finally got to wear my shorts? It took SCCA hours to post the times and they did not provide copies. (Really cheap, especially considering the above normal entry fee…. In fact, they didn't even provide a list of entrants)

I was just heading out for the late afternoon qualifier when Kathy returned from her day trip. I did one lap when the engine went sour. I checked my gages and all seemed ok. I came to the pits, took off the rear bodywork and found a coil wire had come off. By the time I had fixed it and got back on to the track, I got one more lap. No way to learn a new track.

Our race got off at about 4:30 on Sunday. I was 3rd in DSR and about 16th on the grid. The start/finish line is on the front straight about 100 yards after the wide T9. The road is very narrow (drag strip return road) and no wider than my driveway. Just past the starter's stand is a normally high-speed chicane about 2.5 cars wide with high curbs on the side, a few feet of heavy sand and then Jersey barriers. Dumb. The start: Pack accelerates hard mid T9, then there is heavy braking (green flag must not be out, hope I don't get hit from behind), then intense acceleration. See an orange S2 two places in front of me pitched sideways with nose flying off and spewing fluids (he must have hit someone). Heavy braking, good I am not hit, suddenly he accelerates and we follow. Then intense braking again and the FF just in front of me is oscillating madly. I can't do anything but stay in line. I get hit lightly from the rear, hit the FF who in turn hits the wounded orange S2. I continue on noticing some fiberglass bits flying off my nose but thinking I have survived. I pass a couple of cars going into the turn at the end of the straight, but the car turns badly. I do another corner with a big understeer. Finally, as I enter the next corner, the car will not turn. I visit the sand and park. I take the nose off and discover that my radiator has been pushed back and a hose is ruptured. I had been wetting my front tires. Good thing, I guess, that I got stuck in the sand or I might have continued and fried my motor. Many pace car laps follow as they clean up the mess. A few laps later, I am joined in my personal parking lot by Rich Mullin who has had a tire go down. He mentions how much fun he had racing with me at Sebring. It doesn’t cheer me up. They leave us out there until the end of the race day, since they were running short of daylight. As for the race (I had a good seat), pole man Tom Robertson's soft tires would go away and he would retire. Colburn's 2-cycle car would fade as it often does and Tom Sedivy (qualified last in DSR due to noise violation) would charge again for the win.

I leave Moroso at 6:03 for the 15-hour drive home. Like that Gore fella, Florida has not been good to me.

-Bill Maisey, 18 Jan 2001