Wedge Racing in 2002
We raced again. We won some. We lost some (AGAIN!) <g>.
We had a pretty busy season, but the SEDIV schedule has worked out quite well for the last couple of years. With the advent of 2 new tracks (Kershaw and VIR), I expected to have serious 'schedule crunch', but it has been MUCH better than that. Currently, since we skip the Sebring race each year, I end up with about 1 race per month throughout the season. This provides an adequate number of races as well as allowing many 'off' weekends for the family (or repairs <g>).
Moroso - January
We started off the season at Moroso with some good and some bad luck. I had a suspension component vibrate loose in the first session and didn't realize it until after the Pro Vee qualifying was over. We ended up 17th on the ProVee grid, but with the 'fixed' component, set ourselves up 3rd to start the National. The morning started off misty, so the warmup was wasted and the National ran on a pretty damp track (we were group 1), but everyone started on slicks anyway. Starting 3rd, I quickly moved to first and left the field in the dust (uh,,...mist). I was doing really well.. putting huge distance on the Vee field when a F500 spun in front of me at the chicane. Although I wasn't close enough to be threatened by it, it took my attention away and I looped the car anyway. Fortunately, I had a big enough lead by that time, I was able to repoint the car and get moving again before 2nd place came into view. Forging ahead, I set again to distance myself from the field - not realizing that my spin had stuffed enough sand in the bead of my right rear tire to cause a slow leak! With about 3 laps to go, headed in to turn 2, the back end snapped around and I spun again - FLAT TIRE. Although I was, again, able to repoint the car and get onto the track in front of 2nd place, the rear tire was now COMPLETELY FLAT and it was almost impossible to maintain control. 2nd place (Steve Oseth) easily passed me the next lap and I was hanging on for dear life to maintain a 2nd place finish - which is where we ended up.
The ProVee race was even more fun - starting 17th of 26 Vee's. On the start (now completely dry track), I picked off a couple of cars, but it was pretty tough going after that. The car and engine were running great tho' and I gradually worked my way toward the front. With about 5 laps to go, I passed for second place and looked for first - geez! First place (Donnie Isley) was so far out in front, I could hardly see him. Working as hard as I could, I managed to take about 2 seconds off the 6 second lead that he had and finished 4 seconds in arrears - but in a strong 2nd place! Quite a run from so far down in the field.
Kershaw - February
A small car count at Kershaw was disappointing, but the count does seem to get higher each year on this two year old track. I qualified on the pole and built up a several second lead by about lap 6. Alas - I had been tagged on lap 2 slightly by another car and it broke the valve stem on the left rear tire. (keeping air in the tires in getting to be a REAL PROBLEM for me!). In another lap, the car was undriveable and I had been passed by 2nd place. There was no where to go, but the pits. A DNF (did not finish) for me this time.
Roebling - March
The car was working well, but so was Donnie's. He was first, I was second on the grid. The start was pretty even down toward turn 1, but Greg Bruns had gotten a draft and passed me on the inside. Greg had position on me and I had position on Donnie, so I prepared to follow Greg into T1, when I got tagged on the left rear. I got spun around and then CLOBBERED as Donnie could not avoid my spinning car. Fortunately, the damage to my car was minimal and I was able to drive away - albeit, some 20 seconds behind the pack.
Pressing onward, I inched my way forward - caught the (soon to be) last place car, passed him and continued to move forward. Each car closer to the front was more difficult to catch and MORE difficult to PASS :-). Finally, I reached 2nd place with 2 laps to go. Going into Turn 1 on the LAST LAP, I took first place and started thinking about where I was going to hang that trophy. BUT - once again, it was not to be. I made a HUGE strategic error as a couple of F500's came up to lap us coming onto the front straight. Stupidly (trying to be a nice guy), I let them through on the inside - only too late realizing that Greg would follow them through for the win. 2nd place is better than last.
Road Atlanta - April
Road Atlanta over the last few months had had some TERRIBLE weather luck for Region races and this was no exception. The morning practice was quite damp and Greg managed to go off at turn 4 and virtually DESTROY his car against the concrete there. I went slower, but stayed on the track. The qualifier was the only completely dry session of the weekend and we put the Racer's Wage on the (FV) pole. (We are running a mixed group with the Formula Fords and Formula 500s these days.) Steve Oseth had a shifter problem and was unable to take advantage of that dry session.
The second qualifier was held in a deluge, but Steve had to go out anyway. He kept it on the track (as did most others) and went faster than I had expected, but still ended up last on the FV grid since everyone else had gotten a dry time.
RACE TIME - it wasn't actually raining, but it was threatening and the track was damp with standing water in several places. I took the lead after the usual Turn 1 melee with cars spinning in all directions and thought I was in pretty good shape. BUT - about 4 laps into the race, Mr. Oseth motored by me on the straight - turns out he was wearing intermediate tires, while I had chosen slicks (DRY tires) since I don't have any intermediates. To my advantage, the track was continuing to dry and MY tires were beginning to be the best. I caught him (it was now a 2 car race) and passed back for the lead. Shortly after that, it started RAINING again :-(. Steve passed me back and drove away. Then it STOPPED raining and I started closing in again. As the laps wore down, it rained a bit here and there and kept us in suspense as to who would have the advantage at the end. We passed under Start/Finish and were given the "ONE LAP TO GO" sign and I gritted my teeth and set my sights. Coming down the back straight on the "last" lap, I cleanly passed for the lead and was solidly in first coming down the hill to S/F - ALAS!! No checker, but ANOTHER "ONE LAP TO GO" sign. I had won the wrong race :-(. So - now we have to win it again. Watching Steve in my mirrors, I tried to put together a plan that would keep me in the lead. Coming out of Turn 7 onto the back straight, I noticed that Steve was a bit further back than I had expected, so I decided to TRY to beat him to the heavy braking area at turn 10. Coming up to the breaking point, I "had it made" - I had nice clean DRY track directly in front of me and everyplace else was still damp. There was NO WAY that Steve could outbrake me and stay on the track. Well - it wasn't going to be my day. I went as deep as I could go and saw Steve disappear from my mirror. I could tell he was 'off line' and making an attempt, but didn't know exactly where he was. I let my car go ALL the way to the end of the asphalt where I simply HAD to turn. I expected to see him come sliding by me into the gravel, but - no Steve. Then, as I gingerly turned left at the last possible moment, WHAM! (I found him). Steve slid into me - knocking ME off the track while he caromed back onto the track and easily made the turn. I limped through the grass and gravel track back onto the track, but with crap all over my tires, I immediately spun. I managed to right the car and crawl across the finish line to take second place - but NOT what I had been counting on. VERY VERY disappointing finish!
Summit Point - April
Our next race was the Pro Vee/ National at Summit Point, Va. I ran there a couple of years ago and finished 3rd. I wanted to improve on that and thought that I MIGHT even have a shot at the Pro Vee championship since I had started with a 2nd at the Moroso race. With 3 races on the motor, I swapped to our second motor to get a comparison and put some time on it. The car was handling decently, the engine was running good and Jerry, my trusty 'long distance' crew chief, was going to meet us there and life looked good. We only had a single qualifier for each of the National and Pro Vee races this time and money was tight so I decide to use "older" tires for the National qualifier. Although the car felt pretty good, I wasn't getting through the turns very well and ended up qualifying 18th out of 35 or so cars. No worry yet as I felt we were better than that - I just couldn't prove it <g>. I looked through the trailer and decided on a "better" set of rear tires and new fronts for the Pro Vee qualifier. My old tires just weren't cutting the mustard with the cold (mid 30's) temperatures. The new setup worked better, but I was still sliding around too much. Qualified 11th and decided I needed to buy some NEW tires for the rear to go with those fronts.
At the start of the National race, the car felt GREAT. I passed about 3 cars and set up for the hairpin turn 1. Just as I was about to turn in, I noticed a red car flash through my right mirror (a car that I had just passed) and decided he was trying to outbrake me into the turn. I left as MUCH room as I could without running off the track and braced for impact. Sure enough - WHAM! He came down the inside, couldn't stop and ran across my right front - launching himself several feet into the air and a few more than that deep into the gravel. I managed to stop with just 1 tire in the gravel, backed out and then continued on around the turn. I felt out the car a bit to make sure it was OK before I got to the next turn and all seemed fine. I got up to about 80 mph before the next LEFT hand turn which is a high speed sweeper. Unfortunately, the other car had damaged my right tie rod to the point that as soon as I loaded the car to the left, it BROKE and sent me STRAIGHT into the tire wall - unable to steer. End of race.
Back in the pits, a quick look said the only real damage was a completely destroyed fiberglass nose, but a short test drive later, I realized that the front beam was bent beyond usability. We didn't have a spare so I spent the next 2 hours or so scouring the paddock for a someone with a spare that I could use. After several "close calls" and one "false start" I finally found a 'clean' beam with no additional parts in the trailer of Randy Smith (down from Canada). We struck a deal and I went off with the beam.
The clock was beginning to loom larger now and crew (Jerry) and I got really serious about making the swap. Tools and parts flying everywhere as we "raced" to get ready for the race. We got it attached to the frame and all of the peripheral parts connected as we heard the 5 minute whistle from the grid. Linda brought out my suit while I did a quick double check of nuts/bolts and 'stuff' like that. All was together, but we still had to align the front. I ran back 10 feet behind the car and sighted, then 10 in front and sighted again - made a quick adjustment of the tie rod links and did it again - now we hear the one minute whistle. Alignment MUST be close enough <g>. I jump in my suit and then into the car. The field is rolling away from the grid. Click and tighten the belts, crank the car and make my way (SLOWLY _ SLOWLY - minding the paddock speed rules) to the grid. Luckily, the Chief Steward was giving all groups TWO pace laps to warm their tires due to the cold temps. When the pack came by, I tagged onto the BACK - the LAST CAR in the 37 car field - but we were IN the race :-).
Working my tires and feeling out the car (visibly checking the tie rods from the cockpit) I waited for the GREEN. When it showed, I immediately mowed down about 7 cars before turn 1 (watching CAREFULLY for out-braking maneuvers) - all the way to 30th place!. Cleanly through the first turn, we plowed our way forward. The details aren't that important, but we gradually worked our way forward throughout the race. We were making GREAT progress and had moved all the way to 8th and were closing on 6th and 7th visible in front of me when about 1/2 of the tailpipe fell off - no doubt from damage in the turn 3 crash that I didn't notice. All of a sudden, we weren't moving forward any more and I finished my race there - fortunately without LOSING any spots either.
All in all - considering my starting position - not a bad race. It sure would've been nice to start from our proper grid position. Might have been a bit better finish. :-)
Daytona - May
Daytona is 'different'. Now, the only track we routinely race that requires a "long" box (taller ring and pinion - 4.125). (We run the same track as the Daytona 24 Hours and the motorcycles - different from the NASCAR races) At all other tracks, we use the short box (4.375 R&P) so we have to swap the transaxle before AND after this race each year. A relatively small field showed and it was an uneventful race - we qualified on the pole by 2 seconds and won the race by about 20 seconds.
Mid Ohio - June
The next race on the calendar was the Pro Vee at St. Louis. I had run St. Louis last year, but got taken out from contact with another car. Had qualified and raced well and wanted to see if I could do better. BUT - looking at the race schedule, showed St. Louis, then Mid Ohio the following weekend, then Road Atlanta the weekend after that. Too many races in a row for me to manage - both from financial and time management aspects. So - after considering the issues - mostly that the Runoffs are held at Mid Ohio, we elected to go there instead.
The first (practice) session went GREAT. We had the fastest (FV) lap, but I'm not sure why. The car felt good, but I didn't feel like I was overextending myself - it just happened :-). In the qualifier, I think I was pushing too hard. Traffic was a lot worse than practice and I just couldn't get a good lap. Then, I finally put one together.... except for one minor little thing. I overcooked turn 11 leading into Thunder Valley and hit the outside curb pretty good. It spun me around without further contact and I thought all was OK. However, I found out different when I got to the next turn. The left rear hub broke into several pieces and dumped me onto the ground pretty hard.
There was no damage beyond EVERYTHING associated with the left rear brake and hub assembly so we set about the repairs. It got a bit complicated as I had to search the paddock for a replacement backing plate, but we finally got all the parts put back together. The morning warmup was used to scrub in a set of tires and check to make sure that the repairs were working OK - they seemed to be.
The race was a GREAT race. We had qualified 6th. It took me about 10 laps to work my way to the front. By that time, the lead pack was down to 3 cars. Jeff Loughead, Andres Serrano and me. We each took our turn at the front and all treated each other with respect. Nearing the end of the race, I saw that we were catching a back marker and decided I wanted to lead that lap into the twisty parts - idea being that I MIGHT be able to cleanly pass the back marker and put him BETWEEN me and the other 2 contenders. Well, the backer saw us coming and moved well out of the way - all of us getting by cleanly (best of plans <g>), but lo and behold, coming out of the carousel I found the checkered flag waving!! We had won the race! Hey - I choose LUCK over "plans" any day!!
Road Atlanta (#2) - June
After getting burned at the first Road A race, I was pretty determined not to let THAT happen again. We put on the best 'stuff' we had and I thought I drove as hard as I could. Although we did get the pole, I was a bit disappointed by the time - seems we were about 3/4 to a full second off of what I had expected. I still haven't figured out if the track is getting slower (must not be since GT-1 set a new track record) or we are just getting OLDER (I KNOW that this isn't the problem 'cos I don't FEEL old (except when I'm around some of these new whippersnappers that are just getting started in FV <g>)). At any rate, the race was dry and we ended up having a pretty good race with Steve Schiff - Steve (Geez - seems there are few too many 'Steve's' around here <g>) led a few laps and we led a few laps, with me passing for the win on the next to last trip down the back straight. Not sure why I passed then, but it just "felt" like the right thing to do. Fortunately, Steve (the other one) spun at turn 3 on the last lap and left me alone at the finish line for the win.
Roebling Double National - July
This race is ALWAYS HOT HOT HOT !! - and this weekend was no exception. The car RAN good and FELT good and somehow we managed to end up on the pole for the first race. It quickly ended up in a 2 car race with Steve Oseth and I battling at the front for position. As the laps wore down, the engine was getting hotter and hotter and the oil pressure was dropping lower and lower. Finally - coming out of turn 1 on the LAST LAP, the engine cried 'UNCLE' - it could spin no more - and I watched Mr. Oseth disappear into the distance as I coasted into the infield. I still managed to finish 3rd as we had lapped all cars up to 3rd place before the motor let go.
The crew (Linda) and I swapped the motors (in the BOILING HEAT!) and I made it out for the last part of the Sunday practice session. All seemed OK, but it was nice to get just a few laps after the engine change. Then a nice meal provided by SEDIV and then back to give the car the 'second over' to make sure I didn't forget any nuts or bolts.
Morning qualifying went fine and we managed to catch the pole again. I don't think we crossed paths with more than 2 cars during the session. It always interests me - how close the qualifying times are, even though we are different parts of the track and often never even catch site of each other during qualifying.
Race time - I had a score to even. At the start, I got the jump and managed to pull out what seemed to be an insurmountable lead (to me). Unfortunately, Mr. Oseth didn't see it that way and he proceeded to inch up on me until he got into position and passed for the lead about half way through the race. Seeing the futility of repassing, I elected to hold a close second, watch my temperatures, ponder my options and PLAN MY STRIKE!. I couldn't ask for better luck this time. I set myself up for the last lap pass and squeaked out about 4 or 5 inches over Steve O at the finish line!! Another win for the Wedge Racing Team!
Interestingly enough - at this point in the season - with only a single race to go in SEDIV - we found ourselves 3 points in arrears to Steve Oseth for the Championship. Some serious math exercises revealed that I had exactly ONE possibility to win the Division. I had to WIN the race at VIR. If I won, Steve (the other one) and I would be tied in points with equal number of wins, but I had more second place finishes and would (probably) win the division.
VIR - August
Turns out that not only had I figured out the SEDIV points situation, Mr. Oseth knew that all he had to do was keep me from WINNING VIR. No position except FIRST would do me any good at all. (TALL ORDER!). Practice and qualifying went pretty well. I had on OLD Goodyear tires for the practice and still was one of the quickest (according to our clock, anyway). I put on a "little" bit better tires for the qualifier and had a GREAT session. Although, it appeared to me that the session was relatively slow (HOT HOT), I elected to stay out since I had little time on that track. Surprisingly, our fast time happened near the end of the session and I was confident that I had the pole. Alas! I didn't count on "out of division upstart" Justin Huffman who eclipsed my best time by nearly 1/2 second (he must have been cheating <g>).
Fortunately, I had the last hurrah - as I took the lead at the start (by "outguessing" the drop of the green flag) and, after getting into turn 1 first, the guys behind me just couldn't agree on who was going to run second. It's always nice to see that in my mirrors as I can chose the optimum line through the turns, while it's obvious that, when 2 cars (behind me) are side-by-side, at least ONE of them cannot be on the preferred line - usually BOTH of them :-). I stretched the lead until the checkered flag fell and we had WON THE DIVISIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!
Runoffs - September
At this point, the only race left to run is the SCCA National Championship Runoffs - held each year in September or October (depending on scheduling - this year, the races will be on Sept 20-22), currently at Mid Ohio Racetrack. In a few weeks, we'll know if our efforts this season have been TRULY FRUITFUL or if they were just "playing with us" throughout the year.
If you have the opportunity to watch the Runoffs - please be sure to CHEER for the Teal #80 - Racer's Wage FV supported by the Wedge Racing Team! Be sure to watch for all Runoffs Races - taped by SpeedTV and to be shown as scheduling allows (SpeedTV schedule HERE).
PS. if there's any doubt - I could not have won the SEDIV championship without the support of Goodyear Racing Tires (primarily CompTire South, Daytona, FL) and Butler Engines. Thanks to Eric Rang and his tire crew and Rollin Butler and his motors... my season simply would not exist without their great products. My season also would not exist without the complete support that I get from my wife, Linda (of 27 years). She keeps me going when things are tough, rarely misses a race, and can pick up one side of a FV motor in a pinch <g>.
Runoffs report (if I can bear to type it out) near the end of September....
Runoffs Report (at least, MY version)
Well - I can HARDLY bear to type it :-(. The week, in general went pretty good, but there were definitely some problems. We tested on the Friday before race week and all went fairly well - however, AFTER the testing, we found several broken and damaged parts on the left front suspension. We were quite fortunate that it did not come apart during some high speed corner and destroy the car.
We spent Saturday and Sunday replacing the parts and getting the car set up again. But fortune did not rest on us again as I failed to adequately compensate for a slow car on the first lap of Monday practice and launched myself over the top and about 60 feet into the gravel trap at the end of the long, high speed straight. The incident destroyed ALL of the parts we had just finished replacing on the left front as well as quite a few parts on the left rear. We spent the rest of the Monday and Tuesday morning replacing stuff and getting the car set up AGAIN!
Tuesday was the first day of qualifying and the forecast was for RAIN the rest of the week - so everyone was putting their best stuff up front on this day. We had a pretty good session and, although we didn't do quite as well as we had hoped, we did end up on the outside pole (2nd spot). Qualifying on Wed and Thurs for Vees ended up dry both days (a few drops during our session on Wed), but few positions changed and we never went any faster, despite making several changes that SHOULD have helped.
Friday - race day. The morning warmup went fine - car felt great and
we seemed to have decent power down the straights. Not GREAT, but decent :-).
RACE TIME. The green dropped and we took off for Turn 7 (Runoffs races are started on the back straight at Mid Ohio). The pole sitter (Brad Stout) and the 3rd place qualifier both pulled me on the inside and it looked like I might be 10th into the turn. Then, all of a sudden, Brad braked MUCH earlier than I had expected and I was alone out front. I took the turn and led around the track back to the finish line - the first lap I've led at Mid Ohio during a Runoffs race! My lead didn't last long as Brad blew me off pretty good down the back straight and I just tried to settle in and stay close. I kept 'in touch' for about 4 laps, but Brad was just too fast - he was putting about 3 to 4 car lengths a lap on me. We had pulled a decent separation from 3rd place, so I tried to get into a good rhythm.
I began to see Don Schanche (3rd qualifier) showing up in my mirrors - he continued to close despite the best I could do, and took 2nd from me on the 8th lap. Since he had caught me from behind, I was quite surprised to find that his car was really bad in several turns on the back side of the track (but REALLY fast down the straights!). Our lap times slowed by almost a second a lap with Don in front of me and I was starting to see other cars in my mirrors. Although not as fast as I through most of the track, Don was pretty good at the only places where I could possibly attempt a pass - basically, either Thunder Valley or the back straight. He was doing a good job at T11 (into Thunder Valley) and getting out of the keyhole very well and braking nice and late into T7 at the end of the straight. I did manage to set myself up and pass him back on lap 10, but he just easily passed me right back the next lap. It was very aggravating to now have more cars attempting to pass me, while I was attempting to pass Don - one slip up and I would be in 5th place or worse. I kept practicing pass moves on Don and doing what little I could to protect my position at the same time. With only 2 laps to go, Jeff Loughead got a good run and was coming down the inside (even though there was precious little room there) and I thought I had lost the position - then Jeff backed out and (I thought) the inside was clear. A quick check back to the outside to see where Don was and I followed Don through the turn. As I 'apexed' the turn, I felt a slight tap and saw Jeff spinning in my mirror so assumed he was not as "clear" as I had thought and I must have clipped his left front tire with my right rear as I turned in. Back to the task at hand - work on Don and get set up for that last lap pass. On the next to last lap, I got a good run and was in position to pass at the end of the straight - Don blocked and I decided to wait until the last lap.
LAST LAP - I did the best I could, but Don did a tad better out of the keyhole - I chased him, set up and started left - he went left so I went back right and he moved right - I moved more right and he moved more right. Trying to watch him, the braking cones, the right edge of the track and my mirrors all at once, Don finally moved left to set up for the turn. I thought I still had JUST enough room to make the turn (this WAS the LAST LAP of the RUNOFFS!) - it wasn't going to be pretty, but I was confident I could make it. Unfortunately, I was WRONG - I think I might have just dropped my right front tire off the pavement and hooked it as I hit the brakes (not sure) - the car suddenly spun around and sent me across the track in front of Don and the rest. Still sliding, I thought I was going to be clear of everyone, but Don couldn't miss me and plowed into the right side of my car - bouncing him into the gravel trap - both of us out of the finish. The next two cars (Gary Kittell and Andres Serrano) became the benefactors of my mistake and moved up onto the podium.
There's nothing that I can say that will make anyone, including myself, feel any better about the events of this race. I did find and speak to both drivers afterwards and, to their credit, neither came after me with weapons and neither promised to 'get me back' someday. Jeff feels I ran into him after he was completely in front of me. I don't remember it that way and have not yet found anyone else (driver, spectator or worker) who remembers the incident well enough to corroborate either his or my versions - so I'm waiting for the video - maybe it will clear things up a bit. My deepest apologies go out to Jeff (I must not have left enough room - even in MY version) and especially to Don. I certainly wish things had gone differently and, since I was NOT successful in the pass attempt, Don should have finished 2nd - worst case, he should have had 3rd. He ended up 28th after having a great week - not a fair finish at all through no fault of his own.
Oh - Brad? He won the race by some 24 seconds - nice drivin', Brad! Now a 3 time National Class Champion!!
POST VIDEO REPORT - Well, the race has been broadcast and some things have been clarified. Jeff never got his car in front of mine and we did have contact in exactly the way I remember it - his front to my rear. 'Nuff said about that. As to the last lap pass attempt - the video showed that I got 2 wheels in the grass and immediately lost control as a result. The international Vee community, by and large seem to agree that the pass attempt itself was 'doable' except for that grass thing. I just got into information overload and didn't realize I was that close to the right hand edge of the track. Still sorry for Don - I will have to do better in the future.
Next year?? I guess we'll still be racing, but right now - I NEED SOME TIME OFF!! :-)
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