Wedge Racing in 2005
Unfortunately, last December, I fell while playing tennis and hurt my right shoulder and thumb. I tried to give them "a while" to heal, but finally gave up and went to the doctor in January. We did an MRI and found a big tear in the rotator cuff and a stretched biceps tendon - => surgery. After agonizing about it for a few days, Linda suggested that I should go ahead and have the surgery right away (I was leaning toward waiting until after the Runoffs), and then I should be well by the Runoffs. Sounded good to me so I went for it. My surgery was Feb 11 - it went well and everything was going great for about 2 months. Recovery was going extremely well - maybe too well - and I did something to hurt myself (not sure what) and it has not been nearly as good since that time. In any event, I had set Daytona as a goal for my first race and I felt like I could still make it - so, off we went...
Due to my late start and gas prices this year, we don't plan to travel as much, so will probably stick to the normal SEDIV races until the Runoffs. If I can finish the rest of the races in division, then I should be able to qualify for the Runoffs.
Daytona - May
My buddy, Tip Franklin and his new wife Jeannie, met Linda and I down at the beach. It's usually pretty decent basking weather at this time of year and this year was one of the best. Not too hot, and no rain.
Last year, when I ran this race, I noted that my RPM's at the flag stand on the front straight were only a bit over 6100. Since it takes several hours to change the gearbox (unless I'm REALLY in a hurry), I decided to try leaving the short box (higher gear ratios) transmission in the car for this trip. I figured I'd be doing about 6400 at the flag stand and it should actually help in the infield portion of the track. It would only add 2 shifts to each lap and all should be well :-). Worked out MOSTLY like I had planned - however, I seemed to reach max RPM about 1/2 mile before the flag stand and ended up running the last 3/4 mile before turn-in for Turn 1 at that RPM - that's a LONG time to run at 6700 RPM in high gear!! I was turning about 300 RPM more than I expected and I worried about it every session, but the Butler engine kept purring along (screaming) and ran great. We qualified on the Vee pole, but had all of the Formula Fords and all of the Formula 500s in front of us. Small field of Vee's at the back.
I was the fastest Vee in both qualifiers with no really close competition. Dave Green, Protoform (a brand of production Formula Vee chassis) builder from New York, had taken the long drive down to see what the track was like. Stephen Ira, a previous serious national competitor, had blown the dust off his 'FasTech' chassis and was ready to take another shot at the Runoffs. Both had handling troubles during the weekend and were no match for the Racer's Wage. We had no troubles and easily won the race. I spent my time working on technique - it was really nice to be back in the car after a seven month hiatus!! We got to spend a good bit of time on the beach and enjoyed getting "back in the saddle".
Road Atlanta (#2)
- June (this year, we choose Road A over Mid Ohio due to gas prices and the
fact that I missed the March Road Atlanta race)
The tow was nice and short and I took Friday off work to relax a bit. I got to the track and found crew chief Jerry standing in our favorite spot in the paddock seemingly in withdrawal from NO RACING so far this season <G> - he drove down from Ohio to help us out. We got things set up and performed a few 8 ounce curls in honor of the rejoining. Across from us, I found a fellow Vee competitor (Dale Rader and wife, Beverly) having made the trip all the way down from Pennsylvania - just to visit "MY" track! I had met him last year at Watkins Glen (then promptly FORGOT!), but it was nice to see some 'out of division' visitors dropping by. Turns out that Watkins was HIS home track and he was just repaying the favor <g>. Linda came up later in the afternoon and made us some fantastic chili that topped off the day nicely.
Saturday morning we were the first group out, but Jerry and I had prepped the car on Friday, so it was just a matter of getting into my driver's suit and buckling in the car and we were set to go. I realized that it had been over a year since I drove the track, so I made it a goal of the first session to reimprint the track on my aging brain. We were racing with the Formula Fords and Formula 500's again, but the group was still pretty small so we had no problems staying by ourselves. I ran briefly with several other Vees and the car felt good and strong. Engine felt great - tires were old but seemed to work pretty well. I think we had the fastest Vee time, but not sure since it was "just a practice". At the end of the session, I was starting to feel at home again, but found a NASTY hole in the apex of T3 that I needed to avoid. Unfortunately, I kept forgetting that and hit it several times during the weekend - I was afraid it would bend the rim or puncture the tire - but fortunately, it didn't. After the session, I hunted down the "new kid" in Vee, Jeff Dinges. Turns out he raced last year in Michigan and recently moved to Georgia and joined SEDIV. He had good equipment and a good attitude. I expect big things from him soon. Brian Keck, our former "new kid" seems to be missing in action this year. I presume that job or family issues have kept him off the track. Disappointing, as I had expected him to be leading the division at this point.
Second session was similar - except now it was for grid position. I started behind several other Vees and tried to work my way through them on the track. I was somewhat successful - I passed all of them at one time or another - but not quite "dominant" as I got passed by a couple myself. With the competition that close, strategy starts to become much more important. DAMN - means I have to THINK and that's difficult for me. At the end of the session, I did manage to eek out the pole by a couple of tenths - not much breathing room, but still first.
In the last qualifier, I elected to put on new tires and just scrub them in. The track was hotter than the second session and it was unlikely that anyone would better my time - better for me to save my tires for the race. I was correct and we held the pole.
Sunday morning, we were again first group out, but this time we got to start up front! On the start, Jeremy Grenier challenged hard for first at Turn 1 - I held position on the outside and we climbed the hill towards T3 side by side. It was looking pretty dicey at the braking point of 3, but Jeremy braked early enough for me to take an outside line through the turn and grab the lead. From that point to the back straight, I managed to gain about 3 car lengths. I figured that I would be run down and passed on that first lap, but Jeremy and Sherman (Engler) couldn't agree on who should be 2nd place - leaving them fighting for that spot while I had the "better" line into the turns. After that first lap, they gradually faded away and I was left to determine my fate alone.
This was a time that I could use to refine my driving - make better, more consistent turn-ins - go faster through the corners - experiment with different entry lines to see which ones worked best. Using my speedometer as a gauge, I started working. I wasn't very happy with my laptimes, but had not been able to go any faster. But with some concentration and bravery, I started improving my times. Each lap was about 0.1 sec faster. After about 10 laps, I found myself lapping a full SECOND faster than I had been. It's pretty amazing how little driving difference there is between turning a 146.5 and a 145.5. As I grew more confident, I kept telling myself "you can go faster here" - on the last lap,,,, I ran out of talent at Turn 1 and spun the car. Fortunately, I made the right decision and locked up everything immediately. Didn't do my tires any good, but I got the car stopped without hitting anything and even before I left the asphalt. Jammed it into 3rd and limped up the hill - wondering where second place was and hoping I could get up to speed before he caught me. Saw a car in my mirror and thought it must be the second place car, but it turned out to be the lead in Formula Ford coming up to put another lap on me. I let him by and followed around to take the checker, still comfortably in the lead of FV.
My fastest laps were still about a second slower than what I turned in March of 2003, but it was a lot cooler then. Can 15 degrees of 'cool' make that much difference? Don't know - doesn't seem like it, but maybe so. Could I possibly "improve myself" another full second? I doubt it, but Road Atlanta is done for the year - have to wait until next year to try again. At any rate, we finished the weekend with another win and solidly 'in the race' for the division title - only 2 points from first. No real problems with the car and my driving is still improving after the layoff. A great weekend for the team. Now, to do some more detail work and get ready for Roebling on July 4th weekend.
Roebling Double National - July
HOT! For the past several years, we've had it 'easy' at the July Double, but this year the heat was BACK. Temps hovering just below 100 most of the day brought back memories of standing in the shower in my driver's suit just before going to the grid back in the 'olden days'. Times were a bit slower as were most of the drivers - including me.
We started the weekend with a recheck of the car - only to discover an oil leak at the oil filter block. We had just installed a freshly rebuilt Butler engine (FINALLY! - Rollin got to work on one that wasn't blown up! <g>) and I had redesigned my oil cooling system to see if I could get enough air into the cooler without standing it straight up in the air. I caught the leak and went through 2 attempts at fixing it before quiet time and a 3rd after that. On Saturday morning, I got ready, but couldn't crank the car to check for leaks until after 8 and our session started at 8:15. Naturally, it leaked again :-(. I got back out of my suit and set to work, then thought of a new approach - got it fixed faster than I had expected ... hopped back into my suit and managed to get ONE lap on the track before the checker. Fortunately, the leak fix held and then, all we had to do was wait for the next session.
I had put on some pretty trashy looking tires - they cost too much to waste - and didn't expect too much, however, I didn't expect them to be quite as bad as they were. I qualified LAST in FV - and I was TRYING! That gave me some concerns to think about overnight. Was the engine down on power? I hadn't run with anyone, so had nothing to compare to, and my times were really slow. I had wasted those tires anyway, so it was time to put on something a bit better for the next morning's qualifying. Still not "good" stuff - save the best stuff for the race, but I did need to know if the tires were most of the problem or if there was something else slowing me down.
Thankfully, the session went pretty well. I dropped about 3 seconds off my lap times and moved to the front row. I ran with new SEDIV competitor Jeff Dinges (sounds like 'hinges') and spent most of the session testing the engine - it felt GOOD - and my new oil cooling - it felt BAD <g>. The car handled acceptably well for old tires and the new motor seemed to have enough power - at least compared to Jeff's - but it was clear that my oil cooling was not up to the July heat. Jeff ended up with the pole and I was second. I scrounged around the trailer for some "race" rubber and tried to set up tires for both races and the remaining qualifier. After looking at what I had, I decided that I would have to start a new "sticker" tire on at least one of the rears. Don't like to do that - especially in the July heat of Roebling, but I had used up everything I had that might last long enough to finish the race - no choice. I decided that, if I put the new tire on the inside, it would probably be OK, and then I could swap it to the outside for the race on Monday. Then I swapped the oil cooling back to the previous setup.
At the green, Jeff got the jump on me and I had my hands full fighting off the other challengers. At the last moment, a slow FF in front of us waved me by going into T1 and I followed Jeff, splitting off the rest of the Vee pack. I stayed close and drafted by to take the lead into T1 on the next lap and managed to put together a pretty good lap - gaining enough ground that Jeff couldn't draft back by. After that, I gradually pulled away from the Vee fight for second as they drafted up to Jeff and had a 4 way battle going most of the race. I settled into 'conserve' mode - I've lost motors here almost every weekend for several years and was determined to keep the oil INSIDE the motor this time :-). The good news, was that my oil temp was just fine - the old cooling setup was working. It was also important to conserve tires whenever possible to save that ever important DOLLAR!! At the end, it was a very close battle for second with newcomer (to Nationals) Takahisa Yamaoka besting Jeff Dinges at the line by only a few inches. Steve Schiff was already in the pits, having broken the pitman arm on his Citation on the 3rd lap (after setting fast lap time) - unfortunately, he couldn't fix it and loaded up and headed home before Monday's race.
On Monday morning, we picked out the best tires of what was left for the qualifier, but decided to only run 2 or 3 laps - as long as the times were decent - not enough rubber left and I didn't want to have to buy more tires. I ran alone and quickly set the pole time near to a 1:23 flat - came in and checked over the car for the race. Today was even hotter than yesterday and our race was delayed until after lunch - just HAD to get to the hottest part of the day .... My data Acq system (from Aim Sports) said that the temp was 99 at race start and ran up to 102 by about lap 3 and stayed there until the end - that's seven degrees hotter than when we last ran this race in '03. Anyway, the race was pretty much a copy except I got a better start this time and led into T1. I gradually pulled away from the pack to about 10 seconds or so and then just held pace and tried not to make driving mistakes and not slide the tires any more than absolutely necessary. Jeff managed to beat Takahisa this time in another close finish, Glen Tupper and Stephen Ira rounded out the top 5.
Two more wins brings my total to 4 of 4 for the year and I am now in the lead of the Division. I might win the division again - if I can get to VIR and win there - or at least finish high, but I haven't run against my 2 most serious SEDIV competitors this year - Donnie Isley and Steve Oseth. Donnie is, I guess, doing a 'minimal' season - I expected to see him (and Steve) at Roebling but neither showed. I think that SteveO has decided to compete in another division this year, but I don't see that he's run but one race, so he may have issues keeping him out too. The highlight of the weekend was in Formula Ford - even in the July heat, John Robinson set a new track record! I don't know what he's doing, but whatever it is, it's RIGHT!! He blew the doors off (well, they didn't actually have any to start with <G>) the competition, winning both races by something in the neighborhood of at least a half lap - maybe more. The low light of the weekend, was when friend, Jim Belay (FC) got stopped by a last lap spin of another car and got nailed from behind by yet, another car! Messed his car up pretty badly and he also loaded up and went home before the Monday races.
In any event, we're beating anyone who shows up in our class and that's a good start <g>. I missed the Mid Ohio National, so Runoffs test day will be more important to me this year. Hopefully, we'll still be competitive, even though we haven't had as many 'hard' races this year. Now to give the car some TLC and get ready for VIR!
VIR (Virginia International Raceway)- August
Well ... as you could expect, it was pretty hot in August! But we've seen hotter and the weather overall was pretty decent (as long as we had the motorhome air conditioner going <G>). The tow up was uneventful and we arrived before crew chief Jerry and picked our spot. This time we decided to try staying in the upper area further from the front straight. It left us closer to where Jerry likes to pitch his tent and it was one of only 3 spots left with electricity adjacent to a parking spot :-). A casual unloading and prep for the evening and then Linda fixed us tacos for dinner - nice.
We were group 3 for the weekend, so planned to sleep in on Sat morn - naturally, I woke up about 4 AM and couldn't get back to sleep. We took Kit (the kitten) with us and he entertained me until time to get up. Outside, it was already warming up (not sure it ever cooled down), but we looked over the car once again to make sure we hadn't left any pieces hanging loose and waited our turn. The first session we wanted to try something with the exhaust collector and tried to change it during the session. Unfortunately, it was too hot and had 'siezed' (more or less) in place - all Jerry could manage was to burn his hands :-(. (sorry, Jerry). Must have been a bad idea anyway... I ended up with fast lap, but only 'just'.
For the second (and last of the day) session, Linda convinced me that at some point we needed to put good tires on to make sure that the car was handling OK and the engine was 'up to snuff'. We don't want to get to the Runoffs next month with big questions about basic stuff. So I bolted on those new tires I picked up at Roebling and figured I'd just do 2 or 3 laps to make sure (we had been about 3 seconds off where I hoped to be after the morning session). If we ignore the fact that I couldn't get my Data Acq system to work (it includes my RPM dash), things were good and we quickly dropped down to the '20's (2:20.xxx) and I was satisfied that all was well and came in. While I fiddled with the Data system, we waited for the last session - which got delayed somewhat by an horrendous lightning storm that blasted in quickly and pretty much caught us 'not ready'. With all 3 of us hanging on to the awnings while I tried to get them stowed enough to evade the wind, we all ended up soaking wet. Fortunately, the awnings were saved and ... after a couple of minutes... we realized that it was MUCH COOLER and being WET wasn't all that bad!! :-). When the lightning and thunder subsided, the last group (Spec Racer Ford) went out (those that cared to on a damp track) and we trekked on down to the social for beer and horsie dovers. After that, we mosied back up to the motorhome and broiled up some STEAKS to top it off!
We passed on Sunday morning warmups - no sense in wasting tires. I worked on the data system some more and made no real progress. Getting the dash to work was an exercise in frustration, but I "could" get it to work - just took LOTS of tries. I figured I'd start about 10 minutes before grid time and hopefully have it working before the race started. We were first group after lunch - which gave me a bit more time to get it going. During lunch, the team had a LONG discussion about what tires to run - after arguing a bit, Linda won out (doesn't she always? - I think Jerry was on her side anyway) and I left the 'new' rubber on for the race - it did seem important to make sure - and, if I won, I would also win 2 more tires to use at the Runoffs! :-).
A few minutes before grid time, I managed to coax the Data system to life - then realized that my RADIO was stuck in TRANSMIT so I couldn't hear anything. (I don't have 'talk' capability - all I ever do is listen to Linda for lap count and positions). We worked feverishly with me in the car - IMPOSSIBLE to work around me to the radio which is located behind my left side. Finally we gave up, hoped for the best, and motored up to the grid just under the "five". In a couple of minutes (longer than I wanted to run the engine without moving, but not so long as to hurt anything) we got the 'one' (minute to go) and we were ready. I had asked for a split grid so I backed the Vees off about 50 yards or so behind the last F5 so we would have our own race (the Vees). Mitch (outside Vee pole) got the jump on me because he could see the green better from his side of the track - I'll have to remember next time that the OUTSIDE car has a better view <g> - and beat me into T1. We worked our way through 2, then 3 and 4 and as we left 4, I could see that I was closing pretty fast on Mitch. He was behind an F5 and I set 'em both up and passed both going up the hill into the esses. We climbed the hill and I made the top turn flat out, clean into Oak Tree and got a good run out. I had JUST enough to keep Mitch from catching me at the end of the straight. As we zoomed down the hill out of 'hog pen', he burbled a bit and I pulled several car lengths leading onto the front straight. From there, it was clear sailing - all I had to do was maintain a decent pace and NOT make any mistakes. In this case, the lack of radio didn't hurt us as it wasn't critically important that I KNOW when the last lap was approaching - but it sure would have been nice to know that I was pulling out a lead. It's really tough to tell from my tiny mirrors. They're really just intended to let me know if ANYTHING is anywhere close to my backend.
As it turned out, I DIDN'T make any (major) mistakes and I gradually pulled Mitch (and the rest of the field) to the checker. It's still nice to see that 'ONE to go!' sign and then the checker. The car ran great, handled GREAT and we won our 5th race in a row of five races started. A near perfect regular season except for one missing pole position. This win also clinches the SEDIV title for us once again - now (in case you forgot to count) SIX times in the last 8 years - the last four in a row! Not bad for an 'over the hill' 50 something team :-).
Now we take everything apart and put it back together for the BIG race - and fix that data acq switch - and fix that RADIO!! We have some time and should have no trouble getting ready. Whether we're REALLY ready when we get there? - well... that remains to be seen...
Runoffs - September
The Runoffs always starts with a long tow, but this one was pretty good as they go. No problems and we pulled into the track just about as expected. Interestingly, less than 5 minutes after we arrived, so did Jerry. That makes about the 4th time of 5 meetings that we have arrived at the track within minutes of each other - without any communication about arrival times. Guess we kinda think alike <G>.
I had the car all ready except for changing the tires, so we set up camp and hoisted a few in memory of the last Mid Ohio Runoffs! Next day is test day.
Friday dawned a bit drizzly and I was concerned that we had wasted another test day. The first session worked out just fine - the track was slightly damp in a light mist and it helped to keep me under control so I wouldn't do anything stupid - like crash the car. I hadn't run here since the last Runoffs race and a nice easy refamiliarization session was just what the doctor ordered. Fortunately, the mist went away and the rest of the day was pretty good. Although the sun never came out fully, the track stayed in good condition and it was a comfortable day all in all. The second session was the first real test. There were a few other Vees out there, but I really just wanted to run by myself and reestablish some rhythm and speed. That we managed, with some respectable times and an escalated comfort level in the car. We had a new exhaust system on the car - back to a flat "inline" arrangement for the collector - and swapped back to the older system for the 3rd session to compare. In the next session, times were very similar, but this time I started running with some other cars. I needed to know how I stacked up on the straights - could I pass ? YES! Again good times with better tires - we were right in the hunt! For the last session, we changed the exhaust back - another comparison to try to verify any difference we felt. Again, we were fast - this time the fastest on the track by our clock. The car felt really good and both exhaust systems seemed to work very well - if there was any difference, it was minuscule. Now for a couple of days of watching others and doing the 'maintenance thing' on the car.
After thinking about it overnight, I decided to swap the engine over for the Monday practice. Rollin had just freshened the heads on the "other" motor and I wanted to compare them to see if I could tell any difference there. Who knows - there MIGHT be some and we don't want to leave anything untried if at all possible. We managed to drag out the swap for most of a full day as we left periodically to watch other test groups.
Monday dawned misty again with another damp track from overnight light rain. Fortunately, we were not the first group out and by our time, the track was quite dry - as long as you stayed on the black part and off the green <g>. We managed that and finished a decent session. I started on new tires and only wanted to give them a good scuffing without much abuse - that was to be my race set. We turned 5 laps - without trying too hard and still had the 12th fastest time of the session. It looked pretty good for the team. As we wound down, Jerry pointed out a probable oil leak around the filter block (he doesn't miss that kind of stuff), so we took some time to clean, check and tighten everything up to be sure. Jerry drove us over to the convention center where we met his wife Minnie for the LAST great PorkChop meal from Richland County. A REALLY great feed for everyone and a wonderful thing that the locals have done to make our Runoffs visit better. It'll be interesting to see if Topeka tries to match or even top that.
Tuesday, we slept in - till almost 8A. Monday was our only morning session - all the rest were in the mid to late afternoon. The weather for all sessions turned out very good and rain never presented an issue for us. The first qualifier was "ok". We didn't go as fast as we wanted - a bit faster than Monday's practice, but I never could quite get myself in the right spot to get a draft without getting 'caught up' by someone on the back side of the track. Overall, not a bad session - again we were 12th fastest, but this time it counted.
We pondered over the car -checked most everything (more later), aligned the front and back .. well... CHECKED the alignment anyway. The steering seemed a bit sloppy so I double checked the steering box, heim joints and steering arms to make sure nothing was amiss - found nothing. We had put new tires on again for today and planned to run them for all qualifying sessions unless something 'bad' happened.
Wednesday - 2nd qualifier - late in the hotter part of the day, but still not too hot. The car ran great and felt really good (except for the steering) and things were going good. About 1/2 way through the session, I had a really great draft off of Brian McCarthy - I closed up a bunch on the straight, but not QUITE enough to make the pass going into the esses. As we entered T8, I could see that Brian was losing it - I backed off and plotted my escape route. As he went around and to the left, I darted to the right - a clean pass in my sights. Alas, as his car spun the tires suddenly gripped and he went backwards into my path and I clipped him with my left rear tire. The left rear launched straight up into the sky standing the car almost on it's nose, then it came down at an angle back on the right rear - BLAMMM!! *BOTH* sides trashed. Left side on the way up, right side on the way down. DAMN! I really didn't want that to happen. Repairing the car is for between races - not at the track! We did mange to move up to 8th on the grid before the crash.
Well, anyway - it had to be fixed. I pored through the trailer and fortunately, I had brought everything we needed to get going again. The more I took apart, the more I found broken, but we eventually got it all done. Jerry did the detail work while Mark (from the 'esses gang) threw in to help as well. Jerry found a slice in the RR tire and went off to Goodyear to trade it off. We finally turned the last nut tight and looked at the clock - HEY - we had 30 minutes to spare getting to the grid - not bad (this was Thursday, of course). The big question was ... did we find everything? Would it run? Would it run FAST!? I set Jerry into "check it over one last time" mode and I rested my eyes for a few minutes.
We rolled off the grid and, right away the car felt good (except for that steering thing). We ran with the "fast guys" and had several laps set up that would have been on the front row (probably), but got blown when we caught a car at the wrong place or didn't quite get by when we needed to. At any rate, I felt really good - the car was handling great and the engine felt strong! We finished the session about 1/2 second quicker than before - we still ended up in 8th spot on the final grid, but with the confidence that we could "run with the pack at the front". Now 2 more days to look over the car, find and fix anything else and get ready for the race on Sunday. This evening we took a bit of time out to celebrate Jerry's birthday - PIZZA at Mike's! A great time and really good Pizza. Rollin and Bob dropped by to join us and we even met a few other racers there (imagine THAT!).
Friday and Saturday intermittently, we watched races, hoisted a few, and worked on and cleaned the car. Jerry suggested that we reroute the gas line to get it further from the oil cooler lines (less heat to transfer). Seemed like a pretty good idea so we did that too. The crash had apparently damaged the trannie slightly internally - shifting wasn't as smooth as before and I had to really pay attention so as to not miss a gear - but it still worked and with just a bit more attention, it did shift somewhat OK. Jerry gave all the shift rod joints a good cleaning and it smoothed up considerably. I kept looking at the steering box and its mounts trying to figure out why it felt so spongy. After several hours and a day and a half or so of messing around with it, I FINALLY saw the problem. The box was tight, the arm was good, the heims were fine, but when I finally took the bodywork off and looked at the steering box shaft, it seemed to move a bit too much. I thought the upper bushing must be worn out and so dug out another box. As I was getting ready to remove the old box, I tugged at the steering wheel one more time while looking 'end on' at the top of the shaft and noticed that the OTHER end of the box was moving!! THAT part isn't supposed to move! Turns out that the 4 bolts holding the box cover had worked loose and were half way out - about one more session and the whole cover would have fallen off in my lap! Tightening those bolts and realigning the front end restored the (relatively) tight steering I had been looking for - dodged a big bullet on that one! We also went over all the brakes again. We had to change everything on the right rear and just threw it together for the last qualifier. I needed to get everything set right following the morning practice on race day. In the end, I also decided to change the motor BACK - the first motor had less overall time on it and the older one seemed to have no advantage - then, after studying the MPH data for 2 days, I decided to change the exhaust back to the one I ran at last year's race too. I needed a couple more sessions, but they just weren't available - best to go with the proven. After all, that combination finished on the podium last year and could have won - it must be pretty decent :-).
Morning warmup - we just needed to run a few decent laps, stay out of trouble and make sure we got the brakes good and hot so we could do a quick 'rolling check' following the session - we don't want any dragging brakes in FV - a single scrub of a shoe can cost us 300 or 400 RPM on the straights! 3 of the 4 were too tight and I quickly backed them down for no drag. We went over the car one more time and then started stowing stuff for the trip home. Only about 2 hours till RACE TIME!
RACE TIME! - Not much happening on the grid - we're too far back for the press guys to notice, but I felt good and the car was ready (I hoped). Pace lap as expected to the keyhole, then all of a sudden, we nearly STOPPED - I almost hit Kearney in front of me and I braced for impact from the rear - but it never came, thankfully (I heard it was a bit worse further back). We came out onto the straight and I watched for the flag (my new lasik surgery was supposed to improve my ability to pick up the flag from far away). We got the green and I nailed it - do did the guys in front of me and it didn't look good for a few seconds. Then I started to gain as we approached T7 and everyone fanned out. I found a hole at the center of the track and managed to pass a couple of cars - much better than BEING passed lemme tell you! From 8th to 6th in one turn - now to survive the next 8 turns. It was a bit dicey a couple of times, but we did mange to hold on to our spot and not touch anyone else (that's GOOD). Down the back straight on the second lap, I picked off another car - now in 5th and staying pretty close. Already a small gap from 5th to 6th behind me. On the next lap, I got one more car - moved to 4th and set my sights on 3rd - already moving up the road ahead. I was able to close the gap on the back side and the car felt GREAT! Handling was excellent - I was all over 'em and ready for the back straight again. (This is where it stops going so well.) I was FAST on the back side, but "not so fast" on the straights. When the front 3 cars were together and not fighting each other, I couldn't stay in the draft. I could stay "close" and could catch up (mostly) on the back side, but passing was pretty much a "not gonna get it done" thing. I could never get anywhere close to being in position to pass. It was quite a battle to stay closer to the front 3 than the growling pack behind me. As I worked to stay in the lead pack, Linda was giving me splits behind me. One car went off track and opened a gap, then 3 more cars got together at 'Madness' and opened up a bigger gap. I could see no one in my mirrors (what a RELIEF!). Just hanging on - waiting for the group in front to take each other out (HEY - stranger things have happened <g>) - but they didn't. Laps grind down - I screw up in the carousel - tell myself "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!! KEEP FOCUSED ! DO THE JOB! MAKE THE OTHERS WORK FOR IT!" So I steadied myself, closed the gap down again to inches on the back side and waited. Finally - LAST LAP (I even saw the '1' at the flag stand this year<G>!) - watch for the mistake! We can see a slower car up ahead - will we catch him? Looks like yes - question is WHERE. Back straight - no help - Brad has the lead, Loughead 2nd, Neumeister 3rd and then, then, well ...*ME* the first non Vortech car! Not too bad - wait - CONCENTRATE - still a few turns to go. Watch for a chink in the armor! Still closing on the (soon to be) lapped car - we come through 10b and THERE IS THE LAPPED CAR - he's spun at the top of the hill at T11 (at least we can all see him). Brad goes inside and Jeff goes with him. Nuby hesitates as he tried to decide - I go for the inside and ATTACH myself to Jeff - Nuby elects for the inside, but I'M THERE - HE HAS TO GO OUTSIDE! We pass the lapped car with no contact. Nuby and I are side by side with me having a slight edge through Thunder Valley. We get to T13 - decision time - do I SLAM the door? NO - I leave room on the inside - can't take a chance on crashing 2 turns from the end of the race - in this case, the outside line at T13 gives me the inside line into 14 and I don't think Nuby can hang on the outside at the same speed. I get through the turn cleanly - where's Nuby? Don't know - take shortest path to finish line - if he's there, I hope it isn't THAT close! Under the Checker - am I 3rd?? YES YES!! Nuby is behind me! Finish - Brad Stout, Jeff Loughead, ME, Bob Neumeister - big gap back to Steve Oseth, then Ed Womer. Brian McCarthy apparently crashed on the last lap just before the checker while in 5th. Guess I'll get some more details on that later.
Another podium finish for the Wedge Racing Team. - that makes 3 third place finishes at Mid Ohio during the 12 year run (of which we ran eight). In impound we waited an eternity while the scrutineers checked over Brad's Vortech and engine. Eventually, they got around to us and did some cursory checks, then asked me to jack up a tire and remove a valve cover for a valve lift check. I scrounged a jack and picked up the right rear and gave it a spin - SHOCK!!! It didn't "spin"! It only rotated about 15 degrees and then stopped. I looked again -and then again - and finally AGAIN! The RR brake was dragging significantly!! *THAT* was what had kept me from being able to stay up on the straights. A simple (yet incredibly important) item that I screwed up following the morning practice.... ONE MORE CLICK would have been right. In these low horsepower cars, a dragging brake makes the difference between "being able to pass for the lead" and "just hanging on" (which is what I was doing). My Butler power was right where it should have been - I just screwed up in the brake adjustment.
We have been extremely fortunate to have finished as well as we have. Thanks to Linda (30 years now <g>) for always being with me, all the guys (Eric, Mike, Bob, Chris, Joel, Jon, etc) at Goodyear tires (almost the same amount of time), Butler engines - Rollin has done an OUTSTANDING job (and - oh, did I mention that Butler Engines took FIRST PLACE in Formula Ford this year with John Robinson in the cockpit!!). I should have been able to get him a FV Championship, but have not (yet) been up to the task - maybe next year! Thanks also to JR at Roxannes Headers for building the best exhaust system out there.
We have also been EXTREMELY fortunate to have encountered Crew Chief Jerry at that Road Atlanta Vintage event so many years ago. I probably would have NEVER gone to the Runoffs at Mid Ohio if it weren't for Jerry's comments - "come to the Mid Ohio Runoffs and *I'LL* crew for you!". That is SO very valuable to have someone who's willing to help out and "get it done" over the course of an entire week (or more). I can't thank Jerry enough (and I can't seem to remember to mention him on the podium for which I apologize profusely - I always get tongue tied when someone sticks a microphone in my face - my mind just goes BLANK). Jerry - when I receive the trophy for this year's event, I will be forwarding it to YOU for a permanent place in your garage (and I intend to check to make sure it GETS there <G>). Thank you very much for all the help. If I get up the Gumption (or stupidity) to go to Topeka, I certainly hope you can make the trip with us!
Now ... let's just rest a while.... Oh - by the way - I'm retiring from my Civil Service job of 31 years next month. If you know of any way that I can make LOTS OF MONEY with LITTLE EFFORT (LEGALLY PLEASE), please be sure to let me know right way!!!
Update: The trophy finally came in and it has now taken it's rightful place in the Shrine . Got a pic of the esses gang - here's one of the damage they can do - and I even got a picture of Jerry with his 'first in class' showcar - Bugeye Sprite! . I also have a shot of Jerry and Rollin on the grid before the race (don't they look READY to go? <g>) and a couple of shots of the victory podium. Congratulations to Brad and Jeff ! .
See you in the bread line J.
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