Wedge Racing in 2003
I skipped Moroso this year. It wasn't a Pro Vee and gas prices were up significantly. I had already set about "intentions" to make Summit Point in April and Road America in June as well as a couple of tows to Mid Ohio. Moroso was one more long tow I could manage without.
Kershaw - February
The FV car count continues to get higher at this event - we had 8 this time. The weather was cold and the windiest I have ever seen. We had a pretty consistent wind of around 30+ mph almost the entire weekend!! In addition, it rained HEAVILY Saturday afternoon (threatening tornadoes) shortening the qualifying sessions. In return, the Stewards changed the morning warm-ups to a 2nd qualifier. Timing was "strange" this weekend. Somehow - even with transponders in all of the cars, they managed to jumble the grid sheets pretty good. We qualified in the wet and I had the fastest "real" time by about 5 seconds, but ended up 2nd due to a T&S assignment to another car that was, shall we say - "unlikely" <g>. After our morning qualifier (in the "almost" dry), I was still second to that bogus time No matter really about the grid position. Being on the pole wouldn't be that much of an advantage anyway since we were mixed in with FF's and F5's.
I took the lead at the start, but was soon passed by Dean Curtis - down to visit from PA. We swapped the lead again and after that, I decided to 'ride' in second and wait - either for a big mistake or the last lap. I felt I had position to pull off a last lap pass as long as Dean didn't take TOO much action to prevent it :-). Unfortunately for him, with about 5 laps to go, his engine broke a rocker arm and left him running on only 3 cylinders. This also left me running out front alone to the Checker. A WIN for the Wedge Racing Team!
Roebling - March
A decent field this year and the car ran well again. I spoke with the Penske Shock rep after the first practice (we were fastest, by a smidgen) and decided that I needed to rebuild my rear shock - it had been over 2 years since it was apart. Not enough time before the first qualifier so we went with what we had. Qualified 2nd - by about 0.15 secs - Steve Oseth nipped me for the pole. Then we took the shock over to the 'rebuild trailer' and had some work done. It was pretty ugly in there - obviously, I had waited WAY too long to have that done. Some pieces were broken, some were bent and everything was dirty. The second qualifier, the car handled quite a bit better - the track, though was not as good so we didn't go any faster. Just didn't have to work NEARLY as hard to go the speed we did.
I took the lead at the start of the race and ALMOST broke away. Oseth and I left the rest of the field pretty quickly, but he hung on, just in the edge of the draft until I came up on some traffic in turn 1. He was instantly upon me and took the lead on the next straightaway. Seeing the futility of passing him and getting repassed again, I settled into second, concentrated on saving my tires and working on my lines - waiting for the last lap pass again. Alas - this time it was MY turn ... the throttle cable broke with 2 laps to go and I ended up finishing last of the running cars.
I was able to limp around to the pits, but a good finish had just disappeared in a hurry!
Road Atlanta - March
I have not been satisfied with my times at this, my home track, lately.
For reasons that are not clear to me, I am going slower and slower. I can't
decide whether the track is slowing down or my CAR is slowing down or *I* am slowing down.
New lap records showing up in other classes tend to point to the track NOT slowing
down, but technology development continues unabated in many of the other classes, where in
FV, things (car wise) stay pretty much status quo. I seem to be about as fast as
anyone, but I'd still like to know for sure. I made a resolution to be more
aggressive (to the track) this weekend in spite of the concrete.
I went up to park the rig (motorhome and trailer combo) and watch on Friday test day (and to get away from the office for an extra day). Only 2 Vees were testing, but one of them managed to hit the concrete at T10 and mess up a few things. They were able to get the car functional again (at a reduced level), but it reminded me once again of the consequences of OVER aggressiveness at this track. STILL, I was determined to TRY to go faster.
I put on old tires for the practice (VERY old) and turned a respectable (but not stellar) 1:45.x. A good second slower than I had hoped for, but I felt like I HAD improved my driving a bit. Put on a little better tires for the 1st qualifier and went a tad faster, but not where I had hoped. Top SEDIV competitor Steve Oseth had signed up for this race, but did not show. A disappointment, since I had no "known quantity" to compare myself against. I try to pit myself against the TRACK rather than competitors, but it's always nice to know that I'm "in the hunt" compared to the best of the other drivers. In this case, my closest rival was over 2 seconds in arrears.
I put on NEW front tires for the 2nd qualifier to scrub them in for the race and to give myself a lap or 2 on GOOD rubber to see what I could do. About 10 minutes before track time, I found a stripped lug on the right front and had to thrash to get it fixed in time to run the session. The field was on the track by the time I got the car rolling again. Then access to the grid was blocked by the next 2 groups queuing for their sessions and I had to wander a bit to get to the pits. The session was a couple laps done before I got on the track.
I took a couple of laps - car felt good, but I couldn't put anything fast together. Got blocked a couple of times and tried not to ruin my new tires for nothing. I managed another '45, but it didn't "feel" like I was going to go any faster. I decided that with the rush to get on the track, my mind was not in the right attitude to try for a quicker lap. The car was running good as far as I could tell. I went back to the paddock to double check that work that I rushed to complete instead of finding out the hard way. :-)
I went over the car and found a cracked left rear brake drum. It was cracked "just about enough" to last 10-12 laps on a dry track before failing catastrophically and probably smacking me into the concrete somewhere. It MIGHT even have failed in the qualifier had I stayed out there. I was quite fortunate to catch it! Replaced the drum and set the car up for the early morning race.
It rained nearly ALL night, but stopped about 7A (we were to start our race at 8:15). The big question of the moment was WHAT TIRES do we run? Seems like the March race at Road A has been the same questionable conditions every year for the last 3 years. The track was wet - it was COLD (40 degrees), humidity was high, but the clouds were beginning to break and no more rain was forecast. I swapped the tires at least twice before finally deciding on slicks. The second place FV opted for RAIN tires and 3rd spot elected to run intermediates (hand grooved slicks). It was going to be a crap shoot, but I was confident that the track would dry as the race progressed.
On my way to the grid, the throttle stuck WIDE OPEN when I tried to clear the plugs. All of a sudden, I was in TROUBLE!! I was belted in the car, my crew was walking up the hill and I could NOT drive the car on a pace lap and then race with the throttle stuck to the floor - AND it was less than 5 minutes before we rolled off. I popped the belts, jumped out of the car and started ripping the engine cowl off (fortunately, I keep a large washer in the seat to undo Dzus fasteners!). As I got the cover off, several people showed up to offer help (thanks!), but I was intent on trying to find the problem. One of them pointed out that the cable had fallen off the pulley and was stuck underneath the bearing race - I yanked it loose and got it back on the pulley and it SEEMED to be fine. Threw the cover back on and jammed the Dzus fasteners home. Then leaped back in the car and started trying to get the belts back on as the 1 minute warning was given. Linda got there, and, between us all, we got all the belts and buckles hooked up just in time to roll off the grid LAST (I gave up my pole starting position when I wasn't ready before the 1 minute warning).
Well - this wasn't the first time I've started last and probably won't be the last time either :-). Warm the tires as much as possible on the pace lap and BE CAREFUL. It's pretty easy to LOSE a race in the first turn, but quite difficult to WIN one there. I relaxed, let the pack get through the first turn (expecting a pile-up on the wet track), and then set about "getting it done".
I steadily worked my way through the pack until I emerged into second place - I looked for 1st and wondered whether he had broken or spun off somewhere. About that time, Linda came on the radio and informed me that 1st was 15 seconds ahead of me - whoooo! I hadn't realized I lost that much time on the start. Still - not much to do, but continue to work on getting there.
A couple of laps later, we still had about the same separation, but I THOUGHT I might be closing just a bit. I could "just" see him going up the hill at 11 as I was coming in to Turn 10. Then, Linda gave me splits again - 13 seconds (YEAH - I was closing)..... 14 seconds (oops - no room for mistakes here), 9 seconds (NOW, I KNOW I'm closing), 5 seconds - and then I was past him. Turned out he broke a rocker arm and was running on 3 1/2 cylinders - made him a real sitting duck on the straights <g>.
We were in the lead and easily held it to the end. A real shame for Noah Smith (broken rocker arm guy), but Brian Keck came through for second after spending a year of Regionals last year. Sherman Engler managed 3rd - making a steady comeback in the past year. Returning racer Mike Leonard had intermittent car problems all weekend, culminating with a dead battery at the start of the race and could not make it to the grid. He did take a couple of laps, however, and pronounced the car "ready and willing" for next time!
Another win for the Team and we are now in second place in SEDIV points - just one point behind Steve Oseth. Summit Point next weekend should put one or the other of us in better stead. Since he lives only a few miles from that track, I'm sure he thinks he has a leg up on me - but I have PLANS for him <g> !!
Summit Point - April
It was a long tow, but we made it OK. Got there mid-afternoon on Friday and watched couple of sessions, then broke the car out of the trailer and gave it a once over. We were running 2 races this weekend. A "regular National" and a Pro Vee race.
The highlight of the weekend was that 2 of my first cousins attended the event. One, Diane, lives only about 20 miles from the track. The other, Jeff, lives in New Jersey, but was interested enough to make the 5 hour drive to see us race. The first session (National qualifying) was cool and wet (raining). We agonized a little about tires before deciding on the Goodyear intermediate tire (wrong choice). It was too cold to get any heat into the tires at all. We were still second quickest, but far behind Jim Kearney who had on "real" rain tires - I DID get a chance to see what the track was like in the rain tho'. Most of the field didn't bother to go out.
Second qualifier (Pro Vee), the track was still slightly damp. Just enough so we couldn't really tell much about the car. Don't remember where we qualified since it would all be changed by the afternoon session anyway.
3rd qualifier (National) - the track was finally dry and we were able to find out that we were quite slow on the straights. Handling was OK, but something wasn't right about the car. After the session, I found a dragging brake. Then, no matter what I did, it still seemed to drag. I finally took the brake drum off and decided that the problem was inside the transaxle. A couple hours work and we had replaced the sidegear, fulcrum plates and axle on the left side and it felt right again. (This drag was probably costing me about 300 RPM on the straights.). We ended up 6th on the grid for the National. At this point, I was disappointed for my visiting cousins and their spouses. We weren't doing very well for them.
4th qualifier (Pro Vee). The session started out fine. I wasn't with anyone so I decided to just practice the turns (I don't have much experience at this track) and see what happened. The car still didn't seem to be pulling well on the straights, but I kept at it. I was closing on a car and thought I might be able to get a better gauge on straightaway speed when I caught him. Alas - about 2 laps later, he spun in Turn 1. He was sitting quietly on the outside of the turn as I approached and I turned in a little tighter than normal to give him plenty of room. Just as I was fully committed to the turn, he ZIPPED completely broadside across the track RIGHT SMACK in front of me. WHAMM!! I couldn't believe it! Destroyed the nose and the right front shock and suspension - so, back to the workbench again. At least Diane and Jeff got to see what a "REAL" race weekend was like <g>. Jeff even jumped in some and got his hands dirty.
After repairing the damage, I checked the brakes again and found the LR dragging again. I just couldn't get it to stop. I finally replaced the brake drum and THAT seemed to fix it. We checked the grid and found that I was 11th - not too bad for the shortened session and not running with anyone (draft is IMPORTANT in Vee).
The National race was the first race the next morning. We got a pretty good start and came out of Turn 1 in 3rd place. We seemed to be pulling away from 4th and "maybe" closing on 2nd a tad. All was going well for about 3 laps - then the motor started acting up. It was missing badly on the straights and a pack of about 10 cars ZOOMED by me near the Start/Finish line. I almost came in, but decided I still needed to work on my lines. (Besides, I had 'fans' in the stands <G>.) THEN, the engine started working again! I started to move back up slowly, covering the distance to that pack that had just passed me and started picking off cars. I worked my way back up to 6th and that's where I finished.
Between races, we cleaned everything we could think of. Carburetor, fuel filter, points, distributor cap. Measured and inspected all of the spark plug wires and generally gave everything a once over. Found a bit of trash in the carb and a bit of oil on the points. Hoped for the best. The 'fans' were a bit more excited now. They had gotten to see some pretty good racing from their GRANDstand vantage point.
The Pro Vee race started right after lunch and, again, we got a pretty good start. From 11th, I moved up to about 6th or so before Turn 1. The car was FINALLY running the way it should and the handling was good too. After a few laps, I ended up in a 4 car battle (and I *DO* mean BATTLE) for 2nd place. First place (Roger Sibenaler) had checked out and left us to play with each other. Each car led the pack and the lead changed sometimes more than twice a lap. Everyone drove clean (as clean as it can get in a pack like that) and we ALL finished the race. It's one of the best times I've had in a race. Unfortunately, with about 8 laps to go, I noticed that my steering box was moving - damage from the Saturday crash that I missed. If you don't know about slipping steering - it is a BEAST of a problem. The steering seems fine as you turn into a turn. Then as the car loads the suspension, at some point, the tire load exceeds the 'stickiness' of the steering box and - all of a sudden - the tires straighten back out! It's like hitting a patch of ice. Every time you have to turn in the opposite direction, it happens again, until all of the free play is taken up. I was very fortunate to control the car, not hit anything and not run off the track. It's the high speed turns that scare you to death <g>.
Somehow, I managed to get through it all and finished the race in 4th position (we were about 3 wide at the finish line). We went to impound (where they check the cars for legality) and the 3rd place car came up a bit underweight - so I got elevated to 3rd in the final results. The fans?? They all seemed to enjoy the race immensely. Diane & Charlie, Jeff and Nancy - all got a chance to see us running near the front and having a BALL of a race!! They even talked about coming back again next year :-). I was really great seeing them - we live far enough apart that it doesn't happen very often.
Steve Oseth (my competitor for SEDIV points) won the National race (when Roger's car broke) and finished 2nd in the Pro Vee. Both those guys do really well at that track. Of course, I'm not complaining too much. Pretty decent finishes for the issues at hand <G>.
Daytona - May
Daytona went fine. Unfortunately, the field was again quite light. We were several seconds a lap faster than the second place car, so I had to 'race the track'. I set my sites to beat my last year's time and I did so. Actually, I beat last year's time by well over a second. During the race, I had some time to experiment around with lines and made some pretty decent improvements. My biggest fear, of course, was running fast, being WAY ahead in the small field and then having the car break before the end and not even getting a finish! Luckily, that did not happen and I DID finish and win :-).
The REAL excitement came on the trip home. The alternator died on the van and I didn't notice it until the engine died at about 12:30 AM going up I-75. I coasted to the side of the road and finally surmised that I had a dead battery and therefore probably a dead alternator. I patched my backup race car battery to the van and got it cranked and off the next exit so I could think. I started my generator (sure is nice to have TOOLS when something breaks <G>) and started charging the van battery while I took as many lights out of the trailer as I thought I could get away with. Let it charge for about 30 minutes and then got back out on the interstate while watching the voltage indicator to see how far we could go. It wasn't far :-(. After only about 15 minutes, we had to pull over again, so I picked an exit that looked like it might have an autoparts store. We managed to find one before it died completely, so I set up the generator and charger again (while explaining to the nice policelady just WHY I was driving without my lights) and we settled in for the night in the parts place parking lot. When they opened, I bought a new alternator, installed it and we were on our way again. Fortunately, the rest of the trip was uneventful, but I decided I couldn't stay awake long enough to go to work :-).
ANYWAY!! -- the next race is Mid Ohio, so that should tell us a LOT about the changes we've made and whether they were good or not..
Mid Ohio - June
The trip up was fine - no problems, but still a long tow. The weather
looked threatening, but no rain on Friday.
Saturday morning it RAINED! Off and on in the wee hours until time to get up. Then it continued to mist off and on. Trying to decide what Goodyear tires to use, we elected to go with intermediates - then about 2 minutes before we were to leave for the grid it started raining and so we switched to full rain tires - good decision. It had just started raining and the track was "just" wet when we went out. Only the 1st 2 laps counted - everything else was just for show :-). I thought I had a pretty good time on that second lap, but Jim Kearney edged me out for fast lap by about 0.2 secs - no matter (maybe) - we expected better weather for the second qualifier in about 3 hours.
2nd qualifier and GUESS WHAT!? It was misting and stopping and starting and stopping and the track was alternately wet and wetter. We waited and waited - agonizing over what tires to use. It looked like the track might be JUST dry enough to use slicks so we put them on. Jerry said I should go with intermediates, but I wanted slicks. We decided to go up to the keyhole to get a better look at the track so we piled into Jerry's pickup and took off. About 200 yards into the trek - we noticed misting on the windshield so we turned around and swapped the tires back to intermediates. I've had them since last year and this is the FIRST time that the track has "really" been suited to that tire style.
We went out and it alternately rained, stopped, misted and dried. I almost came in a couple of times, but I was having FUN for a change :-). About 3 laps from the end of the session, it stopped misting and the track started to dry. The times were dropping by 2 -3 seconds each lap so it was coming down to the LAST lap. I pulled out all the stops - really just enjoying myself - it's nice to have been sliding around all over the place and all of a sudden, the car starts to HANDLE!! It feels really good. Each lap we were quicker and the Goodyears were actually beginning to really STICK to the track. Then the session was over - RATS! Just when it was getting good <g>.
Back to the pits and wait for the grid - lo and behold - * I'm on the POLE* - Jerry was right - the intermediate was the right tire to have on the car!
Go over everything, cook some steaks. Jerry and his wife, Minnie, came back for dinner and we stuffed ourselves with good food that tastes good but is, of course, BAD for you :-). Rest overnight and see what the weather brings tomorrow. The temp is dropping like a rock!
Sunday morning - the sky is clear and the temp is 39.8 degrees !! COLD! We went out for a couple of laps in the warmup just to make sure the car would RUN on a dry track :-).
We had a split start from the F500's thank goodness. The rain had solidly intermingled the F500's and FV's so that it would have been a total disaster without the split. As it was, the F500's would have their own race pretty much and the FV's would also. For the most part it worked out that way. On the start, I missed a shift and Mike (second qualifier) got the jump and pulled ahead. I managed to tuck in behind him and we were on our way. Guy Pipitone got inside of me before we got to T1 and I had to lift or risk crashing us all - NOT a good thing to do in the first turn of the first lap! So we went up the hill out of T1 in 3rd. When we got to the back straight, I passed Guy and took off after Mike, who was pulling away rapidly. The first lap was a "settling down" lap as none of us really knew how our cars were going to work on the freshly washed green track. On the second lap, Dave Woodmancy passed me and took over 2nd - I glanced in my mirrors and noted that we had a small gap to the next pack behind us, but Mike was still pulling away up front.
I passed Dave on the back straight and closed a bit on Mike, but Dave passed me back on the next lap and I watched Mike getting away again as Dave and I fought for 2nd. I hounded Dave all around the tight back side of the track and he lost control and spun coming into the carousel and I got by safely. Another look in my mirrors and I seemed to be moderately clear of the pack - now, I just had to go catch Mike again. No small task, as Mike was driving a fine race, but I eeked in on him a tad. Then we got caught by the lead pack of F500's and they came through us in droves. Mike came up on the short end of the stick in T10 as he had to let up as about 4 of them blasted by him in a pack. That put me right on his tail again and we went at it :-). He pulled out a bit, and I made it up, then he pulled out a bit again and I made it up again. Seemed the best advantage I had on him was coming into Thunder Valley at T11. I pressured him a lot as we came up into the carousel which lead onto the front straight. After about 5 laps of this, he finally made a mistake at T11 - caught the edge of the curb on the outside and it pitched his car around and he slid sideways as I managed to dodge and went by. IN THE CLEAR! - about 6 seconds on the field and clear sailing - all I have to do is NOT MAKE A BIG MISTAKE !! Mike recovered nicely and held onto 2nd place. He poured it on, but I had enough of a lead that I could take it relatively easy and crossed the finish line with just over 3 seconds to spare.
A great win for the Wedge Racing Team !!
Road Atlanta (#2) - June
In a word (this IS Road Atlanta after all) -- RAIN - Geez - I've about had enough of rain. Summit Point, Mid Ohio and now Road A - GAD!. On Friday evening, I spent a couple of hours talking with Steve Ellis (of Carerra Shocks) and it occurred to me during the bantering that there were some things that I USED to do to the car, that I haven't actually been doing lately. After pondering it a few minutes, it dawned on me that, since it was raining anyway and I had an enclosed trailer ... I could DO some of that work I hadn't been doing - so I DID some of it :-). (No details here about that work <G>)
The next morning, it was pouring rain, so we skipped the first practice session. I've seen a LOT of Road A over the years and didn't have a lot to gain. The 2nd session (1st qualifier) was still wet, but the rain wasn't actually falling - at least when we started for the grid. I elected to use my Goodyear intermediate tires again. Seems no one else had any, so they had to select either full rains or slicks. The track was just a bit wet for intermediates, but too dry for rains and MUCH too wet for slicks (how's THAT for a description <g>). I had the best tire for the conditions and put the Racer's Wage on the pole by just over 7 seconds a lap. Sure wish I could maintain that advantage on a dry track <g>. Having the right tire can really help out a bunch! Even so, I couldn't really tell anything about how the car was handling - slip sliding most of the time, doesn't tell you much.
The last session started on a dry track - although the rain continued to hang in the air - just daring us to try to go fast. But the track was plenty dry enough for slicks now and all my 7 second advantage went out the window in a flash. We did manage to set the fast time again, however. Presumably due in large part to the Friday evening work, during that last session the car felt better than it has in a LONG time. We still didn't go as fast as I had hoped, but the track was totally green due to all of the rain and several other classes that I checked were one second or more off of their best times too.
Sunday morning - On/off rain all night, but it finally stopped in time for the track to be MOSTLY dry. We were the first group out so WE got to test it for the rest of the racers <g>. Everything looked fine and the race started without incident. I took the lead and Brian Keck latched onto the back of my car like he was TIED to it. I could pull out a little on the back (twisty) parts, but he would close up again down the long back straight. We were holding position when the fast pack of DSR cars came blasting through us just out of T1. I tried to let them all through, but the last guy just wasn't quite up there with the rest as I got to T3. His answer was to simply PUNT me off the track (his car MUCH larger than mine) and I dodged off into the grass exiting T3 as Brian went sailing by to take the FV lead. Fortunately, Road A has recently added a chicane for the motorcycle racers and I managed to get onto that section of track that lead back to "our" track so I didn't lose too much time. Now I've got to go catch BRIAN! The clouds are darkening and the mist hangs heavier... I track down Brian and go by him the next lap as he gets balked by a lapped car and mist starts to show on my shield. We scream around the track with ever increasing trepidation and the mist comes and goes and we wonder what the next turn is going to be like. Will it be pouring rain there? I'll find out in a sec. <g>.
I go through T5 and see one of those "fast" DSR cars into the wall on the outside - waving yellow so I take it easy. The next lap through the same spot I get up on the paint a bit and find out exactly what put the DSR into the wall. MAN that stuff is slippery when wet!! I get loose, but save it, then Brian gets MORE loose and saves it, but decides that... maybe 2nd isn't so bad after all - and, who knows, I might crash leading the way into all these blind turns :-). My lead grows as the laps wind down. Then as I come up to start the last lap - there's OIL in T11 - I see it as I arrive, but can't adjust in time. The back end slips out - I correct and catch the car, but I'm in the grass (mud) now, climbing the hill toward the bridge. The car is bouncing around as I cross all of the rain gouged ruts and suddenly I hit a big one and the car hops sideways and I spin toward the concrete bridge abutment - CRINGE and SLAM on ALL THE BRAKES I GOT - Cringe more as it seems like I slide for a full minute - stopping JUST before contacting the wall (WHEW!!) Hunt around, find a gear and drag my butt on up the hill toward the finish line and that "one lap to go" sign. Hmmm. Maybe I better take it a bit easier this last lap. I'm still in first, but only if I complete the next lap!
Complete the next lap I did, and the Wedge Team brings home another win. Brian hung on for 2nd and Mike Leonard just eeked the position from Sherman Engler in a CLOSE battle for 3rd.
Now, we swap the gearbox, check out everything and start loading up for the LONG TOW to Elkhart Lake - Road America in Wisconsin. Some16 hours from here.
Road America (Elkhart Lake, WI) - Chicago Region June Sprints - June
Well - the long tow "got us" :-). Brother Phil traveled with me and Jerry was to meet us at Road America. We left Atlanta before 1PM and things went fine until I needed to turn on the headlights around 7:30. The dash lights wouldn't come on and I was suspicious. As it got darker, I realized that the running lights were not on either. Finally, I saw the 'Check Engine Soon" light come on and noticed that the Voltmeter was REALLY low. Shortly after that, the engine started acting up. RATS! Deja Vu - I just lost an alternator in the van on the way home from Daytona. We managed to find an exit with some business on it before the engine died and then found an Autozone. Bought a new alternator just as they were closing and got it installed after they had all gone home. RATS AGAIN - the new one doesn't work either! Found a place to spend the night (Walmart parking lot) and the next morning we found a Home Depot and bought a new battery charger. By running the Motorhome generator to the battery charger, we could JUST BARELY keep the engine running, but we made it in to Road America safe and sound. More about that later (after the race.)
The only time I had raced this track was 15 years ago. Although it hadn't changed any, - many, MANY brain cells have since deteriorated and with them went most of the memory I had of the track.
1st session, was actually pretty good - but I ran old tires and was just really trying to figure out where the turns went. Many drivers ran the test day on Thursday, but we didn't get there in time (hadn't planned to), so we were "cold" at 8A in the morning. Not too bad, I thought - we were gridded 11th after the first round. Pretty good for 70 plus cars.
The 2nd session was destined to be better. We bolted on some new Goodyears and even ran across the front row (grid) cars during the session. Thinking this was good, we worked hard to make the car go quick. RATS! A couple of laps into the session, the car started to vibrate on the straights and was even worse under braking. I pondered, -- it didn't seem to be getting any worse. Maybe transaxle? dragging brake? bad clutch disk? I kept running as long as the car did :-). I managed to go just a couple of tenths faster, but I still dropped 2 spots on the grid. After I got back to the paddock space, I found the right front brake dragging VERY heavily. After some disassembly, I found that the spring holddowns for the brake shoes had pulled through and the brake shoes, springs, clips, etc were all just wandering around inside the hub. Tore up the brake shoes pretty badly, but was relatively easy to fix. (hey - it's JUST money $$).
Thought we were really ready for the 3rd qualifier on Sat morn. I spent most of the session trying to set up a decent lap - couldn't ever get one. :-(. Tried running with Bill Noble a bit, but things just didn't work out. No matter what I did, I would always catch a slow car in the wrong spot and end up having to slow WAY down to avoid an accident. Still we managed to go a couple of tenths faster - I moved up one spot, but someone else went faster still and moved me right back - so I stayed gridded 13th for the start of the race.
I spent a LOT of time working on the alternator problem, but I won't detail that here :-) ON TO THE RACE!
Pace lap ... GREEN FLAG! To my surprise, I didn't get passed at the start - not only that, but I actually PASSED someone else !! I gained 2 spots going into turn 1. I wasn't really trying to do more than hold position on the first lap - it's tough enough to do that! Made it around to the back side and passed another car into Canada Corner. Things are going as well as I could hope for. Up (REALLY UP - big hill) the front straight (4 miles in the books) and I get another car going into T1. Then another into T5. I've moved from 13th to 9th and now it's starting to get tough. Round we go and I manage to pick off another car here and there and finally work my way up to 4th. I see Bill Noble up ahead of me with Brad and Steve some distance beyond him. I slowly close on Bill, catch and pass him - THIRD PLACE! Wow! Bill is falling off behind me and I'm closing on Brad and Steve. Gradually, I reel them in and finally find myself right on Steve's trannie. The car feels good, handling is great! power is good! I can pass both of them ... however, they BLOCK repeatedly (why? at this point in the race?). I don't know what's up, but decide that it's not important for me to get to the front since there are only inches between us anyway. I ride in 3rd and keep the pressure on. Many times less than an inch separate us all. Steve passes Brad and I go by with him - SECOND! - as we go through the kink, I pull out to pass Steve and breathe LEADERSHIP AIR (FIRST PLACE) for a moment, then Brad zooms by me and Steve repasses into Canada Corner - Hmmmmph! back to 3rd! it didn't last long. No matter - back to the job at hand... keep the pressure on. I don't really understand -- neither Brad nor Steve seems to be bothered by my "pressure" - hey! don't they know who I AM?? <g>. Guess not.
We start getting into some lapped traffic and it gets really ugly in some of the turns. A pack of 3 cars going by in a bunch with no one wanting to give up any ground. Getting close to the end -- 2 laps to go - still tight. We're coming into T8 and I can see a pack of 3 lapped cars in front of us. Brad and Steve get by clean, but I get the door slammed on me. My speed drops from about 75 MPH down to 30 MPH - GAAAAAHHH!! KILL! KILL! - but there's nothing I can do. All of a sudden the leaders are gone and Bill Noble is back on my trannie (this is NOT a good thing). He blows by me going into the kink and I squeeze back by him into Canada - we come up the straight and he BLOWS by me into T1. I stay tight and decide not to pass at T5 or T8 - I'm waiting for Canada again. This is the last lap. I don't think I can get by Bill before we get to Start/Finish if he leads into the last turn, but I MIGHT be able to hold him off if I lead. We go D E E P into Canada - Bill hangs on as long as he can and I just "have" to go deeper. I'm inside in position, but WOW are we deep. Not enough brakes! yes there is, NO there's not, YES there is, NO, YES, WOW - A L M O S T !!!! Just dropped 2 tires off the outside in the dirt - car is loose, back onto the track skidding, but not bad - get control! get control! Where's Bill? GAAAH again - he's right on my right rear tire - I pull left to avoid him, but keep my foot buried through the floor. I hang on - now - Gotta make a perfect T14 onto the straight. I hit it nearly perfect - no sliding, good speed. Glance in my mirror. Looks like I have it - Brad and Steve in front too far to get a draft - Bill's in my draft (Ugggh!). PUSH on the GAS! hunker down (reduce the wind resistance<G>), PUSH PUSH, slip right - make Bill go as far as I can without squeezing him into the wall. I can see the flag, Bill's closing! The S/F line - Bill - the line - Bill, the line - BILL!! DAMN! we cross the line - only inches between us. Am I 3rd or 4th? I can't tell for sure. Bill pulls ahead for the cool off lap and I settle into 4th for the corner workers (we TRY to show the finishing order for those not in view of the S/F line). Halfway around, Jerry tells me that the PA is saying Bill finished 3rd. As we come onto the pit straight, the PA is reversing itself - now saying that I finished 3rd. Now they go off to decide who finished first. Steve and Brad were also side by side at the line.
Finally - we make it to impound and they direct ME to the winner's circle - it's been decided I was third. They're still working on 1st/2nd. About 3 or 4 minutes later, Brad is declared the winner! WOW ! WHATTA RACE!!
When final results were posted, I also find that I have fastest race lap. Not near a record, but faster than anyone else for this race !! I'll take it!
Since the work I did at the Road Atlanta race, it seems that the car is handling better now. I'm staying up in the turns and holding my own on the straights. Now - if I can just get Rollin to pump out about 3 more horsepower, we'll be READY for them next time <g>.
We go off to the banquet for the 40th Birthday party. Afterwards, we trek back to the motorhome and - just for grins - I crank it up - WOW! the alternator is working :-). So we took off for Chicago. Made it there, spent the night and the alternator worked again the next morning. We made it home in 16 hours. Still don't know what's up with the alternator, but hope to figure it out before Roebling.
Special thanks to Phil and Jerry for their support for the weekend and also to all those who put a great deal of effort into making this 40th Anniversary of Formula Vee a big success - AND especially to the weather steward - the skies were GREAT!! There are a couple of pictures available HERE.
Roebling Double National - July
There's not much to report about this weekend. It was HOT, as usual. No towing issues (thankfully <g>) and the car ran great. This is a DOUBLE weekend - we have the first race on Saturday and another on Sunday. I qualified on the pole for Saturday's race, but ended up 3rd going in to turn 1. We diced around for several laps and then Steve Oseth and I broke away from the rest of the field and had a race of our own. We swapped the lead a couple of times and I settled into 2nd place until we got near the end. Unfortunately, as we entered the next to last lap, 2 packs of Formula 500 cars came through us (they are quite a bit faster) and split me away from Steve by some distance. I was still close, but it wasn't going to be easy to catch him on the last lap. 2 more cars passed me going into T5 on the last lap and that was 'all she wrote' :-(. I was several car lengths back at the finish line. But still a decent 2nd place finish with a huge margin over 3rd.
The next day, I took it easy in the morning qualifier to try and save my tires for the race. We ended up qualifying second and had the usual dice up front for several laps. Steve and I, once again broke away from the rest and settled in. Steve seemed to want to lead, so I, again, settled into second - this time with a determination that I was NOT going to be split off by passing cars! As we came up to start the last lap, I took the lead into turn 1. I had been faster than Steve through turn 5 and the carousel T6 all day and felt I could hold him off at the finish line. BLAST, the rear end slipped out on me going through the carousel and I could feel the RPM's dying (that's NOT good!). I had a 'decent' distance on him, but the slide slowed my speed and made me EASY PICKINGS coming onto the front straight. I did all I could, but Steve passed me easily before the line. Not my weekend for wins, but again a large margin over the rest of the field.
The next and last race in the Division is VIR - and Steve and I are tied for points going there. If Steve wins at VIR, he will win the Divison. My job is to make sure that *I* win that race - not him :-).
VIR (Virginia International Raceway)- August
Well - the weekend at VIR was 'asterisked' by RAIN :-). I don't have proof, but guess that we saw about 5 inches of rain from the time that we arrived at Friday noon until Saturday evening. On the good side of that was that most of the rain fell during lunch time or thereabouts. It absolutely POURED rain for almost 3 hours on Friday and then rained really hard again Saturday evening and on into the night. Strangely, though almost all of the race track sessions were dry - at least for the most part. ALL of my FV sessions were completely dry. This is one of the most fun tracks that I run. It has a couple of REALLY tough combination turns and some great straightaways for passing. The uphill 'ess' run to OakTree is a BLAST!
Things went well and we qualified on the pole for the first session with Steve Oseth 2nd. Each lap for both of us was faster than the previous and the session ran out with me just 0.1 second faster - without us seeing each other on the track. The second qualifier was similar except that Steve ended up in front of me on one lap and I got a pretty decent draft which led to a quite respectable qualifying time again. I was prepared to allow myself to be drafted by Steve on the next lap, but we ran into traffic and he got hosed. So, I ended up 1st with Steve not too far back, but both solidly ahead of the rest of the field. We experimented with air ducting some more, but made no magical discoveries. JR (owner of Roxanne's Headers) had built a new exhaust system for me and this was the first test for it. With no dyno runs for 'numbered' comparisons, it 'felt' good. The fresh Butler motor seemed to pull well and I was able to pass everyone I encountered with no difficulty. The Goodyear tires worked great. I can only hope that things go this well during the Runoffsï¿½ :-).
Unfortunately, for Steve, he had a family emergency 2 hours before the race and had to leave the track. I hate to win the SEDIV Championship that way, but sometimes it just happens. We didn't need to run the race - but we did tow a long way to get there - so we did :-).
After a couple of laps of 'conflict', we were able to pull away to a comfortable lead which we held to the checker. Quite a fine finish to a pretty good season. 6 wins - including one at Mid Ohio - two 2nd place finishes, two 3rd's and a 4th.
We have now won the Division again - the 4th time in the last 6 years - including the last 2. Now, we put our thoughts to the Runoffsï¿½. There are several things that I need to do to the car - none of them earth shattering - just stuff I need to do to reduce the likelihood of problems in Ohio. My faithful 'Mansfield team' will be there to support me and the team has high expectations for the big week. The competition will be TOUGH - I hope that we are up to the challenge.
Runoffs - September
UPDATE!! - 10-22-03
Well things have quieted down a bit, but the facts still remain. I have now had 2 of the foremost FV gearbox experts in SEDIV inspect the gearset, as well as some 20-30 stewards (at the SIC), as well as my guy down the street - and all agree that the gearset (that I presented) is legal in every respect. There are still a number of people (the Runoffs Tech staff) that fully believe that I am now lying about the gearset and have substituted legal parts - I am not and have not. Since I have found NOTHING wrong with the gearset, I will reassemble it as it is and race it next year. My hope is that it will look the same and still "look" illegal. I will be inspecting it myself after it's back together and also will attempt to have some SCCA tech types inspect it at race tracks.
If any of them (or I) can visually see what Runoffs Tech saw, then I will attempt to determine what causes it and see if there is a solution short of teardown that will clarify legality. If not, then we'll tear it down again IN IMPOUND and prove that it is NOT illegal.
Time will tell.... but the gearset is and WAS *LEGAL* in all respects!
UPDATE!! - 4:30P - 9-21-03
OK guys and gals. I have the trannie apart now and have taken some
pix. You can see them ....
New and better pix - 9/22/03 (I increased the resolution on
the camera and used digital zoom)
2nd gear? Pic 1
2nd gear? Pic 2
I know they aren't the best in the world, but my camera won't focus any closer. Does ANYONE see any extra holes???? I note in pic7 and a couple of others that there appear to be a series of 'dots' around the bottom of the gear teeth - trust me... there are NO HOLES in those locations. It's just reflections. You should be able to see clearly that there are NO holes in the 'mesh' part of the gears. Everything looks perfect to me (but, as said earlier, I'm no expert).
I can't believe I didn't take the gearbox apart in impound!!!! Bob said he saw the same thing as the rest of the tech guys and I, unbelievably, never even LOOKED myself! (tech wouldn't let me anywhere NEAR the car!) A word to the wise - NEVER, EVER take anyone else's word for stuff like this. If I had looked and had ANY doubt in my mind, I would have taken the box apart in impound. I was feeling pretty low and since it was supposedly Clear Cut, I just took my medicine and came on home.
I didn't think it could get much worse than being DQ'd - but I guess it just did. I don't know much about transmissions, but I DO know that there are NO HOLES in the root of these gears like Tech claimed!!
If anyone has any idea how I can get a better pic, let me know. You can also, maybe tell me which gear is second? I just inspected them ALL and see NOTHING.
What a waste - a season, runoffs entry, tow gas, av gas, tires, food, round trip airfare for my son to come watch, an overpass ticket ... and some tremendous loss of credibility - all on account of what appears to be an invalid inspection. I know I can't PROVE it, but at least I know myself.
There WAS something wrong with the gearbox tho'. The right side paddle and fulcrum plates were swapping metal pretty bad. Probably cost me 1 - 2 horsepower. I can't even get them apart!
Before the update ....
This year's event started off pretty good. We tested on Friday - along with several other fast Vees and we were as fast as anyone. We also put together the longest string of consecutive fast laps - which bodes well for the race. We had no major problems and I didn't HIT anything :-). We watched the next 2 test days and saw no one going any measurable amount faster.
Monday - practice - it rained. We decided that I didn't really need any rain practice and I didn't want to have to spend several hours cleaning and drying the car - so we just watched. I kind of missed being out there - at least until I watched 3 cars plow into the gravel trap at China Beach (where I was last year). THEN I remembered why I was watching instead of driving.
Tuesday - the 1st qualifier went well. The car ran great and I ended up on the outside pole - beside my SEDIV compatriot Steve Oseth. Brad Stout, pole sitter from the last 2 years was right behind me. My "chassis man", Steve Ellis, from Carrera Custom Products, was there and we decided to make a change in the rear shock for the next day.
Wednesday - 2nd qualifier - the shock change seemed to work well and the car was dynamite in the turns - and not too bad on the straights :-). Rollin had the motor working well and my new RoxannesHeaders Collector (exhaust pipe) seemed to be making a difference. We were the only car to break into the 39 second bracket (time of 1:39.6) and we were the new pole sitter. Following the session, we and 5 other cars were impounded and checked for various infractions. Weight, track, carb mods, fuel - and a new test that had never previously been done.
My transmission was bought in '92. Last year it started popping out of 4th at the Roebling double and I didn't have enough time to send it back to the place I got it (LRE) before VIR. I took it down the street to a local VW shop that does a lot of trike and dune buggy stuff. Told him to fix it and DON'T do anything else. Made it especially clear to him that SCCA is very strict on legality and he should not put any trick parts in it.
He assures me that he did not.
HOWEVER, in impound they performed a sigmoidoscope on the box. From the greatest high - walking around with the pole time and talking to everyone ... and then, finally, after about 45 minutes, the Asst. Chief of Tech walks over to me and tells me I am being disqualified from the EVENT - not just loss of times and the pole - they were NOT GOING TO LET ME RACE - I felt like I was hit in the face with a Mac truck. According to the tech guys (confirmed later by Lybarger), the 2nd gear in my transmission has been drilled to relieve the "oil pump pressure" - for whatever that's worth. Although I can understand the concept, I have never worked on the trannie part of the box and actually have never SEEN it - either before or now. I do not know how any modified gears got in the gearbox. Bob (LRE) and Ron (the guy down the street) equally assure me that they did not change any gears. [NOTE: There appears to be nothing wrong with the gears - Neither Bob nor Ron made any changes that were not legal as far as I can tell - my apologies to both] - the other 5 boxes in impound were all fine - I'm pretty sure that at least 4 of them were LRE. To make a long LONG story short, my protest and subsequent appeal were both denied and I was excluded from the event.
This is absolutely the most devasting thing that has ever happened to me since I started SCCA racing in 1974. It casts a pall over everything that I have accomplished during that time and makes me look like a cheater. Please believe that I am NOT! There are probably only 3 or 4 of the 40 FV competitors at the Runoffs who work on their own gearboxes. It's just something that most of us decide not to bother with - obviously, that decision comes with a risk.
I will take the gearbox apart myself soon. [SEE Update above] I'm not sure yet how I will get it back together, but I am confident that I can get it apart - I have big hammers and a cutting torch at my disposal. I guess I will have to develop the ability to work on the box myself to assure that this never happens again. Ultimately, *I* am responsible and I will never be able to determine for sure how that gear got in there. I feel it is quite unfair for SCCA to not allow me to start at the back with a new gearbox, but they tell me that - even though they believe my story, their "hands are tied" - they are obligated to completely disqualify EVERY car that is found "non-compliant" in any mechanical manner at the Runoffs.
I would like to publicly thank all those who offered their support during my 'trying times' at Mid Ohio. I especially want to thank Bob Lybarger and Steve Oseth who showed up at my hearing on their own to try to sway the SOM's to allow me to race (actually, I'm pretty sure they were testifying that I wasn't SMART enough to work on a trannie <g>). It was gratifying to have a 20 year comp board member and one of the guys who stands to benefit the most from my absence, trying to keep me in the game. MANY people also came by - both before and after and I truly appreciate it. The guys at Goodyear are still behind me and I hope everyone else is too.
Trying to look at it from the outside (pretending I'm not drowning in it), it would be very difficult for SCCA to change the rules just for me (or anyone). The violation was "flagrant" - obviously not an "oversight" or "mistake" - not something just "out of tolerance" - clearly the part was specifically modified for enhancement of performance beyond that allowed in the rules. What is the mod worth? Bob says "probably not much". I will be more interested to find out if anything ELSE has been done inside that trannie when I get it apart.
I note that 2 of the top 4 Formula Mazda's were tossed after their race. I guess that would be worse than what happened to me .... I think. For the moment, I guess I'll sit around and THINK about it for a while. After over 25 years of racing FV's, I know most everything there is to know about one EXCEPT for the transmission. Since they generally last many years without problems, I never felt it a worthwhile expenditure of my time to learn about it. I was obviously wrong.
Next year is "up in the air" for the moment......
PS. if there's any doubt - I could not continue to compete at the front 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. 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 - at least for the time being <g>.
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