1999 Racing Season
The '99 season was a continuous test for the Wedge Racing Team. Adversity was the key word as I was involved in several incidents during the year.
We started the season in March at Roebling. After a pretty good practice and qualifying day, we started from the outside pole. Race day was rainy off and on and, although several races before us had rain, it stopped during lunch time and the track was starting to dry when our grid calls were made. I took the lead going into turn 1 and had stretched it to some 8 car lengths by the time we got back to the front straight. Seeing an opportunity for a break, I pushed it hard and dropped a tire off the outside of turn 9 coming onto the front straight. What ordinarily would have been nothing more than a slight jolt turned into a nightmare as the left front tire dropped into a quite large and deep hole left by the previous Showroom stock racers. I never got a chance to inspect it, but the hole HAD to be pretty big as it bent the rim of my tire from the force. With the damp track, I never had a chance. The hole grabbed the tire and tried to keep it, the car spinning around about 3 times before impacting the concrete on the inside of the track. The good news is that everyone behind me was far enough back that no one HIT me!
A couple of weeks of repair work got us going again and the next race was Road Atlanta. Fortunately, things went a little better this time. We qualified on the pole and fought furiously with a 5 car pack for about 4 laps. I finally got an opportunity when the car behind me bobbled coming out of Turn 7 leaving me about a 5 carlength advantage coming onto the front straight. No mistakes this time - I gradually pulled away from the pack for the win.
Linda and I took a vacation the next week and I was forced to miss the next race at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Daytona was next and WHAT A SHOCK! There we were, in the middle of Florida in May - freezing our tails off! Needless to say, we didn't pack for snow, so we were wearing most everything we brought. Temps in the 50's and a chilly wind kept us chattering most of the time. Donnie Isley and I qualified at the front of the Vee field (the two Butler motors!) and we quickly distanced ourselves from the rest of the field. We experimented with each other a bit and I settled down in 2nd to wait for the last lap pass for the win. Unfortunately, I didn't plan on being lapped (changing the number of the LAST lap). The lead F500 caught and passed both of us within a few feet of the finish line shortening our race and stealing my win <grin>. Congrats to Donnie - he took the win to add to his win at Roebling when I hit the wall.
Next, we were back to Road Atlanta (my home and favorite track). I sat on the pole again and this time took the lead into Turn 1. Not sure what happened behind me, but at the end of lap one, I was in a commanding position pulling out about a second a lap on the field. With a comfortable lead in hand I was adding up my points when I hit the curb (a common occurance) at Turn 3 . Unfortunately, THIS time, the jolt knocked a wire off the ignition coil and I coasted down the track with a DEAD engine (even BUTLER motors don't run with no spark!). On the good side of that, I ended up in a good spot to watch Donnie knotch another win and saw a GREAT battle for second among about 4 cars - with Lisa Noble grabbing second at the flag.
On to the last SEDIV race of the season - the Double at Roebling on July 4th weekend. Practice and qualifying went well and I got the outside pole for the first race. Donnie and I took off from the pack once again, but just couldn't agree on who had the lead at Turn 1 on the 7th lap. We had wheel to wheel contact and Donnie spun across in front of me with me on the brakes HARD. We bit it again, as I could not avoid his spinning car and caught him in the right rear with my right front. Although we both drove away from the incident, I ended up with a flat RF tire ending my race. Fred Clark bypassed us both and won the race while Donnie limped home in second.
The next day, we had another chance in the second race of the double. A morning qualifying incident broke the rear transaxle mount on my car, but it didn't prevent the Racer's Wage from grabbing the pole. Noticing the damage only a couple of hours before the race, the crew had to scramble to get it fixed before grid call. Once again, Donnie and I quickly pulled away - determined NOT to take each other out of contention again. Lady luck was with us this time, and we passed Donnie on about lap 8 and steadily pulled away for the win.
REALLY strange things were next on the agenda. I wanted some more seat time as I didn't feel I had enough race laps going into the Runoffs. I signed up for the Road Atlanta regional race (I voluntarily disqualify myself from points and trophies) to experiment around with some car setups before the Championships. Little did I know what was in store for me. On the first lap of the second on track session, a steering link broke at 96 MPH going through the fast downhill right hand Turn 4. With no steering and dampness all around from a light overnight rain, there was no slowing down and we impacted the tires in front of the concrete wall on the outside of the turn. I was doing just fine until the last second before contact when I realized JUST how fast that wall was coming at me - all I thought was "Uh oh - this could really HURT!". The collision ripped the entire front end completely off the car, but the strong framework of the Racer's Wage held up nicely allowing me to clamber out of the car and over that wall to survey the damage.
I did end up with a pulled muscle in my lower back from the twisting impact of the crash, but was still able to work on the car. The frame mounting points for the front end assembly as well as the front end itself were pretty well toast. Over the next 2 weeks, we worked feverously on the frame and a new front end with an eye on the Mid Ohio National at the end of August. With a little triage work, we set some things aside that didn't absolutely HAVE to be done and finsihed in time to load up for the 12 hour tow to Ohio.
We got to Ohio and were fortunate enough to have the car work pretty well. I was experimenting with a couple of things that we had to "undo" during the event, but nothing FELL OFF, anyway <grin>. After qualifying 3rd, we battled with 6 other cars for the lead for about 9 laps of the scheduled 19. I lead several times, but so did most of the other cars in the pack. Finally, I got a break when I took the lead and the 2nd place car slipped a bit coming out of Turn 11 into Thunder Valley. Guarding that lead carefully, I left the pack fighting amongst themselves for second allowing me to extend the lead until the end.
Ultimately, that last win vaulted me into 3rd place in the Division - not 1st, but a LONG way from LAST - where I was after that first Roebling race. Donnie won the division, but elected not to attend the Runoffs due to business commitments (who said RACING was LIFE? - sometimes eating DOES have to come first ). As a matter of fact, of the 12 eligible SEDIV competitors, only 2 attended the final Championship event - Steve Oseth and myself.
The Valvoline Runoffs - SCCA National Championships - Oct
4-10 @ Mid Ohio Racetrack
Some [PICTURES] from Mid Ohio
This is IT! Where all the marbles are put into ONE basket and the winner takes it ALL. A new steering box assembly to tighten the steering a bit, and some fresh paint and decals and we were ready to go.
We got to Ohio in time to test, but found no openings (limited cars allowed) so didn't get on the track until Monday - the first official day of practice. Unfortunately, I left the grid on Monday and knew I was in trouble in T2 of lap 1. I built and installed a new steering box and pitman arm assembly and it started slipping on the box shaft. I stuck it out for a few laps to get what info I could about handling. By the time I gave up and came in, there was 3/4 of a turn of play in the steering!! At least I didn't hit anything.
Tuesday was a bit better - pretty chilly weather, but not freezing (high 40's and windy). This was a qualifier and the steering box was fixed, but couldn't get the car to turn in properly. I was using some new tires (Goodyear) that were introduced at this event. I qualified 8th, but felt it was about as good as I could do.
Wednesday - weather a bit warmer, but still chilly and windy. Decided to try a set of the older tires (ones we've been running all year) to see if they were better. NOPE! The Wage pushed worse even though I changed several things to try to loosen the car up. I went a couple of tenths faster but ended up in the same spot on the grid (8th).
Thursday. Not much to change on the car, but I messed around with the shock gas pressure and got a bit of help from Penske's Glen Knabenshue on valving. I decided to go back to the new tires. We were 'randomly' gridded for all qualifying sessions and I had never been anywhere CLOSE to any of the fast guys - this day was no different. I finally ran across Bob Neumeister on the track and ran close (behind) him for most of the session. Gary Kittel and I tried to work together (at least somewhat) trying to stay with 'Nuby'. I was able to maintain pace with him although he was faster in some parts of the track and I was faster in others - I never could catch him though. In the end, the attempt was almost enough as he ended up on the inside of the second row and I ended up on the outside (4th). (about 0.4 off the pole - 1:40.066 - The weather was GREAT - still cold, but not as windy.)
RACE DAY! - morning warmup was an 'iffy' track after an all night rain with a light mist coming down. Out of 37 cars, all but TWO went out - I was one of the the TWO :-). Just couldn't see the profit to warrant the danger of hurting the car only hours before the race. I had raced there before in the rain and I had confidence in the car. Fortunately, only one car went off (didn't hit anything) and one blew a motor (eventual 2nd place finisher Howard Landon).
Although the skies changed several times during the interim - with it looking like SLICKs 30 minutes before the race, the skies finally settled on RAIN - started gently at first - mist turning to moderately HEAVY mist convincing everyone to start the race on rain tires. Then about 10 minutes before race time, it started to come down just a bit heavier, then it progressively got heavier (at a very slow pace) for the rest of the day. It was raining lightly at the beginning of the race and moderately heavy near the end. Let up a bit for our interviews (didn't want the camera guys to get wet) and then started again.
The race was unbelieveable - I THOUGHT I was prepared for the rain and the decreased visibiility, but with the spray and the speed - even with no fog on my visor I couldn't even see my DASH most of the time. The back straight was scariest of all. We'd come out of the keyhole and as soon as we got going, everything ahead would disappear. I could tell roughly what "straight ahead" was, but didn't have a CLUE what was on the track in front of me. Every lap, I kept thinking about how bad a crash it was going to be if anything happened in front - I would never know until I hit whatever it was. We couldn't see any of the braking cones so had to use the grandstands (WAY too far away) as braking (actually "letting off the gas") markers. I went too slow every lap but one, but that was enough to remind me I didn't want to run off the end into China Beach (gravel trap). The concrete is like greased ice in the rain and we were all trying to find a line around the track that would avoid the concrete. I now have the entire track memorized and I'm quite certain I could drive it totally BLINDFOLDED! (but not without being scared.) As the race progressed, it got to the point that we couldn't go flat out even in the straight sections. There was a stream across the track coming out of T1 and another at the entrance of T2 (which caught at least 3 cars) that really floated the car. Going into T2, when there was a car in front of me (EVERY lap), everything went blank until I hit the brakes for the keyhole - I really am amazed that I didn't have any big incidents there.
The racing is now over for a while. I'm pretty sure I was the highest qualifier and finisher using "club" gas (I use AVgas). There was a lot of 'hot' fuel around up there, but it's still legal this year - should be outlawed next year (according to Comp board member Bob Lybarger). I just want to stick by the spirit of the rules and NOT spend $15 bucks a gallon to go minimally faster.
I'm still a bit soggy, but reasonably happy!! This is the first time I have FINISHED (3rd BTW) the Runoffs at MidO - crashed both of the previous years. I'm not sure if the weather helped me or hurt me - I was truly amazed at how far and how fast I went around that track without being able to see anything. A finish on the podium is always nice, but next year we'd like to move up a couple of spots to FIRST.
I would like to thank all of those corner and other race workers for supporting our racing - especially in conditions like those at Mid O. Thanks also goes to Rollin Butler at Cricket Farm Motors for building some really top notch motors that kept me at the front all year long. Mike Wilson and Jack Campbell at Quaker State Oil have saved me a couple of times when I lost oil pressure in the turns (due to not putting enough IN). Eric Rang and Jim Tyndall at CompTire South have provided help and advice all year and the new Goodyear tire seems to be the answer to some handling problems I've been having (just wish I could have used them during the Runoffs race). A special thanks to my wife, Linda, without whom I could never have raced these past 25 years. A special thanks too, to the Mansfield, Ohio gang, headed by Jerry Zeger, who have supported my efforts at that track for the last 3 years.
As they say in most things - there's ALWAYS NEXT YEAR! Looking forward to the next racing season - keep the rubber side down.
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