Wedge Racing in 2004
Once again, I skipped Moroso - this time in favor of a Pro Vee at Texas World Speedway.
Texas World Speedway - February
This was going to be a LONG tow and we knew it. Crew Chief, Jerry, flew down from Ohio to ride with Linda and I rather than travel direct. We split the trip across 2 days both ways and it was marginally tolerable. It was cold when we left, but interestingly, every time we got out of the motor home, it was COLDER! We also had alternator trouble with the MH again. Last year for Road America, we had a wiring problem, this time, the alternator itself just died. We spent about 2 hours extra in Meridian, MS getting it fixed. Naturally, no one had the correct alternator, but the guys at O'Reilly's were great and sorted through their stock until they found one that was close. Then we just had to swap the pulley between the units, reinstall it and we were on our way. Interstate 20 headed west through MS, LA, and TX really sucks. Mostly warped concrete and it beat the motorhome and trailer to a pulp. The continuous bumps finally dislodged one of my MH wheel covers somewhere along the way - ANOTHER $50 down the tubes :-(.
We arrived at TWS just before noon on Friday. It was raining lightly, just about 32.5 degrees and I was due to hit the track in about 1 1/2 hours. We got registered and paddocked up on top of the speedway behind the grandstands - the infield was already full and was MUDDY most everywhere anyway. Up on top. we had paved space and it was pretty decent except for the 35 mph winds that were virtually continuous - didn't calculate the chill factor, but it FELT like about ZERO! We also had some "new tricks" to work with. JR Russell of Roxannes Headers developed a new stepped exhaust system over the winter and we were going to see just how well it worked!
For the first session, I didn't expect much. I had been to TWS once before (20 years ago), but we ran a different configuration. The only part of the track that I had raced on before was the front straight. I put on my rain tires and went out just so I could find which way the turns went. It was quite interesting. I only had 1 spin, but the motor started acting up on the second lap - it would run for 15 seconds and then shut off for about 7 seconds. At the time, I thought it was carburetor icing, but more about that later. Jerry and I designed, developed and installed a "super carb ice preventer" for the next mornings' qualifier and hoped for the best. It rained all day and all night and was still misting lightly when qualifying time came.
We pulled out onto the track and the car seemed to run great. I was finally getting a chance to see the turns at speed - THEN, on the second lap, the carb started acting up again. Apparently, our 'fix' had not worked. I putted around the track as fast as I could go (not very) until the end of the session. Just trying to PRETEND I was going fast and imagining what the turns would look like 50 mph faster.
After the session, I tore into the carb and found the needle valve sticking again. After some research, I was able to determine that there was something like GLASS BEADS (tiny tiny bead particles) in the fuel. I can't imagine how it got there - might have been sabotage, might have gotten into the fuel cell with the fuel from trash in my fuel containers, might be the fuel cell foam disintegrating, .. or ???? At any rate, I couldn't really take the fuel cell out at that moment and clean it in time for the race so I went to the local "paddock person who sells things" and bought TWO more fuel filters. I put a second one following the one I already had coming from the cell and added a 3rd one between the fuel pump and the carb. Fortunately, this combination worked!!
This was a 'double' National weekend - one race on Saturday and the second (also counting as a Pro Vee race) on Sunday. It had ALMOST quit raining at race time, but the track was still damp. We elected to race on DRY tires as did most of the field. We had qualified 5th (of 29) with the engine just barely running, so I had high hopes that we would be competitive during the race. At the green, I jumped on the gas and was astonished to see myself mowing down the leaders (MAN - that exhaust system works GOOD!!<g>). I got up beside the pole sitter going into T1 (wide sweeping turn) and took the position going into T2. Behind me, mayhem had broken loose when 2 cars got together. Several cars were involved, but most continued. Jim Rainey (the "king" of TWS) was one of the unfortunate people off the track stuck in the mud. We had about 5 laps of yellow behind the pace car while the support staff cleaned up the mess (there were actually cars off at several turns). On the restart, I got passed into T1 and decided not to press the issue at T2 (too dangerous in the wet with slick tires). I waited until we got back to the front straight and passed for the lead. From there on, I was stretching my lead until the checkered flag fell. Not sure what the margin was at the end, but it was large enough - felt GOOD!! <g> - finishing order Davis, Alford, Zavelson.
SO! ... we had our carb fixed and Sunday morning dawned as NOT RAINING with forecast of low 60's (it didn't make it). We were ready for the morning qualifier - good engine, good tires and a win under our belt. Was NOT to be :-(. At the beginning of the second lap (track still had water running across it in several spots), 2 cars got together at T7 and left one of them dead in the middle of the track. We got black flagged into the pits and Linda was telling me that my car was smoking ... a LOT! When we pulled into the pits, one of the stewards came over to me and told me I was leaking oil and couldn't go back out onto the track until I got it fixed. DAMN !! STILL no chance to qualify! I drove the car back up to our paddock space and checked it over - found a broken head stud on the left side. When that happens, it opens a decent size HOLE in the head (where the stud goes through) and dumps OIL out profusely in right handed turns. It was a relatively simple fix, but I couldn't get it done in time to qualify.
Race time! Strangely, I qualified 7th on only the single lap of the qualifier - it could have been a lot worse. I had expected to be WAY at the back. This time, on a completely dry track except for a couple of minor spots on the front straight and a couple of puddles elsewhere that we could avoid, we took the green. Again, the car ran marvelously! I moved up and challenged for the lead before T1, but decided not to press and followed Charlie Hearn into T2. This time, all the pack made it through - I had Dan Alford right on my tail, Jim Rainey right on his tail, and Bill and Lisa Noble right behind Jim. We ran a pretty tight race. I took the lead on the second lap and ALMOST managed to break away a couple of times, but I just didn't have the confidence to go through the turns as fast as I should. All the other racers had raced here several times and I just couldn't keep them from catching me in the turns. Fortunately, I'm a quick study. I let Charlie lead a couple of laps and then Jim led one and I WATCHED them in the turns - trying to figure where I was loosing ground and where I was better. I took the lead again and ALMOST broke away again - but not quite. They ran me down and Jim blasted by with 2 laps to go. Starting the last lap, I was in perfect shape - behind Jim, the leader. I passed going in to T1 and took the lead! (I thought I wanted it - I could see that we were going to catch several lapped cars in the next couple of turns.) I drove deep into T1 and came around for T2 and as I set up for the turn, I heard a funny noise. Took a sec and realized that it was a CAR! Charlie was right beside me on the outside! I looked a him and looked at T2 and glanced in my mirrors .... and decided to let him have the turn. If I had forced the issue at that point, the best scenario would have been that Charlie got punted into the wet grass and mud - other scenarios involved lots of parts flying around and I wasn't interested in THAT! Charlie led through T2 and T3 and I could see the lapped cars in front of him. I plotted my strategy as he got balked at T6 - I was able to power through the turn and got up beside Charlie going into T7 and as we encountered a pack of about 4 lapped cars, I 'picked' him off with one of them as I got position for the next turn. I made it clean and got a good shot into T8 and T9. Held him off at T10 and was "free" until we got to the front straight. Now we had lapped cars EVERYWHERE. I was going around them on one side and Charlie on the other. Not too far back was Jim with Dan right behind - both just WAITING for Charlie and I to make a mistake. I came out onto the front straight and had 2 more lapped cars, side by side, in front of me. I drafted one and Charlie the other. We crossed the line only inches apart - with *ME* taking the win by 0.2 seconds. (Yeeaaaaaa!! <g>).
That's me, way on the inside...
It was a great set of races that made all that towing and cold weather much easier to bare. The Texas crowd was a great group of racers and I look forward to seeing them again. During the 2nd race, we raced wheel to wheel much of the race, but no one touched anyone that I'm aware of. Just good close racing!! Congrats to Charlie Hearn on a fine 2nd place finish. Jim Rainey was 3rd, with Dan Alford, and Bill Noble rounding out the front pack.
Kershaw - February
This turned out to be a very unusual weekend at Carolina Motorsports Park - the weather was absolutely BEAUTIFUL! We have become accustomed to freezing tornadoes there in recent years, but the weekend was great. We had a decent 10 car field of Vee's - we ran with the FF's and F5's in our group. Several NEDIV guys trekked down for some "easy points" this year <g> and it's nice for them to get away from the SNOW for a while. Nothing was particularly eventful. I practiced and qualified (2nd) on old tires and put on new ones for the race.
The car ran great - we took the lead on the start and never relinquished it - winning by something over 30 seconds. My results with JR's new exhaust system have been really outstanding. We also turned several laps in the low 51's - faster than we have been here since setting the track record (at 1:49.???) when the asphalt was fresh. Dean Curtis was 2nd, with Sherman Engler (fastest qualifier) 3rd, and newcomer Jeremy Grenier 4th in his first national race. Race Results
Roebling - March
For some strange reason, our Carburetor problems returned at Roebling. We essentially lost the practice and qualifier while we removed the fuel cell, extracted all of the foam and cleaned, vacuumed, swabbed, etc the cell. Then we cleaned, vacuumed, swabbed, etc. the carb again and hoped for the best in the morning warmup. Thankfully, everything seemed fine in the warmup - of about 8 laps we ran, 5 of them were faster than the pole time - although the track conditions were a bit better.
In the race, it took us a few laps to break from the field and start stretching a lead. We got the lead - then we stretched to 1 sec, then 2 secs, then 3 secs, THEN, a F500 spun and brought out a full course yellow. No pace car and it only took a lap to clear, so the pack didn't close appreciably - however, I DID catch the slower F5's in front of me. At the green, I was all over 2 F5's into T2 and stayed on them until the front straight. This continued for about 5 more laps until the one just in front of me SPUN in the carousel - turning completely sideways and STOPPING suddenly in my direct path - B L A M!! A big TBone!! Destroyed my nose and who knows what else?? I backed off the smoking hulk and the car SEEMED to go OK. We ran around for a couple of laps while the debris was cleared and on the restart, I got a great run and made my way from LAST to second by the start line. Unfortunately, when I got to T1, I realized that I had NO BRAKES!! (Actually VERY LITTLE brakes). I did manage to whoa the car down before leaving the asphalt, but lost about 3 spots in the process. Other than no brakes and trying to push a BRICK through the air, we seemed fine. About 2 laps later, Linda tells me on the radio that I'm SMOKING badly. I've already seen it, but was hoping it was someone else <g>. Seems like the collision with the F5 broke a head stud. Cause a loss of about 10-15% horsepower, but it's still running ... maybe I can salvage 5th place or so. Another couple of laps and the motor says 'No MORE!!'. Not sure what, but it really loaded down coming through the carousel (T6). I shut her off and coasted into the pits - DEAD LAST of 8 cars. :-(. All we can do is be more careful and hope for better things in the next race.
Road Atlanta - March
After another round with the fuel cell and carb and fuel filters and everything else I could find - not to mention (from the Roebling accident), fixing the broken brake line and nose and replacing the engine with the spare - we took off for Road Atlanta. I have to say, I've been somewhat disappointed with my lap times at Road Atlanta for the last 3 or 4 years. I resolved to do better. I have been TOO comfortable in the turns. I can't complain about my straightaway speeds - just my ability to GET IT ON to the straights :-). THIS weekend, I was going to do better, or CRASH trying!
First session, I THOUGHT hard about what I was (and SHOULD have been) doing. After a lap or 2, I remembered some thing that I USED to do differently....thank goodness. I reapplied my previously learned, then forgotten, strategies and - WOW, what a difference. Now, I'm shaking in my boots going through the turns and my laptimes show it - something in the area of 1 second a LAP faster than I've gone in recent years! (ALMOST enough to write home about <g>).
I ended up with the fastest qualifying time on 'not so good' tires and, although I saw that some of my competitors were buying fresh rubber, I elected to just get the 'best in the trailer' stuff - (pretty decent looking stuff) rather than opt for new tires ($$$). On the start, I got caught napping by Brian Keck and he easily beat me to turn 1. Having the additional time to study the situation, I saw up ahead that one of the F5's was having trouble getting into T1 and I set up outside of he and Brian. As we went up the hill, I found myself blasting past, as Brian got caught behind the swerving and then spinning F5 and I was 'gifted' with about a 1.5 second lead. At the conclusion of the first lap, I had about 2 seconds 'in hand'.
Over the course of the next few laps, I built that lead up to about 3 seconds before having an "issue" at T3 - not sure what happened, but it felt like I hit some oil or maybe I just screwed up and locked up one of the tires. I lost about 1 full second, but was fortunate enough to NOT slide off the track and lose position - only track time. Following that incident, I elected to go "fast without mistakes" and concentrated on hitting my marks and keeping the car where it was supposed to be. Watching my mirrors, I could see that Brian had broken from the rest of the field and was holding position with me about 3 seconds back. One single mistake, and the race would be his. PAY ATTENTION! to what you're doing. CONCENTRATE!! The gap between us varied about 1 second as he or I caught traffic or got a draft, but the general theme was that I was able to maintain my margin to the end.
Another nice win for the Wedge Racing Team !! On to Daytona...
Summit Point - April
Due to the loss of the nose and motor at Roebling, I just couldn't afford to got to Summit this year. Hopefully, we'll keep it on the schedule for next year!
Daytona - May
FINALLY! - a weekend without serious problems <g>. We made the trip to Daytona without incident, basked in the sun a couple of hours, went back to the track and registered (after well over 2 hours of standing in line), found a place to park (on asphalt even), unloaded, checked over the car (again) and then stopped for dinner at our favorite spot - Shells. The next morning, we were at the track "early" (about 8:30) since the van makes it through the tunnel. A session goes by, we re-prep the car and GO Racing!. After several years of having only 2 or 3 FVs at this event, a few more actually showed UP this time <g>. We had 6 cars pre-entered and all of them arrived on schedule. Everything went fine in the first session (a qualifier) and we were on the pole by a significant margin. Our next session wasn't until the next morning and, after checking over the car one more time, Linda, Tip and I loaded ourselves into the van and took off for the BEACH!!!
Old friend Tip Franklin (and a new friend of his) met us on the beach and we pretended we were just "on vacation" for a few hours. Got reddened (read BURNED!) a bit while dodging some cantankerous thunderboomers and enjoyed ourselves. Next morning dawned clear, but before track time, clouds loomed in the direction of the track. We elected to spend our time on the beach (sun still shining there) and take our chances on the grid instead of running the second qualifier. Turned out to be a good decision, since the turns were still damp during that session - no one could threaten our pole time. (Did I mention that THIS event, was the first (that I know of) SCCA event that ran the new "Grand Am" short chicane?). It was interesting..... the turn into the chicane is the same, but getting out of the chicane is a complete new adventure!! <g>. We managed to keep from spinning (though I'm not sure how) during the event and actually just STARTED to get a feel for how fast we might be if we ever get it right! (about 1 second or so slower than the "old" chicane). The exit of the chicane is pretty much ON TOP OF the entrance to it now!.
When the race started, John Newcomb beat Dennis Wicklein behind me into second, but I held onto first as we mixed into a gaggle of F500's in Turn 1. The F5's blasted away from us exiting T1 and disappeared, leaving me to fend off John and Dennis alone. We were pretty tight going into the chicane when John missed his turn in (or turn out) and had to work HARD to correct it. I ended up with a "measurable" advantage, although both were still in my mirrors. A lap later and I stretched it just a bit (if I just DON'T screw up!!) as they fought with each other. I set my mind up to put together a really good lap for the lap record (this WAS, after all, the first FV race on the shortened chicane track - so SOMEBODY was going to set the record <g>). Running out front with no draft at Daytona, is *NOT* the way to set a record lap.... so I "practiced" fast laps while waiting on the FF's and F5's to lap me.
I finally got a decent draft as the lead F5 came through and I tagged on behind. I got to follow him half way down into the chicane and then most of the way to the Start line before he was out of reach. A decent lap according to OUR times, though I have not yet seen the "official" lap times from T&S. Hopefully, it will stand for more than 1 weekend at least <g>. We finished the race without making a MAJOR mistake - at least we didn't get CAUGHT at it! - and won.
Another notch on the belt and we're now working on setups for Mid Ohio next month!
Road Atlanta (#2) - June (we will defer Road A for Mid Ohio due to the Runoffs and expected competition at MO - same weekend)
Mid Ohio - June
Well.... Hmmmm. The trip up wasn't bad :-). Actually, the weekend went pretty well. Crew Chief, Jerry was there with his sidekicks - Jack, Bob and Ron and we enjoyed some good company. We qualified the first session on really old tires - ended up 7th. Not too bad. Put on some better stuff for the second Q and moved up to 2nd - fastest in that session. Then we put on our best set of tires for the race.
At the green, we got pushed out a bit at T1 and had to follow in 3rd up the hill. Coming down the backstraight, things looked pretty good. I passed the top 2 (Oseth and Pipitone) and took the lead into T5. At the end of that lap, I had a pretty decent lead of, maybe 5 car lengths. At the end of the 2nd lap, I led by about 10 car lengths. Unfortunately, about that time, the car started to SMOKE like a NASCAR 'big one' :-(. I checked my gauges and put in another lap - stretching the lead a bit more. My oil pressure gauge said all was well, but in my heart I knew it couldn't last. I'm just not smart enough to take action on that. With the amount of smoke coming out, it's a miracle that we didn't catch on fire! Needless to say, halfway through the 4th lap, the engine started making funny noises and I shut it down and coasted into the pits.
Turns out that an oil line fitting broke - at JUST the right spot to keep oil pressure on the GAUGE but not on the BEARINGS! On the good side, I shut it down before it self destructed and it "only" took a few critical (and expensive!) parts to get it going again. I have now reworked the oiling system to (hopefully) prevent such a disaster from recurring.
On the good side, both my 2nd and 3rd laps were faster than anyone else's fastest laps - so we were quick! Just have to work on that reliability thing... More on the good side, Rollin found a broken piston during the repair that would likely have caused MUCH more damage had the engine kept running.
Next is the LONG tow to 'the Glen'...
Road America (Elkhart Lake, WI) - Chicago Region June Sprints - June Gas price escalation and too many out of division races point towards a SKIP of this race this year. I hate to miss it, but just can't afford to race everything I want.
Roebling Double National - July
Skipped this event as well. Just costs too much to do everything and this weekend is the one before the Glen. Back to back weekends are tough enough when one of them ISN'T a 2000 mile tow.
Watkins Glen - National/ProVee - July.
For a drawing of Watkins Glen and notations of the turn numbers check out THIS
To see the elevation changes check out THIS ONE
OK - we MADE it! No towing problems (other than STEEP hills up in Pennsylvania) and we got there sooner than expected just in time for a driving rainstorm. Interestingly, when the rain let up, we saw about the most beautiful RAINBOW
we've ever seen (I stitched 2 pix together to show both ends). I have seen many in my day, but it's quite rare to be able to see pretty much from the 'pot o gold' on one end, all the way to the other end. You can also see a secondary rainbow above the first one. I walked forward and got a shot of the right hand end going all the way to the ground, but couldn't stitch that together.
Cousin Jeff and wife, Nancy, drove up from New Jersey to watch the race and Crew Chief, Jerry drove over from Ohio to help us out. Always nice to have friends and relatives come and participate in the fray :-). We could have made the test day, but I opted to save the money. It would cost quite a bit to pay for the test day registration and then pay for all the stuff that it takes to RUN a test day. We walked around and looked at the track from all the places I could see it - talked to some competitors who had lots of laps there and tried to make sure the car was ready for Saturday morning.
I forced myself to use the oldest tires I could find for the first qualifying session. It's always nice to go fast, but I had never turned a wheel on the track before and needed a good excuse to NOT try to go too fast (I learned my lesson at VIR a few years ago <G>). The first session was simply to get a feel for the track and not trash the car - we succeeded. Still managed to be 12th out of about 23 cars - not too bad ("only" 3 seconds off the pole time).
The temp for the 2nd session was quite a bit warmer - now up over 80 degrees, but with some "somewhat better" tires, we tried to stay pretty much by ourselves (stayed away from other cars to learn the track better) and moved up to 7th on the grid (now only 2 seconds off pole time). No great time, but now beginning to get a good feel for the track. We only had 2 qualifiers for the National race, but still had one left for the Pro Vee. Next session, track temps were about the same and we put on our best set of old tires and decided to run 'in the pack' a bit to see how we fit in. The session went quite well (despite some '4 wheels in the grass' at T1) - we ran with some of the 'fast guys' and ended up 3rd on the Pro Vee grid with a time about 1/2 sec below the track record - not too bad for the first time at the track. End of the day and a nice 'feed' by the local SCCA Region - hot wings, pizza and beer - what more could a body ask for <G>.
Next morning, we ran 2 laps in the hardship practice to scrub in a new set of tires for the PV race, then immediately turned around for the National race since we were group 1 (changing back to our best set of old tires again). We drove the car to the false grid (where we wait for the start of the race) - then, at the grid command, started the motor and waited for the 'go'. About 20 seconds before the 'go' command, the engine made a funny noise and QUIT. Wouldn't recrank. The rest of the cars left the grid for the pace lap and we hooked the Wage up to the ATV and pulled it off to start it. Finally started, but sounded TERRIBLE! We drug it back over to the paddock space and I hopped out and started taking things loose as the field took the green. After about 10 minutes of futsing around, I finally found a stuck intake valve on the #2 cylinder. I'd never seen anything like that before and, mostly in frustration, whanged the valve spring with my pliers .... VOILA!! The valve popped back into position ?? After pondering for a moment, I decided 'what the hell' and put the valve train stuff back on and turned the engine over - all seemed OK. I started it, and it ran OK! SOOOOO..... I put everything back together and got my gear back on. Recranked it (not expecting it to work) - it fired and I headed towards the track.
I got onto the track (9 laps down of 14) and everything seemed just fine. As I wondered where the 'pack' was, I looked into my mirrors and saw the leaders just entering T1 as I was leaving T2. I put my foot in it and tried to get up to speed. The next lap at T2 I watched the lead car (in my mirror) spin in front of that big pack in the turn behind me. How he managed to NOT get 'collected' is beyond me. I noticed, however, that they were a bit closer and decided that, if I didn't pick a decent spot to let them by, I could end up in a WHOLE BIG OLE MESS that I didn't need to be a part of... I slowed down on the back straight and let the entire pack by - being surprised by just how big that pack was - 7 cars, I believe - all nose to tail or closer! I tagged onto the tail-end of the pack and kept a respectable distance - close enough to watch the fun, but far enough back (I hoped) to not be involved in any melee that might occur.
Brad Stout, the "previous leader who spun", recovered nicely and proceeded to tear up the racetrack. In only 3 laps, he made up probably 5 seconds and regained the back of the lead pack (setting a new lap record in the process). 2 laps later (the LAST lap) Brad took the lead with a daring pass on the inside of Turn 9 going toward the 'toe of the boot'. Coming out of the toe, the pack fanned out trying to get past Brad (Brad's car was very WIDE at that point) and at the braking for the 'heel of the boot', Jim Kearney got a little loose and Ray Carmody ran up over his rear tire - launching Ray into the air - VERY high and ping ponging both cars into the gravel. With both Ray and Jim upside-down in the gravel, the stewards RedFlagged the race (STOP RACING NOW!) and the finishing order reverted to the previously scored lap. Jim had won the race and Ray finished 3rd, though both were out of commission in the gravel trap. Fortunately, both drivers were unhurt except for serious inflammation around the wallet area. For reasons that are still not clear, the engine seemed to run just FINE during those few laps. We decided to NOT change the motor before the Pro Vee race. We just put on our new tires and took our chances. We did, however, make some changes to our Roxannes Header system and it seemed to help.
With Jim Kearney (previous PV pole sitter) watching from the sidelines, Brad Stout and I inherited the front row. When the green came out, I got the jump and beat the field into T1. I led the first lap around and back across the start line and seemed to think I was actually pulling away - NOT! When we got to the uphill back straight, the next 3 cars freight-trained me and went flying by. We raced closely for several laps - each of the 4 taking the lead at one point or another. In that dangerous T9, Roger (Siebenauler) lost it in front of me and I thought we were all going to race car heaven for a moment, but somehow he saved the car - only loosing a couple of carlengths to Brad, who was leading at the time. Roger (probably to let the smell air out of his car) dropped to the back of the pack and watched and waited. Ed Womer and I went after Brad, who seemed to be opening up a bit of a lead. After a couple of laps, I got a clean shot into the inner loop (chicane at the end of the back straight) and started gaining ground on Brad. I finally caught him after 2 more laps, bringing Ed and Roger with me - back into the original 4 car pack.
From this point, it was down to setting up for the finish. As we entered the last lap, I thought I was in pretty good shape. The order was Ed, Brad, me and Roger. I felt like a good draft from 3rd would put me in the lead at the inner loop (the big objective) - HOWEVER, -each driver had his own plans :-). Ed's was to get OUT of the lead so he slowed down - a lot. No one wanted to pass yet, so we ended up going 4 wide down into 2 where everything broke crazy on the uphill run. I can't remember exactly where everyone was, but somehow Brad ended up in the lead with Roger and I passing Ed on either side headed for the turn into the 'loop'. It came down to crunch time and I had the inside position, but Roger came over so fast that I saw no way that we could both get through there and live to talk about it - I blinked - I didn't want to be loading a torn up race car for the tow home and I still had one more shot at it at T13. We ran screaming down the hill - nose to tail - into the toe and back up the hill. I lost too much ground dodging Roger at the loop and couldn't make up the ground. Then I missed the downshift going into T13 and Ed made a run up the hill on the outside. He was about a 1/2 car length in front, but I maintained pace on the inside and as we climbed the hill I gained some back. I turned in early to take the inside line. Ed was wider and tried to take his normal line (which passed through my car) - we hit wheels (side to side fortunately) - I maintained control and kept to the inside until I could see that Ed was in my mirrors and we crossed the finish line that way 3rd and 4th. I caught a glimpse of Brad leading Roger through the last turn, but don't think Roger was close enough to threaten for the win. Final order - Brad, Roger, me, Ed.
All in all, it was a pretty decent race - at least it seemed so from my perspective. I remember some light contact from most sides, but we all came out of it OK with no one in the gravel trap and no cars hurt beyond a paint scratch (that I know of).
The track was pretty nice, but I have to say this is the scariest track I have ever driven. The high speed downhill sweeper (T9) into the toe of the boot, is a 'life reflecting' experience. Watching that wall come at you at 90+ MPH provides a definite pucker factor - as does T8 after the inner loop and T17 coming back onto the front straight. These are the highest speeds with the least amount of runoff room (NONE) of any track I have ever raced. A mistake or suspension failure at any of those points and you wouldn't even have time to think "I'm going to have a wreck!" before it was all over. Never the less - it was a fun and exciting experience. Another new track to add to the 'done' list and something to remember.
The last race of the regular season is VIR, which has also recently become a ProVee race. For once, I'll get to run more than just one of the PV events - this year, I might make 3 - at least I hope so :-).
VIR (Virginia International Raceway)- August
OK - the regular season is over and the car is NOT torn up <G>. We had a pretty good weekend ... motorhome drove good, no problems towing and the weather was quite nice. We had several exhaust pipe configurations to try, but other than that, the car seems to be doing about as good as we could hope for. This weekend was a combined National and Pro Vee race again. We wanted to win the National and finish 'high' in the Pro Vee. Although we had a small field, there were at least four cars with the potential to win the races.
We practiced and qualified on old tires. I had the division championship sewed up anyway and there was no sense in wasting money. I still wanted to win, but the expense of new tires just couldn't be justified. Qualifying isn't that important anyway in a small field. Only if we have more than about 20 cars does the qualifying position become a priority. I ended up 2nd for the National and 3rd for the Pro Vee. The 'fast four' ended up together in both sessions and we were all very close in times.
The National was first and in the morning. We bolted on some "better", but still used, tires and put on our game face. When the green flew, as expected, the top four cars broke away from the rest almost immediately. Each led the race at some point and no one made any huge mistakes. Donnie and I touched each other at T1 at one point when he tried to pass late into the turn, but we both continued without serious incident. Each took his shot at making an independent breakaway - dropping off the other cars - no one was successful. I was leading on the next to last lap - trying to figure out how I could get back into the lead after the rest passed me on the last lap. Wow - all of a sudden, Donnie drafted by on the back straight! I said 'thank you' and wondered why (found out later that he had the wrong lap count - he thought it was the last lap). Entering the last lap, I was right where I wanted to be. I drafted past Donnie on the back straight and took the win, with Donnie 2nd, Jeremy 3rd and Steve Schiff 4th. All still pretty close.
We rested a while and then waited for the Pro Vee. The race started pretty normally and looked a lot like the national. The top 4 broke away and fought amongst ourselves. Schiff spun at T1 on about the 3rd lap and left the other 3 of us to battle. He recovered and made a valiant effort to catch us - getting pretty close before he spun again at 'hog pen' (hard right hander at the end of the back straight). All was going well. Jeremy was leading, then me, then Donnie. I was just where I wanted to be with 2 laps to go. Then Donnie muscled his way by going in to T1 on the next to last lap. I decided that I could PROBABLY pass for the win from 3rd - at least I should get 2nd ... so I waited and didn't try to pass on the straight. We went into T1 on the last lap all together. Everything was fine ... then Donnie slipped going through T4 and held both of us up. Jeremy pulled out about 10 car lengths in 2 seconds. I was trapped behind Donnie - no place to pass where it wouldn't slow us both down, so I just followed him as close as I could. We got to 'Oak Tree' - the tight right hander at the top of the long back straight - and DAMN if Donnie didn't slip again - Jeremy pulled away some more and I spent a few seconds trying to decide whether to try to pass Donnie then (too early and I didn't have a 'run') or wait. I decided that both Donnie and I would have a better chance if I passed him. Unfortunately, about that time, Donnie decided that he was racing for 2nd rather than 1st. He held me off and, since HE had the draft from Jeremy, I couldn't get past him. We went through Hog Pen in the same order and I tried my best to get beside him before the finish line. Jeremy had a clean 4 car length lead at the line and I got about 1/2 way along side Donnie - enough to LOOK good, but that's about it :-).
Anyway - a great finish! Quite close racing and good competitors. And I was CLOSE - and *THIS TIME* "close" does count (from what I've been told). Apparently, the last Pro Vee race - scheduled for Topeka in October - has been cancelled and that makes THIS the last PV race for the year. I have the greatest number of points, seeing as how I have finished in the top 3 in all 3 races and therefore, _*I*_ seem to be the Pro Vee Champion for 2004 !! <big smile>. I'm afraid, tho', that there are no huge awards for being champion any more. Just the "glory of the wooden plaque", as they say. This is the first time I've ever competed in more than 2 PV events, so I still consider it an accomplishment - and 2 of them were at tracks that I had never driven before!
On to the Runoffs - to redeem myself from last year's debacle with the transmission..
Runoffs - September
Well, FINALLY... a Runoffs race that doesn't result in disaster for the Wedge Racing Team :-). The tow up was nice - no problems, but, since we were testing on Friday, it started raining on Friday early morning. That pretty much screwed our test day, but at least we learned a couple of things. Crew Chief, Jerry, was on my case all day about checking the alignment - of course, I said it was "OK". I did note, however, that the car had some shimmy going into the keyhole. At the end of the day, we pulled the nose off to see if the steering stabilizer shock had some loose and GUESS WHAT!? We found all of the lock nuts loose on the steering mechanism (where I had left them while waiting to do the alignment at home - then FORGOT!) and the toe out by over 1/2 inch! Guess I should listen to Jerry a little more often, huh!?
After considering several possibilities following the rainy test day, we decided that it would be in our best interest to try to test again on Sunday if possible. Saturday was a great day, but was already full. Fortunately, there was a spot open for Sunday, so we bit the bullet ($$$) and signed up. I had made a MAJOR suspension change since VIR and really needed some extra DRY time to make sure it worked, before we started qualifying.
Sunday dawned great weather and we got 3 sessions on the track. The new suspension setup seemed to work pretty well, but we did have to do some tweaking on the shock settings to make the car work like it needed to. We also changed the collector configuration on our Roxannes Headers exhaust system to try to decide which of them was the best (inconclusive). In the last session, we also tested (fully) the newly designed steering pitman arm that I had built and found it IN-adequate!! It broke coming through turn 13 at about 85 MPH and almost put me in the tire wall. Fortunately, the gravel trap slowed my speed and we were able to limp into the pits - dirty and full of rocks, but not destroyed!
Some consultation with our local Mid Ohio fabricator, Bob Swank (if you ever need anything designed or built at the Runoffs - he's the MAN!), and he took off to build us some repair stuff. He brought it back to the track in the wee hours and Monday morning early, we brought out the mig welder and glued all the parts back together for another try.
Monday practice was the only session for the week that approximated the time that we would race on Sunday, so everyone was paying attention - even if the lap times didn't really count for anything. We did "ok" - I think we were about 7th fastest or so - but we were still trying different setups, and not really trying for fast laps. It was with SOME trepidation that I was directed into IMPOUND after that first session - recent experiences having been "not so good". They weighed us (I was fine) and then checked the size of the intake manifold (I was fine) and THEN they checked the TRANSMISSION in 3 of the 6 (I was one) and the engine valve lift of the others. Interestingly (as I predicted last year), tech "inspected" my EXACT SAME GEARBOX AS LAST YEAR" and pronounced it "legal". When I asked if it didn't look EXACTLY like it did last year?? The answer I got was "this one looks legal" - the tech inspectors wouldn't admit that it looked the same as last year and give me a chance to prove it legal. Oh well - I never really expected them to admit their mistake and give me a chance to clear my name.
Tuesday afternoon finally came and everybody got their boxing gloves on :-). NOW, things started to COUNT! Compared to previous efforts at Mid Ohio Runoffs, I felt the session went pretty well. We ended up qualifying 9th with a time "not as good" as I was confident that we could do, and that was fine with us - still 2 more tries to go. We went back to the "old" Roxannes collector setup since it still felt better by the "seat of the pants" - my computer data was still inconclusive.
Wednesday was the latest session we had - almost 5PM. It seemed that it might cool off a bit, but I'm not sure it actually happened. Tues, Wed and Thurs were about the hottest days at Mid Ohio in several weeks! I went a tic faster, but still dropped - but only ONE spot! so I wasn't too upset :-) Not HAPPY, but "ok" with it since I didn't really feel like we got a good lap. Seemed like we were in the right spot, but we just didn't "click" like we needed to. There's something else not quite right.
We continue to go over the car - looking at this and that. Trying to find something that will make a difference. I studied previous data gathered during our 2 test days and decided that I needed to give the new 'Dual Merge' Roxannes' collector another chance. In the meantime, Rollin and I took the heads off the motor and cleaned them up (with help from local, Jack Fisher) and reassembled a "clean" engine.
Everything fired up fine, but Jerry immediately noticed a significant oil leak :-(. I thought I had not gotten the cylinders sealed up good enough, but it turned out to be the oil filter/cooler block on top of the engine. After a few hours of cleaning and resealing, all was well again and we were ready to go. (I think we dodged a BULLET on that one - it could've happened during the race!)
Same old tires, "cleaned" engine, new Roxannes' collector - slight 'tweak' on the shock and we were set. The last qualifier was after 4PM - still HOT and greasey. This time we used the first 3 laps to do the best lap we could without a draft, then went hunting for that elusive "HOT LAP"! My "alone" lap was faster than any of my previous qualifying laps, so that was good. As I tried to set up my "fast" laps, it became immediately obvious that I "didn't have the stuff" down the back straight. I could get a good draft, but could NOT make the pass going into the esses to "seal" the lap. Now it gets tough. We have to set up a lap where we DON'T have to pass, but still get a draft! ....very...tricky... <G>. We found a pack of 4 cars (great group to draft from), and after 2 tries we got a better lap again than any previous. 3 more tries left us "wanting" as we had great setups, but caught the pack in T11 on one lap, then in T13 (of 15) on the next one. The data says they "would have been" better laps, but I would have ended up in the same place on the grid - 4th. Still, not a bad place to start from <G>.
NOW - qualifying is all over and we have TWO DAYS to sit around and worry about what we missed - or will miss. Good and bad..., but we tried to use it wisely. I spent quite some time studying my data (from data acquisition system - MPH, RPM, CHT, EGT, L/R g's, F/R g's. All the info is interesting but always suspect. One must be very careful not to let the data tell you something that is not really true. I have seen many drivers (and crews) data themselves to death. I try to be very careful and keep the practical aspect of the seat of the pants there to balance off the data. Nonetheless, the data doesn't lie, it just leads you places. Reading data must be a black art somewhere. I'm not an expert in that art, but I do know that it can easily lead you astray.
During this 2 day down time, I finally came upon a thought (in the wee hours of the morning). Maybe my collector configuration for the new Roxannes collector was wrong. I could rotate the collector 90 degrees and pick up different pipes. The word from on high, is that "it doesn't make any difference" - so why not TRY IT !!? :-).
Sunday morning warmup was our test bed. New tires to scrub in and the changed collector configuration. I only ran 5 laps, but 3 of them were quicker than our best qualifying time *AND* I was able to pass one of the front runners on the back straight - apparently the collector change WORKED - WE HAD A SHOT AT WINNING (or so it seemed) !! <g>. Now, a couple of hours to kill waiting for the RACE!!
RACE TIME ...
IT STARTS!! We came out of the keyhole looking for the green. I must say, that I was shocked to see the green fly as early as it did. I can't believe we didn't still have some cars on the up side of the keyhole, but away we went. It was VERY dicey on that first lap, but the front 6 or 8 pretty much held position. There we cars everywhere going through 7 and 8, but by nine, it seemed that we singled out - at least in the front where I could see. By the time we got back to the finish stand, they were showing DoubleYellow for the safety car, who picked us up at pit out. Our first trip by China Beach (gravel at the end of the back straight), showed us that somebody was in the gravel. On the next 2 trips by, I saw that Ethan Shippert and a yellow car - Driezler or Kendall, had ended their day already.
On the 4th yellow lap, we finally got restarted. Not quite as early green this time, but we still had a big challenge going into T7 (I'm going to call the turn at the end of the backstraight 7, even though there is debate about exactly which number it really is). Fending off the challenges was tough, but we made it again with no crashes!
The remaining laps tend to blur in my memory banks. I tried to break off with Brad as a 2 car pack, but Brad's car just wasn't handling up to snuff and he was "reluctant" to let me lead. I stayed nicely behind him, but the pack kept catching us at the Carousel and Keyhole and there didn't appear to be much I could do about it. Jeff Loughead passed Roger for 3rd, and we had a new front three. A couple of laps later as the lead shuffled, I saw Roger and Skip Streets battling in my mirrors and thought "this is good!" - if they worked each other over hard enough, we could end up with a 3 car lead pack instead of 6 or 7 cars. Finally, with about 4 laps to go, the lead 3 began to pull away a bit. As we came down the back straight for the penultimate lap, everyone was jockeying for position. Brad led out of the keyhole and as we passed the kink, I started my move on the inside. I could see Jeff move to the outside and thought "this is good" again, but Jeff pulled off the most unbelieveable pass on the outside of T7. It was all I could do to avoid contact with Brad and keep from sliding into Jeff on the outside!! As we all settled down I thought - "this is PERFECT! - right where I want to be!". I was in second place, behind Jeff and in front of Brad. We all freight trained around to the carousel where trouble brewed :-(. As I came through T13 (leading into the carousel), Brad was still right on my tail. I needed to make sure that the inside line never got open enough for Brad to dive in there (or so I thought). At any rate, trying to watch Brad and drive the proper line at the same time, proved to be more than my feeble brain could handle. I protected the inside OK, but slid wide as a result and that left me "behind" for the next left hander coming onto the front straight. I knew I was had - Brad got position on the inside of the front straight and I gave way to try to give him (BOTH of us) a better line through T1 - I knew that we needed a good shot through T1 to have a shot at Jeff. I still thought I had a shot at 1st, even from 3rd. Unfortunately, that wasn't to be. Brad didn't get over soon enough to get a good shot through T1 and we lost more ground. Then, Jeff got a GREAT draft off a lapped car, while Brad and I both had to 'contend' with that same lapped car at the keyhole (lapped car was great - we just had to be extra careful). I followed Brad, but had to give the lapped car the most clearance (as I was "last" of the pack) and lost even more ground to Brad. Jeff again, got a GREAT draft down the backstraight from another lapped car and Brad and I just couldn't make up the ground. I lost enough from the first lapped car that I couldn't even catch Brad going in to T7. I caught him in the 'twisty bits', but could only make a futile lunge at the carousel that resulted in my going off track a bit, but still finishing a strong 3rd - about a car length behind Brad and several more behind Jeff at the finish line.
That's me on the right with my BACK to the camera (my best side <G>)
The races will be broadcast again this year on SpeedTV. Vee will be shown at 2:00PM on Saturday, Dec.11. The complete schedule of races can be found at
http://www.scca.com/Event/Event.asp (be sure to scroll down to the list schedule)
It is never stated anywhere early, but Speed has also generally run an "all day SCCA Marathon" on Christmas Day for all of the Championship races of each year.
All in all - a bit disappointing in some respects, but a BIG step up from where we've been in the last few years. We're finally back on the podium and - - it's not too bad - having finished on the podium 5 times in 3 different decades on 4 different track configurations, with 3 different engine builders .... we could be doing worse!!
Rollin (Butler Engines), has PROMISED me more HP for next year and I certainly intend to do my part to continue to develop the car (at least until the guys in the white suits come to take me away, ha ha!!)
Our special thanks to Rollin of Cricket Farm Motors, JR of Roxannes Headers, Jerry and Minnie of Mansfield, Bob of Mansfield, Jack and Pattie of Lexington and the legion of supporters over at the Esses who watch me race and cheer me on every year!! Oh yeah - don't forget the great Goodyear Staff and, of course, Valvoline and Kohler who help us have this event every year. OH - and the host of FV competitors that we race with every year. This is still the greatest class in SCCA racing (maybe ALL racing) for over 40 years!! We are continuing to develop a long range plan to keep it going for another 40 years !!
End of 2004 Season!!
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) , Butler Engines and Roxannes Headers. Thanks to Eric Rang and his tire crew, Rollin Butler and his motors, JR Russell and his exhaust systems... 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>. My visits to Mid Ohio would be extremely rare if it weren't for my crew chief, Jerry Zeger who lives close to the track and provides IMMEASURABLE support to us when we race. Jerry travels to many of my venues and is a major part of the Wedge Racing Team.
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