WDMS - Chapter 216 - March 2014
NASA TEXAS EVENT #2
This event rather snuck up on us as Anna and I had been very busy helping the owner/organizer of TX2K get ready for that event. For the first time in many years, TX2K (www.tx2k.com) was changing up the schedule from the typical 4-day automotive event of road course/dyno/drag days, to a FIVE day event consisting of two days of roll racing at TWS, then a dyno day followed by two days of drag racing, with the last three days at Hennessey in Sealy. We were in charge of making the roll race happen (the dyno day too, but that's pretty easy), so a ton of time was spent getting the right workers, rules, tech sheets and a procedure system in place so it would run smoothly. And banners, radios, cones, paint, and a million other little things. Those of you who have run events know what I'm talking about here...
Thanks to Cody for a lot of the track snaps on this page...we both shared camera duty this weekend!
The NASA event was the weekend just prior to the Wednesday start of TX2K and so a week prior to THAT, I got serious about making sure Scratcher was ready for the weekend. I blew off putting my fresh tires on the car as it was going to be cold and potentially rainy and I figured I'd just make do with the same ones I ran in Houston in January. The transmission has a minor leak, but it is difficult to tell from where so I left it after adding a bit of fluid to top it off and cleaning it. I barely used 4th gear at all in Houston and I figured I'd never get out of third in Cresson, so I thought about putting in a different rear gear to help me, but decided against it because work and TX2K stuff was just too time consuming. Everything else seemed fine, so I simply flushed the front brake fluid and re-bled with some fresh stuff as well as adding new brake caliper temp labels to check things out. With the threat of rain very real as late as Thursday, I took my mounted scrubs and hand-grooved a shallow pattern in them and decided if it was damp/rainy prior to a race, I'd put those on and hope for the best. Otherwise, I'd simply burn up the old tires and keep the fresh ones in the trailer and use them for TWS in April.
One of my handcuts, and the coveted FLTOUT plate
I had planned to come up Friday, but with the TX2K planning and my work being a bit hectic, that didn't happen. The three-week-prior plan was for me and Fair and Matt/Misty White to all paddock again but that went out the window when the M's stayed home. Fair made it out to the track Friday just after lunch and called me and said it was a zoo. NASA decided to put their big trailer blocking the 'usual' tech (is the reason I heard several times), so they commandeered the covered grid for tech and then took the skidpad paddock area away and used that for grid, making a goofy and horrible exit for race cars and wasting a ton of paddock space in the process. Result? Massive crowding in the paddock even though turnout was fairly light. I have no clue why this was done exactly, but I do know it was horrible and a very bad decision. If everyone did indeed suffer through this because of a single trailer then shame on the NASA official who decided to put their own needs above their customers. I've never heard of any sanctioning body or event using the facilities this way and inconveniencing all the racers by costing paddock space and NOT using the covered grid as intended. Supposedly they did this two years ago and had a lot of complaints and said they'd not do it again, but then...here we are. Of course, I'm making this statement based on heresy, but nobody has volunteered any other reasons <shrug>.
So Fair cones out a small slot I can pull into straight off the pavement and work out of the back of my trailer sandwiched next to him doing the same thing. Landrum (CMC driver) was on the other side and when I pulled in at the crack of dawn on Saturday, he graciously moved over as much as he could to allow me a little more room. Huge thanks Glenn! Once Toth showed up in his borrowed Audi and Cody showed up in his M3, we were packed in pretty tight, but we made it work because we had to. Several times a day we had to jockey cars around to get them in/out serviced. Ug.
I'd double entered this weekend as well, putting Scratcher in TTU for the time trials (TT) group and SU for the wheel-to-wheel racing. My fastest time in any of the 3 TT sessions on Saturday (4 on Sunday) would place me in that event (1 event each day). For the w2w, we'd qualify in the morning and then have our first race and then the finishing order of the race would set the grid for race 2. Then do the same thing for Sunday.
So Saturday it was pretty cold when I got there and I discovered upon checking the weather that it was only going to get colder as the day wore on. The day got brighter as the sun raised behind the curtain of grey, but every hour it dropped a degree or two. Astute readers will already know that I hate cold. Hate hate cold. So when the TT warmup session rolled around I slid in the car and headed to grid as the field headed onto the track. I was on big wide tires, the hardest compound Goodyear makes, they were old and....yes...it was cold. It was, quite literally, about 4 laps before I had about 50% of the grip I normally do. To reiterate for the slow learner's out there, these tires are horrible at this ambient temperature. I basically just slid the car around, tried to stay out of the grass and out of other folks' way as I tried to put heat in the tires and brakes. Fastest of the session was the autocross-compound folks, with the best running a 1:19.7 and me in 6th (out of 25) exactly 1 second off with a 1:20.7. While I knew I was slow, it was good to see everyone else slow as well! My in-car cam caught some folks going off track on the outlap as well as moments after the green flag flew. Cold tires can bite. (lol) #badpun
After checking results and adjusting tire pressures, I slid back into the car for the first official TT session. I was not going to stay long as my race group qualifier was shortly after, but with the car still somewhat warm, I eased back on up to grid. I was using a new toy this weekend, an AIM SOLO lap timer (get yours here: www.vorshlag.com) and it was awesome. Freaking. Awesome. It has a static screen that tells you lap times and a predictive function that tells you the lap you are currently on and if it is faster or slower than previous. Fair has been raving over it and I've really been wanting predictive times so I got one. It is incredible. So, I go out near the tail again and after a warmup lap I blitz a fairly quick lap, still leaving room on the table, but going a LOT faster than the warmup. The SOLO flashed a 1:17.7 and I figured that was good for the top and I pulled in. Little did I realize that the autocross-tire'd Mustang that Fair was wheeling would nip me by .034!! Great job Fair! I didn't go out in either of the last two TT session as my time was good enough to win my class, but another driver went out in the third session and laid down a 1:17.5 for fastest TT time of the day. I ended up with third fastest time overall, but won TTU for Saturday (yay!).
Screenshots of timing. Fair had me by .034 for the TT session, but next session (SU) I dropped to a fastest-overall-time-of-the-day 1:17.3! Let's just ignore the fact he's in a street car...but I sure was jealous of those fresh autocross tires!! When I showed Fair the first screenshot he instantly said "OMG SEND THAT TO ME" and it was plastered on social media post haste! LOL.
Having just been off the track for a few minutes, I launched from grid for the w2w qualifier with another group of cars. I am getting to know the TT guys and who I can run next to and who is a little more erratic, but I also need to learn all the w2w group (our group is 'blitz' and is comprised of 4-5 different classes) and I'm still not totally comfortable yet. I scooted to the front and after a few probing laps, belted out a 1:17.3 and when I saw that I came in. I knew there was more in the car, but I felt that should be good enough to be near the front and that's where I wanted to be. Later in the day it ended up that my qualifying lap was the fastest lap by any car for the whole day. Sadly, with dropping temps, old tires and a surprise on the way, I'd not go that fast again the whole weekend. Thankfully, for most of the weekend, I'd not need to!
Good snap of Cody in the Sunday sun as he exits big bend in the ///Machine
So when the qualifying session ended I was sitting in paddock watching my RACE MONITOR app and saw I was on pole with a nice margin. Prior to the race, Cody helped me pull the rear bodywork and I topped off the cell with fuel and put the tail back on. I pulled into grid in P1 and sat there as the wind shifted a bit and began blowing harder. Temps dropped a few more degrees before I got the 'go' signal and eased out the tortured side road to get to the race track. Scratcher has a large turning radius and I have to go in the grass to even make the turn so I tried to kick the tail around and it just kept sliding and I gathered it back up and thankfully the field stayed behind me. We then got to the track and started the outlap. I had asked in the meeting for TWO warmup laps due to the temperature and many drivers agreed with me, but we paired up after 1/2 a lap and thankfully didn't get the green. We did a full lap of warming and when we came around again the green flew and I dropped the loud pedal and clawed for every inch I could find to get away from the pack as I was fairly sure there was going to be some shenanigans. I braked a bit early for big bend and then got on the gas to get out and glanced at my mirror to see the pack working their way through. After a few laps it all settled down and I ran fast enough to manage the gap to the 2nd place car and simply waited for the checker. Sadly, the checker was going to arrive only after the rain.Sigh.
Wish I would have had Toth's AWD for my first race when the rain came down...
The small bit of heat I had built up in these tires allowing me to gingerly run a 1:20.1, simply evaporated when the 40 degree drizzle became constant. I quickly shifted to the 'rain-line' (which is anywhere you don't normally drive) and looked in my mirror to see absolutely nobody. Cars were spinning off, getting stuck and others were just creeping extra slow. My predictive lap timer actually said "LOL" at one point (ok, not really) as I putted around in 2nd gear knowing that another mile per hour would have me sliding off the track. The video of general TT shenanigans as well as some of these 'race laps' are here: https://vimeo.com/88653104 So finally my prayers are answered and the checker flag flies and I take the win from pole, while leading every lap. Yay for SU points!
I skipped the later TT sessions as the rain stopped and the sun struggled to come out, but that darn cold persisted and just kept pushing the temps down. For the last SU race of the day I'd again be on pole and the forecast was dry. The tires were beat and I was not sure they'd even come back to being just crappy instead of useless in this chill, but I wanted to get another race out of them. Stubborn? Why yes, thank you.
The good news is the last race was indeed dry and I again paced the field pretty slow and squirted away to T1 and managed the gap to stay P1 the entire race again. Several others had faster single laps, and at times the gap was not very big, but I channeled my "inner-Eric-Ritchie" and simply ran quick enough to stay out front, using the least amount of tire and car to take the win. Even in the dry carrying a lot more speed, I was still nowhere near 4th gear. I'd get kinda near the top of third before braking for rattle-snake, but still not top it out. With a shorter (taller numerically) rear gear I'd have considerably more acceleration on track, but I'd simply make do with what I have. TWS is next anyway <grin>.
Saturday's lap charts. This is what we LIKE to see. Start in first, finish in first, be first all in the middle. It is interesting to see folks go up/down by lap.
Checker falls on Race2. Moar points!
So at the end of Saturday, I'd gotten the win for TTU and back to back wins in SU, both times from pole and both times leading flag to flag. Looking over the car, the right rear wheel had a bit of grease/oil/spooge on it that might have come from the oil overflow above the dry sump, or it might have been the axle seal. It was cleaned, the car was fueled and the day was done. Having gotten up well before the sun, I went to bed early and slept well. Fair went to the party and picked up some trophies and Track Record certificates for me from the awards party that night. Thanks Fair!!!
Thanks for the loot Fair!!! Speaking of, Fair had a slight spacer miscalculation on Saturday's warmup resulting in a quick shave of the new A6!
Sunday dawned and although it was still cold the forecast was for sunshine and higher temperatures and that was very welcome. Prior to lunch would still be darn chilly, but just knowing that warmth was coming was great. Same schedule today and but I skipped the first TT session. A sports racer/prototype car showed up for TTU today and he would easily top everyone else and I was in serious tire-conservation mode, determined to save my fresh tires for the next event and soldier on with the very well used treads still on the car.
Gary leading his pack with part of the field in the distance.
I ended up going out in the second TT session to put in a decent time (shaky but interesting helmet-cam video here: https://vimeo.com/88661203) , and then went back out a short time later for qualifying for the Blitz race. I really didn't push too hard, just put in a decent lap and came back in and found I was going to start the race in 3rd, behind a 911gt3 cup car and a ThunderRoadster (TR). Clearly, I should have pushed harder, but I felt I'd still do well. After a quick lunch I headed to grid for the first race as the sun had now come out and it was getting pretty nice. This would be an interesting start as the TR had pole, but the 911 would be anxious to jump him. I felt like the 911 had more grunt than the TR off of a mid to slow speed start and honestly felt like, given a decent distance, I could jump BOTH of them prior to the first turn. Sure enough, just before the last corner before the straight where we start, the TR and 911 both slowed even further and I was now caught between staying in second gear at very low rpm or dropping to first. Scratcher will easily overpower the tires in the lower gears even on good rubber with pretty hot tires, so today really had me curious as to what would happen. I'd warmed the rears pretty well and ended up dropping to first and peeking out from the TR to see the flag station and as the starter's elbow twitched to bring the green flag up I was already coming down on the gas and ready to shift. Sure enough, after a quick shift I was stepping all the way out to pass both the TR and 911 and take the lead into T1 and leave them to argue about P2. I had minimal wheelspin that was pretty controllable and the first few corners felt pretty solid as I opened up a little breathing room and held it with only two laps to go. On that lap, at the fastest left hander on the track the rear stepped out and felt 'dead', like I had a flat tire. It was twitchy and very loose and the pair I had been gapping behind me quickly covered those few seconds and were now threatening as I was very busy keeping the pointy end forward and the car out of the dirt! My thoughts of flat tire didn't coincide with the fact that I had no additional lean, but clearly SOMEthing was wrong. I stepped over on the next corner entry and let the 911 by and then at the next corner let the TR by. Feeling the car out, I thought that maybe the right rear had blistered. I backed off and ran an easy lap, some 10+ seconds off the pace and then saw the white flag at the end of the lap meaning I was starting my final lap. I stepped up the pace on the straights and right turns, but gently took lefts. Another SU car was closing on me but I pushed hard enough to still win my class by ~13 seconds and limped the car to the paddock to find the right rear wheel/tire/bodywork covered in axle fluid. Oy.
Tools being used for the first time of the weekend.
So, at 1:30pm on Sunday, I unlocked my toolbox for the first time that weekend and got to work. This was in stark contrast to the previous race weekend where the tools were in full use first thing Saturday morning and I smiled knowing that this job "should" be fairly easy. Additionally, this must be some kind of record for my toolbox staying secured for so long into the weekend! The TR and 911 driver stopped by to see what the "huge cloud of smoke" was that came from the right rear and we had a good chat. The 911 driver could not stay for the afternoon race so I'd start the final race in 2nd, next to the TR. We had a great visit and they are good folks to race with.
I wasn't the only black camaro to find a bit of dirt on the exit of Big Bend. Glenn (#70) also won 3 races and got 2nd once. Hmmmm....
From start to finish, it took a little under an hour to swap the axle seal and fully 15 minutes of that was re-safety-wiring the 8 drive plate bolts and re-filling the axle with fluid. I'm no slouch at this, but it still takes time to get it all snug and perfect. Regardless, since I was safe in 2nd in TTU for the day, I skipped those sessions and concentrated on getting Scratcher ready for the 4th and final Blitz race. I'd won my class in all three so far (with two overall wins too), and needed these points for the season. Prior to the race, the TR driver stopped in to make sure I was ready and we chatted about speeds and who was fast where. He said if he could get by me, he'd be gone, but I simply had too much power at the start. I told him "I'll make you a deal...if you are close to me, I'll open the door briefly and you take it...and then you'd better run away with it, because if you don't I'm going to take it back". It was all very friendly and we smiled and shook hands and I was intrigued to see if the situation would arise. After topping off the car with fuel I wondered if I should put on my fresh tires. I thought for a bit and decided that these skins had ONE more race in them and although some more SU cars were in the mix, I was hopeful that I could again pedal fast enough to keep the crowd behind me. So, for the whole event the fresh tires AND the grooved tires stayed safely in the paddock. Lastly, I fixed a brake switch (that switch and the two taillights are the only things from an actual production Camaro) that was not fully seated and was giving intermittent brake lights which, I'm sure, baffled other drivers.
Fair knocking down another weekend with TT3 wins both days!!
Finally, the last race of the day arrived and I again suited up and motored to grid, slotting into the P2 position. The outlap was fairly short and by the time the green flew the rears had enough heat in them to hook up nicely and allow me to take P1 on my way to the first corner. Starting the third lap the right rear was clearly not gripping very well and as I leaned on it hard to scoot away from the P2/P3 cars, it simply slid as the gear oil rose to the surface of the tire and I rode it to a two-off in the dirt. Freaking dry grass went EVERYWHERE and I was careful to keep it straight. Coming back on and still in P1, I opened the door for another SU car (a super late-model with SB2.2 power that clearly outmatched my 18*) and then, true to my word, the TR as well. I was smiling wondering if the TR would run down the other SU car and thought I'd have a good seat to watch this. A few more laps in and the right rear started to burn off all that gear oil and began to actually work again. I picked up the pace and reeled in the few seconds to the TR and re-passed him quickly to take P2 both overall and in my class. I didn't have much time to waste as we were past halfway through the race and I was a good six seconds behind the other SU car. I put my head down and began reeling off fast laps and closed on the other SU car, the right rear seemingly stable. He either was watching his mirrors or his crew called on the radio to tell him I was coming and he began to really work the car. He started getting on the throttle earlier and began to burn off the rear tires and ended up falling closer to me by sliding the tail on the exits costing him precious exit speed, but I had waited too long to start my charge and I very simply ran out of laps. While it was nice that I turned the fastest lap time in the race, it still came with a P2. The checked flag flew with me right behind him. C'est la vi!
Guess which lap the axle seal let go on? At least I still won my class on the left for Race3. On the right for Race4, I simply ran out of laps after getting the right rear back to working. Oh well :-)
Right rear not quite at full grip when it was burning off axle grease so I ended up a few feet past the pavement. All that grass didn't help either!
For the weekend I ended up with a first and a second in TTU and three firsts and a second in SU. Good points haul and the car went back into the trailer mostly ready for the next event. The right rear was clean so the new seal (which replaced the original I put in back in '07) worked like a champ.
Cody ran the HPDE4 group and did great all weekend, progressively getting faster and faster. He was also using an AIM SOLO and could keep track of his progress on course. For his last session I rode with him and it went great. We talked about lines and approaches and he was getting every bit out of the M3 on Rivals that was there for the taking. The car is setup well and ran like clockwork all weekend. Fair ended up winning TT3 by a good margin both days although he had some issues as well (story here:
start at post 285!) and Toth was busy doing checkrides and running the skins off of his borrowed Audi. In the cold and wet that AWD was pulling HARD and I'm sure it was a shock to some folks to have to point by that big white beast.
Huge thanks to Cody for getting most of the snaps on this page!