Chapter 243 - October 2015

NASA @ TWS

This event pretty much snuck up on me and I’d not made time to turn Scratcher around as I usually do. With family, lots of work going on (busy is good!), as well as some ‘helping others’ and some other racing (WRL at TWS recently), Scratcher was pretty much as she came off the track from doing exceptionally well at TWS for the last NASA event in April, 6 months ago. A few weeks before this event I went ahead and registered (both for wheel-to-wheel racing in Super Unlimited (SU) and also in the top time-trial class TTU), and hoped I’d have time to get the car fully prepped.

One key decision I made was to NOT put on sticker (new) tires. Yes, I had some sticker sets in the garage, but I also had two used sets that were in decent shape and I said to myself; “self, let’s see if we can win another set of new tires by using up a set of our oldest tires”. Yes, it would be a challenge and I’d surely have to push pretty hard, but I felt like I had a pretty good shot at making it happen. Now, of the two used sets I have, one is from 2015, but the other is from 2014. I chose the older set but still took out the used 2015s of course, just in case. I did NOT take a sticker set. Confidence or stupidity…time would tell!


Prep work meant swapping out a header-to-head gasket that had died during my last session in April and then checking the car over. I did not re-scale the car, nor did I re-string it as I was that short on time. So, on Thursday night I loaded up the car and then during a lunch break I ran the rig out to TWS, dropping the trailer for the night. I would have an extra set of hands this weekend in the form of a TAMU student who wanted to see racing up close. He’s only really done drag racing and he had some trouble with his car that I helped him with and I was happy to get his offer and show him what goes on in club racing. While he does not have a lot of experience yet, James was enthusiastic and clearly understands the basics (Mech Eng major). It was a huge help to have him there and he learned a few tricks as well. Since I did not take time to rebuild the lower nose, James learned how to safety-wire on the splitter! 

  


Saturday I get to the track early and unload and swap tires and give the car a once-over. As is typical, it will be busy for the morning as I need to do a TT warm up session to ensure I’m near the front for a timed lap in TT session 2, and I’ll also need to qualify for the first SU race. For me to win tires, I’d need to win TTU assuming there are 5+ entries *OR* win SU assuming there are 5+ entries. Sadly, even if I win both, and both have 5+ entries, I can still only win 1 pair of tires per day. Then, for Sunday, I’ll need to do it again to win another pair. (zomg the pressure!!!.... heh heh heh)

Sammy's gorgeous 5th gen with seriously big power!

So I go out for the TT warmup and throw down a 1:44.5. A great start and the car felt good. I never pushed hard (first session!) but the car felt much better than I thought it would on used tires. We made some slight air pressure changes to dial it in a bit better, and then we waited for SU qualy. In short order, it was time to qualify and I got a fairly clean lap and threw down a 1:43.3 and brought it in to save the tires. Pole could easily fall with that time, but also there were some radicals (who should beat me) as well as Troy Messer and Mike Weathers in their stupid-fast-well-funded ST-1 class C6 corvettes. Sure enough, I snagged p2, with Troy taking P1 (1:42.8), Weathers taking P3 and then FOUR of the remaining nine (NINE!) SU cars were next. This would be interesting.

Purcell's radical...clean car and always a contender.

No sooner had qualy happened than the first official TT session was about to begin. Another small air pressure change and I took Scratcher to grid to wait. The interesting thing about TT is that ONLY your fastest lap counts for the day. You can set it whenever (there is a warmup and three timed sessions for Saturday and then four timed sessions for Sunday’s event), and so if I set a quick time, I could be done with TT for the day and focus on the SU race. Troy runs TT as well and gridded right behind me. I really enjoy running with Troy as he runs hard, but he runs clean. No odd-ball moves, no cutting you off….some folks in our race group run that way and we do our best to stay away from them.

One of the several fast stock cars. I wanted to stop by and chat, but they left early. Very clean car and well driven. 

There was a slight incident and a car had to be towed back so we had an extra few minutes to sit and I put it to good use. I spent the time visualizing my line, making sure to remember my markers and be as precise as possible. One problem in qualy was the sun was up a bit, but still fairly low and the turn in point for T2 and for T6 were both facing right into the sunlight and my worn lexan was glaring pretty good. Still, I vowed to run as quick as the old tires would let me and I’d hoped to beat the track record I set last time here at a 1:42.4. Now, although my 1:42.4 was set on stickers, the weather was not quite as cool and crisp and the track was not as good. We’d not had rain a quite a while and the track was pretty “rubbered” in and fairly grippy. Finally, we were launched and I led an easy parade lap, bunching the field at the carousel and then starting my run. I felt really good about the lap as I was coming into the final corners and I knew it was at least a solid 1:42.x, so I ran hard past the s/f line ready to do another lap since the car felt great. I’d made a few small mistakes, but overall I was pretty happy with the lap. The AIMSOLO (if you track a car and don’t have one, GET ONE!) displayed a 1:41.8 as I dropped into T1 from the banking and I thought “I think I can improve on that just a bit”…and so I tried. Sadly, the rear tires were now beginning to struggle and while I hit my marks a tiny bit better, I was pedaling the throttle a bit more on the exits and it all evened out and I ran .008 slower on my second lap. Overall, I was damn happy to strike into the 41s on last years’ tires and I cooled the car down and brought it in. There was a potentially really fast sports racer running TTU this weekend as well, but he was running off the pace and several seconds back and I felt my 41 would stand. Besides, I don’t think I could go any faster (unless I run home and get stickers!) and with the sun getting higher, the track was only going to slow down. If he beats me, then he beats me, I’ve laid down my best and we’ll see where I stand at the end of the day.

VIDEO OF THE TWO 1:41 LAPS ===> https://vimeo.com/142955196

SHORT VIDEO OF SCRATCHER FLYBY ===> https://vimeo.com/145289146

Big money car, but I think he was on hard endurance tires...car was clean and sounded stout though! 

While we had about 2 hours before the race, that time was gobbled up with a new problem. A coolant leak developed between one of the aluminum spacers that spaces the water pump from the front motor plate and the engine block. On the other side of the motor plate is the water pump, so, in order to get to this gasket, the motor will need to be supported while the nose, water pump, power steering, and alternator is all removed so the motor plate can come off. No WAY I am getting this done in 2 hours so we brainstorm on what to do. Louis comes over from Weathers’ pit and Gary Hood had stopped in and the prevailing thought was to pull the nose and water pump, reach in and clean the area from the inside and then put a layer of two part epoxy to seal the leak from the inside. We’d use fast-set epoxy and then cross our fingers, then sacrifice a front-wheel-drive car, burn a vtec motor in effigy and recite the prayer of Raceaflais, the Greek God of Racing Luck. His name is pronounced Race-uh-flay-us, FYI. For good measure, we recited the prayer several times. Really, it was our only shot to make the race. So, we got busy and were done in about an hour, burped the car and it all seemed well so I suited up and took the car to grid once we’d topped off the fuel and reset air pressures.

Gary, James and Louis all pitched in to patch a leak in record time!

  

An early morning fix after TT. Side floor came loose after a scrub with a curb and made a serious racket. 

On the right, it's trimmed and secured and lasted the weekend. Pop rivets and safety wire!!


The race was short and sweet. The patch job held (thanks Raceaflais) and I scooted to an early lead over Troy and then I began backing off to save these well-well-well-worn rear tires for tomorrow. Troy caught me and I let him by and then we caught a red flag on the front straight. We slowed down pretty quick and were easing to a walking pace in T1 when radical #54 just blew on passed. Wow. I remember thinking “what the…???”.

Now, let’s talk about red flags. TECHNICALLY you are supposed to stop as quickly as safely possible and sit until a corner worker signals you that it’s all ok. IN REALITY, if I do that Scratcher will burn to the ground, front brakes first. So I slowed to a crawl and then idled past Troy and the questionably skilled car #54, to keep airflow in the nose and to cool the brakes. I idled down to T3 and then stopped with my nose pointing into the wind just past T3 so I could see the T4 corner worker. Finally, he threw the double yellow and I fired up and eased around the track, passing the car that caught fire (driver bailed, all ok) by T5 and the pace car passed me and I slotted in behind Troy and we took the checker flag. The temperature of the water was rock solid and no leaks were apparent when I got back into the pits. YAY RACEFLAIS. And James, and Gary and Louis…

Big notice on the official results said TONS of cars blew the red flag (each flag stand displayed red flags at the same time) and there was a meeting after the second race (I sat out and snapped pics!) and as a group we got a whippin for the dozen or so drivers who were/are clueless.

Above: Weathers' very clean and fast C6z and below is Perkins' very nice C5z. Seems all the fast guys have corvettes....maybe I need to trade up!!

Speaking of fast guys, below is Troy's corvette (that he loaned to Weathers for the final race and I snapped a picture of it!)


So, with Saturday done, we’d won TTU with 5+ entrants (officially 6) and a new track record as well as won SU with 5+ entrants (officially 9), winning a pair of Hoosiers. Fixed the floor, fixed the coolant leak and we looked good for Sunday.


 

Above: all hands on deck putting Scratcher back together, and the fruits of our labor Saturday night! Trophies!!!

Below: James giving Scratcher a once-over before a session.


Sunday dawned and I was feeling pretty good. The plan was to do the warmup with all the racing classes for a handful of laps to warm up the car and then turn right back around and do the first timed TT session to put in a TT time and be done with TT for the day.

But…that’s not how it happened. The warmup went fine, although with a ton of cars on track it was interesting. Then for the TT session I threw down a 1:43.4 and a Wolf sports racer nipped me by a tenth near the end of the session. Great…now I’m going to have to go BACK out there to try and win TT. In reality, all the racers I know WANT to be pushed to see just how much the car and the driver has. I hate to lose, but I'm not backing down either! Old tires or not, I'll head back out there and find two tenths!!!

Argh. Look over at the 'Best Time' column far right...


Next up was SU (Blitz group) qualy and the disaster continues. I got out a lap late due to last minute header tightening and got ONE lap (in traffic) before a flock of waving yellows in the final esses reveals a sports racer beached on the curb and…get this….the driver is GETTING OUT of the car. It is not on fire, he just decided to get out. It was, you guessed it, car #54 again and the rest of the session was yellow so not many people got good laps and the field would be jumbled up. Great. (yes, that is sarcasm :-)

Since we spoke about red flags, let’s talk about stranded cars. Kids, if your car dies you stick with it unless it is on fire. You are much safer in the car than hopping out and meandering. This is in the rulebook and it is common sense (that seems less and less common nowadays…). To review: Car stops = stay in car. Car on fire = only reason to leave.


After qualy it is time to do the second TT session and I need to gain a little more than a tenth to pull back into the TTU lead. I grid behind Troy (who was on stickers for the first session to scuff them in, so now he is going to drop the hammer) and we go out. I can’t hang with him at all on corner exits. He simply puts a half a length on me every time we get to a straight. Still, with him clearing out some air and throwing down his own 1:41 (way to go TROY!!), it helps me throw down a 1:42.5 and then a 1:42.9, nearly a second over the Wolf at this point. I’m hoping that holds for first in TTU because unless I run home for stickers, that is all Scratcher has. These Hoosiers now have 22 heat cycles and I'm going to ask them to do one more race. (spoiler alert: I won TT for Sunday)

VIDEO OF MY TT LAPS ON SUNDAY CHASING TROY ====> https://vimeo.com/143053220

Above: Weathers' game face prior to R2 on Saturday, and a pcar suffers some damage to the right reat.

With TT done for the day, I check and the grid sheets have come out and I’m gridded 6th, with Troy two rows back in 10th. Weathers got a good lap and put it on pole, but there is an SU car in 2nd (Purcell, radical), 3rd (Sammy, stock car), and 5th (Ellis, stock car). Thankfully in 4th is Perkins, an ST2 car, and he is right in front of me. We talk before the race and I ask him to leave the very high line (against the wall) open if he can and he says he’ll do his best. Perkins is another one that you can run hard with and know he’s not going to screw up and hit you, as is Purcell and Sammy. Car #54 is starting 19th due to no time, but his car easily has the most potential, so we’ll see if he factors into this long race. Directly behind me is another SU car and Troy is hoping that he leaves a lane up top as well, although most of these SU cars can run with Troy and I down the straight pretty easy.

So, we give the car a once-over, add fuel, and all seems ready. As we all talk before I slide in the car I mention that I don’t foresee anyone going as deep as I do into T1 and assuming I get a halfway decent start I’m hoping to reach T3 first.

Above: Louis and Weathers' C6z....freaking clean and well-prepped car! 

Mike leads us on a pretty quick outlap and the corner workers are wildly gesturing to “slow down” and “bunch up” as we get to the last straight before the start. Mike does slow it way down and we all bunch up and work through the esses (final turns before front straight) and ease onto the long front straight and wait for the green flag to fly. Mike paces us slow enough that I’m in the top of first gear with only about 1500 rpm left and I’m thinking of how quick my shift to second is going to have to be when I see the starter’s body move a bit and his elbow begin to displace away from his body. By the time the green is in the air, I’m floored and reaching to shift to second and stepping out to the high line against the wall to pass Perkins’ very yellow C5. Perkins indeed stayed put and left me a lane and I took it, rapidly rowing to second and then third. By the time we cross the start/finish line I’m in third and gaining quickly on the P2 SU radical of Purcell. He is about even with Mike’s C6, but Mike is starting to sharply pull away from him.

QUICK VIDEO OF THE START FROM THE PIT WALL (thanks James!) ====> https://vimeo.com/145352053

QUICK VIDEO OF THE START FROM SAMMY'S CAMARO (thanks Sammy!) ====> https://vimeo.com/145353363

At this point I’m pretty sure I’m okay. Mike will likely take a fairly low line into T1 and I’ll get by him. Sammy has big power and can easily run with me down the straight, but he’s trapped behind Mike and with Purcell there as well, Sammy cannot really open up his car and threaten me here. I glance back and see the car behind me went high as well so Troy is blocked a bit, but I can’t do anything about that. I stay in the gas till Mike lifts and then drop into T1 with a 3 or 4 car length lead and really drop the hammer till T5. At that point I already had a decent gap and so on lap 1 of a 10 lap race I already backed off a bit and started saving the rear tires. Perhaps I should have pushed longer, but the rears would be my limiting factor, so I might as well take it easy on them now while I had no immediate threats. About lap 5 the #54 radical is getting fairly close so I step up my pace a bit to keep a gap. 54 clearly has better corner speed and brakes (and tires!!), but TWS is a power track and so I can gap him every time the loud pedal gets used. Scratcher's loud pedal is pretty nice...However, on lap 6, 54 starts to get desperate and begins to take serious looks at the inside of the slower corners, but really there is nowhere to go. The last thing on my mind is that a person driving a very light sports racer is going to try and punt me out of the way. First off, it’d be stupid. Second off, the physics are not in his favor (see also: stupid). Third, (at least when I had my Lola S2 sports racer) those guys avoid contact at all costs.

Now remember, we’ve seen two really stupid acts by #54 thus far, so surely he’s not thinking of shoving that little car up under Scratcher is he? I mean, c’mon….really? Surely he won’t…

Yes. Yes he is. We come out of the carousel and I gap him down the short straight, he closes up a little in the T12 kink and after I make my turn-in for T13, he decides to stick his nose inside my left rear tire. Now, I guess he was hoping I’d react and go way wide and just let him through, but I’m not purposely driving out into the marbles and going off the racing line, so I maintain my line. At my point of turn-in, he was behind me and has no right (by the rulebook or any other means) to this apex before me or with me. I actually thought he’d wake up some brain cells and apply the brakes (that car can easily out-stop Scratcher) but he didn’t. And he hit my car. The car I’ve been running since ‘07 with ZERO body contact. Double championships, racer of the year, SCCA, NARRA, NASA, w2s, time trials, etc with NO CONTACT EVER ….and he freaking hits me. I was remarkably calm and honestly, considering the skillset he’d put on display so far, I wasn’t totally surprised. Damn my optimism. 

LOOK! Cars that car run near each other and NOT run into each other!!! ZOMG!!!

Long story short, corner workers call it in as side to side, 54 backs off a bit, we blow through some traffic the last few laps but he decides against sticking his nose in again and I win the race. I fill out the contact paperwork then talk to the RD (race director) and show him my rear video and the RD concludes it is solely #54’s fault and he will be penalized or put on probation or something.  Having this be a guy who blew a red, who got out of a car on a hot track AND who hit me I was hoping for more. But, having won TTU and the contingency SU race, another pair of Hoosiers was secured and so the mission was accomplished for the weekend.

The rules dictate what the RD can do for “first violation”, but they also say they can levy a far greater penalty but that it may be appealed unless there are mitigating circumstances. Now, for me, the previous two serious transgressions are plenty of “mitigating”, but perhaps I’m biased. It is my understanding he got probation and a talking to and was allowed to start the final race (I skipped it). The RD went to talk to him and told me later that he sheepishly admitted it was his fault. I've got some thinking to do before I run with this group again. 

HOW YOU SHOULD LOSE YOUR COMP LICENSE BUT DON'T IN 2 MINUTES =====> https://vimeo.com/142932983

Scratcher: The body seems okay, but some of the floor mounts are screwed up and where the tail mounts to the frame seems jacked a little bit too. It easily passes the 50/50 rule because the damage is under and behind the body. Great (yes kids, that is sarcasm again!). The driver of the #54 never came and apologized and never owned up to his screw-up. Weak. It’s not like it will be super expensive to fix Scratcher but it will take time and money because of this guy’s actions.

So that was the weekend. As usual, this would be a lot tougher to do solo, so thanks for the fam (Anna and Rossi) for helping and hanging out (Rossi got to carry trophies! Her favorite part!). Huge HUGE thank you to James for helping as well as Toth, Louis (G-Speed), and Gary Hood. Always nice to have hands on the race weekends!

Sammy leading the final race of the weekend comes into the carousel HOT!!!