Chapter 253 - January 2017

Season Opener - NASA @ MSRH

I've tempted the racing God Raceaflais*

(*"race-uh-flay-us" - Greek God of Racing Chaos)

Will he smite me with broken parts and shattered dreams or will my perseverance be rewarded with victory? 

Two months before this race I was pretty sure I could not make it. My work schedule had an event the same weekend and so over the holidays I focused on the shop, other cars and (of course) family. Scratcher had been pretty much untouched since the TWS race in the fall of 2015, other than getting moved from the garage to the shop in the back (we built the shop the first half of '16). Scratcher had taken '16 off due to our 2nd daughter Athena*'s arrival in February as well as the shop being built so my only other racing was a few endurance races in various cars. 

(*Athena: Greek Goddess of Wisdom. The favored daughter of Zeus. Her constant companion was Nike, the Spirit of Victory. She led armies into battle but only when the cause was just. Athena was born fully formed wearing a battle helmet and robe and as she arrived the thunder roared across the sky as ALL the Gods stood in awe and respect. She supported the artists of Greece and taught them the fine and useful arts. She watched over her city, Athens (which she beat Poseidon for), with the wise owl, her bird, to ensure the cities prosperity. Yeah, kindof a badass.)

  

Above: Athena lapping TWS in mom's 911 at 1 month old, and another snap at 10 months. 

One thing I *did* do right at the end of 2016 was finally wrap up my '15 recap vid which, honestly, was chock full of 'Hey, let's taunt the racing God' with blatant displays of "all I do is win" in honor of the 14 straight wins (plus 7 track records!) in 2015. This did not include me wrapping up the '14 season with a healthy round of wins, so...to be honest....I was slightly expecting payback. Well, more than slightly if I'm honest. That does not mean I won't go down swinging and swinging hard....but every Rooster suffers setbacks. Would the next event be my setback?  (2015 recap vid here, mature audience only: https://vimeo.com/197618731)

With a week to go, the work event got moved and all of a sudden the weekend was open. I still had a lot of other things to get done besides the car so I didn’t register until I knew I could make it. On Friday the car fired up for the first time in 14 months and so, on Friday afternoon I registered for TTU and for SU (just like old times). Scratcher was the 11th car in SU and the 5th car in TTU so those numbers met the threshold to make a tire contingency available. With any luck I’d win the tires <cross fingers, light a candle, sacrifice a fwd car>. On Thursday I had made the decision to go with used tires. Risky with the level of competition, but I had some semi-fresh tires that Anna and I had picked up from some Trans-Am teams at COTA. I put on four that were in decent shape and then put the best other two (a front and a rear) on another pair of wheels. The matched four came from Amy Ruman’s car (T/A champ in 2015 and 2016, you GO girl!!!), cleaned up well and went on the car. I had enough time to nut/bolt the car, top off the fluids and that was about it. With plenty of other things to get done, I never had a chance to scale or even string the car…ug. 

Above: "AR1" is the first set of tires from Amy Ruman's Trans-Am car. Pretty worn, but still had good tackyness! 

Earlier in the week the plan was to go down Friday, but that wasn’t happening so I called Sammy (who WAS there on Friday) and got him to hold me a spot next to his incredible stock-car based camaro. The “stock car” crowd usually pits together and are incredibly supportive so being with them was a good thing. Sadly, Anna and the kiddos all had runny noses and coming off colds so we didn’t want to risk them not being 100% so I’d go solo and being paddocked with ‘the guys’ would be a smart thing.

Finally I was ready and it was late Friday night. After a short sleep, I was rolling south a little past 4am and pulled into the gate (well…after a stop at Bucees!!!) a little before 7 and unloaded the car. I went to tech and got my sticker, bypassing the huge line thanks to Matt White at Modular Edge Motorsports who tech’d my car earlier in the week. HUGE THANKS TO MFW for the tech!!

Above: Fuel for Scratcher and (what I thought was) a really good omen from Buc-ee's on the way down. 11/11 FTW !!!

The car came out of the trailer ready to go on track, so all I had to do was set the air pressure and suit up. Running both SU and TTU gave me lots of track time and I wanted to warm the car up as early as possible so I did the first Blitz warmup and things went great. I bled down the tires and thought about waiting till Blitz qualy but for some reason I went and ran the TT warmup as well. And the car promptly got locked in second gear on the out-lap. Oy. While I’ve never, ever, had shifter issues with the shifter mount, I did today. Raceaflais, is that you?? 

Above: Scratcher coming out to play! See the "springs"? Yeah, those are actually threads that pulled out....not bueno. 

Took about 30 minutes to re-do the mount into the alternate spots and re-safety-wire the whole mess and I was ready in plenty of time for Blitz qualy. The blitz field was huge and getting a clear lap was not going to happen. I was torn between staying out, but every additional lap put more wear on my tires that I was trying to conserve as well as chewing through fuel and brake pads. In the end, on my 4th lap I put down a decent 1:35.7 and when the next lap was traffic clogged (with more visible ahead) I came in and had to let the chips fall where they may. Hopefully I’d be on the front row or at least within striking distance but I'd have to wait a while to find out. 

My best lap time here going this direction was a 1:34.3, set in a TT session in early 2015 on new tires. With no setup time, or even a quick string, I was pretty happy with a 1:35.7 in traffic. I knew a mid to deep 1:34 was possible on this setup and with the first TT session coming up it was time to see if I could do that. I re-set air pressures and went to the first time trial with a fully warmed and ready car. First flying lap was a 1:34.1 and then I caught traffic. I tried for the third lap, but too much traffic again so I came in after 3 laps and began the prep for the first Blitz race. Happily I had just reset the TTU track record and I theorized it would stand, so I was done with TT for the day and could focus on the two SU races. 

Above: She is named "Scratcher" for a reason folks...Anna makes sure the first aid kit is stocked for just such occasions. ('Tis only a flesh wound!)

Checking the time sheets I saw I was 2nd in Blitz to some E46 BMW(!!!). I’d assumed that the tube car driven by Kagan would be close (he tested on Friday and ran very fast according to my stock car guys who were there) but he was several slots back. I had no clue who Mills was but found out he was a local who worked at the track, had run some PWC and was supposedly quick. The car was a big dollar (as in, ten times what I have in Scratcher!) car with a BMW v8 conversion pushing 620hp as well as a sequential trans on paddle shifts. Rounding out the car was abs and adjustable traction control along with ALMS suspension parts as well as GTLM hugenormous brakes. And it was on big Michelin radial slicks. Mills was on pole with a 1:35.0 and so while I’d already run faster, it was even money that his qualy was in traffic as well and so this was going to be interesting real quick. We didn’t have enough cars in TTU to win tires, so if I wanted to win tires here (and keep the win streak alive) I was going to have to find a way to get by Mills and then stay there. Raceaflais is clearly in the house, lobbing chaos at me. This reminded me of my wrestling days when my coach would make me compete 2 or 3 weight classes up just to see if I could still pull off a win. Pressure, but in a good way. 

Blitz prep was topping off the fuel and bleeding the front brakes and Scratcher was pronounced ready. Sammy was helping me now since a diff mount broke on his car on the first lap of Blitz qualy. Horrible luck for him, but a real blessing for me. Sadly it was an alum housing mount, so even though we had access to welders, it really needed to be completely removed and welded and then reinforced. It should be a basic repair and hopefully he is back at the next event. In the meantime it was a incredibly nice to have his experienced hand help me. 

After lunch I took the car to grid and lined up behind the BMW. I felt pretty good and at this point all I could do was pick a good song to sing and hope that Mills would start slow. We were very even on power but I was pretty sure my bigger-inch V8 had more torque and with warm tires and a slow start I could likely claim T1. Of course, Mills being experienced he could play it one of two ways. First, he could set a quick pace and eliminate my torque advantage OR he could start slow and hope that his traction control would stick while at the same time I’d blow off the rear tires. We launched and I worked the rears HARD getting them hot. By the time we formed up on the carousel, I was pretty certain I’d hook up just fine as he slowed enough for me to be at about 4k in first gear. We paced like this for a bit and I was already smiling and then as we got close to the stand, he checked up just a tiny bit and put me in front by a fender. Before I could slightly slow to match or he could ease back up, the starter’s elbow twitched and I really quickly rolled into the throttle as the green waived back and forth. The rears bit and the koenigtorque propelled me into first place before turn 1 and off I went. He was close and had me under the brakes, but I had him on mid-corner and corner exit and that is the game we played for a few hard, furious laps. And then we caught traffic. He was only a few lengths behind and sadly I did not have time to be ‘pretty’ in traffic and wait for perfect openings to pass. I had to work the pass the instant I arrived, or risk being passed myself. Several times I passed on the outside of the small carousel, which was a first for me! For 7 laps we were like this and I was beginning to fight for corner exit (cursing the fact that I had new tires safe at home!) and then all of a sudden he was gone. He had transmission issues and pulled out. I backed down a bit but kept moving at a good clip, just saving brakes and tires as best I could. At the line I had a 33+ second lead on the second place car and was greeted by a LOT of folks at the trailer who wanted to talk about the race! Later I heard that Mills’ plan was to start slow with the thought that I would likely spin the tires while he could rely on traction control. Oh well! <grin>

R1 Race Video = https://vimeo.com/201979947

Above: Exiting turn 1 on lap 1 of R1. First half of the race was really busy...

Looking at the time-trial timesheets, I was pretty sure my 34.1 would stand for TT and was happy to see that I put down another 34.1 in the race. This meant I could easily skip the last two TT sessions and simply focus on the second Blitz race, where I’d be starting on pole since the finishing order in the first race sets the starting lineup. Also, since the SU field was huge for the first race I’d won two tires by winning that race. Hopefully I could do the same tomorrow, but at the moment I still had to focus on the next race. Raceaflais was close, I could feel it. I thought about sitting out of the race, but since there is a chance I’ll run for the championship again this year, I better bank points on every opportunity. We had some time to meander and we went over and Sammy introduced me to Kagan (nice guy) and sadly the Mills crew was all sealed up and gone. I’d have liked to see the car and meet the driver.

Above: Kagan and Turnbaugh during R1. I'd face them in R3 and R4.

For R2 (second race) I was at grid a bit early again after Sammy, Toth and I bled brakes and topped off the fuel. The race was pretty straightforward with Lehenbauer (tube car) next to me and Dean (wolf prototype) right behind me. The start went well, again at 4000 in first and I tried to run fast clean laps while trying to conserve a bit of tire and brakes along the way. Lehenbauer’s new car is stout and clearly has me matched in power and we he gets that car sorted I’ll be in trouble. In 8 laps the checker flew (it was 12 laps in R1) and I’d taken both SU wins for the day and snagged TTU as well. 

R2 Race Video = https://vimeo.com/202124041

Lehenbauer's new car....running the same size tires I am and with as much or more power. Yikes! 

After the race, during the post-race-brake-bleeding one bleeder would not re-seal and when I pulled the whole thing out the bottom of the brass was cracked. Oy. Raceaflais you punk! I had no spares for this. Thankfully Sammy’s car had the same thread pitch and I swiped one of his. LOL. After the bleeding we borrowed Toth’s jeep and ran into town and got some brass plugs that got me through the event. Whew! 

  

Above: Screenshot post R2...those are the results I like! On the right is the spoils of the dinner!! I should probably sacrifice one of the mugs to Raceaflais!!

I had planned on simply sleeping on the floor of the trailer. I had our quiet generator “droid”, and Anna had sent me with a nice ceramic heater as well as an electric blanket and plenty of blankets for a nice comfy pad for the predicted 39 degree night. Sammy offered up the front couch of his new motorcoach and he didn’t have to ask twice. We went to the BBQ/awards where I picked up two very nice large glass beer mugs (beats the HECK out of the plastic trophies!!), along with two free karting certs and more of the coveted NASA WINNER stickers. The BBQ and bench racing was good and I was asked many times “are you going as fast as you can, or just fast enough to win?” I’d just grin. Back at the coach, it was incredibly nice to get a hot shower and watch the race on the laptop and then get to sleep on a very nice foldout couch (had a hybrid air/foam mattress that was just incredible!!) while being nice and warm. Huge huge thank you to Sammy for the hospitality! As the coach got dark and quiet I began to reflect on the day. I’m a superstitious person and I had been nervous about the day because a month back I’d finally gotten the chance to do that recap vid about the undefeated 2015 season (14 starts, 14 wins!) and I was working on a serious win streak and the first rule of win streak is that we don’t talk about win streak. Raceaflais somehow smiled upon me and today’s 3 more wins were added to the tally. Could I be as lucky tomorrow? I faded out to a slight ringing in my ears that is an 18degree small block pushing high rpm and a slight grin on my face.

Above: Burned kerosene is warming up the coolant and thus, the engine. #SayNoToColdStarts

7am came early (temp was 37!!!!!) and I was well rested. Since my trailer was pulling power of Sammy’s coach, I fired up the droid and plugged in the kerosene jet heater and put it 8’ in front of Scratcher and let it run for 30 minutes. It got the backside of the radiator hot to the touch and the water pump warm to the touch, with the added benefit of clearing all the windows off perfectly. Since I don’t have an oil pre-heater on the dry sump, this is as good as I could do. #LoveYourRaceMotor

Above: I softened up the rear of the car a few clicks...that was the extent of my 'tuning' for the entire weekend. LOL! 

First up was a quick Blitz warmup and then a short break while Cyclone warmed up and then the first TT session. Sammy and I’d been talking about him going for a ride in Scratcher since 2014 and since Blitz warmup went great I told Sammy to grab a helmet and gloves and let’s go. On Sunday the first TT session counts so my thought was to run pretty hard and if I could throw down a good time then I would be done with TT for the day. Just in case anything went wrong I’d have other sessions to try again.

So Sammy slides in the car and we go over the “ok” and “knock it off” gestures (verbal communication in Scratcher would be a no) and head to grid. Sammy is a pilot in real life for a major commercial carrier and prior to that he flew helos for the USArmy. I was not in the least worried about him, but procedures are procedures. Richard told him "it can be pretty wild...I've been in less violent car crashes". LOL. We launched and bunched the group up and then tried for a flyer. Sadly we caught traffic at the tail of the lap and put down a 1:40. Next lap was a 1:37 with slight traffic, but now we had a fully warmed up car and so I came out of the last corner really hauling and while we passed two cars that third lap, it was a 1:35 by my AIM SOLO and started another hot lap, catching traffic in the tight section so we threw that lap away too. We cooled it down and came in and I was hoping the fast time would stand for the day. Sammy was happy for the ride (“best car ride of my life”) and now has an understanding of what the 16” radial slicks can do. His tube car is on the 15” bias ply tires and he is looking to make the jump to 16” radials and I think I just pushed him off that cliff. The grin when the helmet came off told the story!

  

Above: On Sammy's ride he pushed pretty hard on the floor and popped out some rivets!! Here he is lining them up and as I held the panel from underneath, he put in new rivets! 

With a short gap we meandered about and then went to grid for qualy. Scratcher cannot turn tight and the MSRH grid is small so I park off to the side with the prototype cars (that can’t turn tight either) and we get hosed. Grid lets out all the lined up cars and THEN us. Argh. Same thing happened the day before. So the first few laps are clearing traffic and then I throw down a 1:35.7 and figure that puts me near the front. Kagan can be that fast, but the BMW is gone/broken, and I was catching more knots of traffic so I came in and checked live timing and I was thankfully in front. Wahoo! Additionally, we had plenty in class today to qualify for tires, so additional pressure was on! Surely Raceaflais will leave me alone the rest of the weekend, right? I mean, I've fixed the shifter, the floor and the brake bleeders...work with me here! 

Again with Sammy and Richard's help the car was fueled, the brakes were bled and the car was ready for the race. I really struggled with keeping the tires on the car, or whether to swap out the fresher tires for the outboard side (or even just swapping the tires left to right to put the best on the left). In the end, I decided to risk it. The tires on the car still looked decent and had some tack to them so they stayed. After lunch I rumbled down to grid for R3 feeling pretty good.

Above: Our class, "Blitz" usually draws a pretty good crowd to watch

R3 went well, I started on pole and again started slow. While Kagan has serious power as well, I was hoping he was geared different and if I started exactly in the meat of my power, hopefully he was not in his. It turned out to be true, it seemed like he was in the bottom of second while I pulled a slight lead before T1 and away we went. Again, he stayed fairly close and again I pushed through traffic a little harder than I would have wished but that’s how it was. With a handful of laps to go, Kagan picked up a puncture and was stuck on course. I backed off a bit and brought Scratcher home after the 10 lap race, thankfully with another win.

Above: R3, lap 1, turn 1. Time to push and get away from these people!!!

Above: R3 finds me trying to run away from Kagan and Turnbaugh again...

R3 Race Video = https://vimeo.com/202162461

Sammy, Toth and Richard again helped turn the car around and get it ready for R4 and sadly Sammy left. He’d been awesome helping out and even took my camera and got a lot of snaps for me throughout the weekend (most of the pics on this page are his...THANKS SAMMY!) as well as giving me a soft warm bed to sleep in! Sad to see him leave before the last race, but I know he needed to get home as well.

Above: Which direction are we going? Below: Randy's 'Batmobile' is unorthodox but fast and he wheels it really well!!


It looked like our TT time would stand so I just waited for R4. A few of the tubecar guys had issues so I loaned out a test light, a timing light, some tape, a multi-meter, some scrap metal, etc. Of course, I’d swiped a bleeder off Sammy’s car! Paddocking with these guys is always great!

So I head down to the grid for R4 and Dean in his Wolf sports racer is in P2. My tires are pretty darn hurt now, and the track seems to be going away from us. I’d bet Dean’s tires are better than mine, but hopefully I can keep him behind me for the race, all the while hoping they shorten this race a bit. We were running behind schedule and maybe we’d get lucky.

Above: A few seconds before the start of R4...and me hoping the trend continues!! (and saying 'please Hoosiers, just ONE MORE race!!')

Same start sequence, first gear at 4000rpm and I put a small distance on Dean before T1 and slid over and took a wide, fast line through the T1/T2 sequence and tried to run away on beat up tires. On lap 2 we caught traffic and it was the same thing again and the sad reality of traffic reared its head for the 4th time this weekend. When I catch traffic they may or may not see me. Blue flags may or may not be shown. HOWEVER, when I come through the traffic, it alerts them to more traffic and the cars behind the leader typically have a much easier time through traffic than I do. I pushed pretty hard and worked what was left of the tires and after 8 laps the checked flew, but Dean was close the whole time. I could gap a bit, but I had no room for error and so the pressure was on until that final turn of the final lap. I continue to be amazed by the Hoosier tires and how durable they are. Sure, new tires would have been faster, but these kept working, stayed predictable and kept me out front. #PurpleCrack

R4 Race Video = https://vimeo.com/202310699

Had a great conversation with Dean after the race, he’s a great guy to run with. Looking at my video you can tell both of us are working the cars hard and pushing.

        


Sammy and my time in TT stood for the day and as I winched Scratcher back in the trailer I got to think about the tally for this weekend. I led every race lap of all four races as well as being the fastest car in 3 of the 4 (missed R1 by 0.204 !!) races. I was the fastest TT car both days, resetting my TTU record on Saturday. So Scratcher gets to add 6 more wins to the tally, and another set of Hoosiers. If we decide to chase a championship this year, we've gotten off to a very good start!

Stay tuned....I'm sure Raceaflais is likely lingering around here somewhere...Especially after I posted up my 4 race vids and my buddy posted this: (EL-OH-EL)