Chapter 258 - August 2017

24 @ 5280

WRL at HIGH PLAINS RACEWAY

Great snap by Patrick Palony of  me working T2! #PalonyPic

I’m not even sure where to begin because so damn much has happened. Buckle up kids, it was a LONG race and there is a LOT to tell.

It’s Sunday night and while I just woke up from a much-needed 3-hour nap, I’m still in that slower-processing phase and needing food and a shower and more rest. The 24@5280 finished today at noon and it has been a whirl-wind of events. The 24 represents it being a 24 hour race, and the 5280 means it is in Colorado, about an hour east of Denver, out in the plains at High Plains Raceway. Gorgeous track, long straights to stretch the legs, but also some great technical off camber stuff with limited sight distance and decreasing radius turns as well. I'm now clean and taking in hot pizza, so it is time to tell the story. 

  

Above: Bic behind Ben's "Kamikaze" Datsun at COTA, and again at COTA. Sadly she stayed home....

Bic and my normal team did not make this event, but Ben McNeil had Louis Gigliotti at G-Speed build him a c5z track car into an endurance machine with requisite awesome cage, seat and fuel system installation. It was completed months before the race and THE PLAN was to get plenty of test and prep time and then do the race. Then the WRL folks asked if some VIPs could run with Ben and WRL would get Hawk to help us out with some pads and Yoko to help with tires. Ben asked if I’d come help crew and drive. The VIPs ended up being some journos from a car magazine and also racer/coach Ross Bentley. THE PLAN was for Ben to haul the car up in his well-equipped trailer and I’d drive or fly or something and we’d make it work. Then life happened. Ben got a new knee a few months prior and had rehab (which went very well!), then his work got busier, then he had emergency surgery about 10 days before the event and finally on Monday before the event the docs confirmed an infection so Ben was eliminated two days prior to leaving. Sadly, my mother passed away about a month prior so I lost prep time with that, as well as our family vacation fell a few weeks before the event as well.

  

Above: All good races start with Bucees for jerky! Here is fresh soft sticky-ness from Yokohama

Long story short, THE PLAN went out the window and WRL ended up towing the car up on an open trailer with precious few spares and Joey (WRL owner) and I had about two weeks to do final race prep while we both still worked our normal jobs. Install hood vents, wire in radio, ground plane for antenna, red LED interior lights for night driver swaps, power for AIM SOLO and GoPros, install oil cooler, remove AC condenser, transponder, replace flip-lights with fixed race lights, add LED cornering lamps, etc etc etc. The usual, right?

  

Above: Corvette getting lo-pro lights at our shop, and final testing at TWS with Athena looking on

But it got done. Somehow, it always does, right? Yok sent 10 tires, 4 of which were on the car and it was tested at TWS twice. They took some wear, but looked pretty good and we had another full set to start the race on and two new spares. Except the spares did not fit and so 1 tire stayed home (foreshadowing….recognize it). Hawk sent a box with pads, but the pads on the car were in great shape too, but nobody knew what pads were on the car since they were there when Ben bought it. It was previously a track car, and they did well on 8-10 lap test runs so they would be our backups. 

Above: The Braunschweig Corvette and our speed-yellow "Corvette Summer" entry. #Murica #LSXmafia

In the “great news” category, our “Team Corvette Summer” entry would be pitting with the very experienced Braunschweig team (Matt Peterson’s team) who also run a C5 corvette (#LSXmafia!!!) in the highly-competitive GP1 class. Thankfully they’d have some extra crew and as anyone does for a 24 hour race, they brought a LOT of spares and things to fabricate with (you guessed it….foreshadowfixing). And no, I have no idea who named our team or why it was named that. #BadMovieNames

I flew in and grabbed my rental, made a quick Wal-Mart stop (zipties, gorilla tape, glass cleaner wipes, hand cleaner wipes, paper towels, bug spray, camp chair, etc) and got to the track for late testing. Met Ross and the journos and all was well. I did a few quick laps, then put Ross in the car. The journos took some laps as well to get acclimated to the car and the track. They all had some wheel2wheel experience of some sort, some fairly recent, some a while back, but they seemed to have good attitudes and Ross and I hit it off pretty well. I tried to preach the ‘endurance mantra’ that so many of you know. Take it easy on the car, this is not a sprint race, save the car for the next driver and keep making laps. Ross completely agreed and preached it as well. I explained that this was NOT how the event was planned, originally Ben and another person to crew were coming (along with an enclosed trailer with tools/parts) and so I apologized and said we’d do our best. I further explained this was a fresh build and we’d likely have some bugs, but the car seemed solid and we were (critically and thankfully) pitted with another C5 team with extensive endurance experience.

Above: Joey laying down on the job! (getting transponder number). <Sheldon>: That's my spot. 

One journo brought the car in with the brakes really hot (smoking, in fact) and another got a long pedal in a short amount of time. We bled the brakes and they were back to great, but Ross and I stressed that a light brake pedal is all that is needed and no ABS or Stability Control (SC) should be encountered. When the SC kicks in, the brakes are used to try and correct the yaw angle and we didn’t need that brake wear. The car needs to last 24 hours and driving on the nannies won’t do it (did your ‘foreshadowing’ light come on??). Night testing went well, the lights are great and the car (I thought) was just stupid easy to drive. Ross and I stressed a 5000RPM limit for at least the first half of the race to ensure durability, to keep temps down, and for fuel mileage. We’d LIKE to get 2 hours on a tank and low-rpm is the only way to do that on a stock 405hp Z06. The message seemed to (maybe) get through. Ross said he’d keep preaching our mantra further that evening. I have no idea where the journos stayed but Ross and his wife had a rental RV and they stayed at the track. The last dark session revealed that when the car stumbled on fuel, switching to the reserve did nothing. The car was towed back in, we fueled it and it went back out for a bit. We never got a fuel mileage run, so I figured we’d give Ross the start and let him run 1.5 hours because I was nearly positive it would run that long, then we can fuel it and swap drivers and know exactly the fuel burn and plan accordingly.

NOTE= While I was a representative of the car owner (Ben), Ross was a representative of the journos and we had a lot of side conversations after he would confer with them on various topics. We both were in agreement that Ben's car needed respect (it was a fresh build on its maiden race and Ben wanted it back in one piece, naturally) yet we also wanted the journos to have a good time, and get some fun wheel2wheel endurance time in. I did not know their specific experience or success, or if they were actually competitive in what they’d done. I wanted them to enjoy the experience, but also needed them to respect the equipment and follow Ross and my guidelines to ensure the car lasted the full 24. Ross and I were on the same page on everything and that was a load off my mind.

It had been a really long day and I wanted to go to my sister-in-law's house, but it is 1.5+ hours from the track and by the time I left I was exhausted and last-minute decided to grab a close hotel because I wanted the extra 2 hours of sleep that I figured I’d need (foreshadowing….duh). I got a solid 9 hours and was at the track at 0800 on Saturday. Idled the car (this car REALLY needs a name, jeez) to Matt’s garage spot and I changed the brake pads to the ONE SINGLE SET that Hawk had sent us (LOL…really??) and put on the new tires. The used tires looked pretty knackered after the guys driving on Friday (to be fair they had a bit of time testing in Texas, but they had looked pretty sharp after that, so…), but they’d work for a bit if needed (foreOHMYGAHshadowing). Sadly one un-mounted tire got left in Texas as it simply would not fit, but we had the other un-mounted tire with the 4 mounted test tires. HPR being a serious right turn track, my guess was the LF would get worn out first (hint: I was wrong).

Radios were tested, the camelback was filled and clipped in, and Ross slid in the car for the start. I took a peek at RaceMonitor to see how this was stacking up as Ross sat in grid waiting to roll off. We were classed in GTO, the fastest class, along with 5 other cars. Hey, with only 6 in class, we had a 50% shot at a podium, right? LOL

Above: Porsche Boxster GP1 machine and one of the Vess BMW M235i cars running in GTO with us

So GTO is the highest horsepower/weight category (for example, Pontini is Gp3, Bic is in the lowest hp/weight class of GP4, and the fast GP1 machines should run close to our times) and so the cars are gridded by class at the beginning. On the front row are two gorgeous BMW M235i SRSBZNS full-on pro race cars. Air jacks, pit fortress, stacks and stacks of tires, full on crew, etc etc. They are, not surprisingly, really fast and experienced and honestly the race is theirs to lose. Next row is a seriously fast subie, an E30 with an LS in it (yikes) next to it. This was going to be interesting for sure. At some point in the race, the GTO field reset to 5 entries, so hey our chances somehow got better. In total, there were 40 cars taking to the track at about 11:50 for two easy warm-up laps and then the green flag flew at almost noon straight up and the race was on with our yellow Team Corvette Summer and Braunschweig’s white/red/black C5 closeby. 

Ross finished the first lap in 3rd, but the GP1 cars were already dialed up to “11” and pushing like this was a TimeTrial or a 15 minute sprint race. We quickly fell to 4th, then 5th as Ross cut good laps but did not hinder those who were driving possessed. He settled in nicely and cut his fast lap of a 2:06.7 on lap 20 with clear track and a healthy car. Later on lap 26 he actually cut one other high 2:06, but he was typically in the 2:09-2:11 range conservatively working traffic. He was using 3rd and 4th only (except in 5th briefly on the long straight). This is what he and I agreed upon and what we told the journos to do. We even wrote it on our track map as we discussed/shared our plan. He reported good temps on water and oil.

Above: The pointy end of the field formed up and moments from the green. #PalonyPic

Having never done a stop, the journos and I worked out who would do what. I’d handle fuel, then another would handle fire bottle, the second would be getting in the car while Ross got out and helped buckle up the incoming driver and the last guy would be handing fuel jugs up on the pit wall so I could grab it once the first was empty. First stop at lap 43 went off very well and the incoming driver was actually belted and ready before fuel was done since fuel was flowing really slowly for some reason. Regardless, Ross pitted from 3rd (a few GP1 cars pitted before us) and we fell to 10th as journo1 took to the track.

With Braunschweig on one side of us, we had a GP1 Boxster (#481) on the other side of us and early in the race it appears with a really loose front bumper cover due to impact. They are following protocol and fueling first and I notice that they are prepping to fix the bumper and they have an almost-gone roll of gorilla tape. I quickly grab our new roll, expose a 2’ piece and holler at their crew chief. He drops their dead roll and grabs the strips I peel for him, then I hand him the whole roll and tell him to use what he needs. They used a lot and that is perfectly fine. #RacingCommunity

Above: Tis just a flesh wound! (This car would go on to win GP1 and place 2nd overall!!!) 

Decent lap times, clean in traffic and temps still good and journo1 chewed through laps and worked well to claw us back from 10th down to 4th by the time his 1.5 hours and 41 laps were done. Ross’ best lap time still stood and our second stop was some 30 seconds faster. The modified-on-the-fly plan was to just do 1.5 hour stints the first round then modify once we’d confirmed fuel mileage. One of the Braunschweig crew went over with us and called me to look at tires at this three hour mark and I was surprised to see the left side looking pretty worn. The outside edges were worn down, but this particular tire is built to become a solid end-cap as the tread wears so hopefully journo2 is smooth and does not hammer on them unnecessarily (hint: wrong again). I crossed my fingers we could make 12 hours on this outboard pair but thought we’d be actually doing good if we made 8 (foreshadowing: LOL).

Above: Early on and we are looking strong!

Journo2 took off and just watching the end of the front straight and the T1-2-3 complex it was fairly obvious the car was being pushed pretty hard. Lap times were decent but reported temps were notches higher. Ross got on the radio and worked to slow j2 down a bit but it didn’t seem to help much. I wanted to go observe the back section, but it would take too long to walk down there and if anything happened and I was needed in the pits then that would not be good.

  

Above: Ross in the corvette's front office

Journo2 had entered the fray in 5th position only losing one spot and quickly got us back into 4th overall. We were third in class behind both Vess cars who were circulating in the 2:03-2:05 range with the regularity of a metronome. They are fast in traffic, fast up the hills, fast in the pits and…well…just plain fast. My friend Matt Travis was driving one of them and absolutely kicking butt. He also drives PWC (podium finisher the following weekend at COTA!!)  and with a few WRL teams, etc etc. Experienced, fast, great in traffic….which is why he is in demand.

Above: One of the VESS GTO-class BMW M235i machines, this one being driven by Matt Travis. Fast car, fast driver. 

4 laps in, journo2 gets a black flag and we hear it on the radio as a WRL official is standing chatting with us and Braunschweig. We tried to get the driver to stay out since we found out it was for fuel spillage (vent overflow spills some first few laps when it is completely full) and we cleared it with the officials, but he had already arrived on hot pit. He stopped briefly at the black-flag station and was back out. When I was filling the tank, the first time it would ‘burp’ back and me with fuel so I’d dump more in till it burped a second time and then I’d cap it. Next time I’d stop at the first burp and let it settle, THEN cap it. Surely that would work, right? (foreshadowing: No….no it would not.)

Sadly the race was pretty tight at that point and a 30 second stop cost us 4 positions and we fell to 8th overall as journo2 went back to work. On lap 123, with a total of 4.5 hours of running for the car, journo2 came back onto pit road for fuel and a driver swap. As the driver swap was happening, and I was fueling, I could hear our Braunschweig helper hollering tires. When the fuel was done I looked at the left rear and the outer tread was worn off the tire and the very thin tread layer was pulling away (splitting) from the carcass from about a quarter of the circumference. YIKES. Damn damn damn.  

A jack went under the driver’s side, the left side tires were replaced with the testing spares with a huge help from the BraunBoys and journo3 was sent into the fray having dropped only to 9th overall. Once the car was safely on the track and Ross was doing some coaching to get him in the zone, I took a hard look at the tire. It was hurt and hurt bad. At first I thought it could be a manufacturing defect (with years in the tire industry, I’ve seen my share and know what to look for), but once I looked close it was pretty obvious. I snapped a pic and sent it to a very experienced race engineer with only the tagline “do not post and do not share at this point’. About 30 seconds later my thoughts were confirmed; “it needs a touch more camber, but given the REST of the tread, it’s being abused.”

Above: This was a brand new tires 4.5 hours ago...

This was also a new tire model and it was VERY SOFT. I think this model tire is a victim of the tire wars where tire makers are taking 140 treadwear tires and rebranding them 200 in order for them to be legal in autocrossing and endurance racing. It reminded me of the conti’s we ran on Pontini at TWS in May, but they would have run 8+ hours (we had a toe issue so we killed one, but they were on pace to do 8+ hours). Maybe with a real smooth driver who drove tidy (not sliding the car) these would make 8, but I’m not positive. Regardless, we soon had more issues. As my flying-father used to say “son, it is rarely the first emergency that kills you”. The second emergency was upon us before I could get my head wrapped around the first. Racing…she is a testy b!tch.

Journo3 was taking it easy and clicking off good laps. He’d started in 9th overall and with good traffic work and smooth driving he’d dropped to 8th, then 7th and then quickly to 5th. On lap 148, well before he was due, he radio’d in a ‘fuel bobble’, and then that the car had died. We coached him to try both MAIN and RESERVE pump but nothing worked and he wisely saved the battery. It came in on a rope and the BraunBoys helped quickly find a fuel pump that seemed* to wake up with a light tap, so we left him in the car, dumped in 5 gallons to be sure and sent him back out for ten more laps or so. Red flags were waiving in my head, but I was not sure why. Pontini faced a fuel pickup issue that shortened their stints, could we be seeing that? Was a pump dying? I had no pump spares. My mind raced as J3 was right back up to speed on lap 151 (wahoo!) smoothly working the corvette back up the charts from 9th to 7th when he was called in on lap 162 for a fuel top off and a driver swap.

In the meantime I’d caught up with Matt Travis who was running with the Vess kicking-everyone's-butt team and I asked if they had tires. Matt quickly brokered a deal to get four used Dunlops that he was pretty sure would run 12 hours, "if you don't hammer on them". Our teams started shuttling tires to the on-site tire guy to get swapped over. Sadly one of the Vess rocketships suffered a terminal failure and was withdrawn, but the other car was still leading the whole event, extending the lead with every lap.

Above: Team Braunschweig, the real heroes for my event. Matt (2nd from rt) and Dean (far right) were critical. #PalonyPic

(Mom apparently took the snap, but she was awesome too!!)

I talked to the Braunboys and they said they’d swap right side tires for me and handle the fueling to leave the journos to man the fire bottle and assist. Although it was a long stop dropping us to 12th and ran several minutes over our normal stop, I slid in the car with “smooth is fast” on repeat in my head and headed out on track. It was now 6:15pm and sunset was approaching. The end of the long fast straight goes straight west and the low sun made that corner tough. I rejoined in 12th overall and the car did not feel very good. Brake pedal was very long and the tires would get greasy with even minor hurrying of the car likely due to being well worn, but also the track was at its hottest now. Ug. We are only a third of the way through the race. After 15 laps I caught some clear track and obeying our rpm limit, I put down a mid 2:07 keeping a bit in reserve but feeling the tires giving up near the end of the lap. I had cooled them a bit by running ultra-tidy (no slipping) the lap prior, but they simply would not stay grippy an entire lap…they were too far gone. No ABS and no SC were encountered, and traffic was still managed usually once or twice a lap.

Focusing on smooth and tidy, I felt a fuel bobble and before I could look at the AIM SOLO to see that I’d only done 16 laps, the car died. No matter the fuel switch position it would not re-fire. Again Team Corvette Summer comes in on a rope and again the BraunBoys pull the cell cover and tap on the main fuel pump and it engages and sounds like a cat who is decidedly unhappy. The car semi-runs and I just idle it back behind the wall into the Braunschweig garage spot as it is now getting darkish and we need light. The team owner Matt and his father Dean both are there and we quickly disconnect supply lines to pump and we get zero pull on the main pump. Dean and I both stop for a moment to look at the system and try to apply some theory and figure out what failure would be manifesting itself with the situation we were in. In just a few minutes, we pull apart the outlet where a checkvalve is and gut it. Trying the pump again, it sounds normal and has suction. We re-install the lines and gutted check valve and the car fires up after building pressure. The second problem, the fuel vent leaking when full, was addressed with the Braunschweig spares bin of hoses and parts. Matt and I took a 180 degree drain trap with some soft rubber ends and clamped it to the vent and then faced the end forward and gorilla-taped it to the decklid with a part of a red rag as a filter ziptied on. No lie. Remember kids, if it is stupid and it works, it aint stupid. Ghetto? Sure. Stupid? No. As a bonus, two of the new-used-Dunlops are already mounted and ready. The other two will be done in a bit.

Above: Matt Peterson's "yeah, this could work" contraption. Yes....yes it did...

Ross and I have a quick conference. The journos seem a bit rattled and with the tires knackered and the brake pads almost gone (in 7 hours) they are questioning continuing. We decide to see if the fuel system is fixed first so I slide back in the car for a 10 lap run to feel things out. It is dark now and the car runs great but we are out of pad and the pedal is long (worn brakes and really worn tires, great combo!!). Engine response seems improved a bit and I bet I have a good 10-20 more torques than I did when I started my first stint. Yay for fuel delivery! Something good!

Above: Night falls and  racers keep making laps

It was short lived. I came back into the hot pits and back to the garage spot for a conference and Ross tells me that the journos are done. We both confer that although he and I are racers with ‘never say die’ attitudes, he has to agree with them that ‘just making laps’ is not really what it is about and they have had a great time, gave me high praise and have plenty to write their stories about Joey’s cool endurance series. One journo tells me quietly that he would have voted to keep going, but this was "not his deal". I can hear Tim Allen saying “Never give up, never surrender” but I simply represent the car owner and indeed these monkeys are not my monkeys, and this circus is not my circus (FYI: if I HAD an endurance racing circus, the tagline would be “keep making laps”).

So Ross says let’s get something good to eat and we head to the motorhome where a big bowl of pasta with sauce was made by his awesome wife and is ready to be served. We all sit down and swap stories about growing up and what we’ve done, stories about cars and racing and general good chat over a much-needed hot meal. I quietly and gently reiterate that we can put the original unknown pads back on the car and if they are solid endurance pads then we should be fine if we back off a bit…and I was pretty sure the new-used Dunlops could make it. Who knows, maybe we could still podium in GTO. The topic banters a bit and the counter seems to focus on a “what fun is that?” angle and while I didn’t really agree, I can also admit that that angle makes sense from a certain point of view. Racers who run Time Trials and others who run Sprint (20-40 minute) races sometimes can’t wrap their heads around an endurance mantra and that’s just how it is. Additionally, there was concern about the car stopping on track at night and/or getting damaged. Or what if more problems came up? Would the owner want us to risk the car? I told them that I knew, with complete confidence, the owner would kick us all in the nuts and say ‘get out there and keep making laps”. There was light laughter (as a whispering Tim Allen said in my head: “Never give up, never surrender”).

The topic gets changed and we banter about where we have lived, sports we played, races we’ve seen, etc. Soon the journos are on their phones rebooking flights and organizing a very hasty exit strategy. I excuse myself, shake hands, thank the wonderful cook and tell them I’m going to check on some teams I know to see if folks need help. We had moved the corvette out of the Braunschweig garage in case they needed it and it was close to the motorhome. I passed it as I was walking back to the hot pits. It was about 1030pm. It was a sad moment. Like a boat in drydock, or an airplane in the boneyard, a workable racecar in the paddock while the race is going on is some type of injustice.

I wandered down the hot pits, the sound of the cars whizzing by, the lights carving into the sky as they came up the hills. I ended up in Race Control and talked a bit to Joey (WRL owner, and organizer of this journo/Ross/corvette experience) and filled him in on the details. We chatted a bit and he got busy with race control and I eased out.

A team was live-streaming the big fight and projecting it on a trailer and had a good crowd. I checked on the Braunschweig guys and they were at the pointy end of GP1, putting down laps as the temperature dropped. I texted Anna and Ben. I ran into Matt Travis and thanked him a ton. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “Not sure”. I’m pretty sure he knew. He’s a racer.

Projector on the white cooler is putting the fight on the side of a trailer. #Resourceful

My dad used to say “you’re the one who has to sleep with yourself”…meaning that you need to be comfortable with your own decisions and be your own person. Folks will always judge you plenty, but unless they know the whole story, who cares? The whole story here is that I didn’t want to stop. I thought it was wrong. I thought it was a dis-service to the car, the car owner and the car builder…to the series, to the sponsors who donated parts, to the folks who had helped the car get this far. This was a big bag of no-likey. I’m fine that the others wanted to stop. From their angle it likely seemed a bit crazy to continue and I respect that. But I’m the one who has to sleep with myself. And there would be no sleep tonight.

I walked back up to the Braunschweig pits and asked if I could use the same tools again to swap pads and Matt’s dad got this little grin and his eyes woke up and twinkled a bit and he said “sure….let’s get it going”. Yeah. Let’s do that.

I walked back to the corvette. Ross’ motorhome was right there and the lights were on. I thought about knocking, but didn’t want to interrupt. The journo rental cars were gone and my bet was Ross was headed to bed. I slid in the car, fired it up and idled it back to the garage where a few of the BraunBoys were already there waiting. It didn’t take long to pull the wheels, swap brakes and bleed and then put on the Dunlops. I kept thinking Ross may walk up and I wondered how I would not only tell him I was going back out, but also ask him if he’d want some more seat time. I asked the guys if they would hold the firebottle while I fueled the car and they said sure. I texted Matt Travis and quickly got hot air pressure ideas and backed into a starting point and the boys got them bled down and torqued. I texted Ben again to give him the latest update and he sent a thumbs-up. I suited up, drove the car around back to the hot pits, slid out and dumped in enough fuel to fill it up while one of the BraunBoys covered me with a fire bottle.

It was sometime just past midnight. I was alone in our pits. The BraunBoys were on the other side of a table, with 8 folks jammed into camp chairs, more in their RV, most sacked out. I was in our pit with 4 empty camp chairs and I stood there drinking a small water to hydrate just a bit. This was surreal: The sounds of the cars racing by, the cool mountain air taking it from a 90 degree high down into the crisp 50s while the stars blinked on the dark shade of black night sky, the crews all up and down pit road napping or relaxing. I was suited up. I texted Anna a quick update, hopped the wall and slid into the car. An awake BraunBoy hopped over and did the window net and said “be careful and good luck” and I said “see you in a few hours”. I motored up to the check station and in a minute I was entering the track, chasing someone’s taillights as the corvette got up to speed and began lap 194.

After just a few laps I realized I wanted to FOR SURE make it two hours, so I decided to simply run 4th gear the whole track (except a brief 5th on the back straight). Sure, the RPMs dropped under 2000 twice a lap, but the mighty LS6 just pulled easily off the corners and this allowed the temps to stay cool, kept my speeds down a bit to save brakes and I drove as tidy as possible to conserve my bargain Dunlops. My lap times suffered a bit, but a lightly-limping GTO is still a quick car and I alternated between passing and getting passed as the lap timer clicked off laps. For the entire night stint, I rarely get a lap without “the smoke”. This is where you come up to a section of track partially or completely covered in smoke from an off. It could have been a single wheel drop on acceleration out of a corner or it could have been a huge 4-off with the cloud hiding a car just about to appear back on track. While the right foot insists on staying planted and “racing” through the fog, the brain pulls the “abort” switch and the foot lifts because this is not my car, there is nothing to gain and much to lose, and it is the sensible thing to do. After about the 30th time this happens I actually took the microsecond to wonder if I would have the “speeding up to a wall of dirt-fog” in a dream the next time I got some sleep. Heh.

I am really working on "tidy driving" and working to not slide the car. At all. With the power the car has, it is incredibly easy to lightly slide the back tires out especially on the uphill right-turn corners. With street tires, running them "tidy" keeps the edges cool and not hammered. Running a gear up helps this as power is reduced, but it still requires a stout helping of discipline. With the AIM SOLO lap timer in 'predictive' mode I work to slightly alter my lines based on running a gear up, all the while trying to find tenths. Focusing on this while working both faster and slower traffic makes time pass very quickly. I'm also incredibly courteous of traffic. If I catch a pair, I wait till I can pass them both, determined not to play a part in an out-of-class battle. Likewise for cars catching me, I invariably pull off line early and slow so as not to negatively impact their lap time. Perhaps they are working hard to catch another car, or working hard to walk away from another car and the last thing I want is to be guilty of interference. Individual lap times suffer because of this, but overall the progress continues. Keep making laps.  

Central Texas racer Brianne Corn was in this BMW from time to time and they finished 4th in GP2

50 laps later I eased back into my hot pit. I can say “my” and not “our” anymore because this is a “me” thing for the most part. Two BraunBoys jump the wall to check on me and I tell them I’m fine, just needing fuel. I slide out of the car and in a moment a fully suited BraunBoy has a fire bottle and covers me as I dump 3 jugs of fuel into the car. I say ‘thanks’ and we both hop back over the wall. I sit down to relax and realize I feel great. It’s around 2:30 in the morning and I look at live timing just to see how far back I am.

Uh-oh. I am now second in GTO. The BMW/LS car is struggling and is in/out of the pits and now I’ve got a 34 lap lead on them. But they just went back out and are making laps. Some laps are pretty quick, while others are pretty far off the pace. Clearly they are fighting something, but how long till they fix it and come storming after me? I have 244 laps now to their 210 while the 4th place car has 168 but is supposedly fixing the car to rejoin the race. One of the Vess machines dropped at 153 laps, but the leading Vess car is over 150 laps in front of me with 396 laps! Matt Travis was in the now-dead Vess machine, but he is fast and solid so he is being prepped to go out in the sole survivor Vess machine to help propel it to the checker and hold off the maniacal boxster GP1 cars that seem to take every single corner at the absolute limit. Speaking of Boxsters the crew chief next door looks over and around and says “are you all alone now??” I tell him I am and he says ‘holler if you need anything and we’ll do whatever you need”. And he means it. #RacingCommunity

I sit for a few minutes, drink some more water and eat some Bucee’s beef jerky to protein load a bit. Text Anna and Ben an update. Add in a banana and a bit more water and I scoot over to the bathroom for a minute. When I come back I’m told the lugs are checked and the air pressure was good, no leaks and fluids are all fine. #LSXmafia

Again, a BraunBoy gets my net, says “Be careful” and I say “See you in 50 laps” as I slowly pull off into the darkness and rejoin the going-all-night fray.

I lied. I don’t come in until my lap count reads 55 putting us up to 299 laps on the chart. The BMW/LS car was putting down laps as well, but went behind the wall a few times too, and they are sitting at 258 laps now. A solid lead.

Again I fuel the car with a BraunBoy covering fire, and Matt Peterson takes a hard look at the car and recommends a tire cross-rotation to even out the wear. I ask about my fuel jugs and how they keep “re-filling” while I’m on track and the BraunBoy mutters something about “fuel fairies” and grins. I am so freaking blessed. I take the car behind the wall back to the garage and more BraunBoys show up as well as a few guys from another team and four jacks pick up the corvette in one smooth motion and electric impacts strip and install wheels in short order. We take a hard look at the brakes (they look good) and the underside (no drips!) and put the car back on the ground and I take it back to the hot pits.

It’s 5:30 in the morning. I’m back in an empty hot pit, sitting in my camp chair. For the scarcest of moments I have a thought. It materialized and dissipated faster than I could even register it was there as I struggled to piece it together enough for it to be discovered. I laughed a bit and quietly said “okay dad”.

While the sky is a darker shade of black, the eastern edge is a slightly less-darker shade of black as I hop the wall and again slide into the plastic fantastic. A BraunBoy appears, clicks the net in and closes the door. “Good luck”, “See you in 50”. She fires right up and again I enter the fray, starting the 300th lap.

Again I lie, entering the pits after my 357th lap, the sun solidly in the sky as I have observed the beginning of another planet rotation, in all its indescribable beauty as the yellows and oranges push to pinks and the cloud edges tinge with brightness. It was glorious and at times almost distracting. Again a BraunBoy appears and helps me out, then covers me with a fire bottle as I dump more fuel into the machine. It has ran these last 150+ laps without one hiccup. The brakes feel great and the tires are pretty easy to drive tidy. Traffic is mostly workable and polite and I stay clear of on-track battles, frequently pulling offline and slowing down so as not to interfere in someone’s race or impede someone’s lap. The Vess car laps with regularity. It is ferociously fast, especially on the climbing uphills where it is smile-inducing to watch it claw the track in order to quickly gain altitude.

It is almost 8:30 in the morning. I’ve been up over 25 hours and have driven almost 200 of our 357 laps. The BMW/LS is behind the wall and quick math tells me that even if the leading Vess car parks it now to only do the checker lap, I simply don’t have enough time to unlap myself. So, it is time to relax and refuel me now that the car is ready again. Beef jerky, banana bread, bananas and a good deal of water and a good bit of stretching and my body begins to respond. It is slowly getting warmer as the sun climbs into the lightly-cloudy day. My social feed alternates between “Costas send updates!!”, and seeing pictures of the massive destruction along the gulf coast. My house already has evacuees and extra pets and I do my best to keep in touch.

I keep thinking Ross may walk up at some point and I hope he brings his helmet but I don’t see or hear from him again. I take the car out of the hot pits back to the garage spot and take another good look-over and realize the tires and brakes have enough to go another 2 hours or so at the least. Ben is already reminding me via text that for WRL, you HAVE to take the checker to be considered a finisher, but honestly I’d not forgotten that. So I get the car checked over, double checking lugs, the fuel pump/lines at the cell, pressures, fluids, and then take it back up near the hot-pit entrance and leave it there, ensuring several times that I’ve shut down the master switch so I don’t come back to a potentially dead battery.

I check on the Braunschweig guys and they are in 3rd in GP1 with the 4th and 5th place teams within a lap or two and they need another stop AND the gear shifter has gone rogue, sometimes deciding that there is not a third gear in the t56 just when the driver needs it. They have overcome so much to have a few crumbles start to show up, but maybe it will stay together for them. With two hours to go, they are still 3rd, but the 4th and 5th place cars are on the same lap and they need to do another stop and sadly they slide off the podium. Argh.

Matt (un-helmeted) working to get the shifter to find 3rd gear in a frantic stop late in the race

With an hour to go in the race it is time to get all my gear back together and get back in the car. Braunschweig has semi-fixed the car and is making laps, but they are off the podium and working to climb back from 5th to 4th in the remaining time left. The top Vess car is STILL hammering out fast laps and the bmw/LS has been in/out a few times trying to resolve issues. Clearly they are wounded but giving up is not something coded in their DNA either. Kudos to them!

With about 40 minutes to go I ease down into the seat. While Ben bought a really REALLY nice comfy OMP halo seat and Louis got it mounted at a comfy angle on sliders….my backside is completely aware that this seat now offers zero comfort. In fact, it is hitting me in all the places I wish it wasn’t. Knowing this is the last time I’ll pull these straps tight this weekend is a small comfort that I was pondering as I got incredibly aware of the car. After I flipped on the main power, the “info center” displayed “remove key and wait 10 seconds”. I have never seen this message displayed on a C5 and what if this thing won’t start now? I go ahead and start the car and it runs, but the message will not go away. Great. </sarcasm>

So I shut the car down, remove the key and slowly count to 13 (just to be on the safe side) and then put the key back in and start the car. Message is gone. Car seems ok. Is the Greek God of Racing, Raceaflais, just jacking with me here? I pull up to the end of grid, gear is checked and off I go into the bright sunshine looking for a checker flag.

Everyone is being super-courteous now, no chops or blocks or anything goofy. We all just want to finish and after a dozen laps or so I catch the bmw/LS in a tight corner and he goes very wide to ensure there is plenty of room for both of us. I waive. The Braunschweig corvette and I are close by for a few laps and that was fun to run with them. That car is really setup well.

Finally….after an eternity it seems, the starter is leaning and giving the “1” symbol with his index finger and I start the final lap. All of you who have been in this situation know that everything operates just a bit different now. The clutch pedal resistance now seems slightly off, the brake pedal falls just a big further, the gear shift feels really notchy all of a sudden, and some weird noises from the back of the car that you've never heard before. Then, finally, I get to the esses and power through them one final time up the hill and there is the glorious checker flag waving against a sea of blue. The pit wall is lined with folks clapping and pointing. It was, like witnessing a quietly soft sunrise on a calm lake, a moment that fills the soul. 

Checker flies on the yellow corvette! #NoDNF #RacingCommunity #RaceWRL

I’ve taken the checker flag a lot of times…sometimes with elation and sometimes with plain old “thankfully this is over” relief. This was the decidedly the former.

I take a nice easy cool down, congratulating this little car on persevering to the checker and getting a podium for the first event. As I come into the hot pits, I get stacked in with all the other podium cars while the others head back to their paddock spot. After a short impound everyone is called up for trophies and Joey thanks everyone and tells three quick stories before giving trophies. The first is about a competitor giving his truck and trailer to another racer to collect their car as their rig broke 100 miles out. Spirit of Competition, indeed. The second story was an MR2 team that removed and WELDED their oil pan to fix it and then re-joined the fray! Heroic fix! Then….I was completely shocked when Joey told the story of the yellow corvette and I, and the crowd started clapping for the "IronButt Award"! He was great to point out that it would not have happened without the BraunBoys and so many others. Quite a few folks had taken a look at the car before awards, but now that Joey has told the story a LOT of folks come over to check it out. The remarks center on what a beautiful cage it has (Thanks Louis!) and 'where is your coolsuit??'. Several remark "did you ever hear from the magazine guys or Ross?" and I reply that I had not. <shrug> Lots of introductions and congratulations were shared and stories were told. #RacingCommunity

Yeah....you've seen it before...don't care. Could not have made it to the checker without them!! #LSXmafia #PalonyPic

Reality check here: While it was a pretty serious effort to get the car to where I got it, it would not have happened without Matt Peterson’s team, especially his father Dean. Additionally, without Matt Travis (Vess BMW driver) I would not have had tires for the last half of the race (along with great motivation!). Also, while it was a great feat, this is still club racing and my total laps still would not have put me anywhere near the podium in GP1 or GP2. It was simply a matter of “keep making laps” and having a lot of help to do it. I was happy to take a car with a long brake pedal and hammered yok’s and run within a second of Ross’ time when he had fresh tires and brakes. I’m good with that. #Content #Racer

The car finished with ZERO contact and only the one black flag for the fuel spillage early in the race. I did have a moment where in the night I was starting to pass a slower car right as a yellow light lit up on a flag station. I almost stood on the brakes, but another car was right behind me passing the slower car too, freight-train style. In a fleeting moment I decided I'd rather get in trouble and explain to WRL officials than shorten the back of the corvette and have to explain to Ben. I completed the pass, slowed down for the yellow area, then picked back up speed and watched for the black flag for me that never showed up. #Whew

Matt Travis took this and called it "The Official TEAM Photo". #LOL

Epilogue: Going back over video, some journos were getting into the Stability Control a lot and even going down to second gear coming out of the slow right-hand corner. Stability Control pulls the throttle and uses individual brake application to reduce yaw. This massively contributed to killing a set of brake pads in 7 hours and a left rear tire in 4.5 hours (the other three tires were done too, just not delaminated!), and exactly counter to what Ross and I both preached. The mighty LS6 simply does not need to be spun and all that does is make more noise, burn fuel and hammer tires at the expense of the powertrain, consumables and the stopwatch. On a typical lap, 3rd gear is used four times, and when I was conserving brakes and tires, I simply ran 4th gear and was happy to find out I could run times approximately equal to what the journos averaged and use less fuel (with corresponding lower engine temps) and less shifts doing it. Sure, the RPM was under 2000rpms twice a lap, but the car would pull up cleanly and brake and tire wear became minimal. Yes, if this was a sprint, I'd be the first to detour from the endurance plan, but it wasn't. #Technique

  

Above: Great snap by Braunschweig team photo-guy Patrick Palony!

Epilogue, part two: Looking through pictures and organizing this write-up, I decided that since I was the first one to finish a race in this car, the first one to deliver a podium in this car and the first one to stay up all night with this car….I was entitled to christen this car should a name really feel right. #Burner

Epilogue, part three: While the journos asked a few questions about what and where I raced, background stuff and lots of other questions of Ross and I, the question of ‘why do you like club endurance racing’ never got asked. We talked about sprint racing and stage rallying, etc…but I never got to explain about the camaraderie of a team, the measuring your performance against what you feel your best would be and how perseverance is the yardstick. While I technically had no team, I was quickly adopted on both sides of my pits by the Braunschweig team (#Murica, #Allies) on one side and the Cervelli Boxster (#Axis) team on the other. Getting to hang out at the track with your friends and work together as a team to finish as high as you can, with as many laps as you can, is simply one of the holy grails of motorsport. At least in my mind anyway. Who knows, maybe they asked that question of other team members?

Want to know how to blow my phone up? This. This is how you blow my phone up :-) :-) :-)

Moar epilogue: In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the owners of the most beloved track, Texas World Speedway (TWS) ceased the rentals that were booked through the end of the year and rented it to Co-Part to store flooded cars. With no bookings for 2018 due to “closure”, the last organized event was the 19th and 20th. I did a private test shakedown of Burner on the evening of the 21st and with no events since then, I was the last person to drive a racecar at TWS. The last one to hammer out of the esses, fly down the straight and drop into turn 1 at scaryspeed. It is a bittersweet honor.

My "keep making laps" mantra sometimes gets friendly-heckled and it is hilarious. Our team has been doing this a while and it is what we ALL preach. Yes, we've had a driver radio in "the car was on fire", to which we said "is it on fire RIGHT NOW?", to which the driver said "no", so we said "then keep making laps". True story. #Beaker

Back to WDMS news: http://witchdoctormotorsports.com/news.htm

The last TWS endurance race with Team Pontini: http://witchdoctormotorsports.com/ch256.htm (final endurance race here, #Podium)

The last TWS Sprint (NASA) race with  Scratcher: http://witchdoctormotorsports.com/ch255.htm (#KeepTheStreakAlive)

My only other trip to HPR (in a corvette....and also finished second!): http://witchdoctormotorsports.com/ch226.htm

 

Thank you Ben!