"Old age and treachery will beat youth and skill, every time."
Allison Legacy Cars at TWS, 4-6 August, 2006
Above: The lineup for Saturday's Race
It was Friday afternoon and I casually pointed the infra-red pyrometer at the asphalt and as another bead of sweat rolled down my back/neck/forehead/etc I saw the reading was 116. Of course I was in the shade of an EZup on pitwall so I leaned over a bit and shot the asphalt that was in the sun. One hundred and thirty six. Yikes. I almost felt sorry for my two drivers out circulating the 2.9 mile circuit but I didn’t. At least they had a breeze. Hot, sure, but it was better than where I was.
The driver of the 88 car was Eric Brunner, who is the son of my boss, Rege Brunner. Eric turned 12 not too long ago and this was his first time on a roadcourse in a car. He had spent several years in karts and had done well, but this was a whole new ballgame. His dad was driving the #3 car that he bought a week prior. I spent a few nights earlier in the week converting the circle track setup on the car to something a little more roadcourse friendly. The Allison Legacy car was designed as a short track car (circle…only turning left…think NASCAR without the two roadcourse races) but sometimes a series would add a roadcourse event in the season and sometimes some folks would convert their cars to roadcourse setup cars permanently. In Texas, those cars are called Legacy Extreme cars and there were a few of them circulating the track along with a handful of ‘normal’ Legacy cars. I don’t know all the changes they make to them, but I do know they get sway bars, something I have been missing since doing the setup work on the 88 car since the beginning of the season.
The 3 car was doing very well and by taking tire temps we were trying to get the air pressure and alignment settings dialed in on the bias ply tires (which was another new thing to deal with). The 88 was getting up to speed and Eric was going a bit faster every lap. He was following his dad the majority of the time, but they got split up sometimes also. I had a radio connection to Eric but nothing to his Dad which most of the time was fine, but frustrating other times.
Friday was a test day at TWS and they ran very behind (quietly say to yourself ‘foreshadowing’ right here…). We didn’t get as much track time as we were supposed to, but we made good progress and both drivers reported drivable cars and they pyrometer agreed. Rege was quickest of the group he went out with but a few other cars were opposite him and they stayed in the same relative position. Eric was getting quicker as he was getting more comfortable with the braking zones and the shifting. We didn’t leave the track until late, but the cars were ready for Saturday.
Which arrived all too early and we found ourselves at the track by 7am. It looked to be another ripping hot day and it was. The first practice went smooth and I made another slight air pressure change and then we qualified (very late). Rege put it on the front row with a 2:08.5, only two tenths behind Spreen who poled with a 2:08.3. The rest of the field really tapered off with 3rd spot going from an :11 to the tail end charlie at a :20. Eric put down a :16 to put him smack in the middle of the field. I turned both cars around and double checked everything and we waited. And waited. Waited some more…then I pondered going to NAPA to get some headlights as it was past 5pm and there were at least 3 groups still to race. Finally, with shadows looming large, we all headed to grid and lined up. Sixteen Allison Legacy cars finally rumbled off the grid (13 AL, 3 ALExtreme) and began to warm up the cars on the long 2.9 mile pace lap. They gridded up pretty tight on the short chute going to the esses and came onto the banking very well formed (probably the best of the weekend as they are used to being so close together on a 3/8ths mile track!) and going pretty slow.
The green flag dropped and judging by the video, Rege was the only car in the correct gear. Everyone else must have been in the next highest gear because to say that Rege got a good start would be tantamount to saying that the Grand Canyon is a pretty good sized hole. He put a good 3 lengths on everyone before the SF line and just kept opening it up. He took a high line going into one and while visually it looked like the pack was closing on him in T1, he came out of T2 walking away from the pack pretty nicely. Rege led every lap of that race. He had some ALE cars crawling all over his back several times and even was passed twice, but neither car could make it stick. They would dive in and take the corner and Rege would hesitate, line up a fast exit and walk them down the next straight and there wasn’t anything they could do about it. Both Spreen and Eric got into mild impacts and both spun. Spreen was able to work his way back up to 4th (for AL) and Eric lost some time getting the car re-started and finished 11th( for AL). In the end, Rege and an ALE car shot it out down to the final exit out of the esses and Rege outran him (due to the perfect exit) to the line and won the race by .190 seconds. The closest other AL car was nearly 6 seconds back. While there were several AL cars that turned in one-lap-wonders with times down in the 2:08s and 2:09s, Rege’s fastest lap in the race was a 2:10.2. It was stifling hot and Rege drank the entire 72 ounces of water in the camelback. Rege said with a few laps to go the brakes got very mushy and he was having trouble getting the car slowed without pumping the brakes, and on top of that the car felt like it was getting more loose to him as the race wore on. The AL cars all lined up for a lengthy tech inspection and long discussions about the race. The little 3 car had now won 2 in a row and it was looked over very closely. Being first has its privileges and we got the 3 car back and I began to turn it around. Gary showed up to watch and with his help we bled out all the brake fluid and put in fresh (higher temp) stuff and checked the car over. When we were done, Eric’s car was out of tech (the 88) and we turned it around too. Finally, as the darkness was creeping over the speedway we rolled out to get cleaned up and eat some steak.
Above: Rege's start. Below: Rege's start a few hundred yards later (note still waiving green after the field passes :-)
Sunday came absolutely, entirely, far too early and I was still tired and sore. Once at the track we learned that we were going to have one session that would be practice and qualifying and then the race before lunch due to a good chance of afternoon showers. Eric and I suited up and took to the grid. We went out to qualify and sure enough this little car was pretty loose. I had thought Rege’s late race looseness was cause by overheated tires, but I was still on my first lap! In four laps they black flagged all of us and ended the session due to one of the ALE cars having extinguisher problems. I was picking up speed and dropping over a second per lap, but ended up with my fourth lap as a 2:07.8. I felt good about that (I had a stopwatch ziptied in the car!) until grid posting came out and I was fourth. One ALE car was in 3rd but Spreen stopped the clocks with a pole time of a 2:07.1 and Weir with a 2:07.3. As a side note, Weir was in a borrowed car as his blew the motor at the previous race. He was horrible in practice and on Saturday and I tried to help him. I made the car better, but it was still not so good. We got some scale time and found (insert horrendous number here) % crossweight. I compensated and reset everything (we had already strung the car earlier) and he went from last starting on Saturday to finishing 5th and running competitive times. I quickly walked over to him and jokingly told him that I wanted my setup back! [grin]. He and his wife were very appreciative of the help and I was happy to help them go faster. Weir is very good behind the wheel and obviously the car was getting closer to his liking. Anyway, I felt good only 7 tenths off pole with only 4 laps in the car but we needed to make some changes, so I made plenty. Usually you only make 1 change at a time, but I had to cure the looseness AND increase grip all around so I went about adjusting things here and there. Most of it was based on previous experiences, but this was a first for me with no sway bars and bias-ply tires so some of the changes were shoot-from-the-hip. With everything done that I could reasonably think to do, we buttoned up the 3 and the 88 and went about drinking lots of fluids. It was another blistering day, but due to a little cloud cover and a bit more constant breeze the track temps were fully 10 degrees cooler than Saturday, which, in turn, were a few degrees cooler than Friday. It didn’t look like rain at all, but there were cloud formations off in the distance that could bring some.
Above: Father and son on Sunday just before we went to grid.
Finally, they called us to grid (I know this is going to be a surprise, but it was much later than they posted and said in the schedule…shocker!) and we rumbled down there to see the SM and S7 cars launch. We took up grid spots and I chatted with Spreen’s dad and a few others. Rege was on the radio with Eric and the AL cars looked good all lined up. Finally the checker flew on the race in front of ours and we all made our last minute preparations. With me being fourth, I was outside on the second row, with Weir right in front of me. I was hoping he would get a good start and that if Spreen was caught in the wrong gear again maybe we could get into T1 clean. We all warmed up tires and cars on the long pace lap and I put some decent heat into the 3, mindful to wave at the corner workers at each station ('no wave, no save!').. We formed up tight on the short chute and into the esses the ALE car next to me drove like he was alone and I had to brake or be forced over a curb. Argh. I checked up and then got back up to my space, but I don’t think the guy even realized it happened. We got up on the banking and grouped even tighter and I focused on the starter. We were getting a little faster and right after I had to shift in the next gear the green flew and I stood on it. I was right behind Weir and Spreen and Weir were about even. Weir and I ran a high line in T1 and the pack was still tight as I saw an opening to get to the inside and I eased over. We went thru T1 just fine and pinched down a bit into T2 and just as we were exiting T2 somebody decided that I was slowing them down and they hit me from behind. Not a tap or a rub or a nudge….I got HIT. Since I was still just a bit turning, the hit turned into a spin that turned into me going off the track backwards. Everything slowed down incredibly as my mind went into overdrive to analyze the situation. First off I was concerned about the 3 car as it was not mine and it looked like I would be buying parts for it now. Second off, I was happy to have taken a moment on the pace lap to really tighten down the shoulder belts. Third, I was being careful not to bite into the camelback drink tube because then I couldn’t get more water. Fourth, I was hoping nobody else would hit me. Fifth, I was conscious to pull my thumbs in from the middle of the steering wheel and just grip with my fingers on the outside so as not to lose a thumb from a spoke upon another impact. All of these (and more) thoughts barged into my head and occupied my mind before I even got fully backwards and went off the track because I remember my thoughts being interrupted by an urgent message from the optic nerves stating that all vision had been lost due to all the grass and dirt now floating in the cockpit with me as I went off backwards somewhere north of 70mph. It was instantly zero-visibility and it was time to drive by feel. I knew I was off the track on drivers’ left and I knew I was traveling backwards pretty good. The clutch was still in, the motor was likely dead, I hadn’t flatspotted the tires yet, and this race was getting away from me. After slowing a bit and getting concerned about the inner tire wall, I snapped a half turn on the wheel and the nose swung around and I was greeted by a clear vision of me coasting parallel to the track about 200 yards from T3. I slipped the trans into 2nd, let the clutch go and was rewarded with an engine note as angry as I was. I pushed the gas and the revs came up with the same quickness as the temperature in my blood (now a half notch under boiling) and I steered to the track. I got back on pavement as the last car was heading up into T4 (and the leaders already past T4).
Above: M'kay, now HOW many different cars have I driven this year???
Ice. Cool. Calculating. Tempered speed. I quickly cleared my head of the anger and set about salvaging the race. This is my backyard. Sure, you can punt me, but I’ll still beat you. I know every grain of this asphalt, every ripple in every braking zone and every trick to making a momentum car cut fast laps here and I needed to start doing all of them this instant. It all started with T3 and I entered at about my normal entry speed (without braking as I was just getting back up to speed) and carried as much speed through 3 as possible and on up the hill to T4. I dropped a tire off on the inside of the rumble at four and then again on the outside on the exit. I double apexed the 5/6 combo while dropping exit tires off of 6 and headed down the back stretch while closing on Eric (who was in last place due to some contact also). I went thru 7 flat out and really made up ground on the last 3 cars and then optimized 8 and ran down the hill inside Eric to the carousel. I concentrated on a good carousel exit (which takes discipline and patience) and then passed another car on the short chute leading to 11 which again was taken flat out to take me to the esses. Big time hard braking in a straight line and then a quick duck left and a bit of patience and then hard on the gas as I turned right for the exit nearly hitting the back of a car as I passed him on the high side of the entry to the banking as I was carrying so much more speed than he was. With the first three cars down, I could see the next clump passing the s/f line as I dropped to the apron to run the shortest distance possible down the curved straight. I began climbing the banking at my usual spot and kept my foot flat on the gas all the way down the banking and for a quick 2-count onto the apron and danced the car for braking and turning to the edge of T1 and then cut in and floored it to go through T2 as quick as possible and down to T3. The next few laps were a blur with me pushing the little car just as fast as it would go, shifting as quick as possible and waiting as late as possible to hit the brakes. I didn’t have time to set anyone up and make pretty passes, I had to execute a pass the moment I caught the next guy as I didn’t have any time to spare. I passed high, low, at an exit, at an entry, wherever. Most folks gave me good room, a few didn’t. Not that it mattered, I was getting through anyway. After a few laps I crossed s/f and was targeting the next group of four who were dropping into T1 when I realized it was the leaders. I didn’t know how many laps we had gone or how many were left, but these guys were within striking distance and if I could have turned up the heat I would have, but I was already running as fast as I could. I held the T1 drop to the 3-count and caught the first guy on the backstretch and he couldn’t do anything with me as he had run a nice middle line thru the 5/6 complex while I ran an out/in/out/in line and had a good 5mph on him as I walked by him and then furthered the distance by going flat out through 7 again. I came upon Weir out of 8/9 and had a good run on him going down to the carousel and he spun to the inside and threw dirt everywhere. I didn’t even lift, pointed to where I knew the track was, and waited. I was delighted to see the track where it was supposed to be when I came out of the other end of the dirt and I ran down the short chute to a flat-out 11 and another racer to pass. He ran the esses like it didn’t matter while I held back and ran my exit-speed disciplined line and I caught and passed him before the s/f line in time to see Spreen about 30 lengths in front of me as I went under the flagstand with the flagman holding up the ‘1’ signal. My mind stated that there might not be enough time to catch him with this being the last lap but I hadn’t gotten this far by taking it easy so I targeted his yellow car and it was time to get even closer to the limits. I held T1 to a 4-count and damn near fell off the backside of the racecourse but still made up some ground on him with the smokingfast exit out of T2, and exited a fast T3 getting closer. I overcooked four a bit going two off on both sides of the track to look up and see him doing the middle-of-the-road run through 5/6. I ran my disciplined line and although he got out sooner, I got out much quicker and sucked up a few more lengths on the back stretch. We both took T7 flatout but I did a cleaner 8/9 and got on the gas sooner to come down the hill. He was still a ways up and although my mind was doubtful now, my feet just refused to give up. We shot into the carousel and I went a bit wide as he took the inside line into Weir’s dirt and he got loose for a moment and I gobbled up that carlength too. We both took 11 flat out and if there ever was a time for discipline this was it. I actually braked a bit early to make sure I could hit my mark. Spreen headed thru the middle of the esses and the gap actually opened a bit as I made sure to check up all the way before turning back to the right to run the esses. Spreen was halfway through them as I entered but I matched his speed before the end of the first right and was catching him as we went back to the left. I freed up the car as I popped up the banking and I had several mph on him. I let the car fall back down to the first banked lane (usually I drop all the way to the apron) and sucked right in behind him with a good closure rate. He started waggling a bit, unsure of where I was going to go as our distance closed to less than 1 length. I went ahead and eased up the banking just a bit and as he eased up also, I quickly dropped all the way to the flat of the apron when I was within a few feet. The dropping increased my momentum and I was pretty sure (for the very first time) that I had this race won. He could either stay a lane up and get passed, or try to come down and pinch me in which case I would not have lifted. He stayed where he was and I focused on the approaching s/f line, mentally willing that little #3 car for every ounce of power she had. I put about a fender on him as the black and white checkerboard ran under the car and waved over us both. I just about came unglued from the happiness. Zero to hero in 7 laps flat. I could see Rege high above the NASCAR T1 banking jumping up and down and if I wasn't strapped in, I'd have been jumping too!
Above: Two views of the finish....it felt even closer!! If you look close, my hand is out the window waving!
On the cooldown lap I realized just how hot and exhausted I was. I had only drank about half the camelback but I do remember taking some big gulps down the front straight. Dang it was hot in that little car and I put my hand out to direct some air to me. I wondered what kind of lap times I turned. I cut the 2:07.8 in qualifying and I was sure I had gone over a second faster. I figured a low 2:06 perhaps. I waved to the corner workers again and replayed the passes fresh in my mind.
Upon coming in, we all lined up together in the outfield by the Legacy camp. Rege was already there and met me out of the car as excited as I was. All of the racers pulled in and we all chatted and shared stories. The camera crew showed (who had filmed from the top of the press box) and many of us got interviewed. I was sure to thank the car owner and XPEL Motorsports and say how well the XPEL Motorsports car had run that day. Finally some results showed up and I eeked out the win by .112 of a second with a fast lap of 2:05.7 for a new Allison Legacy track record. Two drivers recorded very high 2:06s so I had fastest lap by over a second. I guess that all that chassis tinkering paid off! They had a trophy ceremony right then for both days and Rege and I got our trophies not only for winning each race but we also each won 'Rookie of the Race' as Rege had never driven a Legacy till Friday and my first day was Sunday (that day). The little #3 showed everyone her rookie stripes that weekend!
We loaded up as it began to rain and headed home. Exhausted, but quite full of redemption.