Witchdoctor Motorsports, Chapter 68

Mike and The Slug go to School

(or...teaching some old dogs new tricks!!)

 

SCCA December Double School, 01-03 December 2006

 

Well it’s been nearly 2 years since I posted the initial story on meeting Costas and getting sucked in by the crack ladder need for speed.  There’s been a tremendous amount of work done to the car (Slug) to make it road race worthy and somewhat competitive.

I had anticipated participating in the SCCA driver’s school during December of 2005 until I learned in October that the Southwest Division had placed a cap on displacement for the ITE (Improved Touring Everything) class.  What ensued was basically a rebuild of the car to make it compliant to the SP (Super Production) class of SCCA, including fuel cell and beefed up cage.  SP is a regional only class, which is fine, because from what I’ve seen of the national class drivers, and the ones I know personally, those guys are stupid fast and a lot crazy.

I learned there was an early annual tech inspections held at MSR in November, so buddy Kirk and I hauled the Slug down to see if could get a log book and serial number.  We got there about noon, unloaded the car and found one of the scrutineers.  There were actually 3 of them there including the Divisional Chief.  At any rate, being lunch time, two of them took off to eat and the 3rd began looking over the car.  In short time he indicated he had to go find a log book and would be back soon.  About 30 minutes later, all of them show up and begin going over the car, Kirk and I thinking we’re pretty much good to go from the previous comment about the log book, and then came the 1 question… “What’s this?” pointing to the fiberglass around the rear main hoop supports.  We reply respectfully, “Fiberglass”.    “Well, we can’t see the welds under there, we have to be able to inspect ALL of the welds” was the somewhat terse reply. 

I could see Kirk’s mind churning (OMG, they can’t find anything wrong, surely Mike isn’t going to cut out the glass).  Being the easy going fellow I am, (LOL) I replied, “fine, I’ll see what can do”.  A quick trip to the tool box yielded the only suitable tools I could locate, a hatchet and a putty knife.  I know Kirk couldn’t believe what I was about to do, and really I couldn’t either, I mean they had 80+ other welds to look at, but being determined to get  a log book I proceeded to literally whittle away at the glass covering the brace mounts.  It took about half an hour to expose 2 of the 4 mounting points.  The Techs looked, ran their fingers diligently across the welds and thankfully said, “OK, we’ve seen enough, are the other 2 similar to these?”  Of course the reply was Yes, would you like to see them?  Out came the log book, good, Mission accomplished, but there’s more…  As we are putting up the tools of destruction and picking out the larger pieces of beloved fiberglass, the tech’s start stamping the cage with a serial number.  Tap, tap, tap we hear, and then, “you need to hit it harder” from one of the others.  So this guy comes up to me and says can you stamp this?  I guess my agility with the hatchet earlier was impressive, so I complied once again, and stamped my own cage.  Great!  All done, “may I have my log book?”  I’m quickly informed that I’ll have to pay $5 for the log book.  By now I’m pretty much wanting a beer so can forget the glass repair that awaits, so I wittingly reply, “what? you want $5 for the log book, OK, that’s fine, I charge $1 per numeral on the cage, there’s 7 of them, so you owe me $2”.  Silence followed… I don’t think they were amused so I quickly coughed up a five, grabbed the log book and never looked back.  What a hoot.

Now that we have a legal car, registration for the school quickly followed, along with the anticipation and apprehension of attending and hopefully lasting long enough to acquire the coveted Novice permit.

Did I mention that the School has fallen on the 3rd of December for the last 3 years?  Well, as is my luck, the 3rd is the wedding anniversary, wife not least bit happy with my burning her day at the track, so…. Week prior is the “7 days of Anniversary” song.  Yep, gifts to be had for 7 days prior to school.  (I think this is going to cost me.)  With many trips to the mall, in search of the next daily gift, I hit pay dirt with the “big” gift of diamonds, of course!   Good deal, I’ve bought the weekend more or less, guilt free!

Friday the 1st finally arrives.  I take the day off from work to load up, registration opens @ 5:30 so have all day to packrat everything I can think could possibly need to keep the Slug rolling, essentially 2 trucks worth of goodies.  Brother Kirk and I head out to the track, get signed in and start setting up our area after dark, thank goodness for generators and photographic lights.   All good, we get the tech sticker for the car and have 30 minutes left before the mandatory 3 hours of classroom.

Kirk plays it smart and passes on the classroom, I take a note pad and listen carefully, final notes indicate there will be 5, 3, and 1 minute notices on false grid.  Not a lot of meat here from 3 hours.   One neat thing was this guy that founded and subsequently sold Pyrotech gave a demonstration on heat penetration differences between single and triple layer fire suits, very impressive.  Mental note, single layer suits are crap.  While I’m in class, Kirk secures us a room for the night and reserves an extra one for Costas on Saturday.

We hit the room around 10:30, I’m tired but can’t sleep, toss and turn until nearly 2AM, think to self… am not going to be worth squat tomorrow.

Saturday morning, up early and off to track, leaving Kirk to catch a few more winks.  Folks are 15 minutes late opening the gates, humongous line builds, I see folks hauling cars that weren’t at the mandatory classroom…

It’s 28 degrees outside, I uncover the car and pray the beast will crank, it does and “warms” for 30 minutes before I give up on seeing any rise in oil temperature.  Having no clue, I set tire pressures @ 27#.   Is time for the drivers meeting so off I go for yet another review of the flags and instructor assignments. 

I draw a guy named Pete Baynard, national class GT2 driver that happens to live about 2 miles from me.  He’s got a total of 4 students, all I think have Miata’s, with 1 guy from Connecticut that just flew in from France to drive a rental <sigh>.

Mike and his instructor for the weekend.

Our next step is to ride the track in Pete’s truck to learn the line and flag stations.  Kirk shows up just prior to hitting the track and performs basic car checks while I’m doing the ride along.  Being a 1 mile course it doesn’t take long to “think” have the line down.  We do about 10 laps and call it done.  It’s about 20 minutes until my 1st session, as I’m walking back to the pit area I see Costas pulling into the paddock in the trusty BHT.   Ah, my mentor, butt kicker, has arrived. (note: Like I was going to miss this?? No way!!! - Costas)

 Time to grid, I’m totally disoriented, struggle with getting radio, suit, straps, helmet on.  Costas helps get me strapped in and up to grid, adrenaline flows big time.  We get the go ahead and head for the track for 1st session.

(Above: Mike about to go to grid with 'Brother' Kirk checking rear hatch and latches)

1st three laps or so are under yellow and speeds are slow, then we get the green and the pace picks up.  I start passing folks and start thinking “this is good”.  Round and round we go, I’m passing a lot of folks but basically am slow and still trying to find that line that thought had down from the earlier drive around with Pete.  I don’t have it.

A few cars have issues and one breaks down on the straight at the starter’s stand.  I keep passing, even on the straight, looking for flags and such, all I see is activity at the pit out  flag point, looks like they’re trying to sort out the flags as they are flying  at times 3 flags, “must be getting ready for next group” I think.  Shortly, I’m black flagged, into hot pit I go.  Royal butt chew, the flags at pit out were for the guy broke down at starter stand and I’ve been passing in that area nearly every lap.  I will now be the focus of the race steward for the rest of the school.  (oops)

(Above: In Mike's defense, there were some SERIOUS flags getting waived...)

The school is comprised of basically 30 minute sessions with 30 minute breaks between, rotating open and closed wheel cars.  My instructor comes by and gives me a loving butt chew as well.  I explain that I really didn’t understand that the pit out was a “real track” flag station.  I was also struggling with the chicane on the back side of the track as well as there is a little hump in the center of it that tends to make me loose.  Costas reminds me of the similarities to TWS and its OK to lift and maybe even tap the brake to settle the nose.

 

Oops.

Second session is better, still learning the track and focused on all flag stations knowing they are watching me since I missed flags earlier.   Continue to pick up speed and start passing in turns when can.  About midway in the session there are about 5 of us exiting turn 1, I hammer it hard on the exit and pass 3 cars, beginning to setup for the entrance into the chicane.  I’ve got a white car on the left that begins turning in toward the apex, I’m on the inside and passing in front of him, he backs off quickly.  I hear a high pitched sound, like metal to metal.  I see my friend Steve Wolf in front of me with a car right next to him, thinking they must have traded some paint.  The session ends shortly and back to paddock we head.

I hop out of the car and hydrate while Kirk and Costas go over the car (BIG thank You). Sitting on the tailgate I see this 32” long scratch on the driver’s door.  Yep, my first contact, the sound I heard was the white car getting into me, no wonder he backed out so quickly.  No damage, just cosmetic.  Pete drops by and tells me was a much better session and offers suggestions on corner entry and reminds me that I will probably see a black flag next session just to check that I’m watching. 

Rubbin is racin...

For the third session, Steve and I are on grid next to each other.  We pretty much stick with each other on the track swapping places a few times and passing a boatload of cars, this is beginning to be a LOT of fun.  They throw an emergency vehicle on the track, a lot of folks slow down and don’t pass it, Steve and I blow right through them as is supposed to be.  We end the session and congratulate each other on what is the beginning of a very satisfying day.

The wife and daughter show up just in time for lunch so we all pile into the Tahoe and head out for BBQ, adrenaline pumping…(note: Mike, the rest of us were just plain hungry. You were the only one on adrenaline <grin>, Costas)

After lunch I’ve got about 10 minutes to get to the grid, the process of getting strapped in is better now and Steve and I are trying to get up to the front so won’t have so many cars to pass right out of the chute. 

On grid and ready to lead the pack

On track it’s a little strange for some reason, I’m just not as focused and am over driving the car some.  On the 3rd or 4th lap I dive in under a guy on turn 1 and the rear starts coming around, try as I may I just can’t get enough turn out to straighten it up.  My 1st total spin of the year, damn, into the infield I go, drop to second and then first, keep it rolling and back onto the track.  I get back up to speed quickly and am amazed that I’m not seeing a black flag for the next 2 laps.  At that point it’s head down and back to work reeling in as many as I can, watching out for the 2 “wild” guys that don’t have a clue.  By this time I’ve identified the goobers that need “room”.  After the session Pete comes by and says “looking good”.  I tell him about the spin, he replies someone told him about it but he didn’t see it, apparently he’s focused on his other students as a couple of them are struggling to get it down.

I like to think of this picture as 'How the field saw Mike'.

The next 2 sessions are un-eventful, just Steve and I lapping the pack and maintaining really consistent times together.  He’s driving a very well prepared Miata, I’m blown away that he can keep up, or that I can keep up in the turns, well, sort of anyway.  We’re both having the time of our lives!  I’m lucky… I’ve got a great crew that is handling all the car needs, I just need to focus on driving.  Costas continues to share information he’s heard from instructors while I’m on the track and tunes the tire pressures and fuel weight so that the car is more or less spot on.  I couldn’t have done so well without him and Kirk.

Mikey working on the weekend! 

Mock race, Saturday’s last session.  I take the “pole” position on the grid, which means I’ll be pacing the pack on the rolling starts.  What we do is follow the pace car for the first start, race through turn 1 and then regroup for another start, repeating twice before a 10 lap mock race.  1st start, after the pace car leaves the track is aborted, the guy next to me won’t come up to the front for some reason.  I take the group around the track again, waving at the guy to come up even with me.  We get the green and race through turn one, I then slow the pack down and try to get them bunched up again for the next practice start.  We get green and go again.  By now Steve has come up to the outside position with me on the pole, I’m trying to keep the speed down so the rest of the pack can group up behind me.  Steve is jumping in front and falling back, I see him, figure he’s messing with me (later find out the speed I was holding was “between gears” for him, good I say!).  Additionally, there’s a Mustang Cobra that has worked his way up during the previous mock starts that I’m totally un-aware of.  We come around the zig zag to the starting line and get a flag at the line this time.  The Mustang jumps the start and is coming up on my right, I try to keep him at bay but he gets by on the inside on turn 1 (damn) so I turn up the wick and start looking for a place to take him.  The carousel on the south end of the track is real slow and difficult to brake for, on the second lap I see him going too deep and fast, he swings wide and I cut in under him to retake the lead.  We race another 7 laps and get the last lap sign passing the finish line.  For some reason I think of what Pete and I had been discussing earlier on lines and turn 1… I take a  non defensive line in the center of the braking area and damned if the Cobra doesn’t take the inside and pass my butt.  At this point I think “this is a mock race, its not worth chancing” so I stay close but safe through the rest of the final lap, a loser.

Back in the paddock I receive my deserved butt chew from Costas and instructor Pete.  Yes, WINNING is the most important thing, (but all agree, this is a school, live to fight another day, and I’ve done well).  I’m thankful Saturday’s racing is done and we can drink and eat, which is another story in and of itself.

The closed wheel group goes out for more track time as some boys play on the big oval too!

Sunday… No problems sleeping this time.  Costas and I hit the road early, grab some fuel and hit the track.  Tire pressure “Queen” Kirk is striving for beauty sleep, which doesn’t do much, while Costas and I rotate tires, warm motor, change distributor cap and get the car fueled and balanced for the 1st session.  It’s cold and windy, tires are like rocks.  I hit the driver’s meeting while Costas double checks everything on the Slug. 

The first session is slow, very slippery, tires try to heat up but is just cold. I don’t see instructor, he’s working with the other guys.  Steve and I basically own the track.

Second session comes too soon, I’m still trying to feel fingers and the wind is picking up, it’s cold and the corner workers are bundled up like snow skiers.  After about 5 laps the tires start coming on and I’m getting to speed, confidence level is high, folks are running off track everywhere.  Fortunately, Costas has set tire pressures and fuel so that I’ve got very good traction.  I start racing again, intimidating whoever is in front of me until have a good pass.  Coming out of the chicane I’m right on the tail of a white Miata, he knows I’m there and I see he’s getting nervous, I press on, figure will get around him one way or the other.  He lifts on the RH going into the carousel and gets loose, drops 2 off track and starts to spin, I have 2 options, press on and maybe not hit him or go off on the left and get back on track, I opt for the latter.  No black flags, no nothing.  Keep pressing, is a very good session, considering my tires are less than desirable at this point.

Got grip? (check RF tire)

Afterwards, instructor Pete strolls by to say hi, he’s still focused on other students, I tell him about the “incident” with the white car, he smiles and moves on.  By now he and Steve’s instructor are hanging out together, our lap times are within a few tenths of each other and again, we are safely lapping the pack.

 

 Third Sunday session, we grid up and hit the track.  My rear tires are 50% at best and I’m only wanting to maintain speed and get thru the day so can get the coveted Novice license.  Steve is faster today, I can’t really keep up with him as its colder and my tires just aren’t sticking as well, no biggie, we are still the fastest cars on the track.  At 3/4ths thru the session I start getting some looseness in the corners, then start getting smoke in the cabin under braking, smells like rubber and oil, I put it off to the wind which is blowing pretty good by now.  Three laps later I catch a black flag.  In the hot pit I’m told am smoking heavily, off to the paddock I go.

It doesn’t take us long to discern the problem is power steering fluid leak, but where?  Within 10 min we isolate it to the rack hard lines.  Pete comes by and tells me if I can’t fix it not to worry, he’s talked to the stewards and I’ll pass even if can’t get back out.  I tell him I want to drive and will if can fix it.  We find the point of leakage and try to tighten it to no avail… I’m out.

What the?

Costas heads back to SA, Kirk and I watch the rest of the sessions and load up the trailer and trucks.  At the end of the day we meet with the instructors and pickup our licenses, YES!

Trip back home brings on thoughts of next race in January, what needs to be done to fix leak, and how to pickup new rubber for the Slug, yes, it was a VERY GOOD weekend.

Above: Ready for action. Below: The wolf among the sheep.