SCCA Double National at TWS, March 7th, 8th and 9th
"Blood, Sweat and Tears"
PART 1: The Blood* and the Sweat
* = real blood, honest. Pictures below not for the squeamish!
So work had been progressing on Scratcher and she got dyno'd a while back (with pleasant results) and I'd used the rest of the time to make sure she was ready for her first real tech. Frank came down a bunch and we got the passenger area setup for dual purpose. I can bolt in another Kirkey race seat with harnesses, or take that out and bolt in 200 pounds of ballast. Yes, I am THAT far underweight. I've got to weigh 2880 (with driver) at the end of the race and I weigh....well...a WHOLE lot less than that. In fact, maybe that's not the only place I'm putting weight <tinfoil hat, ON!!>.
So Fertitta and I get the fire system plumbed, a bunch of stuff safety-wired and we're pretty much ready to go. I scoot to Austin to meet fellow GT1 driver Kevin Rich and buy a used set of tires (small ones, not jumbos) from him. Super nice guy with a very sweet Huffaker Mustang that is a real top-notch car. I get all four for 20$ (deal of the century) and mount them up. I have another set of used Goodyear Radials (also small) on my other rims and nothing else. It isn't supposed to rain, and if it does, I am up a creek. College Station has odd weather and sometimes even goes as forecasted...so hopefully they get it right this time.
I take Friday off for the test day knowing that I will lose the first session to tech. The car has never been logbooked so it will get a good once-or-twice over. In fact, I take the back half of Thursday off as we didn't get to load Wednesday evening as planned as a few minor details cropped up that killed way too much time. One of them was the drivers seat. Sure...when you read about it the task seems simple. Just bolt in the seat. Snap on the cover. Slip the harness through the holes. Done. Except in the real world, the harness is a new OMP 6 point and the clasp is permanently attached to the bottom two points. The Kirkey seat has cutouts for a single crotch strap up front, and then two slits closer in and spread apart if you are using a 6 point. Except the clasp stays attached and they bolt to the lower two bolts of the seat. So I've got to set the seat down, put the cover partially on, put the clasp and two lower straps thru the cover and the seat, then lift the seat a bit to align the lower strap mounts then move the cover to install the two bolts. Inside the car. It took about an hour and a half to get it all done, then the seat back brace in and bolted and the front of the seat then bolted and then the cover on and ready to go. UG! There were other small issues, but I won't bore you. Suffice to say, everything took a LOT longer than I planned. Argh.
So Thursday it pours down rain. Great. By the afternoon it is raining harder but finally slows about 4. I've picked up the trailer and got the dogs to the kennel. I've also got the spares organized and everything pretty much ready to load. The rain stops and I back the trailer into the driveway so I can simply roll the car inside. The truck is blocking the street, but this won't take long. My neighbor Chad comes over and we roll Scratcher in the trailer. She misses the inside fenders by less than 1/2" on each side. I get the front straps on and Chad heads back home as I get the rear straps ready. As I start to go under the car a van shows up on my street and I start to hurry to get one rear strap on so I can close the door and reposition the trailer in front of the house to load the rest and finish securing the wide black car.
*Warning* The 'blood' in 'blood, sweat and tears' starts next....I'm just sayin...
So I see the van waiting and slide behind the passenger rear tire and lay flat on the floor (I had swept) and reach up with one hand and hook the tie-down onto the lower 4 link bracket. It clips in and I slide over to the inside wall of the trailer and have about 12" of width between the wall of the trailer and the rear quarter panel of the car and I straighten up quickly. Well...I tried to straighten up quickly. Since the wing is never on the car in the garage I didn't even think about it. It is nearly always zip-tied to a storage bin rack to keep it out of the way and safe. But there it was, bolted to the back of the car with brand new endplates made of shiny aluminum. The old endplates were too big for GT1, so Fertitta had made new ones. Thankfully he rounded the corners. Sadly, he did not wrap the things in foam.
It really didn't even hurt that bad, but I went straight back down onto my knees and mentally made a point to take a steady breaths as I reached up with my right hand and run it across my head. I could feel the squared-off indentation clearly and pulled my hand down to see just a little blood and some hair. I reached up again and felt a bit more and pulled my hand down and it was covered in blood across the breadth of my palm. Not good. Focus on breathing. I didn't feel queasy or light-headed and my peripheral was good. I didn't think I was going to black out. Likely not a concussion. I felt the top of my forehead and scalp getting wet with blood. I won't bore you with a ton of details, but it wasn't pretty.
About 15 minutes after the impact.
Cleaned up enough to see what's going on.
A self-portrait with my iPhone about 3 minutes before I got 6 stitches.
Long story short: I sat in a chair and
supervised the rest of the loading and with concerns of me piloting a GT1 car
first thing in the morning being a bit troublesom, a trip to the quack-shack was
undertaken. The oozing had mostly stopped, but if it came back while on course
it would likely be bad. An hour and a half later and lighter a 25$ co-pay I
was the proud recipient of six "v" stitches (so, like 12
stitches) to close about a 3" laceration to
the top of my noggin. Sans anesthesia. Fun. The doc said it would heal fine
without stitches, but it could take 3-4 weeks and might re-open, but with
stitches it would be good in a week and the stitches come out and a smaller scar
is the result. So stitches it was. He also thought that waiting 24 hours before
racing would be 'prudent'. Being all about prudent (ha!), we changed plans,
spent the night at home and rolled in the morning. We would skip running on
Friday and instead focus on just getting teched and doing some small things and
then running the qualifying session and race on Saturday assuming I felt fine.
It took a while for sleep to come, but when it finally did, I slept very
So with Fertitta picked up in the morning we rolled to TWS about 0930. It was cold and the intercooled turbo was loving it. We chatted with a few other racers and found out that it was snowing in College Station (why no, they don't make GT1 sized snow tires...) and the morning runs were cancelled and they were going to start in the afternoon. We pulled in and the paddock was pretty messy with trailers fairly hap-hazard (as happens when a test day is before the race weekend and everyone parks wherever). We were originally going to park by JP who was driving my boss' SRF, but he was boxed in with no room. The other option was with Eric (T1 Z06) and Tom (ASedan) outside the paddock on one of the service roads. We ended up next to Eric and it worked out great. Eric and Tom were both in my same run group (Gt1, Gt2, Gt3, T1, T2, T3 and AS) so we'd all be going to grid together anyway. We unloaded, buttoned up a few things and went to Tech. I'm not even going to say anything here except that we passed tech and got a logbook issued and our cage stamped. We got the tech sticker for the weekend and were cleared to race. That afternoon, Fertitta and I spent the time wiring up the DL1, lots of last minute checklist running and generally touching everything and making sure Scratcher was ready to run as a GT1 car. By 1800 we called it a day and headed into town and met Wade along with Eric and Tom for some beef. Life is good.
Scratcher just back from Tech. She passed!
JP running the esses in Rege's SRF with the new wrap on the car. Looks awesome!
Later Friday night, Nick and Gary show up at Wade's and now we've got the full crew. We chat a while and hit the sack. Tomorrow will be a busy day. We are group two so we are second on track and then after groups 1-6 practice, group 1 races, then lunch and then our race.
Why yes, that is frost on the hood!
Saturday dawns and we are at the track early. I have my 100,000BTU bullet heater and it is in front of the radiator spewing british-thermal-units all into my ducting and getting the radiator hot. This gets the water warm which warms the block. I should have an heating strip on my dry sump oil tank but I don't. After a while, the front of the engine is actually warm to the touch and as the first group goes on track she fires up easily and idles nice. The first group is made up of formula cars and the cold track, cold slicks and cold brains means lots of 'offs', flat tows and cars coming in swinging from the back of wreckers. I go to grid and then take to the track. I know the track fairly well but the car feels pretty bad. It does not turn symmetrically and the steering feels strange sometimes. The power is there and the brakes are good, but I can't get heat into the tires. I take an easy two laps and come in and have the guys pull the hood and look at the front end. They don't see anything, I go back out, scare the crap outta myself for a few laps and pull it back in. We take tire temps and aren't shocked to see very little heat in the tires. I'm confused.
Gary (top) and Nick turning the car around for the next session. Tom's ASedan and Eric's T1 are in the background.
Eric and Tom navigating the esses with the precision of an underwater ballet team.
I was first back to our pit spot and I just sat in the car for a minute trying to think. This made no sense. Could the used tires be THAT screwy? I was chapped. I thought back to 'Tin Cup' where Costner puts a 'Monster Number' on the board the first day of the big golf tournament. I was quite sure we put up a 'monster number' and the bad part was I didn't know why. The crew showed up, I climbed out and they confirmed barely sub 2 minute laps.
Let's talk about times for a minute. David Fershtand in his Dillon Mustang set a lap record for GT1 at the race earlier in the year at a 1:41. That is averaging about 100mph for the whole lap. Yikes. Scott Walton in his Mangusta ran right behind him with a 1.42 and Kevin Rich (my used tire connection) in his Huffaker Mustang clips along at a 1.45. Fertitta and I had actually talked about hoping we could cut a 1.49.9 and if we did the first outing would be a rousing success.
Grid sheets confirmed it. My best lap was a 1.57.1. A T3 car was grabbing my butt to the tune of a 1.57.9 while Eric and Tom were running 1.53 and 1.55s. Ouch.
Eric in the carousel as I come down the hill.
Back to basics. Fertitta and I did a quick 'worst 2' debrief and the strings came out. The toe was WAY off. The front tires were still straight, just not in line with the rears, and the steering wheel was not centered. What? The diff was solid, the four link and watts were tight and....AHA. The rack had come loose. It could move side-to-side about 1/4" each way. A 1/2" of rack movement would cause everything that I was experiencing. It was still snug, but with weight on the tires, it would slide. We didn't have a ton of time so the bolts were tightened and it was found that one was stripped and another one that had a bolt through it was running out of threads. We did what we could, ran the checklist and it was time to go to grid for the first national race for this car. I just wanted to finish. No DNF for the first event. All I had to do was half the leaders laps and Fertitta would give me the big 'X' with his arms when I hit the halfway point. If the car was bad then I could come in and still get credit for the race.
WTF? Loose parts???
Strings and homemade turn plates FTW!
I was gridded 16th out of 21 cars. 9th out of 11 in GT1 and the two behind me didn't go out in the qualifying session. Great. A T3 RX8 is next to me. I'm pretty bummed, but my usual pre-race chat with Fertitta gets my head into the game quickly. This is no time for feeling sorry for myself or reflecting on qualifying. It's time to race. Get a clean start, feel out the car and go as fast as the car will let me. Yes, our gearing is wrong, we are making changes each time out to sway bars and wing angles just to see what happens, but the time now is to just go fast. As fast as I can. Close out everything else and go fast. Drive around the problems that arise, but drive fast. Fast.
Saturday Race on the pace lap going through the esses with one of two T3 Rx8s. The other one was right behind me.
Pace lap. Replay Fertitta words about heating the tires and brakes. I do a LOT of fore/aft accel and braking as it puts heat in the tires and brakes much quicker than the swerving. Sure, I still swerve a bit, but mostly it is fore/aft. The steering feels great, the car is tracking true, and it turns both ways the same. The day has warmed up a lot and the tires actually have a little heat in them as we all form up in the esses and hit the main straight. The first pass is a wave-off as some of the guys in the back were already jumping the start. They either were late to grid and didn't get their grid spot, or started in the back with no qualifying time and were trying to make up ground quickly and either way we got the stern-looking starter shaking his head in a 'oh no you didn't' side-to-side movement. Another warm up lap is fine with me as I get to feel the car out more and I like it. The second pace lap is quite the flyer, but the leaders slow in the short chute and we all pair up again and ease onto the straight. David's Mustang is on pole with a 1.42.4, Scott's next to him with a 1.42.7. Kevin struggled with setup and ended up 6th with a 1.48.6. Eric was 11th (second in T1) and Tom was alone in AS in 12th. Back in 16th, I was only a few rows behind them and maintaining a nice breathing pattern and singing songs to myself.
The green drops and I simply maintain position. I should be on the outside, but since a car didn't make it to grid in time, I'm on the inside and just ease on down the track headed to an inside line for T1. A Gt2 Porsche zips by me on the right and nearly grazes Tom as he is desperately trying to get to the front where his competition is fighting a bunch of Gt1 cars by himself. I go around a few cars into 1 and coming out of 2 and duck under another going into 3. The car is handling beautiful and I'm working traffic conservatively.
The first race lap (lap 2 though) goes in the books at a 1:59. As traffic thins I drop to a 1.54.7, then a 1.50.7 and then a 1.50.8. The steering goes funny again in T5 and I have to start contending with a 'deadzone' of play in the wheel and drop back to a 1.51.3 followed by a 1.50.0. The next four laps are low 50s as I'm now looking for Fertitta's 'X'. I see it on the same lap that I catch another Gt1 car who has slowed a bit. My brain clicks into 'go fast' mode and I drop to a 1.48.3. I'm catching him and start really working hard and despite the cool day, I start sweating and run two 1.46s as I pass him and another two GT cars. I slow back down to a few low 50s as a scraping sound is intermittant and I catch the two T3 cars running nose to tail in T1. I follow them till I can pass them both cleanly as I don't want to interrupt their fine battle. It is fun to watch them thru the corners as they are both using every inch of track and are never more than 6" away from each other. On the backstretch I get a good run off 6 and cleanly pass both before 7 and their race continues (all the way to the checker I later heard!) and close out the race with a string of three low 50.xs. The rack is pretty loose and I have about 90 degrees of play in the wheel for both directions. While I've backed off a bit, I'm still sweating to see that checker flag show up indicating that we will finish our first national race. I'm desperately trying to hit my marks but with a loose rack it is very difficult to be precise. I'm sure the corner workers figured I couldn't hit an apex with a barn after watching me a few laps!
Heading into the esses.
Cool down lap (visor up).
Some video of me in the esses a few times:
So I finished 6th in class with a best lap time of a 1.46.3. I was the last car on the lead lap and everyone else after me was lapped by David. In fact, David wasn't that far behind me as I passed Tom a few hundred yards before the finish and we ran one more lap. Looking at the results later, at least one Gt1 car was over sound three times and so my guess is that he'll get DQd and I may end up 5th. (Yes, I found out later I did)
I came into the the pits and headed down the road and was stopped and told to report to tech. I was sitting in the line to get weighed (we were ok) and Wade came up to me and said I ran a pair of 46s. I told him 'yeah, right, what did I really run?' and he repeated it and told me he was being honest. I was beyond shocked. Even more so when he showed me the lap chart. I figured I cut the fast time in the first few laps when the steering was still tight, but I actually did it well after the rack came back loose. Amazing. You could have knocked me over with a wing end plate (again).
It's 2pm now and we've got a good 4 hours of daylight and we use pretty much every minute. All fluids checked and topped off, Nick and Gary fix the belly pan where it came loose and was the scraping noise. Fertitta drills out and heli-coils all three rack bolts, shims the rack to get it sitting level (which ended up being the culprit, the rack mount isn't perfectly flat) and puts fresh safety-wired bolts in. Wade fixes a slight brake fluid leak and corrects some rubbing issues. We are all busy vanquishing the initial bugs that new track cars all seem to have.
Wade on the brakes above and Gary and Nick on the bellypan below.
Tom won ASedan as the only other ASedan there didn't start the race and Eric ended up 2nd in T1 behind a C6. Eric was running with him but then had a check engine light and a high-end misfire that dropped him out of contention for the win. It was diagnosed as a MAF and another one (along with a fresh hub) was located in Houston and his wife brought it up the next morning.
As for us, we were all ecstatic. To run a 1.46.3 with a loose rack and still nowhere near optimum for sway bars and alignment settings (much less old circle-track shocks) was an incredible feat. I know we are down on power from the 'big guys' and that is fine. We purposely built a conservative motor so we can focus on the aero, brakes and chassis and get all that stuff sorted. The data acquisition told us that had I run all the sectors the best then there was a 1.45.5 already in the car. Wow.
The bad part is that my GoProHero digital video camera consistently didn't work. It would start recording and then not shut off or be already off when I went to turn it off. Very frustrating. I really wanted to see the in-car of the race and now it is lost. Argh.
David won with a new track record of 1.40.9 and Scott was second with a best of 1.42.2. Kevin dropped down to a 1.44.2 and was fourth. He came by after the race and congratulated me on the 1.46 and I think we both were pretty darn surprised that Scratcher went that quick. I know I was.
So day 1 of the Double National is done and we've got the Blood and the Sweat out of the way.
Top 9 cars on the grid for Day Two.
Eric chasing the C6 T1 car. On day two his car ran perfect and Eric piloted the 27 to the checker flag in first!
Sadly, after the first lap this is where I watched a fine GT1 battle. The yellow car is going from T3 to T4 and I'm on the oval past Nascar 2.
This is the 'Tears' part. I hope the heads are ok because I've got more blocks...