Chapter 255 - April 2017
*NASA AT TWS*
For maybe the possibly almost last time this time?
Honestly...for real... almost the...last time.
Two weeks out and I was almost prepared for this race. Ok, no, not really. Two weeks out, I actually took the time to mount up 8 decent tires though and put the "good" edges of the tires to the outside and then got busy again with work projects and the car still sat. The week of the event I was at a work meeting out of town and on Wednesday it dawned on me that if I was going to do the race I might need some spare rotors for the front as the ones on the car had been there quite a while and the heat cracks were pretty deep. I ordered a pair of rotors and had them two-day shipped. Just in case.
Thursday night I walked out to the shop and looked at the list and mentally ignored everything on it except what HAD to happen to race. First off I needed to renew my physical. Also, install new bleeders and bleed the brakes, top the fluids and mount up the tires. Clean the windshield. Get fuel. Unload and pack the trailer with ScratcherSpares. So yeah, I did all that on Friday and late Friday night Scratcher fired up after sitting since the MSR-H race (LOL!) and so I went in the house and registered for the event (SU and TTU) and then went back out and loaded the car and stuff. Wootten and Toth were kind enough to hold a paddock spot for me and so I just needed to be there early. Gates open at 0600, but that might be a bit TOO early. Weather looked like maybe a small chance of rain Saturday before lunch, but cool and clear the rest, slightly warming as the weekend went by. I left the rains at home. 15 minutes from the track. Heh.
Kagan's super clean and big power stock-car based tube car.
First off, I wanted to beat my current TTU track record of a 1:41.8 and the cool mornings might give me a chance to do that. We'd had rain recently so the track could be a bit green, but if it stayed cloudy, we could have 'record atmosphere' basically all day Saturday. Sunday was supposed to be sunny and hotter and so the typical 'track goes away in the afternoon' was likely to happen. Second off, I was sitting on a 32 race win streak. 32 class wins in a row and always with competition (none of this 1-car in class stuff). In fact, lately, it'd been quite a lot of competition!! Looking at the DOZEN folks entered in SU and the 5 in TTU, this wasn't going to be a walk, but could I keep the streak alive or would it die here and now? I am honestly fine if the streak dies, I've been incredibly blessed to win this much over such a long period of time. I credit so many people for all their help and advice, and so if it ends this weekend then I'm good with it. I DID have second thoughts (again) about mounting up some new tires but in the end hoped that what I had (some used stuff that was bagged and only had a handful of cycles on them) would do the trick. I consulted with Neil (ThinkFastEngineering.com) and got some ideas for some slight chassis changes and some if/then ideas to work on. Always good to consult a pro!!
Ellis' super clean and big power stock-car based tube car. Sense a theme here?
Saturday well before dawn we arrived at the track and began paddock setup in our usual spot. Scratcher comes out, it's chilly (in the 40s) and with no sun to be found, it only got to be a lighter shade of gray as the clock advanced. I did a few laps in the TT warmup and the dampness was still on the track and the times showed it. For SU qualy it would be interesting. A HUGE field and a large difference in lap times meant that getting a clear lap would be tough. Kagan (from the MSR-H race, ASA stock type car, big power) and I scooted to the front of the grid and led the field out. Sadly, as we were over 3/4 of a lap in, they were still allowing stragglers onto the track and so we'd have traffic immediately. After a few laps of carving, Kagan looped it in the carousel (I've got great vid of this and we laughed about it afterwards!) and then I actually caught a decent gap the next lap and put it on pole with a lap of 1:46 while passing 5 cars IIRC. The nice thing was the car was good and hot as I had a TT session coming up in 20 minutes!
Lehenbauer's super clean and big power stock-car based tube car. #Themes
With a slight air pressure change and a slight chassis change (Scratcher was pushing some...and Scratcher NEVER pushes....Whattheheck?) I rumbled down to grid and waited longer than I thought as the group in front of us littered the track with broken cars needing retrieval. Finally the wreckers bring in the cars and with too much cooling off, I was concerned my first flyer would not be optimal and started to re-think my attack mode to try and snag a track record from myself (insert SuperTroopers "from MYSELF" joke here). Sure enough, we kept sitting and when we finally launched the tires were damn cool. First flyer was a 42.0 (according to the AIM SOLO) with me trying to get the road-race tires to act like autocross tires! On the second lap Scratcher still had a bit of a push but was putting down the power really well and felt great changing directions so I pushed as hard as I thought I could and on the back stretch was rewarded with a predictive of 1:41.3 and my mind entered that zone where it gently fought with itself to flirt with the edge of greed in the quest to keep ahead of what the timer was predicting. I snuck a few more quick peeks in the carousel and coming into 13, but really focused on getting a solid exit out of the esses first. In fact, I damn near overcooked the braking zone, but hustled Scratcher back in line and shot the gaps and felt positively awesome coming onto the front straight. 1:40.9 said the SOLO and I was just stupid happy. Nearly a full second improvement! While there were some sports racers in TTU, I was hopeful that none of them could match that pace.
FASTEST TT LAP (and fastest lap of the weekend, all cars, all classes) -----> https://vimeo.com/215260447
This is just our part of the field, they segregate the NP01 cars for their own rolling start a bit behind us. We just catch them sooner...
Had an easy lunch and Scratcher was ready for the first Blitz group race (R1). 38 cars in Blitz covering several classes with SU having 12 cars in class. I'd been telling folks for a while that I was not the 'big power' car everyone thinks, and I knew racing at MSR-H that Kagan, Sammy May and Lehenbauer had me on power and I was pretty sure Ellis did as well, but with TWS having that long run to T1, I knew this would show it quite dramatically. Sadly, it also meant I'd get walked to T1 and have to fight hard (#KeepTheStreakAlive) to get back in front. Ug. SU also had 5 sports racers that, when setup right and driven hard, can match the times at the front. They run tires that usually take a few laps to "come in" (foreshadowing) and while their power-to-weight it good, they are downforce cars and don't accelerate that well past 100mph. So, I'd start slow and a lane higher than normal forcing Kagan to have an even longer run to T1 while I could drop to the bottom. Also, starting slow meant more of the "V8 side" of SU could hopefully pass more of the sports-racer side of SU and put a buffer between them and me. #StrategyForTheStreak.
Interestingly, several drivers (myself included) that came to grid for blitz qualy got scolded as we arrived before a few of the cars on the back row (intermingled with our group cars) got on track, but with the disjointed launch, it was pretty apparent it wasn't intentional. With a massive disparity in lap times, we simply want a decent shot at a clear lap.
Kagan's car is narrower and more clean aero-wise AND he has more power. Good shot by Anna showing the stark difference in the cars. Ellis right behind Scratcher.
So, we went out on the pace lap just after lunch and I really worked the tires pretty good and knowing this was a long race I was going to try and take good care of the tires as well and not abuse them too much the first lap while they came up to temp. I followed my plan and took Kagan up high on the straight and slowed us down pretty good. Thankfully the starter waited LATE to throw the flag which made the run to T1 shorter and shorter and my chances to stay in the lead better and better. Then he threw the green! And I *still* got walked something horrible to T1. <sigh> Kagan puts about a BUS-length on me and drops early into T1. I stay my usual high and fight a bit of a push coming out of T2 but I've closed on him a LOT for the short sprint to T3. On the short stint, he again puts a few lengths on me, but gets into the brakes a bit late as he starts to rotate the car and locks up his inside front, pushing wide. My whole 'save the tires for the first lap' goes out the window as I dive in and we come out of T3 side-by-side headed for T4. Wahoo! ----SIDENOTE---- Kagan has a LOT of experience and is one of the few drivers I'm completely comfortable with going door-handle-to-door-handle with at high speed (if our cars had door handles...) and it is nice to know that we're not going to do something stupid and clobber each other.
R1 Race (two camera views)---> https://vimeo.com/215562986
So Kagan lifts a kiss early for T4 and I go a bit further and half-step over and then run through T4 with him right behind me. I tell myself to push like crazy in T5 and T6 to build a small gap so he isn't close enough to pass me on the long straight to T7. I got off T6 a bit better and gap him but he erodes that gap quickly but isn't close enough to do anything going into T7. Whew. So I push like crazy and run as perfect a line as I can all the way to the esses, gapping him a bit in the kink and getting a better exit onto the front straight. I have JUST enough gap to stay in front of him down the front straight, watching him close the gap in the mirror, but now the tires are solid and I can use a bit more of the track with confidence and I run a REALLY good lap 2 (1:43.2 to his 1:44.3) and a stronger lap 3 (my 1:43.0 to his 1:44.0) and with a bit of a gap I back off a touch to see what he can do and if he can step up and close the gap. After a few laps he drops way back and I dial it back and run the rest of the 11 laps and take the checker with a 25 second gap to the next SU car. (#StreakLives) I set fastest race lap and I think I set the SU track record as well (still...waiting....weeks later....to find out...*sigh*). In fact, both 2nd and 3rd place were sports racers. Since we grid for R2 according to finish from R1, I'd have sports racers next to me and behind me for the next race. I'll go ahead and let you guess if we start slow or not...LOL
Above: A whisp of smoke and I dive in! Below: Sidebyside headed for T4
Above: Headed to T10 while the NP01s head to T4. Scratcher was some 8+ seconds faster than the fastest NP01. GREAT SHOTS by Anna (almost all of them!)
With the 1:40 I ran in TT, I'm done for the day for TT and so we simply prep the car (add fuel, check air in tires) for R2 and chill out. Took a peek at the front rotors and they had some good heat cracks and I decided I'd likely hang the new ones after the second race so I have fresh rotors tomorrow. Talked to Kagan and he fell out after 6 laps or so due to an intermittent misfire in his LSX based motor and was trying to do some diagnostics to figure it out. He had his laptop out and talking to the car to figure out what sensors were working and which were suspect, etc. Since a holley-4-barrel carb does not have a USB output, I only use a laptop to download my onboard videos!!
NP01 start...shocked the bronze one gets away with tinted screen where the driver cannot be seen to give a thumbs-up for safety or to communicate with corner workers. Weird!
And yes, the open cockpit one in the back isn't an NP01...
So the afternoon goes on and finally it is time for R2. Still cloudy and cool-ish, but I've talked to several folks now and everyone has said virtually the same thing: 'why is my car pushing today?'. Yep, this is odd, but with the cloud cover I'm guessing the track will stay the same and it'll take a bit longer for our tires to be fully up to temp. I make a small chassis change and motor on down to grid to see if I can keep this streak going. When the group in front of us takes the checker, I slide in the car and buckle up tight. No chance for sun as the clouds are thick and we've also got a decent breeze that likely keeps sucking out whatever heat we try and put into the pavement.
Beck's Vorshlag-built ST3 Mustang that is doing REALLY well. Surprised he does not do TT as well for the track time and tuning opportunities. Fast car, solid driver!
We head out on the pace lap and I'm trying to gently warm the car knowing this will be a shorter race than the morning, but also working to select a song to sing. Scratcher and I are comfortably on the back straight and I'm humming a bit and then I realize that the sportsracer next to me now passes me and starts going back and forth across the track. The quote from Bull Durham INSTANTLY pops into my head; "I want to announce my presence with authority!" where the rookie pitcher wants to play mind games. I thought "well, I'm a first-ball fast-ball home-run hitter, so let's see how this works out for you". I look over and double check that, yep, we're on the pace lap and yep, we have double yellows displayed which means no passing and I just chill there while he goes back and forth a bit and then finally settles in and moves over and slows back down. Well guess what, we just went from a slow start to a really slow start!
(Scratcher is all white trash saying: "Cashme aftah da green, howbow dah?")
Start from R2 on Saturday. Scratcher and Ellis a moment away from dropping the hammer on our V8s.
So we form up and hit the banking, I again work up a lane higher than normal and bring us all the way down to the middle of first gear. Right behind me is Ellis with his v8 stock car. In fact, the first six cars are half V8 and half sports racer. The starter again waits late but it does not matter. V8 torque simply walked Ellis and I out front and we dropped into Turn 1 with Ellis pretty close behind me. He took the low line and had to lift, but damn he's got some big power! By the time we get out of Turn 2, there are a few sports racers right behind Ellis, but he runs a fantastic T3 and T4 to keep them at bay. Now, remember when I said it takes time for the sports racers to warm their tires? Yeah, so one of them was off line going into T4 and thus looped it on the exit right behind Ellis. Another sports racer, right behind the first, loops it avoiding the first one. Then a third one loops it doing an in-out of the grass trying to avoid other cars. It was a melee and LOTS of cars went off and surprisingly NOBODY touched anyone else! I missed all this (a bit of it is on my rear cam view) but thankfully the sports racers had cameras and one of them put together an INCREDIBLE montage of the views showing all the action and then re-showing it in slow-motion! The only thing I remember is looking back on the backstretch (between T6 and T7) and only seeing Ellis and thinking "where his everybody??".
R2 (two camera views)-----------> : https://vimeo.com/215777762
Montage of the T4 Melee (MUST WATCH!)----------------->: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrGLOEOeW2U
About to put an NP01 a lap down as we drop into T1. For the body and wing, I thought they'd be faster in the corners....tire limited maybe? And if so....why?
We do 8 laps and after pushing for the first few I back off a bit and just bring it home. Ellis keeps the sports racers behind him and takes second and the streak stays alive. I cool the car off on the in-lap really well and bring it in and park next to the trailer. I slide out and chat with some folks and the family and then step into the trailer to get out of the nomex. Just as I slid on my shorts there is a loud 'PPPTTTAAAANNNNNNnnnnnggggg' noise from the driver front and I look outside to see a small bundle of smoke escape the wheel area and dissipate in the easy breeze. So yeah....I got everything out of that rotor!
Left: Dis rotor? Dis rotor no good. Maybe I'll make it into a clock.... Right: If you stack up your tires and they are easily taller than your car...you're doing it right!
Below: Baby's first podium after showing me how to handle that wheel...
With awards in a few hours, we set to work turning the car around. Topped off the transmission (slight leak), rotate the tires left to right, bleed the brakes and put on new front rotors. By the time we are done, the awards are going and we walk over and collect two more mugs (1st place 2017 NASA TX) and add some more WINNER stickers to the pile. Winning both SU races and TTU for the day brings Scratcher up to 35 class wins in a row. What will tomorrow hold?
Sunday actually dawns and the sun comes out. I go out for the first TT session but the rotors are not bedded yet so on the first flying lap I let two very quick BMWs by as they are in full-kill mode and this is likely going to be the fastest session of the day. Last thing I want to do is mess up someone's lap, so I pause and get completely out of the way, and then tuck in and bring it back up to speed. I stay out and lay down a 1:44 but the push is still there and the brakes were not. At least, not 100%. So, in the interest of saving tires, I come in early and get ready for Blitz qualy.
Rohan's freaking awesome LFX (5th gen camaro v6, 310hp) in an RX8 swap. TOO DAMN COOL.
Right before qualy a NASA director comes to tell me that even though I'm paddocked right by the grid, I cannot simply pull into grid, I've got to go down through grid, then go all the way to the other side of the garages, then back in the other side of the grid. I'm told this *minutes* before we get called to grid. Another Blitz racer, also a NASA director is in his car behind Scratcher and before I slide into my car, I tell him what I was told. I then get in Scratcher and follow directions, completely hosing my chance for being near the front of the group. The other Blitz racer and NASA director simply cuts through grid and is right up front. I end up in the middle of the second row. Does the NASA director get pulled out of his slot? No. Lose his qualy time? No. <sarcasm> Wonderful...</sarcasm>
Ellis' tube car and Dennis Cox's sports racer. Two very different ways to get similar lap times...
So....since there is no yellow flags on the outlap in qualy, I just start passing people left and right on the outlap. It does not help me. I manage a 1:45.1 (thankfully the brakes felt much better now!) to Kagan's 1:44.8, but at least I'm on the front row. Three sports racers are behind me and then Lehenbauer who had to thrash a bit to fix an electrical issue. Again, of the top six cars, half are V8 and half are sports racers. The 7th car is a sports racer too, heh.
Filled with gas and ready to go, Scratcher and I head out for R3. Kagan is pretty sure his car is fixed and so this is going to be a battle. The first race of the day is the longest (was 11 laps yesterday) and I'm starting on the OUTside row with a mighty long run to T1. Kagan stacks us up and thankfully starts us slow. Sadly, Ellis could not get a clean lap in qualy and is mired in the middle, but I know Lehenbauer has a strong motor and starting in 6th should allow him to come forward pretty quick.
Green flag flies, I get walked and by the time we drop into T1, Kagan has a decent lead and Lehenbauer is right behind me. Yikes. Again I close a bit headed for T3 and again Kagan has a slight lockup at T3, but I'm not close enough to do anything about it and instantly my head is filled with Rege's voice saying "patience...it's a long race...settle in". He said that to me at this very track long ago and he was right then, and his words rang just as true now. I pushed, but didn't slide the car nor abuse the tires. In fact, with the sun out, I started the tires off even lower on air pressure so it was time to let nature take its course for a bit. At the end of lap 1, I was not in the lead and it sucked. Lap two I picked up the pace just a bit and saw Kagan fall back towards me a bit and Lehenbauer fall away. Still smooth, still pushing, and watching Kagan to see where he was strong and where he was open to a potential pass. Lap three I picked up more time on him and Lehenbauer fell away even more.
Lap 2 and I'm starting my push to close the gap
Now, it was pretty close and it seems more like Kagan did not have a 'long' setup on the car. He's working the car hard on entry and struggling a bit on exit as I continue to chew, bit by bit, into the gap between us. A car dies on the back straight and so we have a yellow and we both slow down a bit and, of course, I swear that I'm slowing more than he is! (LOL....and I'm sure he's thinking the same thing!!). Next lap I chew more into the lead, typically on braking and entry. I can see his front tires as he fights to get the car rotated and I realize that Scratcher is just being perfect and I'm not overdriving or abusing the car at all to keep a slightly better pace. As we hit the main straight after lap 4, I've again closed the gap down a bit and he's wheeling the car hard. Lap 5 sees me close down to virtually no gap as Kagan goes a bit high on the front straight and lifts and points me by. I ran hard through T1 and T2 and backed off a bit and watched as he faded back. I didn't see Lehenbauer (he finished 2nd), but I kept making another 6 clean laps to take the checker after the 11th lap with a 37 second lead. #StreakLivesMatter
R3 (two camera views)------------->>: https://vimeo.com/216120473
R3 Chasing Kagan (zoomed a bit, single view)------->>: https://vimeo.com/217110588
I'm concerned that Scratcher's 1:44 wont hold up to win TTU for the day, but it IS getting hotter so the track is getting slower and with the time not beaten in the two morning sessions, I decide that it should stand and I'll hope to keep the streak alive there. Several sports racers are in TTU and could possibly run faster, but I think I'm okay. <cross fingers, chant the prayer of the small block chevy, and burn a vtec motor in effigy>
Chatting with some NASA Directors late on Sunday, it looks like for future weekends they are considering gridding up for qualy on day 2 based on your fastest lap from the previous day. This should greatly help the scramble to grid and having a lot of folks get hosed for qualy. By gridding them like TT does, it *should* make the session go a lot smoother and assuming they don' let stragglers out late and enforce this, it could work. Fingers crossed. ANYTHING is better than one rule for competitors and another for those competitors who are Directors.
Vorshlag's old blue E46 and the new red E46, both record setting cars. This weekend the Fair's stomped to a new TTD record quite easily!
Amy showing her game-face as she preps on grid before pounding out some fast laps.
Toth's INCREDIBLE LSx miata with custom EVERYTHING (body, subframes, rocker suspension, control arms, uprights, etc etc).
Got TONS of inspections from people in the paddock! Such a slick little car he is now shaking down!!!
For R4, we start where we finished R3, so I've got Lehenbauer next to me and a gaggle of sports racers behind us. Our near-40 car grid earlier is reduced to 29 cars, but still with 9 in SU. I start the race on nearly dead tires now, knowing that Lehenbauer started the weekend on sticker hoosiers. His tires still have really good tack while mine really are sub-optimal at best. Oh well, the car gets prepped and it is then that I realize the extra 5 gallon can in the trailer is empty. Dammit. So instead of starting nearly full, we'll be starting with much less fuel than I'm comfortable with...but that I don't have time to rectify. I'm not a fan of track gas, so all I can do is risk it and hope I have enough fuel. I *think* I do, and with the second race being shorter (only 8 laps yesterday) I think I'll be alright. *cross fingers while I have the brief thought of losing my streak due to running out of fuel and how stupid that would be!*
Lehenbauer about to walk Scratcher down to T1.... <sigh>
Left: Lehenbauer has a slight lead even before the SF line! Right: TWS is pretty old but can still bite as this hpde/tt car found out. Yoinks!!!
So we launch and I take it easy on the outlap and stay a gear up to save fuel and as we form up, we DON'T get the green. This is a blessing since we do another slow pace lap that does not use much fuel. With the race being timed, a slow lap chews into the "race time" and so now we may only do 6-7 laps with the first waive-off counting as a race lap. We go around, form up and get the green, again pretty late. Lehenbauer walks me down the front straight and I'm balancing trying to stay close with pushing the tires to get them up to temp (started them low due to the heat!). I stay close the whole first lap, mostly just watching his line and seeing how his car is working. As we wrap up the first lap and come onto the front straight, I'm a few lengths behind but on his right and he appears to miss a shift and drops back a touch. I pass him and he seems to pick back up (post race = shifter knob came off in his hand, so he dropped it and shifted using the portion below the handle!!!). Lap two I put a nice gap and just slowly work away from him over the six race laps, keeping the tires in check and running a gear up in some spots to save fuel. I caught the checker with about a 10 second gap, making a clean sweep of the weekend. One of the sports racers actually had a slightly faster lap for this race (his 1:46.30 to my 1:46.36) while Lehenbauer had the third fastest lap at a 1:49.9. Fun race!
R4 (two camera views)------> : https://vimeo.com/216275524
On the cool-down lap it was a huge relief to have swept the weekend even though 3 of the 4 races started with me not in the lead. #KeepTheStreak!
Athena (holding wrenches): "What is that over there dad?"
Dad: "Looks like.......<squints>.......victory....a whole herd of victory..."
Two more 2017 WINNER mugs and another half-dozen WINNER stickers
Hoosier for Grip (R75A this weekend)
HorsepowerResearch.com (Koenig) for power
ThinkFastEngineering.com (Neil) for Engineering
G-Speed (Louis) for chassis mods and setup help
MaxcySpeed (Stuart) for custom valved two-way dampers
Vorshlag (Fair) for parts and setup help
Porterfield-brakes.com for the secret sauce brake pads!
My incredible wife (BikiniRacer.com) and family for all the help and support
and tons of friends who help crew, bleed brakes, poprivet on parts, fuel, clean, etc...