The June Sprints. Can you hear the capitals? It’s the same as when somebody says “The Runoffs” – you can hear the capitalization, you know that this is a pretty big deal. At least, for a li’l ol’ newbie such as myself, it’s a big all-fired deal. What an experience to go to such an event!
Plans made, reservations sought, truck loaded and car lovingly prepared, we struck out from Colorado early Tuesday morning….wagons East!
After a completely uneventful tow (Aside: If possible, get yourself a dually for towing with…they are awesome), we arrived at the gates to Road America (more capitals!) around 2:00, at the big ol’ gate outside of Turn 14. No doubt we immediately marked ourselves as newbies, since we must have all three looked absolutely starstruck seeing the track for the first time. The picture in my head is dominated by the giant sportsracer mural over the new Kohler tunnel, flagged on the left by the enormous rise post T14 to the left, and on the right by the small cliff that cars fall off of as they come rocketing out of the trees into T5, only to accelerate up to T6 and around to parts unknown. I estimated the vertical rise of the start finish straight to be somewhere on the order of 40,000 feet, though I did adjust that downwards later in the weekend. On either side of the track are many buildings, signs, etc – everywhere it is made clear that this is a big-deal facility.
Upon rolling up to the first helpful face we saw, they sent us eastward around the outside perimiter of the track in search of the “Briggs and Stratton Tunnel.” The 3-4 mile drive around the outside was just as gorgeous and intimidating as the initial impression. A huge press building at start finish, a herd of golf carts inexplicably outside turn 3, and everywhere manicured lawns and these odd, tall, leafy things the locals said were called “Trees”.
Feeling like original settlers on the wagon trail, we located the B&S tunnel, headed through it, and met a friendly Chicago region worker to directed us to our paddock spot over in the competition paddock. Once inside the facility, the feeling of intimidation increased further, seeing the acres of paddock space, enormous garages, roads everywhere. We looked at eachother and all admitted “OK, we’re intimidated”, and then secondly realized: We need a freaking golf cart.
We got ourselves moderately set up, and I began walking around to familiarize myself with the place. I wandered up towards the garages, and found Garrett Kletjian getting started on an engine change, removing a high-hours motor in favor of a freshened GDRE. Was nice to meet him for the first time, along with Eric Vassian, thanked him for some sprocketing advice, and took a good close look at the West. After that, I moseyed over to Critter’s tend to say howdy to Coop, and took a good close look at the RFR Formula 1000. Chris “Just Call me Critter” Young was there, and he chatted to me for a very long time, which I thought was awful friendly of him – thanks man. He showed me, among other things, the titanium rotors that some cars are using – holy cow are they light. Probably 5# less a corner, easy.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around and saying hi to everybody else I could find – Dave Knaack, Lawrence Loshak, Brian Lindstand, Mat Cutter, Jim Vogel, Mike Devins, and several others. Without exception, everybody is happy and friendly, it’s a fun bunch to be around!
Thursday test session. Ahhhh, finally a chance to get in the car! Out of everything the entire weekend, this is where I knew I’d feel most at home, and least worried. The intimidation factor of the
race track actually went away once I was in the car – driving the stupid thing is what I actually know how to do a little bit, and I’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 billion laps of Road America done in rFactor while hunting down Keith Carter and Awesome Stecher. In restrospect, all those virtual laps were an enormous boon to getting myself relatively up to speed pretty quickly.
Which isn’t to say I was Schumacher on the first lap – how’s a 2:33 ring your bell? Rock that. Fortunately, I’d made my way down to a 2:17 or so after the first 35 minute session, which went by in about 90 seconds. With the gearing on the car, 16:47, (stock motor, heavy car) I was seeing about 146mph or so on the dash, which is about as good as I ever saw. I certainly started getting a sense of how important horsepower is at the track, since I was reasonably competitive in the corners, but watched everybody pull me on the straight. I mean *everybody*. There wasn’t a single CSR/DSR that I encountered that didn’t have significant legs on me during the weekend. Argh!
True to cautious form, I was nowhere near flat through the kink or the carousel the first time ’round.
The second session was a lot like the first, gradually improving, and down into the :15 range on my now well-and-truly knackered tires. I noted that once again, the car went off towards oversteer as the tires wore, a new trend with the larger front tires. As before, it was over almost before it began – what fun!
After putting the car up for the night, I went up to look at the Stohr FB and meet Wayne from Stohr for the first time, putting more faces to names. I headed up top to say hello to Lawrence, who was puzzling over some apparently missing horsepower. I stopped by the Devins compound, and was treated to an unbelievable pork-something, complete with taters, asparagus, and lots of other succulent morsels, merely for showing my face. The friendliness of this group continued to amaze me. I chatted briefly with Clark Lincoln before stopping out early and sneaking off to town with Chris and George to see Elkhart Lake itself, and at least see the outside of Siebkins.
Friday – SCCA time.
For the morning practice, I put on a set of fresh tires to see how quickly I could go, now that I had a sense of where the track went. I was able to turn a 13.6 in the morning cool, which was starting to feel pretty respectable to me.
Post-session a few folks stopped by to let me know that my car was not only bottoming a fair amount (splitter rub), but that the splitter was doing some whacko vibrating going down the front straight. Critter quickly diagnosed this with a cracked portion on the lower left of my splitter. He was off like a shot to help make a reinforcement bracket for me, whilst calling Mike Devins to come over with some epoxy. We cut up the bracket, Mike did his magic, and the resulting repair stiffened up the splitter very nicely.
Oddly, that became a real defining moment in the weekend for us: we’d expected to be the sorta unknown-out-of-towners, and kinda on our own if there were any issues. Yet here on the first day, more or less totally unknown to these guys, they stepped in with immediate help, and got us going again. When we arrived at the Sprints, one goal was to decide if we were going to continue in DSR, or perhaps make a jump to FB where we might be able to run closer to the sharper end for less money. In the end, it was guys like Critter, Mike, and the rest of the crew that convinced us that DSR is where we want to stay.
Around the paddock, things were going reasonably well for the D crew. Jason Barfield was chasing a miss that had plagued him for quite some time, Chris Farrell felt like he was down on power, and others were all experimenting with various changes. In particular, Lawrence still felt like something was wrong with his car, and packed up the rig to head back to Milwaukee and find his missing horsepower. Ultimately, he did find it, I think, going quickly on Saturday morning.
For Q1, the big drama was Doc Dempsey’s big kerblammo on the front straight, just in front of Chris Farrell and I. The explosion covered my visor in oil, and the car was still smoking my next lap around. Ultimately, his car was too badly damaged to continue.
In the afternoon heat, a 14.4 was the best I could manage. Right behind me was Brian Lindstrand with a 14.5, and Mat Machiko in his West with a 14.7 just behind. In the entire CSR/DSR group, there was somebody nearby no matter where you were, so I was starting to get really excited for a fun race.
Also of note, to me anyway, was finally convincing myself to go flat out through the Kink, which ultimately isn’t that big a deal in a car like this, it’s just damn scary. I began to work my way up to being flat-out through the Carousel. I just barely made that a few times, but the car was never quite as settled in the rear as I needed it to be – I spent a lot of time wiggling around in the Carousel, exciting, terrifying, and unbelievable fun.
After Q1 it was Garrett on provisional pole, with Chris Farrell and Bootz right nearby, Chris still scratching his head about power, and Jason Barfield’s motor still not running well.
Scully was a bit further back, still getting accustomed to the track. Tom Bootz had holed a radiator (as well as decapitating a squirrel), so Richard borrowed my spare and installed it. Turns out my C&R radiator fits a WF-1 like a glove, weighs less, and evidently cools a bit better than the factory part. All right!
That evening we all gathered up near Brian Lindstrand’s motorhome for the DSR party. Tom’s story about exploding a squirrel in T5 led to all of us sharing our various kills over the years, the most amusing of which was George Dean telling us about Scully collecting a jackrabbit as he was getting ready to load the car on the trailer for Road America! We ate, drank, shared stories, and I did my best to decline, misdirect, and otherwise dodge Critter’s wife, who was hell bent on getting me liquored up. We stayed until the mosquitoes drove us back to our respective accomodations.
Saturday was another gorgeous day, and having been spared the torrential overnight rain, everything was clean and dry when we emerged from the RV. I noticed a large uptick in the number of folks wandering around the paddock, both businessmen and fans alike. In particular, Chris Billings from the Shock Shop stopped by, and we chatted a bit. He relayed, as had many others, that the car was looking quite unsettled over the bumps, and I showed him the dyno charts from the shocks, and we chatted a bit more. Heads were scratched. Ultimately, I made the decision to send my shocks off to him for a re-do, both on that conversation and Chris Farrell’s recommendation, and boy am I glad I did!
The big fun for the day was Q2, where once again, everybody was hoping to go a bit faster. Chris finally had his motor running right after some last-minute magic from George Dean (chafed wire grounding out on the chassis). Chris found himself in the 2:05’s, but with a odd clickety sound from the rear diff, which turned out to be a failed carrier bearing. I wandered by to see how things were going, and found Chris elbows deep in the car, and Mr’s. Williams swapping bearings onto his diff. How’s that for some customer service!
Also at the pointy end of the grid, Jason Barfield’s car was still running badly, and as a result, it was Chris with about 1.0 second in hand over Garrett’s West, with a CSR in between. Lawrence had evidently found his missing horsepower, and was only about 0.4 back of Garrett, with a 2:07.x. As for your humble author, I improved slightly to a 2:13.1, but remained 16th overall and 8th in DSR, now just a tick ahead of Eric Vassian’s
CSR west, instead of behind. One thing that was clear by now from watching the cars ahead is that I was about the only stock motor anywhere around, and was going to get mugged on the start. Also depressing was being sent across the scales, and having the small handwritten note come to me with the number “1096” on it. Not Cool.
The Race. Eep!
The whole pace lap was just freaking bizarre. Cars came out of the hot pits like the proverbial bats out of hell, and proceeded to haul ass down to T1, T2, and T3, before promptly dropping anchor and scattering cars all over between T3 and T5. I guess at that point the leaders caught up with the pace car and had to whoa way down. In any event, it was a strange affair, and painfully slow. The field didn’t begin to pair up near my row 8 until about midway to T14, which meant that I was accelerating to get to P14 in anticipation of the flag. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the first few rows absolutely take off, so I just kept my foot in it, hoping that the car ahead would do the same, and that maybe it’d keep me from getting too badly jumped by the strong engines around me.
As it turns out…no such luck. Eric passed me into T1, as we all entered pretty conservatively. I was a bit later on the brakes and snuck back by, but once again he powered past me down to T3. Following him around the outside with my poor exit was Brian Lindtrand in his Prince LSR. I settled in to chase them down and figure out where I might be quicker. Fortunately for me, if not for the race, Brian rocketed off of the outside of T3 on lap two with a failed LF upright, and by then, Eric was already several carlengths ahead, never to be seen again.
What I did do was settle into an absolutely thrilling race with a black and orange Panoz DP01, who had MASSIVE straightline speed on me. He would pull perhaps 10 carlengths at the end of each straight, but such was my advantage on the brakes that I could simply wait and drive by the inside of him each time. For the first seven laps of the race we passed eachother about three times a lap, including an incredibly fun pass into T1 where he passed me on the inside, moved back to the outside for T1, but then I braked by him once again on the inside, and through. What a great time!
About halfway through the race, I began to wonder that perhaps I was ruining his CSR race – not being sure of the etiquette in this situation – and quit defending mine line into T1 and T5, after which he was able to sneak by. Ultimately he pulled a few carlengths up, to the point where I was never again close to catching or passing him. Certainly, neither one of us could gap the other to any great degree.
In short, it was absolutely the most thrilling race I’ve had to date, on the most exciting track I’ve run to date. I remained on cloud 9 the entire ride home, absolutely stoked with everything I learned, and beyond thankful for getting to have that experience.
What a race!