The world is at war.
With America having declared war on Germany just a few months earlier, following public furor over the sinking of several US merchant ships,
the war effort is on.
One infinitesimal part of this effort, on a no-doubt sweltering August Wednesday on Long Island, at the Whitestone Naval Reserve base, a commander drags out his Corona typewriter to draft a letter to the head office in D.C.
A small breeze off of Block Island Sound blows in through the open window, and after settling in to a creaky leather chair, he writes:
August 22nd 1917.
From: Commander, Section Base #7, Third Naval District, Whitestone, Long Island
To: Bureau of Navigation, Washington D.C, US Naval Reserve
Subject: Don Charles Kemerer, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, USNRF
Don Charles Kemerer has been on duty from June 16, 1917, to present date… He is, in my opinion,
of good officer material, and an excellent gas engine machinist, (theoretic and practical).
His work here has shown force of character, intelligence, initiative, and careful
performance of duty…He is a skillful and daring automobile driver, and in my
opinion, would make a good aviator. I recommend him highly.
W. W. Grier
August, 14th 1985
It is the Turbulent 80’s.
The world is no longer at war, but an arms race of a different kind is afoot. New technologies brought about by the computer revolution are leading to an engineering arms race, and it is a time of excess in the world of motorsport.
At the forefront of this battle the Lola T810, by this point known better as the Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo, is running one of its first few races at Sears Point. The car has had a problematic gestation, and Electramotive owner and founder, one Don Charles Devendorf, climbs into the scorching cockpit, probably not thinking about his skillful and daring grandfather, Don Charles, but more likely, about what is going to go wrong this time with his thousand-horsepower, carbon-fiber tunneled creation.
Like his Grandfather, Don is a man of education, a skillful and daring automobile driver, and the sophisticated machine into which he straps himself reflects his skills as an excellent engineer, though also in part Nissan’s works budget, no doubt.
Standing in the transporter, having just gotten the grand tour of “Cousin Donnie’s” operation is his cousin Patty, and her 5 year old son Jake, who bears the surname of Don and Patty’s mutual grandfather.
Don pulls the cockpit door closed behind him, finishes his prep, and is off in a snarling cloud of tire smoke and race gas fumes.
Mechanical problems prevent Don from finishing well that day, but nevertheless, it’s likely that a lasting impression is made on the young boy. Patty, husband Jim, and one young Jacob Kemerer Latham head over the Mayacamas back home to Napa, happy and sunburnt from the day in Sonoma.
Back at the shop after a long day, Don settles into a creaky leather chair, drags out his IBM PC, and begins to draft the next designs for the ZX-Turbo’s development.
The better part of 30 years later, that wide-eyed boy, now a squinty-eyed man, passes through the gates of Sears Point. He, like his great-grandfather and cousin, is now a man of education, but it will yet remain to be seen if history recounts him as a skillful and daring automobile driver, like that Naval Commander wrote of his namesake great-grandfather, almost 100 years ago.
At the track, and all set up, he settles into a creaky fold-up chair, drags out his iPad, and begin to type…
Friday – Welcome Home?
Unfortunately for me, during this particular weekend, history repeated itself more than I would have liked, in that I too, much like ol’ Cousin Donnie back in ’85, had substantial mechanical problems, all of them engine related.
This weekend’s schedule was a bit odd, with our first practice, qualifying and race all on the Friday, with no practice day whatsoever. Out I went, confidence high, having had a flawless practice day at High Plains Raceway the week before. Unfortunately, all was for nought, as Dad called over the radio just a few laps in, saying that I was smoking, right around the same time
I noticed the dash lighting up with high oil temperature warnings. Crap.
Already the weekend was proving to be even more difficult for some, as the black cloud that’s been following JR Osborne all season followed him to Sonoma, this time allowing him a mere two turns worth of entertainment before deciding it was time for an oil line to part company with its push-loc fitting, and make a nice oil fire and mess in the car. No doubt disgusted with the Racing Gods, JRO packed up and headed back to Colorado with scarcely a second thought.
That wasn’t even the worst of it, as just a few laps later, Lucian suffered an even worse fire of unsure origin, badly damaging the back of his car and rendering it undriveable. Perspective can be important in this sport, and I had to allow that as frustrating as my weekend was starting, there were definitely immediately available examples of how it can always be worse. Luci immediately departed for Portland, with a friend meeting him halfway with Dennis Costin’s car for Luci to use as a backup for the weekend.
That, plus JRO’s issues resulted in an immediate black flag our first lap out, as well as substantially elevated blood pressure inside my helmet as I wondered why on earth my car was such an ill-handling mess. It’s always exciting to try and figure out your way around the track, but a little bit of oil just adds that little extra zing of excitement, yes?
As for the track itself, I never did get enough laps to really get into a groove at Sonoma, but this looks like yet another California race track that they built on the side of a cliff. It’s scarcely believable how steep the run up to turn 2 is – what a climb! The first half of the lap is a riot, the long descending carousel is a riot, and the flat-out back esses are fantastic fun just like the esses at Circuit of the Americas.
As an aside, having been able to run at a few bucket-list tracks this year, when you get a chance to run what we all consider as the class, bucket-list type tracks, you really get a sense of how they all really do have something special about them. Sonoma, Laguna, Road America, Road Atlanta, and now CoTA – all of them really give you butterflies in your stomach and a grin on your face.
So anyway, having run a few laps and having discovered that the engine oil had no interest in staying in the engine, into the pits I went. Some old friends visiting from over in Napa, where I grew up, jumped right in to help clean up the gigantic mess, which was a happy surprise. Look at us and our giant crew working on the car!
Unfortunately, nothing was immediately evident as the source of the problem. We checked various fittings, made sure oil was still flowing happily into the oil tank from the scavenge, and made ourselves a nice overflow bottle, in case it was just perhaps a bit too much oil in the system. Back out for qualifying I went. Same story – just a few laps, and there was oil EVERYWHERE. Somehow, despite seeming fine at High Plains, we all of a sudden had a bigtime scavenge issue here at Sonoma.
With little else to do, and a non-functioning car, we elected to skip Friday’s race, and change the car back over to its usual wet-sump configuration. That meant removing the floor to drop the BRD pan with the scavenge, and swap onto the normal C&M pan. Not a small job. We spent the next several hours doing that, including scurrying around to try and find the right parts and fittings to complete the oil line plumbing. We listened ruefully, then gratefully, to what was apparently quite a mess of a race out on the track.
Jose Gerardo took the win easily, with Chris Farrell having pulled off early with some sort of engine drama. The most exciting part of the race was evidently brought about by — and this is not a joke — a sheep calmly grazing on the exit of the carousel, having apparently jumped a nearby fence. As I hear it, Jose came around the carousel, saw the sheep, no doubt offered up some invective in Spanish, radioed in to his crewman, and as a result, came around to a safety car parked at the start finish line as he finished the lap. Jose was able to get whoa’d down, but evidently a few DSR’s behind were not, and the result was a few crashes and some bent cars, much to the (justifiable) anger and ire
Thus drew to a close a pretty forgettable day in the world of F1000 racing.
Saturday – Fresh Start
Saturday dawned as many mid-summer mornings do in the north bay area – a low, impenetrable cloud layer and a soft breeze that brings with it the chill off the San Francisco bay. The low clouds gradually give way to a a clear sky, and the day warms up to a gentle 75-85 degrees. By early July, the verdant green-gumdrop color adorning the hills has given way to dry, brown stalks of grass, and small puffs of dust mark your footprints should you find yourself walking along a dirt path. Such it was for us on this day.
We returned to the trailer with fresh perspective, thinking that this morning’s qualifying — the only activity of the day — might nicely change the course of the weekend.
Allow me to dispel any sense of drama: It did not. Despite multiple warmups and checks, and even a morning hardship lap, we were not able to find in time the fitting left loose on the oil cooler which pulled off just a few more laps in, showing me a low oil pressure light and yet another large mess to clean up. I pulled off on the inside of Turn 1, just after the wall, and dutifully waited for my tow back in.
Surveying the mess, we concluded the engine only had about 2 of its original 5-odd quarts left in it. I checked the data, called George, hemmed, hawed, and ultimately decided to do a precautionary engine change, juuuuustttt in case the motor had seen enough low oil pressure to be unhappy. So, that was our Saturday – changing an engine and cleaning up a yet-again oil soaked race car. Full props and shout-out to AJ from Stohr, who chipped in bigtime to help in reassembling the car.
Results-wise, in my couple of laps, I’d stumbled my way to a 1:34 something, which was, good for 3rd on the grid, just behind Jose and Chris in the DSR.
Exhausted again, we went back to the hotel. I cleaned and and we headed out to some dinner in Petaluma with my wife and her sister. I dozed off at dinner and they thankfully decided it was time to head back to the hotel.
Sunday – Go Home!
We arrived back at the track yet again with bright eyes and bushy tails, certain that we were through the worst of it, and now was the time to finally get to have some fun playing around on track. Wrong again chumps!
This time, we at least got to play a little bit, here’s how it shook out:
This time I got a good start (*gasp!*) and followed Jose closely up the hill, lifting a bit early to make sure I didn’t get into his back. I knew Luci would be coming hard and took a nice defensive line into 2. I followed Jose through the next twist, 3/3A, and down the steep hill to T4, right on Jose’s gearbox. Up and through the carousel we went, Jose sliding the back of his car. This time I pulled along side on the left as he covered, and we went through the hairpin side-by-side. Luci snuck under me as I waited for Jose, and I followed the two of them through the esses, all three of us flat-stuck on it. I felt the car bottom and it slid just a bit wide, and I used the curbing in T10, heart in my throat at 130mph!.
We completed the first lap and continued through the second in that order, me learning my way around the track just a bit. I began to notice I had a definite advantage in the carousel, and
followed Jose and Luci closely through 7 as a result, right up behind Luci’s wing as we starteed the back esses for the second time, lifting a bit as before to avoid getting too close in a spot
where I couldn’t get by. I pulled to the inside in 11 but he defended, so I ran a wider line and pulled up next to him at start finish, but again had to back out as he defended his position.
Up again we went, Jose slowly pulling away from Luci and I as I searched for a way by. This time I took advantage of my speed in the carousel and got inside of Luci on the run to the hairpin. He braked later than me, but I was able eto stay ahead and was by as we started through the esses. Time to catch Jose, who had pulled a bit of a gap as Luci and I quibbled with eachother.
It took only a few corners, as the car seemed to be working quite well. By T4 I was once again right on the back of Jose’s wing, and set about trying to find a way by. Again, my advantage in the
carousel was useful, as I found myself right on his rear wing as we came to the T7 hairpin. Jose defended, braked too late, but ran wide and I was by, into the lead.
As I crossed start finish, the first of two lights I have for high oil T came on. 230. Hmm. Not expected in this car, which cools well, and especially on a cool day in Sonoma. I continued. This time, I saw a high Water T light as I came down to T4. Also unexpected. I continued, increasingly worried. The water temp continued to climb as I went through the esses, and the lights worsened as I was halfway through the esses. I felt the motor begin to feel a bit weak, so I backed off slightly. Jose snuck by under the brakes, and I turned the corner, looked at my gauges, and gave up the ghost. Yet again, I pulled off on the inside of T1, scarecely believing that my usual good reliability had gone so badly. Maybe I parked too close to JRO?
Postmortem: A hose clamp on the water pump had been tightened down on the stiffening coil inside the hose, rather than on the water pump itself, and so with higher temps, there was just enough water pressure to pop the line off that we couldn’t budge when checking by hand. A mistake of fatigue no doubt.
So, with so much struggle, one noteworthy silver lining from the weekend: The biggest is that the lap where I was chasing down Jose resulted in a new Sears Point F1000 track record, which feels pretty darn good. I’m sure there’s a lot more time in it once I refine the lines and get some time to work on the car’s setup. So, that is encouraging.
Time to go ship some engines off to Mr. Dean for a double-check, clean up a huge mess of a car, and perhaps consider whether I’m yet worthy of the name of my old ‘skilled and daring’ relatives from yesteryear.