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:. Racing .:. 2011 June Sprints


Once again, it was time to load up the family bat-truck and bat-drive to bat-Wisconsin to go out to Road America for the June Sprints. Hiiii-yooooo!

After a disasterous weekend at Miller, we had re-armed ourselves with better tools, a fresh setup (complete this time...), and confidence borne of self-delusion. A quick look at the entry list showed no fewer than 12 DSR's, only one of which was not a Stohr, and only perhaps two of which - one being yours truly - would not be packing a built engine.

The drive out was completely uneventful - flowing easily through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, and eventually to Wisconsin, which does, I might add, have the worst roads outside of Oklahoma.

Such was the ease of the drive that we even executed our first overtake of the weekend, meeting accidentally with Chris Farrell at a truck stop in Iowa, and beating him out of the pits. As is his custom, he naturally passed us again later that "lap", as we stopped for bed in our usual Walcott, Iowa truck stop.

We picked up our usual Cruise America RV bucket-o-rattles in Milkwaukee, and headed north to Elkhart, greeted by a low, gray, sky, and some intermittent, indecisive rain.

After a bit of a wait outside of T14, the RA staff took us to our spot in the west paddock. We set up our new Holliday canopy, which turned out to be a godsend for the weekend, zipped up, and headed into town with Chris for dinner at the Paddock Club. Mmmmmmm!

Luck was with us, as Thursday dawned with sunny (enough) skies, and a dry track. I had re-mounted a set of my overheated 9.5" and 10" Goodyears from Miller, in order to get the brake bias sorted out on the car. Having installed new pedals and new master cylinders, I thought that if I was going to square off some tires, it might as well be some old ones. Additionally, simply re-learning the track after 9 months was on the to-do list.

The first session out was fairly anticlimactic, as the throttle cable slipped forward in its mount, giving me no more than about 70%, then 50%, then maybe 30% throttle. I rolled around the track for a few laps just to get my eye back in a little bit, then came into the pits. Right on - 5 laps in one of my two sessions on a $300 test day. Great value so far....yeah right. However, I can now say that I have done Road America flat out. That's right ladies and gentlemen - not one lift. That was some exciting 40mph, let me tell you - hah.

We fixed the throttle cable - new with the new pedal assembly courtesy of Mr. Loshak - and buttoned the car back up for the second session. Now proceeding at something more than walking pace, what with an operational throttle pedal, I noticed right away that it seemed like the car was bottoming a lot in the front. Every time it did, the car would skip sideways, and generally, there was very bad oversteer midcorner. I thought to myself "ah, wonderful. Another weekend of trying to catch a car that's trying to kill me." I fought with it for a few laps, trying to at least get some sense of braking points and get used to the new pedals. As with Sunday at Miller, I was using my left foot to brake, but the combination of the new master cylinders, wonky bias, and a not-very-delicate left foot did indeed lead to some squared off tires.

I soldiered on for a while, but after the oversteer progressed to where I dirt-tracked my way around the carousel, I came in before I fell off the island.

Based purely on the rubbing up front, I immediately raised the front 2 turns of the pushrod, about 2/16 of an inch. Desparate to find some solution, I rolled over to Chris's setup pad again and rolled the car on, where the front showed to be about 1 1/16", even after I'd raised it! We raised it another 2/16, to about 1 3/16, and ended up lowering the back some, for a net rake reduction of approximately one metric buttload. Confidence was high that this would stabilize the back end, since it was no longer poking up in the air and dragging the nose on the ground.

Friday's morning practice, the car finally felt normal again, like it had at HPR last year, and at the Runoffs. Good stability in the corners meant I finally had the confidence to push it, and improved from my embarrassing 2:12-ish to a 2:08.30, a respectable time. We didn't change much for the first Q session, only adding a slight touch of rear flap to stabilize the rear end a hair in the faster corners - probably more for driver confidence than anything.

This was also the first outing for the new construction 22x11's that Goodyear had sent me to replace the 22x10's that were damaged at Miller. The statement from Goodyear was that they'd act a lot more like the new 9.5's, which is to say, less pressure gain, more consistent wear and grip. That certainly seemed to be the case, as wear looked outstanding, and they certainly felt like a better tire compared to the old 10's. I noticed just a bit of extra wear on the inner shoulder of the left rear, likely from the carousel, and took a hair of camber out on both sides of the car, ending up around 0.2 to 0.3 of a degree (negative).

The day began to cool somewhat, so Q2 began to look like it would be a good one for us. Turns out is was, as the small wing change worked very well, and I was able to break into the 2:07's, good enough for 5th in DSR and 11th overall. As it turns out, so did almost everybody else, as something like 4th to 13th on the grid were in the 2:07 range, and Bootz, Downing and I were all separated by less than a tenth of a second. This was shaping up to be a real good fight in the mid-pack. As hoped, reducing the rear camber took care of the wear on the LR, so at that point, I left the car alone. Unheard of, right?

Saturday we had just a single qualifying session in the afternoon. I spent the morning motoring around in the golf cart, saying howdy to everybody I could find and generally enjoying the Wisconsin springtime.

The day shaped up to be a warm one. As such, we decided to put our other set of new tires on the car for scrubbing. My logic was, if conditions were good, I could set a really good time, and if not these would be a nicely scrubbed set of tires for the race.

As it turns out, it was pretty warm, and I could do no better than a low 2:08 again. I spent some laps chasing Bill Goldkind, and even had what felt like a real flier drafting behind him, but the stopwatch thought otherwise. Such was the case for many, although Lawrence did lower his pole time to a 2:03, and Chris's scarcely believable weekend of awful luck continued, so the expected battle at the front did not develop.

Our only excitement post session was a fire drill to remove the seat and seatback, when we learned that overfilling the tank enough will eventually lead to fuel coming out the breather vent. Eek.

Sunday - Race
The pictures make it obvious: Torrential rain.

Somewhat of a portent of things to come was a chill in the air Saturday night when I finally wandered back to our RV in the trees. For the first time since arriving on a rainy Wednesday, I had to don a long-sleeve shirt to stay warm. Sunday morning, while we waited for our session, a small cloud stopped by, wetted down the paddock for a few moments, then ambled onward, unaware that it'd put all of us into a whole new state of mind.

Soon enough, all of us in the paddock were checking, checking, and re-checking the radar and the skies leading up to the race. I was pacing around with my iPhone, looking for the best of the all but nonexistent signal out there in the Wisconsin countryside. Eventually I stumbled on somebody's wireless (login/password "default" and "password" - hah), and was able to get weather updates. Green belts seemed to be splitting on either side of Elkhart Lake. 9:00 came and went, then 9:30, then 10:00. 10:05. 10:07. 10:08. Soon enough, we had to make the call, and climb into the car.

During that tense 90 minutes, I was pacing back and forth between my trailer and Chris's, trying to glean any last minute words of advice on the art of racing in the rain -- where is Denny Swift when you need him? -- and getting plenty of helpful advice. We got the rains ready, dug out the dive planes, rain-X'd the visor, and I briefed my dutiful crew (aka Mom and Dad) on how to change it all. Everybody else was doing the same. Funny the questions you don't think to ask until you need them: What pressures do I run in wets? (I ran 18) I sure hope they're taller than the dries like everybody says (they are). Do you put Rain-X on the inside of your visor too? (I did).

In the end, despite all the hand-wringing, sky-checking, dead reckoning, refresh-button-clicking, and divining-rod consultation, every single car came to grid on dries...whereupon the heavens opened and began drenching us all.

As soon as it started raining, we all scrambled to try and get everything changed in time. Instead of the usual calm wandering around on grid with the occasional crewperson chatting on his radio to his driver, there were dozens of folks scrambling, falling, slipping, squatting and milling around in the effort to get cars up, tires changed, and back on the ground. In retrospect, though we didn't know it at the time, I think they gave us all time to get everything changed, since the rain was just pouring down.

I radioed Dad to head back to the trailer and grab the rain tires and jacks, since I'd concluded that the crew, though willing, are, after all, in their late sixties, and probably wouldn't be able to change the tires in a timely fashion if we had to change during the race. However, Dad made it back with everything piled on the golf cart, and began changing the tires. To finish the job, I owe an enormous thank-you to Critter and Mrs. Critter for helping Mom and Dad to complete the tire swap - with tires on the correct corners - and dive plane installation on my car after they got Doc squared away. That was really a wonderful thing to have done for us - thanks guys.

During the madness, we also maxed the rear flap (aka "The 5th Element"), and put a gurney on the upper element, which Chris had given to me a little while before.

Eventually the 5, 3, 2 and 1 minute signs were given, and I reluctantly surrendered my umbrella. There was so much water I spun the tires just trying to get moving. Visibility was perhaps 10 feet, and the faster we went, the more spray we all kicked up. The rain lights were laughable - visible maybe at 20 feet, but beyond, there was nothing but a wall of spray. At the big bump near the pit-exit, I felt the cold water run in and start soaking the backs of my legs, and as it turns out, that's about the time the camera quit working. So sad. My visor was instantly covered with water from Doc ahead, despite a healthy coat of Rain-X. Little drips from the upper surface of the visor started falling into my eyes. Note to self - more weather stripping on upper surface. Fortunately, I'd kept my helmet on and visor down during the whole time the rain had started, so I had no fogging whatsoever during the race.

After we were out of pit lane and onto the track, as far as I knew, my universe shrank to about the nose of the car and the visible 20 or so feet ahead of me. I couldn't even see Doc's rain light for all the suspended water. I spent some time on the opening lap trying acceleration ( surprisingly good ), braking ( also not horrible but let's wind the bias back a few thousand turns ), and cornering ( don't even think about it ), and concluded that the car was OK in a straight line, but managing the back in the turns was going to be really tough. Just after turning into Canada corner, the car shut off - no dash, no nothing. I'd experienced that a few times before with the VoltPhreaks battery when I had a bad cable, so I reached up to the dash switch which turns the battery back on. The car came back to life, but died again a few seconds later. I thought to myself "well this is going to be a fun race...", and turned the battery back on. Mysteriously, it never happened again. Other than the camera, it appears I suffered no water-related electrical problems at all.

The start was a complete mess, as we never really formed up into a grid that I could see. I never did see the green, but Tom went screaming by me, as did a pink-ish CSR, so I hit the throttle too...a little. So much spray was ahead of my 6th-row starting spot that I had absolutely zero idea who or what was ahead. I backed out of the throttle as we neared turn 1, thinking to myself "well, at least when I hit the wreck of cars at turn 1 it won't hurt as bad this way", but by some miracle, everybody had made it through. We headed down to T3, and Downing spun off of the inside, as did somebody else to the outside - maybe Mucha from the look of the lap chart.

I spent the first few laps just trying to keep the car on the island and see where I was going. As the others have mentioned, the amount of spray kicked up from the tires, tunnels, and wings was staggering. Just like the books say, the racing line was a disaster. Big puddles were at most of the apexes, caught by the curbing, as they were at corner exits. I found myself driving in the middle of the track and squaring off the corners. For the first few laps, during which traffic was heavier, I constantly had my left foot covering the brake pedal in case a wreck appeared out of the spray. Once the field strung out a bit, I went back to using my right foot, since it has so much more finesse in these tricky conditions.

As I gained confidence and started using more and more throttle on the straights, a sample lap would be something like this: Cross the start finish line in 4th gear, shift to 5th somewhat past the start stand. Ease out of the throttle as soon as the brake markers appear out of the haze, and ease it down into third gear. Drive around the middle of turn 1, and come off throttle completely for the river running across the exit of T1 or the car will lurch sideways and spin up the rear tires. Accelerate full throttle to T3, brake gently and again, drive around the middle of T3, avoiding the apex and track-out puddles, exiting on about the inside third of the track. Full throttle up to 6th gear down to T5. Again, ease out of it when the #5 brake marker becomes visible, and gently shift down to second. Lots of deep water here since the apex of 5 is down the hills from 4 and 6. Often the car would hydroplane and the wheels would stop turning, so I'd ease off pressure until it was rolling again, then try to turn it. Wait until pointed straight and past the deep spot at corner exit, then full throttle up to T6. Ease it down again, driving around the middle of the corner, into 2nd gear. short acceleration to 7, then up to 4th on the run down to T8. Run the inside coming up to T8, as the water was shallower there, then move towards the middle of track in the middle of T8. The carousel was surprisingly tractable the whole time, and could be driven pretty normally but for the huge puddle near the curbing at the end. Same for the kink, which even developed two drier tracks by the end of the race, as did the run down to Canada corner. Brake again as soon as the brake marker appears from the gloom down under all those wet trees, and drive around the middle. There was a large deep spot across the track near the exit, so stay totally neutral throttle with as little side-load on the car as possible. Two of the deepest spots were between the curbing of T13, so you had to thread between the middle and let the rear wheels spin up a little bit. As with many of the corners, T14 had a large puddle at apex, and a river crossing the track on exit, so once across that, I could go wide-open, and accelerate full throttle up the front straight into T1.

As complicated as that sounds, on top of that, each lap it seemed like there was something - braking a tiny bit too late and feeling like "is this the lap where I throw it off track?", finding certain spots wetter or drier than the lap before, and constantly feeling the car twitch and lurch when the rear end started to slide. Even worse is when I'd start to get closer to another car, and all thoughts of trying to find the best line would go straight out the window, and my only priority would be finding a way to see where I was going.

Eventually I noticed that I was passing cars pretty regularly - first a few CSRs. I tip-toed by a small crash in T8 - it looked like one of the French cars and maybe Bill Goldkind got together with each other, so I snuck by as they got moving again. Eventually I came up behind Lawrence around T13, who looked like he was holding on for dear life. I followed him through 14, 1, and 2, keeping about a car-width to the side so I could still see where I was going - see Pepper's picture of Lawrence, Lee and I in his album - that's when I was about to sneak by. In T3, he got his outside wheels in the large puddle at exit and had such a lurid sideways lurch that I could read the "DSR 1" on the side of his car. I braked as gently as I could in case he spun, but he somehow got pointed straight again and I was able to accelerate by down to T5.

Before that, somewhere along the line I got by Lee Alexander - I think down near T13 somewhere, after coming up behind him around the turn 8 area. Following him down to Canada corner was unbelievably hairy - I couldn't see a thing!

In the final few laps, I began to lap more and more S2's, but I could see one car ahead with a low-mounted wing. As far as I could tell, I was behind Farrell, Dempsey, and Bootz, so I knew that must be Bootz. I kept running as I had been, looking for the more-and-more drier areas that developed, and began to even be able to carry some corner speed and put some lateral load on the car. Turns out it was indeed Bootz, who came up on Dave Knaack and passed him in T6. I caught Dave between T6 and T7, and caught Tom in T8. He took a very wide line around the carousel, so I snuck by him on the inside in the carousel, in which he made plenty of room for both of us.

I ran the next two laps just as I'd run the others, looking for the least wet spots I could, and eventually took the checkers. I was ecstatic to have finished the race, both from the car working OK, and for the reason that it's the first time I've ever raced in the rain! I figured I was in maybe third place, since I'd never seen Doc or Chris Farrell, and was hoping that maybe I'd made the podium. I drove down pit lane after the cool down lap, and saw Mom, Dad, and Critter/Marsha/Pepper going crazy. I thought "Yeah, I finished, thanks guys!", and began to turn into the paddock. The guy at the end of the pit lane started towards me with the flag and I thought "well, one of the black Stohrs, he probably has me confused with the winner". He handed me the flag and I said something like "Isn't that for the winner?" and he replied "Yeah, that's you!"

Ensuing was perhaps the slowest victory lap in the history of the world. Taking a lesson from Lawrence's celebration last year, I made it last as long as I could, and waved maniacally to everything - workers, spectators, chipmunks, tree branches, the tow-truck driver, you name it.

The pictures pretty much tell the story of the rest - Dad and I grinning like idiots, Mom crying, and some good fun on the podium with the champagne.

No doubt the natural order will reassert itself in September, and we'll see the usual suspects back at the top of the order, but for now, I'm really happy to have my 15 minutes and be able to say I won a race like this one.

First and foremost, finally, happily, amazingly, the car is back into the range where it's driveable again. Sometimes it seems like this car is extremely sensitive to some setup changes, and relatively insensitive to others. Let it be known that rake is really important in this car!

From a reliability standpoint, the VoltPhreaks battery remains a question mark, due to those two isolated shutoffs, and Chris's failed completely. As part of my loot for winning the race was $500 to Ballistic Performance, I'm going to order some 12-cell batteries to keep as backups (or maybe primaries?), and call the VoltPhreaks guys to see what the story is there.

Next up is High Plains Raceway, so it will be interesting to see if all of this mucking about with parts has actually translated to any real laptime at my home track.

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