Monday, September 14, 2009

That's Racing

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The race is over and everyone is home safe. On the whole, I think we all had a good time. That’s the short version.

The long version goes like this. Rachel and I got up at 5:3AM Friday morning and drove up to Columbia, SC to pick up our RV. Chip left Winder, GA around 9:30 AM with the race car. By the time we arrived at the track at around 10:30 much of the field was already there. That was a huge shock. We’ve arrived about the same time for the last two races and there were only a handful of teams there. This year it was tough to find anyplace to park the RV with power. I also noticed the size and complexity of the RVs had increased a great deal. I think money has found LeMons. Talking with people I found that the number of teams that had ties to the Charlotte racing infrastructure had gone up too. We talked with Bill Riley (, Riley and Scott, ect) and he was running a Probe that got a 100 lap penalty for “no good reason” even though it had brakes that look like they came from the DTM and “homemade” adjustable gas shocks. The pink pig team next to us was made up of Gannasi and K-Tech guys. The team on the other side of us was made up of folks for Childress. The list goes on. There were still a good number of flat out amateur efforts, but there were plenty of awfully well prepared cars.

Due to a work issue Natalie wasn’t able to make it up for tech. Brian volunteered to ride up with her so he was also absent. That meant that Rachel, Chip and I would have to pull off our run past the BS judges ourselves. Our theme was Henry Ford’s Revenge. As the only American major car company that didn’t take a government bailout money we wanted to show the government funded teams how to go racing. We had brought some of the great corporate minds of the Ford Motor Company to the track. I was to be John DeLorean, Rachel was Lee Iacocca and Chip was Robert McNamara. While we were waiting for Chip to get to the track I got on the internet to do some reading. I realized at that time that he worked for GM and not Ford. A quick rethink later and I was Edsel. The judges seemed to appreciate our efforts. The car did look good with the classic Ford logos, old Henry riding shotgun in the back and out black, white and red and Hawk logos. They asked if we cheated and when we said know we got a “You lie!” which made us all laugh. They then checked our shocks to see if anything was fishy and there was nothing to see. I was a little touched as the judges even seemed to remember us. They also seemed to appreciate our bribes of homemade cookies and a mason jar full of homemade peach flavored jet fuel. Seriously, the stuff was stout.

After we got through tech we put the finishing touches on the car. We checked the alignment, ate dinner and wandered around the pits. We took it pretty easy. We chatted for a good amount of time with the Our Lady of Perpetual Downforce guys who had dressed up as aviators and mounted a car wide section of Cessna 172 wing upside-down on the roof of their car. They also had a flap section that was hinged at the front and had a gas shock on the back that dropped the flap at high speeds. I was highly impressed and the whole thing looked great on the track. Their car was also street legal and had apparently been running around Atlanta for a couple of weeks with the wing. Awesome. Later that evening Brian and Natalie arrived and after a short chat Nat and Chip were off to their cozy hotel while we settled into the camper.

I was up early on Saturday. I got up around 6:30 and decided to go walk the track. I was one of the early birds, but by the time I was done there were others. By the time I got back to the paddock Rachel was up and making breakfast and Brian was thumping around. Chip and Nat showed up a bit later and we all settled in for the morning. Before you knew it it was time for the driver’s meeting. Jay Lamm kept it short and sweet. He knew many of us were veterans and he just went over the basics. WE headed back to the pits and made the last minute preparations such as mounting the radios that IMSA was kind enough to loan us.

It had been decided that the running order would be myself (Mike), Brian, Chip then Natalie. I suited up and strapped into the car. Sitting in the Escort is becoming a familiar experience. Things are pretty comfortable in there. The day was warm, but not super hot. At the given time I rolled off for the pit straight. We had a 15 minute delay due to a timing loop issue, but once that was sorted we rolled off.

We did the required 5 or 10 laps to get everyone underway with a yellow flag out. I was about 5 cars behind the Pinto team that had got Jay and the Judges some amazing bribe gifts. These included a gold flake lemon yellow helmet for Jay. I figured they we be given the green flag first and it turned out I was right. We started in a good spot. The first stint is kind of a blur. With over 100 cars on track I was just trying to keep clear of traffic and to pass some folks. There were a couple of yellows in there for early mechanical issues. I ended up coming in and turning the car over to Brian when one of the cars rolled due to sheared lug bolts.

Brian got in and had a solid stint. He had to ride through a couple of yellows that seem to plague the early parts of these races. There were plenty of local yellows for spins and that kind of thing. We learned that he didn’t enjoy the radios as much of the rest of us. Live and learn. Brian also set our fastest lap time during his stint.

Chip was next in. We fueled up the car during this stop. After a couple of laps of learning the car in “race trim” he was setting quick lap times. For the first day of running we were using our old Kuhmo tires that we used for the first race and a good part of the last race. To say that they were heat cycled would be an understated. They had some miles on them. Our plan was to run our new sticky tires on day two when the traffic had thinned out some. The old tire were fun as they were good for a few laps and then went off for a few laps. After about 50 minutes I noticed the Escort pulling into the gravel area behind pit lane. I ran up to Chip to see what was going on as our radios were one way comms only. We couldn’t here from the car. Chip said he had been black flagged and was heading to the penalty box.

When he got there I hung close. The judge asked him what happened a couple of times and Chip said he was hit. The judge asked a couple of more times and he said that he had contact with another car. That is what the judge wanted to hear. Chip told him what car he had contact with and the judges said, “Oh, we don’t like them. They’ve been here already.” When the other driver walked up he immediately put his hand out to shake Chip’s and say he was sorry. Chip did the same. Everyone was cool. While shaking hands the judge told them to keep holding hands as he would be right back. He came back with duct tape and taped their hands together. They were to be punished with the Gay Wedding penalty and they had to run around and get 6 bottles of fruity Gatoraid. I asked if PowerAid was acceptable. When the Judge said yes I was off to raid our fridge of Brian’s stash. While I was gone Chip and the other guy found three bottles of Gatoraid and I completed the requirement. We were parked for maybe 10 minutes all together.

LeMons rules require a driver change for a black flag. Natalie was loaded into he car and sent out onto track. Nat had never drove anything that required a helmet. Luckily the track was under yellow when she went out so she had a few minutes to get her bearings. Under green she was smooth and consistent. Most importantly, she drove a clean stint. She also had to sit through a red flag for the Tuna Chuckers Amazon catching fire. We brought her in a bit early, but we were all very happy with her performance.

I was back in the car next and I quickly realized I had a problem. Natalie is a few inches shorter than I am and the seat was adjusted for her. We failed to move it back for me. That meant I drove the entire stint jammed up against the steering wheel. I also couldn’t see out of any of the mirrors. Was able adjust the drivers side and the rearview to get most of the visibility back. After about 45 minutes my legs did start getting sore though.

Our normal mode of operation is that the driver stays in for an hour or the next caution, whichever comes first. Well, it turns out that we were in for a long time with no full course yellows. I ended up spending nearly two hours in the cars. We did end up making up nearly 10 places during this stint, so it wasn’t all bad.

Brian was in next. Once again he was running strong. We were hanging out by the wall when I saw the car pull into the area behind the pit road. Chip and I ran over and Brian told us he lost all drive and the engine quit. Uh, oh. There was about an hour and a half of running left in the day when we popped the hood to see what happened. After a bunch of thrashing, ably handled mostly by Chip, a high speed run to Columbia for parts by Rachel and I, some great burgers by Brian we eventually found the car was dead for the event. Here is the short version of what out us out; the power steering pump bolts worked loose allowing it to wobble., that chewed up the serpentine belt. When it broke it took out some sensors and wiring on that side of the engine. When we had fixed all that the car still wouldn’t start. That is when we found out that the belt breaking also killed the timing belt. We were not ready to deal with that and by the time we found it it was pushing 11 PM. The next day was Sunday and the parts stores would be opening until late. We decided to throw in the towel. It was tough for me to take, but that’s racing.

We went to bed at that point. The next day was odd as we didn’t need to get up early. We packed up, loaded the car, ate and watched the People’s Curse. For the Curse the mob chose the White Lightning RX-7 to go to the guillotine. The car was leading the race. Jay made an appeal that the car be spared as he felt they ran clean and the car was legit. Most of the crowd agreed. We still got to see two dead race cars and one dead race truck shredded for our pleasure. After that we headed out. I think for me the most depressing part of having the car fail was leaving the track while the others were still racing. Yet, my mom was home watching our two year old boy and we felt we needed we rescue her as soon as we could.

As always, the race was a great experience. The level of driving on the track was awfully high. People were clean, but raced hard. I had a number of good battles with various cars. We didn’t have much power, but our light weight, great brakes supplied by and Hawk Perfrmance Brake Products really helped out. I would like to thank my team of Brian Gailloreto, Chip and Natalie Lewis, Rachel Rennick as well as Natalie’s folks Lee and Susan as well as my mom Debbie for providing direct support. Beyond that I want to thank Jay Lamm, Judges Johnny and Murilee and the rest of the LeMons and CMP crew for putting on a great event.

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