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ARRC 2003

When the Valvoline Runoffs, SCCA’s National Championship races, moved north in 1994 there was a gap in the Road Atlanta schedule that needed to be filled with a premier event.  Atlanta Region resurrected an old name, the American Road Race of Champions, and created a “National Championship” event for cars that are not eligible to compete at the Runoffs.  This year’s tenth running of the ARRC was arguably the best ever with an entry of over 300 cars and drivers.  And while a preponderance of the cars at the ARRC fall into various Improved Touring classes, the event also featured two races for purpose-built racing machines.  A record 27 open-wheeled cars of various configurations ran in Group 7 while V-8 powered ground pounders made up most of the 39 GTA, TCC and SPO entries that fell into Group 6.

Longtime readers may remember that our last outing with Lucifer (in September of 2002) ended up with a severely damaged racecar stuffed in the Turn One tirewall at Mid-Ohio.  Over the past year we’ve been rebuilding my wallet and the car, plus making design changes to prevent a recurrence of the stuck throttle that instigated that result.  The car we carried to the 2003 ARRC was the same car we had planned to take to the GT-1 championship race in 2002, but now we were running the “run whatcha brung and hope you brung enough” SPO class.  Even with having taken a year off from driving, my goal was to qualify on the pole, win the race, break the official SPO track record (Scott Murphy’s 1:29.673 set Labor Day weekend) and see if we could get within shouting distance of the 1:26.8 lap that Johnny Miller ran while testing his TransAm Camaro in 1998.  Hell, ya gotta set your goals high.

The weekend started well as the Cool Shirt / B.K. Racing Corvette was the fastest in both Friday sessions and qualified on the pole with a 1:29.332, almost 2 seconds faster than the next two cars (George Kirchner and Brandon Collins, both in monster Monte Carlos).  Things got even better during Saturday’s warm-up session when we turned a 1:29.0 on the tires we would be using in the race.  Not saying I was (over)confident, but when both Charlie Johnson and Chris Ingle asked if I wanted to change the front brake pads I replied something like “Naw, we’re only gonna have to do 2-3 hard laps to get the record, then put her on cruise control to the checker.”  Oops.

We DID have a great time in the five hours between the warm-up and our race around 3:30 that afternoon.  We must have had a hundred friends & neighbors stop by to check out the car and wish us well and it seemed that most of them were there at lunch time.  We had Lynard Skynard’s Greatest Hits playing, the car was ready and everyone was cool – I joked that we should just skip the race and start partying early!  Pride goeth before the fall.

Leading the field to the green flag, the driver (your faithful scribe) heard "green, green, green" over the radio and the right foot said "go", but the rear tires said "NO!".  Yes, sports fans, I did a complete 360 in front of the entire field coming down the hill at 80 mph.  It was definitely skill that saved my butt, but in this case it was the skill of my fellow competitors who managed to miss a spinning Corvette that was obliterated by a cloud of tire smoke.  When I finally opened my eyes the car was pointed in the right direction, the engine was still running and it was still in gear so I (gently) squeezed the throttle and rejoined in ninth place going into Turn One.

I worked my way back to third overall by lap three but didn't seem to be making any inroads on Brandon & George's lead (George led laps 1-5 then Brandon got by on lap six but they were so far ahead I didn’t see any of that).  I compounded my troubles on lap 4 when I got overanxious outbraking two of the TCC cars going into Turn 10 and flat-spotted the front tires pretty badly, thus eliminating one of my major advantages over their heavier taxicabs.  However in NASCAR parlance I "put my head down and kept digging" and finally caught them about lap 12.

As most of you know, however, catching is one thing and passing is quite another.  I could close on George (who was still dogging Brandon hard) in the corners but he'd pull me a car length down the back straight.  On lap 15 I finally got a good run out of Turn 5, pulled alongside going into Six and completed the pass, then set off after the #29 car.  It was also about this time that my radio went out, so I wasn't sure how many laps were left.  I followed Brandon for an entire lap, then finally worked up the nerve to outbrake him at the end of the back straight (at 170 mph) into Turn 10 on what ended up being lap 16 (of 20).  Brandon made a final run at me going into Turn One as we started the penultimate (a 50-cent word for “next to last”) lap, but I held him off for the win with George less than three seconds back.  I'm not sure what it looked like from outside the car, but it was definitely the best race I've ever been involved in as a driver.  It was a pleasure racing with both George and Brandon - we ran hard but clean - and it's good to know I can go into a corner beside either one of them in the future.

Bottom line is I did get the overall win and fastest race lap (1:30.053) but fell short of the lap record.  I need to thank Rich Shafer of Cool Shirt, Mike Harrison of M&H Engineering and all the B.K. Racing friends & crew that have helped me get back on the track including Marshall Aiken, Eric Bartel, Quinn Conda, Mike Eakin, Chris Ingle, Charlie Johnson, Dennis McClintock, Johnny Miller, Eric Roberts, Tim Schmidt of Phelon Motorsports, Phil Simms and, last but not least, Harriett Kummer.  I’d also like to thank Atlanta Region and SEDIV for putting on an absolutely first-class event complete with victory laps, interviews and champagne on the podium.  In Winners’ Circle a number of people asked me how I managed to drive so well after messing in my shorts at the start.  The spin happened so fast I didn’t have time to think about being scared, but that didn’t stop Charlie from leaving an unwrapped Tootsie Roll in the seat and then (loudly) asking if I expected him to clean up the car!

A week after the 2003 ARRC weekend, Mike Eakin sent me the following photo of the start.  The #57 Corvette is in a cloud of smoke sideways in the track as the field streams past under the Pirelli bridge.  The green and yellow flag are out simultaneously. 

As you can see, the slogan on the Pirelli bridge reads:

      "Power is nothing without control".

The racing gods DO have a sense of humor...