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Worst to First (well, Third)
Every November since 1994 the Atlanta Region SCCA has run the American Road Race of Champions at Road Atlanta. Over the years it has become the unofficial "National Championship" event for folks that classes that are not invited to the Runoffs, and while that has primarily been Improved Touring since the beginning, the open-wheel and big bore classes have been growing rapidly the past few years.
Besides running Cuervo in GTA, this was our first weekend supporting Grant Leadbetter and his ex-Cup Dodge Charger in SPO (Super Production Over 2500cc). Grant has been running HSR for the last ten years so he's not new to racing or Road Atlanta, but a 750+ horsepower, 3400 pound piece of Detroit Iron is a WHOLE lot different than even a nicely turned out Porsche 914-6 (which his is - it's also for sale, BTW). At first he was not going to do the Thursday test day, but after thinking about it overnight he decided he'd rather not have his first laps in a new car happen when 50 other guys were trying to qualify for arguably the biggest regional race on the SEDIV calendar.
We ran three of the four test sessions on Thursday as we learned the car, got up to speed with a best lap of 1:36.9 (faster than he'd ever gone at Road Atlanta) and experienced what it was like to spin under braking for 10-A without hitting anything (whew!). That spin flat-spotted three of the four tires, so we skipped the last session while Goodyear mounted four new ones.
Friday dawned early and we warmed up both cars (Cuervo and Grant's #50) for the first of two qualifying sessions. Mike (Eakin) had shown up to crew chief for Grant while Dennis, Data & Gramps were there to provide support for both cars as needed. Grant turned a best lap of 1:39.7 (unfortunately at 104 db - the exhaust exits on the left side of the car and sound control is on driver's left at Road Atlanta) while having to hold the car in second gear coming out of the corners. I ran a warm-up lap of 1:47.1 before the car quit on me going into Turn 6 on my second lap. After the session I got back in, cranked it up and drove back to the pits, so OBVIOUSLY the problems at VIR weren't the master switch as we'd all convinced ourselves.
Mike & Dennis got busy installing the CAD/CAM designed "muffler" that we'd developed for such a contingency on the #50 while Data, Gramps & I headed to Port City South for a new battery, better battery clamps and a new helmet shield while we were at it. Once we got back I crawled under the #50 to adjust the shifter, Mike worked on additional brake lights for it and the rest of the guys installed the new parts on Cuervo. This time we KNEW we'd found the problem!
Second session Grant finds the #50 will now stay in second gear but still hits 104db (103 is the limit) on the sound meter while improving to a 1:37.822, good for 22nd on the combined grid. He came into the pits after getting black flagged (for sound) to have Mike bend the deflector a little higher, but the track had been oiled and he chose not to go back out after the stop. 
Cuervo, on the other hand, didn't even get to Turn Five before shutting off! I went into the cut-through between Five & Eight and the car started again, so I rejoined at Turn Nine after the field had done a couple of laps but it quit again as I got to 10-A. I coasted into the Drifting Loop just before Turn 11 and waited out the rest of the session. Sure enough, it restarted after the session was over and I drove back to the paddock.
By now we were ALL committed to finding the real problem even if we had to jack up the radiator cap and roll a new car underneath it. Data, Dennis and Gramps jumped into the fray while Mike & I did a de-brief with Grant, then Stevan Davis stopped by to help out as well. By the time I changed out of my driving suit and finished talking to Grant, the guys had found the problem and were working on the fix. Given that all of us are "plus-sized", Stevan (who is all of 5'4" and maybe 130 pounds?) had jumped into the cockpit and was standing under the dash taking the fuse box apart <g>. It ends up the hot lead to the fuse box was loose, but it was hard to find because it was tie-wrapped to the exit lead and THAT nut was tight. By the time we left Friday evening we were confident we had found the problem, but unfortunately my single lap in the morning session had left me 42nd of 44 cars that had gotten times that day.
We ran the warm-up session Saturday morning to check out the fix (best lap was a 1:36) and saw the checkered flag at the end of the session but then Cuervo cut out yet again as I got to Turn 7! This time, however, it was simply out of gas, which was easy to fix. Grant also went out in the session, practiced a NASCAR pit stop to put the window net up and still turned a 1:38 on a VERY cold track and didn't get busted for sound this time. It was also the first time we'd both been on the same channel on the radios and that was kinda neat. I passed Grant on the warmup lap and told him I was coming ("on your left"), which was confidence inspiring somehow. I know other teams do that all the time, but this was my first experience with it.
They decided to do a split start with the TCC cars, so I immediately moved up 14 places before ever taking the green (the TCC cars started behind the non-TCC cars). I lined up in the 28th grid spot, but apparently one person didn't show up because I rolled off on the inside of row 14 - - inside is good if you're going to be passing people up the hill toward the bridge or in Turn 12 because they don't know that (a) the green flag is out and/or that (b) under SCCA rules it's legal to pass before Start/Finish once the green is out. More on this later.
Bummer of the race was seeing the #50 parked on the outside of Turn 7 on the pace lap. After all the work and anticipation, Grant didn't get to race because the car just shut down on him! Ends up (after getting towed back after the race) the quick disconnect on the battery had come loose. The Cup guys use that because they want to be able to change batteries in a hurry if need be, but that doesn't buy us anything in what we do. New item on the checklist for the #50 car will be "tie-wrap the connector" to keep if from coming apart in the future. Grant was pretty cool about missing the race - particularly after watching it from Turn 7 and seeing the TCC guys tear the crap out of their cars through there - but I/we wish he could have raced rather than watched.
Short story on the race is that I started 27th, passed a bunch of cars on each of three starts (initial start and after two full-course cautions) because I knew when the green was being waved even though I couldn't see it. Radios are a GOOD thing, and the folks are Racing Communications (770-429-8783) are great to work with. In total I passed 11 cars on the track and another five that either wrecked or had mechanical problems, set the fastest GTA time of the race at a 1:33.746 and finished ninth overall (third in GTA), less than two seconds out of SIXTH place. After getting by David Daniels BMW after the second restart I gradually ran down Bryan Dobyns and Todd Carter who were stacked up behind Lee Arnold in his SPO stock car. I don't know that I would have caught Bryan and Todd if Lee hadn't been holding them up - they/we were all over him in the corners and he'd pull us on the back straight - but it sure made an exciting finish to have sixth through ninth place covered by 1.879 seconds!
That finishes our 2005 season with the February 25,26 SARRC at Road Atlanta being the next event on our schedule. If things go well we hope to contend for the first ever GTA SARRC Championship.
As always, thanks to Atlanta Region SCCA for a first class event. Additional thanks go out to the BK Racing crew - Dennis McClintock, Eric Bartel ("Data"), Eric Roberts ("Gramps"), Mike Eakin ("Purple Frog") and especially Harriett for putting up with all this foolishness. As I try to tell them as often as possible, thanks for all you do and I hope I didn't let you down.
We didn't win the 2005 ARRC, but "they knew we were there!"
See ya...