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2006 American Road Race of Champions
Sorry to be so late getting this out, but I’m finally coming back to the surface after a pretty draining weekend at Atlanta Region’s annual American Road Race of Champions the second weekend in November. I was wearing (at least) three hats at various times during the weekend - driver, crew chief, and event organizer - and it ends up that was at least one too many. Short story, respective to each of the roles I had that weekend: (1) we broke something in the rear end and only finished four laps in the race (bummer), (2) Mike Eakin won the CFC title with me on the other end of the radios (Wow!) while my other two customers had disappointing weekends (double bummer), and (3) the event REALLY went pretty well from an organizational standpoint!
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I have to admit I suffered something of an emotional letdown after the great race we had with Steve Magowan to win the 2006 SARRC GTA title back in September, but after taking Cuervo to the Buccaneer Region’s Track Trials event the week before the ARRC we were getting pretty pumped about racing again. We did the event in Savannah to test the Hoosier tires that we’re now allowed to run in GTA, plus (Atlanta Region Race Chairman) Larry Pulliam co-drove the BK Racing Monte Carlo during the event as well. Ends up Larry and I BOTH ran under the GTA track record that Steve set at the SIC, so needless to say we approached the ARRC the very next weekend with great enthusiasm. We DID break a rear axle on Larry’s last session at Roebling, but we got that repaired with no problems before taking to the track at Road Atlanta.
During Friday’s first qualifying session I made the mistake of running used tires rather than sticker tires and turned a best lap of 1:35.850 while GTA fast qualifier Bryan Dobyns was under Johnny Miller’s track record with a 1:31.897. We turned a 1:34.047 on sticker tires during the hotter afternoon session and Bryan didn’t go any faster, but I’m thinking we would have been solidly in the 1:32’s if I’d elected to put the new tires on during the first session. Ends up we were gridded seventeenth (second of five in GTA) while Bryan was eighth, so there were a bunch of fast cars between us. The middle part of the forty-five car field was so tight less than one second covered the eleventh through nineteenth cars on the grid, so there would be a LOT of traffic to work through if I wanted to see if we had anything for Bryan in the race.
Saturday morning I was on the radios with longtime friend and part-time BK Racing crew chief Mike Eakin as he ran a great race to win the 2006 CFC ARRC title. This was only Mike’s second race in 2006, but he drove smart and drove fast to beat four others in his class, finish eighteenth overall in a thirty-eight car field, and run the fastest lap he’s ever run at Road Atlanta. He was pretty pumped on the victory stand, then settled down to help us get ready for the Ground Pounder race Saturday afternoon. Not only did BK Racing have Cuervo in the show, but we also were providing support for the (#23) GTA and (#45) SPO efforts of Zach and Bob Monette. This was the first weekend ever for Bob’s LG Motorsports Corvette and we seemed to be having more than our share of teething problems getting it up to speed, all of which was exacerbated by my having to split my attention across multiple aspects of the weekend.
In our race we got a wave-off on the first lap, apparently because the back half of the field was four-wide coming out from under the bridge to take the green. Everybody looked good in front of me, but I DID have to get on the binders pretty hard to keep from running into Blake Beattie (black #76) when everybody in front of him checked up. Kenny Liesfeld in the red & white #82 dove to the right in an attempt to stay off my bumper, but we ended up with some red paint and slightly damaged fiberglass on the RR when he was unsuccessful in that effort. We got the green the next time around but I still had to wait on cars in front of me to get on the gas and Kenny got a good run on my outside as we went into Turn One. He apparently thought he had cleared me when he turned in, but my LF tire was at his door so we made contact which allowed a couple more cars to get past us up into Turn Three. I decided to back out of that mess and let things settle down a bit, then as we started lap four I made a clean pass on Jack Finch in the yellow #74 going into Turn One. As we came up out of Turn Five on the same lap Pete Johns in the #02 ITO car pulled to the right with mechanical problems, then as I shifted from second to third gear Cuervo suddenly slewed sideways like a tire was going down. Thinking I’d cut a tire in the rubbing incident with Kenny at the start, I limped around and drove back to the paddock. Mike was ready to change tires but all four were still holding air, so I quickly jacked up the right side of the car. With the left side of the car on the ground I was still able to spin the RR tire (that’s not the way it’s supposed to work), so we either broke another axle or something deeper in the rear end.  Regardless of the reason, my race was over so I climbed up on the trailer to watch the final laps of the race. Ends up Bryan lapped the GTA field and set a new GTA record with a 1:31.737 (!), so I don’t think I would have had anything for him even if we HAD been able to continue the effort.
Bob struggled with the Corvette and finally came in after contact with another car knocked the muffler loose and exhaust started entering into the cockpit. The best thing we can say about that effort is that we identified a number of simple things that needed to be (and have since been) fixed, but the bad side of that is that most of them should have been caught prior to the weekend had I been on my game as crew chief. Zach, on the other hand, was running third in GTA, turning his fastest laps ever and having a pretty good race with Boo Morgan when he started suffering from heat exhaustion and had to pull in. It ends up we had not packed his Cool Shirt cooler with ice (another oversight on my part) and he didn’t think he’d need it because the weather was pretty mild. From now on we’ll ALWAYS pack the Cool Shirt coolers, then if the driver doesn’t feel a need to turn them on s/he doesn’t have to. Lesson learned, but it knocked Zach out of a podium finish in GTA so it was a pretty expensive lesson. As I said above, double bummer!
When the SCCA Runoffs moved to Mid-Ohio in 1994, Atlanta Region resurrected the American Road Race of Champions name for the event that had been held at Road Atlanta since 1970, then restructured it as the “National Championship Event for Non-National Classes”. This was the twelfth running of the “new” ARRC at Road Atlanta and over that time the event had become a premier event on the nation-wide SCCA calendar. Since 2006 was my first year as Competition Director for Atlanta Region, I took very seriously my responsibility in making sure the event went as safely and smoothly as possible. Given that we had almost 400 cars take the green over the three day weekend and that all the people I’ve talked to are planning to come back next year (and bring their buddies), I think we did a damn good job at putting on a first-class event. Most drivers and/or spectators (and even most workers) have absolutely no idea how many people it takes to put on an event of this magnitude, but trust me when I say it’s a year-long process and entails well over a hundred people all working toward the same goal. I am EXTREMELY proud of the job the Atlanta Region did and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. THANK YOU (!!!), and I’m just glad y’all let me be a part of the effort.
Right now we need to spend some time finishing the sorting process on Bob’s Corvette, plus the planning process for the 2007 ARRC is already underway. Cuervo is taking a back seat in the priorities for a couple of months (we still don’t know what broke in the rear end), but we certainly have clear-cut goals for next season there as well. I didn’t get to prove we could run the 1:32 lap I thought was possible, but with Bryan’s performance it’s apparent that’s not good enough any longer. A 1:31 is the current goal, and since Bryan says he’s planning to go even faster next year I guess we’ll have to run in the 1:30’s if we plan to keep up with him! In racing, as in life, it’s always about trying to achieve the next level.
See y’all at the track…