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Carolina Motorsports Park SARRC

I know you guys get tired of hearing how great it is to race in GTA vs. participating in the (very) high speed parade that GT-1, but this past weekend (March 31, April 1) at Carolina Motorsports Park demonstrates just how much fun it is to run heads-up with a bunch of other cars of equal performance. If things keep growing the way they have the last year, I predict the GTA races will start to look like Spec Miata races before long – 20 cars all capable of winning on any given day. I also need to talk to Data about putting the in-car video from Saturday’s race at CMP up on the website. One of the neat things about our camera location is you can see cars in the mirror as well as out the windshield, which puts you right in the middle of this particular battle!

During Friday’s test day we got slower every session and figured out there’s a reason all the experts tell you toe-out on the rear end is not good (long story, and this report is already too long). Since we couldn’t fix that at the track, we bolted on a new set of Hoosier 3035’s, figured we’d run two laps in qualifying and then try and conserve the tires as much as possible in the 14-lap race. Part A of the plan worked well as we engineered a clean second lap and qualified on the GTA pole with a 1:47.108 that was good for sixth overall. Jay Marshall (ex-Mike Cope ASA car) was right behind us (seventh overall) with a 1:47.464, then the rest of the seven-car GTA field took up spots 12-16 on the grid: Steve Magowen, 1:49.558; Doug Bramer, 1:49.728; Randy Gay, 1:51.442; Dave Price, 1:51.799; Mark (Squeak) Kennedy, 1:52.247.

At the green I got a good start and actually slotted into fourth overall and put Steve Epley’s C-6 Z06 (running in ST) and Al Wicht’s BP Camaro between myself Jay. I waved Steve by as we finished lap two (he was quicker and I didn’t need to wear the tires out trying to stay ahead of him) and Jay quickly disposed of Al, so the top two GTA cars were running nose-to-tail. Jay and his buddy Greg Cecil (running in SPO but a legal GTA car) were coming like a freight train, and even though I turned my best lap of the race on lap three (1:49.159) Jay got by to lead lap 4. I got a "just a bit wide" (can you say John Deere sponsorship?) exiting the Kink on the next lap and Greg used that brief intermission to get by going into T-11, then Greg got by Jay as well before encountering a mechanical issue (transmission?) a couple of laps later.

Jay continued to put about a second a lap on me (he turned a 1:47.821 on lap 7) and Steve Magowen’s blue #72 was looming larger in the mirror, then Steve retired to the pits with what ended up being a stuck carburetor float. The blue #72 was soon replaced by the white #80 of Doug Bramer, and Doug actually got by for second in class for two corners before pushing off the outside of T-14 and giving it back. Russ Snow in the #20 T-1 Corvette was also in the mix and I waved him past about lap 10 or so. In the meantime the nose of the white #80 returned to my mirrors and was now joined by the white #48 of Dave Price. By this time my tires were toast and I was just hoping to stay on the track and not give up second place in GTA again.

As I came out of the hairpin (T-11) on lap 11 (of 14) I noticed a cloud of dust between T-12 and T-13 and realized Jay had auditioned for the Future Farmers of America as well! He was nine seconds ahead as we finished lap 10 and now I/we were back on his tail again. The battle for the GTA lead was rejoined!

Jay’s tires were gone, mine were shot and Doug’s were toast as well, so the only one with a chance of decent tires was Dave on the Goodyears he was using. The order in GTA as we started lap 12 was 00, 57, 80 & 48 all within 2 seconds of each other. Another complication was the #20 T-1 Corvette between Jay and the three GTA cars that were hotly pursuing him. He is certainly entitled to his portion of the race track, but as the only T-1 car in the field common race etiquette would have dictated he bail out of the mess and let the four of us decide it amongst ourselves. I understand that’s not a universally held concept (witness the GT-1 car that got mixed up in the battle for the T-1 win at the Daytona National last year), but his being there affected the outcome.

At any rate, Jay was all over the place for the next two laps as was I. He got squirrelly coming out of the Carrousel and we were three wide coming up on a GT-2 Porsche at T-8, Jay on the far inside (right). He got through T-8, but the Porsche killed my entry so we were again nose-to-tail (I don’t recall where I got by the #20) through the Kink and T-11. The #20 tagged me slightly as we entered 12, then got by me before T-13.  We drag raced the short chute between 13 and 14 onto the front straight, then Jay again got too deep into T-14 and went across the rumble strips on the outside (but never lifted). The Corvette on my left again pinched my entry to T-14, but I got alongside Jay and we had a drag race to the white flag starting the last lap (if SCCA used the white flag for that). I’m on the right, Jay’s on the left and we are literally door-to-door as we grab gears heading for the sharp left that is Turn One.

So as we start the last lap we’ve got four GTA cars (and a T-1 Corvette) all covered by less than half a second at 100 mph. I’m door-to-door for first but I’m on the wrong side for the left-hand corner that’s coming up. I figure I’ll take Jay just as deep as possible, hope he overshoots the entry to T-1 and I can do a crossover move behind him. That plan worked to perfection right up to the point where I got nailed from the rear and spun in the middle of T-1. Once I got cranked and rejoined the pack was gone so I trundled on around and finished fourth in GTA, eleventh overall. I asked if it was the #80 or the #48 that had gotten into me, but my crew wasn’t sure.

Ends up Dave Price (the #48) was going to try and follow me through and simply misjudged the closing speed. I’ve raced with Dave before and will again and it was just “one of those racing deals”. He sought me out afterwards and apologized, so everything’s cool there. The final order in GTA was Jay Marshall in the #00, then half a second back to Doug Bramer in the #80, then three more seconds back to Dave, me in fourth 13 seconds back followed by Squeak and Randy. We may have ended up fourth anyway had we gotten to run that last lap, but I sure would have liked to get a couple of more shots at Jay. In my heart I KNOW I could have gotten by him! <g>

Good racing, good fun – I’ll race with you guys again.

See y’all at the track…