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November 2017 marked the 24th running of Atlanta Region's American Road Race of Champions at Road Atlanta. It was also the first time we'd driven Cuervo since late April, so there were a lot of bugs to be worked out.

Executive Summary:

  • No radios?  No problem.
  • No gauges?  No problem.
  • No clutch?  No problem.
  • No power steering?  No problem.
  • No left front tire?  OK - now THAT might present a bit of a problem!

Even faced with those challenges, however, we completed the weekend and loaded a wounded but running race car into the trailer after it was all over…

(MUCH) Longer Version:

Longtime readers may recall that my last outing with Cuervo ended up with an ill-timed (and ultimately fruitless) audition as a stunt driver for the Dukes of Hazzard re-make. For those that missed it or may have forgotten, here's the link to the in-car video of that episode (fast forward to the 3:30 mark if you want to skip the boring parts): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ICodRYxBuk&feature=youtu.be

Even though I did manage to stick the landing (and got a 9.5 from the Russian judge), we ended up with a warped frame, a lot of bent suspension pieces, a totally destroyed front half of the body, and a crack in the #2 cylinder wall right above where the right-side motor mount bolts to the block. It was a struggle at times, but over the ensuing seven months "we" (as in - AROB Performance, BJ Holley Race Cars in Jackson GA, FlowTech Engines in Asheville NC, and BK Racing) got everything together well enough to take the car to Applied Aethestics in Kennesaw to have the entire thing covered with a new exterior featuring Johnny's NY Style Pizza and O'Brien Express.  Granted I'm biased, but the car we unloaded out of the trailer the morning of Nov 2 was pretty sharp looking! 

The first challenge arose as we were warming the car up prior to our first session on Thursday's test day. The engine was idling as I reached in to make sure the power steering was working and the steering wheel would not move! Then as I applied more pressure the wheels would wrench first one way and then the other uncontrollably - there was no way I could have driven the car!!! When I was attaching the power steering lines I attached the "L" line to the left (driver) side of the slave cylinder and the "R" line to the passenger side, but on a quick call to BJ he said, "Nope, on a Sweet system they figure you're looking at the front of the car when deciding what's left and right. Doesn't make sense, but that's the way they've been doing it for years and to change it now would screw EVERYTHING up." We quickly jacked Cuervo up and changed the lines at the servo (and made a mess at the same time), but it fixed the issue and I started getting ready to go out when the next challenge(s) came to light.

Apparently in the seven months Cuervo had been sitting around the attachment points for the seat belts had corroded a bit and I couldn't get the right side harness to click into place. A quick shot of WD-40 cleared that up, however, and I finished strapping in. We then tried the radios to make sure we could communicate and found out that while Allan could hear me I couldn't hear him. I figured it was more important to actually see if the car would run straight and the critical thing was for me to be able to tell him where it had broken down, so I said "Eff it!" and rolled down to the grid with about 15 minutes left in the 20 minute session.

This first session was very much a "slowly get up to speed, check things, and make sure you haven't forgotten how to drive" run, so we didn't bother taking any lap times. Everything seemed to be working well enough on lap 1, but as I got on the gas and brought the revs up coming out of Turn 7 the whizzy new AiM dash that A.J. Schramm had helped us install started flickering and then went completely blank. I had no tach or gauges, so it was a good thing (a) I already had planned on taking it easy and (b) I have a BUNCH of laps at Road Atlanta and know what gear to be in where. After about four increasingly faster laps I came in so we could check things over and get ready for the next session. As I was coming down pit road I radioed to Allan that we needed to adjust the clutch since it was almost on the floor before it released.

In no particular order, we found the hot wire to the dash was getting an intermittent signal so we moved it to the hot side of the ignition switch - that way if the dash lost power the engine would die as well! We checked connections and swapped out radios but they still didn't work, so in tracing the wiring set-up we found about three different places the co-ax sheathing was worn though (it had been there for at least fifteen years). We tried wrapping that up with electrical tape without success, but decided to soldier on since we at least had one-way communication. Finally we tried bleeding the hydraulic clutch but realized it was leaking inside the bellhousing. Checking/fixing that would require removing the transmission and we only use the clutch when starting out (the dog-ring transmission allows us to shift without the clutch) so I made a management level decision to just line up at the back for each session, start the car in gear, and then roll on out onto the track. As I said earlier: "No clutch? No problem!"

Since nothing major had fallen off in session #1 we decided we'd turn the wick up a bit for the second session just before lunch. We got down to the grid early and pulled off to the side so everyone could go out ahead of us, then cranked the car in gear and rolled off last of maybe ten cars. I still had no radio and the dash again went blank as I picked up the revs on the back straight, but the car was manageable so I concentrated on seeing what Cuervo would give me. I noted that he seemed to "wander" a bit on the straights but was otherwise pretty predictable, and I turned successive laps of 1:41, 1:39, and 1:38.7 before ending up with a 1:37.9 - not killer or even competitive laps for a GTA car, but at least we were heading in the right direction. During lunch we found the problem with the dash was the ground wire and also set the toe-out to a much more reasonable 1/8" rather than the 5/8" it had for session #2. The first session after lunch I went no faster, but the car felt much more stable as I ran consistent 1:38's and saw my first checkered flag of the day.

The original plan is that Allan would have gotten in for the two afternoon sessions, but once we had the dash (and data acquistion) working we decided I'd run the aforementioned third session to generate a baseline that Allan could compare his laps against. In a somewhat animated conversation he said he wanted to know what kind of RPM I was turning in Turns 12 & 1 so he'd know where the limits were in those two corners while I (rather vociferously) "suggested" his primary objective should be learning which way the track went before he thought about finding the limit in ANY corner. He was adamant and I finally acquiesced, but should have held my ground.

For the fourth and final session of the test day Cuervo would be the best he'd been all day. We still had no clutch and the driver could not hear the crew on the radio, but the car was stable on the track and everything seemed to be running pretty smoothly. We converted everything over for Allan (mainly putting extra padding in the seat), explained starting the car in gear, and sent him out for his first laps ever driving at Road Atlanta (his only other experience was riding shotgun in Mark O'Brien's pickup during a track touring session last March). He went out last and passed Chris Gomer on the out lap, then came by on his first hot lap at a 1:42.37! That is/was an extremely good time for a person with zero experience driving at Road Atlanta, so I was looking at my watch trying to figure out if I'd somehow messed up the time when Allan came over the radio with, "I'm off in Turn 1A".

Now I was totally confused, not only by the time he'd just turned but also because there is no "Turn 1A" at Road Atlanta - did he mean "4A" (the top of the Esses) or had he transported himself to another dimension where there is, in fact, a corner between Turns 1 & 2? I had no way to contact him and was on my way to start stand to see if a corner had reported a red #57 off somewhere when "I'm back on and going again" came over the airwaves. I still wasn't sure where he'd gone off, but at least it was good to know he was moving again. Lap 2 was almost three minutes (indicating he indeed had gone through the Wendy's drive-thru SOMEWHERE around the track), followed by four laps in the 1:49-1:51 range before he came in. There was no need for him to stop on pit road (remember we had no clutch) and by the time I got back to our paddock spot he was crawling out looking like he had an orange driver's suit on - that Georgia red clay was EVERYWHERE, even inside his socks!!!

It ends up he had gone off at the exit of Turn 1 and bounced hard off the exit curbing as he spun three times going up the hill. The impact had damaged the nose, buckled the floorboard under his feet (creating a gaping hole that channeled air (and red clay) into the cockpit), and tore loose the crush panel that separates the LF tire from the driver's compartment. It was going to be a major effort to clean the car up and effect repairs, so any thoughts of pulling the transmission to fix the clutch line(s) were gone. With the help of our paddock neighbor Tony Cook we had everything back to what we thought was a workable state by around 8:00 Thursday evening, so we left for home planning to return to the track around 7:00 on Friday morning to finish the job. It had indeed been a busy day, and we still had two more days of racing to go!

As Group 2 (of 7) we were scheduled to go out for a twenty minute qualifying session at 8:30 AM. The day was bright and sunny and the glare off the windshield going into Turn 1 was daunting, but again knowing Road Atlanta well worked in my favor. It was chilly so I spent two laps getting everything up to operating temps, knocked off two 1:40 laps, spent two laps finding a gap in traffic, then on the lap six turned a 1:37.082 before coming in. That time put me second in class (GTA) and fifth overall out of twelve cars, but since we'd be starting from the back due to the clutch it didn't really matter. That 1:37, however, turned out to be our fastest lap of the weekend.

During the break before Q2 we checked things over, downloaded data from the morning session, mounted a sticker set of Hoosier 3045's that I was going to scuff and then have Allan use for Saturday's one-hour "Big Bore Enduro Challenge", and added enough fuel for the fifteen minute early afternoon qualifying session. We again went out last and after two laps in the 1:38's I radioed, "I've scared myself enough so I'm cooling it off and coming in." I did feel some vibration in the steering plus the power steering had quit working (I was thinking we'd run out of p/s fluid), and this time paying attention to the racing gods definitely paid off. As I was coming out to Turn 10-B and heading for the entrance to the pits I felt like I had a completely flat left front tire, and as I ground to a stop at the corner station and shut off the engine I asked the corner worker if my LF was flat. I don't remember his exact reply, but paraphrasing, "If it was here I could tell you, but you don't HAVE a left-front tire!" Although I was on the left edge of the racing surface Race Control stopped the session (sorry about that) and by the time I got out of the car the rollback arrived with my missing tire. Once the wrecker got us back to the paddock the repair process began.

Again with help from a cast of 10's we started assessing the damage and getting things back together. As the LF leaving the building it had destroyed the threads on that hub and Tony Cook noticed all the other lug nuts were loose as well (which ruined that full set of wheels). Randy Walker had five extra studs and lug nuts, so we began the process of installing them in the LF hub (which took the rest of the afternoon and meant Allan missed the single qualifying session for the BBEC) while trying to ascertain exactly what had allowed the lug nuts to come loose. It's still a mystery, but from now on (much as a pilot is required to do a walk-around of her/his aircraft) the driver taking Cuervo out will ascertain ALL the lug nuts are tight before suiting up to get in the car. After finishing with the LF hub we refilled the power steering reservoir (it indeed was dry) and cranked the engine only to find out it was pouring fluid out around the steering rack. Apparently Allan's off-course excursion had damaged the servo and we didn't have another one available, so late Friday afternoon we resigned ourselves that the weekend was over.

After closing everything up and shutting off the lights we stopped by to see Randy Walker to thank him for the parts and tell him we were done. He was talking with Matt & Adam Romito and I (again) don't recall their exact words but it sounded like, "Buck up, ButterCup! You guys need to hike up your skirts, grab the wheel with both hands, and DRIVE the sumbitch! We've run three hour races in a Spec Miata with no power steering and you whimps can't run for a half hour?!? Jeez!!!" With their words of encouragement ringing in our ears, we decided to come back Saturday morning, pull the power steering belt, and see what we had. Ends up we both ended up racing on Saturday.

This report has gotten WAY too long so I'll try to wrap it up. In a excerpt from what I posted on the V8 Road Racing Series forum: http://v8stockcarnorth.com/V8forum/index.php?topic=538.0

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Saturday's ARRC Championship race:

Rolling last off the grid I was surprised to see a waving yellow flag in Turn 1 (they normally show a double-yellow on the pace lap) for our 20 lap ARRC Championship race on Saturday morning, and it ends up outside pole-sitter Harry Hinkle had spun as he was exiting Turn 1 on the warm-up lap (it happens). According to my understanding of the GCR he should have fallen in at the back of the field, but instead he recovered and lined up next to Tony Cook on the outside of Row 3. Regardless, spinning on the pace lap SHOULD prompt one to concentrate on warming the tires and/or being careful the until s/he knows the tires are up to temperature.

As we came down the hill to take the green I was rewarded by the sight of an orange #9 Dodge Challenger sideways in front of me. I stayed far left (and passed two cars) as Harry T-boned Tony Cook and drove him into the wall on the right side of the front straight, so I knew we'd get at least a FCY if not a BFA to clean up the mess. Sure enough, we got the BFA at Turn 4 so the field trundled around and stopped on pit road while the emergency crews did their work. Tony was out on the spot (he figures about $10K damage) while Harry's crew made quick repairs so he was able to re-join about three laps down.

After about ten minutes on pit road we lined up in the original order for a single-file start, but since two cars had dropped out I was now up to tenth. I don't remember the order of everything that happened, but on successive laps I got by David Daniel's BMW on the back straight, passed Jay Gomer going into 10-A, and then got by Mark VanOrsdale when he missed a shift in the Esses. I imagine Mark and I put on a show for the crowd as we went thru the Esses side-by-side without touching each other, and after the race I congratulated him and said I'd race with him anywhere.

So with the retirements and those three passes I'd moved up to fifth overall, but we were battling an ill-handling car and could only maintain that position by getting a good launch down the back straight and driving a defensive line everywhere else. I knew I was holding those guys up (all three were nose-to-tail behind me), so as we came out of Turn 7 on lap 7 I pulled to the right and waved all of them by, then came into the pits. On the official results they listed "driver fatigue" as the reason for retirement.  

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After a relatively successful (i.e. - Cuervo was still in one piece) first race Allan decided to run the BBEC even though he'd have to start from the back of the field. Here's my V8RRC report from that race:

During the break after the ARRC Championship race I got a chance to mosey around to find out what had happened and see who would be ready for the PitBoxes.com Big Bore Enduro Challenge that was the last race on Saturday.

Tony Cook was obviously out and was more concerned about getting his car to where it would roll into the trailer rather than filing any kind of protest. By the time he discussed a protest (against Hinkle for rejoining in the wrong place after spinning on the pace lap) the 30-minute time limit had expired and it wouldn't have done anything to fix his car anyway. He was understandably upset about having to fix a car that was wrecked through no fault of his own, but he's hoping to still run the NOLA, Mid-Ohio, Barber, and VIR weekends with us this season.

It ends up Dick Ruckh lost both second and fourth gears about halfway through the race, so while he could stay with Mike Attaway in the corners he ran out of revs on the back straight. Even with running the last half of the race using only third gear he was only three seconds behind the #26 car at the checkers, but since he had no spare Jerico in the trailer he loaded up and headed back to Chicago before the Enduro. 

So with Dick and Tony out, only five cars took the green for the BBEC. Randy took off as expected followed by followed by David, Mike, William, and Allan (doing his first laps since one session on Thursday during which we ran out of talent exiting Turn 1). Allan slowly got faster as he learned the track and passed William for fourth on lap 12, then both Allan and William moved up a spot when David went behind the wall two laps later. The positions remained through the mandatory 5-minute pit stops, and only changed when Allan came in when it started raining on the back side of the track. At the checkers the order was:

. 1st GTA (1st OA) - Randy Walker, Walker Properties Camaro, 35 laps, 1.34.287
. 1st GT2 (2nd OA) - Mike Attaway, ATCO Demolition & Grading Monte Carlo, 32 laps, 1.39.169
. 1st ITO (3rd OA) - William Wallace, USAF Camaro, 28 laps, 1.43.825
. 2nd GTA (4th OA) - Allan Kosloski, Johnny's NY Style Pizza / O'Brien Express Monte Carlo, 25 laps, 1.42.623
. 2nd ITO (5th OA) - David Daniel, Wright's Car Care BMW, 13 laps, 1.38.693
. DNS GT2 - Dick Ruckh, Amsoil Camaro, transmission
. DNS GT2 - Tony Cook, Anesthesia Services Camaro, crash damage

Overall the Enduro was more entertaining than I thought it would be, but obviously it would have been much better with 15-20 cars competing.  As you can imagine, there's discussion about whether or not to include it going forward.

As always, thanks to Atlanta Region SCCA for a great weekend of racing at Road Atlanta.

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Finally, here's a shot of Cuervo on pit road after the Enduro:

That concludes BK Racing's (abbreviated) season, but we're now looking at doing a track day on Sunday, Dec 17, at Barber Motorsports Park just to make sure everything we're working on right now is operating correctly before 2018 starts. Our plans for next year are very much dependent on how quickly Harriett & I can complete our move to St. Marys GA, but most likely we're looking at April before Cuervo gets back on the track.