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A Return to the High Banks

Short version: In our first time racing at Daytona since 2005 we got faster as the weekend progressed, I saw the checkered flag both days, and we loaded a running, dry, straight race car into the trailer at the end of the weekend. That doesn’t mean it was a flawless weekend, however, as the catch-phrase ending both races was:

  “And the fire truck is not chasing me back to the garage this time!” <g>

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And for those with nothing better to do, here’s the longer version:

Although Daytona International Speedway is a true cathedral to those of our persuasion, I have not actually raced there since my first year in a GTA car back in 2005. Sometimes it just didn’t work out in the schedule, one year the event was cancelled because they were re-paving the track, and at least two years (including 2011) we’ve missed it because Cuervo was in pieces. When the Crane Cams V8 Stock Car Series moved off their August weekend to the first weekend in May for the 2012 season, however, making the trip to Daytona became the focal point of our early season plans.

I had run a 2:01+ lap back in 2005 and expected to be faster this time, but (as Harriett kept reminding me) the goals for this weekend were to have fun, not do anything stupid, and bring the car back in one piece. We’ve spent WAY too much time and money fixing Cuervo the last two years, so I know first hand that such activity definitely falls on the “not fun” side of the ledger. The weekend schedule called for a 20 minute qualifying session Saturday morning, a 20 minute race that afternoon, then a 30 minute “feature” race first thing after lunch on Sunday, so the phrase “you’ve got all weekend to go fast” kept playing over and over in my head. The relatively relaxed schedule also allowed us to spend some time visiting with Harriett’s friend Jerrie Lyn Mitchell and her brother & dad, plus my cousin Sandra and her family.

We prepped the car for Saturday’s first session and everything was looking good as Data (crew chief Eric Bartel) warmed it up in the garage area. I took it out slowly during the qualifying session but as I hit the banking in NASCAR One I started getting smoke in the cockpit again. It cleared up down the back straight so I decided to stay out and get (at least) one lap to set our grid position, but the smoke continued the next time into NASCAR One so I shut it down and brought it back to the pits. As I was turning to go behind the wall Data comes on the radio, “There’s a fire under the hood!” Our garage is right there so I continued to it and where Data opens the hood and starts beating out the flames, then three seconds later the fire truck showed up and they hit it with a CO2 extinguisher. Apparently they had been following me since I turned onto Pit Road!!!

After I got out of the car and thanked the firemen we started trying to figure out what was going on. The whole right side of the car was again covered in oil (just like it had been at Road Atlanta in March) so we jacked it up and started cleaning things up. After pulling the right side valve cover we found the gasket had been sucked into the valve cover and oil was pouring out back by the #8 cylinder. I went to the local speed shop (Action Speed & Custom on Nova Rd.) to get some Felpro gaskets with the metal insert while Data used four cans of Brake-Kleen on Cuervo. We got everything buttoned up in plenty of time for that afternoon’s race, but there were still questions in my mind whether we’d found it all.

The single lap in qualifying was a 2:10.2 which put us eighth in the ten car GTA field and 21st overall of the 39 cars in the group. I picked up a couple of spots going into Turn One after the green, then picked up another spot when I noticed Hall Robertson in the #62 GTA car off at the second horseshoe in the infield. I was still pretty tentative as I entered the banking the first time but was VERY relieved there was no smoke coming from the right side of the car. I maintained position for that lap and as I came through the tri-oval Data called out they were going full course yellow to get Hall out of the gravel. On lap 2 (still under yellow) I noticed one of the GTA cars coming into the pits so I figured we had picked up another spot in class even though we hadn’t really gotten up to speed yet.

We got the green again to start lap four. Cameron Lawrence (more on him later) in the #23 GTA had started at the back and was looming large in my mirrors, then made a nice move to outbrake me into the second hairpin. I saw him coming and gave him a car width plus three inches, and he pretty much checked out so I settled in with the cars around me while turning my first laps at speed all weekend. I had a nice little battle with Tad Segars and Robert McElheny (both in SPO cars) and kept getting faster with each lap. Robert got by about two laps from the end but then missed his braking point into Turn 1 the next lap so I got that position back (we talked later and he said he’d never gone that fast before so he was looking at his gauges instead of the track!). We turned our best lap on the last lap (a 2.05.191) and ended up thirteenth overall, sixth in GTA, but the good news is the fire truck was able to stay put this time!

That evening during discussion over margaritas and nachos (it was Cinco de Mayo after all) we formulated a plan for Sunday. We had geared the car for 180 mph and were showing a top speed of “only” 169, so besides the normal prep work we swapped to the only shorter rear gear set we’d brought even though it was still 3-4 mph too tall. Oh yes, and we also remarked (more than once) how nice it was to NOT be cleaning oil off everything.

We lined up Sunday in the order we finished Saturday, but then a car in front of me failed to start so we were outside the sixth row for the green. I ran a 2.04.0 on lap two (the first lap at speed) and was holding my own, then the #41 car dove inside two of us into the Bus Stop Chicane and immediately spun into the tire wall on driver’s left. I ran two more laps in the 2.05s, then noticed the water temperature was starting to spike so I backed off to see if it would cool down. Data said he could see something on the grille, so apparently I’d run over something when the 41 spun in front of us. We ran a couple more laps at a reduced speed (maybe 160 on the banking <g>), then we had another full course yellow to deal with carnage around the track. After catching up with the pack I came into the pits and Data pulled a plastic bag off the grille, then the water temp returned to normal when I went back out and joined the back of the pack. Unfortunately the carnage was too great (cars were scattered all around the track and Ricky Sanders had dumped oil in Turn 1) and they checkered the race while under yellow, so I never did get to see if we could improve on the 2.04.0 lap time. We again ended up sixth in GTA, this time twenty-first overall. I don’t know that we could have done much better without the bag on the grille or the full course yellow, but it would have been fun to try. Bottom line, though, is we finished two races and managed to not tear anything up, and given our recent history that constituted a very successful weekend. And once again, no fire trucks in the mirrors!

After both races Cameron Lawrence stopped by to see me. He’s nineteen, is a student at UCF, and has one of the best GTA cars in the country. Not only did he win on Sunday but he also set a new GTA track record with a 1.57.007. Despite having a lot of success at an early age (choosing your parents well is the first key to racing success) he is just a genuinely nice kid. He thanked me for giving him room (“racing him clean”) when he came up behind me on Saturday and said it was good to see me out on the track again. Now this kid doesn’t know me from Adam, but he’s respectful as well as talented (and good looking – Harriett wanted to put him in her luggage and take him home with her! <g>). Similar to my comments about Nick Hazelwood at the Roebling school, to say we were impressed is a serious understatement.

Subject to the whims of the racing gods, here’s our remaining schedule for 2012: 

Dates

Track/Location

Reason

May 19-20

Road Atlanta

Single SARRC / Track Trials

June 9-10

Atlanta Motorsports Park

Track Trials (depends on muffler)

July 14-15

Road Atlanta

Double SARRC

Aug 4-5

Atlanta Motorsports Park

Single SARRC (depends on muffler)

Aug 18 (Sat)

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Double SARRC / V8SC (both on Saturday)

Aug 31-Sep 2

Barber Motorsports Park

Double SARRC

Oct 6-7

Roebling Road

SARRC Invitational / V8SC

Nov 2-4

Road Atlanta

ARRC by GRM / V8SC Finale’

??

a local drag strip

Run the quarter, just to see

Depending on how things go we might skip some of these events or we might add some others. As always, if you’d like more information about any of them just let me know.

See y’all at the track…