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2014 HPD ARRC by GRM

I should have had something out sooner than this, but I had to wait on the racing gods to speak to me about the theme for this report (and yes, I DO usually have a theme when I’m writing).  Over this past weekend, however, they finally spoke to me saying,

Son, sometimes you just need to look at a good butt-whupping as a wake-up call!

Short story – after an adventure on the Thursday test day I finished fourth in GTA on Saturday, then Jay finished fourth in GT2 in the Bonus race on Sunday.  Once again he was faster than me (1:31.372 vs 1:33.061), but this time fourteen of his nineteen laps were faster than my best.  The difference is we got the TraqMate system to work so now I know exactly where he’s outrunning me, and it has nothing to do with him running at a lighter weight – I just need to keep my foot down longer!

And now the longer story:

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The Honda Performance Development American Road Race of Champions presented by GrassRoots Motorsports (i.e. - the HPD ARRC by GRM) is arguably one of the top three events on the SCCA calendar, and for many regional racers it’s definitely a destination weekend each year.  2014 is the twenty-first year it’s been hosted by Atlanta Region and it featured the traditional ARRC Championship races on Saturday plus a GT2/GT3 East Coast Championship race on Sunday.  Since Cuervo is eligible in both GTA and GT2, we decided I’d drive on Saturday and, assuming I didn’t tear anything up, Jay Gomer would race on Sunday.  And yes, this is the opposite order of how we’ve run the other two weekends this year.

Longtime readers may remember that I felt I’d hurt the engine at Roebling Road back in June, so after the July Road Atlanta weekend I took it out to have it looked at and freshened by Lee Schwartz of FlowTech Racing Engines in Asheville, NC (828-775-8886).  While the engine was out I also took the Jerico transmission to Jeff Caskey up near Charlotte (704-692-3253) to see what kind of shape it was in as well.  It ends up we did have two broken valve springs on the #8 cylinder plus the transmission was pretty worn out (it was the spare when I got Cuervo from Joe Hooker back in 2005), so we definitely wanted to do the Thursday test day to make sure everything was working correctly – and it’s a good thing we did!

As before the plan was I’d do the first two of the four sessions on Thursday with the idea of making sure everything was working correctly, then I’d turn the car over to Jay for the afternoon sessions.  After warming things up on the first lap I got on it hard coming out of Turn 7 and could immediately feel the difference in the engine – it was accelerating much harder and I could pull to the 7000 rev limiter much faster than we did back in July!  I even passed Tom Patton’s GT2 Sunbeam Tiger, which I was thinking may have been a mistake given the last time I passed him I immediately blew the engine in Lucifer back in 2001.  This time I was running around 150 as I got to the braking zone for Turn 10, but when I applied the brakes I heard a loud bang and the car started pulling to the left!  I still had pedal pressure but the car was NOT slowing down, so I “eased” off the side of the track behind the left-hand rumble strips at 10-A, launched across the track into the edge of the gravel trap (Tom had seen sparks coming out from under the car and wisely backed off to give me room to do whatever it was I had planned), spun into the grass, and finally came to a stop facing backwards on driver’s right coming out of 10-B. I wasn’t sure what had happened, so after clearing the bad smell out of the cockpit I restarted the engine and S-L-O-W-L-Y made my way back to Pit Road and then our paddock spot.

Other than being covered by a patina of red dust a couple of the body panels were knocked loose, but it appeared to be nothing some pop rivets and duct tape couldn’t handle.  We then removed the wheels and the RF rotor was completely gone except for a four-inch piece that was stuck in the brake caliper (which kept the pedal from going COMPLETELY to the floor)!  Jerry Onks’ fiancé Debbie came by to tell us, “The Wilwood man is on his way if you need him” and we DEFINITELY needed him!  I set about getting parts unbolted while Jay started on the body work, and by the time “the Wilwood man” (Carl Bush: 805-384-4196) got there we had them off so he could see what we had.  Even though he had just gotten to the track, Carl turned right around and headed back to his home in Dahlonega, found out he DID have the parts we needed, then loaded them up and brought them back to the track.  Jay finished the body repairs, I bolted the brakes back together, and I made the last session on Thursday to start seasoning the rotors and bedding the pads.  During that process I did confirm the car slows down in a much more controllable manner when all four corners are functioning properly! <g>

Obviously it goes without saying, but THANKS CARL!!!

With 33 cars in the run group I knew it would be imperative to get a clean lap during Friday’s first 20-minute qualifying session, but it took me a little while to accomplish that.  It also seemed like half the field was off course at some point around the track, but even with the standing yellows and debris flags by lap six I got a fairly clean run and turned a 1:34.032, so I backed off and brought Cuervo in.  It ends up that was good for 14th in the field (fifth of sixth in GTA), but the car was pulling strong and stopping straight.  Given that the afternoon session is almost always slower and the fact that Jay had not driven at all yet, we talked to the Chief Steward and got permission for Jay to run the second session with the knowledge that his times would not count for me.  Sure enough only Harry Hinkle moved ahead of me during that second session (moving me back to fifteenth overall) and Jay ran eight laps with a best of 1:35.575.  Granted that was on used tires, but Jay did confirm the car was pulling much stronger than it did in July (amazing what running on eight cylinders will do) and felt much more comfortable under braking.  He had to get home to take wife Erin and daughter Grace trick-or-treating, so we covered the car and I met Harriett in Hickory Flat for our own trick-or-treating with margaritas.

Somewhere in that Friday evening revelry I was thinking about how Cuervo felt on the track and “remembered” it had been quite some time (September 2012) since I had checked the shocks, so after arriving at the track around 10:00 Saturday morning I checked them.  It ends up they were pretty soft from (unsuccessfully) trying to make the car handle better at Barber, so I ended up adding about 8 clicks of rebound front and rear.  We had a warm-up session after lunch, so we put the old tires on and went out.  Since I was near the front of the line I was able to get a decent warm-up, turned a “75%” lap of 1:35.5, then ran a 1:33.0 on the third lap.  That still didn’t put us in the neighborhood of the top three in GTA (Andrew Rains, Randy Sampson, and Randy Walker ranged from a 1:29.0 to a 1:30.4), but I definitely knew we had something for fourth qualifier Randy Haney.

A couple of cars didn’t make the start, so I lined up on the inside of row 7 right behind Randy’s white and orange Late Model Camaro.  I knew I needed to stay in contact with Randy, so after the green we stayed tight into Turn 1 and up the hill to Three, then we pulled enough of a gap in the Esses and into Six that the Cup cars behind us weren’t able to power by down the back straight.  By the end of lap two there was no longer anyone in my mirrors, so I was able to focus on the battle with Randy and Jerry Onks’ SPO Corvette.  We stayed nose-to-tail running consistent 1:34’s, then around lap five or six we came up on Randy Sampson going slowly into Turn 1 so I knew Haney and I were now contending for the bronze medal in GTA!  A couple of laps later traffic gave me an opportunity to out-brake Randy into Turn 1, then going into 10 I was able to get by Jerry as well.  I ran a couple of laps in the 1:33’s and pulled out a bit on those two, but then Randy also got past Jerry (after the race we found out Jerry was having problems with his suspension collapsing) and came back after me.  The gap increased and decreased depending on traffic, then on lap 16 I came up on a slower car right as the yellow came out at Turn 8 for a car off track before Turn 9.  I knew what the yellow was for (the car had been there the previous lap as well) but you can’t pass under yellow, so Randy was again on my rear bumper and we went into Turn 10 side-by-side (me on the outside) but I was able to maintain the position.  I tried to play to Cuervo’s strength on the straights, but in every corner I saw nothing but orange and white in my mirror!  On the last lap we again hit traffic into Turn 6 which caused me to pinch my entry into Seven (hurting my exit speed) and Randy was close enough to draft alongside me into the braking zone into Ten.  He got by and at the checkers I was a little over .4 of a second behind him!  We gave each other a thumbs-up on the cool-off lap and congratulated each other on a great race when we got back to the paddock.  It really was a LOT of fun and it was great racing door-to-door with someone like him.

Jay got to race with Randy on Sunday but it was a lot less entertaining.  They were both on the same tires we ran on Saturday, but once Jay got dialed in he started turning consistent 1:31’s and 1:32’s while gradually pulling away from the Camaro.  Jay ended up fourth in GT2 (fifth overall), but more important to this particular story ended up with a best lap of 1:31.372 – almost two seconds faster than my best.  Again I had my excuses ready (“he’s never wrecked the car so he has no idea what it costs to put it back together” being the most prominent one) but the bottom line is – JAY KICKED MY BUTT IN MY OWN CAR!!! 

The difference this time is we got the TraqMate system working so it tells me EXACTLY where he’s beating me, and it’s NOT because he’s 100 pounds lighter.  What it showed is I was feathering the throttle as I came over the hill at Turn 9 while Jay was still hard on it.  My max speed on my best lap was 154 mph while his was 158 and change, but on top of the coasting I was also hitting the brakes about 200 feet sooner than he was.  He suggested that I was still gun-shy after the adventure on Thursday, but I don’t believe that’s all of it.  I just need to keep my foot down and really believe they haven’t moved the track since the last time I came through there!  The kid is good and the best news is, now that I’ve had the wake-up call, he will help me get faster. <g>

Thanks to the efforts of my longtime buddy Tony Dudek I’m again employed, this time as a mainframe COBOL programmer with Auto Zone.  Since it’s a contract position I’ll have enough flexibility to race when I want to, so we may go with a fairly aggressive schedule next year.  We’re not sure on our plans yet for 2015, but late last week I got the wild idea that I might try to qualify for the 2015 Runoffs at Daytona before we start on the SARRC schedule.  Right now I’m looking at the following, then we’ll see where things are:

  • March 7-8 – NOLA Majors
  • March 21-23 – Road Atlanta Majors
  • April 17-19 – VIR Majors

Assuming we finish all those weekend I should earn enough points to qualify for the Runoffs, then Jay and I can pick and choose SARRC events (and maybe a hill climb – THOSE are always fun) to fill out the calendar and stay sharp.  Depending on how things are going, I can then decide whether or not I want to spend a week in Daytona in late September.  It is definitely not time to hang up my helmet yet.

As always, let me know if you’re interested and we’ll see you at the track…