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Still Racing After All These Years (Part IX)     by Butch Kummer

Those of you that have been paying attention may remember that I had been waiting on my new racecar to be finished for over a month now. As with any major project, however, unforeseen delays have caused deadlines to slip. Pieces had to be revised after we found they interfered with other components and, since this was the first car Miller Racing had ever built from the ground up, there were some things that just simply took longer than originally estimated. On Monday, Sept. 11, 2000, however, we conducted the first test Carolina Motorsports Park (Kershaw).

Although the car was loaded in the trailer on Sunday morning, the test day almost didn’t happen anyway. Johnny (Miller) & his crew of five left Johnson City, TN, with their "old" truck and trailer on Sunday evening and got to Hendersonville, NC, before the (Ford) truck just stopped. After a short diagnosis session, half the crew returned to Johnson City in Johnny's (Chevy) pickup to get their semi while Johnny & others attended to getting the Ford towed. The guys returned with the big rig around 2:00 AM, off loaded the car and equipment, then proceeded to the track, arriving around 6:00 AM. When I got to the track at 8:05, they already had the car unloaded and warmed up, and Johnny was getting ready to do a shake-down run to make sure the wheels weren't gonna fall off. They didn’t, so then it was my turn.

After thinking about it most of the way back Monday night, I'm still struggling to find an analogy that helps capture the experience. I'm tempted to tell you it's like going from an Etch-a-Sketch to a Pentium III, but Godzilla (my current car) ain't no toy. Instead, it's more like upgrading from a 386 (which was a pretty hot piece in it's day - more computer power than they took to the moon) to a Pentium III. In short, it was an awesome, awesome ride! A mind numbing, body fatigueing (we ran almost 200 miles), adrenaline pumping, pedal-to-the-metal blast!!

Although Johnny "warned" me, I was surprised by the lightness of the controls. I'd never driven a race car with power steering so I was somewhat prepared for that to be different, but the clutch and throttle pedals were amazingly light as well. Since they didn’t really know if I’m a driver or a wanker, they had backed the engine off about 150 horses, but I was still astounded by how fast 8000 RPM comes up. And although we were on used tires (another safeguard), the grip and deceleration far exceeded anything I've ever experienced before. I learned how to upshift the Hewland tranmission pretty quickly, but had problems adapting to the left foot braking and clutchless downshifts that the technology allows. After I reverted to my familiar technique of using the clutch things went much better. Even after 70+ laps however, downshifting smoothly while threshold braking is still my biggest area for gain.

I don't remember the exact times, but about six laps into my first session (after I abandoned the left-foot braking attempts) Johnny called over the radio that I had turned a 1:43 (I think). As I got more comfortable with the car I experimented with alternate lines (filling the grille with grass from an agricultural expedition at the exit of the 'kink') and worked with Tom (the team engineer) & Johnny on tuning the suspension. Just before lunch I got under the GT-1 track record and backed it up twice just for good measure. The crew that went to downtown Kershaw for lunch was tired and hot, but we (the car & I) had already exceeded their expectations.

We installed another set of (used, but better) tires after lunch and I got to experience warming the car up properly (three laps of gradually increasing speed, making sure not to flat spot the tires), then went after a hot lap with what Johnny said were the best tires I was gonna have all day. Responding to the pressure, I left my braking for Turn 1 just a tick longer than before and did a half spin (but never left the pavement). Oops!

Even though I missed my opportunity with "optimal" tires, I went faster as the afternoon wore on, eventually ending up almost three seconds under the record at a 1:37.5. Johnny (who races for a living in the Trans-Am series) made a couple of laps in the car and, even though he had problems getting all the gas pedal, went about 1.5 seconds faster than I did. I know I need to work on braking and getting on the gas sooner (and believing the car will stick), but at least I know I'm in the neighborhood and not five seconds off the pace.

Next on the agenda is a regional event at Mid-Ohio the weekend of Sept 23 & 24. This will give me some additional time in the car AND on the track that will be used to determine the National Champion(s) the first week of October. We’ll then leave the car at the track before returning the next weekend (Oct. 1) to conclude this year’s quest for fame & glory. If you get Speedvision, our race will be televised live on Sunday, Oct. 8, starting around 3:30.

Right now I need to get back to running "practice laps" in my head.

See you at the track…