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Cincinnati Region IT-SPEC*Tacular at Mid-Ohio

Back in late August 2002 we took Lucifer (the GT-1 Corvette that owned us at the time) to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to test for the Runoffs.

We came back without the right-front corner on the car. 

In August of 2009 we took Cuervo (the GTA Monte Carlo that we own) to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to participate in Round Six of the 2009 GTA National Tour (and Cincinnati Region’s IT-SPEC*Tacular – an event that will quickly become one of the top SCCA “destination events” in the country). 

We came back without the right-front corner on the car.

Next event is getting Cuervo out of the trailer, and I’m not sure when I’ll get around to that.

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And now as usual, the longer story:

I wasn’t really sure where to start with this, so I went back to the Update I sent out after the wreck back in 2002 - http://www.b-k-racing.com/runoffs-2002/ - and that (again) helps me put things into perspective. I’ll take a moment and let you read it…

[sounds of beer bottle opening, toilet flushing, etc.]

Back to 2009…

Dennis and I left after work on Thursday, July 30, and spent the night just over the state line in Williamsburg, KY. We got up the next morning to a light rain and drove to the local Mickey D’s, and after an appetizing repast we hopped in the dually to finish the trip to Lexington, OH. Turn the key – nothing. Turn the key again – lights on the dash are fine, but nothing. Jump the truck off using the winch battery – nothing. Get the TrackMat out and climb under the truck and bang on the starter with a hammer – nothing. The local parts stores had not opened yet, but we found we had twelve volts to the big wire on the starter, and after about 30 minutes of fiddling Dennis finally managed to jump the main lead to the solenoid – IT SPUN!!! I turned the key and it started, so we picked up the tools and vowed we would not shut the engine off until we were parked at the track that afternoon. The rest of the way we’d remind each other, “Don’t turn it off” whenever we pulled in for fuel, food, and/or relief.

We arrived at the track around 1:00 in the afternoon, unloaded Cuervo (with the dually idling), and then unhooked the trailer. I shut the engine off, hit the key again and it started, but we knew we had a limited number of starts left in the weekend. <g>

The format of the weekend had a PDX during the day on Friday, then “twilight” test sessions starting about 4:30 in the afternoon. Each of three groups would get three 20-minute sessions before dark, so we knew I’d have enough time to re-familiarize myself with the track. Mid-Ohio is a very technical track, but we were using the Pro Course (which leaves out the chicane heading up to the Keyhole), so at least we’d have two passing zones instead of just one. We still had the Road Atlanta gears in the car for the first session and found we were about 300 RPM short of redline at the end of the longest straight, so we skipped Session Two while swapping gears, installing new CarboTech brake pads, and taking care of other minor maintenance issues. We did stop long enough to watch the nine other GTA cars during that session, however, and figured out we were about two seconds off the pace with our first session times. I’ll certainly admit I’m biased, but the GTA cars sounded GREAT as they pounded down the back stretch across from where we were watching just up from Turn One.

We ran the third session and I was over a second faster with consistent 1:34’s as I got more comfortable with the track, plus we figured out the gearing was right for the top speed but just a tick short as we headed up to the Keyhole in third gear. We had another gearset that fell between the first two so we installed that set, bolted on the new set of Hoosier 3035’s, buttoned everything up (which included putting the TrackMat, screwdriver, and flashlight in the back seat), and felt pretty decent about where we were as we went out for pizza and beer. The truck started fine as we left the track, but after dinner it crapped out again! Dennis climbed under and jumped the solenoid, and we headed to the motel for the evening.

Saturday morning (August 1) had a single 20-minute qualifier in the morning and a 20-lap race in the afternoon. We figured we’d have to be in the 1:32’s to start near the front, so I pulled over on Pit Road and let everyone go (20 total cars in the group) to get a gap in traffic. The tires weren’t really up to temp on the first hot lap (1:34.9) and then I started getting into traffic again. Maybe four laps into the session there was a waving yellow at Turn One where Bob Stretch had parked his “Ponte Carlo” at the apex of the corner, then half a lap later they went double-yellow. Everyone came into the pits and some went back to the paddock, but I stayed on pit road while Dennis listened to the track communications on the scanner. Ends up Bob had broken his LR axle tube and it took a wrecker to get him moved, so there were maybe seven minutes left in the session when we went back green. I again laid back to create a gap, then went for it as we came around to Start/Finish. It was clean lap but not stellar, and when Dennis radioed “1:33 flat” I figured that was about as good as it would get. The tires had even temps but the pressures were still too low, so we added two pounds to each and figured we were in decent shape for the race.

Ends up it was officially a 1:32.995, which was good for sixth (of ten) in GTA and seventh overall. Bob Stretch laid down a 1:31.257 to take the pole before breaking the rear, followed by Randy Walker at 1:31.347, Ron (Burr) Keith at 1:31.584, an ITE Corvette, then Jay Marshall at 1:31.777, and Randy Keith at 1:32.923. Gregg Rodgers was outside me with a 1:33.155 followed by Stacy Rodgers at 1:34.979, Steve Wiles (1:35.8) and Tom Boldry (1:36.3). With less than two seconds separating the top seven GTA cars, it looked like it ought to be a battle!

Dennis & I talked strategy and figured we needed to do “decent” but didn’t need to wear the car out trying to win Saturday’s race. The GTA Tour rules require you to run the same set of tires all weekend, so there was no need burning them up on Saturday with two more races coming on Sunday. It’s also better to start inside than outside (because you have room if things start happening) and we were close enough to the front to see the flag, so I was feeling good about where we were.

This next part comes some from memory but also from watching the in-car video over and over.

As we came around on the (very slow – TOO slow!) pace lap and started forming up, Jay stayed right and left a gap in front of me. I was about to fill that gap when Jay figured out fifth place starts on the left at Mid-Ohio (Turn One is a left-hander), so we were back in our correct places as we came through the Carrousel preparing to take the green. The front row was barely onto the Pit Straight when the starter threw the flag (the rest of us were still in the corner) and Jay got a little loose under acceleration but caught it while heading to the outside lane. That caused Randy to check up slightly, and Gregg (still beside me) jogged left to avoid Randy. I felt something rubbing on the right side (Gregg moving over to stay off Randy), so I moved left of the white line going down the front straight and kept grabbing gears. Gregg maintained the same pace as we were gaining slightly on Burr and Jay, and we were all running three-wide at about 115 mph as we approached the braking zone for Turn One.

Now you could probably fit two GTA cars side-by-side through Turn One at Mid-Ohio if both drivers work together, but there’s no way to fit THREE cars through there. By being inside I figured I had control of the corner and the other guys would have to wait for me to turn in, but I also had to move slightly right to keep from hitting the raised median the separates the pit exit from the main track right there. At the same time I was moving right to stay off the median Gregg was moving left to stay off Jay as he turned in for the corner. Gregg moved me back left and I remember thinking, “Cool.  I’ll just run up the pit exit and beat ALL these guys through the corner.” Unfortunately Gregg and Jay had touched RF to LR, which brought Jay left into me and spun me clockwise across the median toward the outside of the corner. Jay remembers seeing me go across his nose. Apparently Gregg was also spinning (I think clockwise) and his LR wheel and my RF corner met in a quite very unpleasant and unruly manner. I ended up driver’s left with a very broken race car, and Jay and Gregg were both out on the spot as well.

The race went full course yellow while Cuervo was loaded onto the rollback that delivered me back to our paddock spot, then Dennis and I surveyed the damage while the race continued. I don’t think the frame is bent, but enough other stuff was destroyed or missing that we didn’t even think about trying to get it back together. Jay and his guys were busy pounding out sheet metal and straightening things out, but we just loaded up and backed Cuervo into the trailer with help from Tom Boldry and a cast of thousands. Jay and I had talked briefly and figured we were both passengers on this particular bus. While we were loading up Gregg and his car came back on the rollback, but I was too pissed to talk to him or even look at his car.

After we closed the rear door on the trailer I went to see Gregg and his first words were, “I have video.” I also had video so we all watched them both and (reluctantly) declared it was “just one of them racing deals.” However when I asked what I could have done differently and Gregg said, “You could have backed out!”, I pretty much lost it. I decided there was no point in discussing things further, and if he thought I’d dived-bombed him in the corner he was clearly misinformed (did I clean that up enough?). Dennis & I left the track (the truck started fine), I drank (heavily) at the local Mexican restaurant, and we went back to the motel. After a pleasant night’s sleep we left Mansfield at 4:00 AM and made it back to Woodstock around 2:30 Sunday afternoon (even though it was raining the dually started fine Sunday morning and we didn’t shut if off until the trailer was backed up to the shop).

Gregg and I finally talked for about an hour Monday night and things are cool (I agree he’s an idiot and he agrees I’m a jackass). It really was a case of two hard-headed racers going for the same spot on the track and neither one wanting to give in. Had either of us shown a bit better judgment we both could have made it through Turn One and not taken Jay out as well. I still think I was slightly less at fault because I was on the inside, but that’s like saying someone is slightly less dead after falling from twenty stories rather than fifty. Gregg & I run near the front of the GTA field, we’ve raced side-by-side in the past, and we’ll have to race that way again in the future. You learn and go forward, and I'm sure both of us will be better drivers because of it. As I wrote in 2002:  “I’ve trashed cars before and hopefully I’ll have a chance to trash them again.”

We haven’t even taken Cuervo out of the trailer, but running Barber over Labor Day is out of the question. While we could probably have things back together for the SARRC Invitational in October I’d have no chance of winning the 2009 SARRC Championship so I’d just be running for bragging rights. Instead of hurrying and patching things back together I’d rather focus on taking the best car possible to the ARRC by GRM. I’ll still go to both Barber and Roebling Road to support SCCA and the GTA class, but the next time you’ll see Cuervo on the track will be at Road Atlanta the first weekend in November.

As far as returning to Mid-Ohio, the Cincinnati Region plans to invite the GTA cars to play there again the weekend of July 30-August 1, 2010. The spectators and officials enjoyed seeing our cars run, all the other GTA drivers had a good experience (and it IS a great event) so it will undoubtedly be part of the 2010 GTA National Tour. Unless there’s a lottery win in my future and I have a spare car, however, I won’t be there as a driver. At some point in time you just need to quit hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. <g>

Oh – and I haven’t tried starting the dually since I shut it off Sunday afternoon.  If it doesn’t start at least it’s in the driveway so I can pull the starter and fix it correctly.

See y’all at the track…