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"My First Time" by Eric (Data) Bartel
When I first met Butch Kummer, I wasn’t sure what to think of him. But one thing was for sure, he was different than anyone else I had ever met. Then he mentioned that he races a Corvette on the weekends. At that time I had only heard of the Solo2 series in the SCCA. And that was just by meeting these two "geeks" at a pool hall that thought they were race car drivers. They talked about taking their modified 80’s something Shelby Chargers to Lakewood on the weekends. I was 22 at the time and well, that seemed stupid to me.
So here is Butch talking about his Corvette and the SCCA and even though I’m Mopar by blood, everyone loves a Vette. So we talked more about what this SCCA thing was all about and he invited me to the upcoming event at Savannah. So one afternoon I went to his house to see the car and get it ready for the weekend’s event. My first impression of "Godzilla" was not a great one. It kinda looked like a Vette - - I mean it had factory Corvette tail lights and it was red (all Corvettes are red… Right?). Then he cranked it up. OK, so it’s a race car. A precision machine it was not, but it was still a race car. At that point I could not see myself driving a car like this, but I’d be glad to turn wrenches on it.
Then in 2001 Lucifer was born. OK, THIS was a serious machine. But did I want to drive it? ….I don’t think so. Not only did I know that I was probably not capable of handling a car like this, if I broke it I’d have a hard time explaining to my wife why we were taking a second mortgage out on the house. Besides, it was built around Butch. When I sat in it, I could not even see over the instrument cluster. Put a blue wig on me and I’d look like most of the drivers in Florida.
If I wasn’t going to drive a GT-1, what would I be interested in driving? Spec Miata… not anymore. IT cars, NO! Open wheel? Sorry Mike, I don’t think so.
Then BK Racing began taking care of the Monette machines, one of which was a GT-1 Camaro. That’s when my inner voice accidentally became an outer voice. "OK, I can see myself driving this thing." Butch lit up. "Really!?!?" Bob Monette quickly figured out that the Camaro was not for him, so Butch helped broker the deal between Bob and Rich Shafer. Rich and Butch ran Solo1 in a heavily modified Pony-yak Trans Am "Valdez" that was quickly reaching the end of its usefulness. See, Butch figured Rich would not be able to take care of this new car on his own and therefore would need to have someone help him. And since Rich had a tight wallet, the best way to pay a "crew" would be to let the "crew"… namely me….. co-drive the Cool Shirt SPO Camaro at Solo1 events. Well long of the short, that didn’t work out.
Come the summer of 2005 Butch and I are employed again, "Lucifer" is now with a new owner and "Cuervo" has a new home in the BK Racing stables. So, once again I let those bad words slip out, "I can see myself driving this one." This seems to trigger something in Butch’s brain…. I can’t figure it out. Well before Butch was going to let me drive it he needed to find out whether I had any talent or not. So we took my street car to a little track in South GA for a Solo2. I was apparently driving slower than Butch would have liked, so he politely instructed me on the proper use of the throttle. "It’s the skinny pedal on the right!!!" So on the next run I responded with a 150’ burnout between turns two and three, and my fastest run of the day. I guess that’s when he figured I could handle "Cuervo".
Butch found a Solo1 in the schedule that sounded like it would be fun - Nashville Super Speedway. What a treat, brand new race track built to attract NASCAR. This was bound to be fun. But would our virgin driver have enough nerve to go through with it? Butch made it very easy on me. All I needed to do was come up with a helmet and leather shoes, help him put "Cuervo" back together following the Daytona event, and he would find a suit and gloves. You have no idea how many times I almost said let’s call it off. On the way to the event Butch asked me what I was thinking and I responded with: "Lord, don’t let me screw up."
Race Day
It had rained a little the previous day and I knew I would not go out on the track if it was wet. I don’t need to learn how to handle 500 horsepower and slicks on wet pavement. So again there was that little voice in the back of my head that was cheering on the rain. As we entered the infield in the daylight for the first time, that little voice suddenly was gone. I think he is hanging from an old dead oak tree outside of turn four. I was here and I was going to drive on this track! My expectations were still low. I had a list of goals for the weekend - "Try not to screw up, don’t wreck the car, and make sure your last run is your best time of the weekend." The goals that Butch set for me were a little more technical. I think he was trying to keep my mind from thinking about how fast I was going (AAAAHHHH!!! 150MPH?….AAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!") and instead concentrate on operating the car the right way.
  • Practice - Learn the car and the track
  • Saturday - Shift without the clutch
  • Sunday - Left foot braking
I ran the first practice session without incident, learned that "Cuervo" was not a beast, and reacted well to my commands. The second practice I was sent to the front of the grid. I guess they thought I was faster than I thought I was. "Great, nothing like a little pressure…. Lord, don’t let me screw up." Well sure enough, leading the field onto the back straight on the parade lap, I did it. With the RR tire low on air and the rest of them still a little cold, I looped it. "Well at least I don’t have to worry about screwing up, I just did. OK, now that that is over with." I turned "Cuervo" around into the right direction, got back on track and found myself in a mess of Miata’s. By the end of the session I made it past 3 of them. With strict passing rules I figured this was not too bad.
The timed runs went incident free. I learned the proper shift points and what gear to use through which corner. Plus, I learned how to count laps (no, I don’t know why I went to the Wendy’s drive thru) while negotiating turns and making sure I got everything I could out of each gear and each straight. I met each of my goals for the weekend… Well, except for the "screwing up" one. And I think Butch was pleased as well. He was sorry that I didn’t get to run Sunday’s sessions due to electrical gremlins.
What I will remember most about driving my first "real race car"? The feeling of coming out of the final turn of each lap and blasting down the front straight through the gears, through the tri-oval, under the flag stand and onwards to turn one….. "TURN ONE!!! OH SHIT!!! I’VE GOTTA STOP THIS THING FOR TURN ONE!!!"
WOW!!! What a rush!!!
At the end of the day, Butch and several of our garage mates toasted my success: "No longer a virgin." That was the best beer and cigar I’ve ever had.
To Rich: The adrenalin is still flowing strong. Thanks for the cigar.                    
To the Chattanooga Region SCCA: Thanks for hosting a great event.
To the workers: Thanks for your hard work.
To would be racers: GT-1 fever IS CONTAGIOUS!
To Butch, friend and mentor: "Thanks for letting me drive your car." I’ll let you know when I get the 2006 budget approved by the boss. So maybe I can turn some of my own money into noise.
See y'all at the track...
Eric Bartel