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Nashville Super Speedway Double SARRC
Short story – first on Saturday, second on Sunday (after leading every lap from the green until the oil pump belt broke just over halfway through). Next race is (hopefully) at Road Atlanta the weekend of July 19 & 20 (we’re actually scheduled to race both days as part the PanAm Series that weekend). It all depends on getting the engine back together by then, but I’ll be up there working regardless of whether we run Cuervo or not. Let me know if you need more information about that weekend.
As always, here’s the longer version...
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I will readily admit I have an ulterior motive in seeing SCCA road racing succeed at the Nashville SuperSpeedway. Not only is NSS less than four hours from the BK Racing shops (thus giving us two more SARRC races within "reasonable" towing distance), but establishing a road racing program in the Music City provides more trained workers and potential drivers for our local events. Quite simply, racing in Nashville is a good thing for BK Racing, our local region, and the Southeast Division.
But even if I didn't gain personally from the experience, I really enjoy racing there. Granted the track is shorter (and tighter) than any other we run, the transitions can be rough is you don't take them properly, and I need to be concerned about the db limit there (since Sound Control is on driver's right and the exhaust exits out that side), but we DO get to run over 150 mph on the front straight banking before diving into decreasing radius first-gear corner, the tight parts are tight for everyone, and the spectating is GREAT! You can see just about everywhere on the track from any point on the track, so when you're watching a race you KNOW what happened rather than speculating on why your buddy never came back by.
With what I know of Nashville and realizing they run NASCAR and IRL races there, I was definitely surprised (“shocked” is probably too strong a word) when Tom Graham told me on Saturday, “Wow! This place is really nice!” I’m not sure exactly what he’d been told, but Tom’s version of the conversation was, “You don’t want to go to Nashville, that place is a DUMP!!” So if someone has told you the same thing, I’d suggest you not take the word of anyone that has a personal agenda (including myself) - just ask Tommy what he thinks of the place.
Enough of the social comment, on to the race results:
It was raining Saturday morning so we decided not to go out for qualifying for Saturday’s race. There were twelve cars pre-registered in our run group with Tom & me as the only GTA cars, so I figured worst case scenario was I’d start from the very back and I’d still be up to (at least) third place by the time we got to Turn One. Two of my students from the 2008 Roebling Drivers’ School (Mikah Barnett and Ed Lewis) were on the front row with their Corvettes, and Tommy completed one lap in the rain (he’d never been on the track before and wanted to take a look at it from his race car) to line up in the third position. Those of us without times would line up behind those three in the order we presented ourselves for the race, so I figured this was one time getting to Grid early would be a good thing.
Although it stopped raining during lunch the track was still damp for the day’s second qualifying session to set the grid for Sunday’s race, but we went out on slicks anyway. I managed to set fast lap at a 1:12.462 compared to Mikah’s 1:12.983 and Tom’s 1:15.486. Tommy also ran afoul of the Decibel Demons, so during the break before the race I explained to him about getting within two feet of the outside wall on the back straight (thus using the wall to reflect the sound) to stay under the limit.
Cuervo and I were the first ones to arrive at Grid for Saturday afternoon’s race (SARRC.1) so I expected to line up fourth overall behind Mikah, Ed, and Tom. Ends up Tom had decided the yellow Monte Carlo wasn’t handling to his liking, so he withdrew that car and switched to the ex-Rudy Revak Ford that he won with at Sebring a week earlier. That meant his qualifying time was dropped and he’d start from the back, but with only nine cars I figured I’d see him in my mirrors before long. It also meant I was lined up third which reduced my options for which way to go at the green.
Harriett was on the radio calling the start for me and I got a good jump, then Ed moved higher on the track opening a gap between he and Micah. Feeling like Moses parting the Red Sea, I shot through that gap to lead the growling pack into Turn One on Lap One. Harriett was calling out my lap times in the 1:07 range and also let me know Tommy was running in the 1:15 range. As we started lap 5 there was a white flag indicating a slow moving vehicle in Turn One, then as I came around the second hairpin I saw the white #7 (Tommy) pulling off the track into the infield. Ends up he’d broken a lower a-arm strut which rubbed a hole in the tire, so his race was done.
I turned my best lap of the race (and weekend) at a 1:06.498 on lap three and was pulling away from Mikah at about half a second a lap, then as we came onto the front straight to finish lap six the car just about turned around on me as I shifted from second to third! Thinking I might have a tire going down and knowing I just needed to run 11 of the 22 laps to be classified as a finisher (and win GTA), I waved Mikah by on the back straight and settled into cruise mode. The car seemed to stabilize after a couple of laps and I was maintaining the gap to Mikah, so I turned the wick back up, got some help from lapped traffic, and re-passed for the overall lead as we finished lap 13. I would have settled back down and cruised from there, but Mikah wouldn’t back off! The two of us ended up lapping the field and he turned his best lap (1:06.972) on lap 20. Watch out for this kid in the future – he’s got some real talent!
After clearing Impound we prepped Cuervo for Sunday’s race, ingested some adult beverages, participated in the ceremonial application of the chrome “SARRC Winner” decal, then went to the grandstands overlooking Turn One for the first few laps of the 300K Enduro that was to be run under the speedway lights. Ends up it was a great race but Harriett & I left after the first hour to eat dinner at Longhorn’s and then retire for the evening. One race, one win.
Sunday morning I was in the Tower as “Control” for the PDX event that was scheduled for 8:30 through 10:45. Things went very smoothly (a couple of spins but no real drama), and from my perch high above the main grandstands I realized just how pretty that whole facility was! You can see every corner, the surrounding mountains are gorgeous, and it was just a neat place to be on a Father’s Day Sunday.
Our race on Sunday was after the lunch break and there wasn’t nearly the urgency to get to Grid that there’d been on Saturday. We rolled off first with Mikah beside me, then Tom’s yellow #7 Monte Carlo prominently in my mirrors. I again got a good start to lead into One, but Tommy got past Mikah and was still on my bumper as we worked through the first set of turns (the “Dolly Parton Curves”, according to track announcer Scott Dobler). I cinched the belts tighter as we blasted down the back straight, then just about lost it as we turned into the back straight chicane (I’d call it “the Bus Stop” but no busses actually stop there <g>) at almost 100 mph. I don’t know if there was oil and/or dirt on the track or what, but I was VERY busy for a couple of seconds trying to keep Cuervo on the black stuff. I recovered and glanced in the mirror just in time to see a big #7 coming down the track behind me – Tommy had gotten into the same stuff I’d hit, spun off the track, and rejoined at the back of the field.
Harriett kept me apprised of Tom’s progress back through the field as I turned consistent 1:07’s and 1:08’s and gradually pulled away from Mikah. I didn’t think the track would let me break the 1:06.070 record I’d set back in 2006, so I just worked traffic and judged my pace by watching for Tom coming down the front straight as I turned into Turn Two. All was going well until lap 15 when the oil pressure light flashed on as I downshifted for Turn One. I quickly shut down the engine and coasted to a stop on the apron of NASCAR two, but our race was over. George Bugg was working Turn One and came over to see what I needed and I asked him to verify there was no pool of oil and/or expensive parts under the car (there wasn’t) so I sat there for the remaining laps enjoying the comforts of my Cool Shirt. Harriett radioed that I’d indeed completed enough laps to be classified as a finisher (and therefore second place in GTA), so when the tow truck came to get me I asked them to take me to Impound rather than back to our garage.
Ends up we’d lost the oil pump belt, but the good news is no internal engine parts tried to escape the premises. We were scheduled to pull the engine and take it to Mike Harrison for freshening the end of this season anyway, so we’re just getting a bit of a jump on that process. There’s a (slim) chance we didn’t damage anything, but I’ve also seen guys in the same situation put on a new belt, leave the pits, and then oil down half the track when the bottom end let go. We’ve got time to do it right before the next event at Road Atlanta, so that’s what we’ll do.
Tom ended up with the best race lap of a 1:06.876, and we both talked about how much fun it would have been had he not gotten caught out on Lap One. It wouldn’t have made any difference in the final outcome, but it would have been neat to see how we stacked up against each other.
As always, thanks to Harriett for her help this weekend. Regular Crew Chief Dennis McClintock was off riding his bicycle across Georgia so Harriett filled in quite capably and I’m honored she chooses to spend time with me. I remind myself daily how lucky I am.
I also like to thank the Tennessee Valley and Chattanooga Regions for putting on a first class event at a first class facility (did I also mention the NSS track staff is a joy to work with?). I know the numbers were down from expectations, but hopefully the results were strong enough that you guys will give it another try in 2009. And if you let GTA cars run the 3-Hour, I might even give that a shot just for the experience of running under the lights!
See y’all at the track…