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Road Atlanta National - June 10, 2001

As I was driving the rig back home after the June 10 National race at Road Atlanta I crossed over Lake Lanier on Brown’s Bridge. It was a brilliant summer Sunday and there was a lot of activity on the water, but what caught my eye was this huge pontoon boat gliding gently under the bridge. I started thinking (which is always a dangerous activity) and realized that with what I’ve spent on racing this year I could have a REALLY nice boat. That could be me sitting on the top deck with an adult beverage in a frosted mug, wind blowing in my hair, not a care in the world. Instead, I had just dressed myself ankles to neck in a triple-layer, fire resistant jumpsuit, placed a bucket over my head, strapped myself tightly into a 160-degree convection oven on a 90-degree day, then worked out vigorously while averaging almost 100 mph for over 30 minutes. Maybe there WAS something Freudian about naming the new car "Lucifer"!

Longtime readers may remember that during qualifying for the April National at Road Atlanta we had turned a 1:29.6 but blew the engine and never saw the green flag on Sunday. Since I’m still learning how to drive this car, we decided to build a "softer" engine that is more reliable and allows me to concentrate on driving rather than writing checks. With the help of a LOT of folks the car first breathed fire on Sunday, June 3, so we buttoned everything up over the next four days and took it to the track on Friday for the test day.

Keeping things (somewhat) short, we ran a 1:31.793 (99.615 mph average for the 2.54 mile road course) to take the GT-1 pole and second overall behind (former National Champion) Bill Reid’s extremely quick GT-2 Toyota (1:29.682). Third overall and second in GT-1 was Bruce Dewey’s Budweiser Camaro with a 1:34.012, but they missed the second qualifying session repairing a broken sway bar mount. The rest of the 27-car field ranged from 1:35.942 through 1:53.919.

I talked with Bill before the race and we agreed that both of us had nothing to gain and a bunch to lose should we take each other out while racing for the overall lead. His car is more nimble while my honking V-8 should have legs on his rice-burner on the straights, so we decided to race hard but not make any blocking moves if the other had a clean shot at a pass. Notice there was no discussion about Dewey because I figured we’d leave him in our collective dust - - wrong again, MooseBreath!

At the green I jumped to a quick lead on the front stretch, then Bill got inside under braking for Turn 1 (of 12) and led us up the hill. I hung with him pretty well for the first five laps and was turning lap times faster than I had qualified, but there was also the nose of this red Camaro prominently in my mirrors as well. Ends up Bruce hadn’t shown everything he had during qualifying either. As we started lap six there was local yellow flag in One (which means you can’t pass) for a car that spun off course. The Toyota got caught behind some slower traffic and allowed me to close the gap, then unexpectedly stayed behind those two cars as we exited Turn Three and started into the left-handed sweeper that follows. Seizing the opportunity, I passed all three cars on the outside line and moved into first place overall!

As I left Turn Five I glanced in the mirror expecting to see the Toyota, but Bruce had followed me through the gap and was hounding me for all he was worth. I had enough of a lead that I didn’t need to run a defensive line, but I DID try to take advantage of traffic and use it to build a buffer between the Camaro and myself. I never felt he had a real shot at passing, but photos indicate that he got within a car length at least once going up to the Bridge at Eleven.

That battle was short-lived, however, because the Camaro suffered an ignition failure on Lap 8 and Bruce parked his wounded steed outside of Turn 4. Bill Reid, in the meantime, had worked through the traffic between us and was running about four seconds behind me. At the end of lap 9 we ran up on another local yellow for a spinning car and the circumstances from the previous opportunity were reversed - - I got to the lapped traffic first and Bill was able to significantly close the gap between us. I still led at start/finish and held on until the corner leading onto the back straight (Turn 7) where the Toyota dove underneath once again. I used my acceleration advantage to regain the lead down the long straight, but (per our agreement) did not take a defensive line into 10A and Bill once more used his superior braking (itsy-bitsy cars can brake MUCH later) to squirt by. He then pulled enough of a lead through the tight stuff that I couldn’t get past him the next time down the straight, so I ended up second overall, first in GT-1. I could see the back of the Toyota at the checker, I had passed for and held the overall lead for four of the 18 laps and we both had lapped the third place car. The crew recorded my best lap at 1:31.39 (100.05 mph).

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s no way I could do this by myself. Mike Eakin of Tallahassee serves as Crew Chief and (unobtrusively) documented the weekend on film. Charlie Johnson operates as a Chief Mechanic - he keeps up with things that need to be done, double checks on maintenance functions and generally keeps Mike’s head from exploding. Eric Roberts takes on the re-fueling process, checks tire pressures and bleeds the brakes after each session, plus his company (www.RPMGraphics.com) does promotional materials for the team. Eric Bartel helps with the mechanicals, but his major function is learning the CDS software that will help us go faster (and keeps the driver from lying TOO outrageously). Duane Neyer brings a wealth of experience from the professional ranks, serves as CDS consultant and generally tells the driver that he’s not mashing the throttle hard enough ("Team Engineer" would probably be the most appropriate title). Mike Harrison of M & H Engineering (803-793-4434) delivered the new engine on time and within budget, found us an extra 5 mph between Saturday and Sunday, plus brings a wealth of GT-1 driving experience. Mike Hearn of Birmingham wasn’t able to be with us this weekend, but as "Mechanic Emeritus" played a major role in our success from 1998 through the middle of the 2000 season. Finally there’s my life partner Harriett who understands the passion and encourages me to pursue my dreams - - and looks absolutely marvelous, too! Thank you.

Once my feet get somewhere near the ground, we need to start getting Lucifer ready for his next race on August 10-12 at VIR near Danville, VA. Right now, however, I think I’m gonna enjoy this win for just a little bit longer.

See you at the track…