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Pacific Raceways, Kent WA

Another title for this Update (and in keeping with school getting started again) could be:  

“How I spent my summer vacation!”

Those who actually pay attention to these periodic updates may remember that Harriett & I had been planning a summer vacation to the Pacific Northwest this year. We had visited Seattle a couple of years ago and had done the “touristy” things – the flying fish at the Market, dinner in the Space Needle, watching the salmon runs at the locks, etc. – so this trip we headed north of the border for Victoria and Vancouver, B.C. Before leaving Seattle, however, we stopped by Pacific Raceways in Kent, WA, to meet some of the stock car road racing crowd from the area.

Pacific Raceways used to be known as Kent Raceway and I’ve seen video of early days of the Trans-Am series (Parnelli Jones, Mark Donohue, and Dan Gurney era) from there. The track gained additional notoriety as the setting for the drivers’ schools that played an integral part of Garth Stein’s best-selling novel “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” They also have a very active and established club racing program, so besides taking the opportunity to preach to gospel according to GTA I also wanted to observe and learn from how they do things there.

I’m not exactly sure how it all fits together, but it looks like the International Conference of Sports Car Clubs (ICSCC) is the umbrella group that organizes non-SCCA road racing in the PNW and events at Pacific Raceways are hosted by the International Race Driver’s Club (IRDC). Neither of the SCCA regions in that area (Oregon Region and Northwest Region) is listed as a member of ICSCC and I have absolutely no idea how well the ICSCC and SCCA play together, but I DO know the IRDC weekend we attended was very well run.

Harriett & I arrived at the track Saturday afternoon so I didn’t get to see their procedure for parking the rigs as they came in, but I was impressed with the organization of the paddock area. Not only were the trailers and cars efficiently parked, but they also appeared to have most of the cars in the same class or run group located in the same area. I’m not sure if they accomplish that with whips and whistles like some regions do, but it added a greater sense of community to the event and I’ll investigate their procedures further to see if it’s something we can incorporate. At any rate, we inquired at the scales about where we might locate the “stock car guys” and received pretty good directions on how to find them.

I had “met” Randy Blaylock (the ICSCC Licensing Director) through a couple of discussions on the V8StockCar.com forums but knew he was busy on Saturday with novice drivers so we parked and looked for someone to talk to. The first person I found was Dave Haire, the current owner of Mike Hope’s old ASA car (and he’s done a LOT of work getting it right). Dave recognized my name (“Oh THAT Butch Kummer!”), welcomed us to the PNW, and introduced us to the rest of the stock car crowd. Joe Manke was next to Dave and has a former Southwest Tour Late Model, Rick Bostrom was across the lane with his ASC Late Model, and Manfred Duske was next to Rick with BJ Holley’s old two-seater ASA car. Randy also stopped by on his way to a de-brief session with his students, but he was not racing that weekend because he was saving his former ASA car for a “money race” the following weekend. It also ends up we were in the presence of dignitaries: Randy is a big cheese with ICSCC, Rick is President of IRDC, Dave is a Vice President of IRDC, and Manfred is an IRDC Director and also the Driver’s Rep. If I had a question, they either knew the answer or knew who to send me to.

Another thing IRDC does is put SPO and GT-1 in two separate race groups, which allows our guys to run two races each weekend. Qualifying was done for the day and Dave was on the pole in SPO with Joe beside him while Rick was in sixth overall out of something like 60 cars in the group. Dave and Joe were also on the front row for the GT group and again Rick was a couple of rows back. Unfortunately Manfred had suffered ring & pinion problems or he would have been right beside Rick on the grid. We all talked for awhile, then Harriett & I went to watch a special German Touring Car race (with something like 65 cars on a 2.25 mile track!) while they finished prepping their cars for Sunday. One thing we did find out is they run a class called “Pro3” that is very similar to Spec E30 here on the East Coast and very popular there. There had something like 25 Pro3 cars signed up for the weekend and it looked like every one of them was running Saturday afternoon’s Bonus race.

When Harriett & I got to the track Sunday morning we saw Joe and Dave getting Joe’s car ready for the morning session. Since I thought they’d told me they were done qualifying on Saturday I asked what was up, and they were letting one of their BMW buddies (Duke Goss) take Joe’s car out just to see what stock car road racing was all about. It ends up Duke went faster in that first session in Joe’s car than he had in a year of driving his own much-modified BMW 323i, and then they explained that he could buy a whole car for half what he had in his BMW engine! I don’t know if he’s listed the Beemer for sale yet, but it ends up I’m not the only preacher in the crowd. <g>

I attended the IRDC Drivers’ Meeting just before lunch on Sunday and was very impressed with the way that was conducted. It’s a mandatory meeting just like ours, and the way they enforce that is to randomly select drivers from each run group whose names are called out. I’m not sure what happens if someone doesn’t answer, but I got the idea that it wasn’t a pleasant experience if you were caught missing the meeting. After thanking everyone for showing up they individually recognized the five Novice drivers who were graduating to a Senior license that weekend. When the first guy didn’t answer the Chief Steward said, “We now have FOUR Novice drivers that are graduating this weekend!” I’m guessing they weren’t serious, but I didn’t ask. <g>

After that they explained the ground rules for Pacific Raceways (the blend line leaving the pits and the 10-second mandatory stop if you use the Escape Road in Turn 3-A) and did a nice award presentation to the family of a recently departed member. The first race group was then excused to start getting ready for their race while the remainder of the drivers stayed for the presentation of the colors and the Canadian and US National Anthems. They did remind the drivers to pay attention to the flags, but never once did I hear the “no contact will be tolerated” speech that always seems to be mentioned at our events.

To bring new recruits into the fold they also run Novice groups at every event rather than having a dedicated drivers’ school once a year. I’m not sure we have enough time in our weekends to do that, but it’s something I’ll look into further. We need to make it as easy as possible for folks to get involved with what we’re doing and we (Atlanta Region) have started including PDX and Track Trials sessions in our race weekends, so implementing a regular Novice program might be the next step in that process. If you’re not growing you’re dying, and bringing in new people is a necessary part of growing.

Another difference is their races are timed (30 minutes) rather than a specific number of laps. They have a hard shutdown at 5:00 so they need to maximize their track time (I was told the track rental works out to $50 a minute), and having a time limit certainly makes it easier to stay on schedule. Again there are plusses and minuses to that concept, but I’m going to see if that’s something we might want to look at incorporating at some of our Atlanta Region events.

As far as the racing, Dave won the SPO race with Joe coming home in second overall even after he spun trying to catch Dave in the early laps while Rick came home third in class and seventh overall. In the GT-1 race Dave led early but Joe got by with two laps to go as they again finished first and second overall.

I was also impressed with Pacific Raceways. Yes it has a kink to avoid the main drag strip but it also has a unique configuration that is unlike anything we have here in SEDiv. You approach turns 3A & 3B with a serious downhill braking zone (there’s a 125-foot elevation change in the layout) with the aforementioned Escape Road and a mandatory 10-second stop if you overcook 3A. We only watched one race from that area and no one used the Escape Road but there WERE some exciting entries into that complex. Here’s more info on the track (including a link to a hot lap from Randy’s ITE Viper) for those that are interested:

http://www.irdc-racing.com/irdc_clubs_tracks.htm

Mike Eakin and Harriett have both told me I’m crazy, but I’ve looked at what it’ll take to race Cuervo out there some day. According to MapQuest it’s 2627.48 miles (39 hours, 17 minutes) from our house to the track so who knows, maybe after winning the lottery later this year we’ll make a major road trip in 2012! Maybe take in Laguna Seca and/or Sears Point on the same trip?  It certainly would be a hoot!

BK Racing’s next 2010 event is a test day at Little Talladega to get ready for Barber Labor Day weekend, then we’ll be heading for upper New York state to run the Finger Lakes Region “Fun One” the weekend of Sept 17-19. As always, let me know if you’d like more information about any of our upcoming events.

One last thing about Pacific Raceways and the IRDC: on Saturday I noticed all the stock car guys were wearing hats with the acronym “GPDA” on them.  I thought it strange they would be promoting the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, then Harriett pointed out a sticker on Joe’s Late Model - “GPDA” stands for Ground Pounder Drivers’ Association. Maybe if the guys like the story I’ve written about them they’ll make me an honorary member? <g>

Remaining Events on our 2010 Schedule:

  • Aug 27           Private Test Day at Little Talladega
  • Sep 3-5          Barber Double SARRC, Birmingham AL
  • Sep 17-19      Watkins Glen Double Regional, Watkins Glen NY
  • Oct 9-10        SARRC Invitation Challenge, Savannah GA
  • Nov 5-7         ARRC by GRM, Gainesville GA
  • Nov 13-14     Roebling Track Trials, Savannah GA

See y’all at the track…