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Road Atlanta Double SARRC

Recently a new reader of the BK Racing Updates expressed surprise that I actually have a theme for most of the articles I write. I’m not sure if she was surprised I knew a good story should have a theme or if she was amazed I could actually carry it off (half the time), but I guess I’ll take her comments as a compliment. <g>

The theme for this particular Update bounced around a lot as the July 18 & 19 weekend at Road Atlanta progressed, but I’ve finally settled on:

“Opportunities Squandered”

Bottom line - although we went faster than I’ve ever gone in a GTA car at Road Atlanta (and turned a 100 mph lap for our first time ever), all we came away with was a DNF (Did Not Finish) on Saturday, a fifth place finish on Sunday, and a broken race car in the trailer.

Next event is the “IT-SPEC*Tacular” at Mid-Ohio the weekend of Jul 31-Aug 2.

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And now as usual, the longer story:

To say we were looking forward to returning to Road Atlanta after our successful outing at Nashville SuperSpeedway would be an understatement. We had figured out the ignitions issues that had plagued us on Saturday at Nashville (and had almost lapped the entire field there on Sunday) and we were returning to our home track to compete against some of the best GTA cars and drivers in the Southeast. Quite simply, after Road Atlanta we’d know what we’ve got.

This was the first Double SARRC at Road Atlanta since 2003 plus it was a V8 Stock Car points event, so we ended up with thirteen GTA cars out of thirty cars in the Big Noise group. Our new FlowTech engine ran perfectly the first two laps of qualifying, but it went off song just as I started to lean on things starting lap three. Despite running on seven cylinders we still turned a 1:33.844 to end up third in class (twelfth overall) behind Kurt Roehrig and Marshall McLeod in their Late Model based cars. I KNEW we hadn’t shown all we had, so while 2008 SARRC GTA Champion Tony Amico and I went around checking the other GTA cars Dennis and the Professor (engine builder Lee Schwartz) dove into diagnosing our ailments.

What they found was the porcelain in the #3 spark plug had broken loose from its collar and killed that cylinder. Figuring it was a freak thing we replaced that plug, checked the valve lash, reset the timing, and buttoned everything up for Saturday afternoon’s 15-lap race.

Kurt was on the GTA pole (7th overall) with a 1:31.0, Marshall was beside me with a 1:33.7, then Hollywood Graham, Tony, Randy Walker and his son Greg were all in the 1:34’s and filled the next two rows. I felt like we had something for Kurt if we could just get to him, so the plan was to get a good start and try to slowly work our way forward to Kurt’s bumper, then about lap 10 we’d see if we had anything for him. Ends up it ALMOST worked out that way!

With Harriett calling the green I got a great start, the seas parted, and only Paul Breehne’s SPO Fusion was between me and Kurt by the time we got to Turn One. I got by Paul under braking for Turn Six and managed to stay on Kurt’s bumper down the back straight, then the next lap I noticed Kurt locking up his brakes in a number of turns. Bob Mayer was also in the mix with his STO Corvette (I really enjoy racing with Bob – we turn almost identical lap times with different strengths and weaknesses, but we’re in different classes so we’ve agreed to race each other hard but not do something stupid) so I figured I just needed to be patient. Unfortunately the engine started missing again as we started lap three, so again we never got to show what we had! I brought Cuervo into the pits and watched the rest of a great GTA race from the sidelines. Ends up Kurt went out with brake issues on lap 8 while Tony came through the field to win his fourth SARRC race of 2009 followed by Randy Walker and George Lutich. Unfortunately George was underweight in Impound, so Greg Walker was elevated to third in GTA.

After the car cooled down a bit Dennis and the Professor launched back into diagnosis mode and found two more spark plugs that were coming apart. NOT good!!! This was a set of Autolite plugs that were brand new at Nashville, and Lee had never seen such a thing in 20+ years in the racing business. We weren’t sure if it was simply a bad batch of plugs or indication of a problem with Autolites (discussing the karmic implications of running Ford parts in a Chevrolet was one of the early themes we discarded as well), so we made the management level decision to switch back to Champions. Again we buttoned things up and had high expectations for Sunday.

Sunday morning’s session was only 10 minutes long, but I worked things to perfection to find a gap in traffic and put Cuervo on the GTA pole (Kurt had gone home to redesign his brake system) with a 1:31.381. Bob Mayer was beside me with a 1:32.7, then Greg and Randy Walker filled the row behind us at 1:32.8 and 1:33.0 respectively. Tony had ruptured a power steering hose on the out lap of qualifying, so he ended up starting scratch on the field. Not only was the 1:31.381 the best GTA lap I’ve ever turned at Road Atlanta, it also marked the first time I’d ever had a three-digit average speed (100.064) in a GTA car there! Needless to say, we were feeling pretty good.

I got another good start and beat Bob to Turn One while the faster cars in front of us slowly pulled away. On lap two I turned my fastest ever race lap at a 1:31.677, then settled down and tried to not make any mistakes. About lap four, however, I start seeing the hood of a red and black car getting bigger in my mirrors – Greg was definitely gaining on me! By lap six he was right on me and was visibly faster in the Esses, but I had the power to pull him 2-3 car lengths on the back straight. We were also starting to encounter lapped traffic at this point, so I knew we had a race on our hands.

As we got to Turn 10-A on lap eight we came up to lap a GT-3 car for the second time. I have been on the track with this guy before and KNEW he was “speed challenged” (his best lap of the weekend was a 2:01.3 on Saturday), but I wasn’t quite close enough to take him before turning left into 10-A. Slowing for him allowed Greg to close up on me again, and as we exited the right-handed 10-B I moved left to pass the GT-3 car. I’m not sure if the guy didn’t look in his mirrors or if he’d become oblivious to the blue flags being shown to him all weekend, but as I’m at his left rear quarter he tracks out right in front of me! Needless to say an 1800-pound GT-3 car is going to lose against a 3000-pound GTA car (think 300-pound lineman meeting a 180-pound running back), so he ended up in the gravel trap while Greg and Randy motored past me on the right. Lee was spotting for me from 10-A and said (interspersed among expletives) that I got about two feet of air under the front tires.

I did gather things up and spent half a lap assessing the damage while shedding bits of the nose and RF fender in front of Bob Mayer. The steering wheel was now off center and I knew we’d bent something, but things seemed controllable so I set off in pursuit of Randy and Greg. I was third in class and finishing there would certainly help in the points battle. As we started lap eleven, however, I saw a huge cloud of smoke at the RF and I thought I’d cut a tire down or blown the engine, so I waved a bunch of folks by and prepared to come into the pits. Just before we got to pit road I noticed we gone to a Full Course Yellow so they could move a car that had spun on the exit of Turn Seven, so I decided to stay out and see if we could limp to the checkers.

We were under the FCY for two laps during which we decided the smoke was just where the fender had gotten temporarily lodged behind the RF tire, so when the green came out with two laps left I again turned the wick up as much as possible. I moved up one spot when Tony spun between Turns Six & Seven, then got another spot back by passing Randy Gay going into 10-A on the last lap. We ended up fifth in GTA (10th overall) and turned the fast GTA lap of the race, but we had a busted up car and it wasn’t nearly what we COULD have done.

I never did go see the GT-3 driver after it was over, but in retrospect I wish I’d been calm enough to do so. There are a whole lot of excuses for me hitting him (he was going too slow, he should have pulled in, he turned into me, I had a competitor hot on my butt, yadda, yadda, yadda…), but the bottom line is I did not do everything possible to avoid the contact. I’m not even sure how bad his car was hurt, but at some point in the future I’ll seek him out to apologize for being impatient and not using good judgment.

In the same vein, I’ve made arrangement to have lunch with Zach Monette and apologize to him for publically ragging on him after the 2008 ARRC by GRM. At the speeds we’re going you only have a split-second to make a decision, and sometimes you just make the wrong one. I’m sure I’ll learn from the experience and I’ll do my best to never let it happen again.

Bottom line – instead of two potential wins we came home with a DNF, a fifth, and a broken race car.  On the bright side we ran faster than we ever have at Road Atlanta, and I’m sure this weekend’s results had absolutely no affect on Roger Penske’s plans to call me! <g>

The next scheduled competition outing for BK Racing is a trip to Mid-Ohio for Round Six of the GTA National Tour.  If you happen to be in the area that weekend be sure and stop by.

Remaining 2009 events:

  • Jul 31-Aug 2 – IT-SPEC*Tacular at Mid-Ohio, Mansfield OH
  • Sep 5-6 – Barber Double SARRC, Birmingham AL
  • Oct 3-4 – Crow Mountain Hill Climb, Scottsboro AL
  • Oct 9-11 – SARRC Invitational Challenge, Savannah GA
  • Nov 6-7 – ARRC by GRM, Braselton GA

See y’all at the track…