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2014 Road Atlanta Double SARRC

You know, it seems like it was a little over two weeks ago that I was sending out “2014, Part I”, but I guess there’s a reason for that – it WAS only a little over two weeks ago!!!  The Monday after the trip to Roebling Road I hopped a plane to Kansas, then on to Portland for the concluding event of the Western Conference Majors over the July Fourth weekend, then this past weekend (July 11-13) Jay Gomer and I again shared Cuervo at Road Atlanta.

Short story – second in SPO (sixth overall) in Jay’s first ever race at Road Atlanta, then fourth in GTA (seventh) overall for me on Sunday.  Jay turned his best lap on the last lap of Saturday’s race (and got signed off for his Full Competition license) which ended up being faster than my best lap, but I’ve already prepared my list of excuses for why that happened!  It ends up I hurt the engine on Sunday so our plans to run Charlotte in three weeks are out, but that could end up being a good thing.  I had also hoped to have some in-car video, but we’re experiencing technical difficulties so I’ll send those links later.

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And now, for those of you who care, the longer story:

A couple of you wondered last time why Jay was driving on Saturday and I was driving on Sunday, suggesting maybe that gave him a better chance of actually getting to drive before I tore the car up.  Well DUH – of course that’s the reason!!!  If I tear the car up before he gets a chance to drive then I don’t make any money, but if he tears the car up before *I* get to drive I’m still okay.  Besides, I get almost as big a grin from watching Jay’s progress as I do from driving myself – much as I did last August in St. Louis watching (six-time National Champion) Mike Lewis herd Cuervo to first overall at the Gateway Majors event.

I got back from Portland on Monday, took Wednesday afternoon off to prep everything for Road Atlanta (including servicing the air cleaner and changing the oil), then headed out Thursday evening to set up at the track.  On Friday’s test day I ran a couple of laps in the first session just to make sure the wheels weren’t going to fall off (best lap being a 1:35.90), then came in so we could convert the car over for Jay.  As I mentioned last article, he’s 6’4” but weighs right at 100 pounds less than I do, so besides adding the booster chair we also need to adjust the belts so he’s not wallowing around in the seat. 

Given these would be his first laps in anger at Road Atlanta, Jay was concerned about being a hindrance to the other cars (i.e. – he didn’t want to be DFL).  In retrospect we should have gone out last, but I didn’t think about that at the time and we were the first ones on grid.  The session was shortened due to clean-up of the group before us, so he got only six timed laps but dealt well with the traffic and ended up running his fastest lap (a 1:39.15) as he came down to take the checkered flag.  Very much a learning experience but he was getting more comfortable with handling the car, dealing with traffic, and the track.

We talked about things during lunch while doing basic maintenance on the car, then in the next session he quickly got under the 1:40 mark but then slowed down (1:41, 1:42) during the middle laps.  I’m thinking “What’s wrong with this wanker?” but I remained calm on the radio and never once reminded him, “It’s the skinny pedal on the right, pinhead!”  After three laps above 1:40 he again dipped into the 1:39’s, then a 1:38, then finally ended up with a fast lap of 1:36.37 even though he missed the second-third shift coming down the hill towards Turn 12.  That would not put him on the pole for a GTA race, but it was pretty damn good for only the second session on track with the car!  He also explained that during the middle of the session he was not comfortable coming out from under the bridge so he slowed down for a couple of laps just to work on the line, then picked up the pace again once he found his reference points.  Pretty astute thinking for a rookie!  We skipped the last session of the day to prep everything for Saturday (and finally fixed the rear end leak that’s been plaguing me for a year), then during the de-brief he figured out why he’d been missing the shift coming down the hill.  I’m paraphrasing, but I recall it went something like this:

“So I shift to second under the bridge like you told me to, then we’re topping out second gear coming down the hill (which is over 100 mph) and I’m expected to shift into third?  That means I’ll be going even FASTER and there’s a damn turn coming up!  My mind said make the shift, but my arm at that point is maybe twelve inches long and I can barely get it out of my sleeve, much less shift gears to make the car go faster.  THAT is why I kept missing the shift!” <g>

Saturday morning we put on a new set of Hoosier tires and (once again) discussed the importance of getting a clean lap during the morning’s 20-minute qualifying session.  He worked that pretty well while warming things up with a 1:47 and a 1:41 lap, then reeled off a 1:37.5 and a 1:37.02 before turning a 1:35.394 to grid third (of four) in SPO and eighth (of 15) overall.  Definitely not DFL and he was pretty pumped while having lunch with the cast of thousands that had come to see him race.  Maybe I exaggerate just a bit, but since Jay’s from Winder (they live maybe five miles from the track) there must have been twelve to fifteen of his family/friends who came out to the track on Saturday.  They even had red “Team Gomer 57” t-shirts made and had a bit of a party going on while sitting on Spectator Hill.  It was a lot of fun until his dad (the Willie Nelson look-a-like if you were there) innocently asked, “And what time did you run on Friday?”  I responded that I really needed to go work on the car and suggested to Jay and his brother Chris that they educate their dad on what NOT to say to the car owner! <g>

In Saturday afternoon’s race Jay got a good start and immediately moved up to second in SPO with the #21 car went off the outside of the track at the exit of Turn 1.  He turned a couple of 1:36’s, then settled in to run consistent 37’s until I called over the radio that Andrew Rains in the #44 car (which had started from the back since he’d missed qualifying while fixing the car – this is also the guy I’d had a great race with at Roebling) was coming up but, “I don’t think he’ll be able to catch you.”  Jay again picked the pace up and ran a 1:36.8 followed by his fastest lap of the weekend (1:34.794) as he took the checkers in sixth overall, second in SPO.  To say he was pumped is an understatement, and much frivolity ensued well into the evening.

Sunday it was my turn back in Cuervo, and since I had not run any laps on Saturday I needed to run the 10-minute morning qualifying session to set my grid spot for the afternoon races.  I put down a conservative 1:36.96 on the first lap and had a pretty good lap going on the next one when I ran into some traffic between Turns 5 & 6.  I slowed down to create a gap and had a clear shot on the third lap, so I was pretty surprised when Jay called out “36.04”.  I knew it wasn’t a killer lap but I’ve run consistent 1:32’s at Road Atlanta in the past (best ever is a 1:30.6, but that was with ideal conditions) so I started wondering what was up?  We also were running a shorter gear than we usually run at Road Atlanta and still weren’t buzzing the rev limiter into 10-A, so that caused additional concern.  My official time ended up being a 1:35.935, which lined me up ninth overall on the grid, fifth in the seven car GTA class.  At the green I got outrun by two SPO cars into Turn 1 and followed them for a few laps, then coming out of Turn 5 the Panoz driver lost it and spun driver’s right so I pulled up behind Harry Hinkle in his ex-CoT Sprint Cup car.  I could close on Harry in the corners (and thought about sticking my nose in once at Turn 1), but we’d get to the straights and that NASCAR horsepower would pull away.  We were running consistent 37’s and 38’s and pulling away from those behind us, so I backed off to get a clear run through the corners and turned a 1:36.327 on lap 8 of the 12 that were scheduled.  That brought me right back up on Harry’s bumper so I turned 38’s the next two laps, then as I was coming down the back straight on lap 11 I felt the engine starting to seize up – it was struggling to pull even 6500 in third gear – so I came down pit road at the end of that lap.  That was still good for seventh overall and fourth in class, plus the engine was still running and all four corners were still on the car.  I certainly was disappointed, but it also put Jay’s 1:34 on Saturday into a different perspective!

It’s really neat to see how excited he and his family are about what they’re doing.  The kid (he’s 45, young enough to be my son) ran the February driver’s school at Roebling Road in one of OPM’s Spec Miatas, did very well in Cuervo at Roebling the last weekend of June, then ran some VERY solid laps at Road Atlanta this past weekend and got signed off on his Full Competition license after two race weekends!  He has no illusions that Roger Penske will add him to his speed-dial, but road racing in a big V-8 is something he’s always dreamed about and, at the not-so-subtle urging of his wife Erin, finally decided to fish instead of cut bait.  His enthusiasm is contagious, and while I’m certainly not bored with racing Jay is reminding me what it’s like to be new to this sport.  I’m not sure which of the racing gods guided his email inquiry last October to my SCCA in-box, but it certainly is working out well for all of us.  I’m just happy to be a part of it.

I’ll be getting the engine out over the next few weeks and delivering it to Lee Schwartz (Flowtech Racing Engines) in Asheville.  With my commitments to SCCA I’m not sure how long it will take to get Cuervo back on track, but we’ll certainly have it ready for the ARRC by GRM in November.

Oh yeah, and here’s my prepared list of excuses for why I got outrun this past weekend:

  • He’d already run the tires off on Saturday, so I was doing well just to stay on the track!
  • He’s almost twenty years younger than me – I was a LOT faster than him when I was his age!
  • I’m carrying around 100 more pounds than he is, of course he’s faster!
  • The track was greasier on Sunday!
  • I was held up by traffic my entire race!
  • I knew the car was hurt and didn’t want to injure it any further!
  • It’s amazing what you can do when you have no clue what you CAN’T do!

Then again, maybe I just got my butt kicked <g>

See y’all at the track…