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Road Atlanta Double SARRC

There’s a lot to tell about our Atlanta Region Double SARRC / Pro-IT / PDX event the weekend of July 16-18 at Road Atlanta, but the overriding theme of the weekend is:

            “We are the victim of our own success.”

Short story – out of twelve GTA cars we qualified third for Saturday’s race but finished eighth, then on Sunday we broke during qualifying and didn’t run the race. It acts like it’s the clutch or maybe a broken input shaft, but we won’t know for sure until we get it apart. From an organizational standpoint (as Competition Director for Atlanta Region and Associate Pastor of the First Church of GTA), the weekend was a rousing success.

And, as always, here’s the longer story:

Longtime readers will remember that I’ve been beating the drums regarding the virtues of GTA since 2005, and for the 2010 running of the July event at Road Atlanta we had thirteen (13) cars signed up. The current situation in the class reminds me of a story my dad told about their round track racing in Central Florida back in the early 60’s:

When they first started making the tow from Orlando to the then newly-opened Sunshine State Speedway in St. Pete they would usually finish in second place, 150 feet or so behind the winner. Three months later they were still 150 feet behind the winner but were now running in sixth place because word had gotten out about the track and the other guys had upped their game. Finishing sixth didn’t pay well enough to make the trip worthwhile, so they quit making that two-hour tow every Saturday night. In much the same way, since GTA became a SARRC class in 2006 it has attracted a lot of quality cars and drivers to the class and it’s MUCH tougher to run at the front now.

Road Atlanta is my home track and I don’t usually do the Friday test days there, but this year we did so for two major reasons: (1) we needed to see if we could dial out some of the oversteer we encountered at Roebling Road two weeks ago and (2) I had invited Tim Suddard, Publisher of Grassroots Motorsports Magazine and Presenting Sponsor of the ARRC by GRM, to drive Cuervo so he could get an idea of what stock car road racing was all about. We were successful on both counts (Tim turned some very respectable laps in the 1:38 range his first day in the car), and once the article and video they prepared are available I’ll pass along links to them.

Some of you may remember me writing about Kurt Roehrig and his well-developed (and still for sale – somebody PLEASE buy it so I don’t have to race against him any more! <g>) Late Model GTA car that has been winning a lot this season. Kurt’s first session ended on the lap one when he spun all the way down the grass strip between Pit Road and the track and tore up the nose of the car. His second session ended with the car in much the same condition after he spun exiting Turn Five and again took the nose off. He said a number of people stopped by his paddock spot while he and Dave Price were patching things back together to ask, “So what will you take for the car now?!?” There were also reports that the Progressive Insurance truck stopped by to let him know his policy had been cancelled as well. <g>

With twenty-seven cars in the Big Noise group (twelve of them GTA cars – Bob Davis didn’t get his car finished in time) getting a clean lap in Saturday morning’s 20-minute qualifying session would take some work. I ran a couple of 75% laps to scuff the Hoosier tires in and warm things up, then came into the pits to see if we could find a gap in traffic. Traffic thinned out and Data & Dennis found me an open spot, and on the third lap after going back out I turned a 1.31.671 – not the absolute best lap I’ve ever turned at Road Atlanta but good enough that we should be able to see the green. It ended up being third in class and ninth overall, but one of the GT-1 cars was penalized back to tenth spot for passing under yellow and Bill Smith switched to his back-up car so he had to start from the rear of the field. After all was done the GTA field lined up thusly on the grid (BTW, I’ve added car color to my commentary at the request of the workers – they know colors and numbers more so than driver names):

 

PIC

 

OA

Car

No.

 

Color

 

Name

Best

Lap

1

3

01

Green

Bob Stretch

1.29.685

2

4

18

Yellow

Kurt Roehrig

1.29.884

3

7

57

Red

Butch Kummer

1.31.671

4

8

7

Blk/Yel/Red

Hollywood Graham

1.32.305

5

10

36

White

Tres Childs

1.33.035

6

11

88

Black

Rob Morris

1.33.037

7

13

35

Black

B.J. Holley

1.34.305

8

14

21

Red

Randy Walker

1.34.891

9

16

34

Yellow

Preston Fowler

1.38.047

10

17

95

Red/White

Jim Matheson

1.38.418

11

18

62

Red/White

Hall Robertson

1.41.667

12

20

42

Black

Adam Romito

1.45.578

Although Bob & Kurt are both excellent drivers and have cars prepared to very limit of the rules, I thought I MIGHT have a chance to beat them to Turn One if things went perfectly. That plan went out the window, however, when the sixth place SPO car (who had the seventh fastest time but didn’t realize the GT-1 car had been moved to tenth) filled MY spot on the inside of the fourth row as we formed up to take the green. That put me back to ninth overall and the entire outside row from Hollywood on back moved up two rows to fill the gap. I had gone from third to fifth in GTA before we even got the green flag!

I got back to Hollywood’s bumper (fourth in class) as we completed lap one, then we went full course yellow on lap two while the safety crews attempted to move Paul Breehne’s SPO car from where he had hit the wall under the Starter’s stand (apparently he had help getting there but no official actions were taken). Once we got the green I again tried hanging with the black #7 while biding my time to make a move. My lap times started falling off, however, and Rob Morris (black 88) closed the gap and demoted me to fifth in class in 10-A as we finished lap 7. I maintained that position (lap times still dropping – I even switched over to the back-up ignition system to see if that would help) until Randy Walker (red 21) got by on lap 11. Since I’ve already got a sixth place finish this year and needed to run Sunday on the same tires, I decided to wave Bob Humphrey’s GT-2 Porsche (white 15), B.J. (black 35) and Tres (white 36) by to save the car. At the end I was fourteenth overall, eighth in class, and the last car on the lead lap. The overall finishing order in GTA was:

 

PIC

 

OA

Car

No.

 

Color

 

Name

Best

Lap

1

5

01

Green

Bob Stretch

1.29.967

2

6

18

Yellow

Kurt Roehrig

1.31.559

3

7

7

Blk/Yel/Red

Hollywood Graham

1.32.641

4

8

88

Black

Rob Morris

1.32.589

5

10

21

Red

Randy Walker

1.33.669

6

12

35

Black

B.J. Holley

1.34.165

7

13

36

White

Tres Childs

1.33.890

8

14

57

Red

Butch Kummer

1.33.574

9

15

34

Yellow

Preston Fowler

1.36.404

10

18

95

Red/White

Jim Matheson

1.40.600

11

19

62

Red/White

Hall Robertson

1.41.022

12

25

42

Black

Adam Romito

1.35.978

We checked Cuervo over and didn’t find anything obviously wrong (no tires going down, front end alignment was good, timing was still correct, the engine sounded fine, etc.) so we went to a late lunch and figured we had a driver issue – I convinced myself I was subconsciously saving the car for Sunday and THAT’s why I slowed down at the end. Even when I attended the F&C meeting on Sunday morning and some of those fine folks (who see a LOT of cars go by and know what they’re talking about) mentioned Cuervo “smelled funny” over those last laps I didn’t put two and two together.

Sunday’s qualifier was only ten minutes (to get all six run groups in before the county-mandated shutdown at 10:00), so it was doubly important to get a clean lap early. I warmed the car up and was chasing Rob on a pretty good lap when I had a major drivetrain vibration exiting Turn Five. The engine was still running but the car wouldn’t go so I coasted to a stop in the turnoff area on driver’s right at Turn Seven. Hazel gave me grief about having to push my car, then gave me an Hawaiian lei to let me know I’d be “lei’d at the All Girl Turn.” I told them they could wait until the break to take me back to the paddock, but the stewards had issued an “Impound All” for the GTA cars so I got hauled back immediately. Sunday’s grid order at that time was:

 

PIC

 

OA

Car

No.

 

Color

 

Name

Best

Lap

1

2

01

Green

Bob Stretch

1.28.961

2

3

18

Yellow

Kurt Roehrig

1.29.414

3

7

36

White

Tres Childs

1.33.009

4

8

7

Blk/Yel/Red

Hollywood Graham

1.33.105

5

9

21

Red

Randy Walker

1.33.109

6

10

88

Black

Rob Morris

1.33.980

7

13

34

Yellow

Preston Fowler

1.36.637

8

14

57

Red

Butch Kummer

1.37.016

9

15

95

Red/White

Chris Matheson

1.37.330

10

17

42

Black

Adam Romito

1.37.954

11

19

62

Red/White

Hall Robertson

1.42.087

They had issued the Impound All to check minimum weights and tires on the GTA cars. The two Goodyear-shod cars (Bob Stretch and Adam Romito) were found to be non-compliant so they lost their qualifying times and were moved to the back of the grid. Despite that it looked like it would be a helluva race throughout the field!

We got Cuervo back to our paddock and quickly figured out we had no “go” in any gear – the driveshaft and rear wheels continued to turn regardless of which gear the transmission is in. We had plenty of offers to help pull the transmission and see if we could fix things, but laying under the car for (at least) two hours in 90+ degree heat was NOT the way I wanted to spend my day. If we’d been ten hours (or even five) from home or if it was for the championship of the known world I would have attacked the issue, but it just wasn’t worth it in this case. What it DID mean, however, is that Data, Earl (the dog), and I could find a great place to watch the race.

We ended sitting in Data’s Toyota FJ on top of the hill overlooking Turns 10-A & 10-B. With Bob starting at the back Kurt (yellow 18) had moved up to the outside pole, but we figured he’d most likely get gobbled up by the more powerful SPO & GT-1 cars around him on the run up to Turn One. When the pack first came into sight over the hill at Turn Nine, however, Rob Morris in the black 88 was leading the GTA field! Ends up the guys at the front had tried going three-wide through One and Kurt got pushed off the outside of the track after running over the LF tire of Larry Hoophaugh’s ex-Cup car. As we kept watching we saw the yellow 18 and the green 01 were nose-to-tail in twelfth and thirteenth places overall with Rob, Hollywood, Tres, Randy, Chris, and Preston all ahead of them in GTA. They were coming like a freight train, however, and when Rob lost his harmonic balancer on lap four they moved to first and second in GTA, third and fourth overall.

The gap would stretch (pun intended) and shrink as they encountered traffic, and one time Kurt got held up slightly exiting 10-B so Bob got alongside him under the Bridge. Next time by, however, the yellow 18 was again barely leading the green 01. As they were finishing lap 14 Kurt came over the hill at Nine by himself followed by Bob about fifteen seconds later with his hood askew. The front end of Kurt’s car also looked even more beat up than it had earlier in the race, so they obviously had gotten together somewhere on the back side of the track. They finished in that order followed by Randy (red 21), Hollywood (black 7), and Tres (white 36) who’d had a heckuva scuffle amongst themselves the entire race as well.

From eyewitness accounts, on lap 13 Bob had gotten a run on Kurt coming out of Turn Five and dove under him in Six. He was carrying too much speed, however, and ran off the outside of the track between Six & Seven and let Kurt get back by. The next lap Bob tried the move again and ALMOST made it stick, but again got loose and was collected by Kurt. Either driver could have avoided contact by slowing down, but slowing down would have meant finishing second and NEITHER of those guys was ready to accept second place. As Kurt wrote in his post on V8StockCar.com, “I had the best race I have had for 28 years.” I would rather have been out there mixing it up with them, but it certainly was a great one to watch.

The final finishing order for Sunday: 

 

PIC

 

OA

Car

No.

 

Color

 

Name

Best

Lap

1

3

18

Yellow

Kurt Roehrig

1.30.708

2

4

01

Green

Bob Stretch

1.30.703

3

6

21

Red

Randy Walker

1.33.879

4

7

7

Blk/Yel/Red

Hollywood Graham

1.35.180

5

8

36

White

Tres Childs

1.34.739

6

11

34

Yellow

Preston Fowler

1.37.047

7

12

95

Red/White

Chris Matheson

1.36.746

8

15

62

Red/White

Hall Robertson

1.37.593

DNF

-

42

Black

Adam Romito

1.36.671

DNF

-

88

Black

Rob Morris

1.34.802

DNS

-

57

Red

Butch Kummer

n/t

All in all it was a good weekend. Yes we broke something on Cuervo and didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, but it seems fairly minor (relatively speaking) and the good turnout of GTA drivers to race against was encouraging even though it makes it more difficult to run at the front. As always I’m extremely proud of the job Atlanta Region SCCA does in conducting events and I remain honored they allow me to be part of the team.

In the SARRC GTA standings we still lead with 122 points, but Kurt is only 10 points back and has one more race to go before he starts dropping finishes. Bill Porter is third with 108, Hall moves to fourth with 105, BJ follows in fifth with 81, Jim Matheson has 77, and Hollywood moves up to seventh with 65. Preston at 57, Mark Tcherkezian with 53, and Bobby Reuse & Dave Price tied at 44 round out the top ten. With two weekends and six SARRC races to go, it’s still anybody’s title to win.

Next race for us is the Alabama/Atlanta Region Double SARRC / Pro-IT weekend at Barber Motorsports Park over Labor Day weekend (Sept 3-5), but before that Harriett & I are flying to the Pacific Northwest on vacation. Prior to heading on up to British Columbia we’ll be stopping by Pacific Raceways outside Seattle to break bread and preach the gospel amongst the stock car road racing disciples inhabiting the area. <g> Actually, they already have a pretty strong program going and we thought we’d get some pointers on how they do things out there.

Also remember we’re hoping/planning to run the “Fun One” the weekend of Sept 17-19 at Watkins Glen International Raceway in Upper State New York. This is a major event on the SCCA calendar (on a par with the ARRC by GRM even) and WGI is one of the tracks I want to run before hanging up my helmet. If you’re on my GTA Drivers distribution list expect to start getting information about that weekend soon.

If you have any questions about this or any other upcoming events, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Remaining Events on our 2010 Schedule:

  • Jul 31-Aug 1  Pacific Raceways (spectate), Seattle WA
  • 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…