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Still Racing After All These Years (Vol. II, Part 4)     by Butch Kummer

In Illusions, by Richard Bach, it is suggested there are only two reasons for ever doing anything: #1) it’s fun and/or #2) you’ll learn something from it. All I can say is I must have learned a helluva lot at the April Road Atlanta National, ‘cause it sure didn’t fall under #1.

After helping me load things up on Thursday night, Corvette Atlanta member Eric Roberts met me at the track on Friday afternoon to help set up our paddock space, then met me at the house on Saturday morning at 7:00 so we could get to the track on time Saturday morning. Although I probably COULD do a weekend by myself, it’s certainly much easier with help from fellow Corvette enthusiasts like Eric (and Charlie Johnson at the Savannah weekend). Thanks guys!

Saturday’s schedule called for each of the six groups (I was in Group 2) to have a twenty-five minute practice session followed by a twenty minute qualifying session. My best previous lap at Road Atlanta was a 1:35.3 last September, so things were looking up when I ran a 1:33.46 on my third hot lap. I came into the pits and Eric adjusted the tire pressures, then I went back out to get serious. Next lap was another 1:33+ (Eric’s still learning to operate complicated machinery like a stopwatch), then I took an minor off-course excursion in the esses (you don’t know how fast you CAN go until you know how fast you CAN’T go) for a 1:37.77 backed up with a 1:34.33 in traffic. Just when I was ready to enter "pucker mode" (which is REALLY serious), the cockpit filled with smoke as I hit the brakes for Ten and I figured I ought to bring it in to assess things.

Once we got back to our paddock area (the engine still ran, so it didn’t look terminal), we found that all the oil breather hoses had blown off and the driver’s side valve cover was leaking. After replacing the valve cover gasket(s), we cranked the engine and heard a "puffing" sound from the carburetor, so I thought maybe I’d overreved the engine during my agricultural expedition and bent an intake valve. We didn’t have time to change the heads before the afternoon’s qualifying session, so I planned to make one or two laps on seven cylinders just so I wouldn’t have to start at the back of the 25-car field, then we’d change to the spare heads Saturday night. Nice try.

I had planned on a short qualifying session, but it ended up being even shorter than I wanted. Smoke again filled the cockpit as I entered Turn Ten on my timed lap (I could almost see the gauges), so I finished that lap (at a 1:43.436, 10th on the grid of 26 cars) and then parked the car out of harm’s way in Turn One. After getting hauled back to the paddock at the end of the session, we had the car loaded on the trailer and headed for the shop within an hour. Time’s a wastin’ and we got work to do.

Once back at the shop, I cleaned things up a bit with my Home Depot pressure washer, then we got down to taking things apart. With four of us working we got to the nitty gritty pretty early, determined that #6 had no compression and pulled that head first. While I was taking a quick look at the valves, Eric said something like "am I supposed to be able to see the crankshaft from here?". Ends up I had blown a head gasket (unrelated to the off-course excursion) which caused detonation in #6 and melted a hole in the piston. Figuring that racer’s tape and JB weld wouldn’t hold up, we rolled the car into the shop, ordered pizza and started drinking.

As most of you know, Sunday dawned early and ugly. We got to the track around 10:00 and I’m somewhat relieved I didn’t have to make a decision about whether or not I would run my race (it was the first race after lunch). There was heavy rain as the field began the first of two pace laps and conditions were so bad the two cars on the front row (a GT-2 Toyota and a GT-1 Camaro) came into the pits and quit because they couldn’t see. The lone remaining GT-1 car (the #05 Mustang from Savannah) was lapped four times in the 18 lap race by the winning AS Camaro (which had windshield wipers and a defroster), so there’s a very good chance I could have had my first National win. On the other hand there’s also a decent chance I’d be facing body and chassis damage, but we’ll never know. Since the Mustang was already ahead of me in SEDIV points, I’m still fifth in the division but need at least one more finish to qualify for the Runoffs.

The Solo I at Talladega on April 7-9 is out of the question, so now I have to get an engine back together (which should be no problem) before the annual Beech Mountain (NC) Hill Climb on May 19-21. For those that like to plan further ahead, we’ll return to race at Road Atlanta June 10-11 and, if all continues to go well with my new car, July 28-30. And if you’re interested in vintage sports car racing and really neat cars (including some really nice Corvettes), I’d suggest heading to Road Atlanta for the Walter Mitty historic races April 28-30.

See you at the track…