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Road Atlanta July SARRC

Back in the mid-80’s - probably 1985 since it was before I moved to Atlanta - I went to a weekend seminar with and organization called the Institute for Self Actualization (ISA). It didn’t so much change my life as it affirmed there were others that think the same way I do, namely - “We are what we allow ourselves to be.” One of the points I took away from that weekend over twenty years ago fits well with our experience at Road Atlanta on July 19, 2008:

The event occurs.  Whether we attach a positive or negative charge to it is up to us.

The bad news is Cuervo and I were involved in a multi-car wreck at start of Saturday afternoon’s SARRC points race. The good news is (1) I’m fine physically, (2) until then we had gone faster at Road Atlanta than we’d ever gone before, (3) Cuervo can be repaired, and (4) we now have justification for getting rid of that “festive” pink and lavender paint scheme. <g>

As always, here’s the longer version...

= = = = = = = = =

I was pretty pumped heading into the July 19-20 SARRC/ECR/Pro-IT/PDX/Zoom-Fest weekend at Road Atlanta. Mike Harrison had just freshened the engine (after the oil pump belt failure at Nashville) so Cuervo was ready to go, we had twelve GTA cars among the 41 “Big Noise” cars pre-registered for the weekend, and Road Atlanta is just a hoot to drive anyway. The twelve GTA cars were split equally between the original ASA cars and the (new for 2008) Late Model cars, so this would provide some pretty decent feedback regarding how well our rules package was balanced. Atlanta Region was also trying out a new (for us) race schedule, so I was anxious to see how things would turn out on a number of levels.

Dennis (McClintock) & I had gotten the engine installed the previous Tuesday, so we ran two sessions of Friday afternoon’s test day to determine we’d forgotten to tighten the lower radiator hose and figure out the shifter was out of adjustment (it got hung in second gear both sessions). After fixing those issues we bolted on the sticker set of Hoosier 3035 race tires and got ready for Saturday morning’s first qualifying session.

With 40+ cars on the track I knew getting a clean lap would be paramount, and as I came around for my first lap the front straight was clear so I went for it even though the tires were not fully warmed up yet. I had a bit of a moment in Turn One (Court Dowis said it looked a lot worse from the outside than it did from where I was sitting) and it wasn’t a 10/10ths lap by any means, but when Dennis radioed “33.4” I was feeling pretty good. The fastest GTA lap I’d ever turned (which was back in 2005 at the ARRC) was a 1:33.746 so I figured a 33.4 in the July heat would have us in the hunt. I stayed out one more lap to see if I could do better, got balked by traffic a bit going down through the Esses and still turned a 34.2, but I was coming up on a gaggle of cars so I backed off and came in. Ends up our official time on lap one was a 1:33.472, but Ron Fariss had followed me on our second lap (which was a 1:34.274), got a better break on the traffic I’d caught in the Esses, drafted me down the back straight, and was on the GTA pole with a 1:32.923. Bob Davis (another Late Model) was third in GTA with a 1:34.661 followed by Tony Amico and Tom Graham (ASA cars) at 1:35.002 and 1:36.233 respectively. Randy Gay, Steve Magowen, Preston Fowler, BJ Holley, and Bobby Reuse filled out the rest of the GTA field, so there certainly was adequate competition for everyone.

The new schedule that we (Atlanta Region) were trying was to make the second session an 8-lap “optional” qualifying race instead of a normal 15-minute qualifying session. The cars would line up on Grid based on the times turned in Session 1, but finishing order in this race had no bearing on where they lined up for the 15-lap SARRC points race later in the weekend. If they turned a better time in the 8-lap race than in Session 1 they would use that time for the SARRC race. If someone wanted to race they could race, but it was also easier to get a clean lap because you were starting around cars that were about the same speed as you (less chance of encountering slower than during a standard qualifier). If you were satisfied with the time you’d run in Session 1 then you could sit out the 8-lapper, so there was something for everyone. Additionally the workers have said they prefer working races rather than qualifying sessions, so we thought it was worth a try.

Ron Farris and Bob Davis elected to sit out the 8-lapper to save their tires, but I wanted to run it since it’d been a year since I’d made more than three consecutive laps at Road Atlanta and I had some things I wanted to work on. We bolted on the tires we’d used Father’s Day weekend at Nashville, added fuel and rolled to the Grid just before lunch on Saturday. I led the GTA train into Turn One at the green, but the faster cars in front of me were taking longer than I was to get comfortable with the corners so I couldn’t build a gap between myself and my two closest pursuers (Tony and Tom). Tony was on my back bumper as we came out of Turn 7 on lap 2 and pulled alongside as we went past Turn Nine at 160 mph, but I anticipated that move and gave him a car width plus two inches of track surface on my right as we entered the braking zone into Turn Ten. That allowed me to control his turn-in for the left-handed portion of Ten and we may have touched as he tried a cross-over move behind me (the corner workers called in nose-to-tail contact but we couldn’t find any evidence on either car), but I maintained the GTA lead for another lap. I still couldn’t pull a gap to Tony and Tom, however, so I waved them by in Turn Two of lap 4 rather than continuing to show them my line in the corners. They are fast learners, however, because Tony ended up turning a 1:32.724 and Tom a 1:33.235 after they got by me (we had a best lap of 1:33.928 on six heat-cycle tires). What’s interesting is 20 of the 36 cars in our group went faster in the 8-lapper than they had in Qualifying, some by a substantial margin. The GTA grid:

PIC

OA

Name

Model

Time

1

9

Tony Amico

ASA

1:32.724

2

10

Ron Fariss

Late Model

1:32.923

3

11

Tom Graham

ASA

1:33.235

4

12

Butch Kummer

ASA

1:33.472

5

14

Bob Davis

Late Model

1:34.661

6

17

Randy Gay

ASA

1:35.923

7

18

Bobby Reuse

Late Model

1:36.678

8

21

Steve Magowen

ASA

1:37.927

9

23

Preston Fowler

ASA

1:38.610

10

24

B.J. Holley

Late Model

1:39.245

Although they were running in SPO, the following guys were also in GTA-legal cars so I’ll include their times for comparison purposes as well:

 

 

OA

Name

Model

Time

 

15

Roger Reuse

Late Model

1:35.274

 

28

Steve Graham

Late Model

1:39.750

 

29

Bubba Longbottom

Late Model

1:41.199

So with the top five GTA cars covered by less than two seconds I was looking forward to one helluva race. Three faster cars failed to take their spots on Grid, so we rolled off in ninth place overall (inside fifth row) right behind Ron, Lee Arnold in his SPO stock car, Gene Felton in his ex-Ganassi Cup car, and pole-sitter Charles Wicht in his much-modified ex-Kevin Harvick Southwest Tour car. One thing I wasn’t worried about was catching the guys in front of me on the start, but with luck I thought I’d have a shot at sneaking inside Ron (and maybe Tony) as we got to Turn One. As I’ve written multiple times before, be careful what you wish for.

We did post the video on YouTube (see link below), but I was just before the apex at Turn 12 when the Starter threw the green flag. I got a good jump, shifted into second and was at about 6500 rpm (which is right at 100 mph) when all Hell broke loose. A car at the front of the field got sideways so Lee and Ron checked up, which caught me completely by surprise. I kept replaying the video last night hoping that at least one time I would swerve far enough right to miss Ron, but every time I kept nailing his right rear corner with my left front. That turned me to the left where I hit Ron a second time (in his RR tire) then I continued to my left and nailed Tommy in his right rear. Jeff Dernehl (GT-3 RX-7 that started outside me and was testing for the Runoffs) had no place to go, clobbered me in the driver’s door and cleaned off his RF corner. When all the dust had settled I was next to the wall on driver’s right, so I radioed Harriett and Dennis that I was okay and shut off the video camera before unbuckling to get out. As I climbed on Cuervo’s roof to get over the wall, I saw there were five cars scattered along the front straight – Cuervo, Tommy’s GTA Monte Carlo, Jeff’s RX-7, Bob Monette’s GT-1 Corvette, and Clint Thomas’ be-winged SPO stock car. The stewards black-flagged the race (similar to a red flag in NASCAR) while the safety crews quickly cleared the track surface of broken and bent cars.

For those more visually inclined: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NckLoCWsZo 

There have been suggestions/questions about who to blame for what, but let me nip all that crap in the bud. Bob Monette has admitted to being in unfamiliar territory on the front row and spinning the rear tires when the green was thrown. Nobody feels worse about the situation than he does. And lest anyone forget, I’ve got a copy of me sideways in a cloud of tire smoke after being on the pole for the start of the 2003 ARRC that I’d be glad to send you. We laugh about it and I was lucky that time, this time I wasn’t: “It’s just one of them racin’ deals.”

There’s a reason the talking heads on TV talk about starts (and restarts) being so dangerous. Not only is your heart beating out of your chest, but that’s also the closest all the cars will ever be on the track. Things are so loud you can’t hear your own engine, so you need to keep one eye on the tach (AND remember to shift), one eye on the cars immediately around you, one eye on the track ahead, and your fourth eye on the Starter to make sure you don’t miss the green. I don’t know about you, but I ran out of eyeballs a couple of glances back! Every one of us knows (or should know) that each time we strap ourselves into the car there’s a chance we’ll walk back to the pits with nothing but the steering wheel in our hand, but that’s part of the price we pay for the adrenaline rush this sport provides.

Dennis and (future GTA driver) Jim Matheson started removing broken pieces while I was being checked out at Medical (they did a quick brain scan and found nothing <g>), and the damage appears to mainly be bolt-on parts. The radiator was not leaking and the frame appears straight (no cracks in the paint or broken welds). Despite the bent suspension parts I probably could have driven back to the Paddock had I thought about it, but it was obvious our weekend was over.

Saturday night Harriett mentioned “you seem to be taking this wreck harder than others you’ve had”, and I realized it was because I could have been a player in this race. Tony led early, then Ron (with the back end of his car caved in like a Bomber class veteran at your local short track) got by with a great move into Turn One as they started lap 4. Two laps later Bob Davis got by Tony for second, and I found out later that Tony had lost his power steering belt about the second lap. At one point in time the top five GTA cars (including Roger and Randy) were running nose-to-tail with about two seconds from first to fifth. It was great racing and Tommy and I would no doubt have been right in the middle of it. At the end Bob faded and Tony started closing the gap to Ron, and as they started the last lap the top three were Ron maybe a second ahead of Tony, then Randy another 3-4 seconds back.  As they came back into view from under the bridge however, Ron was not to be seen and Tony was going very slowly.  Ends up Ron had blown his engine big time exiting Turn Seven (the slowest part of the track), couldn’t see past his dash due to all the smoke in the car, and had tried to pull off driver’s left (which is the side of track you’d normally exit from Seven) to get off the pavement. Unfortunately Tony was trying to get by on Ron’s left, so they hit and bent Tony’s right front suspension. Despite that Tony limped to the finish for his sixth SARRC win of the season and Ron had a big enough lead over Bob that he was classified third, so the final order was: 

PIC

OA

Name

Model

Best Lap

1

4

Tony Amico

ASA

1:32.531

2

6

Randy Gay

ASA

1:34.565

3

8

Ron Fariss

Late Model

1:33.122

4

9

Bob Davis

Late Model

1:34.467

5

12

Bobby Reuse

Late Model

1:37.393

6

14

Steve Magowen

ASA

1:38.272

7

16

Preston Fowler

ASA

1:37.810

8

23

B.J. Holley

Late Model

1:37.013

-

-

Tom Graham

ASA

DNF

-

-

Butch Kummer

ASA

DNF

 

 

 

 

 

Add in the “GTA” cars running in SPO, and you can see there was some serious racing going on throughout the field:

 

OA

Name

Model

Best Lap

 

5

Roger Reuse

Late Model

1:34.371

 

13

Steve Graham

Late Model

1:36.898

 

15

Bubba Longbottom

Late Model

1:41.287

As far as what the rest of 2008 holds for B.K. Racing, that depends on what we find when we start taking things apart. It doesn’t cost much to dismantle things, then we make a list of what we need and start adding things up. Right now I’d guess it’ll be around $2500 to get Cuervo back together, which means Daytona the second weekend in August is certainly out of the question. Although we still have an outside shot at defending the championship (by winning both races at Barber over Labor Day weekend), we may elect to skip that weekend as well and run the SARRC Invitational (Sept 20-21) and the ARRC by GRM (Nov 7-9) for bragging rights only.  I’ve also got personal commitments three of the weekends before Barber, so time is a factor as well. 

All that said, we WILL have two fresh, unadorned quarter-panels if anyone knows (or has) a business that would like to get involved in racing.  And if you act quickly, I’ll even let you decide what color we paint the car! <g>

See y’all at the track…