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Executive Summary:

At BK Racing's (unexpected) final event of 2016 I was reminded once again why, despite my moderate success as a driver over the years, Roger Penske does not appear to have me on speed-dial. We also confirmed that perhaps tire engineers know of which they speak when they recommend heat-cycling tires with at least a 24-hour cool-down period to increase durability. Despite those learning experiences that appear to be negatives, it was an EXCELLENT weekend that makes me optimistic about the coming season! 

Longer Version:

Those that actually read the "Longer Version" from the ARRC Update may recall that Tom O'Gorman approached me at Road Atlanta to discuss ways he might get some seat time on a GTA/TA2 type car. Granted he's a millennial (he turned 25 on October 22) and is young enough to be my grandson, but through a combination of talent, hard work, and dedication he's built a pretty loyal following in the motorsports community. He has won multiple SCCA Solo National Championships, was on the cover of the July 2016 issue of SportsCar, and (with a woefully underfunded effort using an all-volunteer crew) won the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge TCB championship. He's also worked hard on building his brand on social media (http://www.tomoracing.com/) and quite frankly, he's just a helluva good kid. 

After talking for a few minutes about possible opportunities, I "remembered" the Nov 19-20 "Last Chance" Track Trials event at Roebling Road. This event was tentatively on the 2016 BK Racing schedule in case my partner Allan Kosloski wanted to get some practice at Roebling Road prior to the SCCA/SVRA drivers' school next February, but it ends up Allan had other plans that weekend so I figured our season would conclude with the ARRC. At any rate, I mentioned the event to TomO and since he had no other plans for that week he jumped at the chance. Even though his day job with SCCA's Track Night in America program (TNiA) takes him to racetracks all over the country, he had never even seen much less driven Roebling Road. "No problem", sez he, "I'll get a few pointers from my buddy Jon Krolewicz (also of TNiA)." 

I went down on Friday to secure a paddock area and TomO's van was there when I arrived at the track around 6:30 Saturday morning (he passed the first test - parking on the correct side of my rig). I had just started unloading the trailer when TomO came out to greet the morning. We went about prepping the car for the day (installing the tires I'd raced on at Road Atlanta, setting tire pressures, adding fuel, and putting a duct tape '1' in front of the '57'), TomO went to sign in when Registration opened, then we both attended the drivers' meeting at 8:00. It would be  around 9:00 before our run group got on track and Cuervo was ready to go, so we then went to a couple of the corners so TomO could see which way they went.

The plan was I would run the two morning sessions, then we'd make the necessary seating adjustments (add multiple pads and adjust the seat belts) so TomO could run the two afternoon sessions. I haven't run quite as many laps at Roebling as I have at Road Atlanta, but I HAVE won three SARRC championships there over the years and know what a competitive time is in a GTA car. In the days since the ARRC various internet jockeys had suggested I prepare myself to be outrun in my own car (I was - it's happened before and will no doubt happen again - that's how you get better) and some even set the over/under for TomO to turn a better time at two laps. If I was a betting man, I would have taken the "over" on that bet.

My first session out the shifter again got stuck in second gear as I was finishing my first timed lap, so after running the last 1/2 mile on the rev limiter in second gear (just over 110 mph) it was a rather sedate 1:21 and change. Back at the paddock spot we jacked the car up enough that I could get under it to inspect things, but since the adjustment looked pretty close I decided I'd run my second session using nothing but third and fourth (not that big a difference at Roebling since it really has no low-speed corners). In my second session I held up on the out lap (I was the first car out) to create a gap and remembered to NOT downshift to second after getting into third, then reeled off laps of 1:18.4 and 1:18.0 before turning a 1:17.735 on lap three. I then caught traffic and even though I tried creating another gap the 1:17 would end up being my fastest. It most definitely was not a "OMG I'm gonna die!" lap, but I felt it was a pretty solid time (particularly for being on used tires) and one that would contend for the win at most GTA races I've seen at Roebling Road.

We then went about converting Cuervo over to TomO which, since he's nine inches shorter and about 90 pounds lighter than I am, mainly consisted of getting enough padding in the seat so he could see over the dash. We ended up using three stadium cushions that I'd borrowed from Allan plus a beach blanket and a pair of jeans that I had in the trailer. We also had to significantly shorten the lap belts, but after he pronounced he was comfortable and could see we went to lunch to further discuss the subtleties of driving at Roebling Road while awaiting the two afternoon sessions. And just so you know the challenge we faced, here's a shot of him before we added the padding:

"Grandpa - can you toss me the keys to Mom's car?"

After he finally figured out Cuervo is not fuel-injected (continually pumping the gas pedal floods the engine) TomO managed to get the engine started, then stalled it no less than three times on his way to grid. Given the wide disparity of speeds in the run group plus passing being limited to the straights we had talked briefly about the importance of building a gap, but that really didn't sink in at first. TomO did his out lap to get used to how Cuervo performed, then I swear I heard, "Harry, I'm dropping the hammer!" as he came through Turn 9 to start his first hot lap. As reported elsewhere, I'm sure I uttered an expletive as he came past to finish that lap at a 1:16.8 - the little sucker was a full second faster than my best time the first time in the car on a track he'd never driven!!! He wasn't done, though, and after he worked his way through traffic over the next four laps (lapping the entire field in the process) he finished up with laps of 1:14.342 and 1:14.425! When he stopped on pit road I checked the tire pressures and then told him he was done for the day - Grandpa wanted his car keys back. <g>

In Saturday's last session TomO worked things a bit better and actually got TWO laps before hitting traffic again, this time turning a lap of 1:14.013 on his second hot lap (video). To put that lap into perspective, the GTA class record is a 1:15.0 and the best lap I've ever turned at Roebling was a 1:14.8 during qualifying for the 2006 SARRC Invitational Challenge. Granted TomO was at least 80 pounds under the GTA minimum weight so his time wouldn't have counted for a new record anyway, but both those times were run on better tires and the driver wasn't searching for the track through the windshield glare coming onto the front straight.

Based on Saturday's performance I fully expected TomO to dip into the 13's and maybe even the high 12's on Sunday morning. His first session he got better at creating a gap before turning a 1:14.699 on lap three then backed that up with three laps in the low 15's while (again) dealing with traffic. In the post session debrief he was disappointed in the effort until Steve Eckerich stopped by and confirmed the track is always slower on cool mornings (it was 45 degrees when TomO went out) and it would surely get faster later in the day.

"Later in the day" ended up being right after the 11-noon shutdown, and TomO started out with two laps in the low 1:16's before looping it coming out of Turn 2 going for more. He brought it into the pits so I could make sure everything was okay (it was) and when I informed him of the lap times he said, "There's no sense in going back out, this thing's diabolical right now."  Even though there was time left in the session we took it back to the paddock to see if we could determine why it was oversteering so badly in right-handers. I couldn't find anything loose in the suspension and the diff seemed to be working correctly, then I happened to look at the LR tire and it had NO tread indicators showing anywhere across the surface (i.e. - the next layer was cords). We generally can run at least three weekends on a set of tires (granted that's with a slow driver, though) so TomO was concerned that he'd burned them off, but then I remembered we had not had a chance to scuff this particular set before racing 18 laps on them at Road Atlanta. For maximum durability tire engineers have told me to run 3-4 laps on a new set (being careful not to lock them up), then let them cool down for at least 24 hours before racing on them again. In this case we weren't able to do that, so I'm assuming that's why they wore out so quickly.

Bottom line on the weekend is the kid kicked my butt and I'm okay with it - I now know Cuervo is still a pretty decent piece capable of running at the front in GTA. Both of us currently have a lot of balls in the air regarding our 2017 plans, but if we can work it out I'd REALLY like to put TomO back in the car for a couple of V8 Road Racing Series (www.V8RRS.com) events next year. We can add ballast the RR corner to better balance the car than when I'm in it, and with better tires I'm confident we can do some serious damage to some GTA track records around the country. In the meantime, if you need a certified hot-shoe to determine if you're getting everything from your car I'd HIGHLY recommend letting Tom O'Gorman help you find out just how fast it can go. The kid is the real deal and I can only hope he'll remember me when he's rich and famous! <g>

In other news, Chairman Walsh wrote in the December 2016 issue of SportsCar magazine that the BoD expects to interview potential candidates in December and they "might have a new President and CEO on board sometime around the National Convention, or shortly thereafter." As of this date (11/24/2016) I've not been called for an interview but I have been told my application is on file, so I need to be patient and let the process work. Based on that information, it's now appropriate to modify my official position on the situation:

"Based on what I currently know of the Board of Director's expectations I am very interested in being the next President/CEO of SCCA and have submitted my resume for the BoD's consideration. If you have an opinion regarding my suitability for the position, please make your Area Director aware of those thoughts."

Happy Thanksgiving, and we'll see y'all at the track…