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2015 SCCA Runoffs at Daytona International Speedway

Executive Summary:

I don't know if I was really there or people just told me about it, but I have vague memories of being maybe three years old sitting on my dad's shoulders while we watched racing on the old beach/road course at Daytona. I do know that my dad was part-owner of a '37 Ford that Stan Parker drove to a 21st place finish in the first-ever race at the speedway on Feb 22, 1959 (my ninth birthday) - the Modified/Sportsman race the Saturday before the first Daytona 500. And one of the earliest pictures of me and my four brothers is all of us sitting on the fenders of that car at my dad's old lumberyard. To say that Daytona International Speedway has a special meaning to me would be an understatement, and racing there is something of a religious experience. I know we don't have the resources (money or talent, take your pick) to contend for a podium spot at the SCCA's National Championship event but I figured we could get closer to the front at Daytona than anywhere else the Runoffs would be held so it just seemed like the thing to do.

Going into the event there were 27 drivers entered in GT2 and I felt that if we managed a top ten finish it would be an excellent result. We started 20th, ran as high as 15th before ending up 18th, and even though we didn't see a checkered flag in any of the five sessions we were on the track I still consider it a successful week. I also didn't quite make it under the 2-minute mark (best lap was a 2:00.044), but running over 177 mph through the tri-oval at Daytona International Speedway was a serious, SERIOUS rush! In short, I'm glad we made the effort.

(Much) Longer Version:

I'll try to keep things as brief as possible but there is a LOT to cover from a nine-day effort. I'm thinking the best way to organize it is chronologically:

We had the majority of the trailer loaded by Wednesday night so I rolled out of Woodstock at 6:00 AM on Saturday, Sept 19. As an old man that needs to take frequent rest stops I arrived at the track around 3:00 that afternoon, checked in at Registration to get my weekend credentials and update the crew list (thanks Wanda), then set off to find my reserved paddock spot. It was a 40x40 spot on the main road with a chain link fence at the back, so I unloaded Cuervo across the street, blocked half the road after backing the trailer into the spot it would occupy for the next week, and unhooked the dually as quickly as possible. That wasn't fast enough for Brian Cembor, however, so after he honked his horn at me I "persuaded" him to assist me in setting up the awning. I chatted with some folks that stopped by (did I mention we had a highly visible spot on the main road?) and after that I went off to find Mike Eakin (aka - Purple Frog) and we joined some of his open-wheel buddies for dinner (and drinks) at Bahama Breeze across US 92 from the speedway.

Sunday I attended to administrative details like getting my new helmet inspected and getting my tech stickers, then did final prep to get Cuervo ready for his first session on Monday (applied contingency stickers, bled brakes, bolted on the tires we'd used in Michigan, etc). I also spent some time cruising around checking out where things were (Grid, gas pumps, Race Control, Hoosier, etc,) and visiting with friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in over a year. We had a "light snack" and a fair amount of beer at the Wing House that evening, and when I stopped by Firehouse Subs at 9:45 on the way to our rental house on the Halifax River in Port Orange Mike was still at the track helping install a new engine in a Formula Atlantic - he just needed to have something to do. <g>

We weren't scheduled to get on track until 5:00 Monday afternoon, so in the morning I got some work done and arrived at the track around 2:00, added fuel, put ice in the Cool Shirt cooler, and set tire pressures. We had installed new brake pads and rotors after our failed experiment of blocking off the ducts at MIS, so the plan was to run a 50% lap, a 75% lap, then two "pretty hard" laps before backing off to cool the brakes. I also had Mike remind me to hit the "Start" button on the TraqMate system as I crossed Start/Finish the first time so we'd be able to acquire data for each session during the week. After warming things up I ran back-to-back laps in the 2:03.8 range but was also hitting the 7000 RPM rev limiter well before the start finish line. I ran a lap to cool the brakes and came in so Mike could check tire pressures and lower them all to 25 psi, then I went back out and ran another 2:03.4 before the session was black-flagged due to a car buried in the tires on the outside of Turn 6 (the one leading back to the oval). We fired up the laptop and could connect to the TraqMate system to see that we had, in fact, recorded data but we couldn't get it to download so we didn't know for sure what speed/RPM we were running. It ends up SCCA was taking trap speeds through the tri-oval and had posted our top speed as 172.4 mph, so we spent the next thirty minutes or so discussing which of the two taller gearsets we should install for Tuesday. We had started out with a 3.29 rear gear and had both a 3.26 and a 3.18 in the trailer, so we opted for the 3.26 for Day 2. As I recall, dinner (and drinks) that night were at Outback Steakhouse just outside NASCAR Turn 4.

Tuesday's session was at 1:00 and we didn't need to bed brakes (and I didn't have GT1 rear gear lube on the windshield) so I went out much more aggressively this time. I turned a 2:01.8 followed by a 2:00.5 (and passed the #60 Camaro on the banking - see below), then just missed breaking the 2:00 mark with a 2:00.066 (and turned 176.5 mph) before coming into the pits so Mike could check & adjust the tire pressures. I went back out with plenty of time in the session, but I lost power in NASCAR 2 and thought I'd blown the engine up! It ends up we were just low on gas and the engine quit when I ran the fuel away from the left-side mounted pick-up on the banking, but I was concerned for a moment that our week was done early. Mike did radio that Cuervo "looked at home on the banking", and based on this photo from Rob Bodle I'd have to agree. <g>

I was still hitting the rev limiter even with the 3.26 gear, so for Wednesday we installed the tallest rear gear we'd brought with us (the 3.18) and mounted a sticker set of Hoosier HSC radials on the chrome rims we planned to run in Friday's race. Thursday's weather was looking iffy so we figured we'd scuff the race set on Wednesday if it was dry. We had also gone across the scales on Tuesday and were 58 pounds above the mininum with only two gallons in the cell, so before heading back to Outback for dinner (and drinks) we pulled the 44# ballast bar out of the car as well. Granted I'm biased, but I thought the car looked pretty sharp with the chrome rims compared to the painted gray rims we'd been running all year:

It had rained earlier in the day on Wednesday but the track was pretty dry by our 3:30 session. I "warmed up" with a 2:01.8 lap, then ran a 2:00.193 but then had a "partial spin" in Turn 5 when I hit the gas and brake pedals at the same time. Since I'd blown that lap I pulled in so Mike could check the tire pressures and we'd let some of the traffic clear out. I went back out with around ten minutes left in the session and ran back-to-back laps in the 2:02-2:03 range, but I was VERY concientious about making the transition from gas to brakes to keep from having the throttle stick again. After the session I also noticed we had more fender clearance with the chrome rims so we measured them and they had 1/2" more backset than the painted rims, which meant we were 1" narrower on Wednesday than we had been on Tuesday. So even though we had our highest trap speed of the week at 177.267 mph, that was offset by slower cornering speeds and my cautious nature with the pedals. For Thursday we decided to go back to the first set of tires (with the wider track) and then have the Wednesday tires mounted on those rims for the race. Wednesday night Mike & I decided we wanted pizza, so after finding two places on the beach that weren't open we finally stopped at Fratelli's and had salads & pizza (and beer).

Thursday ended up being a L-O-O-O-O-N-G day. Qualifying was at 10:00 and it was dry, so everyone was figuring that would be the best session of the week. We had removed another 15# of ballast from the car, installed the better rims, removed some of the toe-out in the front end, and added two pounds of air to the tires based on recommendations from Hoosier. After a warm-up lap I ran a 2:05.3 followed by a 2:00.044 lap (our fastest of the week) then a 2:02 and a 2:01 before coming into the pits so Mike could check the pressures. It ends up we were higher than the recommended 28 psi so Mike bled them down and sent me back out with the instruction, "We won't be using these tires again so there's no need to save them." I ran another 2:00.7 and was going for that elusive 1:59 lap when I apparently hit the brake and gas simultaneously entering Turn 5 (the second hairpin), spun and hit the tirewall on driver's left pretty hard with the RF corner of the car. From where I was sitting it looked like our week was done (the hood was buckled and I knew we HAD to have bent the suspension if not the chassis), so my spirits were pretty low as I took the ride to the infield care center.

After being released (they checked my head and found nothing) I rode back to our paddock with Ricky Sanders ("Mr. Pitbox") to find Mike, Allan Kosloski and his son Brad hard at work removing the bent parts. The front suspension was NOT bent and all the damage appeared to be cosmetic, then Steve Tye stopped by to tell me, "Woody and his guys are waiting on you." I called Woody (Wood) at Bemco Fabrication 20 miles away in DeLand to see if they had an open trailer (they did), so I went and picked it up while Mike, Allan, Brad, and Vern Smith continued to work on Cuervo. To make a long story short, we arrived at the Bemco shops around 2:00 with nothing forward of the radiator on the car and around 9:30 that evening loaded Cuervo back on the trailer to take him back to the track. Almost before we had the car off the trailer Woody, Jason (Boyd), JW (Johnny Abercrombie), and Heinz (Haas) were formulating a plan to get things back together. I was very much in the way, so I backed off to let the four of them work feverishly with Mike & Allan.

Here are a shot of the repair process at Bemco Fabrication:

Woody said they were willing to stay all night if necessary, and when it became apparent around 6:00 that they weren't going to stop to eat I went to Pizza Hut to get dinner for everyone. Around 9:00 we cranked the car to make sure nothing was leaking, added some finishing touches, then loaded him back on the trailer to return to the track. When I asked Woody what I owed them he gave me such a low number I was flabbergasted, then he reminded me that I had helped them out so they were helping me out. I was obviously still confused, so he said, "You let Bobby (Kennedy) use your car at MIS to qualify for the Runoffs so we're just returning the favor."  I had forgotten that Bemco does the prep work on Bobby's car, so this was indeed a case of what goes around comes around.

Friday's 9 AM race was almost anti-climatic after all that. We were the first race of the weekend and I had not been able to run any laps at speed to verify the repairs so I was fairly conservative on the start and first lap, then ran a 2:01.41 on lap two and Mike told me I was in sixteenth place overall. I had passed a couple of cars and appeared to be catching the #13 car (Brad Gross) when I had problems getting into second gear and went through the Bus Stop in the grass. The debris flag was out the next time through there (duh - I KNOW there's debris, *I* put it there! <g>) then I had problems getting second again and the engine quit. As I was coasting back to the pits and it was apparent I wasn't going to make it I switched ignition boxes and the engine fired up again! I proceeded to the pits where Mike cleared any grass out of the grille and checked things over (and our 15 seconds of fame on the Speedcast coverage), then rejoined the battle one lap down. Even without second gear I was able to stay out of the way (and still run over 170 mph on the straights), then as I was exiting Turn 6 onto the oval on lap 8 the shifter got hung up in first gear. I could have soldiered on in fourth or maybe even third gear, but even though I could run 100 mph in first gear I decided having cars closing on my at 70 mph was a bit much so I pulled Cuervo behind the wall. Without the shifter problems I believe we would have finished at least 11th and maybe 10th, but instead we ended up 18th. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, but it was a fun experience and I have some great stories to tell my grandkids about when Grandpa Butch raced at Daytona. <g>

As always, there's no way I could do this by myself. Besides the extraordinary effort by the Bemco crew (which includes Bosco & Steve Tye), I have to thank Mike & Janice Eakin, Allan, Brad & Mary Grace Kosloski, Jerrie Lynn Mitchell, Vern Smith, and Ricky Sanders for their help/support at Daytona. I also am eternally grateful to my partner Harriett who continues to believe in me and encourages me to continue to pursue this passion of mine. It is indeed a team effort and I appreciate every one of you.

Current BK Racing plans for the rest of 2015:

  • November 6-8 – ARRC by GRM at Road Atlanta
  • November 14-15 – Roebling Road Time Trials (tentative)

As always, let me know if you want further information about any of these weekends.

See y’all at the track…