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February 22, 2012

So as I sit here contemplating my (now) 62 years on the planet, I have a lot of thoughts going through my head. Please excuse an old man's meanderings while I put some of them down:

I feel I am a very lucky man. I’m reasonably healthy, I’m gainfully employed, and I’ve got a partner that not only allows me to be who I want to be but encourages me to do so. I’ve told her many times I never would have thought about living in the house we have had I not met her, and this morning (as I was preparing to take our two greyhounds for their – and my – morning walk) I realized I probably never would have owned a dog either. Those of you that have dogs understand while those of you that don’t never will (and I’m okay with that ). My life is infinitely better because Harriett is part of it.

I’m also grateful to be involved in a sport that has kept my interest for over forty years. After the wreck at Road Atlanta last July I seriously wondered whether the racing gods were telling me it was time to hang up my helmet, but when I tried to think about what I’d do instead I kept drawing a blank. Figuring it was easier to (eventually) sell a running car than one that was wrecked we got the new front clip installed on Cuervo and started putting everything back together. Right now he’s down at BJ Holley’s Auto Spa and Rehab Center (in the greater Jackson metro area) getting ready for the 2012 racing season. I’m very much aware my best years of driving are behind me (i.e. – I no longer wait anxiously by the phone every night for Roger Penske to call), but I still have some laps to run. If nothing else, I can be the “seasoned veteran” that sets the standard by which young whippersnappers know they’re ready to advance to the next level. Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of encountering one such kid at the SCCA Drivers’ School at Roebling Road.

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I’d heard of Nick Hazelwood before going to the school and since he was driving a Z-06 Corvette (the same car my student Mike Kelly drove at the 2011 school) I thought I be assigned as his instructor, but I didn’t actually meet him until I arrived in Savannah. Even though Nick turned fifteen in November he already has his Competition License, but his dad (Tim) and his grandfather (Jim) wanted to do the school so Nick would gain experience dealing with traffic in a road racing environment. Going in I was prepared (expecting?) to have to deal with a pampered, silver-spoon fed, “entitled” kid, but the reality was entirely opposite.

Granted Nick has successfully taken the first step toward a career in racing – he’s chosen his parents well. He’s been racing on ovals since he was six in quarter midgets, Bandoleros, and most recently Late Models, so he’s got nine years of dealing with traffic under his belt. He sat next to me and asked good questions while we did the “station wagon tours” Friday morning, then went out and turned consistent 1:21’s in his first session at speed on the track. He also showed excellent judgment dealing with slower traffic (which was everyone else out there) and never pushed the issue when passing people. That was a good start.

During the de-brief sessions he was quiet and appeared to listen to what I was saying. I pointed out that he was half a car width off the apex at Turn Nine and suspected he was missing the apexes at other corners as well, so he cleaned that up and over the next two sessions he lowered his best lap time to a 1:17.8 and had multiple laps in the 1:18s. Throughout the day he continued to work on his lines, was smooth and consistent, dealt well with traffic, and in the last session lowered his best lap to a 1:16.5. That evening a number of corner workers and stewards stopped by to commend him on the maturity and patience he was showing behind the wheel.

Saturday we spent on fine-tuning. He continued to concentrate on car placement and even tried a bit of left-foot braking to settle the nose of the car into Turn Nine, but decided he needed more practice to become comfortable with that technique. During one session they put sticker tires on the car to scrub them in for the following weekend, so he did three laps at “50% throttle”, three laps at “75% throttle”, then three more hard laps (being careful not to lock up the tires). I timed him at a 1:15.64 from where I was watching in Turn 6 while the “official” lap time was a 1:15.2. As a point of reference, that’s two seconds off the STO class record and he correctly noted the car was limited by a push in the high speed corners. During the five-lap race that concluded the day he went back to the old tires and still turned laps in the 1:16s. At that point I said, “I have nothing left to teach you.” His lines were excellent and he showed remarkable maturity on the track, so the next step was to start working on making the car better. I also suggested they get a data acquisition system and arrange for an established driver to lay down some laps for comparison purposes. I don’t know for sure, but I’m confident they already had a plan to do just that.

Bottom line – I don’t know if Nick Hazelwood is the next great driver to show up on the U.S. racing scene, but I didn’t see anything that weekend to tell me he isn’t either! I was/am impressed and I’m glad I got to be a part of his education process. The kid’s got talent and it’ll be interesting to see how things turn out.

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On the BK Racing front, we hope to have Cuervo ready for the test day at Road Atlanta on March 15. I don’t plan on running the Double National that weekend (March 16-18), but I figure it’s easier/cheaper to find out what’s wrong locally rather than towing five hours to figure out what we missed. After that we’re looking at the following schedule:

Dates

Track/Location

Mar 31-Apr 1

Carolina Motorsports Park

May 5-6

Daytona International Speedway

May 19-20

Road Atlanta

July 14-15

Road Atlanta

Aug 4-5

Atlanta Motorsports Park

Aug 18-19

Charlotte Motor Speedway (Under the Lights!)

Aug 31-Sep 2

Barber Motorsports Park

Oct 6-7

SARRC Invitational (tentative)

Nov 2-4

ARRC by GRM at Road Atlanta

Nov 10-11

Time Trial at Roebling Road

As always, let me know if you’d like information about any of these weekends.

See y’all at the track…