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FINALLY - A SARRC Championship at Last!
Short story – we won our class, came in seventh overall and we ARE the 2006 SARRC GTA Champions. Next racing event is the American Road Race of Champions at Road Atlanta the weekend of November 9-12 (we race on Saturday, not Sunday!).
I understand that some (many?) of you never get beyond that first paragraph, but if you have any interest at all in racing this is one time you’ll want to read the longer story:
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Data (Eric Bartel) and I unloaded the trailer the Tuesday night after getting back from Savannah, then watched the in-car video from the race for the first time. Even though I knew the final outcome, I was exhausted (and let out a whoop) when it showed us going under the checkered flag first. The 2006 SARRC Invitational Challenge was the most intense fifteen laps I’ve EVER spent in a race car!
The SARRC (South Atlantic Road Racing Challenge) rules count the top six finishes throughout the season with the culminating event at Roebling Road counting double points. After our last event at Nashville, Steve Magowan and I were tied for the GTA points lead going into the Sept. 22,23 weekend with five wins and one second place finish each. Steve and I were the only two drivers with a shot at the championship (and the only GTA cars entered), so whichever one of us finished ahead of the other would be the champion. As I told people all week long as we prepared for the season finale’, “I’m only racing one car at Savannah, the blue #72 Pontiac. I don’t care if I’m 52nd as long as he’s 53rd. My goal is to have him in my mirror as we take the checkered flag.” Little did I know how prophetic that would be!
Thirty cars were entered in the Group 7 race made up of SPO, GT-1, GT-2, GTA, AS, T-1 & T-2 cars, but assorted problems during qualifying meant only twenty-seven lined up for the green flag on Sunday afternoon. We had qualified the BK Racing Monte Cuervo in the eighth spot with a 1:14.810 lap set during the first session on Saturday morning (that’s two seconds faster than I ran last July at Roebling – the newly repaved surface was fantastic and the consensus is that it’s two seconds a lap faster than the old surface). During the hotter second session we slowed to a best of 1:15.8 and Steve improved on his first session time to turn a 1:17.284 which lined him up in tenth place overall, right behind me. Now being on the outside is NOT the ideal place to start a race at Roebling Road (or any other track, really), but since Steve was directly behind me he would be facing the same traffic I would at the green. Even though we were running a full fuel load for the first time all weekend during the race (didn’t need to run out of gas like we did at Road Atlanta in July), I was feeling pretty good about where we were.
There really is nothing that describes the intensity of coming up to take the green flag mid-pack surrounded by more than twenty snarling, ground-pounding monsters. The cars are shuffling, twitching, juking and straining like wild beasts chained to a tree, just waiting to be set free to do what they do best. I’m sure it’s similar with Spec Miatas or formula cars, but the tension seems greater with our big bore cars because our straights are shorter than theirs.
With Mike Eakin calling the green over the radio I got a pretty good jump, pulled into the spot in the right lane vacated by Jeff Bailey’s Corvette when he got an even better start, then pulled up even with Hartmut VonSeelen’s SPO Porsche as we got to the place where the track narrows down. Knowing that Hartmut could brake later and corner faster than our taxi-cabs (and not wanting to mess up his race either) I planned on maintaining that position all the way to the braking zone for Turn One (which conveniently would keep Steve behind me as well <g>), but I was definitely surprised when Derek Whitis in the silver Noble that had started two rows back came blasting by the right side! I figured he’d jumped the green big time and would probably get black-flagged for the transgression, but it didn’t matter since he too was in SPO and was NOT the #72 car. Ends up he had NOT jumped the green, that thing is just a frigging rocketship at 1800 pounds and 500 hp!
Steve got beside me on the left as things got settled down exiting Turn Two and I was thinking we’d have a side-by-side duel through the left-handed Turn Three sweeper before engaging in a serious game of I-don’t-need-no-stinkin-brakes as we entered the braking zone for Turn Four (where I’d again have the advantage of being on the inside). Ends up Steve backed out at the entry to Three – I don’t know if he was concerned about me giving him room or if he was still a bit squirrelly on cold tires and decided discretion was the better part of valor. Regardless, I was first into Turn Four and settled down to start pulling away from him.
Only problem was, I COULDN’T PULL AWAY!! I was running as hard as I could but this blue #72 kept hanging around in my mirrors! I got a pretty good run onto the front straight and Mike comes over the radio saying “He’s in your mirror.” Next lap by Mike says, “OK, now you know where he is.” Harriett was spotting for me on the back side and calmly informed me that I wasn’t pulling away back there either. I was running consistent 1:16’s and low 1:17’s and Steve was never more than four car lengths off my bumper. Granted I was taking a defensive line through a couple of corners (like Turns 1, 1-A, 2, maybe 3, 5, 6 and 7 <g>) so that kept me from running my absolute best time, but Steve had definitely turned the wick up from qualifying and just WOULDN’T GO AWAY!!! I concentrated on getting a good run out of Turn Seven, kept everything tidy sweeping onto the front straight through Turn 9 and then kept the thing matted all the way to the braking zone at Turn 1.
As the laps wound down Mike kept giving me lap times and lap counts, then always finished up with “He’s in your mirror.” I tried to stick Steve behind traffic as we came up to lap folks but that didn’t work either, so I’d go back to the basics of maintaining my line and making sure I got everything out of every shift I made. I’m sure the Spec Miata and Spec Racer Ford guys deal with it every race, but they’re also not carrying 160 mph into the braking zone for Turn One, either. There was absolutely no time to relax, but that’s why we’re out there. If Pamela Anderson had been standing nude at the start/finish line I doubt I would have known it – that’s how focused I was.
Bottom line is I turned my best lap of the race on lap 14 at a 1:16.553 which was a new GTA track record for exactly one minute, sixteen point five oh two seconds (1:16.502), because that’s what Steve turned on the final lap in a last ditch effort to get by. The official margin of victory was 0.218 seconds, which at 140 mph (which is what we’re traveling at the start/finish line at Roebling) is right at 45 feet – just about two car lengths. And Steve’s cumulative time for the entire fifteen laps was actually .132 seconds faster than mine.  Had we started side-by-side, he would have beaten me to the checker by a car length. Wow!
We gave each other the thumbs-up on the cool off lap, then talked in impound about that being the most fun we’d ever had with our pants on. Steve also said he needs to work on qualifying better, because that could have made a major difference had we even started out side-by-side vs. nose-to-tail. It would have been interesting to see if I could have gotten by him had he been ahead, but certainly not enough to wave him by just to try it. Just a really, really great race with an equal competitor and my hat’s off to him. I got the win and the SARRC Championship, Steve got the track record and actually ran a faster race than I did – that’s about as equal as you can get! Great job, Steve, and I really enjoy racing with you.
Adding to the pleasure of the weekend was sharing the awning and paddock space with Jeff Bailey and my old ’94 Corvette, “Godzilla”. Jeff has pretty much rebuilt everything on the car and it’s looking very nice, but then during the second qualifier on Saturday he explored the nether regions of the Turn Seven sand trap and pretty much destroyed the nose of the car. Not to be denied, however, Jeff, wife Barbara and son Brandon worked all night fabricating new panels and repairing old ones, then made it to the grid to take his place next to me at the start. The car stayed together even after a “rubbing” incident at the start with Todd Carter and Jeff soldiered on to come home second in GT-1, fifth overall. After it was over we realized GT-1 points leader Jeff Emery had broken a rear gear and only finished five laps, so my Bitty Buddy ends up GT-1 SARRC Champion as well! Two SARRC Champions under the same awning – what a weekend!
Next event for the BK Racing Monte Cuervo is the annual American Road Race of Champions (the ARRC). We’ll qualify on Friday, Nov. 10, then race Saturday afternoon rather than our usual Saturday/Sunday schedule, but we’re expecting over fifty (50) ground-pounding beasts in our race so it ought to be a seriously exciting time. The ARRC has become a major event on the Regional SCCA calendar with everything from mini-pickups to blindingly fast formula cars, so there’s something for everyone regardless of which Church of Speed you follow. More info is available at www.ARRC-Online.com, or let me know and I’ll answer your questions.
See y’all at the track…