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Summit Point MARRS Weekend
First time ever at a Washington DC Region event, first time ever at Summit Point.  
Short story:
“We done blowed it up”, and it was ugly before it blew so I can’t even say “It was running REAL GOOD right before we done blowed it up”. Great people, good track, but a B-A-D weekend.
And now the (much) longer story:
I had never run either a Washington DC Region (WDCR) event nor seen Summit Point Raceway Park before, but we added their May 30-31 MARRS event to the 2009 GTA National Tour because (a) it fit well into this year’s schedule and (b) we wanted to promote our GTA cars to folks outside our normal areas of strength. Although Bryan Dobyns of BDM Racing has been preaching the “gospel according to GTA” to the DC folks for the past two years, we hoped a full field of cars would help reinforce that message. A bunch of people stopped by to talk to us over the weekend, so it was a successful trip in that regard at least.
We estimated it’d take around twelve hours to get from Woodstock to the track, so Data (Eric Bartel) and I left the house right at 7:00 AM on Thursday, May 28. Even with some torrential rains on I-81 in Virginia we still got to the track by 6:30 that evening, and after signing in at the gate we set about exploring the landscape. I knew WDCR is VERY protective about where you park in the paddock (necessary because of the limited pavement), so after one pass through the area we stopped to talk to a couple of guys that were standing there. Ends up they were Rob Morris and Gerry Hudson - BDM customers and drivers of a GTA car and a Panoz GTS respectively - so we lucked into being in the right place. They gave us some pointers about Summit Point in general and helped us unload, then we all sat around waiting for Bryan to come in and set up “base camp” for us. Around 9:00 it was getting dark and we were getting hungry (and running out of beer), so we covered Cuervo up and headed for Winchester, VA, for the night. Since Bryan finally showed up around 11:00 PM, I’m glad we didn’t wait around until he got there! <g>
It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a new track, and even though I’d watched some in-car video and talked to a number of people the first session on Friday was very much a learning experience. There are elements of Summit Point that are similar to Roebling Road (the track rewards late apexes and it’s a momentum track), but it also has some very unique aspects as well. You come out of Turn 3 at about 125 mph and enter the right-handed Turn 4 at almost 130, but you can carry more speed through T-4 than you can get stopped for in the sharp left-hander that is Turn 5. Add in the bedrock wall all along the outside of T-4 (protected by a tirewall but STILL!) and you’ll understand why I approached that corner with a certain amount of trepidation. Given that we were learning a new track and dealing with everything from Spec Miatas to GT-1 cars, I was fairly pleased we ran a couple of laps in the 1:20’s late in the session.
In the second session I did a better job of dealing with traffic, worked on cleaning up my exit from the Carrousel, and used more of the pavement exiting Turns 3 and 10. I could tell it was faster because I was bouncing off the rev limiter in third entering T-10 and was right at 7000 RPM (153 mph) at the end of the front straight. I also followed Bryan a couple of laps and found out about using the extra pavement in Turn 2, so when Data called out back-to-back 1:19’s (Bryan holds the GTA record at 1:17.818) I felt pretty good about where we were. We skipped the next session to change to our Road Atlanta gears and bleed the brakes, then had lunch.
It started raining during lunch so we quickly covered the cars and then continued our discussion of the morning’s sessions under Rob’s awning. As it continued raining I noticed the river running through the middle of the paddock. First the oil drain pan we’d used when changing the rear gears floated away, then some parts boxes swept past us so we posted a look-out for small farm animals and children! The rains finally slowed, so I trudged downstream in search of Bryan’s oil drain pan and found some folks mid-thigh deep in water cleaning out the only storm drain in the entire paddock. I was thinking the afternoon sessions would certainly be cancelled, but the track personnel got out the water pumps and started relocating the lakes at the various corners. The fact that they even HAD such equipment told me this was not a freak occurrence, and that notion was further supported when Rob congratulated us on having experienced (and survived) one of the “legendary” Summit Point thunderstorms.
It took an extra hour to make the track presentable, but we went out for our third session around 2:00 in the afternoon. The track was still damp in spots but drying (we were on slicks), but about halfway through the session the power steering started acting up. It would work and then not work, so the inconsistency along with the dampness caused me to be tentative. The good news is we still had a couple of laps in the 1:20 range, and we were no longer banging against the rev limiter going into Turn 10.
Back in the paddock we found some slop in the RF upper ball joint, the RF wheel bearing, the RF tie rod, and the right side of the steering rack. We missed the last session while fixing all that, but we felt confident we’d found the problem so we bolted a new set of Hoosier 3035’s for Saturday morning’s qualifying session, went through SCCA registration, and visited with some of the WDCR folks before heading back to Winchester for pizza and beer.
At dinner Data asked me what I thought of the track and after thinking about it a bit I replied, “It’s not a twelve-hour track.” He looked puzzled, so I explained that it’s a fun track and it’s challenging, but it’s not worth a twelve hour drive to race there. It’s certainly worth a four or maybe five hour drive, but not twelve. He understood and we moved on to discussing deeper subjects.
MARRS (Mid-Atlantic Road Racing Series) is specific to DC Region with many of the same racers running each month, so they have rules that we don’t have here in SEDIV. One of those is that your grid spot for qualifying is determined by your best lap at the last race weekend. Since we didn’t HAVE a “last race weekend” we lined up behind all those that ran in April and were 25th of 33 cars even though we were probably in the top five speed-wise. Although I went pretty slow for the first two warm-up laps I was still catching heavy traffic before I got halfway through my first hot lap, so the session became an exercise in trying to find a gap in traffic before I cooked the sticker tires. I finally got a couple of good laps near the end, but I was disappointed that we only ran a 1:22.248, which was good for seventh overall and third in GTA. At the time I chalked it up to the power steering issues (which were NOT fixed) and staying out longer than I wanted to on sticker tires. In retrospect, I also think the engine was starting to go but that was masked by the steering issues.
Bryan was on the GTA pole (and fifth overall) with a 1:17.437, Rob was next with a 1:20.408, us, then Steve Dunn right behind with a 1:23.269 followed by Jim Mills (in 19th overall) at a 1:28.4. The top four GTA cars were nose-to-tail on the grid, so we were hoping to put on a show on Sunday.
Rob had turned his 1:20 lap on his first hot lap and was thinking about the 1:18’s when his clutch started slipping. We had already decided to skip Saturday’s second session, so Data & I pitched in to help Rob change out his clutch. We did take a break to watch Bryan and Steve as they went out for the afternoon session, but Steve’s clutch started slipping as well. Even though we were now experienced clutch men and offered to help, he packed up and went home rather than dealing with changing a clutch at the track.
Since we still had power steering issues, Saturday night I had the brilliant idea to remove the power steering belt. The car would be harder to steer, but at least it’d be consistent instead of jumping all over the place in the corners. We did the hardship warm-up Sunday morning and came back convinced it would be okay – I wouldn’t be able to lift my arms for a week after driving 20 laps like that, but at least it was consistent!
Overall pole-sitter Kent Goebel had exploded his transmission on Saturday and Steve had gone home, so we had GTA cars in fourth, fifth, and sixth overall. We formed up nicely as we came around to take the green, Data called “green, green, green” just as I mashed the gas – and it felt like I was on the rev limiter immediately! I shifted to second and the car still wouldn’t go, so I shifted to third and moved as far left as I could while the entire pack of cars streamed by me going into Turn One. We were obviously down on power and missing on (at least) one cylinder, but I was able to pass a couple of cars while trying to diagnose the situation with Data on the radio. As I was coming out of Turn Two on lap two, however, I saw a LOT of smoke coming out the exhaust so I shut it down, coasted to a safe area just beyond the Turn Four corner station and got out. That’s not a bad place to watch a race from, but it’s NOT what I had planned when we left Georgia on Thursday morning.
Bryan led early, then Rob (with his repaired clutch working perfectly) chased him down and took the GTA lead just before the halfway point. Jim Mills (GTA #31) created a major moment when he ignored the blue flag and crossed from one side of the track all the way to the other just as one of the leaders was coming up to lap him. The leader (Lawson Wilder in a Porsche GT-3 Cup car) apparently had raced with Mills before and was expecting a bonehead move because he nailed the brakes and avoided contact. I mentioned it to Bryan after the race (Mills is one of his customers) and he replied, “it happens all the time and talking to him does no good.” Regardless of where you are, it’s important to know the folks you’re racing with.
Bryan turned fast lap at a 1:17.893 but pulled in before halfway with a sticking throttle, Rob went on the GTA win (second overall) and turned his best lap ever of a 1:18.606 before settling into cruise mode for the last half of the race. Mills did finish two laps down but second in GTA with a best lap of 1:26.9 while Steve Dunn was already home in PA and I was watching from the Turn Four flag stand. As I wrote before, NOT what I had planned.
On the bright side (and even though we missed the Saturday evening Worker Social because we were working on Rob’s clutch), I was able to place a face with many of the names I’ve seen on the internet and various SCCA publications. I had worked with Jim Thill, Beth Mills and John Nesbitt at some of our Road Atlanta events, but I also got to meet Chief Steward Larry Oliver and CRB member Dave Gomberg (both are formula car fans and active participants on ApexSpeed.com). I spent a fair amount of time talking to former R.E. and current Competition Director Gayle Lorenz, and we exchanged war stories about things that work for each of our regions. Granted they put on ten events a year and they have some “opportunities” that we don’t have here in Atlanta Region, but I was VERY impressed with how well the weekend flowed. I can certainly see why (SCCA Hall of Fame member) Sue Roethel is proud to maintain her dual membership between DC Region and Atlanta Region. As I said in my short summary, GREAT folks!
I know I said Summit Point was not worth a twelve hour tow, but right now I’m thinking we need to make another trip up there. Ego is a wonderful motivator, and I’m VERY disappointed we didn’t get to show ‘em what we’ve got. It won’t be part of the 2010 GTA National Tour, but don’t be surprised if you see a future BK Racing Update with a dateline of Summit Point, WV. <g>
We’ve got the engine and power steering out of Cuervo and expect to have him back in action for the “Heart of Dixie Double SARRC and ECR” at Nashville SuperSpeedway the weekend of June 27-28. Our next Road Atlanta event is a Double SARRC the weekend of July 18-19, then (if everything’s still running right) we’ll head to Mid-Ohio the weekend of July 31-Aug 2 for the sixth round of the 2009 GTA National Tour. If you’d like information on any of these events be sure and let me know.
See y’all at the track…