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May 8-10, 2015 - VIRginia International Raceway SARRC/MARRS Weekend

Executive Summary:

Jay Gomer’s first 2015 weekend driving Cuervo, plus his first time racing at VIR. He finished fifth in GTA on Saturday and went faster in Sunday morning qualifying, but we loaded up and headed out before the race on Sunday due to impending weather and an 8-hour ride. He went seven (7!) seconds faster than I did three weeks ago, but I got to add another excuse to the top ten I listed in the Update covering that weekend!

Longer version:

Although it falls on Mother’s Day weekend, North Carolina Region’s annual SARRC/MARRS Challenge event has traditionally been one of the best-subscribed regional events on the SCCA calendar. The track first opened in the late 50’s, fell into disrepair and was shut down in 1974, then was refurbished and reopened using the “country club” model in March 2000. It retains much of the daunting character (i.e. – “pucker factor”) from the era when sex was safe and racing was dangerous, but the upgraded facilities are absolutely first-rate. Since it’s almost eight hours from the BK Racing shops in Greater Woodstock, GA, I’ve not run VIR as often as I would have liked, but this year the trip(s) worked out as we were able to leave the rig in Virginia for the three weeks between their US Majors Tour event in April and the SARRC/MARRS weekend. I drove the Majors weekend (and completed the requirements to earn a 2015 Runoffs invitation), then Jay Gomer and I have switched positions until September. Jay had never driven VIR, so we planned on doing the Friday test day as well.

Before leaving town on Thursday, however, I stopped by Road Atlanta (a track near and dear to me) to observe the test day for the TransAm series that also runs Mother’s Day weekend. A record 74 drivers (38 in the TA2 class that evolved from the GTA concept that’s ALSO near and dear to me) were entered for Round 3 of their 2015 series, so the track was absolutely full as I watched them power through Turn One and up the hill. I know there are only so many weekends in a year so compromises must be made, but maybe next year I’ll be able to able to watch more than just the test day in person. Reports are Saturday’s TA2 race was a barn-burner with (at least) four different leaders before two-time TA2 Champion (and GTA graduate) Cameron Lawrence prevailed for the win. The TA2 race will be telecast at Saturday May 30 at 12:00 PM on CBSSN, so I’ll definitely be in front of a TV at that time.

After wading through Charlotte traffic we arrived at the track around 7:30 Thursday evening and found a nice paddock spot suitable for our purposes. There are a LOT fewer people that run regional test days than test for Majors weekends, so finding a premium spot with all the amenities we needed was pretty easy. Since our first session on track was not until 10:00 the next morning, we unhooked the trailer, unloaded Jay’s golf cart, set out some cones to mark our area, spent some time talking to fellow GTA driver Andy Trought who was down from New Jersey, went to dinner at the Texas Steakhouse & Saloon (no prom dresses this time <g>), and then retired for the evening.

After arriving at the track Friday morning we unloaded Cuervo, set up the awning, and finished prepping for the first session. Given this was Jay’s first time driving we decided to use the same set of Hoosier 3045’s I’d run at both Road Atlanta and three weeks earlier, so we added fuel, bled the brakes, installed the booster seat I’d “borrowed” from Burger King (not really, but it sounds good!), and bolted on the tires. As expected, Jay took some time learning the track and working up to speed, went under the 2:10 mark on lap 7, lowered THAT to a 2:05.3 the next lap, then drove off the outside of Turn 1 before coming back on and finishing with a 2:06.9 (yes, almost three seconds faster than I ran at the Majors weekend but I’ve detailed those excuses previously! <g>). Over the next 90 minutes the crew chief debriefed the driver (Jay felt he needed to clean up his line in Turns 1 & 2), reset tire pressures, added fuel, and checked everything over, then in the 12:00 session he ran five laps in the 2:03-2:04 range with a best lap of 2:03.51. I had a clock on some of the other GTA cars running and we were in the same range, so we initially decided to call it a day and get ready for Saturday qualifying.

We had lunch and then during the third (of four) sessions we headed up to the bridge separating the Lower and Upper Esses to see how other people were doing that section. After that session I was looking at the first set of tires and noticed they had pretty decent tread depth left even after six sessions on the track, so Jay decided we should stiffen the rebound in the shocks and see what effect that might have in the Esses. It was good thing we did that, because on his first hot lap Jay came over the radio saying, “The engine is running and I’m getting gears, but I’m not going anywhere!” – our Monte Carlo had turned into a No-Va. Unfortunately they had to black flag the session to get to where he’d stopped just past the bridge (sorry guys), so after they towed him in we set about figuring out what had happened.

My first guess was we had broken the lay shaft in the quick change, but after pulling the rear cover we saw the drive shaft was still connected to the spur gears and the spur gears were still connected to the pinion shaft, etc. I was THEN concerned we had broken the pinion shaft or maybe sheared the ring gear teeth and/or bolts – both of which would put us out for the weekend since those fixes are more “involved”. Just as I was about to (literally) throw in the towel, however, I thought maybe it was “just” a broken axle. I pulled off the LR axle cover to pull out that axle and, sure enough, then axle had twisted and snapped about two inches from the differential! The axle was also bent horribly (I’m thinking as a result of my Joey Chitwood Thrill Show audition at the Road Atlanta Majors) but I had a (used) spare axle in the trailer, so after making one out of two and setting the end play we were back in bidness! Had we not gone out for that fourth session it would have broken during Saturday’s qualifying, so at least this time the racing gods were smiling upon our humble efforts.

We were Group 6 (of 7) on the weekend and Cuervo needed no additional work to be ready for qualifying, so after a relatively leisurely breakfast on Saturday morning we arrived at the track, bolted on a new set of Hoosier 3045’s, set the tire pressures, and rolled to Grid for our 15-minute qualifying session. With only 20 cars on a 3.27-mile track it was going to be fairly easy to find a gap for a clean lap, but on his first hot lap Jay left his braking “just a bit too late” and mowed the grass around the entire perimeter of Turn 1. The next two laps he ran a 2:05.94 and a 2:04.28, then as he was going for it on the third lap he called in over the radio that the shifter was hanging up in third gear. Once again I think it was a result of the Road Atlanta incident, but it ends up the shifter was rubbing/catching against the driveshaft hoop so we made some temporary modifications in time for the Saturday afternoon race.

We ended up 14th fastest of the 20 cars and sixth (of six) in GTA, but “knew” there was a faster lap out there once everything was working correctly. Randy Sampson was on the GTA pole with a 1:58 and change, then John Morgan with a 1:59, but the other three GTA cars (Chris DeGraw, Andy Trought, and Randy Walker) were all in the 2:00-2:02 range. Jay and I discussed race strategy and felt if we could get beat the #28 SPO car gridded 13th to Turn One we MIGHT be able to hang with the other GTA cars and give them a race. Starting on the outside made that bit more difficult, however, plus Jay was still a bit cautious about going into Turn 1 full bore after the agricultural experience in Qualifying. As the following video shows, he was unsuccessful in getting around the SPO car and got separated from the rest of the GTA cars. He soon was all over the rear bumper of the #28 in the corners, but when they got to the two straights the 800+ hp SPO car would pull away enough that Jay was not able to outbrake him into the following corners. After the closest GTA car (Randy Walker in the red #03) had about a 10 second gap on our hero I thought about telling Jay to back off from the 28 for one lap to see what kind of lap he could run without being held up in the corners, but the experience of dealing with a car that’s faster on the straights yet slower in the corners was valuable as well. Even with being held up in the corners, however, Jay turned a best lap (on lap 7 of 8) of 2:03.986 compared to a 2:04.283 for the #28. In the GTA battle John Morgan dropped out on lap 4 (best lap of 1:59.773), so we ended up fifth in class (12th overall) behind Randy Sampson (1:58.858), Chris DeGraw (2:00.532), Andy Trought (2:01.431), and Randy Walker (2:01.324). The race was originally scheduled for 10 laps but was shortened to 8 due to delays earlier in the day, but if it had gone full length we would have finished fourth because Andy was running out of gas on the last lap and Randy Walker was right on his rear bumper coming across the stripe. Even with the frustration of being held up by the SPO car, however, it was a happy group that evening.

Saturday’s race video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMc6gQKxC_k&feature=em-share_video_user

And a few comments from the peanut gallery:

  • 0:48 – White #9 (Jeff Hinkle) gets tagged in the RR and spins off drivers’ right; in the melee the blue #28 (Harry Hinkle) gets by the red #03 (Randy Walker)
  • 3:12 – red #03 makes a nice over/under move to get by the #28, then disappears in the Esses
  • 5:30 – you can see the white #9 in the mirror coming back through the field
  • 5:45 – Jay leaves room at the apex of the first of the Uphill Esses, but the #9 decides discretion is the better part of valor at that point
  • 8:07 – after getting close a couple of times on that lap, Jay has to lock up the tires to keep from rear-ending the #28; he gets even with the RR tires but has to drop off the right side when the #28 comes over
  • 12:12 – catching up with the #14 (Tim Lyons – suffering fuel pressure problems) and #49 (Tom Vlasak); Jay gets has to take the long way around the #49 which allows the #28 to create a bigger gap; because he was able to run his own speed in the corners, Jay turns his fastest lap of the race while catching up with the #28 again
  • 15:20 – starting the last lap, then Jay soon all over the rear bumper of the #28 again
  • 16:21 – looks inside at South Bend but can’t get the job done
  • 16:35 – #28 goes wide over the rumble strips and checks up exiting Oak Tree, so Jay has to pinch Cuervo down to stay off him; 800 hp again wins the drag race down the back straight
  • 17:28 – checkered flag!

 With Sunday’s rain forecast ranging anywhere from 40% to 80% (and estimated to start anywhere from 8AM to 2 PM) plus facing an 8-hour tow to get home, we made the management level decision to run the morning qualifying session if it was dry and then pack up and head out. With instructions to stay away from traffic, Jay started with a 2:11, slowed to a 2:37 while again dealing with the balky shifter, then turned back-to-back laps of 2:03.80 and 2:02.51 on my stopwatch. It appeared he had an even faster lap in the works when he came on the radio saying, “I’ve got smoke in the cockpit!” as he was approaching the Turn 13 braking zone at almost 160 mph, so he aborted that lap and came into the pits. There was gear lube all over the back of the car, and after getting back to our paddock spot and jacking Cuervo up we saw the fill plug had come out of the side of the transmission. There was gear lube all over the bottom of the car and on the headers (hence the smoke), but fortunately there was no fire. Although we could have gotten another fill plug easily enough, we finished packing up and headed home with an official best lap of 2:02.886 for the weekend. Still not fast enough to contend with the GTA leaders, but not bad at all for Jay’s first time at the track and yes, faster than I’ve ever gone there as well!

But I remembered that on Friday evening Tom Fowler of OPM (who also won Saturday’s Spec Miata race) provided me with the ELEVENTH reason why I’m slower than Jay:

11. Jay obviously had the benefit of superior instruction (from Tom, of course) at the 2014 Drivers’ School at Roebling Road! <g>

There’s a fairly long list of maintenance items to take care off, but there are no major issues and we’ve now got over a month off before the next event. All in all it was a very good weekend in Virginia.

Current BK Racing plans for the rest of 2015:

  • July 4-5 – Roebling Road Double SARRC (Jay)
  • July 25-26 – Road Atlanta Double SARRC (Jay)
  • August 15-16 – Charlotte Double SARRC (Jay)
  • September 21-27 – SCCA Runoffs ® at Daytona (Butch)
  • October 10-11 – SARRC Invitational Challenge at Roebling Road (Jay)
  • November 6-8 – ARRC at Road Atlanta (TBD)

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

See y’all at the track…