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I’m sorry to be so late getting this out, but I was waiting for the video of the weekend to see if maybe it was all a bad dream and I didn’t REALLY cause the wreck on the last lap of the May 8 SARRC/MARRS race at VIR. Alas, it really did happen and I really did screw up badly. I also need to officially apologize to Larry Pulliam for giving him a hard time about repeatedly looping Cuervo at Little Talladega last month – ends up there WAS something wrong with the car!!!
Short story - Running second in GTA during Saturday’s race, then made a mistake (on the last lap) and took out both myself and a competitor’s car. NOT my best weekend ever at a race track.
For those that want the “Reporter’s version” of the weekend, here’s a race report I posted on the V8SC site: http://v8stockcar.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=1520&p=3831#p3831.  
And for those who have nothing better to do for the next fifteen minutes, here’s the longer story with “personalized facts” (my brothers will tell you what that means <g>):
VIRginia International Raceway, just outside Danville, VA, is one of the premier racetracks in all the U.S. Its 3.27 miles of asphalt feature two 160 mph straights, multiple first-gear corners, some high-speed sweepers, the daunting Uphill Esses, and elevation changes that have you reaching for the Maalox on the Pace Lap. It was originally built in the mid-50’s (back when men were men and sheep – well, you know…) but had fallen into disrepair until resurrected in the late 90’s. Had it been operational when I was ready to leave Tallahassee and moved to Atlanta back in 1986, I may instead have moved to Charlotte or the Research Triangle just to be closer to it.
And therein lies the rub. As attractive as VIR is to me, the 7.5 hour trip to get there means I’ve only raced there four times prior to this season. We ran Lucifer (the GT-1 Corvette that owned us at the time) in the August 2001 National (third overall) and in May 2004 (broken crank), then ran Cuervo (our GTA Monte Carlo) in October 2005 (electrical issues caused a DNF on lap 1) and May 2006 (two GTA wins, but in a one-car class). I’ve been there multiple times crewing for other people since then, but it had been four years since I’d driven the track myself.
North Carolina Region’s annual Al Fairer SARRC/MARRS Challenge has rapidly become a big deal on the SCCA calendar, and even though it’s held on Mothers’ Day weekend there were still over 250 drivers entered in the 2010 edition. Since my regular crew had other commitments that weekend (something about families and parents) I asked my brother of different parents, multi-time SEDiv T-1 champion Chris Ingle, to come up from Fort Bragg to help me out. Engine builder Lee Schwartz (aka – “the Professor”) also came over from Asheville for the weekend as well.
Chris has run a ton of laps at VIR and previously held the T-1 track record, so he brought his C-6 Corvette to run the Friday test day. T-1 cars and GTA cars run very comparable lap times and since we had radio communication between us, I would follow him to watch his line then he’d let me by to see where I was messing up. I only drove off the track twice while leading him (the last time in the left-handed Turn 3 and he just missed nailing me in my driver’s door), and his first comment after I got the bad odor out of the cockpit was, “you’re WAY over-driving the car.” He did admit, however, that Cuervo handled quite well in a straight line once I got all four wheels pointed in the proper direction. My best lap to that point was a 2:06.28 but most of the rest were in the mid-2:07 range (at least five seconds of the pace necessary to run at the front in GTA), so for the last session we softened the rear rebound two clicks and I worked on braking earlier and trying to be smoother. The car seemed better but I was still turning in the 2:08’s. I was pretty bummed as we bolted on sticker Hoosier 3035’s and prepped the car for Saturday.
After pizza and beer at Aunt Millie’s (the “must do” hot spot in downtown Milton, NC <g>) we went back to the motel and watched the video from Chris’ car. When we got to the part where I looped it in front of him coming out of Turn 3 it was obvious I was already sideways going INTO the corner rather than losing it under acceleration coming out. We had installed new Carbotech brake pads all the way around after Sebring in February but I hadn’t driven it since then. After Larry Pulliam spun the second time at TGPRi in April he asked about adjusting the brake bias more to the front, but I discarded that idea since it was fine early at Sebring (until we installed the used pads on the front). Ends up you were right, Larry, and I apologize for pooh-poohing you.
When we got to the track on Saturday morning we further softened the rebound on both ends of the car and added two rounds of front brake bias. On the first hot lap of qualifying we turned a 2:04.757 even though things weren’t fully warmed up yet, then encountered traffic the next two laps. Not wanting to abuse the tires and having gone two seconds faster than I had the day before, I came in after three laps. That 2:04 lap ended up being good for seventh in GTA and twelfth of the thirty-three cars in the Big Noise field. The thirteen GTA cars ranged from 2:01.5 through 2:14.2, so we would have somebody to race with. In keeping with my new attitude for 2010, the plan was to hang around for six laps (half the race), then see what we had left.
The car immediately in front of us (Russ Snow’s STO Corvette) didn’t show up for Saturday afternoon’s race so we started eleventh in the field (the inside of row six). We got a late green and things were bottled up somewhat on the inside, so Randy Walker went around the outside of both myself and Paul Arey to demote me to eighth in class. Kurt Roehrig had gapped the GTA field in the Uphill Esses, then Bryan Dobyns, Rob Morris, and Ron Fariss got together at the end of the back straight. Rob continued in second but Bryan and Ron were both out on the spot. I got by Steve Epley’s ST Corvette under braking into Turn One on lap 2, so there was a GTA train of Randy, Paul, and myself battling for fourth in class. On that same lap Chris Leisfeld lost oil pressure and pulled off, so our GTA train moved up to third in class. The next lap Randy (still leading Paul & myself by less than a second) got into what may have been related to Chris’ lost oil pressure and pushed off the outside of Turn Four. Paul got by for third in class while Randy bounded through the ruts and red clay. I probably could have pushed the issue and gotten by as well, but we were still in the first half of the race so I dropped in behind Randy and (unknowingly) positioned myself for the “Pinto hood ornament” episode.
On lap four I got a good run out of Oak Tree (the first-gear corner leading to the longest straight) and was gaining on Randy while staying in his draft. About halfway up the straight he moved left as expected since that’s the defensive line into the following corner. I was still in Paul’s draft and alongside Randy at almost 160 mph when Paul suddenly moved left to reveal a GT-3 Pinto dead in front of me running (maybe) 120 mph! Randy saw what was happening and moved farther left to give me room (Thanks!) or it could have been VERY ugly. Our next time through there I did notice a couple of Pinto doors laying in the grass at the ‘5’ marker. <g>
We ran in that order (Paul, myself, Randy) for five laps with minor variations in the gaps while dealing with lapped traffic and allowing Paul Breehne (who had started at the back after losing the driveshaft of his SPO car on the out lap in qualifying) to work his way through us. I also noticed the #40 GTA car of Troy Hitson had also joined us, so we now had the third through sixth place GTA cars all covered by less than two seconds. I’m not sure how exciting it was for the spectators, but it was DAMN good racing from where I was seated!
Paul got in a bit deep when we encountered more traffic at Oak Tree on lap nine and spun on corner entry, which allowed me, Randy, and Troy to get by before he got everything back on track. I was now up to third in GTA but had both Randy and Troy doing their best to rub the paint off my back bumper. Rob Morris’ car quit on him the next lap (ends up from an electrical issue), so the now second through fourth place GTA cars swept under the white flag separated by one second. Chris came on the radio telling me to “remain calm, hit my marks, and bring the thing home”. Unfortunately, this is where things got ugly.
On that last lap we came up on more traffic in Turn One which gave Randy and Troy a run on me through Turn Two. I can only guess I must have thinking they might be able to pounce in Turn Four, so I turned in even earlier than I had been (WAY too early), hit some oil laid down earlier in the race (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), and drove off the outside of the left-hander. I really didn’t want to give up a position unless absolutely necessary (after all, Roger Penske was already dialing my number), so I bounded through the ruts and red clay and tried to rejoin before really getting control of the car. I came back on the track directly into the right side of Randy’s car, breaking my left front spindle and his right front corner. Not only were we both out on the spot, but apparently the heat from my headers caught the grass on fire under the car. The safety crews quickly extinguished the flames, but this was indeed a crash and burn incident!
I apologized to Randy immediately (and repeatedly), then when the Operating Steward asked us to fill out witness statements I concluded mine with “the driver of the #57 car made a dumb-ass move and took out both cars.” In almost thirty years of wheel-to-wheel racing this is the first time my error has knocked out someone else’s car, so even though Randy has told me to quit kicking myself (“It Happens”) I’m not quite done yet. The SOM did reverse our finishing positions since I caused the incident, so Randy finished fourth in GTA while I was fifth.
It was late before we got our paddock spot packed up, so Chris & I decided to load Cuervo on Sunday morning. I was ready to sell everything for scrap value and retire from driving when we left the track Saturday night, but things didn’t look NEARLY as bad the next morning. We actually were able to bolt the tie rod back to what was left of the steering arm, so we finished loading pretty quickly. We need a new spindle and a few body panels, but the goal is to be ready for the HSR/V8SC weekend at Hutchinson Island the weekend of June 11-13. I don’t know that we’ll make it, but that’s the goal.
I did get a chance to watch GTA qualifying on Sunday morning and I remain as committed to this class as I’ve ever been. The various configurations of our cars are very close and the racing is quite competitive. I also spent a bunch of time looking at Kurt Roehrig’s winning car (he won on Sunday as well) and realized it’s probably the best-engineered GTA car I’ve ever seen. It’s not the prettiest and it’s not the most powerful, but when you take the time to really look at it you see things are just very well done. It reminded me a LOT of Doug Bethke’s National Championship winning GT-1 Corvette back in the early 80’s (it’s even yellow with a black hood) – very subtle but very, very cool if you know what to look for. The car’s for sale and I tried to work a deal to buy it, but we’re not sure I can get my plus-sized body in the driver’s compartment without a Gurney bubble on the roof. If you’re serious about GTA and IF (note the capitals) your ego can handle the idea that you’ll have to work on the driver first if you’re not running at the front, then you seriously need to consider Kurt’s car.
See y’all at the track…