Monday, August 25, 2008

Missed first by .061 seconds!

I had an interesting weekend this past weekend. You might want to get a snack and perhaps a drink for this one. Oh, maybe hit the bathroom, too. We might be here a while.

It all started Thursday. Reid and Jeff loaded up a race car and I packed my stuff into my motorcoach and we headed to lovely Kershaw, SC. Nestled amidst the pulp wood farms is Carolina Motorsports Park, a road racing course. It took us over four hours to get there thanks to a killer traffic jam on I-85. But we got there around dark and got a good bit of stuff unloaded. CMP doesn't have any RV connections, but my coach is pretty self sufficient if you start with enough fuel and water (which we did).

Around midnight we were pretty much ready to hit the sack when I found the water pressure dwindling. Ugh. Turns out the water pump wasn't working. So basically I had a couple hundred gallons of water that I had no way to use. I poked and prodded at things for an hour in the dark before giving up for the night and finally getting in bed after 1am. Didn't sleep much that night and got up at 6:30am.

A daylight inspection of the water pump situation allowed me to find what I needed to get it working again. Good way to start the day. Then I went and found Tom Fowler of OPM Autosports who was delivering my new Spec Miata to me that they built. It's a '99, which seems likely to be the car to have at most tracks in Spec Miata racing.

Reid got there and we got the cars ready. Brian Smith rented my 1.6L Miata for the National race and so he did a couple sessions in it to get the feel of the car. I took my new car out with him to do some lead follow stuff and learn a little. I did four sessions total in the car and was about a second back from Brian, which is pretty good since he lives at CMP for the most part and is an incredibly talented driver and coach.

Then I took a shower in the coach and loaded up in my truck to head to Katie's wedding in Warrenton, NC. That's 250 miles away from Kershaw. Ugh. Got there near 10pm to find that the room we had to sleep in was about 80F. I don't sleep well when it's warm, so that was quite annoying. I tossed and turned but got enough sleep to be serviceable the next day, which was good since I was an usher in the 10am wedding.

The wedding went off without any serious hitches and was quite fun. They had a HUGE rope swing that we all had fun on, but we had the most fun seeing how high we could swing Kevin. Oh, and when I say huge, I really mean the size of the rope itself was huge. Like 4 inches in diameter. If anyone knows how to find rope that big, email me or post a comment. I need large rope. Bad.

Welcome to the family, Sean!

I left there about 1:30pm to head back to Kershaw and got there right at 5:30. Came in to find the AC and generator situation on the coach wasn't really quite right. Took a quick stab at that situation and then left with Jeff, Kate, and Jim to go eat supper. We had an all-too-slow meal at the Bantam Chef in Kershaw. NOT RECOMMENDED. Just do the Bojangles or Subway across the street when in Kershaw and requiring food. Better is to bring your own food or do the 20 miles to Camden (which has a Zaxby' Alisa said, any place with Texas Toast by default can't be bad).

Got back to the coach to find things were still wonky. Got on the phone with Featherlite's customer support folks and after an hour of digging found the source of the problem. Got it somewhat worked around enough to get it cool enough to sleep and got into bed. Got decent sleep before having to get up again at 6:30am. Had to make it to registration at 7am and then be ready to get on track at 7:45 for my first qualifying session. This one was for the Carolina Cup Pro Series enduro. Went out and did a 1:53.0, which I felt pretty good about. That ended up being good enough for fourth in the race. That was in the 1.6L car.

Then came back in and went out to qualify for the National. Trying to hang with Brian some and did some lead-follow with him able to talk to me on the radio. I got a 1:53.1 in that session, which wasn't great, but decent. Again, fourth in class. Brian was second in class by just a couple tenths that he probably could have gotten out of the 1.6L (I was in the 1.8L).

We ran the National race right after lunch. This is a 20 lap race. I got a pretty good start and got by the third place qualifier. He dogged me for a while, but eventually made some mistakes and I finished the race third in fairly boring fashion. The first two cars checked out and so I just ran consistent laps and kept it clean for my first road racing podium finish by myself (I drove on the winning 13 Hour enduro team at VIR in 2005, but that was four of us).

Then we had an hour break before the CCPS race. That's a 45 minute race with a mandatory two minute pit stop. You can do this race with a partner and change drivers during that pit stop, but few people bother. Most people just stop, hang out for a while, then go back on track. The key here is that they don't actually time your pit stop as they don't have the staff to do it for everyone. So they figure it like this...they figure eleven seconds for your pit road transfer speed (it takes that long to go from one end to the other at 40MPH, the max allowed speed) and add two minutes to that and then add your fastest race lap time. Then they look at the lap chart after the race and find your pit stop lap time. It must be greater than that total. If not, you get penalized.

Why does all this matter? I'm getting there. The guy who won the National was the pole sitter in the race. His car developed a problem on the "out lap" of the race (the lap you take before you take the green flag to start the race). So he did his pit stop on the first lap and had his son fix it while he did his two minutes. Apparently it was something dumb like a plug that came undone or whatever, so it was an easy and complete fix. He went back out and finished first. Unfortunately for him, however, you are not allowed to make your mandatory stop on the first lap (there's a good reason, but it's a long explanation I won't bore you with). He didn't know that, and that caused him to get disqualified.

On that race start, however, I screwed up big time. I was looking at the bumpers of the cars in front of me for a hole to dive into and forgot about the "kink" on the front straight. I was way on the outside and by the time I realized I needed to turn I was out on the "marbles" (the dirt and rubber that accumulates just off the racing line) and just about couldn't get the car turned. I slid it sideways before slowing some and collecting it. Didn't go off or hit anything, but I lost enough speed that a BUNCH of cars went by me. Ugh.

So I put my nose down and started passing people. Took me a while, but eventually I was in fourth on track with a couple laps to go and closed in on second and third. They were racing hard and second place (Cliff Brown) went off and that was the last we saw of him. I lost some ground on the new second place guy (Steve Bertok), but still had some time. I was within a second of him but couldn't get any closer as we got the checkered flag.

We went to impound where the guy who finished first learned of his error. He took it well and understood the rationale behind the rule. Then myself and the new winner got called to timing and scoring to learn our pit stops were "too" fast. His was by 2.5 seconds, which is pretty big. Mine was a whopping .061 seconds! UGH! The standard penalty for anyone three seconds or less too fast is loss of one finish position. so he got second and me third (which is ironic since that's how we finished on track anyway). I'm not even sure who ended up with the actual win.

But I got my first two solo podium finishes, and if I had sat on pit road an extra TENTH of a second -or- if my fastest race lap had been a tenth slower, I would have been the winner. Oh well, such is life. There was probably a hundred bucks in prize money I lost or something, but that's it. I'll take it and be pretty happy with the weekend.

You are now free to move about the cabin.


Lima Bean said...

So now you have a personal experience that allows you to have empathy for those swimmers that got beat by Michael Phelps by about that margin or less.

This story is way cooler because it happened after the Olympics, where this kind of stuff happens all the time, so it's fresh in our minds. Good job.

Beechwood Metalworks said...

I agree, that was a rather Phelps moment mixed with a little of the Olympic men's track race where 2 guys stepped over the lane line in the turns and the third place runner gets bumped to first.

Lis said...

It's pretty awesome that the only major glitches in vehicles were in the coach. Good job Reid and OPM for building sweet cars.

Also, at the risk of getting mocked, the "out lap" is kind of my favorite part. It's so exciting watching everyone go by for the first time but not actually racing.