The 2012 Club Race season is underway and a number of our members have had some good and bad luck so far. We had several NNJR members go down to Sebring and do quite well. This past weekend was Road Atlanta and we had our same crew as last year make the trek – Craig Mahon, Greg Mills, Ken Ernsting and myself. The weather was a big worry for us as last year we were welcomed by torrential down pours. This year the weather forecast for Friday was 60% chance of thunderstorms, but I guess we caught a break and the day was fantastic, sunny with temperatures in the mid 70’s. Friday was the practice day. Craig came down a day earlier for the Test and Tune and was feeling pretty good about the track. It is kind of tough getting quickly up to speed on a track that you drive only once a year, but after a few runs you get that warm feeling when all the corners fall into place.Greg and Ken went out first in the advanced DE group. They both felt rusty at first, but by the second run they were both back on track and giving the local guys a run for their money. Next it was time for the club racers to go out. With the prior day of running under his belt, Craig was gone in a flash. As for me, I was still trying to get the cobwebs out. In addition to the brain fog, I was going down the back straight and my car started to shake violently. I finished the session and came in. Like any calm, collected person I started trying to figure out what was going on with my car- NOT! Instead, I was running around like Chicken Little saying, “The sky is falling!” I kept saying the car is not right, the setup is wrong. I was running around to all the teams, “hey, can you guys please take a look at my car?” Then a little voice (Craig) tells me, “Check your tires, we have been through this before.” I jack the car up and sure enough, the left rear tire was showing just about more cord than rubber. Craig did not have the heart to tell me my lap times. He kindly just said, “You didn’t come in last”. So I placed a new set of tires on the car and got ready for our second run. We went out and I felt great, and even better for the third practice session. I came in and I thought I was flying around the track, but like Craig says the ultimate truth is the time sheets. Well, reality hit hard – I only took off about a half a second from my best time last year. Craig on the other hand was knocking time little by little, and by the end of the day he was about two seconds quicker than his time a year ago.
After the day’s events, we all went out to dinner and started recalling the day and ribbing each other about how bad we are. That night Greg and I were talking about my driving. I thought that I was not affected by the incident that happened last July at Thunderbolt, but I could tell by the tentative way I was driving that TBolt was still in the back of my mind. I told Greg that I was going to flip the switch and go back to my old ways. I told him I was going to sing Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” in my head to get me going. We all arrived back at the track on Saturday; the DE guys ready for more track time, and Craig and I for qualifying and our two sprint races. Craig went out and qualified in 19th position with a time of 1:40.631. I came in 26th with a 1:43.894. The grid was set for the first race and we both wanted to do better than our qualifying times. Off we went and by the end of the first race we did – Craig finished 17th out of 35 in a very competitive H class with very fast 996’s and Cayman S’s all battling it out. I wound up finishing 21st out of 35 and was extremely happy that I had knocked three seconds off my best time for last year.
Later at lunch Greg was telling us about what gear he was in coming into the last turn coming down the hill and how by being in fourth, the car felt more under control. The rest of us were all taking this in third gear and not up-shifting until track out. This is quite an uncomfortable feeling; the car is loaded to the left and traveling around 100 mph, so taking one hand off the wheel was not the best thing to do. This was confirmed by Ken, who had just finished talking with professional driver David Murry, and he also gave us a few additional pointers. All of this was great information, but we agreed that trying it for the first time in a race situation may not be the smartest thing. The second race began with a fast and crazy start with cars jockeying for position. The race was going well but with about four laps to go, I thought I saw Craig off to the side of the track. At first I was not sure if it was him since there were a few cars that looked like his, so the next lap I took another look. It was, but in doing so I took my eyes off the track and the next turn was a little off-line but managed to reel it back in. Later I learned a missed shift had caused an engine problem and Craig’s weekend was done. I was happy to finish 17th overall, topped off by a great pass at the end of the back straight, which I was lucky enough to have Greg, Ken and George Calfo witness. As you may know, George recently took a new job in Georgia and came to the track just to hang out and watch the action. It was good to see him at the track again.
At the end of the day we went to the awards dinner which included a drawing for various prizes. Craig has to be the luckiest guy I know; every time they have a raffle he wins. Last year at Lime Rock he won a free entry to this year’s event, and now he wins a gift certificate from a race shop. Sunday arrived and Ken said that he was leaving after his first run to get a head start on the14 hour trip home. Greg was going to stay with me to be my pit crew for the Enduro refueling and also do a couple of more sessions himself. I got ready for the Enduro and placed my fuel jug and fire extinguisher at my pit stall. We line up and go out, but I just was not focused and I had a headache to boot. One thing I do well is the start, usually finding a way to get my nose in and sneak up a few positions. This time the green flag drops and the next thing I know, I am dead last. I managed to get one position back, but it was like I had never driven the track before and nothing lined-up. Coming down the front straight on lap eight I had two wheels on the grass, so at that point I decided to end my day. I pulled into the paddock and packed up. I never thought that I would pull myself out of a race, but here is a bit of advice. Whether you are at a DE or a race, if you are not 100% focused, get off the track. Otherwise, you could get yourself or others in trouble. You can always do another event.
Now on to new business. The Lime Rock club race was April 27 and 28. We had several veteran NNJR racers participate, but we also had a few rookies start their Club Racing careers at this event. I will have more on this race in a future article. New Jersey Motorsports Park will host a Rolex Grand Am race May 11-13, with a PCA club race included during the weekend. One of the biggest PCA races of the season will be held at Watkins Glen June 1-3. If you have not been to a club race before, it is fun and exciting. Bring the whole family and come out to support our club racers! You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information; hope to see you at the track!