By Grant Lenahan
On the second weekend of October, NNJR had its annual fall weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, NJ. The two tracks at NJMP, Lightning and Thunderbolt are named after the WW2 fighter planes P38 and P47, respectively. Both planes are on display at the adjacent World War II era Army Air Corps facility. In my opinion, these two tracks don’t get the credit they deserve. Both suffer from a distinct lack of historical motorsports cachet. Yet they have interesting layouts, and are very convenient to most NNJR members. After an advanced event at Lightning in spring, NNJR returned to this track for it’s second to last event of the DE season. Lightning, at ~1.8 miles, is the shorter of the two tracks, but in many ways the faster overall, with quite a nice flow to it. There’s not a straight section to it, and to me, it has a “Lime Rock” feel – short, superficially simple, yet challenging with its elevation changes and linked turns (just like Lime Rock Park). The downside is the signature “light bulb,” a relatively fast, banked, 180-degree
turn that can eat left front tires. I particularly enjoy the linked turns that come in rapid succession after the front straight, ending with an unforgiving tight right-hander on a rapid incline, followed by a gentle decent, in other words, a great place to lose traction rapidly. We enjoyed two beautiful days of sunshine, the event was well attended and featured an always popular snacks-and-keg party after the track closed on Saturday – or more accurately, after tech closed: an incentive to complete tech quickly. So far a normal weekend: yet mine was not normal at all. Typically, most drivers arrive Friday night to drop off trailers, prep cars, go through the tech line early, and get a good night’s sleep (or not) before embarking on two days of driving fast. That was my plan too. My day started at 5 a.m. in The Hague, The Netherlands. A mid-morning flight would take me from Schiphol to Newark, then my packed and readied car and trailer were awaiting me in my driveway for this fairly easy drive. This was going to be a long day, but I was going to be there in time to get right to sleep and awake for the event, rested. However, the best laid plans….I was already a bit worn and the day started with the cab not arriving, so I grabbed the train to another cab, and just barely made my flight. Fortunately (?) it was delayed. The flight did NOT arrive on time, but within 1 ½ hours it was “close enough” – but had me behind schedule. Land, clear customs, Uber it home, and then I was on the road to Millville. So far, this story contains planes (old and new), trains, and a variety of automobiles. And now we introduce another automobile, my track car, which I drive to and from events, towing a “dingy”; a two-wheel trailer that allows me to transport track tires and a collection of parts and tools. I get lots of smiles and points from passing cars and also big rig drivers, who rightly find it funny. This time however, the good humor didn’t last: travelling at 75 mph on route 55, about 40 minutes from Millville, I felt a strange tug on the car and then the left trailer wheel bearing seized, locking the wheel, and causing a violent pull. I was able to maintain control of the trailer and drag it (one wheel not rolling) to the shoulder. Here’s where the club camaraderie comes through. As I struggled to figure out what exactly had failed, and if I could fix it, along comes Shawn Cudnik, who pulled over his BIG trailer to help. We quickly discovered that my little trailer is beyond roadside repair. Shawn graciously helped me stow the trailer safely and loaded my tires on his trailer and truck, while I piled the rest of the tools and debris into my car – everywhere. Thanks Shawn! Fast forward to the next day, Murray Kane and I took his trailer and searched long and hard for my trailer; tucked into the shrubbery it was harder to see than you might imagine. Next, Mike Daino (is this a team effort or what?) agreed to take my ill-fated trailer back to his shop, in his pickup truck.
This is only after three chief instructors, Murray, myself, and assorted others banged various stone tools on the wheel, trying to get the fused bearing off the spindle. This left me with tires at the track
and no (working) trailer. Thankfully, Ed Pepe transported my free-wheeling track tires home and on to VIR. Again – thanks to all – I have no idea what I’d have done without all the help. I do have a new hub by now and plan to swap it out at Powertech sometime soon. I guess the point is this: I worked with an ambitious timeline, yet, with the help of my NNJR friends, I was able to make both, Lightning and VIR, even with failing equipment and a stupid travel schedule. So this is not only about great driving on the track and a good story, it is about the people. So come and join us next year, no excuses!