Tuesday, May 4, 2010

CPotD #98 (No STD for Me)

The weather prediction was ominous – good chance of thunderstorms - so amongst the tools, spare parts, rags, gas, helmet, oil, etc., I stuck an umbrella and some Rain-X. As I drove to meet up with Jonathan Kendig to caravan to the track, the prediction was coming true – big time; it rained the entire drive to the track except for the last three or four miles. Thankfully, that was it - the rain held off for the entire day.

After emptying Lucy of all loose contents, I drove over to tech inspection where Terry Stafford carefully went down the NECC’s list ensuring I was meeting all the safety and mechanical requirements while I artfully applied blue masking tape to form the number 5 three places on the car. With a green dot "passed" sticker affixed to the upper corner of the windshield, I headed back to my parking spot in the paddock to wait for the driver’s meeting. Sitting in that meeting a few minutes later, I was surprised to find my heart rate increasing as Ray Zabinski went over the important info for the day’s event. On the way out of the room, I checked the list to see which group I was placed in for the familiarization laps. I was in Group A! I got to go out first!

Back to the car to don my requisite long-sleeve cotton shirt, grab my helmet, and drive to the false grid. As I sat getting all buckled up, I kept reminding myself that I was seated in a basically stock, forty-seven year old daily driver that needed to get me home at the end of the day. In other words, don’t do anything stupid. The first few laps were run under caution, but I found myself having to drive about as fast as I dared just to keep the car ahead of me in site – so much for caution. Then they cut us loose, and by the end of the first green lap, I had a string of three cars ready to take advantage of the one passing zone. For a few laps, I had fun running just ahead of Al Lacki in his Yaris. He was obviously faster through the corners but didn’t pass me in the straightaway until I let off to allow him to go past. A couple laps later our twenty minutes were up and it was time for Group B.

After Groups B and C had finished their twenty minutes each, they opened up the track for all cars to run until lunch at twelve. I was out there for most of that time finding the best line for me and the car. Later in that session, Randall Russell in his New Beetle appeared in my rearview mirror a ways behind me. I spent the next four laps or so trying to hold that distance between us. He’d have to let some fast cars by, and the next lap they’d be passing me. Finally, he had a clear run at me, but I’d decided that fading brakes and tires meant it was time to pull into the pits. He came in one lap later and laughingly accused me of leaving the track just because he had caught me. He was partly right.

During lunch Jonathan and I were talking about the lines through some of the turns. I was complaining about how there was a camber change through Turn 4 that really upset the backend of my car. He made the comment that a track instructor had told him to drive turn 4 flat out. That agreed with what I’d read on the Trackpedia website.

After lunch we all went out on the track again and a few laps later, I decided to drive through turn 4 harder than I had before. The rear end came out and I tried to catch it without lifting, but I overcorrected and ended up in the mud on the right side of the track. As I’m trying to straighten the car out and keep it off the tire wall, its rear end is wagging back-and-forth. I remembered to put the clutch in as I’m sawing at the wheel. Finally, the E-ticket ride came to an end when the car went into a sideways slide, ran into the tire wall head on, and bounced back to a stop. I remember three thoughts I had during the last few slow-motion seconds:” I don’t want to call Loriann to tell her I wadded up my car,” “Wow, that tire wall was REALLY soft,” and finally, “Where did all this mud come from?” At that point the engine wasn’t running anymore and I noticed that only the TEMP/PRESS idiot light was shining at me - no GEN/FAN. I unbuckled and climbed out to survey the damage. The guy in the corner stand asked me if I was alright and I yelled back yes. Other than a whole lot of mud on, and even in, the car, I couldn’t find anything amiss. Mufflers were still in place, all the wheels were pointed in the right direction, and nothing was hanging from the underside. There weren’t even any dents in the front sheetmetal - yes, that tire wall was really soft. I got in and tried to start the car, but while the tired, old battery turned the engine for a few rotations, it didn’t have juice enough to get her started. I climbed back out and the corner worker asked me if I needed a tow, and again I yelled back yes.

A few minutes later, I was on my way back to the pits at the end of a tow line. Shades of BeaveRun. I felt terrible that my miscue had shut down the track. They pulled me to a hose and I sprayed off as much of the mud as possible. Then, with help from Larry Koenig (VW R32), I was able to roll-start the car and drive to my parking spot. I left the engine running as I opened the lid to look and listen. Everything sounded normal, thank God. I found the GEN/FAN light and socket that had popped loose from its hole and put it back. After a few blasts up and down the paddock road, I was confident the car was ready for the track again.

At that point, the time trials were about to start, so I drove to the false grid and lined up fourth. I kept the car running not wanting the old battery letting me down again. I went out and put two fairly decent laps together. No excitement. After my cool-down lap, I parked the car and climbed the stairs to the tower that overlooked the starting point. It was great to watch and listen to each car as they pulled away then a few moment later see and hear them scream by on the straightaway.

When everyone completed their runs, Jonathan and I walked to the timing house where Al handed us a printout of the final results. I quickly scanned the list. I wasn’t Slow Time of the Day! I was twenty-fifth of twenty-eight drivers.

Soon after I packed up all my stuff and hit the road for the uneventful ninety minute drive home. Later Jonathan called to tell me I’d been given a coveted Tweety award for Fast, But Ugly. Thankfully, Al clarified in his e-mail to VV and FastVair that it was the car, not me, that received the award. A wonderful ending to an unforgettable day.

Miscellaneous final thoughts. Much thanks to the NECC guys and the volunteer gals for putting on a great event. It was great meeting more people from the Corvair world. Here's a link to the pictures I took during the day.

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