Wow, life sure can catch you off guard. Word spread that Smokey Snellbaker had passed away. I havent heard the details but it must have been a recent illness. Somehow the icons of the sport should be eternal. He was there before me that is forever for my life, so he should always be there. I talked to him a couple of months ago. He is an important part of the greater content that defines sprint car racing in Pa. He will always be a part of my memories of racing in Pennsylvania. His 2002 induction in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame makes him eternal to the nation.
I had first read about him in the racing papers, long before I had even been in the state of Pennsylvania. He was one of the consistent winners that become household names in racing circles. When I began racing in Pa, I ran races that he was in but never knew him much more than the occasional greeting when wed pass in the pits.
Over time, we were in the same places enough that he got to know me as another racer and we could share small talk about things that went on at the races we were in. He never acted like a star, he was just another guy. I never had the opportunity to be a close friend.
Smokey was always a winner or a contender, while I was racing in Pa. For several seasons he was a dominant force at Williams Grove and Port Royal and won many weekly and special events. When driving for Charlie and Mike Lloyd, the car handled and the motor was very strong. He could run the bottom so well that he could come off the turns staying close to the inside guardrail down the straights and still pass cars. When the Outlaws came to town, he was always a threat to win.
He was a fan favorite. His good looks and easy smile fit his friendly interaction with everyone. I remember seeing him drive in and park his van on the grass, under the trees near the back gate at the Grove and walk over to the pit pass line that had formed. The race car would be towed in by the car owners sitting in line on the dusty pit entry road. The bright sun would sparkle his silver hair on those hot summer days. He was one of the household names that everyone came to see.
As a racer, Smokey was fast and smooth. I dont remember that he crashed much but one time he and I ended up standing on the track between turns one and two looking at the devastation of a first lap crash in a World of Outlaws race at Penn National. We both had gotten upside down along with half a dozen cars at the start of the feature. I remember we were standing there on the brightly lit, orange clay, looking around at all the junk. I dont think we said much before they gathered up the junk that we had raced into that corner.
I didnt race wheel to wheel with him much; he was always fast, at the front and gone. The biggest compliment from him came at Syracuse one year. There was a Thursday practice during Dirt Week before the Syracuse Nationals sprint car race on the mile that Saturday. When I hit the track it was the slickest Id ever seen. It seemed like I was crawling through the turns to keep the car from breaking loose and spinning into the outside concrete. I remember coming out of two and seeing Smokey up ahead. I easily caught him and passed him down the back straight before I shuffled off into turn three. I figured he was just getting up to speed or still getting heat in the motor as I passed by.
Later that night as Duval and I were walking through the infield, back to our camper, we crossed paths with Smokey and his crew. I mentioned how slick and slow the track was and he said Yeah, but you werent having any problem with it. I told him that my car felt like it was on ice and he said it didnt look that way when you flew by me. I thought you were just getting up to speed, I said and he chuckled and said No, that was all I had. You were flying. Wow. That gave me a whole new outlook on where we were for the weekend. Smokey had dominated this place in other years. That year I was fast.
Later that night Teresa and Duvals wife Cheri met up with Smokey and the three of them made the rounds to Smokeys friends in campers in the Miles infield.
In recent years, Id seen Smokey at Williams Grove when I had been there to watch. Id never said anything to him and I dont think he recognized me. This season I had the chance to race there, when the Patriots had a challenge race with the cars from URC. Smokey was walking through the pits and as he came near I introduced myself and we had a nice chat. He was still racing and talked about the Silver Spring Sportsman cars hes been running. I was in my drivers suit and told him that I was still racing 360s in NYS and down here to run the URC race. He looked great with a quick step, still smiling, still surrounded by fans as he kept turning to say hi to about every other person that walked by, and knew him. Yeah, I wanted him to see that I was still racing I wanted to connect with him again as a racer, if only for a few minutes. He was always a great guy and a Great Racer and always nice to me. He was 73. I am not happy that we wont cross paths in the pits anymore.
Jerry Reigle did as much for sprint car racing in Pa as anyone. His writing in the Harrisburg newspapers and in Area Auto was always interesting and his list of 50 in his weekly AARN page was a must read that filled in the details of the weeks events. If I read nothing else in AARN it would be Jerrys page. There were occasions when his regular newspaper articles in PA would be found in the Syracuse newspaper when there was a NY connection. I dont think I every met him but he was always kind to put a word about me in his 50 list, if I or Tommy had a good finish. A few years ago he mentioned that my big win in the Port Royal Labor Day Classic was one of the best races hed ever seen. That was a total surprise to me, but a huge compliment from someone immersed in the sport his whole life. He must have been about 15 at the time and at that age, impressions can run deep. Jerry passed away a few weeks ago at 43 after a battle with cancer. He was still writing that column even in his last weeks. When I find AARN on my desk now, I see it differently. There is a big hole in the middle. He was a good friend.
Its funny how impressions are made when you are young. The USAC sprint drivers going to Indy and then seeing them run their champ cars at Syracuse was a major influence on my youth. Although I liked the local stock car races, when URC sprints were on the card, it was special.
After racing the midget for a few years, Whip and I found ourselves in the stands at Fonda watching a URC race. We didnt know at the time that we would watch our first sprint car run there. It was a year later that we realized that the sprint we bought was one we had seen and remarked about at Fonda. Rich Bonnell was the driver and more recently we raced often with his nephew Scott.
Fonda has a long history with sprint cars. The URC swing through NYS would always include a stop there. Don Gillette, from my home town, had raced sprints there and his father often spoke of how his stock car ran there. As a youngster, Fonda was a far off place that I only heard about in the stories that grownups told. It was always made out to be a place that was larger than life with drivers whose reputations cast long shadows.
I had raced at Fonda back when I first started and ran with URC. It was one of the races that was close to home. I had only raced there a few times, before I started running the Pa tracks regularly instead of URC. In recent years I have been there a few times but usually there was some other race on my schedule or the race was very early or very late in the season and we just didnt go. The fall race is in late September and normally we end our season on Labor Day weekend but this year we didnt make some shows and were still trying to re-learn setups so we decided to run some late season ESS races.
Two weeks ago this entire track was under two to six feet of water. The back straight runs along the Mohawk River and flooded when Hurricane Irene swamped the northeast. They actually raced last week and although it rained all week, this weekend was clear.
The race was starting at 2pm with gates at 11am so we had to be loaded and on the road by 9am. It would be an all day affair as they were running lots of classes. It took a half hour just for the line of haulers to get through the pit gate. As we entered we saw a wet, muddy, sloppy track and pits that were the same. We drove around standing water and headed for the back where the sprints were to be parked. We were one of the early ones and found a strip of dry high ground where we could pit. Everywhere else was sloppy mud.
I was concerned that the track was not going to dry out like it normally does and that with all the water issues that the track could get rough. I got on the ATV to look things over. The screwdriver test only stuck in about 2 inches so it looked like it might not get rough but it was hard to tell what the surface would do.
We set the car up loose and in hot laps for the heavy track but one and two was already dried out hard and the car was real loose while three and four was wet and heavy and the car pushed. With two being the lowest spot on the track I thought it would have been the most wet but instead it was driest and three, the highest point was most wet.
This is the weirdest track youll find. It has elevation changes, an oval turn into one, a short curved straight and you can sweep out of two, rise up about twelve feet to three that sweeps in, a short straight and then a sharp ninety onto the front straight. This old fairgrounds still has a wooden covered grandstand.
When I get back to my pits after hot laps, I find a car parked behind my trailer, using the nearby hose to clean mud off his car! Water and mud in my once dry pit! I was pissed and to make a long story short, the driver came over with the remainder of his block of horse bedding and spread it on our pit to soak up the mess. No one else tried to wash their car after they say the wood shavings there.
Greg and I were debating on what to do for set up. We were already way too loose for the dry part of the track and there were some modified heats to go out before us. We figured the track would slick up more so we took out stagger and made some other changes to shock setting and offset.
My draw put us inside of the second row in heat two with nine cars, six to qualify. It looked like I should make it in the heat. At the start we headed into one and the car was not good. I could tell that the car was too tight, even on the slick. It was awful as I chased the front end and then rear would break loose and try to spin the car. A year ago I wouldnt have recognized this as tight but now I know more of what to look for. Coming out of four, the front end would sometimes take a hop in the rumple and head for the wall. I was driving a floater and it had nothing. I dropped through the field and out of a qualifying spot.
In the pits, Greg and I talked about how the car looked and felt and tried to come up with what we needed. We were junk and needed a change. I figured the track would get a little slicker but not much worse. We backed up on some settings, changed offsets, and I pulled out the VRP shocks. Originally thinking that the track would be rough, I had used the Afco shocks but the place turned out smoother than I expected. We loosened the car up just a bit and got ready for the B main.
I would start outside of the front row with four to qualify. Qualifying all really depended on whether the car would turn and stick. It felt fairly good as we buzzed the corner to line up and head for the chalk line in four. We creeped up the speed as the inside car tried to keep nosing ahead and about two car lengths before the line, we started to go and to the left of us a car from the row behind us blew by the front row on the inside and actually beat us both to the line!
I figured they would call this start back but we went by the flag stand with the green waving and I raced in hard on the outside. I got beside the jumper but could not pull him on the slick groove out of two. He took off and I fell in line in second. As the laps continued, I was amazed that they let that start go, then I thought that they would dock him a couple spots or disqualify him at the end. I started to get some confidence in the car and reeled him in. Last lap, I was on his bumper and in a qualifying spot. There was no need to take any chances.
I rolled into the pits feeling that I won that race. I got out and there were other drivers checking my RR tire for heat and wear. That was a first. I went to the officials and they said that the start was ugly but they werent going to penalize the jumper. Turns out that the jumper is on the ESS board and it was the same guy that pulled the same stunt at a race several years ago at Can Am forcing three cars, instead of two, to go between the starting cone and the wall at the starting line. That night I got the worst end of the squeeze and got over his tire, taking an end over end high flyer that destroyed the car.
So it may not be in the records but I won that B main as far as Im concerned. If hed remained behind me at the start he wouldnt have caught me. The car felt good but needed a bit more sidebite for more corner speed.
We made the feature, and earned our way there. Now we could make some small changes to see if we could improve the car and my confidence. I would start twenty second.
The start of the feature was kind of wild where I was. The car on the inside suddenly darted right and starting that far back it was easier to back out and give him room than take a chance between him and the wall. I drove in on the outside of one and passed him, but he got a bite off the bottom of two and pulled ahead. The pack strung out pretty quick and the track was very fast. As I got heat in the tire, the car got faster, but so did the car I was following. We were a little better on setup, the car turned in and the back stepped out a little as I picked up the throttle. I could run harder and harder into the corners now with a car that reacted like it should. The fast track made it hard for anyone to get an edge on the car ahead.
About lap fifteen, the leader caught me and passed and after a few laps, the next cars battling got by. I had to lift for them and the car didnt feel the same after that. It felt like the RR was going down. There had been concern about tire wear in the pits before the race and we were on a good but used tire. I had been hanging it out some in the corners and thought I must have either cut the tire or worn it out and it was leaking. After a couple laps the car still felt mushy and I pulled to the inside of the back straight. As the car rolled to a stop, it didnt feel like a flat. I got pushed off after the yellow and weaved the car to feel the tire. It felt ok and I readied for the restart.
ESS puts all the lapped cars at the back. This got me out of traffic and put the cars I could pass right in front of me. On the start I went to the outside of one and passed two cars and got one more the next lap but that is all there was for me. I could not catch the next car. Everyone was fast. We ended up seventeenth and had the car in one piece. I dont know if we broke the bad luck streak but it was good to finish the last race, heading into the winter.
It was 9:30pm when we hit the pits ready to load up. The long day ended with an ESS cookout that had lots of food and less mud.
Can Am 9-10-11
So this year we have deliberately avoided doing the things that we used to do to tighten the car so that we would start an event loose and tighten in small amounts to keep up with the track as the surface becomes loose during the race night. The car now turns and comes off the corner as it should and has handled much better. This season weve been starting over and still not certain of the adjustments we need and how much.
The typical ups and downs of a racing season have plagued us this year. The change in handling, for me, has meant learning how to drive again. All the reactions Ive used to deal with the tight setups are backwards from what the car needs now. That, along with a streak of bad luck has kept us from many good finishes this year.
Can Am is a big half mile with adequate banking, sweeping turns and no walls except for the front straight. We have run good there in the past and been upside down there a couple times. This is our first time back in a couple of years and the first time since new ownership. We got the car ready for hot laps with the starting setup that has worked everywhere for us all season. When I hit the track, it was smooth and already polished slick. I dont mean dry I mean slick like polished ice. The car was so loose that it was almost un-drivable. It was so bad that I went to the pits before the session was over.
It was awful, the car had no bite in any direction. It would easily slide up the banking while other cars were flying by. The car would have spun if I got on the throttle. We were so far out to lunch that the menu was in a different language. Its odd but its the same kind of loose Ive felt when we had the car too tight on a good track. It was a lesson in how we got fooled for years into thinking that we were loose when we were really way too tight.
We were so far loose that I didnt know what to do. I didnt want to over-react and make the car too tight so after discussing the options with Greg, we made measured changes in stagger, offsets, pressures, shock setting and wing angle.
The draw put me outside of row two in the first heat with six to qualify from the eleven starters. There were some strong cars in the race but otherwise a good balance. Now luck has a lot to do with racing. The draw itself can make or break a race night. This time the draw put us near the front,,, but then I looked at the line up and there on the inside of row two, right next to me, was the Flying Fool Steve, the rookie, Collins. Funny how fate works. This is the over his head driver that took me out last race at Brockville. He had already spun over the banking in hot laps tonight. It seems that if you have a problem with someone, then you end up together all the time.
I had no idea what my car would do, going into one, but now I had no idea whether this pedal heavy driver was going to get through the corner or slide up into me and take us both out of the park. I pulled the belts extra tight and hoped for the best. When the pack hit turn four for the green, and I got on it, the car was all over the place and still too loose. I had to take it easy and backed off early for turn one. Lots of cars went by as I tried to get the car through the turn. I headed for the safety of the bottom and the little moisture that was left on the track. The moisture was not enough to tighten the car and I struggled as I lost positions.
I was on the edge of spinning out all race and way slow. I went to the pits at race end, knowing that we had to do more on the setup to have a shot in the B main. When I checked the lineup I saw how bad awful we were. I would start last, thirteenth and they were taking four. Because my heat had eleven cars and other heats had ten, even cars that dropped out of other heats would start in front of me.
We started out the night so far off the mark that I wasnt sure what to do. We were better in the heat but still loose. We made some more changes to stagger, pressure, offsets, weight and shocks for the B.
We then realized that this was our first race on a big track this season. Every race weve run has been on the one-third and three-eights bull rings. We had seen slick tracks but none that were this icy with this kind of speed. We were learning.
Stagger hadnt been a big issue on the small tracks. We could still get the car to hook up pretty good with lots of stagger. But on this big track, stagger was making a bigger difference than we expected. We were now making changes that we had been avoiding because they made us too tight before. We didnt know how far to go.
I got pushed off first for the B and headed into one on the throttle to get a feel of the car. Wow, I was surprised at how it hooked up through the middle and I could stay on the throttle. I thought that if I was going to make it to the A main, Id have to pass a lot of cars early. On these big tracks, the pack gets strung out quickly and it takes forever to run down a car and pass. I thought that if I hit the cushion in one and was able to get a bite up there that I might get by more cars in a pack. The strong bite I felt in the middle had to be better at the top where there looked to be a band of darker color.
As the cars raced up to the pace truck, I drove in hard on the top of one. The lighting at this track is very bad and what looked like moisture was only marbles. The car swapped ends and I was over the bank, sliding through the grass. Embarrassing to spin on the pace lap but better now than with the pack. They push me off and I joined the back of the pack, smarter, now planning to use the middle corner line.
We charge into one and I take the higher line. Mid corner Im passing one car and then see a white car sideways, ahead of the car ahead of me. I cut to the bottom. The dust and poor lighting obscure everything. I cant see but Im sure that Im headed right into the side of a parked car. Then, as I brace myself and steer and throttle to the inside, nothing, and then nothing and then the dust clears and Im sideways at corner exit and spinning all by myself. I stand on it but spin into the wet inside edge of the track and the motor bogs and stalls. Embarrassed to have spun twice but glad I didnt hit anything, and now I have an idea of what the car will do. The other car looped and kept going as I was sliding through his dust.
One more shot. On the start I run outside of a car that had passed me in the heat. He slides up in the corner, I back off and turn to the bottom getting a bite out of two and pass down the inside of the back straight. I run down another car ahead of me that passed me in my heat and in a lap get by him. The next car is running the cushion and I close and catch the car as I drive the limit of the setup passing the car out of four. Im closing on the next car when the B main ends.
A couple cars dropped out but it wasnt enough. The pack got strung out and we still needed to pass more cars. We needed to refine the setup but at least we passed some cars and got close to right. It was the only bright spot in an otherwise disappointing night. We learned how much we could change things without over doing it on a track like this. We are getting a better feel for what effect each adjustment really makes. Before, big changes had little effect as they just made a too tight car tighter. Now smaller adjustments really change how the car works. Track size differences affect setup like we hadnt experienced before.
The adjustments are all things we knew but before, none of them did what we expected. We dont run enough races in a season to work out the bugs quickly. Running a different track every race throws even more variables into the mix. We are un-learning and re-learning and sometimes races like this one are best remembered as test sessions.
In the past, this little track has produced some good runs for us but this season it has not. With Greg home with the flu, I headed to Canada alone to race, hoping to find some help at the track like I used to when I traveled alone many years ago. Except for the Patriot Tour officials pushing the car to the track, it was a solo effort all night.
The car worked pretty good in hot laps on a track that was wet and sticky. It was a tad tight. Our heats would run early and the surface wouldnt change much so I left the setup alone. A bad draw put me seventh out of eight on a fast track with a strong field. I raced bottom and top but could not close on the car ahead and finished where I started. They were taking six from the heat but already had lost some cars so the B main was cancelled and I would start twenty on the field.
In one of the heats, Steve Collins -67- was easily leading and spun all by himself and ended up running last. His mistake in the heat put him behind me in the A main line up and that sealed my fate for the night.
As the pack made its way down the back straight on the first lap, everyone was bunched up. I'm running low with cars outside of me and Steve comes flying down the inside full tilt heading for a hole that was only in his head. His lack of race sense apparently made him think that he was the only one that was going into the third turn and no other cars were headed where he thought he would be or maybe he thought they would just get out of his way. He drove over my LR and LF as the pack was setting up for the turn. He cleaned off the front wing and wrecked the front axle as he rode over the front of my car. Then he ran into the car ahead of me and spun him.
He broke a bunch of stuff on my car and om his and neither of us could do what we came to do run the feature race and finish.
I dont know where he thought he was going
because there was no opening ahead of me and not enough room inside of me to pass. And at the high speed and very low angle Steve was
passing me to enter the third turn on the bottom, he wasnt going to make the turn
anyway. When hes in the race car,
he is all balls and no brains. He told me every one was running half throttle and he
thought he could pass.... DUUUHHHHH there's a reason everyone
(except Steve) was half throttle, the pack was tight and there was no where to go and
Steve proved that.
I dont know where he thought he was going because there was no opening ahead of me and not enough room inside of me to pass. And at the high speed and very low angle Steve was passing me to enter the third turn on the bottom, he wasnt going to make the turn anyway. When hes in the race car, he is all balls and no brains. He told me every one was running half throttle and he thought he could pass.... DUUUHHHHH there's a reason everyone (except Steve) was half throttle, the pack was tight and there was no where to go and Steve proved that.
He put me on the hook and both of us in the pits. I haven't been this pissed off in years. I was MAD AS HELL!!!! I'm still not over it....
Steve crewed for a winning driver for many years and at mid life, decided that he wanted to drive. He came to this season with no race driving experience at all and got behind the wheel of a well setup car with a strong motor. The driver he crewed for is now his crew and mentor. Steves lack of experience has been overshadowed by a car that has worked well and had good setups. Steve drives the car with the pedal down mentality of a rookie and at times is fast. His inconsistency and short sightedness gets him in trouble a lot.
As a stone cold rookie, Steve completely lacks race sense. This is an instinct that drivers learn after a few years of racing in starter classes like karts, micros or minis. Its a sense of how the other cars on the track will move, and, from the line they run, where they will end up. Its the body language of each car and of the pack as it moves like a school of fish into and out of the turns that you gauge, to make your moves. There are 24 minds on the track and each driver leaves enough space to keep out of trouble while looking for a place to get by another car. Mix that with running your car to its limit for the most speed.
Learning to race has nothing to do with learning to drive the car. Learning to race is learning your own limits and predicting where the rest of the cars in the pack will be going, before they make the move. It is automatic thought, an instinct. It is an instantaneous, continuing calculation of your chances of making a move. Its about timing a run that will get to a point where the other driver can see you before he closes the door on you. Its about calculating from the line the other car is taking, if there is going to be enough room when you get there. Its about when to let off or not and when turn in to make sure your car will go where you aim it and not drift up into the spinning tires of the other car. Its reading the other driver and calculating the move hes making to keep you from making yours. It all happens in an instant, and changes every instant. Its not something that someone can teach you or learn by watching a thousand races.
Race sense comes from practice. The lessons are built on judgment, reaction and result. Its never something you conquer, only something that you refine. It takes shape as it builds on success, failure, missed opportunity, mistakes, disaster, and close call. It takes time to build race sense and the difficult learning comes from bad judgment. The saying goes Good Judgment comes from Experience Experience comes from Bad Judgment.
Raw rookies dont belong in sprint cars and Steve has proven that. He doesnt read traffic or have a reliable sense of the limits of his own car. These things should be learned by spending time racing in the lesser classes not in a sprint car. A sprint car is fast, reacts quickly, has a mind of its own and is unforgiving. You dont steer a sprint car, you aim it. Car to car contact in a sprint car seldom ends well. Broken bones, concussions, spinal injury, burns and death happen every season. Its bad when it happens to you, its worse when you cause it to happen to someone else.
So Steve started the season with no race sense or car feel. His pedal down style (known in the business as Too dumb to lift) has got him into trouble on many occasions. The successful driver/mentor that is setting up the car, pumps a load of sunshine up his skirt and Steve hits the track with unearned confidence.
You can race that way if you have talent and experience, and get away with it, but without race sense your just a Bull in a China Shop. Race sense is not about driving. Its about positioning yourself on the playing board to get the best out of the car and pass competitors without running into things.
The mentor may make it sound easy but he is talking from a lifetime background of experience and success that a rookie doesnt have or understand. What works for experienced racers is unconscious calculation and reaction. Bottom line is that Steve doesnt belong in a sprint car. Hes not ready for a sprint car. He needs to learn to race and then come to sprint cars.
So Steve, I told you after the crash that "you have balls but no brains" on the race track. When I told you that "you have no race sense", you didn't even know what I meant.... proves my point. "Where will I learn that" you asked me. You learn it by racing 100 races in a lesser class with a car that is not such a challenge to drive. You learn it by going to the same track week after week and not messing up your mind with a touring series.
However if you are going to continue to race sprints, you need to carve some variables out of your diet. A touring series doesnt let you build on experience. The next race is on a track that is totally different from the last one and with a varying group of drivers. You need to run the same track every week so you can learn to swim with the school. The routine of one track will help you take what you learned last race and build on it without having to reinvent the wheel at every race..
There are many things that your mind has to instantaneously judge and calculate during a race. Fewer variables allows the mind to focus more resources on running the race instead of driving the car or figuring out a new track. Go to Mercer every week if you want to learn how to race instead of bouncing off walls and other cars.
Sprint car racing is a five year apprenticeship if you run the same places every week, until you really know what youre doing. On a hit and miss touring series, it takes longer.
Or do this, put a financial incentinve into the game and put a price on you mistakes... pay for the parts you wreck on the cars you run into. That would be something to think about when you are making the calculations of whether that hole will be open when you get there. You can start with me.
If you are really sorry for all the damage you caused to my car (and screwed me out of the fun of racing the feature) you can send a check to Mike Emhoff Motorsports and Ill pick up the replacement parts. You trashed a top wing, front wing, front wing posts, 1 front axle, 2 radius rods, 1 drag link, 1 tie rod, 8 heim ends, 1 left side Zemco header, 1 left side nerf bar, and a front VRP shock.
Brewerton Speedway 8-19-11
It should be fun to race near home. The track is about one mile from home and shop where we can hear the roar of the Dirt Modifieds on Friday nights during the summer. It should be fun except that all the races Ive run there have been embarrassing for one reason or another. Last year was a good example. We put a new car together that week and in the first turn of the heat race I spun sideways and tipped over. Then in the B main I clipped an infield tire and then got hit by a passing car that knocked the front end out of the car to get towed in for the second time along with not making the A main.
In the half dozen times Ive raced there, Ive never been able to get going very well. The third mile D shape has a hard ninety at the end of the front straight and that has been part of the problem. The way I typically run the bottom makes getting into that corner difficult and slow. With the middle of two typically going to ice, the bottom coming out of two can be a place to get real bite. But that makes for a low entry angle into three where the competition can sweep in from the top. Turn four squares off for the front straight and gets slick in the middle but there is bite on the bottom. But getting to the bite fast is tough when the car wont turn between the turns.
The car has been handling better recently, although the driver has been screwing up. With a fresh setup strategy and some new ideas this season, I thought things would be different, but in hot laps the car was tight and didnt turn in well. This is a problem weve been fighting for years but the solution didnt go far enough tonight. Now the dilemma was that we knew the track would get slicker as the wet stuff gets pushed off last weeks hard pan but how loose do we need to be. I made a couple of small changes but basically left the setup alone, hoping the track would come to us.
With a few extra friends helping in the pits and locals in the stands, I wanted to do well and that was certainly on my mind. Teresa drew a good number that put me inside of row two in the second heat six would qualify. It was a stacked heat with some good cars at the back.
I really didnt know what the car would do heading into turn one as the pack charged out of four at the start. I got through one and two but couldnt beat the car on my outside into three. I was fourth in line and the car was still tight. I was trying to get through the corners without breaking the tight car loose and skatey. I tried entering one, a little higher to get a wider radius but there was more bite there and the front end took off up the banking.
Damn. The last few times Ive been here, the car would sometimes push in one and head right for the wall between the turns and it was doing that same thing again. This really sucks. I thought we had the car loose enough for the dryer track, so that it would turn but even with a ton of stagger and other things, the car was still too tight to turn unless I broke it loose. As I headed for the wall, I got slowed down enough, out in the marbles up where there is no banking, and got back on the pedal but two cars drove by in the process. I was frustrated and disgusted but finished the race as fast as the car would go and ended in the last qualifying spot.
I would start the feature in 17th and now we had to figure out how to change the car for a track that was going to be slicker. Its easier to guess how much to tighten the car to keep up with the loosening track but its a real crap shoot to figure out what to do with a car thats already too tight and not tight in the right way. Do you leave it alone and wait for the track to come to you or wont that be enough and it needs to be loosened up more.
I need to be sure it will turn in. It was tight in the middle and a little tail happy coming out so it felt like it wanted less stagger. But taking stagger out would make the car tighter mid corner. We needed to keep side bite because this track can get real icy, especially mid corner and out. We made the stagger change and then made some changes we thought would loosen the car in the middle but make sure it still turned in. All that might help but could hurt forward bite. The changes were all small ones but were really just a bunch of band-aids. We missed the core setup here again and all we could do was make the best of it. I have yet to find out what works at this track.
In row eight, coming to green, I dont know what the car will do when I go into turn one. The race starts out of four, and the pack moves toward the hard left at turn one. Back in the pack where I am every one has to really slow up and wait for the cars ahead. Im hard on the brakes, getting in on the bottom hoping for a hole that will get me past this bunch of pokes. I guess everyone is thinking the same thing and as we exit two they are all fast again.
I can get into the turns better than the cars in front of me and I have to really brake and slow. The car is not too bad mid corner but tires spin and I cant get an advantage coming out to be able to put a nose under, going into the next turn the straights are too short and I need more forward bite. I try to pass on the bottom being suckered lap after lap by almost making it and then theres a nose under me entering three. I couldnt get to the bottom and had to run up in the black. Its the leader.
He is even with me mid corner and then gets a good bite off the bottom on the line Ive been running. Now hes bottled up behind the pack of three cars that Ive been battling. I fall in behind him thinking that this is my chance. If he wedges a hole open and those cars move up, I can stick my nose in there and finally get by. Ill just follow the leader through.
He makes his way into the pack and theres my hole but I just cant keep up with him. Hard as I try, I cant make it into the hole behind him and make it stick. Another car comes by on the inside. As I have to move up a lane, I find the ice Ive been expecting. Im slower there. Eventually I do get up under the car ahead and race down the back straight and clear him in the next turns but before Im scored ahead of him by transponder, the yellow comes out. I go back behind him. There is a problem on the restart and the yellow comes out again.
The temp light had flashed on earlier, so during the caution I was looking down at the gauge and the fuel setting on the dialajet trying to figure out if there was a problem. When I look up, Im headed for one of the big infield tires that had been clipped and moved out into the bottom lane. I turn to dodge it, and just clip it. The front end jumps up, the stagger turns the car left and when it sets down Im lined up on the next big infield tire which I hit dead center and ride into the infield of turn two.
There. Now Ive done my embarrassing, stupid, clown move for the year, in front of people that know me, at my home track during caution. Get out the big shoes, red rubber nose and polka dot uniform. Thats why I didnt tell anyone I was going to be racing here tonight. It seems that I always manage to end up with toilet paper hanging out of my pants at this track.
The infield crew pushes me back off the tire and I restart at the end of the line. This is an ESS race and their rules about restarts are that lapped cars start behind the lead lap cars. When they call out the line up on the radio, I see that there are four lapped cars ahead of me. These are the only cars that I can pass for position but they are all right there in front of me. Its the same cars that Ive been chasing all night but now not scattered lapped cars. As we get lined up under yellow, I look the track over and notice that there is a vein of light brown a couple of lanes up in the black-slick corners. There is no cushion, just marbles where the banking flattens out. This brown streak is two thirds up the track in the middle of the black. With only three laps to go, Ive got nothing to lose so Ill give it a try.
On the restart, I drive in on the outside of the car ahead, hook up and clear him mid turn as there is some bite coming out and more momentum. Way out wide on the straight gives a good sweep into three and Im able to pass one more car. I catch the next car entering one on the outside and we run side by side for a lap until I clear him in three and four and come to the checker. Three cars in three laps cars Ive been chasing all night.
The setup was not good. We were still tight but a piece of the track came to us late in the race. I wish I had tried way up high earlier. I didnt because when I was up one lane off the bottom, I was worse and it looked the same to the top. The car felt pretty good on those last laps but the track didnt suit our setup until the end. I probably could have passed the other car on my lap, if Id had more time.
The race was frustrating until the end but we ended up 14th and passed some cars. In the pits the crew discussed what might have worked better but there was no clear answer. I packed up quickly and got out of there so I wouldnt have to explain my bulldozer move in the infield during the caution. I got home early and rolled the car into the shop.
Black Rock 8-12-11
Luck goes in streaks. If found that it lasts a number of races, not a period of time. The only way to deal with bad luck is race through it. We had a good luck streak once at Black Rock where we qualified for every race we went to and finished every one. That was during the season where they ran sprints every week. Things might go wrong but then something else would happen that would reverse the effect.
The past couple of races weve had some bad luck and it has been frustrating. At the race before I took a few weeks off from racing to finish a project at home, I slapped the wall at Brockville while running second in the heat. The hit was hard enough to crush a wheel but did little other damage. I didnt make the show from the back of the B main but watched a race that wrecked half the field. Was I lucky not to be in that race or unlucky to miss out on a good finish with so many cars in the pits. Its a toss up.
So now ready to race again we traveled to Black Rock, where the car handled good last race and the track surface was fast and fun. This Patriot event was supported by ESS as requested by the promoter. He gave each club one show and asked the other club to show up too. Each time it was about 50/50 with cars from each group. This event was Nascar Nite, the Friday before the Watkins Glen Cup Race. With all the Cup teams just 10 miles down the road, some crew members show up for a fun race the track hosts and sometimes a few Cup drivers come to run 360 sprints with us. As he has for several years now, Tony Stewart dropped in to race, this time in a Glenn Styres owned car. It was interesting that Tony had been to the Knoxville Nationals earlier in the week to watch his teams run but came back to the Glen to qualify and then run with us Friday and Saturday (while the Nationals event was running). His team won the Nationals, he won his heats with us.
For my team, Greg and I set up loose for the wet track and we were still a bit tight in hot laps. We left the car alone for the heat race. A decent draw put me inside of row two. Turn one had a choppy entry, a killer cushion and slop on the bottom.
Out of four the green dropped and we headed into turn one two wide. I went through the chop and rimmed the slop with a good bite coming out of two. Into three I slid up to the middle and was hard on it coming out of four. I saw the nose of a car on the bottom. We hit the straight side by side and then we slapped wheels really hard. From my seat it looked like he slid out into me but Im not sure that I wasnt fishtailing a bit too. The result was broken pieces as the rear end was pushed through the car ripping the torque tube loose and breaking the drive shaft and some suspension.
With a flat LR I coasted off the track to the pits and stopped on the exit road. I was really pissed and when I got out of the car, I looked over the damage. It is amazing what a wheel slap could do, even on the straight. The track crew brought me the drive line parts that dumped out onto the track. The LR wheel was bent on both sides, shock bent, birdcage broken, w-link twisted, driveshaft broken, torque tube gone. The other car hit with his RR and continued on.
So another race where I crashed in the heat . bad luck, bad timing, bad driving probably some of each could have been worse could have been better.
We made some repairs so we could get the car on the trailer and loaded up, done for the night.
Glen Ridge 7/15/11
This year I thought we were better prepared with a setup that I could drive. The high banks make this quarter fast with three possible lanes. The wall at the top is something to avoid. They made the classic mistake of setting the concrete barrier plum instead of perpendicular to the banked track surface. This makes the wall a ramp that launches cars up and over if any contact is made. The cushion gets pushed right up to the wall, and by feature time, it becomes dry marbles and stones that take away all control if you get into them.
The pits were filled with all regular classes plus the sprints. The modifieds built a cushion about halfway up the banking in their hot laps and it worked great for the sprints. The clay at this place has some bite to it but its full of rocks, some the size of your fist. The bite in this track lets you run near flat out early on and I was catching the cars ahead of me.
The draw was not kind with a 61 putting me at the back of the third heat but everyone would qualify for the feature. At the start of the heat I got a bite on top and moved forward and then got into a rhythm of laps where I would just lift a bit to get set and then run the corner on the cushion. As the laps strung out I tried some different lines. I couldnt get to the next car and finished fifth, just out of the top 12 redraw.
Greg and Whip took care of the car in the pits and we discussed what to do for the feature. We watched the dash and it looked like the only lane that was working was the bottom . as the mid banking cushion we ran in the heat had been pushed to the wall. The track was now dry with some corner entry ruts. We debated some changes and made just a few adjustments.
We were starting fourteenth on the outside of row seven. The track looked the same top to bottom with some holes and some rocks sticking out in two. They dropped the green on the front row as I entered three and as I got to the straight the dust had rolled up into a dense cloud with no visibility past my front end. For a second, it was like I was the only one on the track. I caught glimpses of spinning tires beside me on the inside, as the pack swept out of the tight turn four but I could not see the wall at all it was just dust and lights overhead. I guess I had a sense of where the wall was from the lights but I had to wait (meaning not race quite as hard) for the path to clear to avoid catastrophe. It all happens in a second or two but at speed, objects come at you pretty fast, you take your chances and trust that everyone is going in the same direction.
As we get into one, the blinding dust has cleared and the cars are packed into the banking, each one trying to wedge an advantage on the cars around them. The slowing, turning, dodging, accelerating spills out onto the backstretch as the field starts to string out. I go to the bottom as we planned after watching the dash. There is bite down there and the car is good but a little loose in the middle at times. I get a good bite coming out, but never enough to get inside the car ahead as he chops across my nose entering each corner.
About 10 laps in, the leader comes by in the middle, followed by second and third. I watch how they run the line and decide to give it a try. Going into one, the car sets, hooks up and Im back on it out of two, passing the car Ive been chasing on the bottom. In three there is a hole getting in and I go below it and slide up to the middle. The car feels neutral and in a couple laps I have confidence in the line and can run the car in with a slight lift and get right back on it. Im catching the third place car . but Im a lap down.
I continue to run hard thinking that I can make some positions as the leaders lap more cars. As the race winds down, the lapped cars do not show up. We end up fourteenth but as fast as the leaders. Tires are worn and have some heat in them for a change. It felt good to drive a car that worked so good after all the struggles weve had. The results dont show how good we were but we learned a lot that we can take to the next race.
The July sun is still hot in Canada. The pits were packed and we found a hole in a far corner, next to the fence. Greg and I unloaded and set up loose for hot laps. Lots of stagger and tie down should get us around until the wet icing gets scraped off the caked surface below. Thats what we thought thats what everyone thought but the track dished out a heavy bite that put a miserable push in every car.
Tough to know what to do when the track is so tight. We made our best guesses and pretty much left the car as it was, expecting that the track would get better and come to us. The draw put us fifth in a nine car heat with six to qualify should be able to make the show from the heat.
The drop the green and the pack chases to the first turn. Theres a hole at the bottom and I dive for it. The whole pack goes in and slides up toward the cushion. As I grab the bottom moisture, the car hooks up and I charge around the bottom like I had a rope tied to a post in the infield. I come out of two in second, just behind the leader.
The bottom was working for me, though we were still a bit tight. I thought I could catch the leader. This was good I was moving forward and could possibly win a heat from back in the pack. The sun was setting and lined up directly in my face between three and four. I had a visor on the car but the sun was low and the front was lifting and the sun flashed in right where I needed to see.
The glare made it tough to see the line I needed to hit to stick the car, but miss the giant tires that marked the limits of the inside of the track. A few laps in I sensed a shadow of a car below me as I came out of four and next lap I guess I went into three a little harder and the car drifted up off the bottom. I stayed in it to stay ahead and drift up to catch the cushion coming out of four. The RR hit the cushion in the shadow of the wall as we exited the turn but it was just loose marbles with no bite and the car kept sliding through it and into the front stretch wall. I suppose if I had lifted at some point I could have come out in the middle but doing what I was doing was keeping me ahead. The RR slapped the wall and pivoted the RF in. I bounced along the wall a couple of times and then felt the RR go down. I headed for the pits and last in the heat.
That put me at the back of the B main with four to qualify. We still didnt have the setup right and struggled to pass the car ahead off the bottom like I had in the heat. Two cars dropped out ahead of me and now I was fifth. This was the shot to make the race and I moved to the top and after a couple of laps got by for fourth. I ran in the last qualified spot through the rest of the race and then entering three on the last lap, the car I had passed made a bonsai drive to the outside and made it stick. I raced him to the line and was short by half a car length. Fun for the fans, not for me.
We loaded up and backed out of the spider hole where we were pitted and parked where we could get out after we watched the feature. If there was anything good about missing the feature it was the two laps, caution or red, and tow truck parade that forced the race to a fuel stop with half the field in the pits. It would have been a 50/50 shot for us to either get a good finish or a bent up car. We were on the trailer, in one piece, save a wadded up wheel from the heat, and on our way to US customs.
The race was close to home but I ended up going alone. Greg was still under the weather and Rick had to work, Whip had other commitments so I found help at the track. Shane Elys young brother, who races 600 micros and ran a handful of sprint shows with us last year, stepped up to help with tires, fuel and 4 wheeler. He was great help and a real pleasure to be around.
The moisture that was laid down during the day was already gone by the time we hit the track. There was a little bite but for the most part it was throwing up wet dust. Everyone was running around the middle and the track was glazing off right up to the wall. I was as good as the cars around me and headed to the pits to make some changes for the heat.
A good draw put me on the front row of heat 2. My plan was to hold my line on the outside through the first and second turn, to stay up front. Bad guess. The middle was gone and everyone else dove for the bottom. I should have let the pole sitter go and dropped in behind him but Im still getting to know this new setup approach and I was over optimistic. I thought I could hold that outside line. Everyone else dove for the very bottom and this train of the top teams in ESS worked their way by on the bottom. It was a loaded heat and when I was able to fall in line, I was sixth. Six would qualify for this heat and so I protected the bottom for the rest of the race. I kept a close margin to the car ahead last years ESS champion.
I wanted to do better in the heat but qualifying through the heat was a accomplishment based on how bad weve been in the past. Now the car was driveable raceable predictable and competitive even on this dry slick ice rink.
What a relief to not have to run the B main and have time to get ready for the feature. I talked with Zimbardi about setup and got some ideas to try that fit in with my new approach.
We go the car ready for the feature being careful not to get the car too far off setup center. As I pondered what I had done during the wait, I wondered if I had gone too far.
Feature time and I started fourteenth, on the outside again and next to last years PST champ. Good cars behind as well. On the start I nosed into the pack couldnt get to the bottom and lost some spots to the inside train. Then in three, the car I was following broke a LF spindle and lost the tire and brakes. He drifted up in three and jammed up traffic that caused cars to crash at the back.
On the restart, I tried different, but got the same, dropping in line in fifteenth. The rest of the race ran to the checkers but was a fun run. I closed on the cars ahead and actually thought I would get by one or two including the PST champ but as the laps wound down my car got a tick tighter and slowed me down. From front to back the track forced a follow the leader line making everyone protective. I dont know what made me tight but with everyone running the same line, its possible that the track started taking rubber at the end. It got harder to keep speed and not slide up off the bottom and then with three to go the car behind me got a nose under and there was no battling back.
At the end I was sixteenth but encouraged. For nearly the whole race I ran was competitive with strong cars. My car handled very good and I learned a bunch of stuff. Its like starting all over again, though, I have to un-learn what weve been doing and re-learn how adjustments work and affect each other and still keep the car free enough to be fast. We are on the turnaround with lots to work with.
Black Rock 7-8-11
Greg was not well and couldnt go but Rick Dumigan, who I drove for in 2000 and his daughter Pit-Girl Jessica went along to help crew the car. The race was an ESS event and track owner has asked the Patriot group to support the event. Turns out that half the field of 27 cars were Patriot regulars, same as the way things turned out at the Fulton rain out. There has been some inter-sanction politics that has soured relations. The one sided power plays will ultimately hurt the racers.
Hot laps were fast. Really fast. I cant remember ever being able to run this place without lifting. Maybe it was the track or maybe weve been to far off the mark but it was fun to run laps like that. The wet clay blew off the bottom and created a heavy cushion about half way up the banking. There were two full racing grooves but not the full width of the corners.
With my outside, third row starting spot in my heat race, I decided to run the cushion in one and two to see if I could make any ground on the pack. The sun was in my eyes getting into one and I saw the cushion in the shadows as I entered but somehow missed the entry and hopped it. By the time I got the car collected, the train had left the station and I was ninth in a race that would qualify six. The track was so good that there was no passing and although I could catch the car ahead in places, we were nearly flat out through the corners leaving little opportunity to get a run. My last place finish put me last in the B main.
There were only nine in the B and I had to make it to fourth to get in the show. The track was still fast and on the start I slipped by three cars in one and two and hit the back straight only to see the yellow for a bad start. Next start I got by a car and as we completed a lap, I jumped out of gear in the middle of one. Dont know why but when I locked in to get pushed off it didnt feel right and I guess I never really got it fully in place. On the restart I got by some cars and got to fifth. I was racing the forth place car hard. We had a great race with him on top mostly, while I tried to drive under. I was closing but didnt have enough time or additional bite to make the pass. Missed by one.
Although we didnt make the show, I did make huge progress toward figuring out what has been wrong with us. It has been years since I felt that good in a race car. Now that weve apparently figured out what weve been doing wrong, we have to refine our good setup so that we hit the mark better. I also have to re-learn how to drive. Ive been band-aid driving for years to make up for the handling ills. I havent had confidence that the car would go where I wanted it to. I didnt know if it would spin out or turn right. The challenge now is to get faster and build confidence in the car.
Eriez Speedway 7-3-11
They had put new clay down in the spring and the track was rough. Ground water was keeping the base soft and allowing the base clay to be pushed around. Now there had been enough time for the track to dry out and that new clay to level out. Well, thats what I expected but thats not what I found.
After we unloaded at the track, I rode the four wheeler up to the track to take a look at preparations. It was wet but the sheepsfoot roller wasnt punching any holes. It looked like an inch of loose cushion spread down over last weeks hardpan but then someone standing behind me at the outside wall said we put new clay on the track this week and weve been putting water on it for four days. Unless they had some magic methods, it meant the track would be rough and rutty bummer.
In past years this track as been reasonably smooth but now it was getting a reputation as a rough track. This three-eights, true oval was a fun place to race but tonight youd have to race the track as well as the other cars.
They only gave hot laps to the sprints and then ran four heats of latemodels before we went out to run our rained out feature. When we hit the track it was lumpy and rutty nearly everywhere. The only places that were smooth was at the very, very bottom and parts of the front straight. I remembered that the track manager at the wall had told me that they didnt need new clay at the bottom and didnt put any there. I found a smooth line as we got ready for the start.
I started on the outside of row seven and during the pace laps, the surface threw the car all over. I knew that once we got going at speed, the car would tend to float more over the rubble but it would still shake the sh*t out of everything. At the drop of the green, I crossed to the bottom of one. There was good bite there and a line that didnt toss the car around. They guys running the top and middle were wrestling with misdirection, having to lift and collect the car. I was able to move inside of some of them and pick up a spot. The caution flew often as cars would jump out of the drivers control. Other cars would get collected in a simple spin when they were committed and couldnt control their direction.
On a late race caution, the race director told us on the radio that we were running out of our allotted time for the race and it would have to be shortened if there was another caution. Two laps later the caution flew and the call was that wed run one lap to checkers on the restart.
We ran that lap and I tried to make one more position but couldnt. At the end, we raced 20 laps and followed the pace truck for probably 30. There were broken cars in the infield and the pits. We were tenth and happy to be in one piece.
By the time our heats came to the track, there had been a lot of racing. They had seven classes in the pits with three divisions of latemodels. The track had been polished to a lumpy, slick surface in the turns. The middle was still choppy and there was some loose cushion at the top. There was still some bite left but you had to pick your line carefully to avoid the heavy chop. The front straight was smooth but the back straight had a big, lumpy, wet, ten foot wide hole about two thirds of the way to turn three. It was dead center in the middle so you had to go to the outside or run a low inside line.
I tried top middle and bottom in the corners. The bottom was smoothest, the middle was ok in places and the top was good getting in but went away coming off. Running the top cost me a couple of spots when the car hung on the loose cushion out of two. Tires spun anywhere in the straight if you put the pedal down too hard. The back straight shook the car bad except for the bottom. The track was a mess and it looked like the very bottom was the only place that made sense for me. I tried some lines but lost spots in the heat.
As the night progressed, they raced lots of cars and had a big fireworks show and messed around for four hours after our heats before we went to the track for our second feature. The track was not much different than it was in the heat. They never put any equipment on it all night.
The poor heat finish put us sixteenth in the starting lineup for the feature. Some of the damaged cars from the first feature and heats, made it to the track to start and park. They were all behind me. Greg and I discussed what to do on setup and decided to make a very few changes from where we were in the first feature and the heat.
We have been struggling for several years to try to figure out whats been wrong with us. There had to be one thing that was way off because nothing we did, changed, or replaced made much difference. But this season we began to understand what that one thing was and started to move in the other direction. This change is making some difference. Our new approach is solving some of our continuing handling problems and making the car much more drivable. Now we are trying to sort out all of the options and variations that affect this approach, to optimize it. As we again go through the range of adjustments, we are refining our setup to find what works and what is too much. It will take some time. We dont race often enough (like three nights a week) and were not on the same track every week so it just takes time to test and re-learn. We are definitely better and I have to un-learn some of the driving band aids that I needed to use before. As I get more feedback from the car and find that it will do what it should, I can move to the cushion and build some confidence back. It already feels better but we have a way to go before we find true center.
Midnight - feature time. This track has been so rough all night that Ive been running the bottom, even on caution laps. Everyone else is chattering the car over the rough stuff in the middle of the track during cautions and it has to be hard on equipment. I dont want to break aluminum shock pins or loosen bolts in the drive line like Ive heard happened to others.
The green drops and I charge to the bottom, get a run off two and pick up a spot. All race long Im able to close on the car ahead and once I catch them, get a nose under and pass. It was fun racing, running side by side with some friends. There was an early red at lap five (broken RR axle sent a car flipping) a long stretch of green and a caution near the end. I finally got to a point where the gap to the next car wasnt going to close. It felt good to pass cars and have the car work, even in these conditions. We ended up eleventh at the end but I felt I earned what I got.
The car was in one piece and we covered expenses. By the time we got loaded and on the road it was 1:30am. Greg and I were tired. Once the adrenalin wore off, we had to hit a rest area for the night and make the rest of the trip back home in the morning.
Merrittville Speedway 6-18-11
I hadnt run this track before but with all the rainouts of local races weve seen this season, it made sense to go to this race. We made the three and a half hour tow to the US border in Buffalo and only found one car ahead of us at customs. We made our way up the Canadian side of the Niagara River as Gee, the gps girl sent us on a goose chase down a bunch of back road until we came to a dead end. Apparently she had not been told that they put in a divided highway that cutoff the road we were on. So we made a turn and she recalculated and eventually she put us at the pit entrance to the track.
We were greeted at the gate and sent to the back of the pits where all the short trailers were. No matter, we ended up next to a couple of good friends and out of the congestion at the front row. We unloaded and I took off on the ATV for a look at the track. I had seen an aerial view of the place on the web and knew it was D shaped like Brewerton and Weedsport. But this place was wide with some banking and a top edge that was very forgiving. The back straight really arced out toward the pits with no walls except for guard rail at the inside of the turns. The front straight came out to about a car width from the wall where it dropped off about a foot to an area everyone called the moat.
I talked with some that had been here before to see where we should be with gearing. They told me that it was a really fun place to race, safe and flat out from turn one to the beginning of four, where the closing radius of three came to a corner. I drove our four wheeler around the top for a few laps, looking ahead at what the view would be at speed. The clay was sticky but the moisture was not very deep. The locals said it would get slick, even though the clay would stay soft. Sounded like what we see at Black Rock.
We had a different four wheeler with us to push the car around the pits. The one weve been using for several years had gotten weaker and wasnt doing the job. Well, it was always struggling to get the car up a hill with its 90cc motor. The clutch would slip and it would slow to a crawl on any significant slope. The outlaws use the 90cc units routinely with not much trouble. It may be that ours just needs a clutch. Anyway, this different unit is a little bigger and 180cc. When I got it the transmission was broken. I got the needed parts and fixed it but it also had a clutch problem where it wouldnt disengage. I took the clutch apart and made some modifications and now it seems fine well, except for when Greg would get on it and it would crank but not fire. I would get on, start and go but he would get on and it was like it was out of gas.
Luckily there was someone who went by on an ATV that stopped and pushed us out. It was a really nice guy that races Sportsman Modifieds weekly at the track. After hot laps he followed me back to the trailer and then talked to me about the lines I was driving on the track. He did this for us all night, whether our ATV started or not.
We changed gears and went out for hot laps. The place was fun and wide and racey but we needed more gear.
I drew a 15 which put us second row inside in the heat. At the start I got up under the second place car but there was so much bite that the car got away. The best line for me was mid corner entry, then on the throttle the car would sweep out to the rim and Id run the rim of the back stretch into three and then lift to set for turn four. The pack quickly strung out and I finished 3rd. It was a good run for us ahead of some strong cars.
This track is in SOS (Southern Ontario Sprints) territory and I was concerned that there may be a huge field of cars. It turned out that they must have felt the same way as 28 cars showed up with half coming from Patriot series and half from SOS. This year the Patriot series qualifies 5 or 6 from the heats and then uses passing points to set the redraw for the top 8 and the dash for positions 9 through 14. We would start fourth in the dash.
Ive never been a fan of the dash but it does pay some money and gives us a chance to test setup ideas for the feature except that they disked the track and watered it just before the dash. Nothing to learn but a chance to defend or improve our feature starting position. Zimbardi started ahead of me and we were tied, going in, for the dash points lead (worth a trophy at the end of the year I guess). Anyway we took off to race for four laps. I passed the third place car on the outside, coming out of two and drove deep into three in third. Everyone was hooked up on the wet clay. The third place finish put us inside of row six for the feature.
I felt more confidence in the car at this track. It was fun to drive and there was lots of room to run top ,bottom or enter low and slide up. Braking, drifting, hard on the gas. This place had it all. We didnt change much for the feature although we were going out last after a 35 lap modified feature.
We felt pretty good about the feature. The track would be slick but there were some ways to make ground. There was still some bite way down low. We left the gears alone to take advantage of it instead of taking gear out for the slick conditions.
At the start, the pack drove into turn one three wide. I followed the inside line down the back and stuck my nose in on the bottom. Coming off four I got that bite and drove into one with half a car length on the outside car. Everyone was overdriving the corner and drifting up. The car on the outside stayed close as we entered and as we turned in, his car hooked up and chopped down across my front end. We banged wheels. We were both on the edge enough that we broke loose and spun. As I backed up the track I watched cars coming at me. They all got by somehow and I sat there, POd about having to restart last.
On the restart, I got past the car that spun me and then started picking off cars until I got to a group of three that were racing each other. I tried the bottom and would gain ground and then they would get away a little. Id have a run and then the door would shut and Id have to back out. I tried the middle and then the top but lost more ground. The car at the back of the group finally got by on the outside but I could not make his line work.
The rest of the race went green and the track dried out more. The tacky spots got used up and it was difficult to find an advantage. We finished 18th but really had fun racing. If not for getting spun, we would have been somewhere in the top ten but thats racin, it paid some money and we rolled the car on the trailer ready to race again.
Williams Grove 6-3-11
One stipulation was that everyone had to use the URC American Racer right rear tire. I suspect that it was because the Hoosier tires the PST uses is an inch wider on the tread and is generally considered a faster tire. PST teams were able to buy the tire for roughly half price if ordered ahead of time. URC teams paid full price.
URC has always been protective of the competitiveness of their organization. In recent years, they have been running challenge races against the Pennsylvania 358 sprints. The 358s have an open head rule but use a cast iron Chevy head. URC has been using the ASCS Brodix aluminum spec head with no porting, for many years making them compatible with most 360 sprint organizations. That is until a couple of years ago. The 358s do not have any injector restrictions on size and the ASCS 360 spec has a 2 3/16 inch limit on the air inlet stacks. That allowed the 358s to have lots of high end power on the long tracks like Williams Grove and Selinsgrove where the URC/358 challenge races are held. So URC opened up the injector spec to 2 7/16. This is still smaller than the even larger sizes that some of the 358s use but it does let the engine breath better at the higher RPMs that last so long on the big tracks.
So with three strikes against us, restricted engines, no experience with the tire or track, about a dozen PST teams headed for The Grove for points, purse and the adventure.
URC is clearly the dominant 360 group in the east, having been around since the 40s and drawing driving and technical experience from the Central Pa Sprints. Its a tough bunch to run against, especially on their turf. I knew the race would draw plenty of cars and my odds were long to even make the show, but it was worth the trip to get some racing there. URC brought a full field of cars, PST had about a dozen and there were half a dozen Grove regulars that put a 360 engine in a spare car to steal the money.
We left early on the four and a half hour tow and it was a good thing because Friday afternoon traffic on Harrisburg interstates was at a crawl. Some teams came through the gates during the drivers meeting. In total, fourty four cars came to race.
I think I was the only PST team that had ever been on the track but that was so long ago that it didnt matter. Everyone drew for position and they split the hot into two sessions two laps. That was it two laps to figure out your car and the track and then on to qualifying.
Qualifying was by time trials but was done by heat. All the cars in each of the four heats, would be on the track together. Space yourself out and when they dropped the green, everyone ran two laps on the clock. The transponders on each car logged the laps into the track computer. Heats were then lined up by inverting the top five.
In hot laps, my car was twitchy down the straights and then pitched sideways entering three. The track was already dry and I nearly spun twice. We made some small changes for qualifying and now I didnt know what to expect. I had seventh time of the eleven cars in my heat. Not bad for all the uncertainty I had against those with experience. I knew we were under powered and didnt have time to know what line to run so that was acceptable.
The car ran the corners pretty well but the squirellyness in the straights was still a concern. By heat time, the track was dry and slick in the corners but had tacky patches down the straights. I ran the heat the best I could. As I ran laps I began to find a line that would run straight and was able to get a better line through the corners. I felt more comfortable as the race concluded. One unchanging thing about The Grove is that after about a lap and a half, the field gets stretched way out and its nearly impossible to make up ground. You may run down the car ahead but things get strung out pretty quickly.
There were two B mains. I was in the second one starting seventh. There were many good cars and only two would qualify. Unless there were lots of problems that I would miss, this would be my last laps on the track. We made some changes to the car to deal with the dry slick. On the start, the pack charged for turn one. I was with the pack and got a good bite coming out of two. A couple laps in and I passed the car ahead of me and felt like I could catch the next two that were dueling side by side.
Then there was yellow and I had to give back the spot I gained. On the restart we charged into one and as I got back on it between the turns, in the dust and lights, between the two cars ahead of me, I saw the front end of a car, pointing back at us. We were all scrambling to dodge the spinning car. I got on the brakes and turned right but so did the car ahead of me. My LF tire climbed his RR and the front of the car went straight up . all I could see was lights and dust and black then the front end come down and the car continued like nothing had happened.
It all happened so fast that there wasnt even a pucker moment. As I rounded the spinner and headed down the back straight, I saw the car I ran over and his top wing was twisted sideways on the car. Then near the end of the straight, at a slow speed, the wing blew over and fell to the back of the car. I slowed to avoid anything that might bounce in my path and then drove by on the inside. This was the same car I had passed before the yellow.
I buzzed the corner and everything felt normal so on the restart I charged to turn one and held my own mid pack. The corner exits were getting really slick in the groove. Ease on the throttle and find a stickly line. I would gain and lose ground on the cars ahead of me.
Then I saw some smoke from around the hood. I thought it might be a valve cover gasket, leaking on the headers. This was a problem from last race that I thought I had fixed but now it was leaking again. It wasnt worth taking any chances. I wasnt anywhere near a qualified spot and with a lap to go I pulled in.
In the pits, I looked under the hood and confirmed that it was just a valve cover leak so there was no damage. I also noticed that the wing had been hit on the leading edge of the left side panel. That was what apparently knocked the wing off the other car in our meeting.
I looked over the tires. We wore out about half of the new RR we started with. A feature run would have required another new tire. We found that we gained a lot of tire temperature and build up of air pressure that we never see on the tracks up home. I have known for some time that the Pa tracks build much more heat and have much more bite than the NY tracks. My theory has been that the clay in Pa comes from shale and has edges like crush stone while the clay in NY latitudes has clay from glaciers that is water washed like river rocks and pebbles. This makes a lot of difference in setup because there is not as much bite and less cornering force.
The other thing that stands out about The Grove is the length of the straights. It is about like two straightaways at NY tracks laid end to end. The engine winds for a comparatively long time and horsepower matters. The turns have a long radius that drive high corner speeds. I remember how tough this place was on motors and drive lines and rearends and how crashing was seldom as gentle as what I experienced tonite. Overall, the track is very fast, very demanding on equipment and can be disasterous if you make a mistake. It was fun to race there once more.
Stateline & Eriez 5-28 / 5-29-11
We always look forward to the holiday weekend races. These are special times for the tracks to bring the sprints in and pack the house with fans. This years weather forecasts have been full of rain and wet but this time the prediction was for no rain for Saturday and Sunday nights. Greg and I planned for the long tow to the south western corner of NYS, overnight at Zimbardis shop after the Saturday race and then on to Erie, Pa for the Sunday night race.
These two tracks have given us our best finishes although they are entirely different. Stateline is a paperclip with some banking. The tight turns force you to pitch the car in and diamond off. There is a line around the middle that allows you to roll in more but most times its rutty. The exits are typically slick from middle to the wall with some moisture remaining tight on the bottom. Erie is an oval with some banking. The shorter straights match the wider radius turns and two wide grooves will develop.
The constant spring rains have saturated the ground everywhere the tracks are left with a wet, moveable bed under the surface clay. With nothing to support the surface, the cars rumple up the entry and middle of the corners like a wet carpet. These tracks were no exception. Stateline was rough in hot laps and stayed the same all night. Erie was rough in three and four but they put a construction roller on it after every race while cars were getting pushed off.
Seven classes of cars makes for a long night at these tracks as promoters have now focused on making money from the back gate. The good news was that they did run the sprints second. The draw put us fifth in the second heat. At the start I worked with the pack through one and two and nosed under a car going into one. We raced side by side for a few laps until I cleared him. Finishing fourth put us second in the dash. For me the track was all around the bottom. The second groove was rough and made it easy to lose the front end in a push. The second place finish put us tenth for the start of the feature.
Greg and I discussed what to do with the car and only made a few changes. The track still had bite in the dash, stagger seemed about right, the car was turning in and the only thing we could think of was to use a stiffer RR shock for the ruts and work the remaining moisture down low off the corners.
The start of the feature was pretty clean with the pack of cars charging the corner. There was a sloppy bottom on one and two but the racing groove fell just above it and then choppy rough and slick above that. Three and four was hard and dry on the bottom and choppy above that. The cushion was low loose marbles. There was a ridge-rut coming out of four about mid corner that would throw the front end to the right if you hooked it with the RR.
It was tough to move forward with most cars on the bottom to drive under the ruts. All I could do was try to get a low bite coming off so I could show a nose before we got to the next turn. I was in lots of side by side battles when I could get a nose in and make the other car run a higher line in the rough. I passed cars, and some passed back. There were cautions and restarts where I made some ground and lost some. By lap twenty, with 5 to go, I was sixth, working under a car with my nose beside the driver as we charged turn one. He saw me, entered a little wide so that he could turn in hard across my line. I had to back out and let him go but he had gone in so deep and turned in so hard that he was hanging sideways. He had more bite on the front than the rear and the car just wouldnt straighten out and parked right in front of me. I was already too heavy on the brakes trying to give him room and when he stopped sideways, ten feet in front of me I had no where to go and tapped him in the LR. It spun him around and bent all the radius rods on my front end. We sat nose to nose on the track and saw each other eye to eye as they pushed him off and put the hook to me. I was done for the night.
In the pits, Greg and I were both really bummed to lose out on what looked to be fifth or sixth. We were paid for 18th. When the race ended the driver that spun and collected me was right there to apologize and offer any assistance. I told him thats racing and he said I know but I never want to take anyone out. We had fun racing each other for a few laps but well..... thats racin. We only lost three radius rods in the whole deal so if thats all the damage in a crash Im thankful.
We made our way back to Zimbardis shop and waited for them to arrive. They were busy celebrating their win at a home town track. We spent the night in Zimbardis latest project, a monster tour bus motor mansion that Jareds father is restoring. We went in and went to bed. When youre dog tired after a long day, you fall asleep fast and it doesnt matter where you are.
Saturday morning, after washing off the race night mud, we went though the car and set up the front suspension. The tow truck strap had also damaged the front wing despite me dragging the brakes to keep an angle on the tow line. We replaced the front wing and loaded up to head for Eriez, about an hour away. Yeah theyve always called the place Eriez Speedway and back in the early 80s Duval and I towed from Central Pa to run an All Star race there. We finished fourth that day. The place has been totally remade from those days.
The Indy 500 was live on our radio as we headed down the road, a throw back to the old days when Dad and I would be heading to a race, either to watch or run and listen to the 500 on the way or in the stands on transistor radio and an earphone. Back before Nascar stole the show, Indy was at the highest level. Drivers had made it to the Speedway after proving themselves on short tracks and fairgrounds across the country. It was an American race with American heroes that had already made a name for themselves with the fans. A few foreigners added some spice but was not the main course. Now, we listened to the end of the race while working on our car in the pits, spirits up lifted as an American rookie with a name that sounded like the old school names from the roadster era was headed for the win with less than a lap left and a big lead. He will never be able to put the race losing mistake out of his mind and he may never be in position to win the race again. I was disappointed in the outcome and for him.
Most teams were already at the track doing their prep and routine pre race maintenance. We unloaded ready to go. The track was wet and packed smooth but there was only an inch of wet clay. It was a balance between having enough moisture to keep the dust down and trying to keep moisture out of the base for a smooth track. There were some soft spots in the back straight and turn four that developed into holes but they kept putting equipment on the track between races to keep ahead of the problems.
The car was squirrely in hot laps. It would turn in and get loose and push and just would not get through the corners. The heat was no better and even though I started third and finished fourth, it was not pretty. We were totally off the mark and I really didnt know where to start to fix it. I discussed what we had with some trusted racers and everything was what they would call normal. The track had lots of bite and we should have been on rails but we had something wrong and I didnt know what it was. Our heat finish put us 15th to start the feature.
Although the forecast had been for a rainless Sunday night, a threat of pop up storms had developed and cell phones with weather apps were watching the green, yellow and red blotches approaching. The promoter got all his heats in before it started to rain. We loaded up as the sprinkles started. We changed out of wet clothes and muddy shoes and waited out the storm as the line to get out of the pits was not moving. Well run this feature and a compete new show on fourth of July weekend.
The 5 hour trip home moved at the same pace as the storm. There was rain and windshield wide lightning ahead of us the whole way. We were tired and disappointed with the weekend but the car was in one piece and we were ready to race. Well go through it and redo the setup before the next show.
Racing in the spring is always difficult but the weather this year has been exceptionally wet. Either the high ground water table makes for rough tracks or it just rains on race day. The second race weekend of the Patriot schedule was lost to day long rains on Saturday and Sunday, washing out races at Canandaigua and Weedsport. Hopefully they can be rescheduled.
Despite continuing rain every day since, this weekend dried up on Saturday for the Patriot event at Woodhull. This track is located near the southern NYS border with PA near Corning, NY (home of Corning Glass). The track is really off the beaten path with no easy way to get there. Lots of local roads, small towns, hills, turns and stop signs make getting there part of the puzzle. GPS even has a hard time making an easy route. Three of us made the trip. Rick Dumigan, car owner that I drove for a decade ago, lives nearby and went along with Greg and I. He is good pit help and another mind to mulch setup ideas
Weve run here before and had mixed results. The track has all the oddities you can think of to make a place unique. The first thing that strikes you is the high banks. The turns are banked as steep as a Cape Cod roof, with lots of racing room and no walls. Make a mistake and its over the bank and down a slope as steep as the one we race on. The back stretch also has banking with a ledge. The next thing is that the straights are long for a track of this size and close together. This makes for very tight turns. The place is a bull ring but stretched out like a rubber band over two fingers.
You would think that the banking would make for fast speeds but the clay is so icy that you really have to stop the car to get around the corners. Speeds in the turns are slow making every lap two drag races and two pivots.
Draw for our heat put us inside of the second row. Racing is generally all around the very bottom which is a shame for a track with tall wide banking. Making the cars behind you, pass on the outside, was everyones strategy. Passing would only come from very hooked up cars or a mistake in front of you. I didnt beat the outside front row car to turn one so I had to fall third in line. I held my own and pulled away from good cars behind me but late in the race got passed clean on the outside between one and two by a car that came from last. The heat was pretty strung out by the end on a track that had some rough spots in the second and third grooves. Even though the clay was wet, there was no bite, no tire heat and no tire wear. We were loose coming off and I could spin tires anywhere on the straights if I put my foot down. It was definitely a drivers track that needed the right setup.
The heat finish put us in the dash. We decided what we wanted to do for the feature and this race was a chance to try it out. On the track I could feel that we made some improvement but I still needed to be able to get on it sooner without the front end pushing. I held my own in the race running three wide coming off four at one point. It was not worth crashing in this race but I wasnt backing out either. We made it into one and fortunately the yellow came out before there was any problems.
We made just one small adjustment before the feature. We didnt want to go too far and make the car worse. We were trying some different ideas that were working but I still had to wait mid corner to pick up the throttle. Making changes to improve at mid corner would probably hurt getting in or off the corner. Set up is always a compromise. The whole package of settings and assumptions determines how changes will affect it. Its always frustrating to see other cars work better where your struggling, yet it seems like the answer is so easy when you hit it. We took some gear out of it which we expected would help us get down the straight better with less tire spinning and make it harder for the car to break loose exiting the corner.
For the feature, we lined up on the inside of row seven. The green dropped and the pack drove into turn one three wide. I did not get off the corner very well and got passed in the pack by a couple of cars that tried the high line. After a lap or so there was more room to maneuver and I got faster, along with everyone around me. I followed a car that had a strong run in his heat, thinking he could break through the cars ahead and Id follow but after a few laps, I could see he was having more trouble than me so I tried the outside of one and passed him in two. Heading down the back stretch, the yellow came out and I had to go back behind him. A lap or so after the restart, he spun. Some of the cars that started in the front were coming back to me and as they slid up, I was able to get by. Other cars in front of me tried too hard and spun. Good cars behind me could not get by. During the race, I dodged about three cars that spun right in front of me. For the last handful of laps, I chased a car driven by the guy that owned this track last year. Hes happier racing there now. Id catch him going in and hed pull me coming off. That was fun. We finished 8th.
We let GPS plot a route home but we didnt have much gas, We were sweating it out to find a gas station that would be open this late in a small town. When we found one we were relieved. With a full tank we followed directions and ended up on some of Gs favorite back roads. We were on some really narrow, winding, hilly roads that didnt even have any painted lines. We raced through 20 mph turns that came out of the trees and fog and eventually found ourselves back on real roads. We were finally coming down the very steep hill into Watkins Glen when we rounded a curve and there was a stop light RED - . I smoked the tires and we stopped. The new (to me) truck is comfortable and now we know it can do the job.
Black Rock 5-7-11
See Photos of the race by my friend Jay Fish at:
Winter is over and racing season will soon begin for
us. We put a new car together last season and ran it only a few times.
Everything was gone through at that time so there wasnt much that really
needed to be done on the race car over the winter. A new frame arrived In
December and it was fitted for our gear and painted. It will be stored for use
We are in the closing stages of winter and it's time to get equipment ready for the upcoming season.
Last year's improvement after we switched to the Maxim chassis prompted a sale of two J&J frames and the purchase of a second new Maxim frame. Painted and ready, the frame will sit in waiting and hopefully not be needed. Our best J&J car is still together as a spare if needed.
It's a never ending battle to keep up, much less get ahead. The on going challenge is to get our setups right and be better at guessing what the track will do. We've updated all the active parts of the program and now it's just a matter of making the right adjustments.
This season we plan to run the same Patriot races that we have in the past and add some ESS shows to fill in the holes. If we can be competitive, we'll consider some of the multi sanctioned races. For now we are waiting for the schedules to come out.