||Season Wrap Up
Another season has come to an end. It's hard to put a positive spin on a dissapointing year. There were a couple of bright spots although the results didn't show it. There was some progress toward improvement, well at least the tools are in place. And there was a lot of trying... you are only defeated when you quit. To an outsider it would be easy to say it's time to hang it up and move on.
Certainly the results this year would support that. But there's an unsinkable optimism that keeps competitors coming back. A gambler's addiction fuels the optimism, having felt the prize slip through your hands, believing that next time luck and talent can change the outcome keeps the rationalization alive.
In a competitive environment like racing there are many variables under your control. Expecting that a differnent set of choices can bring a better result drives the ongoing experiment. Finding an answer is a moving target. There is no answer. What works at one track, on one night, may not work elsewhere or again in the same way. Improving may only mean keeping up with the progress of all your competitors. Success in racing is about beating the competition and the difference between the front and the back is small. Success may only be valid for one night. There is no point where the project is complete.
So in my never ending quest to compete effectively and efficiently, I started this season with a mission to build on what we had learned the previous year. Having resolved some motor issues, I was ready to run the slick northern clay. We had some things to try and felt we could do better.
By mid summer I was on a losing streak of poor qualifying, poor finishes and missed shows. As hard as I tried, nothing was working. I wanted to eliminate excuses so I parked the car and decided to start over. I had made a spontaneous connection to buy a top of the line motor. This motor was as good as you could get from a championship team I have known since racing in NY. They have switched to Fords. It was built by Jimmy D who has done all my motor work for many years and it was one season old, had a fresh rebuild, was only dyno'd. It was the ideal situation and would eliminate the doubt of my known horsepower deficit. It was more than I wanted to spend on a motor but I realized I had spent that much to build my last one, and solve it's problem and in the end it didn't measure up even close to this one. All the things I couldn't afford to do on my last motor were all bundled into the price of this one.
I have always believed that you can overcome HP with handling and you can't overcome handling with HP (but it helps). Get them both and your competitive.
I have had a new Maxim frame ready that was painted and ready to go if needed. I decided to build a new car on that chassis and got all new DMI running gear and suspension from front axle to rear end. The steering box, seat, tank, body and wing were the only things taken from the other car. This was a new car as far as the parts that mattered. This would remove any doubt about the hardware part of handling.
To complete the package, I consulted another racer who had been consistantly strong on these upcoming slick tracks. He made setup suggestions to get me started and went over the car with me.
After three weeks off, the car was assembled and ready to go for my hometown track at Brewerton. I missed qualifying in the heat by one and in the B was doing well until the last turn of the last lap when I slipped up and got passed for the last qualifying spot. I should never have been in that situation but that's how it was.
After that, we went to Brockville and started at the back of the feature. Part way through I got lapped but then followed the leaders and found a line that worked for me. I ran with the leaders for the rest of the race, had the third fastest time for the race but was a lap down with a poor finish. That was the best I felt in a racecar in a long time. The car worked and I could drive it without chasing it. If I'd qualified better I could have had a top 5. Our biggest problem now is getting the setup right for the heat.
When the setup is in the ballpark, the car becomes an extension of your body. When it's not working it's like riding a donkey and not going where you expect. It was good to feel hooked up for a change and that gave me some driver's confidence. At the next race we were ok but ran with a pack at the back.
The last two races of the year were rainouts at tracks l liked. In total I competed at more races than I wrote about. Many were so disappointing that they were non events as far as I'm concerned and better off forgotten.
I have new platform to start next season. This is a solid one with good pieces. Now I have to continue to work on setups that will build driving confidence.
Bradford Speedway 8-31-13
The season is coming to an end. Labor Day weekend has typically had two races for us but this year a rescheduled rainout added a third show. I made the trip to Raceway 7 on the Ohio/Pa border earlier this year but decided to pass on it this time going only to Bradford and Eriez on Saturday and Sunday. I've been good at Eries but the two races would justify the long tow.
Bradford was a crash fest last time and was really the place to avoid. When I was there in the spring the place was dry in hot laps and slick in the heat. I had the wrong setup in and without help that weekend, no time to change it for the B and fortunately missed the show and the wrecking. This time the car had a more conventional setup and I had a crew with Rick Dumigan. The track crew put extra water on the track and was running late. So hot laps were on a soupy, slippery, slimy surface with one line and nothing to learn.
A good draw started me outside of cousin Tommy on the front row of the first heat. With eighteen cars on hand, everyone would qualify. The track was now just greasy wet. On the start I dropped in to second and ran there for a few laps running a mid high line. A car nosed in and we raced for a couple laps until he cleared me. I tried the lower line but could not make it work. Another car worked by and I ended fourth.
That backwards run in the heat put me in the dash to race for starting position twelve to sixteen in the A. This was a chance to make some changes to see if we could get the car better.
I ran in place in the dash and got to see where the track was going. It was drying in the corners, cushion was lumpy and up high and the low bottom was still greasy. There was bite coming out on the wet straights but the corners were getting loose. The car was better but no better than the cars I followed. We took some stagger out for the A but left the rest as it was.
The track was better for the A. The bottom was now run in mostly and the top was at the wall. The middle had dried but wasn't too bad considering that this was northern clay with no bite. The big problem now was not getting crashed. The turns on this paperclip are tight and banked. You have to pitch and turn, forcing a level of uncertainty entering the corner with the pack at the start. If you have to enter slow, because of cars ahead, the front might push. If you pitch the car to turn in, you may slide into someone entering differently. Guys on top turn down across the track and the exit of two takes you to the wall. If someone spins, you can't turn much tighter without spinning to avoid them on this very narrow track. I was starting on the inside of row eight.
The pack charged into one, top, middle and bottom. In two, the the sixth place starter spun. Everyone funneled for the bottom. I was having a good run on the bottom and was lined up to pass coming out. The car in front of me cut across that opening and clipped my RF as I stood on the brakes and missed him but the car in back pushed me around and then the next car hit me square in the LR.
There we sat, about six of us, scattered across the corner. The track was blocked and they threw the red. I reached out and felt the flat LR and patted it so that Rick would know. They towed me to the pit work area where Rick was ready. Half a dozen others helped and looked over the rest of the car for damage. The change put the stagger back where it was in the heat.
A complete restart went better and everyone got through. I passed a couple of cars and got to Suprick's 87 with Smith aboard and Dave Ely ahead of him. The three of us ran nose to tail for the rest of the race. No one could get away or pass but we were not fast enough to keep from being lapped toward the end of the race. The leaders came by and just stuck better than any of us.
I think I would have been better with the reduced stagger that we started on but the LR that Rick put on was our best choice as a replacement. We were lucky to not have more damage and be able to finish. We lost a wheel and tire in the mess. The guy that spun came by and said he was sorry that I got damage from his mistake. Tommy led up to lap twenty two and finished second. I ended up eleventh.
We packed up and headed to Zimbardi's place where we stayed in the new loft room. In the morning we woke to heavy overcast and washed the car and did some maintenance. We were loaded by ten and headed out to Eriez where the pits were open and teams were going over their cars to ready for this track.
The skies were a mix of overcast and sun. I told Rick that if there were dark clouds down to the top of the distant mountains that it was sheets of rain headed for us. I've been to, I think, five rainouts at this place. If you feel a drop of rain, you better scramble to get everything put away because you've got about five minutes before the downpour.
We were pitted next to Ely and checked things over after the hit last night to make sure nothing was messed up. We adjusted the setup and were pretty much ready when we felt a drop. I looked at the mountains and it was dark clouds to the mountain tops. We rushed to get everything put away and soon the rain came. Not a downpour but a steady rain, then a break, then rain, then a break, then rain as cells came off Lake Erie and swept over the track. The promoter was losing fans, and the track, and finally pulled the plug.
We drove in rain for three of the five hour tow back home.
Brockville Canada 7/24/13
This weekend's race at Brockville in Canada is a track where I've had some good runs, but recently not. The track is normally smooth but is different each time we've been there. Sometimes there's a loose cushion, sometimes it's ice, sometimes it takes rubber. We left the shop with the setup that worked the week before, with some small tweaks that were suggested by Jason. It's still a guessing game of trial and error. Traveling from track to track puts a variable into any setup that clouds the choices with doubt.
This event was a multi sanctioned affair hosted by the Patriots, with SOS and the newly formed Quebec group Caoss. The 26 cars were mostly Canadian. Rick Dumigan came along to crew this adventure.
A poor draw started us out at a disadvantage. The seventh starting spot in the second heat of nine meant I had to pass one car to make the Amain from the heat. It was a loaded heat with two cars that were possibilities. I was starting on the inside and hoped to turn in and get bite around the bottom. The track still had some moisture and a rough lumpy cushion about midway up in one and two and a loose cushion near the top in three and four.
At the start I headed for the bottom but ended up behind cars that had the same idea. I ran down the back and entered three to pass on the outside. The car ahead entered wide and I tried to turn in at the cushion but found myself skating in the marbles and headed for the rim of the banking. The car slipped over the top and I mowed the grass to a stop.
Totally disgusted, but still ahead of another car that also spun I joined the back of the line for the restart. I tried everything I knew to get the car through the corners and run down the car ahead. Nothing made a difference. Last lap I tried a high line and wound up on the rim, back pedaling but trying to gently power the car down the bank and hold my position but it just hung through three and four and was headed for the wall with the RR and sliding up the bank. Finally it was time to lock it up. I hit a big tire with the RR, that protected the end of the concrete wall and bounced around to the left, pointing toward the turn I just rimmed.
Amazingly, nothing was broke or bent. They pushed me off and I headed to the pits as the last car to cross the line for the heat. So now I'm back to square one. The car was not working. I was driving over my head to make up for it and lost it twice.
Rick and I discussed what to do. It was hard to tell but there were some clues that again, the car was tight. I had nothing. Jason was there so I went to talk to him. He listened and asked a couple questions. From my standpoint, the only thing I thought I could do was run the very bottom. I had no confidence that the car would stick higher up. There wasn't much racing room to sweep out in the straights for corner entry so it would be on the brakes to a hard left.
He suggested some changes and I headed back to Rick to discuss it. The adjustments were nothing that either of us would have come up with. It seemed to go against what we knew. It was so different from the uncertain direction that we would have gone that we decided to try it. We had nothing and nothing to lose.
As we scrambled to change the RF bar, a Patriot official came by to tell us that the promoter decided to run everyone and cancel the Bmain. That was a relief. I had no idea what the car would do and would have had to start 7th with 4 to qualify in 10 laps. Now in the A, I would start 25th.
The track had a lot of laps from other classes and now was polished top to bottom. There was some moisture right at the inside edge at the very bottom. I expected that there would be some spins early and looked over escape routes. The inside had giant tires with spaces between that would be hard to get through. The bank at the top was graded to a peak with a steep slope and grass on the back side.
The pack charged into one. I ran the bottom but didn't have any advantage on the car ahead. It was tough to get beside someone enough in the straight to hold the challenge at corner entry. End of lap one and there was a spin in the first turn on the bottom. I went wide and missed him. The restart was now single file and with the added cars I was half a lap back when the leader hit the line. Past the cone and into one, the car just didn't stick the bottom with enough speed to get any advantage on the car ahead although it did turn in better than before and had more stick.
About lap 5 the leaders caught us at the back. First went by and then Jason in second. I figured I'd try his middle of the track line and follow if I could. I went into three and it stuck. I picked up the throttle and it went forward. I could stay with Jason and in fact could close on him some laps.
I was third in line, a lap down and running as hard as the leaders. Drive the car in deep, it turned, stuck and drove through the corner and out. Wow. I hadn't felt that good in a long time. The car was great and fast... really fast.
The caution came out about lap 14 and friend Rick Wilson went by as we slowed. He then wanted to start ahead of me on the restart but the transponder scoring from the previous lap put me ahead. There were two cars ahead of me that were also lapped cars and they were the only ones I could pass for position. On the start I drove around one of them in one and passed the other out of two. The car just worked as I stayed with Jason who was still in second. The only way I could pass more cars for position was to pass cars that the leaders lapped.
Another restart at lap 17 killed that.
I saw on the scoreboard that Rick was still third and had to be behind me.
Rick is a wild man in a race car and will do anything to get the job done. I decided I didn't want to be in his way so on the restart I entered hard but a little high and drifted up a bit. He stuck his nose under, I waited, half throttle, and then chased him out of two. Entering three I closed up on him and had to move up a bit and wait for him again. I was faster and really could have challenged him back if we were racing for position. I dropped back a bit to give myself some room and then ran hard behind him to the end, forth in line. Near the final laps the leaders caught the back of the pack and I picked up a couple more positions before the race ended and I finished nineteenth.
In the pits, Rick and I were really happy to see the car work so good. If I had been able to run the middle line earlier I might have been able to move up without getting lapped and probably would have finished higher. When I tried it, the cars ahead were slow there and I didn't get the feel of running it in hard and sticking. When the leaders went by, those cars held a lower line and then I could get the run on the middle and upper line.
The track was abrasive. We wore both rear tires to the base. The RR was smooth and the LR was nearly smooth. It was a combination of corner entry and power down. We tried to figure out if the track took rubber or if it was just abrasive. It was hard to say. The track was fast and the tires were used up. We were neutral, maybe just on the tight side but not enough to lose the front end or have to wait for the car to turn. The new soft compound RF tire we put on was not worn. I did not feel a rubbered line that was faster than any other. I still felt hooked up near the top when passing.
In the end, this was a good race for me even though the results don't show it. It showcased the new car and motor to me and Rick. It helped give me confidence that I can drive the car if it works. The remaining doubt is if we can adjust the setup to work for the next track and the one after that.... In the shop we measured and weighed the car to see where we really ended up with the setup. We'll see Jason with the results to understand what worked and why.
Brewerton & Woodhull 7/13 & 7/14/13
Running at the back or not making the show is like living in isolation on an island. Recently a number of friends have stepped up to help. They must be frustrated too when their advice doesn't seem to make a difference. My frustration caused me to wipe the slate and start over mechanically with a new car and fresh, strong (new to me) motor. Right now I can say that I hit the track with as good as anybody so that variable is removed. The problem that remains must be setup.
The new stuff has definitely made a difference but the same nagging problem continues... corner entry and middle. I've only been on the track a few times with the new car and we're getting bugs out. Greg is having health issues and not been able to crew at the track so had been going alone.
This week I hooked up with Rick Dumigan, who I drove for in 2000, and he is now available as he now doesn't work weekends anymore. Brewerton has been a sore spot for me for years. I just can't seem to get the hang of that place. This year has been no different. Third time out with the car and a setup that works well for a friend wasn't enough. It's a bottom setup. It's way different from what I've done in the past but fits the way I've run the track. Two drag strips and two parking lots he says. I understand that and have been successful with it in the past. Track condition was an unknown variable.
We hit the track way to tight in hot laps. I think that it was a missed communication on the setup starting point. Now we had to back up to the track (loosen the car) and hope the track didn't pass us (track gets looser) and then be too loose. I drew a spectator pill, 63 out of 65, to start the night off at the back. I ran the heat and made no headway. I was still too tight and I couldn't stick the bottom without a push or a skate. We loosened some more with stagger and wing and that was better for the Bmain. I started fourth and they would take four from the ten starters.
On the start, I got into one in second and then a yellow. On the restart, I made it to second again and after a lap, a yellow. On that start I stayed second and thought I was good to go. I swept into three and a nose dove under me. Mid corner Teflon Mike (never penalized for anything 'cause he's on the board) gave me a shot in the LR and about spun me to get by. I hung on but lost ground.
Down the back for the last lap and entering three another nose, I race him hard but I'm on the slick line now with no bite coming off. I put the pedal down and wound the motor up but the spinning tires were not enough by about two feet at the line. Fifth and a spectator again. The car was better in the B, probably better than I've been there before, but still not enough. My friend, using the same setup came from tenth in his heat to third in about three laps and drove to fifth in the feature. His car rolled the bottom faster than others on the bottom. It's a mystery. I have all the clues but can't solve the puzzle.
At the shop I did the post mortem to measure and scale what we ended up with after track adjustments. It was close to what it should have been. I didn't find a big problem or something way off like I was hoping. I debated whether to go to Woodhull that night but realized that I had to race to figure it out. I thought that the setup we had would be good for the tight turns at Woodhull. I've always run the bottom there. I thought it was worth a shot. Rick and I headed the three hours south west on a bright, comfortable Saturday.
At the track we found that they over watered the track hoping to keep some moisture with the addition of sprints to a full program. Hot laps were useless as the track was just grease. We were awful on top of that but it was hard to know what the track would be like at heat time.
They called us out for the heat, I was in the first, starting sixth of eight... with 24 cars in the pits, all would start the A. We sat in our cars for about 45 minutes as they ran six stock car heats while we watched. I hated the wait, on a hill with my leg tired from holding the brake, but I figured that the track would be better for me with more laps on it. The track was somewhat better but still wet and not good for me and this setup at all. I raced a few laps as hard as the car would go and dropped to last and then just ran out the last few laps to scope the track and try some stuff. Really disappointing and frustrating.
In the pits we put the car on stands and pulled all the bars and threw on another friend's setup that was the opposite of what we had. Starting last in the A was better than watching. There was nothing to lose if I could stay out of trouble. They ran a modified feature and a latemodel feature before us so we expected the track to be gone and slick. Several spins in those previous classes led me to expect a mid pack spin at the start. I planned where to go to avoid it. On the start I got by a couple of cars and tried to run the bottom and wasn't making headway. The track had more bite than expected.
We weren't really tight but with a start from scratch setup, the car was stable and raceable. We had a restart for a spin. The single file restart put me a half lap behind at the green. I got lapped about lap 17 and tried to stay with the leader but just didn't have enough stick. Then a restart put me 5th in line with two other lapped cars ahead. These were now the only positions I could pass to improve my finish.
I ran as hard as I could for the remainder of the race, mostly in the middle, but could not clear them... we were all the same speed. The leaders were a bit faster and nosed under or around and pulled away. Just not enough stick to stay with them but we were much closer than we had been. Not to bad for the seat of the pants changes we made. A little adjustment in stagger or offset or weight or shock could have made the car better. It was encouraging that the car was close. If this setup works again, it could be a starting point to build on.
ESS speedweek's series of races was a good test with five races in five days. First was Rolling Wheels. As much as I really like that place, I decided that based on our last time there, I didn't have enough motor. Turned out that they got the track in good shape and it was a flat out run all night without much passing. Good miss.
Next was Brewerton. This small third, walking distance from home, has been one of my worst tracks. It was icy slick. We tried some setup changes that were suggested but it was no better and I did not qualify.
Can Am, an hour north, was the next night. After the dismal run the night before, out of ideas and the large size of this place, I decided to not race but went to help another team and see what I could learn. Another good miss as the track rubbered up and ate tires. While there, I happened into a conversation with a driver that gave me some new things to try and that made the night worthwhile.
So with some changes made to the rear suspension, we went to Fulton, a half hour away, to try again. After a draw of 74 out of 75, I decided to run the infield where some tacky stuff remained. This track was also icy slick and I figured I might be able to out drag some cars, down the straight. It was a good idea but not enough to make any headway. I moved up and tried other lines but didn't move forward there either.
I did get to race wheel to wheel with an eight time URC champ who was in a car that worked no better than mine. I passed him and he passed me back but all his experience, his strong motor and high dollar car couldn't overcome the bad setup. Just proves that if the car don't work, even a proven driver can't make up for it.
This was one of the encouraging parts of the week, knowing that it was possible that it is in fact my car and not me that is slow. The other encouragement was that the car was much better than the night before after I made the suggested changes to the rear suspension. The car was neutral, turned in and had more sidebite, although not enough yet. But the car was driveable and predictable anywhere on the track and fun to drive for a change. The crew and friends said it looked real good.
That encouragement led to the decision to hit the last race in the series at Utica Rome. This track is always icy and we have not been any good the last few times there. It's actually been several years since we bothered to go there although the track is less than an hour away. But I wanted to continue the test and see if I could improve on the progress made a Fulton.
Another uphill battle with a draw of 62, I realized that this would be another test session. In the heat I tried to drive in harder to see if that was what was missing but spun out in the process as the car wouldn't stick. I made some more changes that had been mentioned by other teams and it helped in the Bmain. I was still at the bottom of the pile but could now stay with the pack and actually pass some cars. I think we are on to something but there is still something basically wrong.
This week was a tough race week for everyone. The temperatures were high 80s to low 90s with humidity that matched. There was bright sun that baked with humidity that was actually so thick that it created rainbows. The heat and humidity was all day, everyday with no let up, and continued into the dark of night. Drivers and crew were dripping with sweat.
The threat of rain was 30 to 70% all week with waves of showers and thunderstorms passing through once or twice a day and pop up downpours occurring anytime, anywhere, randomly. This had been going on for more than a month already and the ground was saturated with water laying in puddles on the lawn. Grassy parking areas were a soggy place to get stuck.
The weather made the track prep defensive. Because of the daily rains across NYS, the track surfaces were left packed and sealed up tight so the rain would run off and not soak in. If they had torn up the clay and a rain came, a track would become like a bowl of soggy oatmeal and pack up and race rough as hell. Only Rolling Wheels took the chance to do any deep track prep and lucked out. The others had month old "pack and shine" surfaces that were slick and dusty in hot laps and ice by the Amain. The conditions were abnormally slippery even for NY, but smooth as glass.
The July 4th holiday made the Speedweek a vacation destination for racers and fans. Every race had 35 to 40 cars and larger than normal crowds. The car count made the draw a friend or foe on the slick tracks and that made setup, King. Champions ran at the back at times and pulled in out of frustration.
Others watched Amains from their trailer roofs. It was a tough series of races for everyone and for me the only thing I can say is, it was a good test session.
From what I learned, I decided that it was time to put a new car together and get a stout motor. Both deals came together over that week. I need a fresh start, even though it's mid season.
Mercer & Raceway
I got an early start on Friday morning and headed west on the NYS thruway ( Interstate 90 thru Pa, Ohio and beyond). The track is just 6 miles south of the first exit in Ohio. The ruler straight Route 7 runs south past flat cornfields and small towns looking like the path to so many Midwest tracks. I was alone this weekend and arrived at the track about 2pm. I unloaded in the empty pits while the track was being worked and watered and walked to the track edge at the top of turn four banking to take a look. It was a paperclip 7/16 with high banks on symmetrical corners at the ends of the long straights. I talked to the track workers, who also raced there weekly. They told me it was really rough last week so it got tore up and re-graded and then it rained all week. To me, that usually means the track will be rough again. They didn't water too deep this day. There were some dry spots yet as they did some final touches before the final watering and packing.
Other teams showed up and as the pits filled, everyone would go to the track edge to judge the surface and guess on gear. "What do you think? 5.96,... 6.07? "Do you think you need that much?" 5.84? It was a guess that would be different for some teams depending on their motor package. I put in 5.84 and was already second guessing.
Weekend weather had been an issue all week and it came down to a 40% chance for this race night. Just after we all went to the pit shack and got our pit passes, a black cloud rose over the second turn horizon to the west. A curtain of rain hung below as it moved across the flat farm lands and headed our way. We all watched for half an hour as the sky overhead darkened and the temperature dropped.
The rain was very heavy for 15 minutes making puddles and mud everywhere. The open wet track took up more water than was needed. The weather would also dampen fan interest so the track owner decided to call it a night, cancelled and refunded pit passes.
I loaded up the car and headed for the hotel gathering place nest to the interstate. All the teams were there in the parking lot, under the partly sunny sky, standing around, kicking stones and trading jabs, jokes and stories. I was looking for the Holiday Out and lined up a bunk in Zimbardi's trailer but decided to head toward the next night's track and Adam Anderson's race shop halfway to Mercer.
Adam and family showed up shortly after I arrived and we sat and talked for a couple of hours. I spent the night on the comfy sofa in the shop. The next day other teams showed up there to hang out, waiting for race time, cars still prepped to race from the night before. By late afternoon we headed to the track about an hour down the road.
Mercer has been around for decades, running 410 sprints on a weekly basis. Duval and I never went here either because it was a bullring and ran Saturday nite. I was here last year with the Patriots and ran the heat race but sat in the car on track to start the Amain when the rains came. This time there was weather all around but skies at the track were clear and it looked like it would stay dry long enough to get the show in.
We hit the track as the first hot lap session and right off the trailer the car was good. I was able to drive it in, turn it, and it would stick and go. The third turn was good getting in but the cushion loosened up in the middle and coming out of four. The track naturally takes you to the wall in four so you have to cut down lower or lift some up high.
Back in the pits the 410 driver next to me asked how it felt and I told him it felt really good... a little pushy at little loose but good. He said this track doesn't change much to reassure me that the setup should work for the heat.
Our heats were up first and I was in the second one. Starting third I drove it in like in hot laps and the thing turned dead sideways! I was off the pedal, crossed up and collecting the car, trying not to take anyone with me. I made it out of two in third and found turn three no better. I went to the bottom and the cushion but this handful was just backing up as I raced hard with the pack. With a lap to go I went into one on the cushion and felt a bad vibration and the car bottom out like the RR tire went down or something. I lifted and tried to feel out the problem, but now it rolled ok. I knew something was wrong so I just headed to the pits off the third turn. Everything felt fine as I drove to my pit.... no vibration.
I got out and walked around to the back expecting to see something broken but everything looked good. That was weird. I knew something was wrong but didn't know what it was. It could be something in the driveline. I would start the feature in last anyway and I did not have time to take things apart or replace something. My only choice now was to start the Amain to get paid and feel the car out to see if the vibration was still there.
I was pushed off and there was no vibration. I buzzed a corner and still OK so I felt that whatever happened was gone. Well that's until we did a clean out after the four wide and it started to shake again. My guess was that it was a broken U-joint. I was lucky that it didn't break apart. That could break ankles, destroy more parts and over-rev the engine, bending valves and breaking parts. I took the green at a slow pace and headed to the pits, to load up.
The Amain was over early and I was paid and on the road by 9:30. It started to rain near Erie and downpoured for 100 miles as I apparently was moving along with the storm. There were times, long times, when the rain was so hard that I could not see the lines on the road for the splattering rain. I finally got home at 3pm.
The at home I took the drive line out and found the tail of the U-joint split part way open but not fully broken. I was either good and lifted as soon as the problem happened or lucky. Either way, a new U-joint and cleaned up driveline made the car race ready again.
I got a call on Sunday to hear that my good friend George Suprick had a heart attack within an hour of leaving the track, while on his way home on Rte 80. An ambulance at a nearby exit treated him and a helicopter flew him to a Pittsburgh hospital and Intensive Care.
Last week at Erie he asked me if I felt stressed from racing at Bradford the night before. He said "If I didn't know that it was just muscle pain in my chest from driving hard, I would have thought it was a heart attack." He talked to me for about five minutes about the pain and strain that was still bothering him that afternoon at Eriez. As always he ran good at Bradford and Eriez and this week finished fourth at Mercer, a couple of hours before the heart incident.
George is 10yrs younger than me and an busy racer. You never think you are at risk off the track. Racers are usually in control of things, active and too busy to mess around with something like a heart attack. It was good and lucky that he got treatment quickly considering the rural area in northwestern PA where he was on the interstate.
George has been one of my better friends in the pits. He needs to do what's necessary to get back in shape to race. I miss him already.
George.... This is a hundred lapper around the sun! What are you doing in the pits on lap 54?
Eriez Speedway 5-26-13
Eriez has become one of our best tracks. We won our heat there last fall and have had some good finishes. I generally can get something going on the bottom. Teresa was along for the adventure this weekend to remind her of those days when she would do the occasional racing road trip.
We stayed at Zimbardi's shop in their new loft where we slept and showered. I was up early and headed down to wash the car. When I finished, Teresa was ready and we hit the road for Eriez where they leave the gates open so we can get in and set up. I met up with Dave Ely, his dad and crew about 2pm, where they pitted and pulled in next to them. We had the Indy 500 up loud on on the truck radio as we worked on our cars. Dave gave me a different setup to use for this night and I changed bars.
As I looked over the car I found a cracked rear brake rotor and disassembled the suspension and brakes to replace the rotor. Then I noticed a broken fender mount on the trailer and as I looked further I saw more cracks in the frame. When one part weakened it put strain on another part and that cracked and in all there were four places that were broken. The trailer would never make the four and a half hours on the road to get home. I got on the fourwheeler and headed for the water truck that was filling up and asked if they had a track welder. They said yes and he was one of the guys standing there.
They soon came to my pit and looked over the trailer to see what was needed. I pointed out the problems and a while later they came back with some steel for bracing and patching and a welder on a trailer behind an ATV. They fitted up some patches and said they would come back after the races to do the welding. Even though we were there early, it was still a scramble with all the unexpected stuff I had to work on.
I got the car ready and hit the track for hot laps with a setup that I would not have come up with. The track surface had already slicked off at the bottom. The car turned in with no problem and was a little loose. I tried bottom and top. I closed on a slow car ahead. In the pits we discussed what I felt and Dave suggested some small changes for the heat. My draw of 47 out of 50 put me last in the heat but with only a full field of cars, everyone would start the Amain.
I did my best in the heat and followed my cousin with a constant gap. We had both tried the cushion but found ourselves at the wall in the loose marbles coming our of four. I moved down some and tried to diamond the corner. Tommy tried the middle and next lap went in on top and slapped the wall coming out of four. I watched him flip as I drove low through four. I ended up in the dash that sets the starting position for 9 to 14 spots in the Amain. Dave made a small adjustment to try.
I started fourth and ended there putting me twelfth in the start of the Amain. By now, the track had become a glare of slick with a patch of moisture at the entry of the turns at the top but dusty nothing coming out. The middle was ice and the bottom would soon wear out. The race started and I was in a bees nest of cars that looked all out of control and aggressively racing. It was two wide or more and wheel to bumper the whole race. I kept my nose in it but would get chopped at the nose or rooted at the bottom.
We did this nearly the whole race yet there wasn't much contact. Some were a little better than others in different places and spots were give and take. I unfortunately lost more of the battles than I won and slipped back some. On a restart with five to go things got strung out and I worked on getting one of the spots back. We raced lap after lap with him on the bottom and me at the top. He would sweep to the wall and I would have to wait in the straight until he turned in and I would drive by on the outside.
Then he would pull me off the bottom until the last corner of the last lap when I got a good bite on top and enough room to pass on the outside. I ended up 16th, which was not as good as I expected but with the car in one piece and some passing at the end, it wasn't all bad. The track crew came to the trailer after all the races were done and welded up the cracks and patches. What a great bunch of guys. They worked about an hour and a half in it and didn't want anything to do it. we loaded the car and hit the road.
Bradford Speedway 5-25-13
The track's been around for ages and it shows with a run down, no frills facility that supports weekly racing in these rural mountains. It's a paperclip third with concrete walls and an open infield. There is good banking in the hairpin corners with straights that are aimed uphill in back and downhill in front. The uneven, rocky pits are located off the first turn on the side of a hill making it tricky to jack a car up without the jack falling over. With temps in the mid 50's that dropped as the night went on and 15mph winds, it was uncomfortably cold. Only the bright sun that glared in the racer's eyes above the first turn provided any warmth. For all it's shortcomings, it was a racetrack, and it was the same for everyone and the holiday weekend put 25 good cars in the pits. On track for hot laps we found a hard packed dried surface that was trying to build a loose cushion.
To its credit it was smooth but it didn't have much bite in the corners. I drew a high number but not as bad as some others so I started fifth in a heat of eight with six to qualify. It was a loaded heat with past series champion and eventual feature winner ahead, a champ from another series, the reigning champ beside me, a past champ behind me and the current point leader beside him. If there was a soft spot in the heat it was me.
During the week, I had been talking by phone with a good racing friend and he suggested a radical setup for the car that had worked for him on the northern slick tracks. I was ready to try it. He was racing with us this night and at the track we discussed the track conditions and this setup. I ran the bottom for the first part of the heat but was not able to hold my position or pass anyone.
I went to my friend to ask about setup changes. He had won his heat from the front but his crew was changing all four bars and shocks from the suggested radical setup we were both on, to a radical soft setup. The stiff/split setup was wrong for this place. I was working alone tonite as Greg had other commitments for the weekend. There was not enough time for me to change much more than tires, pressures, offset and fuel before the Bmain.
Teresa was with me for the adventure and was a big help in getting the lineup and food as I didn't have any time to do more than get the car ready and get in. So I hit the track with a stiff car on this slick ice bullring. I started fifth with four to qualify. I chased the car ahead and got under him but couldn't get by and did not qualify.
The Amain went a few laps before the full moon rose above the third turn bringing with it a string of cautions that put half the field in the pits and the need for a fuel stop half way through. The ice track took its toll with spins that collected others and front ends that got knocked out when cars drifted to the wall on the narrow turn exits and pinched the front end of a car trying an outside pass. If I was going to miss a show this would have been the one. On the other hand if I had survived I might have had a top 10 payout. My friend ran second and I was staying at the winner's shop for the night.
The track itself is like no other. It's a literal paper clip with high banked corners and long straights in 3/8 mile length. I have never gotten this place figured out. It is a throw it and scoot type of bowl that requires a balanced car that turns and sticks and digs, otherwise the driver fights the car to keep it from pushing or spinning. The top of the banking usually has loose marbles that looks like a cushion but can drag you over the edge.
They had put some last minute extra water on the track... late because of the week long threat of rain and today's continually ominous heavy overcast and extra because the sprints burn more moisture out of a track than any other car. It left some soggy spots in the straights but the banking still dried out quickly after the slimy hot laps.
After last weeks' disappointing run and some pondering, new torsion dyno'd bars were ordered and a new setup was offered by a friend. What the hell, I'll give it a shot. Can't be any worse than what I had last week. It was different and something we hadn't done before but as it turned out this was probably not the place to use it. The slow, low RPM corners wouldn't generate enough weight transfer so the skating continued with the car sliding up the banking in hot laps and in the heat race, despite some adjustments for the heat.
The heat was a disaster as I dropped from the front row to the back and could not hold my own against the pack. I tried but just didn't have the feel that allowed me to pitch hard and stab early with the rest of them. With passing points used for Amain starting spots, my drop to the back was actually worse than starting last and ending there. Fortunately there was only a full field of cars so we were still able to run the A. We used it as a test session and changed to a different setup to see what would happen.
The race went well with only a few cautions for spins. I was not one of them but had a car that felt like it would, if turned in too hard. That caused me to straight line the entry and the car would push. There was no sense in trying to force the car and then spin and get crashed so I rode out the race, trying my best to find a better way around and pass the car I was following.
The track changed in the last 10 laps and with 5 to go the track and the car started working together where I could drive it in deeper and it would turn and stick and come off pretty good. It was the only time of the night that the car was race worthy. But the track was better for everybody and although I was faster, so was everybody else. I gained on the car ahead and could have passed if we had more laps but we finished in one piece, disappointed at the result and ready to move on to the next race and try something else.
Black Rock 5-3-13
I've got more laps at this track than any other we run. The year we ran here weekly, we were the only team to make every A-main and had quite a few top fives. The past few years hasn't been as good as we have struggled to be fast enough to make the show. We were feeling a bit better about our chances this season after what felt like a good test session at Brewerton a week ago.
This track is a wild card of sorts. It ranges from icy slick to rough to killer cushion to dusty loose. It is hard to read the weird dirt they have at this place when they work it in. It smells like a swamp and it's never watered deep. But from the looks of it, our guess was dry and dusty .
At the driver's meeting I gave a three minute presentation on the Crash Pad and directed racers to see Mike Emhoff parts trailer to buy. I'm not sure how it went over. The credibility of racing stuff ranks with the pecking order of the advocate. I have been at the bottom of that order and pulled a 45 out of 50 at the pill draw to compliment.
When we hit the track in hot laps there was still some moisture in it that was being peeled back to make a loose cushion. A different surface in the past few years has created more bite and tire heat, something that was totally missing before. Dust has always been a problem here and bright sun that blinds you exiting the forth turn makes it impossible to see the wall and the entry to one. The car went pretty good in hot laps but didn't fully stick mid corner so I had to back pedal some.
The engine felt strong after the cam adjustment that was made by the engine builder. I talked to cousin Tommy after and found that he was flat footing the middle. I wasn't stuck that good. We changed to a better tire for the heat race but didn't mess with anything else. I started last in the heat. Everyone would qualify as there were only enough cars for a full field. The track was drying with some moist cushion way at the top. There were strong cars ahead of me and a couple I thought I could beat.
Heading into one at the drop of the green didn't offer any openings and the pack strung out going down the back strait. The car didn't stick mid corner and I had to back pedal more to keep from sliding up the banking. After a few laps I figured out how to compensate for the car and got smoother and faster and started to reel in the car ahead but these eight laps ended up being more about figuring out the track, the car and the driver.
It was disappointing to not catch or pass a couple of the cars in that heat that I should have been able to deal with. I just could not stay on the pedal through the corner to keep the momentum. In the pits, Greg and I discussed the options and decided to change the RR bar to see if that would stick the car better mid corner.
The Amain went pretty much the same way. I started last and as the track dried the car never got any better. We ended up 16th. The problem is mid corner so that's what we will be working on for the next race.
Brewerton Test Session April
Test sessions happen quickly as each of 5 classes of cars get 5 laps on the track. You get about 15 minutes to work on things before it's time to head for the track again.
My main goals were to check or set the magneto timing, check for leaks, make sure we had everything with us that we need, make sure all the pit equipment was working, and refresh my feel of the car and racing. The new seat in the car is like wearing new shoes. It takes a little time for the body to adjust to the new touch points and posture. The Crash Pad adds comfort in addition to its impact reduction role. Belts always shrink a bit when not used and the driver gets wider over the winter so belts need to be adjusted.
Greg hopped on the ATV and we rolled through the pits to the track with the other sprints. They pushed us off on the track and the motor sputtered as the fuel lines cleared the pockets of air. Back to the pits, the motor warmed as I sat in line to get on the track for our first laps at speed.
The sprints pushed out just as the motor reached temperature. When they dropped the green I picked up the throttle and the motor was very ragged. My first thought was that there was air in the high speed bypass line. The bypass only opens at high pressures that occur at higher RPMs so it wouldn't have operated until now. But after a couple laps it hadn't cleared and I knew that wasn't the problem. It probably wasn't timing because I had set it with my meter at the shop and it had to be pretty close. I suspected that we were probably running low on fuel after a long warmup time in the pits and at speed it was sloshing away from the pickup in the corners. I hadn't put a lot of fuel in the car at the shop after the car was reassembled and we didn't get to check it before we hit the track. I headed for the pits.
I wanted to check the timing now as we weren't able to while we were warming the motor and in line to go onto the track. I have the throttle set for dead closed with no idle when my foot is off the pedal. It is a huge difference in slowing the car when racing. So the hood must come off and Greg has to operate the throttle linkage by hand to set a constant RPM while I get out of the car and hook up the timing light.
My foot pressure is holding the spring tension and when I release Greg isn't expecting that much tension and the spring closes the throttle and kills the motor. I was pissed that the motor stalled and fumed and bitched, while still in my helmet but there was nothing we could do other than try it again after next session. This time we fueled the car and soon it was time to hit the track again.
The second session went better as the engine ran very good and the car handled well. It's funny but I had so much on my mind from the pit work that I drove the laps without really thinking and didn't notice a lot about the handling. It felt natural to turn the laps and as I got a feel for the car, the setup and the track I got quicker. It handled so well that it sort of drove itself.
Then a car hits one of the inside tire markers and flips and they throw the red. I needed to keep the engine running so I just slowed and crawled my way to the pits.
This time Greg holds the throttle perfectly and I get out and hook up the timing light, touching the header near #1 plug and burning the side of my hand in the rush. I check the timing and it is off by several degrees, I loosen the mag and set it and then snug the mag bolt to check again but now... no light. The light doesn't work at all and then I see that the plug sensor wire to the light has touched the header and melted so it is now shorted.
I tighten the mag, shut off the engine and get out the meter that I've used for years to set the timing in the shop and the pits. I wanted to make sure that the mag didn't move a bunch when I tightened it and that it was at least close to right. The meter showed the timing was right where I thought it should be.
We buttoned up the hood and got the car to the line for the final session. The track was drying and the car still worked fine. This is about as good as I've felt at Brewerton. The car turned in and the motor was strong. It felt pretty good to be on the track again after the long winter.
We have never done well when we've raced at this track, just a mile down the road from home. This season there are three races here. Hopefully we can use this setup, figure out what we need to refine and be more competitive here this year.
We have not made it to the dyno yet. There has not been a week day above 50 degrees since the first of the year. That is the minimum temp of outside air that can be drawn into the engine to get close to correct fuel settings that we can use during the season. The dyno work was supposed to be wrapped up in January or February. This is disappointing and will make things that much more difficult as we now have one of the motors in the car to get the season started. That means that now we'll have to pull the motor to take it to the dyno and then put it back in for the next race. That is a pain and a scramble.
The racing season was supposed to start with a test session at Fulton on April 6 but we got eight inches of snow that week, followed by lots of rain. With the track to soggy, the test was cancelled and then it rained every day for the following week and that cancelled the Patriot season opener at Fulton the next weekend.
The weather luck continued with a storm front moving through during the afternoon before the Brewerton test session the following Tuesday so that washed out a pre-season tune up for us. The next time we hit the track will be for three hot laps prior to our heat race at Black Rock Speedway. Like anything, it takes a little time to get back into form. Hopefully there won't be any technical issues and we can make the show. Racing isn't easy. If it was, we probably wouldn't do it.
They didn't schedule races this early in the past. It was usually Memorial Day before racing got fully underway. My father and I used to go to Reading to watch the USAC sprint opener in late March but that was Pa and it was still normally cold there. Lincoln Speedway in central Pa near the Maryland border, starts on the last week in February but that ridiculously early date has become a tradition and the fan and racer base turn out in large numbers as much to make a statement as to pick up where they left off in November. And they have plowed snow to race.
This delay has helped take some of the pressure off getting the car together and provided some time to manage smaller details. Yeah we've had all winter to do the work, but I spent much of the winter getting the Crash Pad business off the ground with Denny Gross in Pa. We also spent quite a bit of time looking into acquiring another business that looked really good but ended up being past it's prime after a lengthy analysis uncovered insurmountable market changes.
With crewman Greg's ongoing health problems, it has been a single man endeavor to rebuild the car. There really wasn't a lot to do other than disassembly, cleaning, checking parts over and reassembly. I rebuilt a rearend to put in the car for this season and fitted a new seat to the car. The fuel cell was disassembled and an internal repair was made. I had planned on fresh paint but without a place to do it at the shop and no warm temperatures to paint outside, that project was dropped for now.
So the car is ready, the shop is clean, the truck and trailer are loaded and ready to go. No big new setup program, just applying what we know, getting the most out of what we've got and doing my best on the track. It's another year that I get to race. Now it's up to the weather to determine when we start.
Over the winter, I have been going through the car, disassembling, cleaning, and upgrading. There haven't been any surprises so things should go back together easily and we'll be ready to go for the April opener at Fulton.
If there is time, I might get some fresh paint done but that will depend on some outside help. If not, you'll see the body parts with some race rash from the previous year's competition. It used to be that race rash was a badge of honor. It showed that you were a racer and had been spending your time on the tracks instead of the shop. A totally polished car was pretty but the real barnstormers didn't have time or money to rework chips in the paint. Those successful travelers were racing from track to track with not much more than last night's winnings.... pretty could wait.
So things have changed. Racers now have multiple cars and body parts to swap in and out of the body shop. Vinyl lettering sits in cardboard flats waiting to be quickly pressed in place. Every car has sweeps and swishes in bold colors, cut from rolls of stock, perfectly contoured by computer and layered for effects. The steady hand and creative eye of the sign artist is seldom seen anymore.
Well that's what is going on with the race car but the big project has been a product for race cars. For over a year, Denny Gross of New Freedom, Pennsylvania and I have been working on a product to Reduce the Risk of Spinal Injury in crashes. We formed a PA company last summer called 802 Solutions, LLC. We used our racing numbers 2 and 80 along with our quest to solve problems for the name. It seems to fit and is memorable and easy to say.
Several years ago I decided that if I was going to continue racing, I needed to find a way to keep from getting hurt like many friends other racers had. The common serious injury in racing had become Spinal Injury. Fractured, broken and crushed vertebrae were making headlines and it didn't matter whether the racer was low budget or champion level. Broken backs and necks were sidelining drivers for months, ending careers and putting other's in wheelchairs.
After a lot of research into the problem I came to some realizations and conclusions. This had not been a problem 15 or 20 years ago. What has changed since then is, the containment seat and the Hans device. The two advancements have been extremely successful in reducing injury from the driver getting thrashed around in the cockpit. Concussions happen much less and there are seldom broken bones or internal injuries. But spinal injuries seem to become more common.
It turns out that the containment seat and Hans supports the driver so well that the spine is lined up very straight from top to bottom. When there is a frame bottom impact, there is only one direction that the driver can go and that is to be compressed down into the bottom of the seat. The 5 point harness prevents "submarining" under the lap belt so the all forces are focused with no place to go. The seats are also reinforced to be rigid and non deformable so all of the impact must be absorbed by the driver.
Unlike an "end of the frame" collision with the wall or ground, the frame bottom typically doesn't give much, bend or crumple. The cage has to be strong to keep the driver from being hit or hitting things outside of the car, but it is all tied and braced to the frame bottom.
So when the frame bottom hits the ground, wheels down, it stops dead and so does the seat.
The seat is usually built so that it roughly fits the driver width at his butt and provides a solid flat bottom to sit on with maybe some tapered bevels up to the sides. Drivers put nothing in the bottom of the seat. Then they have their tailbone, at the bottom end of their spine, firmly belted down to that rigid seat bottom.
When the frame bottom hits the ground, it stops dead and so does the seat and the as the driver is compressed into the seat, the spine has nowhere to go. The impact typically last for 1/10th of a second. In that time, the driver's body weight pulls down on the spine and compresses it, if the driver is thrown forward when the car hits, the shoulder belts compress him more and to complete the deal, the 15 to 20 lb weight of the driver's head and helmet come down on top of his perfectly aligned spine like a pile driver! The instantaneous impact can break stuff quickly.
So with all the slack taken out of the spine and a 20 lb weight brought down on top of it, all in a fraction of a second, it's surprising that drivers survive the crashes they do. It's partly the luck of the roll of the dice in a crash and whether you land on your wheels or not. At least if your get upside down in a winged sprint car, you have the wing to crush into on the top side, but on the bottom side.... nothing.
So it became clear that the problem in the neck where the compression fracture occurs is really at the other end of the spine where there was nothing to absorb the compression shock.
After more study, a material was found that tested best by the military to reduce spinal injury in seat bottom compression impact. (Denny recently retired from 30 yrs at the Military's Aberdeen Proving Grounds).
Denny and I used this material in our seats and experienced several hard crashes without back problems. It's hard to prove a negative but we had both been through enough crashes over our long racing careers to know that this made a big difference. We realize that if you hit something hard enough it will break and you can always overcome any system with enough force, but chances are much better with some compressible material and compressible space between your butt and the seat.
Denny rode out a nasty one without injury at Lincoln last summer while leading a 358 sprint race. A rear torsion broke mid straight and the car turned hard into the wall and flipped the remaining length. We talked and decided to make the Crash Pad available for all racers.
The past 9 months have been a constant chore of developing prototypes, sourcing material, business formation, financing, work space and storage set up, web site development, marketing, and all the other things a start up business needs... mundane stuff like UPS account setup takes up time.
We finally hit our target date for product launch of Feb 19th when Area Auto Racing News published an article on the Crash Pad in their Safety issue. That generated a lot of interest and some sales. It is a new idea so there will be an education lag until the racer can get up to speed and understand the problem and our solution.
Since the AARN article, the York Daily Record in York PA did a great article on our business and the product. Denny set up a display in the Lincoln pits at the opener and at races since and I have been working on Web design and internet marketing and exposure. The products were on display at the Syracuse Motorsports Expo at the fairgrounds in March in cars at the Patriot Sprint Booth and Mike Emhoff, owner of the Patriots and Emhoff Motorsports Speed Shop is a dealer for the Crash Pad. Denny has set up Pancho's Speed in Hanover PA as a dealer also. The Crash Pad is also available directly from our website at 802solutions.com
As we spread the word, sales are picking and we have pallets of material ready to go. So tell your racing friends to visit 802solutions.com and check out the information and the Crash Pad.
802solutions.com has lots more information on the problem and the product.
The Maxim Chassis is in good shape and just needs to be freshened up. With everything apart, the pieces will get inspected, rebuilt or replaced. The car will be put back together so we will be ready to go in the spring knowing that we don't have any mechanical issues and can concentrate on setups and racing.
Although the paint design won't change, I think I will put a fresh body and lettering on the car.
Plans are to run a similar schedule to last year.