2016 SCCA National Championship Runoffs: Mid Ohio - September 19-25

Keith and I went to Mid Ohio for the national championships. We started the week with a few last minute checks, where I discovered a few transmission gears that were worn and Keith discovered a distinct lack of oil in his transmission! My gears were easily replaced, but his problem would take a bit longer to resolve- even with expert help from Kevin at Comprent Motor Sports.

When it was time to head out for the first qualifying session at 8 AM, I got a reminder of why you should check out the car well ahead of time: the transmission sounded horrible as soon as I started the car! I shut it off immediately and investigated. Turns out I had mixed two brands of second gear, and the design of the teeth was different enough that they did not mesh well. Q1 was a no-go, which was a bit of a bummer since it was the same time our race was scheduled to start on Friday.

The next day, qualifying was at 9:30, with the track in slightly better shape. We’d also fixed both cars- well, Keith’s was not ideal due to damage we couldn’t fully repair at the track, but it was functional with only a small risk of catastrophic failure. My car was working well and I turned a time that was good for 4th, though I thought I could go a bit faster. Keith was a bit slower and 9th.

The next day of qualifying was again at 8 AM, and we were ready to go. As expected, grip was lacking with cool weather and no heat in the track that early in the day, so everyone went slower.

The final day of qualifying was at 9:30, and was the fastest session as expected. I managed to go a bit quicker, but everyone else improved more so I moved back to 6th on the starting grid. Disappointing, but I knew I could race better than that. My wife and son showed up that afternoon to cheer me on in the race.

Race time finally arrived at 8 AM on Friday. The track was cool. I got a good start and moved into 5th, but there was no grip. I hung on to the battle for second for a few laps, but didn’t come up to speed soon enough and they got away. As the track began to improve, I pushed harder and started reeling them in. For several laps, it looked like I would catch them, until Paul and Hanna got clear of Dean and picked up the pace. I managed to run down Dean, and passed him down the front straight right before the entrance to turn one. Surprisingly, I was able to pull enough of a gap before the back straight that he was not able to draft back by me, and I was able to pull away. Soon the race was over, with me in 4th and Keith unfortunately out after 9 laps with a blown engine.

Watch the video of the race here.

New Jersey Motorsports Park: Thunderbolt - July 22-24

Going into the weekend at NJMP I had a lot of confidence. I hold the track record there, and in order to win the Northeast Majors Championship I really only had to finish one of the two races. I decided to see just how far I could push this season’s new American Racer tires, having run the same two sets since Summit Point in April.

In the first practice, I was second behind Jonathan Corsico. Not a big deal I thought as he was still on the much faster Hoosier tires for practice. In qualifying, we were all shocked- including Jonathan- when he went slightly faster on the American Racers. This is probably the only case ever where that has happened, as the tires are generally at least 2 seconds per lap slower than the Hoosiers.

In the first race, I got a gift when Jon was late to grid. I lead for a while before he managed to catch and pass me. On track I finished second, but at the end of the race it was revealed that he had passed a few cars on the pace lap under double yellow flags, which is a big no-no, so he was moved to last in class in the official results, and I inherited first.

In the second race, Jon was on time and ready. I got a good start, and despite the lack of grip in the 13 heat cycle tires I was able to take the lead for the first lap. My lead was short lived though, as Jon’s much newer tires allowed him much greater speed in the turns. At one point he spun and I had the lead for several more laps, but with his fresh tires against my dead tires, he managed to catch and pass me before the checker. Still, not a bad weekend- no damage to the car, a win and a second on really old tires, and I clenched the 2016 SCCA Northeast Majors Championship.

Watkins Glen - June 24-26

Watkins Glen is a challenging track in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York. The hike up the gorge is well worth your time, with 19 waterfalls in 2 miles. The track has two configurations: the short course the NASCAR guys run, and the longer, more challenging course the sports car racers run. This weekend is on the long course.

The first qualifier was uneventful with me on the pole by over a second. I was happy to be the only car in my class with a lap time under 2 minutes, and I feel like I’m learning the setup and how to drive the new American Racer tires. Q2 shifted around the guys behind me, but I still had the pole.

The first race was interesting. On the opening lap, my most serious competitors were eliminated right behind me when one drove over the other, ending both of their races. While they didn’t come out unscathed, thankfully there were no hospital trips required. Things were fairly uneventful after that point, and I won the race comfortably.

The second race was going very easily for me until about ¾ of the way through when on the back straight one upper bolt holding the nose on my car failed, and the remaining upper bolt pulled the threads out of the frame. The front wing promptly dropped to the ground, and the shock cover flew over my head in spectacular fashion.

Flying shock cover

I knew the end plates were toast very quickly, and the wing likely wouldn’t survive back to the pits, so I decided to drive on, knowing the winnings would defray the cost of the damage. Luckily I had a large lead, so despite slowing several seconds per lap I was able to hang on for the win.

Mid Ohio Sports Car Course - June 3-5

Since the national championships were scheduled for Mid Ohio later in the year and I hadn’t been there in about a decade, Keith and I made the trip to Mid Ohio for some practice. Lots of other people had the same idea, and by the time we arrived the best place for us to paddock was in the field way up on the hill, not great for formula cars with one inch of ground clearance. We managed to avoid getting them stuck, though a good bit of chassis dragging and tire spinning did occur throughout the weekend.

Our Wings and Things group had 57 cars that took the green for Q1, which makes for a really busy racetrack. Keith and I managed to avoid trouble, qualifying 5th and 4th, respectively. Compared to our previous times on Hoosiers, we were about 6-7 seconds slower on the new American Racer tires. It’s a spec tire, so everyone is in the same boat, but it’s still disappointing. In the second qualifier, I went a bit faster and moved up to 3rd.

Saturday’s race probably shouldn’t have been run at all. It was pouring rain, with almost no visibility. I took it easy, one racer in my class pushed hard at the start and got ahead of me and Ray, so I ended up 4th. We did only 4 laps, all but about half a lap behind the pace car. Discussions with the officials split our group up for Sunday’s race, with the thought that we’d get better racing with fewer cars from different classes on track at the same time.

Sunday’s race was in much better conditions. I got a good start, but Dean got a great start – moving from 4th to first briefly, but in the second turn Scott got back to the lead and in the third turn I got into second. I chased Scott as best I could, but when the checkered flag came out early due to a hard stop at 6 PM, he was well ahead of me and I was well ahead of Dean. Keith got 4th. It may have been short, but it was good practice for the Runoffs.

Summit Point - April 29 - May 1

After more than a decade of racing these cars on Hoosier Racing Tires, this was the first race on the new American Racer tires. Claims of much longer life and nearly the same performance were quickly shot down in the first qualifying session where everyone was far off their normal times and experiencing significant graining on the tires. The tire rep's advice was to take camber out and drop pressures. My car was wicked loose so I also took out a very large amount of rake. The new tires don’t have the feel of the Hoosiers- the breakaway is much more sudden, and it feels like the rears have lost more grip than the fronts.

In the race it was obvious that it takes longer to get heat in the American Racer tires as well. No matter, the race went as I had expected, with multi time national champion Scott winning and me in second. Keith finished an impressive third! We still had noticeable graining on most everyone’s tires, so we took out more camber for the second race.

The second race also went mostly as expected, Scott won, I was second. Keith had an issue and retired after 9 laps. Ray finished third.

Virginia International Raceway - April 15-17

VIR is my favorite track, but after a nine month break I was a bit rusty. In the first session, I only managed to qualify 5th. In the next session, I improved considerably and moved up to 2nd.

The first race was the shortest race I’ve had in a long time. The handling felt very loose towards the end of the pace lap, like something had failed. A few turns into the race, the oversteer turned wicked on throttle and I went off track and narrowly missed the tire wall. Thankfully nobody collided with me, and I pulled off the course safely and began to diagnose the issue. Grabbing the right rear wheel and tugging on it the problem was obvious – I could move the top of the tire back and forth over an inch! Nothing to do now but wait for the race to finish, limp the car back to the pits, and make repairs for race 2.

Upon further investigation, the cause was revealed: most of the bolts holding the hub together had failed. New bolts were installed and torqued to spec, and the car was ready to race again.

The second race went much better. I started on the outside of the front row next to Paul. We went side by side down to turn 1, where he had the inside line and pulled ahead. Tom Green snuck in behind him, and we went side by side until he got in front of me in turn 4. I passed him back at the end of the back straight, but Paul had already gotten far ahead. A full course yellow several laps later bunched us all up again, but Paul used his radio to his advantage on the restart and took off before me, then Tom got by me again. It took a few laps before I was able to pass Tom on the front straight and make it stick. Shortly after that, another full course yellow bunched us up again. I got a good restart this time, and was able to maintain my position to the end of the race, but could not catch Paul. Paul won, I was second, Tom was third.

The drive home started poorly- the leaky tire on Keith's RV turned into two big tears in the sidewall. Keith and I got it changed, but without a suitable RV jack it took 2 hours, on top of being the last race group. With two 1.5 ton jacks, the tongue jack on the trailer, and a couple jack stands we got it done.