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My Father
-always with me-
Armond Wickham

1923 to 2006

2012 Team Racing Schedule

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The Start
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Erie heat start
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Erie heat
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Erie heat
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Erie 4 wide
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Start of heat
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McKean third turn

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BlackRock crash

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BlackRock 6-29

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Heat race start
Fulton Speedway

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Lining up at

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Three wide
at Woodhull

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Stateline Pits

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On the cushion at
Rolling Wheels

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Rolling Wheels Raceway

Fonda 9-22-12

Last race of the season for us, first day of fall. Leaves are still green but the weather now cycles in large swings. We are headed to Fonda for a daytime race and the forecast says we are good until about late afternoon. We load up and I pull the upholstery out of the car so it won't get wet if it rains on the way. Good move... it starts raining as we leave the driveway and the car on my open trailer gets another bath.

The downpour lasts about thirty minutes. The front is sliding northeast and we're going due east and drive out of it to partly sunny skies, gusty winds and temps in the seventies that can make you sweat when you're working in the the bright sun with enough clothes on to battle the wind chill when the clouds come over. It's fall but it's looking good.

At the end of the two hour tow, we arrive at the back of a long line of rigs in the pit line, and join the end of the pit pass line. It's a big race weekend here with ESS Sprints and Big Block Dirt Modifieds on Saturday and then a one hundred lap Big Block race on Sunday. The pits are quickly filled, dry gray dust rolls up as everyone heads for a spot.

Greg was under the weather but our neighbor Pete Pazer had decided to go with us but has to work in the morning and will drive out later. Wife Teresa decides to ride shotgun for the adventure.

Fonda Speedway is situated along the Mohawk River and last year the place was flooded with 6 ft of water the week before this race. The track still dried out to slick by the end of hot laps. That's enough to convince you that no matter what, it's gonna be dry slick. Unlike many tracks in NYS, the clay here has some bite. Even when slicked off, there is heat and some wear in the tires and the sprints can put rubber down.

The Sprints were last out for hot laps and the wet comb over had already been scrubbed off by the Modifeds making a loose cushion mid track. This fairgrounds half is higher at one end than the other but has no banking other than what's needed for rain water to roll off. It's square like a wet cardboard box dropped on it's corners and all out of shape. One turns in kind of tight, then goes straight to two that sweeps out to a wide, slightly uphill back straight that sweeps into three, then goes straight until it gets to four and makes a ninety. The back straight becomes an arc and you can rim the top of three and four but you have to back pedal into four to keep off the wall. The bottom of three lets you drift up to a point between the turns where you then lift a bit so that the car will arc back down to the bottom and the inside wall that squares off the fourth turn.

I talked to Dave Ely again this week, discussing what might work at this strange place. He had been there a few times and knew the layout. He had some good ideas that we haven't tried. We had a bar setup in the car that was backwards from what I would have come up with but in this bizzaro world of what works, I figured it was worth a shot.

During the four or five hot laps, the track changed quite a bit. Turn four went from slick to ice and the middle dried out. The car went really good. I could feel the car settle at turn in and after a confidence lap was able to run the track flat out with a little babying in turn four. It's the best I've ever felt at this track. The car was balanced, turned in and stuck pretty good. If it did move it was a neutral slide job to the cushion where the RR hooked up and the car moved forward. Going through the hole in the middle of one didn't upset the car. It was stable and maneuverable without taking off in unexpected ways.

Teresa drew a ten and that put us on the outside of the front row for the first heat. Pete and I made a couple of small pre-planned changes for the slicker track, polished smooth by the Modified heat races.

As we pushed off, I could see that the track was black with a little bit of brown moisture at the very bottom and a rim around the top. The middle was really slick especially in four where the race would start. I had this vision that I could be at the top of the track when we hit the line and get a good run down the wet clay near the wall. I had done this before and it worked but this time, it backfired. The top wasn't any faster and I had left this huge hole between me and the pole sitter that let a couple of hot dogs through.

I knew it was a stupid move when I hit the pedal and the tires spun but I did what I could and ran into one on top but in fourth place. Coming out of two we were a tight bunch of cars in a ball of dust in the bright overhead sun. I passed one car, got passed by another and headed for three on the outside again. I ran in on top but someone found a better line on the bottom. My car was racey but it was a matter of who found a line of bite on a widening track.

I was able to try a bunch of different lines in to three and one. It was a lot of experimenting to feel the car working and try to find places that were fast. Low into one, slide job to the cushion and run the cushion out of two. Outside of the hole in one, catch the cushion and turn to diamond straight across the bottom of two. In on the rail and run the rail. Into three I tried top middle and bottom. Between the turns everyone would backpedal to get the car turned toward four. You could stay on the top and lift as you approached the wall or cut down to diamond across the bottom and then just drift across the track as you left four on to the icy beginning of the straight.

The field strung out with the leaders far gone but it was fun for a change to drive a car that was predictable and raceable. At the end of the heat, we were in the show and that was a relief. We got ready for the Amain as the clouds thickened. They ran a couple of support class races and then ran the ESS Sprint B-main. Soon after they left the track, the rain started. After a while, the downpour turned into light steady rain. With racing scheduled for the next day anyway, they called it quits for Saturday and added these features to the next day's program at an earlier start time. I would start sixteenth and I wanted to run this race. I always liked running daytime shows at fairgrounds half miles and I don't mind slick, if the car cooperates. The two hour tow was just close enough that it made sense to head home and come back tomorrow if it was weather worthy.

The Sunday forecast was sunny, windy and cool but no rain. I called Greg and he was feeling better or at least feeling left out so he decided that he would go on Sunday as Pete and Teresa had other plans for the day.

Up at seven and on the road by nine.  We arrived at the track to find some muddy pit spots but we found that our spot from the day before was dry enough and unloaded. A few teams didn't return but there was still eighteen or twenty on hand with a race and a championship to be decided.

We hit the track for hot laps. I left the setup right where I had it for the A main yesterday. I used a little more stagger in hot laps just because I thought there might be some early bite. Green flag, pedal down and the car is a little loose as the track is already scrubbed hard and dried out. The track is dryer than the pits even though they just watered it and ran the packers before hot laps. The car is still balanced and as I come out of four... I see the red light on the dash come on ! It didn't flash, it was on! I lifted. I looked at the oil pressure gauge and it was dead zero. I rolled into the first turn and popped it out of gear... the yellow was already out for a car that spun at the same time I lifted. The engine was idling normally when I turned the fuel off and hit the kill switch.

No oil pressure? It caught me totally by surprise while I was wide open and concentrating on driving. They pushed me back to the pits and I pulled the hood, still in shock that I had a mechanical failure, an engine problem. We haven't had engine trouble or mechanical failures for years. As Ken Schrader would say: "Somethin important in the engine broke". There was apparently a component failure between the mag and the oil pump. Either the pump shaft or tang on the mag broke, or the pump shaft twisted off or the pump rotors sheared off the shaft or something like that happened that was probably a clean break.

So, we were done for the day, done for the season. I'll pull the motor and take it to Jimmy D, as is, so he can see it as it stopped. Sometimes there are clues to the cause or other problems that his experienced eye may find. It is uncommon for us or Jimmy's engines to have a failure (that wasn't caused by me doing something stupid).

This motor was built with a new pump and shaft and this is the first season we have used it regularly. Hopefully it is as simple as it appears and should be reasonably inexpensive to fix. We have been using Amsoil racing oil and have had excellent luck with it. I'm expecting that the few seconds it ran without pressure wasn't damaging to the bearings or anything else. Stuff happens. It's part of racing. Our engine reliability has been excellent so I don't have much to complain about. The problem occurred at the best time, where I had space and time to get out of the way and not get run over.

ESS was good about it too. They recognized our effort and loss and paid us as if we had started the A main. The race ran off with few problems. The track rubbered up and became a one lane tire wear festival in bright overhead sunshine. Only a few made any headway and that was usually not pretty. We probably would have ended where we started or a little better. The biggest loss for me was not getting to put in the laps.

It's on to next season now. Time to go through our parts and pieces... rebuild and repaint. We aren't in desperate need for anything major other than a better understanding of setups and some good weather.

Mercer & Eriez 9-1 & 9-2 2012

August had a full month of competition on our schedule with races every weekend. We had some optimism that we were starting to get our setup tuned in after the Mckean race, but these next attempts were a slap in the face. They were so bad that it is only worth a short mention. At Canandaigua, I started pole for the heat and B main and could not make the show. At Brewerton, we did not make the show out of the heat or B main. At Brockville, the handling problems persisted and we were in the A-main due to the short field of cars. At each race we tried something different but didn't hit what we needed for that track. We only missed the setup by a little but that was enough and it is frustrating.

Mercer, Erie The labor day weekend marks the end of summer and wraps up the racing season for us. Every season this holiday has meant a trip west with this year's events at Mercer and Eriez speedways. The two race weekend, at tracks near each other, takes some of the sting out of the $4 gas prices.

I had never been to Mercer although I drove past the exit lots of times back in the 80's when I was racing full time and going to Ohio for motors and racing out there. Back then, I was told it was a bull ring and at the time I was better on the bigger tracks like Sharon, Port Royal or Selinsgrove. It's been around since the 50's and has remained a sprint car track for all those years. The locals say nothing at the track has changed in all those years. I talked over some setup ideas with Dave Ely during the week and had left the shop with our best guess.

Going to a new track, the way we've been running, throws more variables into an already murky mix. Along with setup and gearing is learning how to get around the place. Three hot laps is all you get before you race. I took the ATV around the loop and checked it out. The clay was wet and heavy and the packer was pulling a sheeps foot roller that was pegging the surface to work the clay. It looked like a stiff, dark clay and word in the pits was that it was new clay this year and it didn't go slick like the clay in years past.

The track layout looks like it was done from the seat of a tractor... an ovalish thing cut out of a field without any planning. The first turn is tight but then goes straight to the second turn that cuts around to the back straight. There is a very small amount of banking out wide in one and a concrete wall at the outside that sweeps away from the track leaving runoff area outside the middle of the turn and on to turn four. The bottom is flat but as you get to the second turn, the second groove looks to have negative banking in the middle of the turn and then some rising banking outside of that. Three sort of sweeps in to a point and then four is a sharp ninety that pinches down as you enter the front stretch and its concrete wall comes right at you.

The track drives as weird as it's shaped. You lift between the turns to re-aim the car. You have to be careful in four that you don't get sucked into the concrete.

In hot laps we had a track that was packed, with dirt grinding off up to the middle groove and then a cushion of wet munch that had been kicked up in chunks. The track was fast but my car was loose, really loose. I had made two changes in the shop during the week, and combined, they had changed the car completely. I was loose in the middle on a track that should make the car tight, so I ran the cushion. We made some small changes for the heat.

The heat was a time for me to get accustom to the track and see if the changes we made helped. I was able to run with the group and started to find a line that would work for me.

We ended up in the dash for the nine through fourteenth starting positions. It was four laps but I was treating it as a test session to give me a chance to try the changes we planned for the feature. The changes made the car a little better and I adjusted the wing position during the race and got a better balance.

We would start thirteenth and as we pushed out onto the track for the A-main, I could see drops of rain in the lights. Greg headed to the trailer to put stuff away while the push trucks got the cars started before the track was lost. They had pulled this off at the beginning of the season at Stateline where we ran a dozen laps and then the rain quit. At that race cousin Tommy started on the front row and won. He was on the front row again tonite. But this time we weren't so lucky. After a couple laps it came down hard and we all skated to the pits covered with mud clumps and slime. It was over. They paid us all last place money and once the rain stopped, we loaded up and headed out.

We went up the road about 5 miles and from there on it had not rained at all. We towed fourty minutes to Meadsville, Pa where we were staying at the Holiday Out. We followed Zimbardi because they had a room at the Inn and Greg and I were staying in the sleeper in their trailer, Out in the parking lot. The Perkins Restaurant in front saw a line of racers, crew and officials that were staying here, getting a bite to fill in the emptiness of the night.

Next morning Greg and I were up early and got things organized and ready to go to a nearby racer's shop to wash the car and do any needed work, along with Zimbardi and some other racers. Adam had raced with us last night and has a detailing shop with a wash bay. He really gave us a nice gift considering the muddy mess our cars were in. It could easily been $20 at the car wash. We cleaned the car and bench raced some and then hit the road to the track, thirty minutes away, just east of Erie, Pa.

We pulled into the pits after noon and parked next to George Suprick and Clint Ide's rig as we had done the night before and at several previous races. Soon, Jamie Bodo pulled in next to us as HE had done during the past several races. We have all been working together. Jamie also tows an open trailer. He has been very competitive... always headed to the front. We have exchanged pleasantries but never really had time to talk much. This time, the early arrival created the opportunity for a little more chatter. He had not been to this track before and as we talked about setup, and I talked about how lost we've been, he started asking what we were doing. It wasn't long before we had my car on jack stands and set up blocks, checking the car for any misalignments. Jamie designed and sells a chassis tool to set the rear straight in the car and used it to check and readjust ours.

We spent an hour and a half measuring and adjusting. Jamie and I spoke the same language. He had reasons for his answers and an older chassis that worked, to prove it. The changes were small, a half turn here, an eighth inch there, but different from what we had. It was certainly a good opportunity to see how it would work at a track I've had lots of laps on and some of our better runs. We set the car up and adjusted to a most basic setup. The car felt good in hot laps on the wet freshly packed in track, I followed Jamie and copied his line but still didn't have the same stick in the corners.

We would race our heat soon and it didn't look like the track would change much, so we made one small change to see if we could improve. I've learned that the first lap shows what the car does and after that, you only see what the driver does to compensate for what the car does. I've been watching myself do that and paying more attention to what happened the first lap.

I have had some good draws lately but haven't been able to benefit from them when I couldn't get the car through the first lap without a handling problem. This time I was on the outside of the front row with a friend on the pole. He and I have been about the same all season and have ended up racing for position race after race.

I hadn't seen the track since hot laps but expected that there would be a cushion that would be the fast way around. My outside starting spot would give me a good shot to pass going in. As I sat in line for our heat I could only see the first heat cars at the top of the banking of turn two. They were sliding wide and hanging. The top of two was already gone. I decided to use the bottom.

I tried to guess when the pole sitter would go but got beat to the pedal and headed to the bottom of turn one, following him in. Mid corner, his car did what mine had done here before.... the front end pushed and the car went up the banking. As he went up the banking, the car next to us on the cushion had to check up. I squirted around the bottom and off two into the lead. With a clear track I was able to sweep out in the straights but made a line from the wall to the very bottom of the turns to get in under the graying line that was slicking up just above. I drove hard off, but made sure that I protected the bottom going in.

Two laps to go and there's a caution. I don't know who was behind me but there were some heavy hitters in this heat and now they were right there.

I got a good restart, passed the cone at the start line and headed for the bottom, just floating the back end out with the brakes and pointing toward three. I saw a nose poke in on me as the back end hung out but hit the throttle and launched off two. We got the white flag and then the caution again as I headed into three. One more restart, green and checker.

Another good launch off four and into one. When you're leading it's like there is no one else on the track. It's clear ahead and not a car to be seen. You can only imagine what's going on behind. I scooted into one and out of two. Through three and four and checkers were out for the win !

We haven't had any wins in several years. It is interesting that with as much trouble as we've had with setups this year, that we won a heat and B-main against some good cars this season. The B win was at Stateline, another good track for us usually and both came from running the bottom. Both times the car worked pretty good but both times the bottom was the fast line at that point of the night.

A win is a win and I'm very happy with that, but I'm a realist and know that this wasn't a "start in fifth and win" sort of thing or a runaway from the front. We were respectable but still have a lot to do to be top five competitive. On the other hand it was not a start on the pole and finish the heat in 7th, sort of race like we've had at other tracks this month. The car turned, came off, was stable and raceable. I need more seat time in a stable car to get more confidence in the car, to know where it's going to go and what happens when I push it harder.

The finish put us in the re-draw for start positions one through eight for the A main. Jamie rode with me on the ATV to the track for the draw. He told me some things in those few minutes that really impressed me with his knowledge, feel and understanding of the car, track and driving. A quick interview on the track before I drew brought up the 4th place finish in an All-Star Race that I had here, back in '81.

I was hoping to draw an odd number and pulled seven. A beautiful sunset of orange, red and yellow painted the clouds behind the grandstands. I spotted a deserving guy up high in the stands and threw the number seven tennis ball to him, but it fell short and someone else got to pick up the prize at the merchandise trailer.

Jamie had also won his heat, drew five and would start right in front of me. I chased him in hot laps and tried to duplicate his line. I was happy to follow him into one on the start, hoping I could learn something.

The start went well with the pack of cars filling the turn and dust rolling up into the lights. There was some shuffling and cars on the edge but everyone made it through. A couple of laps in, as I entered one, I saw a car in the upper groove, middle of turn two, getting sideways and slowing. As his car hung, it started to come down the track and began to spin. There was a couple of cars ahead of me and they were being crowded to the bottom as the spinning car consumed more of turn two. The two cars came together and locked into their own spin. I turned my car toward the open infield and tried to keep control as I slid sideways toward the two spinning cars. Sliding and slowing and on the brakes... all crossed up and looking hard right, my car finally hooks up about a foot before contact and darts into the infield.

Next lap around I see cousin Tommy and pit neighbor Suprick sitting backwards at the exit of turn two and the series squirrel that caused it next to them.

On the restart the car in front of me went into one and headed up the track... I drove under him. The yellow came out in three and on the next restart the same thing happened and this time he parked it at the top of turn two near the pit exit. It was the points leader for the series and this was the last points race and he only had to finish fifth or better to clinch the championship. Next lap around he's on the hook and out of the race with a cracked spindle.

The next restart was the last one and I hold my line on the bottom, in sixth. There wasn't much in the middle or top. The car is getting in pretty good and I can pick up the throttle mid corner. Coming out the slick area is widening and when I hit the edge of the bite, the car launches down the straight.

With about four to go, I come up on a lapped car running the bottom. I try the outside a couple of times but he is able to beat me coming off. I decide to stay behind him and wait for him to slip up.

Then, going into one, Suprick charges in on the outside and gets beside me and then the lapped car. The lapped car lays down and we both go by. At the end I'm seventh. I benefited from some cars having problems ahead of me but I could stay with the leaders also.

The track conditions played into what I've been best at for the past years... running the bottom. The rest of the competitors have gotten better and the leaders usually are quickest on the cushion so the bottom only works occasionally. It's tough to pass on the bottom unless I can get a good launch off the corner but as other cars get better, passing that way is much harder.

A good racecar needs to be neutral so that you can run the cushion, middle or bottom as needed throughout the race. Getting that balance is tough. Getting to where we can adjust for that balance has been our challenge. Although this has been a dismal year with a few high spots, we've learned a lot, change our setup direction and really have made improvement. You are never beat until you quit so the next race or the next season is the next opportunity to get things right.

Canandaigua 8-11-12

In the past, this has been a good track for us. We've had a race or two here each year with either the Patriot tour or ESS. Last year's race was rained out but this year the weather was clear and comfortable. The race was scheduled on Watkins Glen's Nascar weekend with the expectation that some Cup drivers would show up to race.

The track is about an hour north. The hopeful target is Tony Stewart who has been hitting Black Rock for several years for the sprint car race and this year is trying to make every sprint car race possible that is nearby during one of the Cup events.

This year when interviewed on TV, just before he went onto the track for his qualifying run at The Glen, he mentioned that he had won at Black Rock the night before (we didn't go) and was headed to Canandaigua to race after qualifying. Word of mouth had already been out that Canandaigua was on his schedule, though the track couldn't advertise it without paying an appearance fee. But word of mouth is strong in the racing community and the track ended up with a capacity crowd, filling the stands that stretch the full length of the front straight on this big half mile fairgrounds track.

JJ Yeley had also arranged a sprint car ride and Dave Blaney had arranged to race a big block modified. Tony's sprint team arrived with his own car.

The track itself is mostly flat with a little banking in three and four. The surface is New York Hard... tight packed glacier clay with little depth of moisture and no bite or tire wear. We were the second group out for hot laps and the track already had streaks of black on the smooth surface in the turns. I tried the middle and the top and wasn't too bad. There was still a little stick in the clay.

The car turned in and held where it found moisture but worked best against the loose dirt thrown up at the top. Coming out of two was already getting polished and it was easy to spin the tires there. We were already setup for a dry track for the heat. Teresa drew number one for us to put me on the pole of the first heat. Thirty four cars in the pits, three heats, twelve car heats, six to qualify.

I was feeling confident that I could make the show dispite the heavy hitters behind me. Drop of the green and the motor stumbles a little bit and the outside cars beat me down the straight. The red comes out for a crash in turn one with four cars on the hook. On the restart I try to clear the motor better to get a jump this time. I still get beat down the straight and could use more gear, but with my wheel spin coming out of the turns, the higher gear would work better once we have momentum. However, I enter one in third. The car turns in but does not stick. I get back in the throttle and the back steps out and tires spin and the car slids up to the cushion and I am sixth by the end of lap one. I run the heat as hard as the car will allow and with a couple of laps to go get passed by one more car and I'm out of a qualifying spot. I try top middle and bottom but just can't make up any time.

Embarassing, discouraging, pissed off... Greg and I try to figure out what to do. One more chance from the pole of the B main. We changed the RR bar and made a change in the LR offset intending to losen the car. It was hard to tell but it felt like the back end broke loose from turning and that we were actually a bit tight although the car felt lose. It was a shot.

Last week at McKean we were pretty good and got some confidence that we were headed in the right direction. But now I realize that what was really going on there was a track that had some PA bite. That red clay made some tire heat and a little wear. It did mask the underlying problem for the most part but the first lap problems in the feature last week were the real indicator that we were still having setup trouble. I knew it , I guess I just didn't want to admit it, hoping that we were really getting it figured out.

This week the track was black slick from bottom to top for this B main, with a cushion that was a long way around and up on the flat part of the minimal banking. I got a good jump from pole position at the start and headed into one alone but the skating started and I hung on as the car slid up into the loose cushion. As I peddled the car around the top, the rest of the field passed me through the black middle. I dropped like a rock and tried some different lines to see what I could learn about what the car would do.

I pulled the wing back and it helped keep the back end in line but didn't make the car faster. Then I thought I would move the wing all the way forward to see what it would do and it actually felt a little bit better. Not a big difference but a little feeling of being more balanced and a bit more stick. That kind of confirms that we were a bit tight but it's more than that because even more balanced, we didn't have the side bite to run the corners at the speed of the competition. Two wasted front row starts. We were junk and loaded up with the only good thing being that the car was in one piece. I will do some consulting this week to see if I can get something to work for the next race.

McKean County Raceway 8-4-12

We've been to this place a couple of times before. Once around 2000 when they were trying to run sprints on a weekly basis and again in '06 for a Patriot tour race. Actually we went there one other time, pulled into the pits under partly cloudy skies and found out that they cancelled.

The first time I was there, I was driving for Rick Dumigan and we started in the rear and got lapped about half way through. I moved up where the leader was running and was able to follow him past cars as he lapped them. I got by about six cars and ended up eleventh or so but a lap down. At pay off they had us as eighteenth. Rick argued with them but found out that they stopped scoring you when you got lapped. We didn't go back.

The next time we were there, was the first race we went to after my father died. We had been on a streak of good runs before, and it continued here with a fifth place finish in the A-main.

The next time we went there, they cancelled because of a weather threat but it was really because they were afraid that there wouldn't be enough money to pay the purse. It never rained.

The track is at a county fairgrounds located 10 miles or so on the PA side of the NY state line near the western end of NYS. It is a mountainous, forested, rural area of cross-road towns, isolated from large cites by distance, terrain and state land reserves. The fair board operates the track and has leased it to promoters for seasons or special races.

The race facility is well done with a large aluminum grandstand, decent lighting and well kept grounds. The track itself, is a gem. The one third mile is a true oval with steeply banked turns and no walls. The banking flattens at the top and then slopes away into large open runoff areas. The pits are located off three and four, providing the best configuration for track entry and exit. The real attraction to this place is how it races. The surface packs in smooth and tight and doesn't peel up. You can run it flat out with bite all night. It's fast and wide and really fun to drive.

This race was actually rained out last week when a big storm rolled through the day before with tornados that took out trees and power in the area. This day there was a threat of rain and one black cloud did sweep over dropping dots of rain on the pit area dust. They had run a special latemodel race on Wednesday and with all the circumstances of weather, the other special race during the week, date change, increased admission price, and no latemodels,it was a light crowd. The promoter group had leased from the fair board for this event and it looks like they would lose money on this one. It probably won't be on our schedule next year.

Our group had a short field of cars and everyone would make the A-main. I drew three and would start on the pole of the second heat. In hot laps the car was very good. It turned in, hooked up and let me run the track flat out. The clay was moist and packed in... tires ground off a loose cushion that settled two thirds of the way up the banking.

A good draw was a welcome change after starting in the back of the heats for the past several races. Starting up front would give us a chance to secure a good starting spot in the A main. There were a number of good cars starting behind me including friend and defending series champ, Zimbardi, who I had followed in hot laps. He had pulled away then but would have to take a different line to pass me now.

At the start I waited a bit and then nailed the pedal in the starting box and beat the outside car to the first turn. The middle was fastest and the car hooked up and I could get my foot back down early in the corner. I led the first few laps running at the edge of the loose cushion.

At the entry of three, there was a cavity, about the size of a car. It was right in the groove where all season long, everyone would set their RR to enter the corner. The guys that run the packers had told me about it when we first got there and I took the ATV around for a look. You had to either go straight to the bottom or drive around it on top. Going through it would bottom out the car.

I was running in, on the top, dipping the LF into the hole and picking up the cushion. When it went right the car would get a good bite mid corner and drive down the banking and off the bottom of four. Mid race I went in a bit too high and got on the edge of the loose stuff. I had to wait a half second for the car to bite and that's when Zimbardi made his pass as I buzzed the loose stuff off four. I followed him but he was hooked up and rolled on.

I finished second ahead of some strong cars. That was our best finish of the season and put us in the redraw for the first eight starting positions in the A-Main.

The heat, humidity and bright sun would wear you out while working on the car. Greg was non stop, getting things done in the pits. We didn't make many changes, just some small tweaks on a car that was working pretty good on this track.

The redraw is held in front of the stands during a short intermission. Numbered tennis balls are drawn from a cloth bag and then, after noting the number, thrown to the audience where the receiver could take it to the Patriot merchandise trailer for a prize. When I do this, I watch for some little kid, hands into he air, without a chance of catching one, and under hand it right to them. This time it was a very little girl in pink about 10 rows up.

Of the eight numbers, I drew eight. This would start us on the outside of row four. I planned on running the top so the outside row position was good. I was following a heat winner and previous series champ and planned to follow his tire tracks as I knew he would be moving forward.

Out of four, the dust rolled up into the lights as the pack got three wide going into one. The cockpit snapshot was solid cars and dust under a spot light. I entered right where the car in front went and in the middle of one, he turned to get under a car and my car, instead of sticking, just slid up and over the banking.

As I tried to collect it, the backend swung over the top and I was sliding sideways looking uphill, on the outside slope of the banking. To my left I saw two other cars that went over the top and headed my way. My car broke loose and I did a loop, mowed some grass and re-joined the pack in the back straight, at the very back. The yellow came out and I wondered if it was for me. I scooted back up to my starting spot and next time around saw that one of the other cars had spun to a stop off one, so I got my spot back for a complete restart.

I checked out the top and it was loose and marbly but the cars ahead got through there. So for the next start I planned to stay a bit lower on the corner. Drop of the green and into one. The pack filled the corner. I was more cautious and tried to stay lower but the car drifted up to the loose stuff and I swept the corner on the pedal, spinning tires around the top. The rest of the pack drove by as I waited for the tires to hook up and start driving me forward.

I was about 15th coming out of two and headed for three. The car stuck in the middle in three and four and then in one and two. I started to get my rhythm and closed on the cars ahead. I passed some, worked on some, slipped up to the loose stuff and lost a spot and then got it back. It was fun racing but frustrating that I was that far back.

Restarts helped and by the end, I was back up to the pack of cars I started with and I was catching some strong runners. I ran out of laps and ended up ninth.

It was still our best finish of the season and the best the car had been so far. The Pennsylvania red clay at this track may have provided a forgiving surface that helped mask problems but we'll take this race as a good sign that we are getting more competitive. We are starting to get a grip on what works for us and we are staying close to that set up starting point. My current theory on what we should do and what our setup problem has been is being reinforced and it looks like we are finally getting somewhere.


Woodhull Raceway 7-24-12

The heat wave backed off some leaving us with temps in the high 80's but still high humidity. Much more bearable but you still work up a sweat without much trouble. The sunny dry day is a contrast to the heavy rains that passed through this area and washed out our race at a different track that was scheduled for the day before.

Greg and I made the three hour trip to this track earlier this year and had the car working pretty good. We hoped to build on that today using the same setup to start. Tracks never seem to be the same twice. Groundwater, sun angle, wind, preparation and use change the clay. They somehow pack and dry differently each race night. Guessing what the track will do is a big part of going fast. A car that is in the zone seems to work well on any track with few adjustments. If you're not in the zone you can be good one night and out to lunch the next.

But this story more about our tires. We had used up a RR at the last race so I went to the tire truck to get new rubber. I needed one that would air up on the large side and found one that had a crayon mark of 109 1/2. The crayon mark is written on the sidewall at the factory when they test pressure test each new tire and measure the circumference around the center of the tread. Tires materials are wrapped by hand in the mold and they all come out a little different but they have been predictable at about 4 inches smaller than the crayon mark at racing pressures.

The factory measures them at 30 psi but the racer uses them at 7 or 8 lbs. Getting the right size lets you come up with the stagger you want with the smaller LR tires you already have.

When I bought the tire I was told that others had found these to end up at 106 or 107. I haven't seen any of these tires bigger than 105 in years. They have actually been running small and 106+ is way off from what I'd expect from a crayon mark of 109 1/2. It was hard to believe that tires would be that big because the crayon mark had always been a good predictor. So I figured that it must have been something that the other team was doing like using a smaller width wheel or it was really a 111 crayon mark or there was something more to the story.

We mounted the tire and it came out to 106 1/2. We searched through our LR tires to find a match to get the stagger we wanted but went out for hot laps with more than planned.

The turns had already started to dry and the car skated up the steep banking. I picked up the cushion and ran my laps against the wetter clay that had been thrown up. The car worked pretty good and was fast as the rest.

Back in the pits we talked about the track and decided that by heat race time there would not be the same or any cushion and we needed to take out some stagger. We already had our biggest LR on and that was as big as you could buy, so I went back to the tire truck for another RR tire that would be shorter.

All they had that was shorter was crayoned at 108 1/2 and we hoped that it would come up closer to the 105 we were looking for. Based on the other RR being big, I expected that this one would be a inch or inch and a half smaller. We scrambled to get it mounted and only had minutes to get it on the car before the heat race. We didn't get a chance blow it up to 30 psi and let it down to 8 to measure it... we just made it to the track in time.

My draw was the highest number for the night so I started last in the third heat. Only 19 cars were on hand so everyone was in the Amain but passing cars here, gets you a better starting spot later. Drop of the green and into one, and the car would not turn. I tried to race it for a couple of laps but it just plowed or if I broke it loose it just floated. I finished the race and went to the pits where we measured the RR tire to find that it was 102, giving us about 6 inches of stagger when we expected about 11 inches. Well, now we know why the car wouldn't turn but we had no information about what the car and the track wanted for set up and we had to guess.

I aired the tire up to 30 and let it back to 8 and now it was 103 1/2 which is short but about where I would expect it to be but with the other one so big, now you couldn't trust the crayon marks. This one is 5 inches under the crayon mark and the other one is 2 1/2. When a half inch or an inch makes a difference in handling, this is making us crazy.

Add to all of this that new tires will stretch some and changing air pressure will change the size and you realize that getting stagger right is really tricky.

We changed things back to where we were in hot laps and found a good stagger combination and hoped for the best.

I started in the back and just didn't have much stick in the corners. I ran the bottom and could follow the car ahead but couldn't make a move. I tried the middle but that wasn't any better. Midway in the race, the middle came in and the car started to hook up but everyone else found it and I still couldn't pass. We ended up 16th but we weren't very happy with how things had gone.

It's not what we wanted... we expected better. We ran with the cars ahead, no faster or slower. If we had started five positions forward we probably would have finished there. There wasn't much passing but there were a few cars that were able to pass at will and we have just not hit that setup. With the car was in one piece, we'll move on to the next race and try it again.

Brockville Speedway 7-14-12

It's been a hot summer. In fact it was a hot winter and continues. The heat, together with high humidity slows crewing to a crawl. When we hit the road, the air conditioned truck was a welcome relief as we headed for the Canadian border. Most teams have stories about how they spent hours getting through customs but for us, with our open trailer, we have always passed through in minutes with just a show of license and a few basic questions like anyone with a boat or a camper.

We have had some good runs at this track so we keep going back. The bowl banked turns are flat on the bottom and rise to a point at the top of the banking. The back side of the banking is smooth and slopes down to mowed grass around the perimeter. The racing surface is usually smooth and a little more abrasive than most places we run.

One thing you always want to have with you at this track is mosquito spray. They are so bad here that while sitting in the pits ready to push out, they attach my face when the open visor is the only exposed area. There is no pace I have ever raced that has mosquitoes like this!

As we were getting things unloaded Greg noticed that one trailer wheel was at a weird angle. I looked at it and saw black grease all over it and realized that we had a wheel bearing go bad. I jacked the trailer and pulled the wheel and hub to find that the back bearing had come apart. Apparently we had not driven on it very far as there was no damage to the hub or axle.

Our only choice to get home was to three wheel the trailer and pump up the one tire to max pressure. Fortunately the 6 ply tire had a rating equal to more than half the trailer weight, at 110 psi. We would deal with the details later, now it was time to race.

They hadn't watered the track very deep but hot laps in the bright sun were fast. A loose cushion half way up the track let me run this 4/10 without lifting. It was the best the car had ever felt there so we left it alone for the heat race.

A decent draw put us third in the first heat.... the top eight in passing points redraw for the top eight starting spots in the feature.

At the start I drove in on the outside and came off two in the middle for third. The track was still fast and the car worked well. We finished third but didn't pass anyone to help our passing points.... we were ninth in passing point and that put us in the dash.

The dash is ninth through fourteenth, racing for money and starting position. Four laps, six cars, it goes quick. Starting on the pole, I thought I could win it. At the green I got the jump and hit the first turn with nothing. We had made a couple of small changes and now the car was junk. We hadn't done much but what we did made the car not stick and it would just float the corners. No sidebite, it would just slide up the track. Finally on the last lap I ended up at the top of the banking and watched the last car go by.

This was a lesson in the making. I thought the track would be dryer and we need to add some bite to the car. But in the race I had felt a slight tendency for the front end to push and realized (or guessed) that we were now too tight. Greg and I talked about it and decided to put the car back where it was in the heat and just change gears because the tires were spinning coming off.

So for the A-Main we were starting fourteen, instead of where I could have been in ninth. At the start, there was dust coming out of four with lights in our eyes, you couldn't see the wall. The pack got wide and headed into one.

As things strung out there was room to race and the car felt like it did in the heat and warm-ups. We had gone back to our looser setup and the car was raceable. The track was fast and had good bite in the turns but you could still break the tires loose coming out or in the straights. I found a line about halfway up that worked well and tried to catch the two cars, a few car lengths ahead. I could close on them some laps and they would get away on others.

Late in the race I entered turn one, apparently a bit lower than I had been and caught a smooth edged hole that I never saw. The frame bottomed out and upset the car, tossing the front end a bit to the right. As I tried to gather it up, I got to the top of the banking and slid up over the edge. As the car finally turned, I got back on the throttle and drove back onto the track in the back straight, losing some spots in the process. We ended up fifteenth. Not as good as I had expected but it felt good to have a car that worked good we learned some things.

We loaded up and three wheeled the trailer home. We checked tires several times and everything was good for the two hour trip down the interstate.

Rolling Wheels Raceway 7-3-12

Of all the places that we go, the one that is the most fun for me is Rolling Wheels. It's a true oval with long straights and sweeping turns. Its 5/8 mile size makes it fast. At the end of the straight when you turn in, it feels right. The corner matches the speed and lets you race the track.

I've had one good run there and lots of disappointment. This "night before the 4th" race was an ESS sanctioned event. We expected fewer cars than the URC/ESS/Patriot and open events of the past, but knew the holiday, location and popularity of the place would still fill the pits and the stands.

This big track requires motor. It's not so much that you get out powered down the straight as it is getting beat coming off the turns. Hot laps was on a freshly packed track. They didn't water it too deep because of a threat of rain. We got a light sprinkle before hot laps but only enough to wet the dust.

The track was fast and I was able to flat foot it for the last few laps after I got a feel for the car. Cornering pulled the motor down and that's where horsepower shows. The motor was pulling hard against a car trying to turn. More power gets you through and off the corner faster. I stayed ahead of a well financed team but we were no match for the dyno numbers all around us.

The draw did its damage with a 53 that would put us 7th in a 9 car heat with five to qualify. There was still a shot if the lineup gave me something to work with, but instead it was full of strength. I ran the cushion and made one spot in the first turn. A lap later another car got by me, coming off. I drove in as hard as I could on a drying track, trying harder each lap until I set the RR into the end of the heavy lumpy cushion going into three.

It stopped the RR and launched the car, pivoting in the air, over the cushion, pointing me toward the top of the banking and the field beyond. The car spun to a stop. They pushed me off with a couple of laps to go but all I could do was run with them at the back. The car was actually pretty good but needed more side bite.

We made a small adjustment for the B main. The car was better and I ran a little different line on the cushion. I passed one car to get me to sixth... they only took four so I tried harder on the freshly regroomed track. Late in the race I drove hard to the cushion in three, and broke through into the loose stuff. I kept the pedal down but watched the train of cars behind me, roll by below.

Well, I tried. I did all the car could do and more but we were just not strong enough in the motor dept to make any headway. I had hoped that a decent draw may have allowed me to hang on to a starting spot in qualifying territory. Despite not making the show, I had real fun racing on this track. It's what brings me back and fills the pits.

Black Rock 6-29-12

Racing at Black Rock has been a staple for NYS sprint groups. Some years ago, the Patriots raced there weekly. It had been one of the nicest facilities we go to. After our weekly series there, the place was sold but the commitment to sprint racing has remained. We still have several races each year although the big paying race at season end has disappeared.

The new owner has made changes to the track, taken down inside walls, and changed the clay, among other things but the overall effect has been of decline.

The heat wave has continued and this was a hot, humid night. There was only a full field of cars so everyone would make the show. The track was fast in hot laps but the wet top layer peeled up to make a loose cushion half way up the banking and leaving two dusty grooves below.

A bad draw put me toward the back of the heat. There wasn't much passing. I ran the cushion, middle and bottom but could not make headway on the car ahead. About halfway, that car broke a driveshaft with me right behind.

I got on the brakes and tried to pitch the car under him but he headed for the infield and my front end climbed up the back end of his car as I hit him sideways. I was lucky not to go over but there was enough damage that I was on the hook, headed for the pits.

There wasn't too much damage, right side header, nerf bar and some other bolt ons. Greg and I scrambled to get everything fixed and ready. This is the only time that having six classes of cars is a benefit. We finished the work and had lots of time until our A-main.

I was starting last in the A and decided to run the cushion. The track was so dusty that you couldn't see the cushion going in or the wall coming out. It was one of the five worst track conditions in recent memory. We weren't where we needed to be on setup to go along with the poor visibility. I was able to pass some cars but only made it to 18th. With the car in one piece we loaded up and headed home.

Stateline and Eriez Speedways 5-26/27

Memorial Day weekend is always a busy time for racers. Indy, Charlotte and Monaco highlight the season for the major series, while short tracks attract holiday fans with special shows. The Patriot Sprint series has traditionally had a two day event with tracks around the western end of NYS. Stateline Speedway near Jamestown NY has been an anchor for the series since the group's first race was held there and had the Saturday race. Sunday's race was an hour away near Erie, Pa. Eriez speedway has been around for years. I ran an Allstar race there in the 80's and finished fourth. For some reason we have usually run good at these tracks and tow the extra distance to run there even though ESS has races at Fonda and Utica-Rome, closer to home.

The downside, other than the 5 hour trip is that we have been to more rainouts at these two tracks than all others. One year we were at Stateline six times for three races. The forecast had a threat of rain all weekend. There must be something about the position of Stateline on a hill in the mountains of southwestern NY that squeezes water out of the clouds that come across the Great Lakes. When Greg and I arrived, it was sunny and comfortable.

Twenty five sprints unloaded in the pits along with the regular 130 cars that run their six classes each week. I could see that a sloppy track was being run in as we got set up for the night. Usually the track has gone slick early on but in recent races there has been more bite in the turns and the straights are rough as corn fields.

I drew a high number and would start eighth in the first heat with six to qualify. In my hot lap session, the car was good on a track that was moist and smooth all around. There was good bite in the corners with a small cushion of loose dirt about half way up the banking. The car felt very good and it was the nicest I have see the track. The car was a little loose coming out so Greg took some stagger out and we left the rest alone.

I was in the first heat with some strong cars and some that I felt I could challenge. I needed to be sixth or better to get into the A main from the heat. I knew I had to pass two, unless someone got by at the start. When we took the green, we charged into one, three wide. The car on the inside got away and I came out side by side with another car as we raced down the straight. I took the bottom in three and raced him for a couple of laps. We passed one car that was falling back and I finally pulled the other off the bottom, and cleared him. I reeled in the next car and tried to get under him for several laps but could not get by.

The cars ahead were gone and I was adding up who I passed and who passed me and decided I had to pass one more car to get to a qualifying spot. With a lap to go I tried the outside going into one. I drove in hard and mid corner, the back end broke loose. I caught it before it spun but it hung long enough for a car to get by.

I had figured that I was running seventh but it turned out that I had been running sixth and was in the show until I screwed up. If I had just followed that car to the finish I would have made the A out of the heat. Thinking I was seventh, I thought there was nothing to lose in this heat and I was going for it. I guess I was already at the limit of the car and there must have been less to get a hold of in the middle. Instead of just drifting up the banking a little, the rear broke loose. I was mad at myself for screwing this up.

So now I had to run the B main. The only good thing was that by being in the first heat, and being the first car out of a qualifying spot, I would start on the pole of the B. The track was still as good as I can remember and that made it hard to pass so if I could get away at the start I'd be ok. I looked over the lineup and saw that a past series champion was toward the back due to an engine problem in his heat. The rest of the cars I should be able to handle but this guy would be coming.

The promoter had run all the heats for the seven divisions. It was now under the lights as we hit the track to get pushed off, and it started to rain. It was wide scattered drops that speckled the dark clay with black dots. We've seen this before here. It starts this light rain and then in a few minutes, a blinding downpour swamps the place. They pushed us off before the track got too wet for our eight lap final qualifier.

When we came to the line off four, I hit the throttle and never saw the outside car again. I ran smooth laps and stayed on the bottom. If anyone was going to pass they would have to earn it around the outside. The light rain kept the dust down but didn't affect the bite. With two laps to go I saw the shadow. I knew that the one car who would be able to run me down, had gotten to me. I didn't change anything and just ran those last two laps to the checker to win the B main.

It was nice to get a win of some kind. We hadn't won in a while. But.... the rain was coming, it was raining about the same as it had at the start and they were rushing the show... no interview no picture..... I headed for the pits to get ready for the A main.

Greg had gone back to the trailer to get everything put away for the expected downpour and never saw the race. The light rain continued and was a little heavier as they ran a latemodel feature and then we were back on the track for the A main with only a couple of minor changes.

Once all the cars were on the track they pushed us off. The track surface was now wet and slimy. A slight touch of the throttle would wag the rear... cars were drifting the corners at an idle. We ran laps on the track to work in the moisture with our wide tires. After 10 laps or so they told us to pick it up but no one went much faster. Soon they called for the lineup and gave us the one to go.

The good thing was that we all had an idea of what the track was going to feel like.. but now we were racing for position. The light rain continued... you could see it was solid in the lights. The field of cars headed for turn four and they dropped the green. From my 19th starting spot, I looked far ahead for a spinning car in the straight or the turn ahead. We may have run in a groove or two but now cars were three wide trying to take advantage. The back of the pack went fast enough to keep up but careful to leave room if there was a problem. The front of the pack made it through the turns and once my group got to the corner, and had a feel for the track we raced harder. It took a couple of laps for the pace to pick up. Drivers were getting more confidence in the grip and all those tires were massaging the moisture into the clay.

Three laps in and cars get together in front of me. The cars around me split the spun cars as we got by. On the single file restart, there is more room and good bite as the light rain was overcome by the power of tires rubbing clay. I got under the car ahead and we race a few laps before I cleared him and moved to the next. The car was working really well on the bottom. I moved up a little and it was no faster but left the bottom open for someone to charge in. The cushion is way up at the wall.

I work on the car ahead for the whole race. I was better in one and two and he gets away in three and four. We were equal. I think about going to the outside but I don't think I can get in any deeper there. Earlier a car from behind passed me and then nosed in under the car ahead. I tried to follow him through but didn't have the bite to keep up without drifting up off the bottom into the other car. If I go high and it doesn't work, I'll lose what I've got. I decide to keep working for a hole underneath but it doesn't happen and that's as far as I get.

In the end, I got by a few cars early and ended up 17th. Cousin Tommy Wickham had a better night. He made the redraw through his heat and then drew the pole. His car worked on the cushion and he never looked back and led all laps for the win.

When the race was over the rain quit for a while and we loaded the car and headed for Zimbardi's shop, an hour away, to bunk down for the night.

Zimbardi's have been a great help on these two race day weekends and this weekend we had their luxury motorhome all to ourselves. It was setup next to the race shop where we could wash the car with their pressure washer and roll the car into an empty bay to get it ready for the next race. It's great to get a good night's sleep and a shower and then have a dry level place, out of the sun to work.

During the Stateline race, I noticed that the front wing was shaking again. This was a different wing, but the same brand as the one that came apart last week. In the shop I could see the same problem where the mounting bracket rivets had pulled through the aluminum body and rib. I had a spare wing in the trailer but it had the same mounting setup. Apparently this brand of wing is built too light inside to support small bottom mounts. I raided the scrap barrel and we found some material to reinforce the mounting on the wing we were using. Greg changed gears and I checked the setup and replaced the front brake pads.

Eriez speedway is an hour up the road from Zimbardi's shop. It was a nice sunny day with a few puffy white clouds and not too hot. We have usually done well at Eriez and I wanted to work on driving higher lines there to see if I could get around any better with this setup. Along the way we listened to the Indy 500 on the radio and pulled in to a pit with half the sprint field unloaded and working on their cars as we had done at Zimbardi's.

Darkening clouds were racing along the line of the mountain tops across the valley. We have seen these clouds before so we pulled the upholstery out of the car on our open trailer, and tossed it into the back of the truck. The warm wind was now rolling dust and anything else that wasn't nailed down, across the pits and then you could feel the chill.

The rain came down in buckets as we had seen here several times in the past. It was early in the day but the rain was ruining the unpacked track and killing any chance of filling the stands. So about 4pm, they cancelled and we headed home.

Woodhull 5/19/12

The results don't tell the story. We finished 19th but were better than that.

Our second planned outing for the season was the Patriot race at Woodhull Raceway. This track is located in the middle of nowhere near Corning, NY. We have been there a few times before and taken various routes on this three hour tow. I had printed out MapQuest directions in hopes of following a more reasonable route than the back road maze that GPS took us on the first time we went there.

The weather was beautiful with bright sun and warm temperatures under a cloudless sky. We headed down Interstate 81 and after an hour, exited on to the local roads to weave our way to the track. We followed the GPS directions that took us through Cortland and that's when I started to feel that the brakes were pulling to the right.

We stopped and found the LF brake was smoking. I pried the caliper away from the rotor and it seemed to be free so we headed down the road. A few miles later, the pedal was soft and we stopped again. This time brake fluid was dripping... but not from the caliper, it was back by the driver's door. So now a LF brake line had a rust hole in it and this didn't appear to have anything to do with the sticking caliper. The truck is only 7 yrs old but the brake lines are rusting out. This sucks.

We are a little ahead of schedule but don't have time to fix this problem. The bad line is in the middle of a group of lines and is on top of a frame rail and connects to the ABS control on the frame under the cab. I couldn't find a place to easily pinch it off. There was still a little soft braking but not much. Our lightweight trailer doesn't require brakes so when the truck looses brakes, there is no brakes. We stopped at an auto parts store and got pads, some brake line, splices and lots of brake fluid.

I might be able to fix it after the races but for now, we had to get there and the going would be slower. I filled the reservoir with fluid and we hit the road keeping a sharp eye for stop signs and traffic lights and a big gap to the car ahead. Down shifting did most of the slowing. 85 miles to the track, Greg leaned the seat back and decided to sleep.

GPS has this path in mind that she thinks is the shortest and best route to the track, even though she doesn't recognize the actual track address. We went through the city of Ithaca and past Cornell University, then Elmira and finally onto some interstates until we had to go back to the local roads. Preoccupied with the brake issue we missed a MapQuest turn and ended up on the GPS back road adventure.

We went from a narrow paved road with no painted lines to dirt roads that rolled up a cloud of dust behind us as we traveled beside creeks and farm fields and then up a steep, first gear grade though a pass in a much taller mountain. Up and down, winding around, blind stop signs at the bottom of hills that tee into other narrow roads... Amish farmers with four horse teams on the road, we followed dirt and paved roads and turned here and there, finally coming to a road that showed up near the end of the MapQuest route. With the track finally in site via the back way and not too late, we were happy to end that part of the journey. The trip was a tense one and the stress wore me out like running 10 races. Now I could relax for a minute and get the car ready to race.

This track is a four tenths, strange combination of long straights, very tight turns and steep banks. This oblong bowl is cut into the side of the rolling mountains with a view from the stands of only more tree covered rolling hills and mountains. The clay and prep are typical New York, a cushion combed over last weeks hardpan with clay that has no bite. When I pushed out for hot laps, I could see that the banking was already drying out and the straights had taken water and that was making them rough. At speed the car just slid up the banking in the turns and hooked up to rocket down the straights. We were junk.

To get off the track, you exit at the top of turn one banking and then hill climb some more, into the pits up a rocky road with loaf of bread sized stones and drainage ruts as deep, to our pit that I'm sure was one hundred feet above the track and a quarter mile away.

Greg and I scratched our heads and tried to figure out how to get the car to stick. The car felt loose but were we too loose or too tight? We made some small changes to try for the heat race.

The draw put us sixth in an eight car heat that took six to the A-main. At the green I stayed on the outside and slid up toward the cushion between one and two, racing the cars below me out of the turn. I had to wait on the throttle to keep from going over the edge of the banking coming out of two and got passed by one car. Now seventh I was in a pack of three. The two ahead were running side by side until one got in too deep and started to spin. As he lifted I went to the outside being careful to see where he was going so I wouldn't get collected. As he gathered the car, I hit the pedal and got up beside him as we both charged to turn one. I ran the outside and was able to clear him entering three and made the feature through the heat.

The car was still skatey and did not have sidebite. I was not alone, all the cars around me had trouble sticking the turns. Greg and I had time to theorize, discuss and second guess what we needed to do. We decided to leave some things as not variable and make small changes to a few others. We wanted to tighten the car so that it would have better bite in the turns but I didn't want to pin the RR going in and make the front end wash out. That would just force me to break the RR loose and make matters worse.

We had dropped to a low amount of stagger that was part of the recommendation in the setup package we were sticking to. The car was coming off the corners without any tail wag and turning in fine, the problem was that I couldn't pick up the throttle mid corner without sliding up the banking. We pondered and discussed and decided on a couple of things to loosen up the car.

This is what is so hard for us. The car doesn't stick so the natural instinct is to tighten it up and going the other way just feels wrong. We were stagger tight already and needed to be chassis loose. Our vision of why and how different adjustments affect the car has been changing. Many of my rigidly held beliefs have been evolving as we try things based on a new interpretation of what an adjustment is doing and see if the result matches the theory. It's tough to be scientific and objective about this, but that's just the way my mind works and it's as big a struggle as not having a clue.

So in the end, we made a couple of small adjustments toward loose and decided to stop second guessing. Our feature ran after a modified event. The track was about the same but the straights were rougher in places... the fast places. I started sixteenth with a handful of cars ahead that I thought I could get by if we were any good.

On the opening laps I ran the bottom and tried to drive in or off, under the car ahead. Lap after lap I'd get close but couldn't get an advantage. A red on lap 5 gave me time to tell myself that I wasn't going anywhere on the bottom and need to try something else. On the restart I tried the middle and there was some bite there. The car was sticking and I could get back to the throttle sooner.

I turned down mid corner and got beside the car ahead and passed him in three. The next two cars were running the middle but I was a bit faster. I worked several laps and got by one and then ran side by side with the next car for a couple laps and cleared him. I was closing on the next car and saw last years series champ just ahead of him.

I was twelfth when coming out of four and the front wing popped off it's mounts from all the rough track shaking and slid right up the hood and across the front of the cage. I couldn't see anything and slowed to the inside. Cars were passing and after a lap, I stopped on the track and the wing slid off and onto the ground. We've never had front wing problems but now in back to back races and for different reasons... just weird coincidence.

I restarted and wondered what the car would do now. I had moved the top wing back so I moved it all the way forward, started last and restarted with three laps left. The car wasn't too bad but not good enough to get past any cars.

So we ended up 19th instead of 12th or better. Despite the poor finish, I actually felt good that the car raced as good as it did, felt good and was going forward. The adjustments we made were helpful and it gave us a different color to a piece of the puzzle. What I think I learned made me feel good about the night.

In the pits, Greg loaded up equipment while I slid under the truck to see if I could find a place to pinch off that brake line. I finally traced it back to the ABS box and made a cut and pinched the end of the tube with vise grips. With vise grips firmly holding the end closed and tie wrapped to the frame, we headed home with solid three wheel brakes and a more direct and simpler route. Hitting the brakes made the truck dart to the right as I found out when a deer standing in the road spooked me into a stab, but our new route had few stops and went smoothly. I hit the pillow at 4am and was glad to have that trip behind us.

Fulton Speedway 4/14/12

The weather in Central NY has been record ridiculous. The winter never started. It has been late fall since November. Yes we have had snow, 40 some inches (normal is 125") but the warm temperatures would melt it away in a couple of days. Normally it would never get above freezing from December to March and snow would just pile up. People would say "we'll pay for this later" but I would say, "this is compensation for the past few winters that wouldn't quit".

Racing in early May is usually a mess. Tracks are soaked, clay will rumple into ruts and the ground is cold and wet. So scheduling a race for the second week of April in NYS seemed questionable, except for this year. The day was cloudy and threatened rain but stayed comfortable in the 60s. The track had a comb over of the cushion from the previous week's practice day and was watered to make a thick and heavy covering that was not bonded to the hardpan a couple inches below. It's standard track prep practice around here but this day the water wasn't on long enough to penetrate. The effects of a daytime show and light wind added drying to the light colored dusty slick surface after the wet topping was kicked away during hot laps.

That covering was peeling up unevenly and making a cloddy cushion of chunk from pebbles to loaves. It was a heavy uneven cushion a lane or two off the bottom. There was bite here and there and rough spots all over where the wet clay had decided to stick. The track was a handful to drive for my first laps in a racecar since last fall.

The new engine went well and the car was much better in the rough stuff thanks to some new shocks that we were trying this year. Rough track help was one of the features we were looking for in a shock and these did what I was expecting. The car was stable for the most part and didn't bound or hop or take off in wild directions. We were as fast as the good cars behind us.

The pits were full with 42 sprints for this Patriot Tour sanctioned race as cars from the Patriot, ESS and SOS series showed up. My draw put me fourth in the eleven car first heat, full of strong machines, fresh off rebuilds and dynos, five to qualify. We get the green and head for one side by side. I catch the cushion middle of one and run the top to the typical slick spot off two. I'm as fast as the guy on the bottom and then the car hangs slightly as I wait for bite and lose a car length and a spot, to the train on the bottom. I'm now fifth and fighting this slick choppy track in three. I run the bottom in three and four and head past the flag stand into one. They throw the yellow and the cars stack up and dart right in front of me and I jump on the brakes, line up on the rear bumper of the car ahead and nail him. I see the front wing flip over and lay flat on top of the nose. It is solidly in place and looks secure.

I know the front end will be light on the restart. Everything else feels ok. I move the top wing ahead the three inches available and hope the car will turn. On the start into one, I get to the bottom and get in ok but the front lifts and pushes when I get on it. Going into three I go for the bottom and the car slides up across the slick up to the cushion and as it hooks up at the top, a car from behind taps my bumper and I'm dead sideways. I nearly spin but collect it after a near stop. I'm now at the back and running laps to make the best of what is left.

Greg and Whip have things ready in the pits and we change the wing. Nothing else is damaged. The grader hits on the track after the heats and we get ready for the B main. Having only one lap in the heat before the wing incident didn't give me much to go on and now they have changed the track. We left the setup as it was.

I started fifth in the second B main. Lots of good cars in front and behind me, two to qualify. I raced hard on the bottom and got past one car. Then he and I raced side by side for several laps and then he got a bite and went back ahead. I drove in harder, slid up into the slick between three and four and looped it. I kept going but fell to the back. Making the A main from fifth in the B was a long shot at best but I gave it all I had and was not moving forward. I got some seat time, got the motor dialed in, got a feel for the new setup ideas and shocks and did it all within a half hour of home. It was very disappointing not to qualify... there were eighteen drivers that watched the feature. It was "just one of them races" where if few things didn't go right it was over.

Cousin Tommy did well. He drew pole for his heat and won it, drew outside front row for the feature, passed the leader after a lap and led until he got passed by a car that was on rails. He finished a solid second against ALL the best in the Northeast.


Winter racing

This winter has been more like a long fall. Temperatures have been in high 30s and 40s every day. And although it has rained a lot, you don't have to shovel rain. Some say that we'll pay for this later. I say that this is compensation for last year where it snowed before Halloween and never got above 32 degrees to melt until march. Last year I ran out of places to push snow in December. We had 54 inches by mid January and 180+ inches for the season which was about the fourth highest winter amount. This year there has been frost on the windshield twice and 3 inches of snow once... and that only lasted a day. Very strange weather but I remember in the 90's when we had a 60 inch snowfall year between three 190 inch snowfall record years. It seems like things are changing but to really know you have to look at trends, not individual days or years. Climate is what you expect...weather is what you get.

Racing goes the same way. This time of year, you look at the past season to see where you stand... race to race only tells you where you are. The off season gives you time to plan and prepare. Our best motor is at Jimmy D's motor shop for a rebuild. We've been very happy with the reliability, power and support he provides. I've used a lot of motor builders in several states, over the years and he ranks with the top few. The spare motor is a couple races old and is ready if needed. The Maxim we ran last year was taken apart and put back together, ready for a motor. We have a well liked J&J that is ready for a motor if needed and a brand new Maxim frame that is ready for a swap with our current Maxim if necessary. Hardware wise we are in pretty good shape.

Everyone upgrades over the winter and that makes the competition tougher. There are also some that hang it up and some newbies that join this circus each year. Looking back to the people at the formation meeting for the Patriot Sprints, 10 years ago; I can only think of a handful of teams from the first years that are still racing sprints with us. Some have moved out of the area, some have changed to other types of racing, some have quit and some have sold out. But each season there are new teams that fill the fields at the races. I've always noticed that the number of cars usually hovers around a full field count. Word gets around. If there are lots of cars in the pits and chances of making the A-Main are reduced it gets factored into the decision to go to the next race. A long tow to miss the show will only happen a few times before you pick and choose.

Of course, rational decisions are always clouded by a racer's eternal optimism and that's what keeps bringin' 'em back. It's funny how racers think. I was talking to one team owner about why they race and he said they race to win - second is the first loser. I thought about that and realized that they had been with the series about four or five years. I said how many times have you won and he said none but we're getting better all the time. By his definition, he is a big loser. So why does he race?

Why do any of us race? Lots of reasons.... partly out of habit, love of the sport, the adventure, to share a common interest with friends, the fun of having fans, respect, attention, beating the danger, the gamble, building the car, owning the car, doing the setups, the challenge of putting the puzzle together, to drive, to watch your car run, the fun of beating the other guy, to make some money, to win....

There are lots of reasons but for all the money that it costs and time, effort, ups and downs that it takes to get a car to the track - run first or last - racing is an obsession that fuels on the inner feelings of accomplishment and potential fun. Racing is hard and dangerous and expensive and a lot of the reward is the gamble of winning, coming close, getting better at it, knowing that you can do it, feeling that you can be faster than the others, better than your last self... Yeah its gambling with life, equipment, money, time.... the reward is never equal to the cost but that doesn't stop a gambler. You want the success and know that you can have it as a result of your own efforts, skills and talents, along with some luck, if you can just overcome the random chaos that makes it a sport.

To a real racer its not about why you race but why you are. Racing is meaningless but to you it's everything.

Thoughts on Crew Chiefs

I've often wondered how crew chiefs could tell what a car needed by watching the car on the track. I guess like anything else, the successful ones either learned from their fathers or figured it out for themselves. It's tough to tell what a car is doing wrong, when the driver is compensating for all those problems. But the successful ones can read the track, read the driver, read the competition and read the car. They have a memory full of associations of: do this to fix that. They can somehow put together a set of adjustments that make their car go faster than the rest.

Like any coach, or gambler, there must be certain 'tells' that can be seen from the sidelines. Seeing the tells may not be something they are consciously aware of but putting all the information together with past experience leads to a conclusion about what is wrong and what can be done. There's no strategy in sprint car racing. There's not enough time to do much more than go as fast as you can... choose a line to run and adjust for the changing dirt.  There's usually only one chance for the crew cheif to make the setup choices.   Then to watch how they work.

And the track changes all night. It's a total variable that is the result not only of how it's prepared but how others use it. Grooves get made and grooves wear out. So what things do crew chiefs do, to fit with where they think the track will go? There are a couple dozen typical adjustments that can be made to a sprint car. They can all be used to hook a car up or loosen it. In the end any adjustment will only change the pressure applied to four small patches of rubber.

That deck of twenty four can also be adjusted from a little to a lot, for and against, one way or the other. Each adjustment can affect the car the same way a little differently. You could look at it as a recipe, like for a cake. Each time on the track is a new kind of cake and a changing bowl... add some wing, take away some air pressure, use a larger LR. The new cake is not a lot different from the last cake or everyone else's cake, but it is different and the driver will then react to it to get the most out of it. The driver works the recipe and adds or takes away things of his own.

One recipe may let him drive in harder but turns right if he gets on the cushion. He will add brake, mix it with foot down and wheel the front end to aim for a sticky stretch. His energy adjusts for what is not in the crew chief's recipe and hides it's shortcomings...   the bowl changes. Then in the mix is all the other cars with their recipes and driver adjustments and energy each one reading the body language of two dozen other cyborgs  - half man, half machine, all want to be ahead of all.

Now the driver surrounds the car...the crew chief has to see through his driver to see the car. The mix, the recipe, the tells... changing each instant..... variables of track and traffic influencing the action with the difference being.... the difference being a car length, a couple tenths on a whole lap. A few tenths between winning and not, less than a percent between first and last. All cars are the same but different by such a small amount.

The crew chief, the driver, the recipe... what makes that significant difference that creates the small advantage that brings them to the front? Ask the crew chief who blends the ingredients.

I went to a seminar to see what I could learn and this was it:

What he knows, he can't explain, because he doesn't really understand it himself.

January Update

My father's birthday was this month. It 's hard to believe that he's been gone for nearly six years. In some ways it's like he's never left. Over these past years I've been helping my mother and working on projects that he had done that now need repair. So I have been talking to him about these things and where he kept tools and parts... it's an ongoing interaction. We were doing our best racing at the point when he passed away. We had just come off a fourth at Stateline and passed cars from sixteenth to seventh at Rolling Wheels the week before. It was mid June and we were fourth in points, and although we never chased points, it was good to feel that we were doing well against all competition.

We got worse over the next few years. Not because he was gone but because we were trying to get better. The more we tried to get the car hooked up the more the car didn't work. The competition was improving their equipment and skills. We had to step up to keep up. The worse we got the less our changes made any difference. Then last year we started to figure out what we were doing wrong and the world of racing setups started to make some sense again and I could drive the car. It was not a great season results wise but a good learning year. We ended up doing 60% of the Patriot shows and ended up 12th in points. We ran some ESS races and started making the shows again.

It's been hard to undo the patterns and habits that we worked into our brains in previous years. It's been hard to re-learn to drive the car with the confidence that it will turn. I am learning all over again. As part of my "can't know too much" approach to racing, Greg and I are heading to Lancaster Pa this January to hear Greg Hodnet and Lee Stauffer tell us how it's done. Good friend Dave Ely has put together a driving and setup seminar for Late Model, Modified and Sprint. We bought in to the sprint program to see what we can learn and apply and kick start the racing juices for a new season.

To cap off last year, on New Years eve, Teresa and I were with her family in Pa and took the 20 minute drive to Port Royal to bring in the new year with the "Barney's Sprint Car Drop". For the past four years, and now an annual tradition, Mac Barney's Restaurant, located just outside of turns one and two of Port Royal Speedway, lifts a real sprint car to 75 ft with a crane. The car is outlined with lights and lettered for the new year. Flood lights make day out of night around the area. There is a sound system with music and as midnight approaches, the countdown begins. This year's count down honorary was Keith Kauffman. When Keith hit zero, the crane connection was opened and the car dropped with the speed of gravity, impacting the ground flat on its bottom. It was a great time for the 250 sprint car fans that stood and watched. It was our first time and one of my more fun and memorable New Year's Eves.

So a new year brings new challenges and opportunities. I have lots of new projects going on right now and will have fresh motors and cars ready to race. Here's to a Faster New Year....