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My Father
-always with me-
Armond Wickham

1923 to 2006

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Another Lap Around the Sun 2014
         I've made a lot of laps around the sun. More than most of those I try to beat.
My laps have given me broad experience but also narrowed my view.

Experience helps you know what to do and what not to do. Some things get ruled out because of previous results...    not realizing that new combinations of old ideas make a different blend, disconnected from the past.  As the annual laps continue, things change and they stay the same with the difference sometimes hidden.  It takes time to learn, re-learn and un-learn. The more laps, the more to churn.

So moving forward is the goal for this season... by going back to basics.
This year, experience must overcome experience.
Reduce the variables, do what's well known and push deeper beyond the comfort level.   I may not be as good as I ever was but I know I can be better than I've been.   I do it for the fun of speed, the challenge of improvement, the connection with friends and my competition with age. 

As my part of the earth now leans toward the sun again, it's time to roll the dice, solve the puzzle and play the game for one more round.   It's time to Go Racin'...

I usually post the stories of each race just after they are run. 2014 was so depressing and embarrassing that I wrote the stories
to get the episode out of my head but decided not put them on the website until I had a good race to report. That never happened. The racing season was a downer and it took some time for me to put it behind me.  The only good part was that I didn't get hurt.  So here in the order of events is one race teams' battle of 2014.

Brewerton Test Session. April 2014
It's spring and the same as last year, first practice session at Brewerton Speedway 4/15 was snowed out. Next session two weeks later was monsooned out. First Patriot race was rained out. Cold, wet and windy makes it uncomfortable to work in the pits and to wait and watch for your time on the track.

In the car can be the place to warm up. Not from the heat of engine or exhaust but from adrenaline, physical tension and working the muscles that aim the machine. Ten laps in a sprint can be like ten minutes on a punching bag. Even computer simulators can raise a sweat.

Racing equipment sits idle and ready, tracks may be ready, but parking lots aren't. Northeast weather in the spring is stirred by leftover Canadian winter doing a slidejob on the warmth and moisture invading from the south.

The sun's new angle puts heat into the cold ground. April and May are a battle of opposites that breed racing's unpredictable relative, who can pop up and ruin a party. Everyone's optimism for a better season will have to wait.

Woodhull 5-10-14 

I never really got the hang of Woodhull.   It's a tight, lets say really tight paper clip.   The turns are pivot points at the end of long straights.   It's like a quarter mile running track with triple length straightaways.   

Getting into the corners has been a weak spot there for me.   The high banked turns are slick, no matter how much water they put on it.   And even though they over water it when the sprints are there, it's still dusty.

So the extra long cold winter extended into spring and wiped out two test sessions and the first to races leaving me with this track as my first laps in the car since Labor day weekend.  

The car and motor were three races old then and preped for racing at Eriez when it rained out last fall.   The winter allowed for some cleaning and spares to be readied but the racecar was effectively new.

Getting back on track is like riding a bike.  It feels natural but takes me some laps to shake off the rust and find the limits.  It's not like the simulator where the ESC key resets the game, mistakes on the track are costly.  

Three hot laps is all you get before you are lined up in a pack of cars, all out to get all they can from you and everyone else when they drop the green.  

The draw can set the tone for the night.   Hand goes into the bag and one ball comes out.   49.   That puts me last in the first heat, 10 cars, six to qualify.   The heat had last year's URC and Patriot Champions, the champ from the year before, the winner of the first ESS race this season, and a couple other strong cars starting ahead of me.   There were a couple of cars that I saw as passing targets but they were starting up front.

The race started and I tried the bottom and middle and top.   Could get a nose in but things strung out and I could run with them but not get past.   The car was good, I just needed to figure out how to drive it faster.  

Starting 7
th in a 10 car B main with four to qualify had possibilities.   I watched the other heats to see who, how and where the cars that weren't going to qualify were running.   There was a shot.  

We didn't change the car much.   A little more wing, lower pressures, half a turn of weight....  the track would be dryer and these changes might help with side bite.  

My inside starting position put me on the bottom of one as we charge to the first turn.   I got in pretty good and it looked like I was going to get a position or two coming out when I saw the yellow nose of a car pointed at me to the right.   I tried to scoot under the spinning rookie but his car hooked up and drove into the side of me.  

My RF clipped him and RR jumped over his front end.   He tipped over, I was luckier and almost got over
but set back down.  I got out of the car and checked what was broke.   W-link, shock pin was all I could see wrong.  Tires still up but wheels banged up. Too much to fix before a restart and who knows what else is messed up.    I took off the shock and they pushed me back to the pits.  
Game Over. 

The ESC key is made up of a wallet and nights in the shop.

The three hour tow got me 3 hot laps, 10 heat laps and the second turn of the B.   Not a very good start to the season but not a disaster.   Greg and I headed home after watching the feature.
Reset.  New Race.

Selinsgrove May 2014
First time on this track in 30 years. I think '84 or '85 was the last that
I ran here.

We had always run Port Royal on Saturdays but one year Port did something that pissed us off so we went to Selinsgrove for the next season or two. We were a top 10 car... top 5 on a good night with some seconds and a win back when it was “run what ya brung” with big small blocks and bigger big block engines, no weight rule, no tire rule but most everything else exactly the same as today. Chassis and parts were mostly home built or locally built at small shops, although stuff was also available from national manufacturers.

It has always been a fast track with the rust red Pennsylvania clay providing good bite without excessive tire wear. Engines rule in Pa because of the big fairground half miles, the Grove's paperclip and Lincoln's sticky banks. A slick track here has more bite than hotlaps on a wet track in NY.

I've wanted to run here again but never had enough motor to feel it was worthwhile until this season. Family doin's at Teresa's parents home had us headed to Pa on this weekend anyway and it aligned with an ESS points race at this track, just a half hour up the road from Teresa's family home so we took the car.

Teresa grew up in a small town, half way between Port Royal and Selinsgrove. For all the years since I left Pa, we'd round the Selinsgrove third turn backwards as we'd pass on the road outside the track each time on the way from NY to visit her family

I put a basic setup on the car after scouting the options from some regulars during the week. The gear they suggested was the same as the one we wore out running here weekly back when. Nothing was much different because nothing IS much different since then.

I met up with the ESS crew as we waited in line to get in. The track is one of few left anywhere with infield pits and an original fairgrounds covered grandstand.

Four rows high of armco line the outside and two on the inside... like all the central PA tracks, errant motion is stopped by a wall.

I rolled in alone but Denny Gross showed up with some help when he could cross the track after hot laps. Duval was there with the car he's working with and stopped by to say hi. I was pitted at the forth turn next to the ESS trailer making it easy to get lineups. My draw was good for a change with a 12 putting me on the outside front row of the heat. Hot laps went good with the car on rails on the sticky surface. It took a lap to get a feel for the car and the turns and a couple of laps to find the line at the low cushion for flat out laps. I was slowly reeling in the car ahead the last two laps.

The familiar ESS format and racers took away some of the uncertainty of the night but I still didn't know for sure what the car and the first turn would be like in my third heat. We made a few small changes and took out some stagger for the heat on a dryer track.

I was hoping to drag to the first turn and take the outside line to lead or to stay in second. The green dropped and the motor didn't take off sharp, despite being in the throttle and dragging the brake up to the line. By mid straight I was third and followed in line into the middle of one. The front end did a push to the outside on the two heat old, slicker, middle of the corner and now there was a car right there on the outside.

I had to back off a bit to collect the car and then another car got beside me low. I came out of two in fifth. I was headed for three but now didn't have the momentum of the cars behind and lost two more spots getting into three. Wow, a little bobble in one and I was done. It all happened really fast and there was no way to get it back.

Mid corner and exits were not a problem. I entered a bit low and picked up the cushion, moved the wing forward a bit and stuck the front end. Running the track without lifting is all about momentum. I was able to follow the cushion in from the outside wall. The wider I entered the better it hooked up but it was too late. You only get one mistake at this place. The pack strings out and although I was catching the next car ahead of me, a solid ESS regular, I did not have enough laps to do much with it and we were both in the B.

The engine temp was higher than it had ever been before... just at the point where the light was ready to turn on. I didn't want it to go any higher.

I haven't run anywhere where you run flat out for ten laps like this. There wasn't much that could be done to increase cooling so I changed the pill and high speed to be a tad fatter.

There was some hope in the B. I was starting fifth with four to qualify. The cushion had moved out a car width and there was something left on the bottom. If I could run the bottom around one, I might pick off a car out of two.

The same car I followed in the heat would start in front of me. Despite more effort at the start, the motor still bogged off the line and cleared out in the straight. I stayed fifth but raced out of two and got beat off the top of two.

I ran my 10 laps in the strung out line. I ran the cushion and stayed ahead of some and followed others but could not gain. Ran sixth, took four.

My RPM ended up lower than in the heat and I think that the pill change was the cause, but the motor temp was back where it needed to be. The car ran straight and comfortable and stuck but to be fast at a place like this takes some refinement to make the car roll the corner straighter and reduce the drag.

It takes a few times here to get the tire pressures and offsets just right. I probably could have used more gear, more air to the radiator, and a little more low speed bypass to sharpen the starts. This is a motor and momentum track. Small changes do add up to increased speed and handling efficiency. A two thousandth change in fuel here changes the watch. More gear may have centered on a better spot in the power band. Brakes were not an issue, unless something happens in front of you. The track is actually easy to drive. There wasn't much to do other than choose a corner entry line, the rest took care of itself.

Despite the extreme speed for a half mile, the place doesn't offer much of a driving challenge. It's more about not making mistakes and trying to be efficient. There is no out-breaking or keeping the tires from spinning while driving off.

That was actually a disappointment. Back in the day you did have to lift a bit to get in and then you could be foot down on the cushion but the refinements in car and tire have caused the car to now be under powered for the track or the track too big for these hooked up cars. It's really fun to drive the track and it's really fast. If you run there every week you have to be geared up for this.

The flat out laps at 8k rpm only drop to mid or high 6k. That is asking a lot of the motor. The shorter slicker NY tracks need a wide rpm range and smooth cam to get off the turns without spinning. Selingsgrove is hard on the motor and hard on equipment... especially if you make a mistake.

The speeds are so high that most any problem is big. This night took its toll with half the cars in the pits at the finish. The worst was a three car crash in three where two cars flipped putting both drivers in the hospital in critical condition. One was helicoptered to the hospital after they cut the cage off the car to get the unconscious driver out without more injury. Between the two were: serious head injury, broken leg, broken back , broken ribs, throat injury and aorta issues. We almost lost a driver that night. He survived but will never fully recover from the serious hit to the head.

McKean – Memorial Weekend

This is a long tow to a track, just across the southern NY line in the NW corner of Pa. We been there a few times and have always liked to run this high banked third mile. Last time we were there we ran well in the heat but spun in the feature.

We got to the track a little later than planned and found the pits full but ended up with a decent place to park next to some friends. Once Greg and I got unloaded, I took a ride on the four wheeler to look at the track. The red clay was packed in really tight already and didn't look particularly wet. In the past this place had a near perfect surface with bite and a decent cushion.

In fact, last time here it was nearly flat out in the heat and still fast in the feature. Remembering that, I had put together a basic setup at the shop that I thought would be a good fit for the track speed and bite. Hot laps were the opposite.

The track was slick like ice and already dusty. We didn't have much time before the heat so we took out some stagger, dropped pressures, moved offset a bit, raised the wing and took out some gear.

I started fifth out of eight cars and got into one on the bottom and passed one car and was lined up to get under another but as I put my foot back down, there was no bite. As I sat there spinning my tires off two, I got passed. Three and four were no better. I tried a higher line but the car was just skating. It was so bad off two that I had to back pedal to keep it from going over the edge.

Another wasted heat race and fortunately just enough cars to fill the field so I would start last in the the A main. Greg and I hustled a completely different setup on the car. Changed bars, shocks, weight, stagger and pressures.

The A started and was really dusty. The track is very well lit but the bright lights just made the dust brighter and harder to see through. The car was a whole lot better with this setup. I started passing cars right away.

Got by two or three in the early laps and started gaining confidence that the car would stick and running in harder. Cars were on the bottom so I ran the middle and passed on the outside. On the fourth lap or so, I drove into three on the outside of a car and held position through the corner, expecting to drive by coming out of four.

As we exited the corner, I was on the pedal, watching the other car to the left, out of the corner of my eye, as we swept out of the turn. The wall was clouded in dust for us at the back of the pack. I had a sense of where it was from my line in the corner but misjudged by just a bit.

I never saw the wall until the thud of slapping it. It was hard enough to knock the front end out of the car. I lost the steering and brakes at the flagstand and was now off the throttle but headed for the first turn where the wall turns left and I was going fast and straight. It was a half second flash as the wall came at me and there was nothing I could do but ride this one out. I pulled in tight on the steering wheel. The light gray jersey barrier turned to black sky as the car dug in and started end over end, out over the wall.

About six big hits in the dark ended with the car being stopped by the twenty foot high catch fence. I had poked a wheel size hole near the top. I was hanging in the belts with the left side of the car against the fence, leaned back some and resting vertical on the rear bumper. I felt perfectly ok and remembered how cushioned the impacts were in the seat. I could feel the crash pad working as I had been thrown into the belts and then slammed into the seat as the impacts occured. The Crash Pad takes a lot of the sharpness out of any impact.

Now laying on my back, looking straight up like an astronaut ready for lift off, EMTs asking if I was ok, I was stuck in the car until they could figure out a way to get to the car, which was in a pocket behind the wall and against the fence.

Finally they pulled the top wing away and I grabbed the front of the cage and lifted myself out of the seat and swung up to stand on the back of the seat and cage and hopped down.

After I talked to the EMTs for a minute I went back to the car to help figure out how to get it out of there without more damage. The tow trucks didn't have a long enough boom to get to the car in the pocket between the wall and fence. Eventually they were able to pull the car over onto the top of the wall and bring in a roll back at wall level. With the front end at the back edge of the roll back, a bunch of us lifted the back end up and over the wall and slid it onto the flat bed. It probably took a half hour or longer to get the car out of there and back to the pits.

The car was surprisingly intact, considering the number of hits I felt.

Everyone said it looked pretty nasty. The rear tires and suspension were undamaged. The front axle, tires and wheels were wiped out on right and left side. Wings were wadded and the frame was bent a little bit, ahead of the radiator. Lots of little stuff but from the radiator back it was mostly OK.

I winched the front end onto the trailer with some people lifting and the rear tires rolled up into place. Greg and I packed up our stuff and headed home. This has been a crap season so far. I hope we are over the bad luck and back to racing. I'm putting this engine in the older car and we'll give that a try.

Fulton Speedway 6-7-14
Luck goes in streaks. It's always been that way for me anyway. This season has been string of bad luck so far. It has not really gotten started. Early races were rained out, then the first race at Woodhull delivers a bad draw and getting collected in someone else's spin in the second turn of the first lap of the B main.

Next race at Selinsgrove, we miss qualifying but that was possibly a good miss as I would have been in the part of the pack where an extremely bad crash occured. Then more rain and the next race, at McKean, I dump the car over the fence. Now after spending a couple of weeks getting the spare car ready we go to nearby Fulton Speedway where the motor sprays some oil in hot laps and we find that a crack has opened up in the block at the right front motor mount, apparently a remnant of the crash two weeks ago. We parked it for the night.

The motor is pulled and at the builder's shop and the first frame is in Pennsylvania getting the front end fixed.

So far this season I've made three A main laps, spent lots of time in the shop and added to the pile of bent parts.

Yeah, luck goes in streaks and it seems to last for a number of races rather than a period of time. It can carry over from the end of one season to the next... but I hope not this time.

I am usually lucky in my bad luck. When things go bad, they are not as bad as they could be or expect.

So the only way to get past this streak of bad luck is to work and race through it. What keeps me going is knowing that I can fix what's broken, we can do better and these streaks do end.

Brockville June 2014
My luck has always run in streaks. When it turns bad, it seems that there is not much I can do other than race through it with the optimism that it must be over now and things will be better at the next race.

With McKean behind me, the back up car ready, the Fulton motor oil leak problem solved, it's off to Canada to a track where I ran really well last year.

I put last year's setup in the car and Greg and I towed north in hopes of finally getting the racing in our season started.

An ESS race on the same night split the cars and left the Patriots with only sixteen cars for the banked 3/8 mile. The track is usually dry slick early on but has some bite in the black clay that wears tires. There were 5 classes of cars on the track for hot laps before we got on track so we just set up for slick.

The bright sun was high over turn three when we pushed off and I could see ruts that were packed into the turns. I had my standard setup of pro shocks on and adjustments pretty flat off the blocks with the bars. They dropped the green and I picked up speed, following a local that knew his way around this place.

Drove around one and two and the car was stuck but kind of bounded through the holes. Went into the middle of three and the car hooked up good going in, I stayed in the pedal and then mid corner, it just snapped around and I backed it into the infield.

They pushed me off and I fell in behind the same car to finish hot laps and try to figure out what to do with this track. They drop the green and I follow in the tire tracks of the car ahead, a car width down from the top of the banking.

Into one and the car jumps out of a rut, takes a couple bunny hops and now on the other side of the banking, noses down and plants the RF into the dirt and pole vaults the car end over end a couple of times, landing wheels down way out in the grass.

I... was.... PISSED. What the hell !!! What have I got to do to get past this string of disasters? I was ok. Again, I could feel the Crash Pad work through the crash. I got out and looked things over. Rear suspension was OK, front axle was done. They put the hook on the front bumper and I rode the nerf bar in with one foot on the brakes.

Back in the pits, I was so disgusted that I was just going to load up and leave but the series owner came by to check on me and said if I could take the green in the feature, it paid a lot better than tow money. He was right and I could use the money. Plus, he needed cars on the track for this show to keep the promoter happy.

So Greg and I scrambled the spare front end into the car, replaced shocks, cut away the loose damaged part of the wing side panel, put on a new W link, rear bumper and added fuel to the dented tank. We got a little help from the teams pitted near us and the Patriot guys and got the car ready to go so I could run a test lap with the dash cars.

When I was getting set up for the track conditions, I looked to see if I had a rough track shock for the RR and found an Afco to put there. When I took the Pro off, I pushed the shaft down to put it away and it moved easily and then caught. It was not bent but the internal gas bag had broken allowing the piston to move in air instead of liquid. This shock failure could have been the reason for the jumpy car, if it was failed before the crash. None of the shocks on the car were used at McKean so it wasn't left over crash damage but it was definitely bad.

Anyway, I ran a lap at the back of the dash and the car felt ok so I went to the pits, ready for the feature.

I started last but that was only 16th. The plan was to finish. The track was smoother now that they did some grading, water and repacking but it still had some holes that upset cars.

The race starts and I stay with the pack at the back. They fill the track, running side by side and I run half throttle to keep from running over them.

Nowhere to go yet, just waiting for a safe opening, a feel of the car and the track. Into one on lap two and the two cars right in front of me get crossed up and one spins and comes down the track. I lock up, the car turns sideways and slides hard into the let front of the other car.

I get out and look things over to see that the only damage is the right side nerf is bent up and away from the tire. W link is good and all tires are up. So I get back in, they pull the cars apart and push me off for the restart.

They drop the green for a single file restart and I follow the squirrelly pack into one with its holes, keeping my distance but staying in touch on the bottom.

One car spins and collects the whole pack. Dust clouds roll up into the lights.

Cars are spinning. I lock up and the car turns sideways sliding toward the mess. Cars are flipping. Before I can stop, I'm in it and slam the right side into the front end of a car pointed at me.
This time I get out and find the front axle bent, front wheel kinked, shocks damaged, header bent and sitting on top of the front end of the other car and almost tipped over. Several track crew lift the back end of the car and we separate the cars without more damage.

On the hook again, riding the nerf bar and brakes into the pits. Four laps total and two front ends for the night. Is the bad luck over? Won't know till next race. Yeah, last place money was better than tow money but I'd been better off on the trailer.

Brewerton - Rainout

Fulton 7-5-14
If not crashing means my luck is changing then that's about all the good that came out of this race. This race is part of an ESS speedweek with 5 races in 5 days, all within an hour of home. With all the problems I've been having and with Greg not feeling well and considering our performance level, I decided to just do Brewerton and Fulton. A rain out at Brewerton a few days before left me with a car in one piece but no track time.

A race at this track earlier this year was very dry and slick right from the git go. This day was sunny, hot and windy. There hadn't been any rain for a couple days so we all expected the typical smooth, dry, slick. But, they must have put more water down this time, because hot laps was rough and choppy where it had not been scuffed off. Where it was scuffed, it was smooth with some bite. This was a tricky track needing a soft setup for the slick but stiffer for the chop. It was narrower, faster and rougher than usual.

35 cars in the pits and a draw of 61 put me at the back of the first heat. Nine cars, 5 qualify, there were some opportunities and some top runners.

I consulted with Jason Barney about setup. He won here last race. He was concerned too because the track was rough and faster than he had planned for. He was starting on the front row of the heat. I made some changes and got ready. My plan was to stay on the bottom, get bite coming out to pass and stay out of trouble.

Drop of the green, I could stay with the cars at the back but wasn't any faster. I was only able to pass when a car would get upset on the rough spots or cushion. The only thing going for me was that several cars spun or had problems. Last lap and I'm fifth. A car spins in two and after 3 cautions, they drop the checker and yellow to end this mess and I'm in.

Then.... they decide to race the last lap and they line us up for the double file restart. I try but get passed going into one. Sixth puts me on the pole of the B which fills up with hot shoes that had trouble in their heats.

I discuss the setup with Jason and soften the car. The plan is to stay on the bottom and force passing on the outside of the now slicker, wider track.

The cushion is still rough and 5 car width up the banking.

B starts and the outside of the front row car jumps me but he's a regular so they don't call it back. I enter one in second and hold on for a few laps.

Then entering three, the back end slips out as the track is really getting slick in spots. I get passed and now I'm fourth. My line gets slicker and I get slower and can no longer hold my position. I pull the wing back but it's not enough, I try a wider line and get passed low. I needed more sidebite.
I was done.

Disgusted, disappointed, discouraged, pissed, I rolled to the trailer and loaded up. We watched Jason run the bottom, pass cars, run down the leader and win again.

Black Rock 8/8/14
I didn't race through July because my mother had a replacement hip installed and I was taking care of her house and things and visiting her through hospital and rehab. Once things settled down and stablized for her, I decided to go racing again after more than a month out of the car.

I had a phone discussion with George Suprick during the week before I went to Black Rock to try to figure out what to do to get going faster. We talked about what he saw of me back at the last Fulton race and the setup he was going to use and what he thought I could do for BR.

We talked about Clint, the driver he's coaching to see what he felt was the reason why Clint was struggling to qualify like me. Clint and I have ended up racing each other for position in the back of heats, Bmains and features. Clint has really good equipment with George's setups and help, George is in their second car and is a consistant top 10 competitor.

While he couldn't really nail down what was lacking, the discussion helped in my own self analysis of my driving.

I decided to go to Black Rock because I felt comfortable at that track and it had new management. I was hoping for an improvement over past conditions and programs. It was also Nascar weekend as Watkins Glen was racing the Cup cars 10 miles down the road and it's a chance to be in a race with Tony Stewart and others that show up to run the sprints.

George and company saved a place for me at Black Rock and helped some as Greg's illnesses have kept him at home and left me without crew. I drew a high number and the track was unusually tacky and fast. There were 27 cars on hand so nine car heats and 6 to qualify. I started in the back of a fairly loaded heat and ended there, not able to make ground on the car ahead.

Clint was in the heat also and a couple of cars ahead at the end. He missed qualifying by one but George got to watch me a bit and gave me his observations.
He couldn't really come up with any suggestions. We agreed that I was slow mid corner and discussed what it could be. We discussed some small changes to the setup for the Bmain where I would start last out of eight with four going to the main.

The car was stable, the engine strong, I ran bottom and middle but had no advantage over the other cars despite trying hard. With continuing unhappiness and no solution in sight, I watched the feature.

Turned out that Tony didn't show up to race his sprint car here as he has done for the past half dozen years. Don't know why.

Last year, earlier in the season, he caused a big crash at Canandaigua that sent two drivers to the hospital with broken backs, then went to Oswehken the next week and flipped and then a week or two later crashed in his sprint car and broke his leg out west just before the Black Rock race.

He was now recovered from the injury that kept him out of the last third of last year's Nascar season. This year,a few weeks earlier, he had raced a sprint for the first time and won in Michigan and run some other sprint races since. He must have had some other commitment and missed Black Rock this year.

My bad luck streak continued when I left the track. The car was in one piece which was an improvement but a few miles from the track I lost the brakes on the truck while heading downhill to a stop sign at a tee in the road.

As my bad luck usually falls on the lucky side, I was able to slow the truck by pumping brakes and shifting to low and turned on to the next road which fortunately had no traffic at midnight. I drove home carefully with most of the distance on the interstates.

After reviewing my performance at Black Rock, the way my luck was going, the brake line on the truck that needed to be replaced and bleed (working alone),and my chances of not making the ESS feature at Canandaigua that would probably have lots of cars, and general discouragement, I decided to stay home.

So this year Tony didn't run Black Rock but did make it to Canandaigua the next night where he tangled with Kevin Ward Jr in an incident that would change racing for him and everyone else, forever.
I think the days when local racers get to compete with the top drivers from the major leagues has passed. I doubt we will ever see it again. I'm glad that I got to be part of it while it lasted and that I wasn't there when it ended.

Cousin Tommy was leading and going away when Kevin and Tony tangled on lap 13 and all racing for the night was halted. The race was past halfway and Tommy ended up with the win.

Kevin's death was a combination of random chance and a string of bad judgement, and bad timing by Kevin that put him in the path of one of racing's greats.

After this incident, the next race was at Brewerton, a mile from home. It was a Kevin Ward tribute race. I was so discouraged about racing that I had considered not towing the mile and staying home. I decided at the last minute to go.

Brewerton 8/15/14
The mood was very somber at the track, particularly with the sprint car people.

Local and national news was spewing stories that were worded to sensationalize and misrepresent what happened. The first headline I saw the sunday morning after the incident said “Stewart Struck and Killed Ward” and my first thought was that there was a fist fight.

Much later, thoughtful writers would say that Ward was hit by the car driven by Stewart.

Local news was interviewing everyone and stories with pure speculation about everything from what happened, to what Tony was thinking went nationwide for a week. Idiot writers who had no clue about sprint car racing, dirt tracks or short track procedures wrote criticisms that swayed public opinion and proved the writers, reporters, readers and viewers to all be idiots (which is only proof of why current politics is such a mess).

Anytime I have had informed knowledge about something that I see in the papers or on TV, I realize how clueless the press is and that they only get it half right, if that.

How can you trust any story you hear when the ones you know about are so screwed up with ommissions, twisted words, sensationalism, inaccuracy, speculation, misleading and totally wrong information?

As a person with a four year degree in Broadcasting and 20 years of working in Radio, I hate the press for all the damage they have done to this country and our society and the world.
There should be penalties when they get it wrong just to insure that they make sure they get it right first.

I was so discouraged about racing and not having a solution to try to get faster and break the ongoing bad luck streak, that I had decided not to race at Brewerton, one mile down the road. I discussed it with Greg, who had a tooth pulled the day before and was in no condition to crew the car. Brewerton had become an embarrasment for me. I haven't qualified for a race there in several years. I just can't get around that place despite everything I've tried and I've tried hard.

So when friday came I was still hedging and then realized that this was going to be Kevin's rememberance event and that I needed to be a part of that and decided to get the car ready and go.
I had been racing with Kevin on and off since he started four or five years ago. He ran with ESS primarily but had branched out and was hitting some of the races out of the area. Kevin was a gasser. His line was on the cushion and his style was on the pedal. I remember one night when there was no cushion, joking with him in passing about seeing him was on the bottom. He said it wasn't working. Kevin won an ESS race on pavement last year, so he could get it done when necessary.

A year ago at CanAm, I wasn't racing but went there to make a deal on a motor and hangout with Dave Ely. He was pitted near the pit exit that lines up with the front straight. Kevin was pitted next to him. I sat on top of Ely's trailer and watched.

At the start of Kevin's heat, he pulled out of the pack and ran along the wall heading for the cushion in one. Kevin attacked the track with intensity. He was passing cars when someone slipped up to the cushion just at entry and Kevin ran over him in a big way and flipped several times.

They brought the car back and dropped it at Kevin's trailer. He and his crew were taking scrap off the car. Kevin walked around calmly bringing out replacement pieces. There was some time and he could make the Bmain if they could finish soon enough so I went over and started helping. Wings and mounts, front axle, arms bars front and rear, wlink, bumpers nerfs headers....about everything but the tank seat steering and motor.

Kevin called the shots, picked the parts, advised the assembly, and measured the setup. I could see that he was a complete racer, not the just driver of his father's car, this was Kevin's car.

His father helped with the crew to put a car back together. They didn't make it in time for the Bmain but Kevin had a provisional available and went through the setup so the car would be right and fast. I talked to his father for a while and Kevin a bit after. I decided to help him because I saw he needed help but also thought he might deal with me more carefully on track if we knew each other better.
I walked away from the experience seeing how to do a thrash without making it into a fire drill. That is something I will always remember from working with Kevin that night. I have thought about that night and how Kevin handled the disaster and his crew, and how I could apply it to my own situations.

When I arrived Brewerton Speedway at 4pm on this friday, the pits were already filling with sprint cars. Twenty four showed up. Lots of news people were wandering around including the Syracuse Newspapers and a camera crew and reporter from ESPN. They covered the driver's meeting which although somber and prayer offered, was mostly about race proceedure, rules and order of events. It was racing as usual. They were not making drama for the press.

Staying in your car when stopped on the track was even not mentioned despite Brewerton and Fulton being among the first in the nation to make the rule and an ESS race incident being the cause.

Syracuse Newspapers took some pictures of me getting ready and then we talked for about 15 minutes. I was quoted, along with others in their article in the sunday paper and they put up a 2 minute video of me in the online edition, talking to them about the fun of racing for position and the tactics of the slide job Tony put on Kevin. I think Kevin should have lifted, turned toward the bottom of two and made a straight line to the middle of the back stretch where he would have been two car lengths ahead.

It rained earlier in the day and it looked like they must not have had the track sealed. It was a sloppy mess. They had thought about canceling but wanted to do the tribute to Kevin.

They were an hour and a half late in getting started and when I got on track it was lumpy rough. I stiffened the setup and started mid pack in the heat. A nasty, cloddy, lumpy cushion ridge, six inches to a foot high had packed in about two car widths off the bottom. It was treacherous and I planned to stay far, far away from it.

I was in heat three. They already dumped three or four cars in the first two heats. I hear the engines stop as they called RED,RED, RED on the radio in my helmet while sitting in line in the pits.

Two laps into my heat, a car tried to nose under me coming out of two. My left rear jumped his right front but the car came down ok and he stayed inside me as we raced into sweeping turn three. Now on the outside, I ended up getting lightly into the cushion. The car took two bunny hops and vaulted over the right rear, going over twice.

Wings, radius rods and rear bumper appeared to be the only damage but I was fully disgusted. They pushed me back to the pits and I loaded up. I wasn't going to take the chance of fixing the car, borrowing a wing and having more trouble.
I will wait until this bad luck streak ends. Next race for me will be next spring.

There was a tribute done during intermission after the heats. Kevin had been buried the day before. His family and friends from his town, 26 of them, had come to this race. Much of the crowd and crews were wearing orange (Kevin's colors) in respect. The race sponsor provided nice hats and orange tee shirts for the ESS members. I stood in the banking of turn one with a hundred other ESS drivers and crew during a presentation and prayer at the start line. Orange balloons were released from the stands as the anthems played.

The feature lineup left position 13 (his racing number) open for Kevin. That was to be the closure for the racing family. The feature was on and the trecherous track ate 11 more of the 22 starters.

Kevin Ward Jr.

Kevin's death was stupid. He made three mistakes that night. The first it turns out was that he was racing while under the influence of pot. The autopsy said enough pot in his system to impair judgement. I have no tolerance for that and it pisses me off that he would race that way and that his father would let him if he knew.
Second, he should have lifted and either followed Tony on the cushion or did a cross over. His lack of experience in dealing with a slide job caused the spin.
Last, he should have picked up a clod of clay and thrown it at Tony's car instead of walking into the path of cars just slowing down after the caution just to point in anger.

This is my take based on video and my experience racing at the track.

Consider the incident from where Tony was sitting.

The Slide Job
Tony had been able to get beside Kevin in the front straight, apparently after a good launch off the fourth turn and heading for turn one, dove to the bottom to do a slide job on Kevin.

Kevin always runs the cushion and went into one on the top. The cushion at this point was mostly loose dirt kicked up to the top of the banking covering the last bit of moisture on the otherwise dried out track.

At the top of the banking it is flat or a bit downhill leading to grass and then a wall. This track surface condition makes for good racing because there are different ways to navigate the corner and it takes more driver skill than brute horsepower.

At this point in the race most cars are hugging the bottom, some in the middle trying to pass cars on the bottom but many of the faster cars are using the cushion. Corner entry for the cushion varies depending on the confidence of the driver and how the car is working.

Some like Kevin will pick up the cushion at the end of the straight, barely lifting as the car is turned in a bit sideways and the right rear picks the bite, steering slightly to the right and steering with the throttle.

Some will chickenshit the corner and enter in the middle or a car width down from the top, lift some and drift up to the cushion mid or late part of the first turn and then get back on it. It's not as fast as railing the cushion but it's safer than missing the cushion going in and ending up out in the loose stuff or the wall.

In Tony's case he would have run the cushion but Kevin was there and to pass him he decided to cut to the bottom of one and let the car drift up with as much throttle as he could apply to keep the car just a but sideways, still racing forward without too much power to spin him out and not making too much speed so that he wouldn't slide up over the cushion when he got there.

Like a golfer that has to hit toward the cup with the just right amount of force to get to the cup without falling short or going past, the slide job is a judgement made through constant re-calculation of track surface control, steering, and throttle throughout the slide.

Your are pretty well committed because the reason you are sliding to the top is because you entered the bottom of one, way faster than the car could stick to the bottom or middle.

The car on the cushion you are passing is going faster but you are taking a slower but shorter route. It's a race to see who gets to the cushion between the turns first.

Tony probably could not see Kevin once he went to the bottom and with the car a bit sideways really had the cushion and Kevin over his shoulder and out of sight.

Line of sight ahead lets you sense the approaching cushion with the bite of the right rear the only real way to know you are there and can put your foot the rest of the way down.

To see another car to your outside, he'd have to beat least half way along side or more. You are looking slightly right, over the head rest and under the wing side panel through a slot of dusty vision. At that point, if you could see a car already there, you'd have to lift or brake to try to keep off of him and crash both of you.

But if you've passed him and you can't see him, then you've got the spot and you know he has to lift because he's been fully able so see you coming all the way.

If he doesn't lift he'll end up over the cushion, into the loose stuff and the wall.

The front end of a sprint car will never resist the tap from the rear tire of another car and with open wheels and hot, sticky, spinning rubber, touching tires can flip both cars instantly. It's the give and take and strategy of racing for position. Rubbin' is Crashin' with sprint cars.

Tony won the race to the center of that corner and took the cushion, picking up the throttle to catch the next car. He may not have touched Kevin but if he had, the weight on the rear of a sprint is five to ten times the weight on the front end, lightened by weight transfer to the rear.

The engine torque lifts the weight off the front end in a design that puts all the chassis weight on the giant rear tires to bite the track. Stagger turns the car and the wing adds another half ton to the rear tires.

A fast car is balanced this way for the most traction with the front end having only enough grip to aim the car more than steer it. Steering is done with the setup and feet as much as with the hands.

You can bump the front end of another car with your right rear and never feel it. A light bump on the front end of your car can turn the car ninety degrees instantly like flicking the handle can spin a spoon. The car pivots on the rear weight so fast you can't react.

Kevin's front end may have been bumped by Tony and Tony would never feel it as he also grabbed the cushion about the same time. Kevin may have worked his way over the cushion trying to stay tight but avoid contact with Tony's right rear with his left front, in a futile attempt to hold the ground.

Kevin wasn't far enough along side and got crowded over the cushion and ended up losing bite in the loose stuff that carried him to the wall. This experience would have stayed with him and next time he'd make a better calculation of when to hold his ground and when to back out and not to get mad about it. You can't win the battle from the back.

From Kevin's view, he was running his line, on the pedal along the cushion and saw Tony go to the bottom and slide up the banking. Kevin was hoping that he could get to the intersection of their paths first and Tony would have to back out and race side by side out of two.

Kevin's calculation was continuous, fueled with optimism, speed, commitment, and the sense of possession of the line but forgetting that this was a battle for position there were two committed sides to the challenge.

Kevin could stake his ground and hold off Tony but only if he got there first. If he lost that race, he would either have to fall in behind or make a counter move by going to the bottom of two, making a straight line from the top, to the bottom of two, to the middle of the back stretch, launching off the moist bite down low at the exit of two, leaving Tony on the top of the exit of two where the banking goes flat, the cushion slicks up and cars hang there waiting for bite.

The cushion of one suckers you in with it's banking and speed only to channel you to the top of two where you slow down waiting for bite on the icy flat strip that results from all the suckers that end up there.

Kevin would have been two car lengths or more ahead of Tony in the back straight if he did the cross over, and the crowd would have cheered and pointed and watched the two do it again, next turn and next lap. That's the fun and frustration of racing and watching a slide job.

2014 Wrap up
With the season over, the sting of disappointments has faded along with the total depression resulting from the poor performance. The few races run were spaced with lots of shop work. I've had seasons before that didn't meet expectations but never one where I never finished a feature and only made a handful of feature laps. The off season will be longer this year and give me time to forget 2014 (if I can) and recharge. I'm getting older but I feel great and still have a passion to race and do better.  I have good equipment and desire.