Drop me an email if you would like to join in on the fun and work with us at the shop.
I guess it's time to summarize this season. In a word it sucked. Looking back a year, I was pretty optimistic that we could be competitive this season but a number of factors threw the plan off track. We spent the year basically trying to catch up... to the rest of the racers and ourselves. There was a combination of things that messed us up, well messed me up, and that we never overcame. I never figured this car out. I tried lots of things and learned a lot but never got to a point where the car was very strong.
I was not very good at judging track conditions this year. When I thought the track was going to do one thing it would do the other.
The draw provided no help. My luck was terrible. The time or two that we had a good draw, I missed the setup so bad that we dropped back. The rest of the time we drew high numbers and started at the back of the heats and features. I had the lowest average draw for ASCS Patriots in 2007 (is there an award for that?). The only good luck was that there was seldom more than a full field and I was able to start all of the shows.
The bright spot in all of this was the strong reliable motor.
So looking over these factors, what can be done to get us back in the game?
The second car's frame was the one I picked up after the Maxim disaster and it worked well until I drove it into the spun cars in the sun, at Black Rock a year ago. We put it together fresh and complete and I really wanted to keep it that way unless I really needed it. It had a motor in it that wasn't as strong as the one we had been using but we could have switched motors easily and used that chassis, but I wanted to put the other car back together and now was better than later. I decided to work with this new assembly and that was probably being a stubborn car owner instead of a do what ever it takes to go fast driver but I guess that's my conservative nature. I wanted to keep the second car fresh. That car may have worked better but the one we were using was exactly the same and I expected that it would work fine. The only way to figure it out was to race it and adjust on it. If I parked it then I'd have a spare that didn't work and eventually I would have to deal with it.
So each time that we ran this car, we were trying something so that we could understand what to do to make it work better. Sometimes we just screwed up and misjudged the track and couldn't blame the car but other times, we would try things and get better but still needed more. We were going in circles but not making the improvements we needed.
The car seemed to have a sharp setup peak. It was real easy to be too tight or too loose. We never found a combination that gave us a very wide setup window. Small adjustments would put us over the edge, one way or the other and the peak seemed to be narrower than the changes in the track. If anything was consistent, that was it.
New bars and new shocks didn't make any noticeable difference so the only other suspension variable is the frame. This winter we are going to put a car together with a brand new J&J frame. That will let me know if it was the frame or not. Of course we are hoping and expecting that we won't get a dud frame, but that's another roll of the dice that we have no control over. We have the other spare frame that I picked up from LPS Racers after Rick fixed the front end. That was the frame we used at the end of '06 and the beginning of '07 until I got punted into the concrete at Evans Mills. That car worked good and I'll keep that frame as a spare.
We were at quite a few races where rain screwed us up and changed our expected dry track to something tacky. And of course on those tacky tracks everyone is faster even if they're off a bit, everyone is fast. On those nights, my dry track driving tricks didn't work, we had the wrong setup for the tacky track and I didn't move forward.
So here I am hoping that with the new chassis we will get back to a wider, flatter setup range that won't be so far out to lunch if isn't exactly right for the conditions. A more forgiving car and better guessing will help here.
So starting in the back of the heat probably means you will start far back in the feature unless you are hooked up and really moving forward and of course, if a car is hooked up and starts up front they are gone and hard to catch. Being hooked up and passing cars is what it's all about, but even so, it would be good to have as many chances to start up front as everyone else.
Touring series always favored their top names and wanted to trounce the locals so the heads up starts usually put their best at the front. One way has always been handicapping the faster cars to the rear which always stirs up lots of controversy. Weekly tracks do it and ESS has done it for some time. Most touring groups however use a heads up start with the fastest at the front and that serves the fast series racers but can make for a race with less passing and less drama. I've always been in favor of the inverted handicap system and raced under those rules during my years in PA. I had streaks of starting near the back and the front at the Grove(s) and Port. I was a fan first and always liked to see passing and see under dogs given a break.
In any case, the racers in this area are weekend racers with few sponsors and basically racing out of pocket and it's a mix of cars from different series depending on where the race is. With the 20 some race schedule that we have, there just aren't enough draws in a season for an even distribution of starting spots by open draw alone.
I think that there are some additional tweaks to the simple draw that can compensate for those that have the worst draws and mix it up some. I suggested one method where the numbers are broken down into A B C and D groups and each week you draw from a different group. That would definitely equalize the draw. (I am told by officials that most of the racers are too stupid to understand much more than a straight draw).
So here's a couple of ideas that I've come up with that may be easier to implement. At each race, the lowest three draws get a coupon that they can use at any 'future' race, to start on the pole of a heat. That's the simple method.
A better method would be to give the heat pole position to the three drivers that have competed in three races and have the lowest average draw up to that point in the season. When they receive that pole position, they would be credited with a draw of zero and that will raise their average draw. Now if their average is so bad that they are still the lowest, they would start pole again but then their average would certainly be pulled off the bottom and it would have compensated them for all the back of the heat starts that they have endured earlier.
Either of these two additions to the draw would definitely rotate the field over the season and give everyone a more fair shot.
Another method would be to just give everyone who has competed in four races, two front row coupons that they can use anytime during the season on a first come first serve basis.
Just Wait 'til Next Year!
Rolling Wheels 10-6-07
The first week in October is Super Dirt Week in Central New York. It the time when the modifieds make the annual visit to the NYS fairgrounds for the 200 lap contest at the mile. Sprints... that is World of Outlaw sprints used to be the Saturday headline and during the 80's and 90's it was one of the major sprint races in the US. But the speeds got to a point where the light weight cars were a danger and more importantly, the fans didn't support the race sufficiently, so it was dropped. In it's place, the local 360 sprints were added to a race program at Rolling Wheels Raceway what was held each year on the saturday night before the 200 at the mile. Only a half hour from the fairgrounds, the fast 5/8 mile is one of the nicest tracks in the area and fills out a week of racing on the mile and nightly at short tracks all around the area.
The saturday at the Wheels evolved into a sprint car only event with $3000 to win. The owner of the URC series that runs in PA, NJ, and DE promotes the event in cooperation with ESS and the ASCS Patriot group with cars from the Canadian SOS group as well.. It's the last race of the season for each organization and show up points insure the top teams from each sanction are on hand.
At this year's race there were 66 cars in the pits, broken up into 6 heats of 11 cars, with three to qualify. Then three B mains would qualify two from each to fill out the 24 car field. The highest point car from each series not making the show would start on a provisional. The provisional is a "buy in", meaning that you were paying for the purse for last place position and would really only be paid for the difference between last place money and where you finished... essentially paying nothing until you made it to about 15th.
This is a tough race. Lots of good cars and a track where cars get spread out in a lap or so. The draw is key. Having had crap luck at the draw all season, I let Teresa pull the number. She dragged out 69. As we walked away, a Patriot official asked what we drew and after I told him he said that I had the lowest average draw for the whole season for all the ASCS Patriot races. I thought it was bad but now I know it was the worst and this draw probably sunk the average even lower.
I've been though enough of this to know my chances... starting 11th with three going to the A... Then a B main where you not only had to beat everyone you couldn't beat in your heat but all the cars in the same boat from another heat.... a 16 car B with 2 going to the back of the A... it was pretty discouraging.
Well the sunny day turned cloudy and a rain came though and soaked the track. It took two hours to get the slop settled down enough to even put a car on the track. The track had seen a 100 lap modified race the night before and they didn't tear it up so the rain only added to the water truck's dropping that laid on the glaze. The rain water ran off the corners but puddled in the golf ball like, pocketed surface on the straights. The few packers that ran the track, drove the water in and made the surface sloppy and then very tacky.
Usually this place ranges from dry to ice rink and we had set the car up for the expected slick track. There had not been any rain for weeks and none was forecast but now we had a sticky fast track were all cars would handle. We made some changes to loosen the car up and borrowed a tire for added stagger. Obviously the heat was packed with good cars... the pits were packed... there were no bad cars here.
I was bummed and pissed about the bad draw, the rain, the season. As hard as we tried, we really never got a break and that includes trying to get this car to work. Putting what we knew to this chassis never seemed to make it right. We made improvements and got better, could run with the pack, but found the window so narrow that a small wrong guess would put us out to lunch. But... there was always something we would learn that gave us some hope that we were close to getting it right so each race we would return with new enthusiasm and confidence that we now could solve the puzzle.
I was in the first heat. I ran the last hot lap session so I could see what the track would really be like and I was surprised that we weren't as tight as I feared. I think the stagger made the difference but the track was also drying in the corners due to the rain running off the glaze from the race, the previous night . The straights were packed but wet enough to spray a rooster tail of gummy bear sized soft clay pieces that packed on all surfaces including the helmet visor.
We pushed off for the heat and got in line. My visor was already getting peppered with sticky clay as we headed down the back straight for the start. Normally a couple of tear offs is enough for a race for our dry track series. The tracks are always heading toward slick but tonite I had lots of tear offs and already had to use one.
There was a puddle and slime at the bottom of the turns so I decided to line up on the outside row and as much out of line with the rear tires in front of me but when the leaders took off, I was plastered. I could still see enough to follow the pack and pulled a tear off in the straight. The next one was loaded by the time I got to turn one and the same down the back straight. Coming out of four on the first lap, the car in front of me slows and I charge to the outside of him to pass and then see the flipping car from the second row right in front of me. I barely get the car under control and slip by on the inside as he flips across the track. The only good thing about the bad draw was being back far enough from the crash to stay out of it... the good luck part of bad luck.
I sit at the first turn under the red and count the tear offs with my fingers. I'm pretty stingy using tear offs but I'm already down to 4 left, from the wavy visioned stack that I started with. The complete restart is the same and I wipe as much as I can to save the remaining few tear offs. I chase the car ahead and close on him but not close enough to pass. 10th in the heat puts me 13th in the B.
As the heats progress, the track dries and we make some changes back toward our dry setup. The car was pretty good in the heat so we just had to keep up with the track now. The B would be more of a test session and the fun of racing.... chances of making the A were zero without a huge catastrophe that we would miss. There were lots of heavy hitters that got out-run in the heats and they were all ahead of us. Ya know, to be fair, they should invert the draw for the B mains so that bad draws and good draws are balanced out. Well anyway, as I was getting the belts on it started to rain and it rained for an hour and washed out the already late night.
They rescheduled for the next night. I looked over who had qualified, and who we had to beat, and who would be in line for a provisional, with us starting last, and decided that it wasn't worth it. I left the car home and went to the track to watch the race as a fan.
It turned out that 5 qualified A main cars went home, (never would have guessed that) as well as half of the B main cars (the bottom half). So they condensed to two B mains and filled the field from them. We might have made it in one of the B's but we still would have had to pass a bunch of cars from the back. We probably would have gotten the provisional but raced for no or little money.
Our serie's (ASCS Patriots) rabbit won the race after winning his heat from the front and drawing the pole for the A main. The next car ran both NY series and the third was another ASCS car. Then a URC car and more ASCS cars. That is a pretty strong statement about the level of competition in the NY sanctions.
Our car and motor are in one piece and based on our luck this season, that's a good finish for the season.... a disappointing and depressing finish but something to work with for next year. This will give us the opportunity to get more spares ready and go through what we have. This chassis will get replaced with a new one for next year and hopefully that will be what we need to get things turned around. Just like the gambler with a new winning strategy, we'll be back again, racing and chasing a win.
Fulton Speedway 9-8-07
The changes also gave us a much better understanding of how some setup adjustments work. There is a lot of ambiguity in the setup of a car. Add the wing and everything works backwards from normal chassis technology. The combination of adjustments blend some things to tighten the car while other things loosen. Some of the adjustments work when you are on the pedal and others are delayed at corner entry. It's easy to think that a part of the combination does one thing when it really works the opposite way to minimize or delay the severity of another adjustment.
It's hard to understand and figure out these cars because, among other things, the suspension has lots of conflicts. But when you get a car really dialed in, it will work most everywhere with only fine adjustments. Then you have to guess right on the track conditions and find a racing line that can get you past the cars ahead.
There's a lot of setup by rumor out there, opinions on how things work, and some just plain wrong thinking. There's not a lot of real engineering analysis of what's going on.... not that you can engineer a setup, but when you hear some of the opinions on how something works, it sometimes conflicts with the basic laws of high school physics. Throw in the differences from frame to frame and style of the driver and it's easy to get screwed up. The slicker the track gets, the more difficult setup becomes. The chassis manufacturers have their basic setup sheets but they only go so far.
The challenge of the sport is the mystery of getting the right combination and the guess work needed to pre-judge how the track is going to change and doing it better than the competition so you can beat them. On top of trying to figure out what the car wants, I suppose the thing I've been really bad at this season is the guessing track conditions. I've been fooled a number of times this year, thinking that the track would have more or less bite and missed the setup.
The frustration for us has been that we've been off by just enough that we run with the pack but can't pass and starting in the back every night was no help.
So last week the car worked pretty good and I was moving forward but we lost the brakes part way though the feature. I had put new brake pads in the LF during the week. The pad manufacturers have changed the way they rate the pads now. Instead of soft, medium, hard, the ratings are more about rotor material and cold vs hot braking force, fade, pad material, etc. There was no information about wear. We had some medium pads before that only lasted a couple of races, tried some hard pads and found that they worked great. I though that what I had gotten was hard but apparently not.
Clearly last week's paper clip track needed brakes but those pads wore completely to the metal by lap 10 in the feature. Way too soft! It let the caliper puck move out so far that, with heavy brake pressure, the puck moved past the seal and brake fluid escaped. So that was the reason that the pedal had good feel and then suddenly jumped down a couple inches.This week I found and ordered hard pads.
I've been looking forward to coming back to this track all season. The new setup should overcome the cornering problems we had earlier, in the season opener. The weather was great and the pits filled with 32 cars for this sprints and street stocks race. The lack of modifieds and four other classes meant that the show would run off quickly and the track wouldn't get used up as much. There wasn't much water on the track, making it hard to tell if the moisture would stay. They hadn't tore it up so it would stay smooth, but also, there weren't as many races or as much time for the surface to dry. In the spring I was sure the place would glaze over as usual but it stayed moist and we were really tight. Of course this isn't spring. In fact there hasn't been rain for two weeks. It's been really dry. Well, it will be tacky for hot laps and then we'll have to decide what to do after that.
Luck has always gone in streaks for me. Bad luck streaks have been long and carried over to the next season. Through these periods of bad luck the only good part has been that when bad things happen, they turn out in the luckiest ways... usually it could have been worse.
My luck this season has not been good and the draw tops the list. This race... 37. The open draw is supposed to be a fair and random way to distribute starting positions but as we have seen in years past, there are not enough samples in twenty odd draws for anything approaching an even distribution. Passing points are supposed to balance the bad draw, giving a fast car the opportunity to make points if starting at the back. We haven't had the performance to take much advantage of that either.
The car ran great in hot laps, just about flat out all the way around. When I used them, the brakes were great. It was pretty well balanced and now it was a matter of deciding how much the track would change. I would start 6th in the eight car, 4th heat. The track was drying and there were lots of spins in the second heat. We tightened the car some, hoping it would be just enough.
The start out of four was a scramble into one. There was nothing on top out of two so I stayed low. A spin and a yellow down the back straight. That start was pretty wild.
Restart and I get a really good bite out of four and run the middle of one and two, getting a good shot, low out of two and passing one car getting into three. The car is hooked up pretty good but it's still a tight pack of cars all charging the drying corner in an attempt to get past each other. Then a car beside me, running one lane higher in the corner than me, loses it, turns sideways and comes right across in front of me. I nail the brakes and turn the car sideways to avoid him but there is no time, no room and I hit him with the RF, the back end comes around and then someone hooks my left rear and over I go. Fortunately, I had slowed the car to a point where it rolled up side down and sat there. I hung in the belts, fully pissed off.
The car was hooked up and we were going to have a good night but I got dumped in someone else's mistake. I know that stuff happens and we haven't had many crash issues this season, but two wings in three races really stinks. Yeah it could have been worse.... only a wing and front axle.
I really expected that the kid that spun would come down and say something... apologize. Most guys feel bad about taking out somebody else by their mistake. No one from the well financed team came by. That's a real lack of class but I guess that's all you could expect from a team that names itself... Hazardous. That's racin'. We loaded up and went to the stands to watch the feature.
Woodhull Speedway 9-1-07
Greg, Whip, Whip's daughter Kyla and I found a place in the crowded pits and like the rest of the terrain, there wasn't a level place to be had. We were in a grassy area that was quite a distance from the mound that watchers stood on looking down into where the racing was. We unloaded and I hopped on the ATV to scope out the track. The pits were spread out on this hillside above the track, like a housing development with roads crisscrossing the open rolling field. From the mound, the grandstands were to the left, and the pits behind, were off one and two.
The track was a third mile with two drag strips and two hairpins and banking in the corners like Eldora. The high banked turns, was the feature that defined the track and they looked impressive. There was room to run three wide, no walls, sloped run offs that could be scary but the place looked wide enough that there would be room to race. What was narrow was the layout. The track was about 4 times longer than wide. This made for a short track where you could get speed in the long straights but had to back it in, to get around the corners. The corners were so tight that the low exit speed required a lot of gear to get back down the straight. With the low gear, it was easy to spin the tires anywhere on the track.
The watered surface had only a slimy coating over last week's packed clay. The top of the banking was a longer way around but had no more angle than the bottom. A low cushion of loose dirt would move up the track during the night, not that it was something to lean against, more like something to brush away leaving a ring of moist surface with a little more bite. Up high was fast because of the longer radius but by feature time the loose dirt was at the peak of the corner mountains and it was risky to rim ride. The regulars knew the track and ran in slow and out hard. You could get in, in the middle and drive down the banking, roll around the top, or hug the bottom and catch the sticky stuff coming out. The turns got slick getting in more than getting out.
I let Kyla draw, hoping that it would change our luck but a 42 rolled out of the cage and we were at the back of the heat once again. Only six in the heat and we had a chance to get by a few. The car had been pretty good in hot laps and we were making small changes for the heat. During the week, Greg and I went over the information from the last few weeks with this new setup approach and decided that we were making headway and just needed to back up a step from where we were at the last race. Even though we missed the setup last race and had the car way too tight, it helped us learn the limits and helped center the target.
The heats are tough because the track is usually still pretty good at most tracks and most cars will handle and be fast. It levels the competition, but makes passing more difficult unless you are a lot better than the rest. Our heat had a couple of real good cars and one that had been running his 360 with the 410s all season and doing well. The tracks that run the 410s weekly have competitors that have run those same tracks for years and the racing is very aggressive as the drivers have refined their setups and timing on those tracks and you have to be tough to be competitive. When you run with them... it's take no prisoners and you have to take every advantage. Our group goes from track to track and races less often.... there's more give and take.
At the start of my heat, the front row jumped early and they called it back for a restart. We bunched up again. That was too bad for me because I got into one really good and beat the car on the outside coming out of two. On the restart, I didn't get going out of four as good but there was a little too much aggression and spinning tires at the front and the aggressive driver got into another car and by the time I got there two cars were crashing with wiped out front axles. I squeezed by under the starter's stand. The aggressive one got away.
The race resumed and I finished 4th. The car worked pretty good and was just a bit tight but not bad. The race really gave me a chance to try different lines and approaches to the corners. The cars would still slide to the top if you drove it in hard, even with all that banking. You had to really get the car pitched in and slowed, to run the bottom.
Thanks to the two cars that were towed in from the heat, I would start 10th in the feature. We made a few more small changes and waited as they ran other classes. While we were waiting, a driver walked up to me and said he was starting in front of me and had the aggressive driver starting beside him. That car had taken cars out (including my heat) in many of the few races he had run with us, this season, and the driver now starting beside him was concerned. He said "At the start, I may have to back out early and let him go. I just wanted to let you know so that you didn't run over me. Keep an eye on him at the start. I just wanted to let you know. The car starting inside of you, and I have already talked. Good luck". Well that was good information and a heads up move by the driver.
In the feature I got a good start and beat the car on the inside through one and two. The aggressive driver ran his line and there weren't any problems. I went to the bottom in three and could really get going from the middle, out. In a few laps, I had passed the aggressive driver and was working on 7th and headed for sixth. Corner after corner, I could get under the car ahead but not enough to dive in at the next corner.
Finally I got a good bite coming out of two and we ran deep into three. I hit the brakes and set the car and then the pedal moved another couple of inches and.... no brakes. I drifted up the banking, knowing that I was shutting the door on the other car and shot out of the corner as fast as I could ahead of him. I pumped the brakes in the straight and jabbed them coming into one. It set the car but sparks flew out of the left front and the pedal went down. I decided to not use the brakes at the next corner and let off early and set the car sideways at the corner entry. It worked real good and after a few laps was up to speed working a different line, higher up the banking.
Three cars had gotten by during the loss of brakes. One of them was the car that I crowded out a few laps before. I could tell it pissed him off because he put a slide job on me right to the wall coming out of four and I had to back out. By the end of the race I was able to charge back and get to 9th. Even without brakes, the car handled well enough that I was able to time the traffic and hit the corners just right to race and pass. We learned a little more and we are starting to get this car figured out with this setup.
The track was like we expected, slick in the middle, a little grip
Penn Can 8-17-07
Black Rock 8-11-07
One of the problems in the past has been getting the car to turn in to the tight turn one of this D shaped track. It gets slick there but we've usually been too tight and it won't turn in without pushing or it would break free and want to spin out. We've been working on different combinations to get the car into the corner better but one change needs many other things changed to work with it and we've been struggling to find a combination that works on this car without getting too loose.
The track was drying out in hot laps and would be slick for the heats. The car didn't feel comfortable even on the somewhat moist surface so we made some changes.
I drew 39 and that put me last in a nine car heat that was filled with all the best cars. There wasn't one marginal car in the pack. It didn't matter much though because I was so far off on my setup that I wasn't competitive. There was no sidebite and corner speeds were way off. It's very discouraging, even depressing to be lost like this. We haven't had a good finish this season and I just can't seem to get it right. I had a hunch about what might help and discussed it with Greg. We made a couple of changes for the Bmain to test the idea. Greg was not feeling well but worked hard n the pits to get the car ready.
By now the track had really glazed over and was icy slick. I started 10th in the 11 car race. There was a little moisture at the top, right near the wall but it was very tricky to use and not crash. There was some moisture at the inside of the corners that I could get to if I entered high and turned down across the banking for a low exit. With the turn in problem gone with this setup, the problem we were working on now was to get the sidebite back without getting the car to tight to turn.
The changes were a big improvement and really hooked the car up in the middle. It was enough to stay with the field but I still needed more. Forward bite was not a problem, at least where I was going. The middle of four was icy slick and there was a nasty ridge coming out of four that could take you right into the wall but down low at corner exit there was a good patch of track with lots of bite. About three laps in, I caught that spot and it lifted the front end in a major wheelie and I had to lift to set the front end down. A couple of laps later the front end floated the length of the front straight before it set down. So forward bite wasn't a big problem and the motor is strong enough.
The challenge now is to get the car through the corner with more momentum coming onto the straight. I made it to 6h in the B main but mostly due to cars dropping out. That put us last in the A main. Starting last with a less than great setup is more about survival and testing at this point. The slick narrow track provides a prime opportunity for big problems and it's pointless to challenge from last and risk crashing at the start.
From the back, you have to be ready to dodge everyone else's problems and coming off turn four at the start, the polesitter spun and took the other front row starter into the wall. Everything stacked up with cars four wide in the dusty lights and somehow the front row ended up in the infield and the rest of us got by. The second start was smoother and the pack strung out quickly. I caught and passed one car and chased the next car for the rest of the race. I stayed on the bottom. The leaders ran the top, brushing the walls. The early leader got a flat from his wall adventure and restarted at the back. I tried to follow him but just didn't have enough bite to keep in touch.
I finished. 18th.... and that's always better than not finishing or not making the show but we are still a long way from where we should be and we'll have to make more changes and try to figure this car out.
Rolling Wheels 7-3-07
It may have been the 4th of July (eve) but it wasn't hotter than. The comfortable 70 degree sunny weather with no rain in sight, was great for racing. I took a peak at the track after we unloaded to see if there was any difference from other times we were here. It looked like they were working in a little more depth than normal but it was hard to tell if that would last any longer. It has to be as tricky to prep a track, as setup a car. Tear up the track and it will take moisture but it gets rough as a corn field. Leave the glaze and soak it and the moisture can't penetrate very deep, but the already packed surface stays smooth.
When we pushed off for hot laps, the track was perfect. The middle two grooves were tacky smooth and fast with a loose, marbley cushion and packed but still unused bottom.
At the drop of the green it was flat out all the way around. Every setup works on this kind of track and everyone ran the middle. At the end of the straight it was just 'turn in' and the car swept the corner like it was tied to a post in the infield. This was like some of the tracks I used to run in PA... just lift, set the car and put the pedal back down. It brought back some things I hadn't felt in a while like letting the car turn free in the corner so that the motor didn't bog down.
That flat out run wasn't fast enough to keep up with the hot dogs I was following. We were geared right and had plenty of rpm but lost ground to the cars that have been dominating at the front of the recent races. It was hard to tell if the car was loading the motor too much in the corners or if we were just getting out pulled down the straight. Getting through the corners fast lets you hit the straight at a slightly higher speed and that makes the car look like it has more motor in the straights. Momentum is the key.
There were only a few hot laps and usually you can't learn much there but this all flat out run gave me some insight into where we stacked up against the other equipment. We were short of the bar set by the fastest cars. We're not bad for a budget team, but over the past few years, the equipment in this series has improved substantially. Along with that is the improved setup knowledge, track familiarity and driver skills. Everyone is better than the best cars we had 5 years ago.
On top of that, the series has a rabbit. Every series needs one. It elevates everyone's game. The old saying is that "you're only as good as the guys you race with". It's true. Everyone tries to keep up or beat them. Our rabbit has beat the ASCS National Tour guys, won almost all of our races, and started at the back in other series and drove past their best and won with other driver's back up cars. It is a remarkable standard and one that just makes everyone stronger and try harder. It also makes everyone feel that they have to spend more to keep up. It's local competition at a very high level.
So losing ground to this car and his close competitors has to be taken in context and being as close as we are on a big horsepower track like this is somewhat encouraging. On most nights, in fact on every night in NYS, it's more a matter of handling and driving on these slick tracks than it is horsepower anyway.
Hot laps was interesting and showed that the track had more moisture than normal but this night we were sharing the track with a major big block modified race and there would be modified time trials before our heats and modified heats and a 50 lap modified feature before ours. The track would be slick. My draw was a good one.... 12. That put us outside of row one in the first heat. Beside us was the rabbit and behind us was the other feature winners this season. Not much slack in this heat. I planned a strategy and knew that I had to be very fast. The bottom was the short way around now. I dropped in line in second but got passed on the outside in turn four. I drove in harder but slid up off the bottom and got passed a few laps later. I tried going in higher and cutting across the corner to pick up the sticky bottom off two. The middle was getting slick coming out of the corners. The car would 'hang' as I waited for it to hook up and go. Getting on the throttle too much just made the car slip up the banking. Last lap... getting lined up to drive out of two across the tacky spot and.... there's the front end of another car that beat me to the spot around the bottom.
So I dropped like a rock in the heat. The car handled pretty good but I drove it too hard and left holes that I shouldn't have. We needed more side bite and forward bite for the feature on a track that was going to be really really slick.
We watched the modifieds run and I tried to pick out lines they used that were working. Greg and Whip and I had discussed what the car did in the heat and where we thought we needed to be for the feature. We made a lot of changes that we felt would give us as much bite as we could get with out going too far. The modifieds were already kicking up a lot of dust but you could still see. The track was turning to an icy glaze but the long straights and sweeping turns keep the speeds up. There were a few cars on the top next to the loose dirt cushion but there was no ridge to lean against.
Starting 13th in the feature put me on the inside row. The track was smooth and slick. There were a couple of spots off the corners that had some bite but they were tucked down low.
The first lap was really dusty and there were some points where I couldn't see the car ahead but it would only last for a second. Going into three, everyone ahead checked up and as I braked hard getting into the corner I was drilled from behind by another car. He hit me square and it pushed me deeper into the corner than I was set up for and it shot the car up the banking and out into the cushion. As I turned the car and stood on it to get going again I could see the dark silhouette of cars and wings race by in the dusty lights. I lost about 5 spots and came out of four, trailing in 18th.
On these big ole tracks, things get strung out pretty quick and there was a good long gap to the next car ahead. My car worked good. I ran the bottom of three and four and would be patient to get the car turned hard out of four for the bite on the bottom and I could really make up ground in the straight. The cushion went right to the wall out of four and the middle on out was ice.
In one and two I tried everything top to bottom. I could run the bottom but had to keep it slowed enough not to slip up into the icy groove just above and then pinch it tight off two. There was good bite there but slow coming out. On the very top, I could roll in smoothly and keep a lot of speed but in two, the cushion went over the edge and the exit was all ice. Running the middle worked but the only way to make ground on another car was to drive out across the very bottom off two.
There was no bite from two to halfway down the back straight. The car would hang there and you would wait........... Stand on it hard or baby the throttle, you might as well get out a fishing pole for the pond in the infield because you were going to be there for a while.... at least that's how it felt.
I ran down three cars during the race. I really needed a couple of cautions. Each car was half a straight or more ahead of me. The leader came by toward the end. I tried to follow the rabbit but he was getting a hold of stuff that would just slip by, under me. I drove hard without over driving...... let off late, float the car in, hard on the brakes on the bottom, roll it in at the cushion on top. It was fun to race the track, frustrating not to race more cars.
Our 15th place finish was disappointing but did reflect a bit of a comeback and a lot of ground made up. I had hoped for more but we rolled the car on the trailer and know that our changes worked and just need some refining. You learn from every race and even in disappointment, we can see progress.
The comfortable sunny day changed as race time approached. This hard clay track never works in more than an inch but it is smooth and usually gets a usable cushion and some stick, tight on the bottom. I've run good top and bottom here. The packers were running in the slimy inch of goo when a dark cloud moved in. You could see it was raining west of the track but the part of the cloud over us was narrow with clear skies either way. It sprinkled a bit and then the wind changed and brought the darker part of the cloud toward us.
It never really rained but it did do enough to wet the ground. It moved the track prep back to the beginning. After an hour of packers, they sent cars on the track. Modifieds first then sprints. There was a middle groove with slop on the bottom, and wet above. They had us pick up the pace and one aggressive driver headed up against the dark inviting cushion and kept on going across the slick clay mud at the top. Fortunately there is only a wall at the front straight so he spun off in the grass at this turn but that was the end for us.
After more cars ran the track, we went out for hot laps. Still some sloppy spots. The groove was fast all the way around and I was careful, remembering the problem that a wet spot caused last race. There's nothing to learn on a wet tacky track... everyone's fast... any setup works.
Teresa (wife) was with us and she drew a high number that put us sixth in an eight car third heat. At the start I passed one car going in on the bottom of one. The groove had widened and there were actually some hard slick areas in the groove. For the rest of the race everyone was fast and strung out basically finishing where they started.
In the pits, Greg and I discussed what to do for the feature. We knew it was going to be slick but not as bad as usual. We had planned on a slick track and had set things for that at the shop. Now we had to move away from very slick and guess how much bite would be there in the feature. Also, they did not have as many classes of cars running as usual so we thought that we would see a different track than what we've seen in the past.
With passing points from the heats, the feature lineups tend to settle the cars into a pecking order of speed and draw. Fastest end up at the front and slowest at the back. We were in the middle, inside of the 7th row. The first laps are always uncertain. Lots of cars close by, tires not working fully for a couple laps, trying to figure out what the car is doing on this changed track surface... It takes a couple of laps for things to get sorted out. After two early cautions and as things started to settle in, I (as well as others) could get into the corners faster. On one lap, the front end washed out as I got across a slick/tacky spot between one and two and a couple of cars got by.
The car worked well on the bottom but would sometimes break loose getting in and that made corner entry a bit dicey, as the back end came around a couple of times. I tried a bunch of different approaches but nothing really made a big difference. I stuck to the bottom and as the race went on, the car got better. As we got into lapped traffic, I went to the outside and found that the cushion was pretty solid and the car worked fairly good there. I ran on top for the rest of the race and started to reel in the cars that got by but ran out of time ending up 14th.
After the race, the fans came to the pits which is something that we don't see much anymore. Usually it's too late (with all the classes) and time to get the kids home or we are through and gone by the time the rest of the classes run and pits are opened. But this night we signed a lot of autographs and sat some kids in the car and talked to fans.
When we loaded the car we noticed that the RR tire was loosing air through a hole in the tread. This was a new tire that we put on at the previous race and was cut in that feature. I had it repaired at a tire center but during this race, their inside patch came loose. We had set tire pressures higher than normal due to the sticky track but found that we had lost air after the race. Now we knew why and where. It could be that the lowering air pressure was part of what was making the car work better as the feature progressed. That variable and the unexpected track conditions have made it hard to know what we did right or wrong but we were lucky again to finish on a flattening tire.
Eriez Speedway 6-17-07
I wasn't planning to run this sunday night race, five hours from home, but I took some time off work and didn't have to get up monday morning. I had raced at this track in an Allstar race back somewhere around 1982 but it was a lot different then. Now the track has some banking and walls and a nice wide surface. During the week, they had torn up the surface and watered it heavily, when we poked our noses in at noon to figure out what gear to run. I knew then, it was going to be a rough track.
Greg wasn't feeling well but toughed it out as we got breakfast and chased around to find a carwash and auto parts store. I wanted to try a different brake fluid and some setup changes. We found a nice smooth cement pad at a truck repair shop that was closed and unloaded the car. I went through the setup and made some changes and found a loose brake line fitting that was the reason for last night's brake problems. We flushed out all the brake fluid with new and made some other adjustments.
At the track, they were still running the surface in when we were supposed to start racing. The track had been hard, slick and smooth in the past weeks and they wanted to have it fast and moist for the sprints. In hot laps it was tacky and really choppy with lots of clump and lumps. They had a huge highway roller that they put on the track to flatten the lumps and it really helped. All race night long they were working the track between races and it kept the track raceable.
My draw put me outside of the second row in my heat. As we took the green and headed for one, the car on my inside ran in hard, though the rough stuff and slid across the track in front of me and then had to wait for his car to settle down before he could get going again. Everyone else passed on the inside and I came out of two in last.
There was a big opening down the outside of the straight, along the wall and I thought that I'd fly down the outside and try to get a few spots back on the outside in three. About half way down the straight, my RR hit the slime that they hadn't run in and the LR, still digging, drove the car into the outside wall. It was a slap and I stayed on it as the car bounced off and stayed straight but going into three, I could feel the RR tire going down. I stopped and they towed me in with a flat tire.
In the pits we found that my little slap had also wadded up the W-link so we hurried to put everything race ready for the feature. There was no B-main but it was a full field and I was starting dead last.
With a brand new RR tire and few set up changes we hit the track ready to race. There were a few rookies that were slow and unstable at the back and I knew I would have to be careful to get by them without getting tangled up. Then I would have to race my way though as many cars as I could.
The track was in pretty good shape by feature time and I was able to make my way past several cars quickly. Then I had to catch and race by the rest. A few cautions helped as it would take a few laps to catch the next car while racing and then several laps to get by. Lapped cars kept it interesting and were always in my line. With a few laps to go I caught a car that was running the middle of the track and stuck my nose under going into three. Next turn, he took the bottom and I tried the middle and couldn't make any headway. We finished 13th. It was a good run from 22nd and was all passing except for one car ahead that crashed out. With more laps, there were about three more cars I could have gotten by but we were happy with the handling and I had a chance to really race and drive hard.
Stateline Speedway 6-16-07
Greg and I discussed the options after hot laps and left some stagger on and added some wing and made a shock change for the heat. The track was going to dry but the bottom was wet and would still be tacky in the heat. The surface gets hard here and the middle of the racing line always slicks off with only a powdery cushion at the top.
Well, we were right.... at least about the bottom staying tacky. At the start of the heat, I stayed low in one and coming out of two as I got on the throttle, the front end lifted and the car did a two foot high wheelie. I had to back pedal to get the front to set down and then took off but lost a spot in the process. The bite was good down low so I stayed on the bottom. Next lap, I ran into one and set up to come off the bottom of two. Just as the car got lined up on the straight, it got a hold of that sticky clay and lifted the front end way up. All I could see was hood and sky, so I back pedaled and let the front end down. As the front started to fall I got back on the gas and shot off turn. The car stayed straight and it really wasn't out of control but the wait to get the car back on the ground cost a few more spots. In the pits, we found clay clumped up in the rear bumper.... it stood so high that the rear bumper dug into the track.
So our bad heat finish would start us well back in the feature. I discussed how the car felt, with Greg, and we decided on the changes to make for the feature.
As I was being pushed onto the track, I noticed that the brakes were really spongy. Too late to do something now, I had what I had. Once the car was started, the brakes were weak to none and I knew that this was going to be a tough go. On the opening laps I was really cautious getting into the turns. Pumping the brakes in the straight would get some pedal for the corner, sometimes. One lap there would be too much brake and then on the next corner my toe would hit the torque plate and I'd have 20% brakes. I had to let off early, and give some margin to the car ahead to keep from running over him. Yet with the brakes as they were, I was able to get by some cars. There were a few tangles that took out some cars ahead, but nothing right in front of me.
The line that worked for me was to set the car and turn in right on the bottom of the banking and put the left side on the opposite slope of the infield. It really loaded the RR and kept the car fast around the bottom. I know that many laps I had only the RR tire on the actual track but that's what worked.
Several laps from the end, with my RR planted on the inside edge of the track and left sides in the infield, a car drives by on the inside of me!! I'm thinking, I've only got one tire on the track and he's inside me? They will never let that stand so I didn't worry about him and let him go figuring that they will move him back in the scoring after it is all over.
Afterwards I registered a formal protest with the officials, just to make sure they did deal with the infield passing. After they discussed it they told me that there were six cars that did it and nothing had been said before the race and there were no tires or markers in the infield so they decided not to do anything. I told them that if I had known that I could race in the infield, I would have cut through by the flag pole and taken the lead.
I was paid for 9th. I figure I was 8th.
Penn Can Speedway 6-8-07
The new (used) frame is exactly the same as the others but needed some brackets and dzus tabs to adapt to some of the different ways that our stuff fits. Greg and Whip showed up to disassemble, clean, inspect and reassemble. We worked on the project all weekend and every evening. If we could get this car back together, then we wouldn't have to use the fresh backup car. Sometimes it good to have a deadline to get things done. The big stuff goes quickly, but lots of little details took time and some things had to be repaired or fabricated.
On Friday, I was finishing up just an hour before it was time to leave and keeping an eye on the local weather channel to find out if the front that was headed east was going to wash out the race. It looked like it was going to hit the track about 6:30 so they wouldn't cancel early and we would have to make the two hour tow just in case the storms break up and miss the track.
At the track it was hazy, hot and very humid and they weren't putting much water on the track. Last time we were here our setup was junk and we could not get the car through the turns. We decided that the car was too tight last time so we used a set up that was more free.
In hot laps the car was pretty good. It turned in and was pretty well balanced in the turns. I felt slow through the corners but Whip said we were faster than some and about the same as others so we refined what we had and got ready for the heat race.
I drew 13 and that put me third in heat 3. There were 23 cars and everyone would start the feature with no B main. When they dropped the green I headed into turn one on the bottom in third. I kept up with second but was no faster. A few laps in, and his car hooked up a bit different than he expected and he just clipped one of the large tires that mark the inside of the turn. I saw the radius rod break and knew he couldn't steer so I backed off and waited to see where he was going to go. I figured he'd go left into the infield but the car went right and then part way down the back straight it finally turned left and took him into the infield. I heard a car behind me and thought that they might not throw the yellow so I got back on it and raced into three.
The yellow came out and on the restart I went into one with a car on the inside of me. I slid up to the cushion and the car hooked up pretty good. The rest of the race I ran the cushion and got faster as my confidence in this "new" car was reinforced. I finished second.
My passing points and finish put me seventh in the feature line up. We made a few more changes and waited as they ran the Sportsman and Modified features first. I don't know what they were thinking because it was obvious that weather was coming. It would have made sense to me, to run the touring series (sprints) first and if one of the regular classes got rained out they could do a double feature next week for them. I think that would be a great promotional thing to bring in more fans next week.
But another problem was dust. I don't know what the problem is this year but there has been more extremely dusty races so far this season than I have ever seen. This track was a little choppy in places in the corners and maybe if they put too much water in the surface it gets rough but something has to be done at tracks like this or fans won't come back. One modified driver that was pitted next to us couldn't see a spun car and crashed into them during their feature because they couldn't see though the dust.
Anyway, when it was time for me to get in the car for the feature, the temperature had dropped and I could smell the rain. They pushed us out, lined us up and dropped the green. The track was dried out, and the dust was so thick that the fans couldn't see one end of the track from the other. In the car, the dust was really bad but not so bad that you couldn't see to race.
We had raised the wing and I had moved it forward before the start and now the car was a bit loose. I tried to pull the wing back but it was bound up and wouldn't move. There was a yellow at lap four and I was 6th. So far, I would go in on the bottom and drift up across the turn coming off at the top. This wasn't fast and there wasn't any cushion left. I tried but couldn't get the wing to move. I guess we had too much angle and it wedged tight somehow.
On the radio they said, " Getting the white this time by and it's starting to sprinkle". WHAT? It's starting to rain and they are going to restart the race? Giant drops the were hitting the track leaving spots the size of half dollars!!! I waved to see if they would hold off on a restart to see what this rain was really going to do BUT NOOO.... They dropped the green and water streaked my visor as we went into one.
Yes, I'm a stupid racer just like all the rest out there. I've raced when I know it's not safe and think that I'll get through it or that someone else will have a problem. That's the mentality you have to have when your racing in cars where drivers get killed every year. That's the mentality when you scare yourself every race when stuff happens in front of you or you miss the cushion and barely avoid the wall at 100 mph. Racers are risk takers, constantly pushing the limits of their car and their own sense of fear.... right up to the edge and over... yet they have a strong sense of control and confidence that they can avoid and recover if something goes wrong. Racers dare themselves, the track and each other, every lap, for that carrot of success.... money, notoriety, respect,... beating the other competitors. The officials have to remember that they are holding the reigns on this group of aggressive lunatics and have to make decisions to keep them safe. None of the racer will flinch.
The first lap actually brought the track to me. The moisture was enough to hook up the car on the bottom and I got really good bite for a lap. The dust turned to a mud slime on my visor. One more lap and it was a down pour. The car slid on the slime and I backed off as the yellow I was waiting for, finally came out. My visor was streaked with mud, now kicked up by other cars and water between the tearoffs. I had to lift the visor and look out of the crack to see where I was going. On the radio they said go to the pits.
The race will be completed when we return to the track for another complete program later in the season.
Turns out that not everyone slowed at the same time and one car ran over another when the yellow came out. They brought the car back during the downpour, dangling by the cage from the hook of the wrecker. I don't know the particulars but I'm sure visibility and control were part of it.
Another incident that could have been prevented............................
Thunder Alley 6-1-07
This track is a short third mile with a little banking and no walls in the turns. It's tight racing, but there is enough room for a tight three wide if necessary. The sky was hazy and there was a threat of a pop-up shower. They watered the track late and it didn't look like they had put much on, but in hot laps it was really tacky.
With everyone's setups adjusted for the typical slick tracks that we encounter, it was hard to get the cars to turn. My car had a bad push but I knew that the track would loosen up with more laps, later.
I drew 39 and as it turned out only two other drivers drew worse than me. With only 18 cars in the pits, it meant that everyone would start the feature with ASCS passing points in the heats used for the feature line up. I would start last in the 6 car second heat.
Greg made some changes to the setup to loosen the car up a bit for the still tacky track. Before the heat, a driver came to me and said that he was starting on the pole of my heat, with their team's second car. He was just filling the field and planning to start the feature so that they would be paid last place money. He told me that he was going to stay low so everyone could go around the outside of him. I figured we would get around him in a lap or so. I figured that if he was just going to start and pull in or not race, he would have started last.
When we got on the track for the heat, it was still pretty sticky and a good cushion had developed a couple car widths off the bottom. We entered three and the pace picked up between the turns. I stood on it. The car inside of me jumped about a half car length ahead on the sticky surface and as we rounded turn four I could see that the inside row was jammed up behind the pole sitter. I backed off as the car inside of me moved out to get around the stack up.
I was at his RR and then the car in the second row moved out of line to get around the pole car. When he darted out, the car I was next to had to move to the right and hit my LF tire.
My car pivoted to the right and was headed straight for the 4th turn wall. I only had a few car lengths and part of a second to lock up the brakes and brace myself. The RF corner took the initial impact and the car went in the air, rode the wall and landed on the frame without flipping.
It knocked the wind out of me and my neck and back were really sore. I've been using the Hans device this season and this was my first test of it. I still had a sore neck and back out of the deal but no shoulder bruises. I was stiff and sore for a couple days.
It was a hard hit. It broke the front axle and bent the frame from the radiator forward but no broken welds on this J&J chassis (unlike Maxims). After the incident, we heard some other information. We heard that the driver of the car on the pole had raced with us in the past and was a good driver (when he didn't go at the start, I thought he was a rookie). We heard that the motor in that car had some problems so they didn't want to race it, just start the heat and feature for last place money. We also heard that he wasn't started at the back because another driver(s) in the heat wanted the passing points (which would have benefited everyone in the heat).
We all thought that the car would take off on the start and didn't expect that he would be slow out of four. The track is only three wide at that point and we ended up four wide with me on the outside.
(soap box - on) I'm not sure what all went on to leave this car on the pole but this was another deal where official intervention could have made a safe race. That car should have been put in the back if anyone knew that he was not going to race or that there were engine problems. My other bad crashes have occurred when races were started in the blinding sun, and when someone jumped the original start before the cone (TWICE in the same race) and pinched me over the RR of the car beside me when we got to the cone three wide.
I've said this before...., As racers, we depend on the officials for a safe race. Whether it's lack of visibility (blinding dust, blinding sun, lights go out, fog, blizzard...) making sure that everyone knows the starting and restarting procedures, instructing rookies, making sure that the ambulance is ready, insurance is in place, or taking action where a possible problem exists, it is important for the officials to look at situations and try to prevent unnecessary danger. We just want to race. Fixing trashed race cars does no one any good. Even fans don't like sitting through red flag periods. With many teams racing out of pocket, car counts will drop, as the season progresses, when teams run out of money or just get fed up. (soap box - off)
At home we hooked the cage and lifted the car off the trailer and pulled the trailer out from under the car. I did pick up another spare frame last fall so we'll swap everything over to that frame and start again with this car. Half the fun of racing is putting the car together. I guess for now we'll be having just half the fun.
Black Rock 5-19-07
In my present state, I haven't been able to get the car fully competitive in our regional races yet so adding another ten or twelve unbeatables to the mix didn't offer much incentive to go to this event. Additionally, my luck and performance at the Bully Hill race has been terrible and always costs lots more than I get in return. Further adding to the costs this year, is the required spec RR tire that the national tour uses. So weighing all of the factors I decided not to go the this event.
But then I got a call from the track owner asking if we would come. For him, he was making a big investment in this race with the $40,000 purse and other expenses and wanted to have a large field of cars for the fans. Apparently many teams had been scared off by the added competition or the tire cost or were just not ready. I appreciate Black Rock and Bully Hill supporting sprint car racing in NYS and so I decided to support the event and our ASCS regional group.
The big sticking point for me however was the required RR tire. Even with a discount offered, the cost of a new tire would be substantial and I would only use it at this event. If I didn't make the A-main, it's cost would be almost twice the tow money, so I told them that if they could find a used RR tire for me that I would show up. I called on Saturday morning and was told to check with a couple of teams where I could get a used tire.... cheap.
Teams that put on new tires all the time should have something available. Normally I don't mention other names here but this story is more about the event than our part in it. When we got to the track, I was directed to George Suprick's team and they had a couple of tires that had a race or so on them from running weekly at Susquehanna, and they wanted about half price which was still more than I wanted to spend, so I told them that this track wouldn't wear the tire at all (which they knew) and I'd give it back to them at the end of the night.
In the end we made a deal and I rented the tire for $25 for the night. When we pushed up for hot laps Greg noticed that the LR tire was rubbing on the radius rod. I started the car on the track and made it back to the pits where Greg scrambled to put in some spacers to compensate for the wheel offset difference that we missed when we changed tires at the last minute. In hot laps the car was pretty neutral but needed side bite for quicker laps.
Next was the draw. In the past this race has always been based on time trials and each time I have drawn a late number that put me on the dried out or tore up, rough track at the end of qualifying. This time it was passing points with the draw setting the heat line up. I drew 17 which put me outside pole for the third heat.
Every heat was loaded. This was the third night for many of these teams on this track. Thursday was a practice session, Friday was the preliminary race night and so for me, only racing this Saturday event, we were already two nights behind on setup knowledge and seat time.
On the pole of my heat was a URC car and I thought I might get a jump on him out of four. The low line had more bite and he pulled ahead. I dropped in behind him entering one. I could get into the turns pretty good but had to back pedal through the corner to keep the car from drifting up the banking. Our setup wasn't good enough and in a couple of laps two cars worked their way by on the outside. One was Travis Rilat from the national tour.
It took about two laps for the tire to really work for me and for me to figure out the fastest way around for this setup.... and then I actually started to catch the two that had passed me. I was reeling them in at each corner and thinking of how I would deal with them when I got to them in a lap or two... and then the red came out. The leader got too high coming out of two and slammed the concrete wall.
I had been told about these tires not working on starts and restarts so I tried to scrub a little heat into it but when they dropped the green and I went into one, there was a lot less bite than I had planned and I slid up off the bottom and got passed by two more cars. Going backwards in a passing points race is murder and I was definitely in the B main. I can't complain about the circumstances because my starting spot gave me every opportunity but if the red had not come out I think I would have stayed third and possibly challenged to get a spot back. Rilat went on to win the heat.
In the pits, I went over to Rilat and talked to him a bit about the track. He said he never had run on anything this slick and had a terrible time with his car on the previous night and made a lot of changes for tonight. I thought the track was better than most times I had run here in the past so that gave me a little more confirmation of how slick these NYS tracks are.
We got ready for the B main, added some wing to compensate for not having a wickerbill that we normally run (ASCS national rule) and took out more stagger. I was starting 5th in the first of the two, 10 car, B mains... they were taking three from each. 5th meant that I had done better than half of the cars that didn't qualify but it was still going to be difficult to get past the cars ahead.
At the green, I stayed at the bottom and found good bite getting off the corners, I raced side by side with the 6th place starter on the outside. The give and take lasted several laps until he got a better bite off the top of two and I slipped up a bit in the middle. He closed the door going into three. I finished in 6th. We were better than in the heat but we still have some work to do.
Greg, Whip, his daughter Kyla and I, loaded up our stuff and crossed the track to watch the A main from the stands. It looked like one of the better Bully Hill crowds I'd seen. I don't know whether it was the change of date to spring instead of fall or good weather or the national tour entries but it was good to see the stands at least half full for this event.
The front starting spots were populated with national tour stars, Wayne Johnson, Jason Johnson, Gary Wright, Travis Rilat .... all names that I had seen week after week for winning races across the country. A few rows back were some ESS and Patriot cars.
The Friday night show had been won by Chuck Hebing, beating all the national stars, but this was a two day show and it was already evident that the tour teams had adjusted. There was also word that Chuck had hurt his motor at the end of the feature on the previous night and couldn't fully solve the problem for tonight's race.
When the race started, the front row charged deep into the first turn trying to out-maneuver each other. Wayne Johnson stretched out a several car length lead and by lap 10 they were moving into heavy lapped traffic and lots of dust. Rilat had used the top to pass several cars and get to second.
The caution came out and set up clear track for the leaders. Wayne Johnson was running the middle of the track where a ridge of bite remained. There was a loose dirt cushion at the very top, that was more marbles than bite and Rilat crowded it lap after lap. At the restart the two drove into one, only lifting the throttle for an instant to set the car. Their motors winding to the limit, the dried out track was creating clouds of dust much like what I'd seen at Rolling Wheels a couple of weeks ago but not as totally blinding. With visibility clouded, these two dueled for the rest of the race.
Each lap Rilat would get a run off four and have to back out midway down the front straight as Johnson would drift out to the wall. Laps were clicking off and Rilat continued the charge as both cars entered turn one, now without lifting, lap after lap, with Rilat just to the outside of Johnson's RR tire. Rilat drove in high in three and nearly went over the edge of the banking and Johnson got a couple car lengths distance. A few laps later with only a few laps left, Rilat showed his nose on the bottom of four and next lap got a run off the top of four to finally have just enough room between Johnson and the wall to get along side.
At turn one he closed the door hard and drove off to a two car length win a few laps later. It was impressive to watch that wide open duel on a track that was as dried out slick as I know it can be. After the race I had a chance to talk to Rilat some about the race and his setup. He hadn't done anything much different from the standard stuff that most people do for a slick track but he definitely drove it different.
His eyes were still squinted and tearing from the dust that was crusted around them. His uniform was gray with dust. He said he couldn't see the front stretch wall until he got to it and said that if the leader drove into the wall, he would of too because it was in the dark and dust. We talked for a while as he was still pumped from the adrenaline rush of battle. A nice guy and a good representative for the national tour.
For the fans, it was a heck of a race and something that should stay with them for a while. Hopefully word of mouth will let other race fans know what they missed. For the local sanctions, we had solid competitors including one run from the B main to 5th. With the win by Hebing on Friday and several finishers in the top 10 on Saturday, this national tour event validated the competitiveness of ESS and the Patriots against the best 360 teams in the nation.
For us, we weren't far off and I learned some things that I hope we can use to get faster.
New York State Bully Hill ASCS Nationals 5-18
The high banked, one third mile, in northwestern PA usually develops
It was overcast and there was a 20% chance of afternoon rain at
We remembered a little gas station on this road from last trip and
At the top of the hill was "steep grade" signs warning
This was like super speedway cars coming down off the banking onto the flat apron to keep from running out during a caution. We still had some gas but how much?
How far to the nearest gas and how would we get there if we ran out. Contingency plans were being made. We could siphon the gas from the ATV and that would get us down the road further, that is, if we could siphon and if we could get it into the tank and if it would be picked up.
Or we could dump a 5 gallon fuel can of methanol into the race car and then take the ATV and empty can down the road to get gas. I've tried methanol in the tow vehicle before and that doesn't work well. If you do it early enough, you can stretch the gas a bit but you can also stall the motor on the wrong mixture and who knows how the computer might screw up the fuel system.
The tension increased as the miles passed and finally we saw a
sign.... it was a restaurant. As we got closer, a gas station appeared
around the corner.
The promoter pulled the plug when he feared a low fan turn
Rolling Wheels 5-6-07
We had talked about what to do with the setup to get rid of the corner entry push but didn't want to set up for last night's race and be way off today. So we made a few minor changes to see what the car would do in hot laps. When I got on the track the car was pretty neutral and the surface already had slick spots coming off the turns. In the past, this place has turned into an ice rink so we decided to go with a fully dried-out-track setup for the heat.
The same cars showed up as the night before. The boycott by the other sanctions held and provided all Patriot regulars with a full field and a guaranteed starting spot in the A-main. My draw of 31 put us 5th in the third, 8 car heat. On the track the sun was high enough that the wing shaded the cockpit.
The track had a half car width tacky lane around the very bottom. The middle was slick and the top cushion was dry and loose. I stayed at the bottom from my inside starting spot and could really accelerate through the middle and off the corner. I stayed 5th in line until near the end when I saw a wheel inside of me at the end of the back straight. The middle was no match for the fast bottom groove and I dropped to 6th and lost one spot.
Loosing a spot in the heat has a big effect on where you start in the feature, or if you will start the feature, when the fields are larger. Every position in the heat is worth fighting for, which makes good racing for the fans.
In the pits we found that we needed to make some more changes to compensate for running such a low amount of stagger and with the track getting slicker. The sun and wind continued to dry the track and the Big Block Modified heats were going to polish whatever was left.
When feature time came I knew the sun was going to be a big problem. It was only a couple of diameters above the horizon and was directly in our eyes from the third turn until we got out of four. As we lined up, the cars in front were a black silhouette against the sun and clear sky. The banking shadowed the surface and the fourth turn was in the dark.
Last season I lost a car under these same conditions. It was a heat race then, and my visor glared in the sun so that I couldn't see ahead of me. I took the risk that no one would screw up in a heat race but lost the bet when the very experienced leader, missed the cushion and spun across the track at the exit of four. Others spun to miss him but I didn't see any of them and drove into the mess wide open.
This time I had a newer visor with some tape above eye level and sun glasses. It was much better but couldn't overcome the high contrast ratio. I kept thinking that they should just have a 20 minute intermission and this would not be a problem. It took more than 20 minutes to clean up my crash last season.
But the show must go on and as they say, it's the same track for everyone so with full disregard for safety, they dropped the green on the leaders as the front row was in four. My outside row, 18th starting spot put me at the entry of three and in the middle of a now, giant, dense cloud of dust which blocked out the sun and all visibility. I couldn't see the car in front of me, one car length ahead. I creeped around four and ran quarter throttle down the straight not knowing where the first turn was.
There must have been some peripheral vision or infield landmarks to keep us all headed in the right direction but there was only 10 feet of visibility and I was going 50 mph or so and that was too fast. I didn't want to hit the end of the inside wall at the end of the straight and really slowed down. As I approached the corner, I had to brake even more for other cars running slower.
I got past the inside barrier and found the bottom of the track and followed that line. Some cars from behind were blindly going past. The dust cloud was the same all around the track. It was like racing in a heavy snow storm. I have run a lot of races and haven't seen this kind of blindness from dust since I ran a midget at the Bloomsburg fair in the 70's. I thought about pulling in but figured that this dust would blow off. Some cars pulled in.
There was a caution at lap two for a car that spun. I thought about the slick track and a spun car sitting sideways in front of me but I was going so slow that I figured I could miss them. I wanted to race. I wanted to try the setup changes. I like this track and I wanted to run this race.
The officials ignored the danger and unfairness for the cars in the back and restarted the race. The front of the pack could see and were racing hard. The middle of the pack strung out to 10 car lengths to the next car. They ran top and bottom, side by side where they could see each other. The sun made the dust cloud bright or shadowy depending on whether you were headed into the sun or away.
After a couple of cautions the rest of the race continued without incident. Enough cars pulled in and the rest got stretched out to where you could see the turns about 10 car lengths before you got to them. The scariest thing was when I passed a car in the straight that was headed for the pits. It was along the wall and going 30 mph slower. It flashed by on the right and I realized that if I had been in the high groove, it would have been nasty.
The pace picked up as the cars spaced out and at the end I got to run a few hard laps, more from practice than vision. We finished 16th. I don't know if it would have helped to put any water on the track but it would have been good to spend twenty minutes trying and let the sun go down in the process. It was a "show must go on" decision to keep the fans content and give the large crowd what they paid to see. I don't know if they would have been any more disappointed with a watering delay than with not being able to see the cars.
The modifieds ran after us under the lights. I sat in the stands at the end of the straight and couldn't see any cars until they passed the starter stand. Then after they passed me, I could not see them in the first turn, right in front of me. They came out of the cloud in turn two and disappeared when they got to three. One car hit the end of the inside wall at turn one and there were a couple of other spins but no big crashes. That was mostly due to the cars in the back running at very low speeds that allowed for solid braking and steering.
Not much of a race to watch because there were only a few cars that could really race. It was a screw job for the racers and the fans for a high ticket priced event. The track was so dry to start with and glazed by feature time that it would have taken quite a while to fix the track.
The racers were all lucky or maybe smart enough to not go fast, so that there wasn't a lot of equipment destroyed or someone hurt. As racers we depend on the sanctioning body and officials to provide us with fairness and a safe place to race. I understand that they don't want to upset the promoters so that we can book shows in the future but when racers can't see, it is unnecessarily dangerous beyond normal racing. When the sun is directly in your eyes, the dust or fog is too thick to see the cars, or the lights go out, it is not safe to race and as racers we depend on the officials to make that call. If we stop on the track we'll be put to the back but it was stupid for me to stay out on the track. Who said racers were smart.
Fulton Speedway 5-5-07
Greg and I finished the second car and took both cars to the parking area at Brewerton Speedway and fired them to check for leaks etc. The Jimmy D motor was freshened and we dropped that in the car that we finished last season with. The new car is the LPS repaired frame from last year's big crash at Black Rock. With similar paint it will be hard to tell them apart but there are some different parts that you can see.
First races are at Fulton and Rolling Wheels on the first weekend of May. Should be lots of cars. We usually can run good at these tracks and without any practice session (all rained out) I will be green, but on familiar territory.
After weeks of rain and cold, the weather finally shifted and brought bright cloudless skies for the racing weekend. When we arrived at the track we found a heavily watered track and a light car count. The bulk of the cars were ASCS Patriots but there were a few defectors from ESS and URC. The ASCS threat has created a split of sorts in NYS and PA with teams aligning with a sanction and not crossing over. Rumors abounded about drivers from other series being strong armed and threatened with penalties if they ran with ASCS. Maybe the other teams were just not ready (not).
No doubt that ASCS is a threat to the old established groups and with a lower purse, very enticing to promoters. Still with $1300 to win and $250 to start, it's not a bad deal to run with. For the regulars of the series, we're just racers who used to run with ELS until that folded and then the Patriots. We've had three series owners in the short history of the group and we're glad to be racing. Now, being a region of ASCS, and with a couple of strong, traveling regular competitors like Howland and Hebing, there is a lot of credibility to this series. While the competing sanctions are hoping that low car counts may disappoint promoters, the size and financial strength of ASCS will probably carry though.
The unfortunate thing is that there is a need for two series in NYS so that more teams can race, but there really isn't enough tracks to go around. Without a major weekly track running sprints with broad state wide promotion and recognition, wings are wings to the promoters. The average fans don't know the names but like to see the scary fast cars.
At a time when DIRT has cut the purses for its northeast premier class, the DIRT Modifieds (and pissed off the big names in that series) the price of a sprint show will rule. The only equalizer will be if all series have the same cost to the promoter and most likely ASCS will grow to that price point in time. The other sanctions have worked a long time to get to the level they are charging and paying their racers and they do not intend to come down. It's not a big difference but with lowering front gate revenues, it's enough.
The good news is that there were 23 cars and everyone was in the A-Main. The new ASCS procedures were in place so every night is an open draw and passing points are used to set the feature lineup. The top six run a dash to set the first three rows. Now anyone who's a racer can just show up to an ASCS show (common 360 rules) and have the same shot as the regulars. There's no penalty if you haven't raced with them before.
The track was another concern for this night. They had more water than time and spent an hour grading off a couple inches of heavy, wet clay that wouldn't pack. Starting an hour late was fine because the sun had set behind the first turn wall. It was windy and that made 55 degrees, feel real cold. I drew 68 out of 75 pills. That put me 7th of 8 in the third head. It was a loaded heat with a couple of cars I could battle.
With only four hot laps of practice, I started the heat and made it to 5th. The car was tight going in and I had to wait on it to get off the corner. I tried the top and made a pass but also lost some ground on the slick exit. We needed to get into the corner without that push. We made some changes for the feature to loosen it up a little getting in but we didn't want to be loose in the middle or on exit. Tricky.
My passing points made up some for the bad starting spot and put me 13th starting spot in the feature. There was still some bite in the track, down low, and slick in the middle with a loose cushion. The feature went off smoothly. There were a couple of cautions and by mid way I was 10th.
After the restart, there wasn't as much bite and I lost a spot and then near the end of the race, I drove in a bit hard and higher than I wanted to and with the help of a rough spot in the track, the back end broke loose and came around. I saw the on coming traffic and looped the car around and out of the way up on the cushion and kept it off the wall without stopping.
They didn't throw the yellow so I fell back in line 18th and finished there. Not a bad run for us but the car was still very tight in and I had to slow and wait for the push to end before I could get on it. They gave me a "Smooth Move" contingency $50 award for that 360 spin. We rolled the car on the trailer and we were ready for the next race.
4-2-07 Getting ready for testing
3-15-07 Winter update
The winter here has been a weird one. Temps were in the
50's when they should have been in the 20's, with no snow up until mid January. When the
cold came, it swept across the Great Lakes and dumped tons of snow on a 30 mile wide band
that was just 10 miles north of us. They got 2 or three feet each day for a week. The
light fluffy snow was compacted as new amounts piled on, but the snow levels did actually
measure 6 to 8 feet in the open fields. Where we are, the snow bands would drift south for
a while and then swing back north as the westerly winds wobbled around. We would get 4 to
10 inches a day and that could be handled.
1-15-07 Season buildup
I've been doing some calculations with the new
qualifying system that ASCS has dropped on us. Next season's qualifying is going to
be dog eat dog. ASCS uses passing points. There were a couple of
occasions years ago when I was running some World of Outlaw shows where we got a late
start due to rain during the day so they decided to eliminate time trials and use passing
points. I didn't like it then and it doesn't excite me much now.
The motor that we ran this past season was still running great but just to be on the safe side, it is now in line at Jimmy D's Speed, engine shop for a rebuild. Jimmy will magnaflux and inspect the bits and pieces and replace rings and bearings and freshen the heads. Jimmy's work is top notch and gives us the security that the motor is the best it can be.
Our second motor has been lying in wait and we are happy that we didn't need to use it. We don't know much about it's performance so we will put this motor in the other car and give it a try this spring.
The J&J frame that I bent up at Black Rock has been repaired by LPS Racer's in Lebanon, PA. Rick did a perfect job of replacing the damaged parts and putting everything right. The frame looks like new and is now coming together as the backup, second car for the team. This is a luxury that I never had when I was racing full time in PA and it makes me happy to see two cars in the shop. We have the axles and steering box in place so it's time for plumbing, seat and brake lines. We are building some new pieces as the assembly continues.
Drop me an email if you would like to join in on the fun and work with us at the shop.