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First Race

Don and myself’s original goal was to run the school, get my license, and anything other than that was a bonus. So far, the entire cost of bringing the car up to spec, the school and race entry fees, and other misc things is less than a weekend at Skip Barber that would net me the same license (the same one Don has, as he went to SB and ragged on their cars).

Soooo…The idea of racing on Sunday left me more excited than a senator in an airport bathroom, namely that this is my first wheel-to-wheel race, with other drivers actually trying to win (rather than the less-aggressive school days).

The day started as usual – remove the spark plugs, use a blow-torch on them to get them hot, push start car and let it warm up. It takes a while for the car to warm up, as today is about 45 degrees with a high of only 55. There was talk of snow on the forecast a few days ago, but it seems to have passed. This is a good thing, given my issues with rain tires and slicks, I don’t need any other complications.


The day has 5 groups/classes of cars, each with their own 35 minute qualifying session, and 22-lap race. My qualifying is just after 9:30am. Qualifying is a little more relaxed, in that, I can show up a few minutes late, wave to the grid-starters and just drive out into the pit and onto the track.. Given our starting issue (lack therof starter), this is nice as I don’t have to stop the car, and risk the chance of stalling it.

I head out for qualifying, just behind the big group of cars that were lined up waiting. We all have cold tires, and my car isn’t fully warmed up yet. Driving cold slicks on a cold track is much like ice skating. You don’t steer the car so much as you suggest which way you’d like it to go, then eventually, maybe, or not, it will go that direction. Or, it will snap around on you before you can say “hitting-that-wall-is-gonna-cost-alot”.

I feel good during qualifying. My only hiccup was that even though I taped over part of the front radiator intake, in order to get the engine temperature higher on this cold day, I still didn’t get the car above 150f degrees. The engine really needs 180-190 to be able to blip the throttle as required during downshifts. This resulted in some squirrelly downshifts – where the engine would drag the rear tires down pretty quickly, upsetting the traction on the rear of the car. Some corners left me looking more like a Ricer-Drift-Central video game than road racing.

Anyhow, I qualified with a 121.something. That put me 12th position out of 26 cars. Not too bad!


My run group, group 4, gets to race around 3:30pm. Group 4 includes Formula 500, Formula Vee, Formula First, Formula Ford, and Club Formula Ford (me). Most of the cars are equally matched with just a few seconds difference in laptimes. It makes for some close racing, which is always good with open-wheeled cars that will flip/do crazy things when you touch wheels with each other. Most generally avoid doing that. Those who don’t avoid touching other cars wheels generally only do it once.

I will write more about the actual race when I get some spare time.. For now, look at the pretty pictures. I should also have some better race pictures up, courtesy of my instructor who has a camera that costs as much as our race car.

Out of the 26 cars in group 4, I started 12th, and finished 10th. My fastest lap time was a 120.6xx. Which, I think is respectable for my first time out. A well prepped car and good driver could do 1:15-1:16. Not too bad for 1.95 miles (avg 84-86mph).

Don\'t I look snazzy?
If you’d like a signed poster of this, let me know. No, really.

Bruce Lindstrand drove this car (customer car, I recall) amazingly quick, even without a clutch.

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Getting to the track

Loaded up

Thursday began my first of two vacation days from work.. And predictably, it began with a conference call for work, then 2 hours of stuff that had to get done before I left, then another 30 minute call to explain what to do in my absence. So much for a full day off.

After finishing up work, I loaded up the car and trailer. It is amazing how much crap you have to bring…Tools (lots of tools), extra parts, tables, tents, fluids, cleaners, funnels (yes, multiple funnels!) and more.

I had picked up a few items during the day, and was just left with filling up 2 fuel jugs with race fuel from the local Mobil, and getting some beef jerky, which is required for all drives more then 30 miles for me.

I stopped to get race gas at a Mobil station that I’d never been to before. A few indicators of how the weekend would progress began here:

– I can’t drive a trailer worth a damn. I’ve never had to. I can pull it around, and back it up in a field, but I’ll admit my backing skills in tight areas simply sucks. So, I pull into the gas station, find the race gas pump, and need to backup. I backup over the gas pump hose, and miss the pump by a good 3 inches.
– I get situated at the pump (by not being parked on the hose) and fill up a 5-gallon container with race gas. $5.99 a gallon. Let’s hear it for foreign oil (insert other political blog link here), whatever. As I go to put it into the back of the Jeep, I spill at least 64 cents of my new shiny fuel all over me, the back of the car, and the stuff inside the car.
Lesson learned: Fill up your new fuel jug with water, and make sure it doesn’t have any leaks, before filling it with gas and expecting it to be watertight.

So I get on the road to head Northwest, with a Jeep smelling like gas and not beef jerky. In my gas-spillage adventure, I forgot about the beef jerky. Oh well. The drive lasted about 30 miles into the 50 mile trip from Don’s house in Crystal Lake to Blackhawk (South Beloit, IL) before started raining. Then it started raining really really hard. I believe this was just after Don, via phone, said “wow, there’s a huge red band on the radar right where <click>.”

I tried finding an overpass or drive-thru to park the car under, as you can see it isn’t covered and the idea of everything being soaked wasn’t too appealing. Alas, I’m in the middle of nowhere with a few grain silos, lots of trees, a tornado here or there, and no cover from the rain. Everything gets wet and dirty.

Trip to Blackhawk, in the rain

I got to the track early, but couldn’t get inside as there was a test day going on. My rain tires were inside the track, courtesy of Andy @ Schulz Motorsports, which I planned to get mounted today for the rain tomorrow. A series of unfortunate events led me to not being able to get the tires until after the tire shop near the track was closed. Oops.

The SCCA registration folks were great – I clearly was lost. Marry Ann, Sue and Bob were very patient with me to get everything straight. My novice permit logbook was sent to my PO Box in Ohio, but arrived only after I had left for Chicago. Apparently showing up to race without a license or any paperwork is not cool. But, after a few phone calls, some printouts, and offering my first-born I was ok with the powers that be.

Once inside the track, I started getting things setup. It was rainy, and everything was soaked as expected. I also learned another valuable lesson: Setup everything beforehand to make sure it works. One of the ez-up tents that Don had bought was missing a leg. Luckily, a bungee cord, a tie-down-strap, and the trailer worked to hold it up. Once Don and Michelle arrived, I was clearly explained the downsides of my half-ass-structure-job. I’m not an engineer. Both of them are engineers. Whatever, you dorks, it held up.

After getting everything together at the track, we ventured to the lodging facility Michelle had arranged for us. I refrain from saying motel, or hotel, because I’m not sure what to call this place. In my travels for work, I experience some crappy places to stay. Some have smoky non-smoking rooms, some have loud traffic all night long, some have a lobby that scares me. This place had everything, and everything worse. I’m going to save my writing on this establishment for or Let’s just say Michelle wore her flip-flops the entire time while in the room, and no one looked up once I questioned why there was silly string on the ceiling in our room. Uhm…Right.

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Buy parts rather than make them, what a concept!

When we got the car, the left lower trailing arm for the rear suspension was a tad bit, uhm, bent . Take alook just to the left of the “S” in this picture… It was bent just a few degrees, and it seems the car had been realigned with the bend factored in.

The car could have probably run with the old arm, but, given the surprises we’ve found on the other suspension components it was best to get a new one. A month ago, I would have just drive with the bent arm, but now that impending doom on a race track is 3 days away, I’m a bit more liberal with the things that might break and jettison my ass into a wall.

The original idea was to get some chromoly tubing and 10 hours of free time, and make a new tube. However, we’re wising up that sometimes we should just pay someone to do somethings. Given that the car needs to e on a racetrack in 4 days, it was a wise choice..

Yves @ Historic Race Car,, (luckily 5 minutes away in Crystal Lake) was able to make a new arm in short order for us… And, relative to other parts recently purchased, this was cheap (insert new picture here).

We also had a poor situation with the exhaust (see the above picture, that silver looking debacle has more holes than a pepper shaker).  The current exhaust system on the car was a bit old… rusty might be another word for it. Once we determined that the popping and richness from running around the shop was due to the ‘holy’ exhaust, it was time to replace it. The problem is, “time” to replace ended up being Friday afternoon when we needed the replacement exhaust Monday. Go buy stock in Fedex if this continues… $167 to ship the darn thing.

Here’s how it looks – pretty darn nice (made by Porter Racing in California)

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