Archive for July, 2009

Formula Ford 40th Anniv @ Road America

Pregame

So now that Lindstrand Motorsports has my car, I’ve mitigated my bad luck of just getting to the track a fair amount..

On Thursday, my prep for the 3-day weekend involved grabbing my gear from the closet, throwing some spare parts in the truck that I forgot to send with the car, and driving the 400 miles (well, with a brief stop in Milwaukee Airport to pick up a friend, Christian, who flew up from Florida) from Dayton to Elkhart Lake.   Much less stress than loading and driving the truck and trailer setup….

This is a welcome change of the usual prep – which involves taking a day off work, getting the trailer from storage yard, loading it up, loading the car, fixing whatever breaks on the truck, etc etc…

The drive up was uneventful, other than Chicago traffic at 2pm in construction, and my first experience with Leinenkugel’s light beer, for two reasons –

First – this beer sucks.  I stopped at a grocer just outside the Milwaukee Airport while waiting for Christian’s delayed flight to arrive, and stocked up on beer, some snacks, etc.  I’ve had Leinenkugel stuff before – mostly Sunset Wheat and some other fruity variation – so I figured their light beer might be good.  The two lessons I learned in college but didn’t stick include: do not buy beer if it comes in 20-count cases, and don’t buy beer in a can.  I broke both of these rules with this crap….
bad beer
….and Second – when drinking this imitation beer (if you haven’t associated this with something yet – think Keystone and Busch beer – ass in a can, good for putting out fires, etc), if you desire to pour it out because it inducing vomiting in your mouth, do not do this while in the cell-phone waiting lot at the airport.   With a laptop. And a camera.  In a big white truck with a tinted contractor shell full of boxes and gas cans.  It is frowned upon by airport police.

Anyhow. I digress. We get to the track around 5pm, where registration lines are surprisingly short.  I have to say, that, with hundreds of people coming in for this event – the SCCA volunteers really did a fantastic job of getting everything right (thanks for Kay Imig!) and done quickly.

As we drive through the paddock to the trailer – the place is covered with Formula Fords.  They’re everywhere from all levels of ‘investment’ – everything from small SUVs towing single-axle open trailers to 53′ race rigs that have more square footage than my house.

Friday practice

So onto racing, or least practice – Friday morning I arrive at the track to find my car under a tent at Lindstrand’s trailer.  I must say this is a nice way to show up at the track.

Until today, I have only driven two laps at Road America.  This was two years prior in my Porsche for some casual Sunday drive around the track at the KIC.   Luckily, there are a ton of newbies to RA like me; so, they are offering instructional-rides around the track in the morning.

It seems all the track vans were down at the river, so Bill Bonow offered up his stylishly-creepy, yet functional-as-seen-like-in-this-pic Sprinter van down to tote around us Road America virgins.  I had the priviledge to have Duck Waddle at the helm (no, really!), who has more years of racing than I do on this earth, and is an instructor with SCCA and Skip Barber at Road America.

He took us in a stop-and-go trip around the 4+ mile track for one lap, explaining and showing what to do at each corner.  Then, we took a faster lap (well, as fast as the sprinter will go without mimicking a tour bus on a cliff-edge road in Pakswanistany) bouncing around the track’s rumble strips.  It was very educational.

So, finally onto the track. Well…..maybe.  About 15 minutes before the first morning practice session started for Club Formula Ford, with a planned 100+ car count (as seen with my #171 – which you never see 100+ at an event), I got all suited up.  Jeff, with Lindstrand, strapped me in; which, I must say was much more accommodating in the seatbelt + nuts department than my girlfriend was at the last event.  I’m still unclear if it is because I’m a jackass to my girlfriend (you’re the best, Elizabeth! don’t pull so hard on that strap) or Jeff likes me too much (highly unlikely).

I fire up the already-warm engine, and Nick and Web start to push me out of the comfort of the trailer and tent into the paddock for the first time.  We get about 12 feet.

I hit the brakes, and, since no one can hear anything (I’m in a helmet, and they’re 2 feet from the tail pipe), frantically waive my arms (see picture below) and clap to get their attention.  I’m pretty sure I look like a retarded sea otter clapping at this point.  Nick runs up, and with a what-the-hell-is-your-problem look on her face, asks “What the hell is your problem?”

To which I reply, “Where do I go? I’ve never driven here before!”

IMG_0398

It seems that during my brief drive around the paddock in my truck, and Bill Bonow driving me over to the track in the Sprinter for our morning tour; I had no idea where to get on the track, or even where pit lane was.   After a brief set of directions – go down here <points left>, go past the bathrooms, past the big white tent, then there is a chain link fence,turn before that, turn right, then you’re in pit lane.

So, I follow directions and get over to the pit lane entrace.  I am just at the end of the cars heading out (mildly late), which was somewhat planned and ok by me – this means I do not have to wait to go out on track.  And, in most situations mean that I will have a good amount of time to myself, at the back of the pack of cars out practicing, to learn the track at a tad slower speed.  Well, with probably 60 cars showing up for practice, this is a horrible idea.   I exit pit lane at about 50mph thinking that there will be no other cars around except the other late-arrival behind me, and quickly find my left mirror useful as a early-out car whizzes by me at 110+ mph going into corner one.

So, now I am out on track with all the fast guys that showed up early to practice.  At this point in authoring this thing, I looked at mylaps.com at the practice session – 87 cars!  That’s a ton of racecars in a 4 mile one-way road.

For those of you who read this for the racing and car content, my first lap was a 3:20 something (yeah, that sucks) and after 4 laps 2:50.  Thats an average speed of ~70mph up to 85mph, which is slow as congress but for a first time out with a ton of traffic (and I passed people!) I was happy. I should say now that this is the first time I’ve been out since Grattan with the Hawke, and Bruce and Nick did a baseline suspension job at their shop.  The car feels fantastic – at speed in a straight the car is much more stable, most likely attributed to having a negative rake setup before, and the car just being aligned properly.  And, most amazingly, the car turns equally left and right.  I used to think I should give up this road course thing and just goto ovals that turned left – as my car turned left mucho better than right, due to some suspension quirks (never the driver, promise).

My practice time was #82nd out of 97 cars.  I suck ass.

Rather than explain why I suck, I’ll just say I went out for the next session – an FF70/Vintage FF group – where I was running 23 out of 41.  Much better than 82/97, but still disappointing for some reason.   My best lap was a 2:48…with my two best laps only 0.039 seconds apart.  I felt I hit my best after maybe 10 laps around Road America.  Oh well.

Friday CFF qual 1

Around 2pm on Friday, I went out for qualifying.  This session – to my own little personal victory – I actually got to the track on my own.  I also had the awesomeness of having radio communication in my helmet back to Jeff w/ Lindstrand.  Bruce Lindstrand and Larry w/ Trackside Communications put a nice radio system in my car between the sessions – I’ve wanted radios for a while, and the price discouraged me.  However, once I get at the track that caution seems to go away – so without asking price, I decided it would be a good idea.

Two afterthoughts on this – first, it was a good idea – for the knowledge that a radio-equipped-crew-member can provide, including pit talk (including Bruce’s horrible jokes), speed (its hard to remember how to take a turn when there are 14 of them) and safety (flags, when to pit, what to do on a black flag, etc) – which reduced my retarded-sea-otter-clapping……. and second, you should know what you want and what you can afford; as, a setup that will work at every corner at Road America (a 4+ mile track with lots of woods and elevation changes) will cost $1500.  Ouch, says my 401k.

The qualifying was busy – real busy – while I will not complain that “I could get a clean lap out there, cars where everything” because I was the “everywhere car” for the fast guys – it was a blast.  I was surprised with the courtesy and smoothness of the operation.

I dropped only a little to a 2:47, which got me 80th out of 97 – not too thrilling.

Saturday FF70 qualifying

fri_grp_4_pract_462Summary: 15th out of 48 FF70/vintage cars.  My best time was 2:44.693.  Down 3 seconds from the last outing.  I’ll note that I was on heavier rims sporting Hoosier R35 tires (courtesy of Allen, thanks!), and not the usual CFF R60s.

In this qualifying session, I seemingly lost the idea that it was qualifying and not a race.  I believe I was following one of the Lenhart crew (Ian or his dad?) for a lap or two, and knew I could pass him.  So, on the carousel, I got a good run and decided to go out on the left to pass, about 200 feet before you return to the apex at the carousel.  I get out to the left of the track and realize why no one ever comes out here – its really slick – rubber curds everywhere, a cactus, some oil, a small fishing hut, etc, its all out here on the outside of the carousel.
Well, at this point in the top of 3rd gear I decide to slow down and get back into order before I go off the track and annihilate myself, which I think I’m doing about 85-90mph, I hear Bruce in my head saying “it only gets worse if you lift”.
So, in good order to learn from my elders (and I’ll tell you, Bruce is waaaaay my elder) I do not lift, but I do feather the throttle a little and let the car continue its direction.  This takes me off the left of the track, into the grass.  I believe I ran right over the outer yellow-and-red rumble strip, which I heard thrash and scrape the bottom of the car.
I now think it might be a good idea to slow down in the grass – but – I hear Bruce in spirit – “it only gets worse if you lift”. So, my right foot is somehow planted at this point.

For the folks who have been here – I exited about 100 feet before the Suziku bridge on track left.  I kept my right foot in it all through the grass.

I end up flooring the car all the way on the grass, and gradually move back onto the track well past the Suzuki bridge, only a short distance before the kink.  The best part is – the guy I went to pass that got me in this mess (yes, maybe you Lenhart crew!) was only a few inches in front of me when I reentered the track after my off-road excursion.

What did we learn here? Know when you’re just qualifying and not racing..and.. Keep the throttle on all the time. Grass is just a different colored track.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Saturday CFF qual 2

#78 out of 98 cars total (FF and CFF).. Here I will note that I am back on the harder (slower) R60s and ran a 2:42, which I’ve gone from an average of 85ish to 89mph – which is a sustantial fun difference when you’re ass is big-mac-height off the ground.

I am also 45 out of 58 cars in CFF.  It seems everyone is improving.

Saturday FF70 race 1

Late Saturday was my first real race this weekend.  Without going into all that mushy foofoo crap – I’ll say that coming up the hill and then the front straight at Road America with 35-40 other Formula Fords from 1965-1980 was awesome.  I’ll also throw out there that I ran a 2:38, 6 seconds faster than my previous time (!!) this race.  I ended up 7th place (both class and group) out of 43 cars.  While I’ll admit that most vintage guys were on less-sticky tires, my time were not that much better depending on r25 or r60 tires.  To most good drivers, there should be a difference. uck oh.

I’m now up to a 91.7mph lap.  At this point, I realize that practice and coaching does help – I’m dramatically dropping lap times.

Rock the Cat Box

After driving a ton Friday and Saturday, we finish up around Saturday 5:45pm.  I’ve not spent much time in Wisconsin before, but damn – its cold compared to “summer” elsewhere.

I think this is valid excuse to drink heavily.  Christian, my Florida-blood-like-friend, also agrees.  It seems that everyone agrees – as Saturday evening quickly turns into drinking a lot without much else to do.

I’ll note now that my car was not unscathed.  Lindstrand Motorsports spent a few hours on the car before imbibing on my car as well as a few others.  My Hawke was mostly OK except a few broken CV joint bolts – it seems to snap the left inner bolts. Maybe the heat from the exhaust on that side, maybe the stress being on the mostly-outside of the track, maybe I have no clue.  But, the bottom line is that I had no clue and it got fixed – I think this was the first time I really appreciated doing the whole prep-shop thing.

On this above-note, it was nice to be on the other side of fellow racers coming up to the Lindstrand trailer looking for help.  I’ve been there many times before; where I beg of their help to fix some quirky issue.  Not that I prefer drinking beer over working on racecars; but, after a day of racing – that math works out to desiring to drink beer rather than trying to figure out if its a 13mm or a 1/2 socket. I’m no good at that.

About now – you might ask (if you’re a good ADD-kid and taking your ritalin) why this section is called Rock the Cat Box.  Well, the entire race weekend is called the Cat.  You can find various reason for this – mostly because the following of the Brian Redman story (which, you can find a version  of here – http://www.september8th.com/news_br_cat.htm) which seems to be the most accurate.

Soooo…. the fantastic workers at this event, along with Mazda’s sponsorship of a beer-trailer, puts on the Cat Box Races.  You can read the rules here – http://www.scca-milwaukee.org/RoadRacing/2009/4th_Annual_Cat_Box_Races.pdf – which might be painful and boring if you’re used to the useful, strict SCCA rules and regs that keep us safe and in compliance.

Long story, that I honestly do not remember (see above: beer-trailer), includes Bruce Lindstrand and myself being on one team, against Nick Webb and Bill Bonow (of the aforementioned creepy Sprinter van, which you know this guys has issues to begin with).
Nick and Bill have one offspring from Jeff, in their LMI-tuned Cat-box, Annie-

And Bruce and myself have Aimee in tow, in a much more protective, well prepared, cardboard box…..

Which, this physical exertion of crazy proportions resulted in my only checkered-flag of the weekend

Checkered flag

Checkered flag

You can view more pictures from the Cat Box Races here – http://www.tobinschuster.net/2009/catbox1/index.htm

And, you can watch this awesome video – note at 38 seconds into it where one of Jeff’s children goes.  Hopefully his wife doesnt find this – I think he told her everything was ok and she fell on the stairs.  Uck oh.

So, Saturday’s essay might be cut short because I don’t really recall everything. The things that we did do included having dinner courtesy of Mazda (and the beer trailer? they must have mis-funded it for the margarita-trailer for the spec-Miata guys) and the corner workers, including the really loud and big corner worker in the orange suit dropping the F-word around the kids every 4.23 seconds.  Yeah, you know him. He’s a fun guy, though.

I will say, as a driver – someone who doesn’t get to spend much time with the workers much (and I’m sure the same gig on Saturday nights at other tracks) – this is a great time.  I learned stuff from the guys and gals that watch me drive around, picked up some safety stuff, and learned some SCCA rules in the progress.

Sunday race

#62 out of 97 overall, or 35 out of 63 in CFF.

This race was fun. Then boring. Then fun.

We started out like family – similar to qualifying and the rest of the sessions.  Somewhere on lap 3 – a few guys got tangled up into turn 1.  Someone ended up on their head (anyone know who? I can’t recall) in the gravel, along with a few others immobile, which resulted in a black-flag for all of us.

We pulled into the pits, and waited for 35 minutes..

Then we went back out.  Luckily, they parted us in FF and CFF, so us CFF guys didn’t hold up the FFs.  I can’t recall the race -but I had a blast.  I do remember getting passed by a ton of FFs, and passing some other cars.  There is always action when there are 100 cars on the track.

More to follow…..

In the meantime, check out these pictures from the event –
Pictures of my car (the good ones by purple frog, who has a bazillion other pictures of the weekend if you want good pictures – purplefrog48@earthlink.net

Doug Carter/ApexSpeed pictures

Pictures of all groups, all days by (I think) Bill Valet

Sunday FF70 race 2 in the wet and DQ Cheese Curds

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