POST MID-O "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" - George Carlin (1937-2008) Such must've been especially true Saturday for Rolex Series drivers at Mid-O -...
"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" - George Carlin (1937-2008)
Such must've been especially true Saturday for Rolex Series drivers at Mid-O - assuming one had the chance to think much between wishes for Depends diapers.
It's been five years since Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course founder Lester Griebling passed. You can only wonder just how proud he must've been of the 2.258-mile "Mid-O" and the honored place taken in the world of racing by the highly technical track.
Fully aware that a 75-mile long, can't-miss squall line was on the way and whose leading edge would hit Mid-O only a handful of laps into Saturday's Rolex Series race, drivers nonetheless strapped into race cars that would later undertake either some eggshell walking or ballet-like moves only a wet roadway can impart.
As Mark Wilkins, Nic Jonsson, Michael Valiante and the many others minding their own business will attest, the wheels beneath would later make like shoe leather hitting an iced-over, shaded, mid-winter Chicago sidewalk.
Sticking it out through a full first-shift run, a quite-wet Patrick Dempsey (one does not "roll up the window" in a GT race car) handed the No. 40 Hypersports Mazda RX-8 over to co-driver Joe Foster, removed his helmet and conducted a little debrief with the crew before looking over his right shoulder in the direction of a nearby eavesdropping reporter. Eye-to-eye, Dempsey then let rip a deep laugh.
After awhile Dempsey talked about his most excellent adventure, noting his first rain race had come earlier this season while in the deep of night during the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"For all I was worth I'd look through the windshield and couldn't distinguish grass from roadway," Dempsey said of a car having windshield wipers that really didn't - as is the case with most race cars.
"One time, I hit the grass and Joe just said over the radio, 'Drive out of it; just keep on driving.' I put my foot in it and did exactly what he said - though I wasn't exactly sure I was doing it because I couldn't see."
THE GOOD NEWS
Rain rarely altogether stops a sportscar race, thus participants and fans needn't engage any last-moment scrambles to change lodging and transportation plans - though raingear and an extra set of clothes can come in handy.
The bad news? As cars and accompanying drivers more often become unguided missiles, a pace car is likely to post a greater-than-usual number of laps. The in-between was a lot of fun, if not "hairy."
At Mid-O, the pace car was out nearly half of the race's 76 laps - amassing more on-the-point laps than any other car on the track (37 vs. lap-leader Matt Plumb's 31). The Pontiac G8's yellow-flag total laps amounted to about one-third those scored by last year's victor, the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance car of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty.
After starting on the outside of an again-familiar front row where, Fogarty later handed the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance car over to Gurney and quickly scrambled to the rear of the team's plastic-encased war wagon but removed from any quick assistance from pit crew members.
All by his lonesome yet wanting his helmet off, Fogarty commenced to wrestle with the male end of an interfering communications cable that was additionally sealed with tape at its female helmet connection.
With tape-ends already hard enough to find and duct tape being designed to stick, imagine trying to do it all with one hand and, essentially, blindly so.
Thus, such a simple-sounding thing - a driver attempting to take off his own helmet - sometimes becomes a terrible sight to witness as its wearer seemingly wrestles with another but invisible being, simultaneously twisting this way while bobbing that, inevitably breaking into a string of muffled, unrecognizable grunts and cries and usually in words that really shouldn't be heard or printed anyway.
Seeking to render aid but getting to him just about the time he'd finally defeated the invisible beast with which he so ferociously grappled, a freed Fogarty looked at the now nearby reporter and loudly exclaimed, "Whew!"
Fogarty possesses a great, expression-laden face that can communicate much without saying a word. Yet, walking away, the reporter still wondered if Fogarty was relieved to have survived the rain-slicked track he'd departed or the helmet beast just victoriously slain.
It turns out that 2007 DP Driving Champions Fogarty and Gurney - who last season claimed their third of seven wins at Mid-O - would later actually slay yet another beast.
THE BIG GORILLA: GONE
"We finally got that '08 monkey off our backs," Bob Stallings gladly proclaimed from the midst of Mid-O's post-race, pit-road scrum after his team scored its first victory of the 2008 season.
Having also known and slain similar beasts of their own making, fellow competitors heartily congratulated the GAINSCO team - as did even second-place finishers Darren Law and David Donohue, whose No. 58 Brumos Racing Porsche-Riley would finish its second-consecutive race in second-place and upon whose backs another monkey continues a most unwelcome four-year squat.
RISING TO THE TOP
Yet, the two-car Brumos Racing team grows stronger and draws ever closer to dislodging their monkey, too, as even the No. 59 Porsche-Riley of J.C. France (the Rolex Series' version of "The Amazing Hulk") and Joao "Everyone-Asks-About-My-First-Name" Barbosa nudged into the last of available top-five spots.
Scoring a solid third-place after leading a high of 31-laps was the No. 7 Rum Bum BMW-Riley of Gene Sigal and Matt Plumb, a team which has also struggled this season with its own adversarial monkeys.
Leading the race before fading to third in the race's final 14 minutes, Plumb and Sigal drew a number of rave post-race driving reviews. This race's batch of Rum Bum girls got a few congratulatory nods, too - and for just standing around (man, were they tall or what?).
Memo Rojas - who set up and qualified the team's No. 01 Telmex Lexus-Riley while teammate Scott Pruett was at California's Infineon Raceway for NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying - accumulated a lion's share of race seat time, too.
"It was the strategy that unfolded during the race and that's the way it goes sometimes," Pruett said after his closing stint brought the car home in eighth place and a slight loss of ground in DP championship points to Fogarty and Gurney, who surged into second place in the 2008 standings.
"We need them to finish eighth a couple-more times, though," Gurney later commented.
Clearly having a consistently fast car in the dry (a qualifying traffic-timing issue kept them off a pole claimed by Donohue) Brian Frisselle and Marc Wilkins' No. 61 Exchange Traded Gold nonetheless soldiered to a fourth-place finish in the wet. (Speaking of trading gold: if one would've bought some gold when the No. 61 joined the series, the buyer would currently be sitting on about a 140-percent gain. NOTE: The preceding is not to be interpreted as investment advice or proclaim the wonderful, soothsaying and chart-reading abilities of its writer. It's just the fact, Jack.)
After taking over from the ever-faster Wilkins, Frisselle emerged victorious from a late-race mano-a-mano battle against older-brother Burt, but not before the latter would get the No. 47 CDOC/BSI Ford-Dallara wheel from Rick Taylor.
Burt Frisselle and Taylor would begrudgingly settle for a seventh-place finish which really didn't at all reflect their overcoming the adversity faced by a team just coming off a Watkins Glen fire that cooked the car's entire rear section - engine, transmission and all.
"Man, I can't tell you how good it feels to be driving with Ricky," Burt Frisselle said even before Taylor put the car seventh on a grid of 19 Daytona Prototypes and then briefly was as high as second after the rain fell heavy onto the track.
"I was trembling," Taylor said of his being in the cockpit when the rain came down hard but who nonetheless kept charging ahead.
The "trembling" no doubt arose from an adrenaline rush because Taylor darn sure didn't go hide as though he were fearful. One doesn't pass cars at speed and in the rain if a scaredy-cat - though some he passed no doubt might've applied to him part of the above George Carlin observation.
The venerable Hans Stuck (go ask your father) is considered one of sportscar's greatest wet-track drivers, ever. Most people assume Stuck loved wet-weather driving. "Not true," Stuck said once. "It was a reputation I got because I was better than most in the wet. What I really wanted to do most when it rained was to get over my shift. But when people start believing something, because it isn't necessarily true doesn't mean you can't use it to your advantage."
"Ricky is one of the smoothest drivers I've seen in a long, long time," Frisselle-family patriarch Brad Frisselle said of Taylor. Frisselle ought to know: he was the car owner when Al Unser Jr. grabbed his first major professional racing championship. (Apparently fully recovered from his earlier abdominal-wall surgery, it's good to have Brad Frisselle back in top form ... I think.)
Ian James and John Pew like the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. I mean, they really, really like Mid-O and so much so that both were easily turning top-5 speeds while their No. 6 Ford-Riley was in the dry.
In the rain, though, the two left all the glory to Michael Shank Racing teammates Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Mark Patterson in the No. 60 Westfield Insurance Ford-Riley.
The No. 60 qualified third fastest and came home in sixth while the No. 6 was upset in the rain and limped home to a 34th-place finish (ouch!).
NEXT UP: BRUMOS 250, DAYTONA SPRINT RACE, July 3
(Worry not: rumors, innuendo and such will hit here before then.)
DC Williams, Exclusively for Motorsport.com