Third (and final) Chapter: When last we left our intrepid racer, he was catching 40 winks at the motel... BZZZZT! Alarm goes off at 6AM. Take quick hot shower to wake up. Dress, meet 2 other crew at rental car at 6:20. Stop at Krispy...
Third (and final) Chapter:
When last we left our intrepid racer, he was catching 40 winks at the motel...
BZZZZT! Alarm goes off at 6AM. Take quick hot shower to wake up. Dress, meet 2 other crew at rental car at 6:20. Stop at Krispy Kreme to get a couple dozen donuts for crew. Get to Winnebago 6:35. Only my brother is in it. Tom & Ellen (team owners) are asleep in their rental car. Walk over to garage. "We brought donuts! How's the car?" Reply: "Thanks! The car's done." Huh? Seems that half of the crew caught only about 10 winks, waiting for Tom to sack out, then went back to the garage to finish working on the car. Walk back and wake Tom & Ellen. Tell him the car is ready. He asks if I'm awake. "Absolutely." He tells me to suit up & meet at the car. I'm actually feeling quite fine. I guess the carbohydrates from the pasta I had around 11PM are kicking in. Buckle in. Get caution from Tom & Joe (crew chief) on taking it easy. I'd already told myself this, but it's never a bad idea remind a driver of this sort of thing. Drive the car out to pit lane and re-fuel. Sit for about 1-2 more minutes to warm up. Joe has me put on running lights, even though it's light out, as it's a bit foggy out there (if you watched the coverage on ESPN2, you have some idea). I head out at about (I'm just guessing) 7:15-7:30.
Tires are real cold, so it's like driving on ice. The steering wheel is crooked. Gauges coming off the pegs. Watch traffic. Check out front end. Seems OK. Slowly pick up pace. Keep Joe informed on gauges. I'm up to a decent pace by the end of the third lap and call in "Hey Joe, I think we got us a race car." "Good to hear it" Joe replies. Other than the crooked steering wheel, everything is fine. Keep an eagle eye on the gauges just in case there are any undetected cracks in fittings, lines, or coolers from the accident. Keep calling readings in to keep Joe informed and to let him know I'm monitoring stuff. The haze and low sun causes some vision problems coming through/off NASCAR 2, but it's not too bad. A Porsche spins in the International Hairpin, and a WSC spins in avoidance. I was keeping my eyes looking ahead, so I caught it in enough time to whoa it up and pick my way through. Joe calls me in after about 1/2 hour to check things out and re-torque some stuff. Re-fuel also. Everything looks OK. Back out. A few laps later, another Porsche (you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a Porsche) backs it into the tire wall at the Int'l Hairpin so hard, its butt is sitting on top of the guard rail. At the same time, another car has hit the berm in 8 (the hairpin heading out into NASCAR 1). Long caution. There'd been a running joke throughout the weekend regarding pit stops and the crew eating ice cream (those that have seen "Days of Thunder" may remember the joke). Any way, just to keep myself entertained, and to perk up Joe a little bit (I can hear how exhausted he is), I call in:
"Hey Joe." "What's up?" "Oh, nothing. Gauges are fine. Trying to scrub off the rubber buildup. I was just wondering. (then, in my best southern drawl) Do you think maybe when ah come in, ah could have me some ahce crayme?" (Sounds of chuckling.) "I'll talk to Ellen, and see what we can do". "Sounds good to me." His voice was a little more chipper then. Mission accomplished.
Back to driving. Keep weaving every so often to scrub off buildup. Lights off on pace car. Weave harder, and run with foot on brake to warm up the pads and rotors. Restart is coming onto banking in NASCAR 1. I'm 7th in line, so it's going to be a jail break behind me. Keep it low and defensive. Don't get in a bad position. Green! I get a pretty good start, so I don't have cars climbing all over my butt going into the chicane. Keep an eye on the mirrors. Point bys aplenty. A few laps later, the Scandia Ferrari catches me exiting the West (2nd) Horseshoe. I move to the right to take the normal line to let him have the inside line to the next corner. But *he* zigs to the right, trying to go by on the outside. Luckily, I'm keeping an eye on him, and freeze my lateral movement in the middle of the track, giving him room on either side to make his move. He swings back to the left and rockets on by. Later, watching the taped coverage, I see this situation, and hear one of the announcers say, "He (the Ferrari) made the right move. You should go by on the inside when the car you're passing hasn't seen you." Arrrrgh!
A car shreds a tire on the front stretch. Joe warns me of it, telling me to stay in the middle of the track. Good call, as there are some pretty big pieces high and low. We think there will be a caution. None comes. Crew calls me in a little later. Warns me that both Saleen Mustangs are in (did I mention that Tim Allen and crew were in the pit next to ours?), so I'll have to cut it sharp into the pit. Just as I hit the pit box, the motor cuts off. I think it's an idle problem. After the pit stop is done, they can't fire the car. Can't even turn it over. Turns out the battery has a dead short. They replace it, and Tom is away.
Re-hydrate, change, relax, grab a donut. Come back to pit and joke with crew to keep them up both mentally, and spirit-wise. Uneventful shift for Tom. He pulls in and hands over to Bob. Talk to Tom. Car is OK, but track is getting slicker as it gets warmer. Our aim is now to get enough laps to beat "Coach" Craig T. Nelson (out with a cracked head), and "Tool Man" Tim Allen. If we keep this pace, we can do it. About 1/2 hour into Bob's shift (about 11:15), Tom tells me to get suited up. He doesn't think Bob will want to run his whole shift, as it's getting warm in the car, and it's pretty slick out there. Tom will be taking the checker, but he wants to give me the about 45-50 min seat time to hand over to him with about 15-20 min. to go. Sounds fair to me. Sure enough, Bob's ready to come in about 11:40. Tom takes me aside and gives me the little speech that I'd already given myself, but was still expecting:
"Gerry, you've probably thought of this already, but I have to tell it to you anyway. You've done a great job so far. Your job right now is to bring this car to the finish. This team has been through a lot, and it means an incredible amount to me, Ellen, and the whole crew to make it to checker. I want these guys to want to come back with the team. We don't need any heroics or fast laps, OK?"
I look him straight in the eye, and reply, "I understand completely." Which I did.
On Bob's "in" lap, he gets a flat tire out on the course. He got it to a "free tow zone", so the crew goes out with a spare, changes it, and brings it back. They put 2 new Goodyears on the right hand side, fuel it, and I'm off. Bring it up to speed slowly. Let the new tires scrub in and warm up, also let the crud scrub off the left side tires. Get up to a comfortable pace, just trying to be smooth, and stay out of the way. Joe comes on after about 5 laps and says "I know you're having fun out there, Gerry, but we'd like you to back it down a little." Seems as if I got down to 2:07-2:08 again. I call back "Sure thing. I'm not leaning on it at all, but I'll back down some." Lesson reinforced: smooth = fast. About 30 minutes into the shift, I'm honking off NASCAR 2, just where it flattens out down the back stretch, at about 150, keeping it low, when a piece of aluminum appears in my path. Split second decision time: make a sudden move to avoid, or run it over? Sudden move at 150 with that wall on my right? Are you nuts? Run it over and hold on tight in case it blows a tire. No blowout. Call in. We discuss options while I'm negotiating chicane, watching traffic, feeling out car. Seems OK. I'm coming through NASCAR 4. I make the call: I'm coming in. We can't chance a cut or slow leak. I'm keeping it low, so nobody is under me. Pull it in the entrance lane. I *really* have to get on the binders to whoa it down to 65MPH. Pull it in pit box. About 35 min. to go. They decide to make driver change now. Crew checks pressures all around, and visually check left side *real* close. Car seems to be smoking a lot. They dig huge gobs of rubber out of the wheel wells, and off the battery. Smoke is from rubber getting on headers. Tom gets in and takes off.
The last half hour is more nerve wracking than the start. We've passed "Coach" and the "Tool Man". High fives all around. Count down the minutes. Get out the camcorder and start taking video. The Saleen cars go out and nearly cause a huge wreck because they're going by start/finish side by side at about 80 mph with 2-3 laps to go. White flag. Strain our necks and check our watches. Winner takes checker. Crowd cheers. We could care less. Restart camcorder. There he is! Follow him to start/finish and zoom in on the checker. We did it! Crew goes nuts. High fives, hugs, and kudos all around. Very emotional. We congratulate the Larry Schumacher team, with whom we were sharing a pit (he was GTS-2 champ in '96). We go out into pit lane and give all the cars thumbs up as they pull in. Finally, Tom pulls in. More handshakes and hugs. Try to let it sink in... Tom tells me a number of times what a good job I did: took care of the car, slowed to pace when told, made good decisions, and generally contributed wherever I could. I'm feeling pretty good...
I have to thank the whole Diablo Racing team. Tom and Ellen, for putting the team together (along with Bob Jones) and giving me a shot at this. Joe Nagle and Mike Flannery, the core of the crew. Mike's brother Ron Flannery, Jay (don't remember his last name), Barb Nagle (Joe's wife, and someone who really knows her way around a race car), Drew (Barb's brother), Ron Clark (engine guy), Mike Bernadesco, Al, "Dunk" (the body guy) and my brother Dan. Also Kerry Hitt. Really knows his way around a GT1 car, helped us set it up and qualify it, and worked like a maniac all night to get the car back together. If I forgot anyone, I apologize.
This was definitely an experience I'll never forget. I hope I get the chance to do it again...
Yours in Speed (and endurance),
Gerry Green Rolex 24 Veteran (boy, it feels good to say that!)