CHAMPCAR/CART: Laguna Seca corner worker report

[Kedre Murray is a corner worker at many races in the North West] Flew into SF Thursday morning from soggy Vancouver. Picked up a rental Neon that looked as though it'd been thru the wars and set off down 101 to Salinas, then along 68 to the ...

[Kedre Murray is a corner worker at many races in the North West]

Flew into SF Thursday morning from soggy Vancouver. Picked up a rental Neon that looked as though it'd been thru the wars and set off down 101 to Salinas, then along 68 to the track for registration. Coming from lush green to the dry hills of northern CA was a big visual shock but I soon got used to it. Hooked up with some other flagger friends and set out to enjoy the afternoon after registering. We went to Fisherman's Wharf for a late lunch and then wandered around Monterey and Pacific Grove for a few hours. I saw sea otters playing in the surf right off the main road, and the seals and sea lions in the bay were comical. In the evening we did the KMart and the Safeway supermarket thing. I forget what we were there for (probably to buy a cooler), but a bright neon orange rubber crab squeaky toy was definitely the buy of the weekend. It became our mascot and was promptly named Clawed. I won't say much more about the evening except that we all discovered we had been to the duty-free on the way out of Vancouver so we had 3 litres of Glenfiddich to drink in as many days and we thought we'd better get started.

On Friday it was already 65F at 6:30 am so we knew it was gonna be a scorcher. At Laguna they have separate meetings for communicators and flaggers so I went off to the communicators while my friends went to the flagger meeting. Found out I was going to be working at 8A, which meant nothing to me but seemed to impress the natives. Turned out 8A is the station halfway down the Corkscrew!!!! EEEk. The track is simply lovely, completely resurfaced over the winter, with new runoffs, FIA curbing, lots of tire walls. Flush toilets, YES. The local SCRAMP volunteers who look after the track do a wonderful job keeping it pristine. Got to the station and spent the next 15 minutes figuring out how the communications landline system worked, since they're different everywhere and while the plug-ins might be intuitive for the people who work there all the time, they never come with user manuals for us newbies.

Station 8A is a cozy little spot nestled in behind Jersey barriers under the oaks on driver's left after the big left-hand drop at the top of the Corkscrew. The cars come straight at us from above as they drop off the lefthander at the lip of the hill and then turn right just at our station for the downhill to Turn 9. Nearly all the TV and still photos of the Corkscrew seem to have been taken from within 10' of my position. Laguna Seca has kept the slope behind the Corkscrew driver's left for general admission seating. I think the idea is that people who make it up the steep hill from the paddock and parking deserve to get a good view. From the side of the hill not facing the Corkscrew you can look down on all sides to see just about the entire track, and on race day it was jammed.

I spent the first session open-mouthed watching Atlantics hop off the crest of the hill and take the "down elevator" thru the turn. The best I can do is to say that the hill's crest is slightly overhung, so the next 10' or so after the crest the cars actually seem to drop off a cliff, and thump down a lot further along. The best drivers seemed to be able to have the wheels pointed so that the landing shoved the car into the correct configuration for the right hander immediately following. We had a couple of spins into the dirt, guys not keeping their wheels pointed right for the exit and then overcorrecting, but nothing major. The most interesting lines thru the corner came from the Barber Dodges (known affectionately as "Barber Dodge'ems"). A favourite strategy seemed to be to get the right wheels to the right of the FIA curbing on the driver's right apron, and the tub on the other side, which meant the right side suspension rode the FIAs all the way down. By their race on Saturday I had almost stopped wincing every time they did that!

Saturday dawned sunny and hot again. I startled the communicators at the morning meeting by eating leftover sushi for breakfast (we Crazy Canucks kept it overnight in the motel fridge). The Indy cars started to slide out wider and some ran it thru the dirt on driver's left past our station. A few of the Indy Lights tried the move that Alex Zanardi would later make famous, with less positive results -- Jaki Scheckter left his entire rear wing, his rain light and lots of unidentifiable bits in our tire wall. The Barber Dodge'ems were generally all over the place, nuff said. We also had a NATCC slide thru our runoff at speed and tear off its belly pan plus assorted carbon fibre, but he kept going (and eventually won one of the races on Sunday). The Atlantic race was won by (who else) Patrick Carpentier, going from the pole to win and taking his eighth in a row, finishing under yellow. Part of the afternoon was spent keeping an eye on a brush fire behind Turn 9. Luckily the local Fire Dept. put it out before it got to us.

Finally raceday! Had to get up extra early to negotiate the narrow roads to the park with all the traffic and the morning fog, but by then we were used to getting by with minimum sleep and maximum adrenalin. Stopped at the Denny's across from the motel for a coffee to go and were surprised to see Wally Dallenbach having breakfast (without cowboy hat so I didn't recognize him at first). We wished him well for his last race as Chief Steward. This morning's breakfast was cold pizza and the takeout Denny's coffee, to cover 3 of the 4 food groups: caffeine, sugar, alcohol and grease. I'm not sure if Laguna Seca will let us come back unless we modify our feeding habits! Anyway, the Indy Lights race was fairly uneventful from our vantage point altho I understand that wasn't the case everywhere. Over lunch I foolishly decided I would walk down the hill to the souvenir stands in the infield near Turn 5, which wasn't really a foolish idea until it was 15 minutes to grid and I was still only halfway back up the darn hill, panting and wheezing and woozy from the heat. I had brought water with me, but it was long gone and very nearly so was I. Made it back up the hill with my "loot" with lots of time to spare but pretty wiped.

I have to say that the Indy race was mostly pretty boring from our station. With full tanks the cars don't "hop" the way they do empty, and everyone was pretty wary of getting too out of shape thru the turn. Again, we got to listen on the headsets to all the excitement elsewhere and wondered if we'd had all our fun on the previous two days -- until the last lap. Zanardi had been reeling Herta in over the last ten, and we were on tenterhooks to see what would happen (we can't see the cars until they come over the lip of the hill). All I could think of when I saw Zanardi take the dirt on the right was that we'd had Barber Dodges and Indy Lights try the same move and blow it big time, so I was trying to work out how I would call it and where would I run if Zanardi tapped Herta and they all ended up in a tangle coming down the hill at us. Zanardi kept the power on altho he looked completely out of control slithering down the hill on the dirt, the two cars may have touched but I couldn't tell, then Zanardi was by! The crowd (and all of us workers) cheered and hooted and hollered while the dust cleared as we listened for whether Herta had gotten back his position before the checker. Whew.

The NATCC races after that were pretty tame, altho one of them seemed to be perfecting coming thru the Corkscrew sideways. The beer after the day sure went down well! All in all a very fun place to work, but next time I'd like to see more of Monterey so I may have to go a day earlier. I'd say if you have the chance to go, do, and if you can make it up that darn hill the view is exquisite, both in racing and non-racing terms.

kedre@gfmurray.com http://www.gfmurray.com ***************************************************************************** GO GREG GO PAUL GO RON and especially *GO JACQUES!!!* *****************************************************************************

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Series INDYCAR