So the last time I went to an American City Racing League event in Phoenix, it was as a guest of the ACRL Media Guy, Bob Kehoe. Well, one thing leads to another in this world...ya shoot your yap off about "crewing anytime" and folks'll take you up on it! ;) This time it just happened that Gary "Green Means Go <tm>" Green held me to my offer to give him a hand. Not that I regret it in the least...this Memorial Day weekend at Seattle International Raceway was truly a memorable one. A little bit of anything that could remotely be memorable, did indeed happen...
The adventure began with a frenetic loading of American flight #367 in Austin on Thursday...not only were there the original American-reserved passengers, but United and Continental both took it on themselves to cancel their same-time flights to Dallas. So we get to shoehorn *those* folks in as well. The call for passengers, the loading (can you say "Mooooo"?), the stuffing of overhead bins (thank God for pre-boarding privileges), and then..."We're sorry to say that this flight will be delayed due to weather conditions at DFW". Oh yeah. One big *happy* crowd.
Called Kehoe..."Get ahold of Gary and tell him not to worry about picking me up at the gate in Seattle...this is gonna be a late night." Kehoe, (after much other mumblings and grumblings) "Sure, will do." The message doesn't get through...Gary and Paula waiting at the gate. Oh well, no big deal. Gotta find an ATM though, had no time to hit one before leaving Austin. This turns into a Wizard of Oz quest for "Auntie Em, Auntie Em", but that's another story. Let's go racing...
Friday dawns partly cloudy/mostly sunny. Out at the track by 8:00, the Team San Diego Valvoline crew (Charlie, Dan, and Steve) for Margie Smith-Haas are already unloading the hauler and setting up the garage area. We've got an open test session at 10:00. The paddock area is filling up quick. Most of the other ACRL teams have also arrived, plus a slew of other wheel-to-wheels for a double SCCA national.
Gary has done a great job prepping at home for the bulk of the mechanicals, so most of the setup work is basic...fueling, nose-aero downforce adjustment, tire pressures, etc. However, there were some fiberglass mods made on the sidepods. Some overspray needed to be cut to smooth the panel gloss. Well...easier said than done. Someone needs to shoot the paint guy (sorry Gary) or at least figure out a better way to deal with the primer. Not to worry though, this side pod's gonna need substantial rework anyway after all. More on that in the race aftermath...
So it's down to the hot pits to grid up for testing. All works well, times are kinda slow due to too much downforce...lots of scraping...the soft springs might have something to do with it too. Looks like a fibre repair job later this evening. After the session, take tire temps and pressures. The stopwatch gets left behind in the grass...whooops. So will the grunt that snared it and didn't turn it in to a corner worker please speak up now? Gary's ecstatic about the Renault school car that bumbled around and cut him off *twice* on the back twisty bits. He chortles over how he let the other driver know he was number one...
Back to the paddock, lunch, adjust the aero for less frontal downforce, more overspray cutting (happy, happy, joy, joy), refuel, and back for the afternoon open session. The corner/flag workers are absolute idiots this day. They checker the session after 15 minutes so a corner worker can water the PortaPotty. Isn't that special? Everyone is confused. Green (means go) flag comes out and we run again. On hot pit stops Gary refuses to unstrap for checkers or reds (yeah they tossed some of those too for no apparent reason). We presume the session lasted until 3:00 (as published). A checkered comes out at 2:58. We stop and perform standard end of session checks and push the car back to the paddock. They start up again at 3:15...what a freaking nightmare. It's a done day, we don't really care anymore.
Wipe down the car...every single exposed metal part does not escape the WD40 and rag. But at least it's clean enough to eat off of. (This is something rarely seen outside professional circles...an absolutely pristine car with no visible dirt/grease) One more final adjustment on the frontal aero, the skid pads are taking a beating, as well as the spat on the right side pod. Wheel wells in the tail are worn through from wheel contact (due to the soft springs), fibreglass repair for the spat and the tail wheel wells. Paula (Gary's beautiful wife) and I decide to take a break and visit the souvenir stand...great shirts! Gary thinks up more to do. At 6:00 the drags start up. Everything from mini-rails to stock modifieds to street legals to showroom stocks to motorcycles. Even if you just want to sit on the line and wait for a christmas tree green (means go), you can do it. My biggest peeve...they never turn. What a waste of horspower.
We get back and Gary has decided to change 3rd gear. Ack. Kind of like watching a master of the Tower of Hanoi game, but the job gets done and we're out of there by 8:30. A 12+ hour day, yawn...
Saturday is damp and sprinkly but we manage to stay on drys and not have to mess with a wet setup. Everyone else decides to change gears in the morning. Gary grins and says, "See?!!!" :) Greg Towner from Portland shows up to help and finds a loose steering rod end. Fortunately Gary has a replacement and we swap it out. Morning practice goes somewhat miserably. Gary has to stop after one hot lap when a panel fastener jiggles loose. We come thiiiiissss close to losing a nose. Too many crew peoples helping in the garage area led to this near fiasco. Specific assignments cure this problem in the future. We replace the front and rear skid pads. The rear has already gone too far and the flywheel teeth have been nicked, not good A really fast afternoon session fires Gary up to make a run for one of the top 5 qualifying positions. A good day all around and we get to take off early! Only an 8 hour day... ;)
Sunday rolls around wet, wet, wet. We prep the car for dry conditions and keep an eye out to the southwest for quickly developing storms. Intermittent rains and drying conditions further complicate things. We decide to go for the wets 30 minutes before top 5 qualifying. The session gets off into great wet conditions, but the rain stops and the track starts drying out rapidly. By the time we stop, the tires are starting to chunk up pretty bad. Gary misses the top 5 by two positions. A bummer but he still runs better than the number 1 Team Valvoline driver, Margie Smith-Haas. He is psyched! Both Gary and Margie hope for a wet race tomorrow because of their good wet performance today.
Pouring down rain the rest of the day breaks just before the afternoon final qaulifying session. We run a dry setup and do very well, gaining an 8th starting grid position with a 1:28.198...again, one better than Smith-Haas (who had a 1:28.645). Another good day. Kehoe has finally shown up and attends the team dinner with us. He considers himself quite the stud in his evaluator Mitsu 3000GT. I find the pearlescent, baby-puke yellow color atrocious...he and Smith-Haas love it. Go figure...
Monday...raceday. Gorgeous weather with clear skies, lots of sun. What a day! Mt. Rainier gleams beautifully in the distance. We take a ten minute warmup session to scrub in sticker tires for the afternoon race. Make one final adjustment to the downforce...no more scraping now and we've recovered the RPMs we'd lost previously. An uneventful run...everything's ready to go. On the staging grid by 12:45...all the exposed fibre panel seams are race taped to reduce drag. Each team lines up together for the parade lap. Re-form again on the starting grid in correct positions, and then around for the pace lap.
Entering into the front straight in perfect alignment...what a start, no rabbitjumps out of position, everyone behaves themselves. The pack thunders into T1, a little righthand dogleg that turns into the T2 Big Indy, a sweeping 180 degree lefthander. Down in the hotpits we see a cloud of dust just as the frontrunners enter T1, then a puff of blue smoke...it looks like a blown motor as the corner yellow comes out. But then we see the yellow and red stripe, and then a full course yellow. All is quiet as the pack rolls by for two full course yellow laps. Initial indications are that a car went off course but the driver is alright. It was Mike Faulkner in the #45 Team Spokane Racing Eagles SS2000.
The green (means go) comes out again at lap 3. Gary was passed by Margie on lap 1, but continues to hold off Craig T. Nelson (Coach). Times start dropping into the 1:27.4s. At the halfway point Gary passes Smith-Haas to take over 7th place...we go nuts until the team manager Paul Haas (also Margie's husband) looks somewhat disgustedly in our direction. The next time around, Gary maintains his lead on Margie...even pulls away down the straight. Several seconds after they disappear into the back twisty bits, the full course yellow comes out. The front runners reappear on the straight, but no Gary. No Margie. Oh &*$#! Finally Margie shows up with a lot of frontal damage. Gary is retired for the day, but we know not why. He is okay though.
The remainder of the race passes uneventfully save for the final lap. Flying down the straightaway on the white flag lap, Craig Nelson pulls too close into Scott Gibson's draft and sucks up faster than he expected to. Swerving to the right to avoid contact, Nelson scoops up Gibson's right rear with his left front. Gibson spins and backs into the wall at a horrifying (in these little 1100 pond cars it IS horrifying) 140 MPH. The race ends under yellow with Peter Zarcades the winner, followed by Lee Lucas, David Welch (a newcomer), Larry Vollum, and Craig Nelson. Margie finishes 8th behind the other Team Valvoline driver Leo Sismani, who overcame an earlier Brad Krause-induced spin.
At the scrutineers' station we find the remnants of Mike Faulkner's car. It is total, complete junk. Mike apparently went airborne on his spin and then proceeded to cartwheel along the top of an embankment for several hundred feet before coming to rest right side up an a flat portion of the track. He suffered a concussion, contusions, and a broken collarbone. His first words out of the car were, "How did I qualify?" He could not remember any other events of the day. Mike remained at a Kent hospital overnight for observation.
He's lucky to be alive...if he had gone over the embankment, he would've gone down into a ravine filled with trees, rocks, and metal posts embedded in the ground. In fact, he fortunately missed similar posts embedded along the top of the embankment he cartwheeled along the top of. Each impact point was between each of those posts. SIR (in the estimation of Paul Haas) is a certifiable deathtrap for road course racing. None of the ACRL drivers have any real desire to return without some substantial safety improvements. Without those improvements SIR will most likely be decommissioned by the SCCA track certification team.
Scott Gibson was uninjured in his last lap collection of the wall, but his car had significant rear suspension/gearbox/engine/body panel damage. Needless to say, he was quite disturbed with Mr. Nelson. Gary Green slammed into Bryce Ambraziunas in T4 after Bryce spun in an incident with Zarcades and came to a complete stop broadside in the turn exit. Gary hit Bryce with his right rear resulting in a bent lower suspension arm that towed the right rear wheel out by 3-4 inches. Margie Smith-Haas T-boned the right front of Ambraziunas, but managed to back out of Bryce's side pod and continue. Bryce made it back to the hotpits and parked it.
Lee Lucas was disqualified from the race because of rough driving complaints from each of the top 6 finishing drivers. He was also placed on probation for the remainder of the season. The nose of his car quite obviously revealed he had scooped the rear wheels of several cars since it was black with rubber its entire width. Craig Nelson's left front also clearly showed a scooped tire mark, presumably from the contact with Gibson. He was not levied a penalty. Finishing results remained provisional due to all the protests filed.
After we disassembled the damaged parts from Gary's car, we loaded it up into the hauler, three-wheeled, for transport to the next race at Portland on June 19. Gary is really looking forward to going up there early to get the car ready... :( Fortunately most of the mechanical damage was to bolt-on parts and should be readily repairable. It's also a good excuse to get that new Haas tail Gary's been salivating over lately. ;) The corner workers invited us over to their little post-event beer social, so we joined them. Another great opportunity for autograph signing and poster handouts.
Dinner that evening was again a team affair, at a place that had the nerve to call itself one of the best BBQ joints around. I'm sorry folks, but in Washington state??? No way, guys. Nice try, but ya gotta go to Texas for the real thing... ;) The worst part of the whole trip was catching that midnight redeye flight back home. Landed in Austin at 7:30 Tuesday morning...went home to grab the briefcase and found there had been a quite severe storm Sunday night. Severe enough to rip some trees up around the yard and deposit them on the privacy fence (knocked that down too). Oh well, no work...just chain saw time. Sigh...
BTW, many, many thanks are due Gary and Paula "Green Means Go" Green for a fantastic weekend. I'm looking forward to the Vancouver race in search of that first top 5 qualifying spot and possible win. Ya know? Oh yeah, and remember...M-O-O-N spells first place! (or is that, corner worker?) ;)
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