I still can't believe I did it... A year or 2 ago, at the EMRA banquet, a racing friend of mine, Tom Scheuren, said that he thought it would be great if a few club racers could get together and run the 24 Hours of Daytona. I told him I was...
I still can't believe I did it...
A year or 2 ago, at the EMRA banquet, a racing friend of mine, Tom Scheuren, said that he thought it would be great if a few club racers could get together and run the 24 Hours of Daytona. I told him I was very interested, and that if he got to the point of giving serious consideration to it, to give me a call. He'd had a few beers that evening, so I thought it might be a pipe (hops?) dream. Well, darned if he didn't get serious about it last fall and go out Thanksgiving weekend and buy an ex GT1/Trans Am car with a Watson chassis and ~1992 style body. He and Ellen Barbara and Bob Jones put together an all volunteer crew to convert the car to Exxon Supreme GTS-1 spec. Joe and Barb Nagle, Mike and Ron Flannery, Tom, and Bob worked like maniacs to get this car prepared.
Tom wanted drivers he knew and/or could bring experience/money to the team. I'd never driven *with* Tom, but he was familiar with my exploits first hand in EMRA and some SCCA events, and via bench racing with him. I sat my butt in a race car for the first time in the fall of 1992 at the age of 36. I've done the Skip Barber Racing School 3 day competition course, done a bit of IT racing between EMRA and SCCA (~7 races/year since 1992), run 7 Skip Barber Formula Ford/Dodge Race Series weekends since 1992, run 1 SCCA National in a Spec Racer, and have run The Longest Day of Nelson (24 hr enduro) in '94 and '96 in an ITA MR2. So Tom decided that the combination of my experience and rental fee (don't ask: suffice it to say I won't be doing any other racing this year) was good enough for him, and gave me a shot. I committed the weekend after Christmas. Tom got Kerry Hitt, a Pennsylvania driver with experience in SCCA GT1, Trans Am, and the Daytona 24 (all in a similar Camaro) to join up, and we had our driver lineup.
We went down to Daytona for the test days Jan 10-12. It did not go well. Long story short: we didn't really get out on the track until the last session on Sunday. However, we did turn a lap that would have qualified us for last year's field. I got in about 10 laps total. I had hoped to get in a lot more since I had never 1) raced at Daytona, 2) raced on slicks, 3) raced in anything with more than 150HP (this puppy had 540+HP in qualifying trim, 450 in race trim), 4) raced in anything larger than an ITA car. I realized I was taking a big leap, but was confident I could handle it. The biggest challenges were adaptation to the HP and sheer mass of the car. After a while, though, it's just another race car.
The schedule was for a 1 hr 15 min practice session each day (Thurs- Fri), followed a couple of hours later by a 20 minute qualifying session. There was also a 2 hr night practice scheduled on Thursday. On Thursday, due to a number of unforeseen problems, we missed the first practice session. We got Kerry out in the qualifying session with about 10 minutes to go. He turned a 2:04.2 on his 2nd flyer and came in to check something. He went back out and didn't get another flyer. We still had the 7000 RPM rev limiter chip in the MSD 6AL (which replaced the 7AL we had trouble with at the practice days), so we were hopeful. We got out late in the night practice, but at least I got in about 7 more laps. The cornering lights just weren't right. Combine this with the total lack of features on the infield, and it caused real problems. However, I was still able to turn very competitive times.
On Friday, we had more problems which got us out late in the practice session. Bob Jones had gotten even less time in the car than I had, so we gave him most of the practice time. We also had to get Kerry back out to check the changes we had made for qualifying, so this left no time for either myself or Tom. I got a little more nervous... To complicate things, IMSA hadn't decided on what the qualifying criteria would be. During the day on Friday, we understood it to be that a total of 80 cars would make the field. You first had to be within 130% of the overall pole. If >80 cars did this, you had to be within 110% of the pole time in your class. For qualifying, we actually got out near the beginning of the session. Kerry got down to 2:01.6 on his 2nd flyer. He tried a little too hard at the chicane on the next lap, and went through the little island of grass in the middle of the chicane. This was actually caught on TV, as it caused another Camaro to go off and tear off its fiberglass chin spoiler. It ripped our side skirts and made them rub against the tires. He didn't get below 2:03 after that.
So now we start to work to change to the race engine and new clutch and brake rotors, among other things. We also have to switch from our single dry break fueling system to a double dry break system, as IMSA says that a single dry break is no good. They kick everybody out of the track at 9PM, and there's still a lot to do. Looks like there's little chance we'll make the morning warmup, so Tom & I decide I'll sleep in Sat. morning so we'll have at least one of the 4 drivers well rested. I'm not nearly the mechanic the other 3 are, so this works out fine for me.
Race Day (Saturday):
I wake up a number of times, but finally get out of bed at 10:00. Grid is noon. Start of race is 1pm. Pack up my gear and go to the front desk of the Super 8. Luckily, 2 race fans are checking in. I ask if I can hitch a ride the1.5 miles to the tunnel gate. They say sure. Turns out my credential got them a much better parking spot. Even trade, I'd say. Got to the garage. Lots of final prep going on. My brother made it in OK as overcrew. Get briefing on driver's meeting (oops, forgot about that!). Tom says most important thing is to look at the track map on the tool box to see where the designated "free tow" zones are. If you can get your disabled car to one of these areas, you get a tow to the garage without disqualification. I dutifully memorize them, then get changed into my Nomex for the grid. Tom will start the car. We roll out to grid position 69 at about 12:15. Lots of pictures. Lots of wishes for good luck. Man, this is really cool. The crew is tired, but really psyched.
They give the signal to start engines, and start chasing us off the grid. As I see the cars start rolling, I turn around to double check that Tom is rolling. He isn't! I set my camcorder and camera down and dash back there with 1 other crew member (the rest have gone to our pit). The clutch won't disengage. After the field passes, Tom jams it in 1st, a bunch of us (officials, crew from other teams, etc.) push as Tom hits the starter, and he finally pulls away. I gather my stuff and dash for our pit. They're already trying to diagnose the problem over the radio. They decide to try to make it to either the 1st full course yellow or 1st pit stop, and see what they can do. Kerry gives Tom a quick primer on shifting one of these beasts without a clutch, and away we go: green flag! Tom is having some difficulty, and is dropping back, but is hanging in there. After about 50 minutes, Tom brings it in under a full course caution. Seems that the new clutch, which was *supposed* to be an exact replacement for the old one, wasn't. To fix it, we need to pull the tranny and shim it. Should take ~45 minutes. Better do it now rather than abusing it and blowing the tranny somewhere out on the course in the dark. Takes more like 2 hr, but it's ready. OK, it's now my turn.
Feel it out for a couple of laps. Slick as snot on cold tires. Gradually increase speed. All gauges OK. Feels like a race car. Start settling into a comfortable pace, keep an eye on those mirrors. Feels good. Crew chief asks me to back off a little. Huh? I could do these laps in my sleep! Seems I got down to about 2:06 on a clear lap. They want more like the teens. Sure, no problem. When I get up to 2:11, they say that seems fine. Click off those laps. Lord, those WSC cars are fast! Later, they call and say they'll call me in about 10 min. from now. The next lap, I get a hesitation coming out of the chicane. Check the gauges: OK. Another hesitation in the 3-4 banking. Gauges still OK. Just before I get to the tri-oval, I get a "POW!", and a big puff of smoke in the cockpit. Damn! All switches off. Move low on the banking. Finger near the extinguisher button. No more smoke. No oil trail behind the car. Where's the next "free tow" zone? Oh yeah, just past (the road course) pit out. Keep it low and coast through turn 1 and the esses, looking for a trail of oil and keeping it off line as much as possible just in case. Strain to see if anyone is exiting pits. Not that I can see. Cut hard left into the access road. On radio with crew. We think track will tow us, they think we will tow it. Crew finally gets there on golf cart (an absolute necessity, by the way). Exhaust pipe is blown off header. Hmmm. Tow it to an open air garage about 50 yards from our pit. Turns out wiring is fried from short. Kerry and I (independently) figure out blown exhaust at same time. Short caused ignition to fire plug while exhaust valve was open and raw mixture in header. Part of crew works on repairing exhaust, while more crew works on rewiring (they found 2 separate wiring problems). Meanwhile, I get something to eat (haven't really eaten all day) and drink, and relax some. About 2.5 hours later, it's almost ready to go. Tom wants to put me back in the car since I got a short shift. Also, it's now dark, and he plans on Kerry & I doing more of the night driving, since we have the most experience in that area.
More to come...