SBRS: Dear Diary: Tommy Fogarty

If you've never had the pleasure of meeting Tommy Fogarty, you are missing out. The Barber Dodge Pro Series is filled with interesting and colorful characters from the drivers to the staff and crew. Tommy stands out however as one of the more ...

If you've never had the pleasure of meeting Tommy Fogarty, you are missing out. The Barber Dodge Pro Series is filled with interesting and colorful characters from the drivers to the staff and crew. Tommy stands out however as one of the more interesting individuals. He is colorful, gregarious, insightful and quick-witted. A "bon-vivant", his eccentricity adds dimension to his persona rather curiosity. This year, we've been graced with some fascinating and entertaining Barber Dodge Pro Series driver diaries. True to his image, Tommy's submission, though a bit long, is worth the time. Here then is Tommy Fogarty's perspective on the 11th round of the Barber Dodge Pro Series from Road Atlanta.

Monday, October 2, 2000 Somewhere over Oklahoma

For the first time since I quit my desk job four years ago I'm typing away at my laptop keyboard in the Marquis De Sade section of a commercial airliner. I actually fit in today with the rest of the passengers - all I need to complete the assimilation are a coat, tie and that nervous, uneasy "I can't log on from here" look. The reason I'm typing in almost-coherent English sentences rather than poring over seemingly nonsensical charts of intersecting lines and histograms (Pi data acquisition material) is that I have promised George Tamayo, fearless Barber Dodge Pro Series "Media Guy" that I would recount my experiences over this last weekend, the eleventh round of the 2000 Barber Dodge Pro Series. It's not too much of an imposition on George's part, since I always keep a journal, which can be read on my website, www.tommyfogarty.com. Having said that, the deadline is an unwelcome reminder of the desk job I mentioned earlier. I'm flying home for just a day and a half since I have to go to a meeting in Monterey, and then I should have just enough time to say hello to my bobcats, Jasper and Alesi. Maybe I can start prepping my sprintcar for the final race of the season on October 14, too. The week (we were at Road Atlanta for almost an entire week, with testing beginning on Tuesday, the 26th of September) began with red eyes and coffee as my brother and I met up with Jon Vannini for a 7 am flight through Kansas and on to Atlanta. We boarded the plane and were stirred by the unexpected steely gaze of Vancouver's own Michael Valiante, aboard as well for the trip east. The flight started off well enough, with a nice sunrise and a great view of the San Francisco traffic that we weren't sitting in. We stopped in Kansas and then re-boarded for the second leg onto Atlanta. I remembered checking the weather radar before we left, and noticing that the only green spots in the US happened to be hunkered right over Atlanta, and sure enough... On our approach to Atlanta we had to fly through two really big storm-cells, and the turbulence was pretty wild. I was lucky enough to have a backward facing seat so that I could watch the faces of my fellow fearless Pro-Series drivers, and it was pretty amusing. Vannini made some strange faces and started humming Buddy Holly tunes while Valiante was much more animated. All I can say is anyone who thinks Michael complains at the track obviously hasn't seen him in severe turbulence. Once we landed and got Michael calmed down it was on to the track. We always try and go to the track on the set-up days so that we can talk to the mechanics. Luis and our gang often have some insights about tire wear and such, as they've been to all these tracks before.

Road Atlanta is a fantastic track- it has all the elements: fast-corners, technical corners, elevation change and a hard braking corner at the end of a long straight for passing. It really is one of the best tracks in North America. Someone should really put a (real) racing school here one of these days...

After having a look at the track we headed back toward our luxurious digs at the Holiday Inn in Suwannee (don't worry about pronouncing it, everyone says it differently back there). On the way we stopped and had dinner at Chili's. It tasted pretty much like the dinners we've had at Chili's in Sebring, Miami, Allentown, Hartford, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Green Bay, Vancouver and Monterey. You can always count on racing drivers to trying new things. Monday night my brother and I met up with our coach, Mike Zimicki and our teammate Jamie Menninga. We spent the evening reviewing maps and PI data (graphs of car speed, RPM, throttle position and g-forces plotted over time and distance) from the race in 1998. I always spend quite a bit of time going over track maps before each weekend and videos if they are available, but the PI data really tells the story. Road Atlanta isn't used too much by major series' like CART, Indy Lights or Atlantic, and the Pro Series hasn't been there in two years, so not too much data is available. We also talked quite a bit with Mike Z about the nuances of the track, which was extremely helpful to me, as I hadn't been to the track since 1994 and it was configured differently then.

Tuesday morning was an early one, as we were on track at 9:00 a.m., and one of Zimicki's TEAM SLIDERULE "slide rules" is that we must be at the track two hours before the session. It's a very good idea, but I've long believed that one should NEVER get up before sunrise unless one plans to either shoot something or use a flyrod. Yet, I found no deer tags, shells or fishing gear in any of my bags. The four of us convened again at the track and discussed the car settings (often at the beginning of the weekend each of us will try something different in order to see what works the best) over oatmeal and tea and then got ready to drive. I managed to greatly compromise the productivity of my session by spinning on my out-lap and exploding my intake plenum. Without going too deep into it this little maneuver basically results in a VERY high idle, which makes driving the car no fun. I brought the car in after ten laps, and Jack, Luis, Jason and the crew tried to replace the plenum, but there was not enough time. At least the time I had allowed me to learn the track. The guys fixed the car perfectly, of course, and the second session was going well until it was abbreviated when Ryan Hunter-Reay had a huge accident in turn-one. Somehow he left the track early in the turn and slammed the barrier nearly head on. The Reynard must've really done it's job, because it was awful looking when it was brought back to the pits, but Ryan was fine except for a sore hand and foot. Let's here it for carbon fiber crumple zones. I finished the session with a 1m 26.944-second lap- 102% of Sepp's (Koster) quick time. I like to use percentages to gauge my progress, as time differences can be misleading. For instance, one second might not mean much at a track where lap times are over two minutes, but it would mean a lot at a mile oval where the lap times are about twenty seconds. That afternoon we had another session, which I really botched again by spinning in turn eleven and breaking my right-rear locating arm on a drainage ditch. I hoped to do better on Wednesday. Thursday night we went and saw "Almost Famous", the autobiographical film by Cameron Crowe (the guy who wrote "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and directed "Jerry Maguire"). Great film. Go see it. Wednesday's session was frustrating, but the kind of session that is easy to have when you've put yourself as cleanly behind the eight-ball as I have. The data shows no major mistakes, but enough small ones to put me towards the back of the grid. In this crowd you really need to make the most of EVERY session, and I haven't. By Wednesday afternoon I could feel myself over-thinking everything- I just needed to calm down and focus on the things that would really translate into lap time. Wednesday we went to see "The Replacements" with Gene Hackman. Terrible movie. Don't see it. Thursday was first qualifying, and after a team meeting we hit the track again. Not a disastrous session for me, but not great either. I had a small problem engaging fifth gear, and I talked to Sal and Louis D'Agostino (the series engineer) about it. I may be applying too much pressure to the lever when I upshift. Trying to find pace while you are running out of time is like falling behind on a bottling line or trying to sight in a rifle when you're not even on the paper- you have no idea whether to change windage or elevation or how much either direction. There's no reference. I have no idea whether either of those analogies will resonate with anyone other than my brother. I talked quite a bit with Mike after the session, and I resolved to concentrate on only a few very important things overnight. The morning session on Friday would be much faster in the cool early air. No film on Thursday. Friday's session went well for me, but I'm still too slow. I changed what I needed to and found speed in the places I needed to. Problem is, most people found more. I would have to start seventeenth. End of story. I would just have to move up. I had a great race at Laguna after a bad qualifier; I would have to do the same here. Saturday's race was early, and we just had time to do a short team meeting and then we were dressed and warming up for the race. I spent about seven minutes visualizing the start. I had decided I would hang back a little from the row in front of me and try to carry a few extra miles per hour past the start line, where one can begin passing. It's a pretty dangerous strategy at Road Atlanta, but I felt I really didn't have much to lose. When we actually took the green flag, my idea seemed like it was going to work, so I was pretty happy until I saw lots of tire smoke and had a car get sideways in front of me. At that point, I went aggressively to the outside, but Jon Vannini had the same idea. I think he had checked up big-time because of the smoke (the smoke turned out to be from a minor contact incident between my brother and either Sperafico or T-Head Bayjork (Thed Bjork), which left my bro with a bent right front wing). Vannini and I went nose-to-tail in a train that was led by my brother, who was clearly disabled. On lap 12 my fifth gear started skipping teeth, and I lost quite a bit of ground. I did make up a spot, though, when Vannini did his Seth Enslowe impersonation in turn five. He got the spot back a few laps later when I lost fifth gear completely. For a while I was just improvising and not using fifth, but eventually I lost sixth too and retired. When I got to the pits I sat in the car and thought for a while, and concluded that if I was going to have a mechanical (they are very uncommon in the Pro-Series), at least this was the weekend to have it. Things just weren't going that well anyway. I went to the wall to watch the rest of the race and was surprised to see Valiante with a gigantic lead. He ended up winning easily, which is great. He's been knocking on the door all year and definitely deserves it, especially after the flight out. As for myself, I will learn some things from this weekend, but the result I will forget. One more weekend and then testing begins for next season. The next two days were great. We went to our friends Scott and Glenda Adams' house on Lake Lanier and just relaxed. We went fishing and hung out for two days. I had to leave on Monday for a meeting in Monterey, but before I did we went fishing with Don Roberson (Great guide- he runs a service on Lake Lanier at (770)887-7475) and I caught a really nice Striper and my brother caught a good Spotted Bass (that's a largemouth hybrid, for those who are uncultured enough not to fish). My flight left at 4:00 PM from Atlanta, so Scott dropped me off at the boat launch, where he had the biggest stretch Town Car I've ever seen waiting. I'm not a big limo guy, but there is something beautifully eccentric about being picked up at the boat launch covered in fish scales and live-bait slime and hopping into a limousine. One guy was so puzzled he jackknifed his bass boat and put a big dent in his brand-new Dodge 3500 Dually (that, by the way, is a real car). I gave him a card for www.copart.com and took off. This year has had lots of ups and downs for me, but at least I don't have to be worried about next year. I have a budget in place and I am pretty sure I will be back here in the Pro-Series again. I've learned a lot and developed just about everything I need except consistency, which will be my focus over the winter almost exclusively. One distraction I will not have after tomorrow is the lingering question of whether or not I will be able to keep my job as an instructor. Skip Barber Racing School's concession agreement term at Laguna Seca has expired, and we are up against another school for the next five years. The Monterey County Board of Supervisors meets tomorrow to decide which company will get to stay at Laguna Seca. I don't want to spend a lot of time in Fontana, so wish us luck! (Skip Barber was granted another five-year contract that Tuesday. Thanks Tommy for your help with that.-GT)

-Tommy Fogarty

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About this article
Series Other open wheel
Drivers Michael Valiante , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Jon Vannini , Thed Björk , Skip Barber