1999 Season Recap
last year, when i decided to go racing, i set some goals for myself which, at first, i didn't consider too lofty, i wanted to be solidly in the middle of the pack. average. i didn't consider this to be too much of a stretch. after all, average shouldn't be hard, right? i knew that as a rookie, i'd have a hard time racing against people who've been doing this for years, but i figured that if i worked at it, i should be able to finish in the middle somewhere. after all, i'd finished 2nd and 3rd in my drivers school races, that says something, right?
well, the season almost didn't start for us at all. i put together a test day at summit point raceway in april, two weeks before the first race, MARRS I (mid-atlantic road racing series). the day went well for everyone but me. shortly before the lunch break, i finally got on the track with the car which had done so well in the drivers schools, my 1985 BMW 318i. on my second lap of the morning, i rolled it over when i caught a curb in turn 6. the car ended up back on its wheels and i drove it back to the paddock. brett anderson, my crew chief at the time, bent some panels back and taped-up the broken windshield, and later that afternoon i took it back out on the track. well, i missed my braking point for turn 10, one of the fastest turns on the track, and spun off the outside of the turn. the car hit the gravel trap and flipped into the air, landing on its roof. all of the window glass exploded, and it came to a stop resting on its passenger side in the gravel. i crawled out and was greeted by the tow truck and ambulance. i was fine, but the car was destroyed.
in the next week and a half brett rebuilt the car. sitting in my garage was a parts car we had purchased for $300 the weekend prior to the test day. we stripped the rollcage, engine, suspension, and all of the other race parts off of the wrecked car, and assembled them on the parts car. it was a lot of late nights, but by MARRS I we had a racecar.
the MARRS season started off with me in the back, with a lot of learning to do. these guys were a LOT faster than the rookies i had been racing with. despite the fact that the car felt great, much better than the old one had, i was cautious, i had to relearn the car. at the first race i managed a 15th out of 24 starters at MARRS I. the second race, MARRS II was at watkins glen in new york, a famous track to say the least, but i had never driven there before, and i only managed 19th out of 24 starters. MARRS III was back at summit point, and it was hot. i spun the car in qualifying when the rear brakes locked up and ended up with a big dent in the door from a scirocco that couldn't get out of the way. despite the braking problems and the heat i finished 20th out of 28 ITB cars. we went back to the glen for MARRS IV, and i managed to get another 19th out of 27 ITB starters.
i was starting to take to heart the words a friend had told me before the season began, he said that mid-pack was a tough goal. there were people out there who had been racing for years without being in the middle of the pack, and that i shouldn't expect to be there in my first season.
things began to change in MARRS V. at this point we were done with any races on the road, from here on they would all be at summit point, a track i have a lot of experience with. i qualified for MARRS V 13th out of 25. the middle of the pack. exactly in the middle. i could do it! things were looking up. in all of my past races, i had qualified poorly, but been able to pass some cars and improve my position. based on this position, i might even be looking at a top 10 finish and extra MARRS series points! well, fate would step in. on the first lap, with everyone bunched very tightly through the first few turns, an SSC honda spun scattering the field as everyone took to the grass trying not to collide with the competition. as i drove through the gravel trap much of the field passed me and i re-entered the track behind the pack. other than the guy who spun, i was in last place. i spent the rest of the race passing people and was able to recover somewhat for a 12th place finish. it was a great race though, and i was happy with it.
the next two races were held on one weekend, labor day, the MARRS Double. i was excited about it. i had had a great race in MARRS V, and thought that if i could do the same thing in the double, without the fiasco on the first lap, i could finish in the points, top ten. only one problem... rain.
i've never liked the rain. i had both my street car accidents in the rain, drizzle really. i had hit a house and a tree in the same summer, when i was young. i hated the rain. i had also never had the luck to drive summit point raceway in the rain. summit point is a slick, slippery track when it's dry, in the rain it's like ice. deep puddles form at the apexes of the turns, slick red mud coats the racing surface, and a stream of runnoff flows unceasingly across the track between turns 8 and 9. the oils that gather on a racetrack all come to the surface in the rain. on top of all this, i had no rain tires.
qualifying sessions for both races of the double weekend are run on saturday, while the races are held on sunday and monday. typically each race has two qualifying sessions, but in this case we only have one shot at qualifying well for each race. morning qualifying, for my sunday race, was done in the dry, and i managed a 14th out of 30. in the afternoon, the rains came. i ran the only tires i had with any groove on them, an old set of kumhos. i hated it. the car slipped all over the place in every turn, it was like driving on ice. somehow i managed to qualify 16th out of the 31 cars in ITB though. i was, however, dreading the race.
i knew i couldn't race on the kumhos again, they were downright dangerous. i arranged to borrow a set of intermediate tires from a friend. these toyo tires had a soft race compound, but more imprtantly, they had a full-depth tread pattern, so they should shed the rain better than the slicks i had been running. the best rain tires for IT racing, however, are made by a company called hoosier, and they're actually designed for dirt-track racing. these tires are called dirt-stockers and i was told that, in the rain, "they make you feel like god". they're an incredibly soft rubber compound with a deep tread pattern. some of my competitors were running them.
as the race began, the sun was out and shining really brightly. the wet track was the same color as the sky. we ran the warm up lap and the borrowed intermediate tires were sticking nicely to the track. i felt good because if it didn't start raining again the track would dry a little, in which case these tires would be perfect. i had a nice start, sticking to the front-pack as the group behind me began to fall back a little bit. i picked up a place when a honda spun off in the chute, a high-speed, downhill right hander, and another when a 2002 drove off into the grass after not being able to make turn 5. unfortunately, those places weren't to last. exiting the carousel, turn 7, i overpowered it and spun around on the wet track. i slammed it into reverse when i saw the pack of cars, side by side, coming through the turn at me. they missed my bumper by inches as i backed away. i got back on the track but only after losing lots of track position. if i wasn't in dead last place, i was damn close. i powered on and began passing cars, working my way back up through the field. the tires felt great but the windshield was covered with mud because, although my wipers worked, the washer didn't. i finished 10th after a great race with dave toy in his 2002. dave and i had taken drivers school together and he was paddocked next to us. i dogged him for 4 or 5 laps before i was able to pass him and we had a great time racing each other.
monday it was raining even harder than it had on sunday, and it looked to be an even wetter race. while watching the ITS race, i got an idea. i hustled down to the tech shed after the race and approached a friend of mine, ed york, who had just finished 2nd in the race. i talked to him and offered to rent or buy the set of dirt stockers he had just used to run his race, since he was finished for the weekend. he agreed to lend them to me, and as soon as tech had released his car, my brother danny proceeded to remove his tires and replace them with a set of mine. he hustled the tires over to my car and installed them. as i sat in the car, on the grid waiting to go out, danny leaned in to the car and said "you know how these tires are supposed to make you feel like god? why don't we work up to that, okay?"
the tires WERE great.i knew the tires would be good from the moment the green flag dropped, despite the rain, they just stuck like glue. i started 16th in class and diving into the first turn i sliced between two cars under braking. the mist and spray from the cars was amazing, i couldn't see a thing, but neither could anyone else. just had to rely on the fact that everyone would make the corner. i started working my way through the field, one car at a time. following cars was tough because of the spray, but eventually i would get by. the car felt really good and i knew i was having my best race yet. i passed some cars which i knew usually run up towards the front, so i had a good idea i would place well. sometime about the 12th lap, as i was trying to chase down the next car, i locked them up under braking in turn one and flew off the end of the track. i managed to get it into the escape road, avoiding the gravel trap. i followed the escape road and came back onto the track having lost two positions. over the next few laps i fought back and grabbed one of the two spots i had lost. afterwards i found out i had ended up finishing in 7th place. it had been a great weekend despite the rain.
coming into the final event of the season i was pumped up for a good race. in the three weeks since the last race, the track had been re-paved for the first time in maybe a decade. the patchy, slippery, grooved pavement of summit point was now a beautiful strip of new black asphalt running through two miles of west virginia hills. also, since i had purchased my own brand new set of hoosier rain tires, we were guaranteed gorgeous weather for the weekend.
going into every race i set goals for myself, and so far i've been pretty good at meeting them. early in the season, i would set a goal like, 'finish on the same lap as the leaders' or 'qualify in the 1:37's'. for this race, based on my previous finishes i wanted to do two things (if it was dry). i wanted a top-ten finish and i wanted to run in the 1:34 range. my best lap time until now was a 1:35.0, but my average was more like 1:36.2. for comparison, the winners usually run around 1:31, although the lap record for my class is 1:30.49.
i went out to the first qualifying session with a new attitude. i gridded the car at the front of the pack and was determined to run qualfying as aggressively as possible, and get a good time. typically my race times are better than my qualifying times, much better. in the race i have an easier time being aggressive. i got in from qualifying and waited for the time sheets to be posted. 1:33.5, i was floored. i didn't expect to get in the 33's at all. that put me 9th.
in the second qualifying session, we ran two good laps until somebody blew a motor and oiled the track from turn one to turn three. from that point everybody's times got worse, and since they only use your best times from the two sessions, my 1:33.5 would be my best time. well, somebody below me must've had a good lap, i would be starting tomorrow's race in 10th.
i didn't get a great start on sunday. the front pack seemed to walk away from me as we dove towards turn 1. i caught up under braking and an incident at the apex between a 2002 and an alfa romeo caused the '02 to slide to the outside of the track. he ended up inadvertently blocking a line of cars behind him and i was able to sneak by on the inside. that first lap was fast, and i was holding on to the cars in the front pack. i was able to pass one car, a volvo, and then another volvo. the second one was quick though and spent the next few laps stuck to my tail as if he were a trailer. a few laps into this i fumbled. coming out of turn one i missed my shift and lost some speed. he rocketed by me like i was standing still. as the race went on i tried to stay with him, but he slowly moved away. at this point i knew i was doing pretty well, but i was hoping the car would hold together until the end. the temperature guage, which had not worked for the last few races, had finally come to life at the beginning of this race, and it was pegged in the red, little puffs of coolant were coming from under the hood and leaving droplets on my windshield. the gas guage was showing empty, but it isn't very reliable anyway. eventually the race ended without me losing more then that one position to the volvo. i finished 7th (out of 29) and ran a fast lap of 1:32.527 (!) in the race.
the track paving caused many of the lap records to fall that weekend, but not the ITB record. the leader of the ITB race ran a fast lap of 1:30.876. when i started this season, i had been told by a lot of folks that the BMW 318i couldn't be competitive in ITB. just comparing them to the 2002's which win consistently tells you they shouldn't be competitive. the 2002 is allowed to be 160 lbs lighter, and it should have more horsepower because of it's bigger engine. we'll have to see what happens next year, but i think this car can be competitive.
so, that was my season, i'm glad it's over. it was a hell of a lot of fun, but it's going to be nice to have my weekends back again, at least until next spring when it starts all over again. i can't wait!