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Grand Am Cup Racing 2006

Team News And Photo Site

Daytona Race - January 26th, 27th

Link:  2006 Rolex 24 at Daytona Schedule

Racing the Backroads of Daytona!

Wednesday, January 25 (two days to race)

Beth and I left our home at 4:30am for our drive to Daytona.  Shadow the Wonder dog stayed home with my folks (who had agreed to house-sit), so she had a good 4-5 days of being spoiled instead of being locked up in a hotel room.  I don't want you to think I've given up on flying around with Danny - I certainly look forward to taking another trip in the Seawind.  Its just that I decided to drive because I had a small SUV full of gear to take down - tools, scales, clothes, etc.  Plus Danny was planning to fly back Friday night so he could spend some quality time with his wife and family, and I talked Beth into staying a couple extra days so we could watch the 24 hour race on Saturday and Sunday. 

Traffic was light, so we made the 560 mile drive in about 8 hours (by stopping only once for gas and food), arriving by 12:30 in the afternoon.  Right as we were about enter the track, Doc called and said they were just sitting around because they weren't allowed to unload the transporter yet.  Between the Rolex and the Grand Am Cup racers, there were probably 150 or so tractor trailer rigs full of cars and parts - they don't allow unloading until they are all in position.  I suppose that's because it would be chaos trying to park rigs while folks are unloading.  So Beth and I took advantage of the downtime to check into our hotel, and I checked email and tried unsuccessfully to take a nap.  Finally I couldn't stand sitting around the hotel anymore, so I decided to head over to the track around 2:30pm.

My timing couldn't have been better and I arrived just as Nick and his guys have all 4 of the cars unloaded off of the ROAR transporter - the 3 NRG Racing cars, and our HBAR car.  I never see these guys loafing around - they always find something more to do - if they run out of stuff they polish and clean the cars.

Doc, Lenworth and I kept pretty busy as well.  Lenworth took the rims over to the Hoosier shop, and had a fresh set of tires mounted up.  Then we set to work corner-balancing the car.  I was hoping to use the official Grand Am scales to help with this, as they would probably be more accurate than my own, however they were tied up with getting cars through tech inspection.  Good thing I brought my own scales.   Lenworth and I set to work and it didn't actually take that long to re-balance the car - probably not more than an hour.  

Crew Chief Jon wasn't planning to arrive until the next morning, so I went to the mandatory Crew Chief meeting from 4-5pm on his behalf.   I felt pretty out place - a clueless driver in a sea of grizzled veterans that all seemed to know what was going on.  It was one of those situations where you knew if you asked a question it would be the single-most-stupid-question-in-the-whole-blessed-world, so I just kept my mouth shut and tried to write down anything that seemed even remotely important.   At the end of the meeting, they called each team up in turn, and asked us to select our pit assignments for the race.  This is somewhat important, because there aren't enough pit stalls for the field of almost 100 cars - so each team would have to share a pit stall with another car.  Fortunately, this entitled our 4 car Roar team to select two full pit stalls, and I was able to get 2 that were adjacent to each other.   Hey, I did two things right - I kept my mouth shut when I was supposed to, and I got the team 2 adjacent pit stalls. 

Meanwhile, Lenworth and Doc had been tying up a few loose ends on the car.  Finally at 6:00, they kicked everyone out of the garages, and we called it a day.  It was actually a pretty productive few hours.   

Danny landed, gauges working, sometime around 5:30pm, and managed to get a ride to the K-Mart shopping center where he had left his racing rig parked since the Daytona Practice a few weeks earlier.  Actually he had left it at the Courtyard by Marriott, but they decided it took up too much space.  So a couple of weeks ago, when Danny was "flying through" the area he stopped and moved it.  That was pretty nice of K-Mart to let him keep it there - they are near the track, and I think that's the type of town Daytona is - racing is in the blood and they don't mind helping out a racing team whenever they can.  We all met at Danny's rig, then went to dinner at Uno's across the street from the track, where Danny entertains us with stories from his Ranger days.  Mostly about scary parachuting jumps and eating some of the most disgusting food in some of the remotest locations the world will ever know.  Then Danny and Doc and Lenworth took the rig to the track, and camped in it overnight.   Beth and I retired to the somewhat more civilized accommodations of the LaQuinta Inn.

Thursday, January 26 (practice and qualifying)

I arrived at the track at 7:30am (that's when the garages open), and Lenworth already had the car near the front of the tech inspection line.  When they opened the gates, he made a beeline to the car, rushing to get it in line.  It was a good thing, since the line was soon over 50 cars long.  On today's schedule are two 45 minute practice sessions, followed by a 15 minute qualifying session at 5:00pm.   Danny and I are looking forward to getting some much needed seat time at Daytona prior to the race.  As you may recall, we didn't get much "drive time" during the Daytona practice a few weeks earlier.

Jon and Sri drove overnight, the entire way from Wilmington.  Once they made it through the registration maze, they were able to join us in the paddock.  Unfortunately, Aaron and Scott couldn't make it after all, so we were going to have to make do with a slightly smaller crew than planned.

Soon after, we were joined by my buddy Bill Gratton, along with Bob Sherwood and Art McDonald.  Because we needed some help, Bill was drafted to join the crew.   He rode down with Bob and Art, and the plan is for Bill to drive Danny's rig back to Wilmington on Sunday when the 24 hour race is over.  While watching the practice sessions and the races, Art took some great pictures, and a little video, some of which I will use on this page.

About this time we notice that we happen to be paddocked in "Garage Bay #13" ---- hmmmm, could that be an omen of things to come?  Lets hope not!  The paddock was hopping, and there was a definite buzz in the air as almost 100 race teams prepared for the first 11:45am practice session.   Doc and I also decided to reset the suspension's camber and toe, which actually took a bit longer than I expected.  The good thing was that it was just like the suspension setup on my older '94 RX-7, so it wasn't all that unfamiliar.    And then of course, right on cue, a minor disaster struck.   Finishing up the suspension settings would have to wait...

We had decided we needed to fill the fuel tank to the brim before our first practice, mainly so we could do some calculations on our fuel mileage. This was so we could calculate if we could make the entire 200 mile race on one fuel stop.  That is when we discovered we had a fuel leak in the fuel pipe that is used to fill the car!  It seems that Grand Am had instituted a new rule that required special shielding on any fuel piping that passes through the passenger compartment - so of course Doc complied, and yesterday he had a fabricator come to his shop to make up the necessary shielding.  Sometime during the installation, the pipe got "stressed", and developed a crack in the flange where it entered the fuel tank.   Since this fitting is at the very top of the tank, it wasn't until we filled up the tank that we found this out. 

Sri and Lenworth worked rapidly to drain the fuel tank.  They connected some tubing to the fuel line underneath the hood, then used the RX-8's own fuel pump to drain part of the tank into a gas jug.  We needed to get about 6-7 gallons out to stop the leak (with a little extra margin for safety).  The plan was to dry up the spilled gas, then use a super fast drying "marine grade" epoxy to seal the flange.   With 30 minutes before practice starts, Doc and I hop in my street car and make a mad dash to the Marina down near the beach, where we hope to find a store that will carry this stuff.  According to Doc, if we use a Marine Grade epoxy - it will cure in 15 minutes and not break down when exposed to gasoline.

We don't make it back with the epoxy until practice is ready to start.  While we were gone, Lenworth dried up the spilled gas, and prepared the area for the epoxy.  Doc sealed the leak, and we let it cure for about 1/2 an hour, just to be safe.  We also decide NOT to refill the gas tank - we would drive the session with only 1/2 a tank or so, just in case.  It was 12:15pm, and with only 15 minutes left in the test session, Danny and I discuss who would get to drive the session, since there won't be enough time left for a driver change.  I argue that since I got to drive the car all day at Roebling, Danny needs the practice more than me, so he should drive.   And heck, if the car turns into a flaming meteor, fearless Danny Alvis is definitely the man for the job!  And if you think I'm kidding, read on...

Danny gets in the car, and the rest of us go to the pits to watch.  Here's a picture of the Turner Motorsports BMW M3, driven by Bill Auberlen and Chris Gleason in the faster GS Class.  I don't know much about Chris, but Bill Auberlen has driven just about every type of sports car there is, and he is considered one of the best drivers in the entire world.  Period.

Mr. Roar Racing, Rob Whitener III, and Nick are co-driving the #62 car.   I'm not sure who is driving in this photo (taken by Art from the grandstands in Turn 3).

Danny makes it on track without incident, and the car performs well.  He isn't entirely happy with how the car is handling - he says it is oversteering quite a bit, despite the suspension adjustments we made last evening.  So it looks like we will need to make another adjustment.  Art took a short  video of Danny from the Grandstands outside of Turn 3.

Art's Video of Danny on track <=== Link

After the practice, the ROAR team congregates in the pits around the #25 RX-8.  Sitting  on the wall with her back to us, in the blue drivers suit, is Dr. Susan Addison, co-driving the #26 "sister" car with Franklin Futrelle IV. If you have a moment, check out this press release which discusses her remarkable entry into Grand Am Cup racing.

While Susan and I are rookies, most of the drivers in Grand Am are seasoned veterans.  A perennial fan favorite, Boris Said, is caught strolling through the pits.  Like many of the drivers in the Grand Am Cup race, Boris will also drive in the Rolex 24 hour race, making for a busy weekend.  Everybody has a Boris story - here is mine:  The BMW PTG team was practicing at VIR one day (Boris is a BMW factory driver), and they were alternating the track time with us mere mortals.  During lunch, I had gone out to get some gas, and happened upon a small beagle puppy dog, lost by the side of the road.  I brought it back to the track, and Boris fell in love with it - he started feeding it parts of his sandwich.  The story has a happy ending - I put up some signs, and a couple of days later I found the owner of the dog.

After practice, with Danny's input, we make some minor suspension adjustments to the car.  We decide to stiffen the front sway bar in order to tune out some of the oversteer.  We also attempt to refill the gas tank, so that we can test our fuel mileage in the next practice session.  We then find out that the repair didn't quite work, so we re-drain the tank and try again.  If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.  This could be a problem as we can't run an endurance race on half a tank of gas.

The next practice session starts promptly at 2:45pm, and we decide that I will drive the first half, then turn the car over to Danny for the second half.  The car feels pretty good, but because we changed the differential since we were here last, I find that I am once again having to re-learn when to shift gears.  On the first lap, when I was coming down the front straight, the engine screaming towards redline (I had 4 of 6 red lights showing on the tach), I reached for, and attempted to shift to.... 7th gear.  Wait a second, there is no 7th gear!  

Mid-way through the session, I'm about a lap away from coming into the pits to turn the car over to Danny, and I make a crucial mistake.  Right as I'm entering Nascar turns 3 and 4 (the final turns before the pits), they throw a full course black flag due to a crash somewhere else on the track.  There are no flag stations in the banking - only yellow lights way up at the top, where I don't happen to be looking.  Unfortunately I missed the lights going from green to yellow, and I don't realize its a black flag situation until I see the flag stand at the start-finish line.    Its too late for me to dive into the pits as I'm supposed to, so I have to make another lap of the track.  The penalty is severe - once I got off track, we weren't allowed to re-enter when the track turned "green", so Danny missed out on driving the 2nd half of the 45 minute session.   Needless to say, I felt pretty bad about the whole thing, as it cost Danny some valuable practice time.

Next up is qualifying at 5:00pm.  Bill and Lenworth mount up the tires that we had "heat cycled" at Roebling during our last session there.  We planned to drive on those tires during the race.  "Scrubbing in" or "Heat cycling" the tires and then letting them sit overnight, would theoretically allow the tires to last longer.    I don't know where all the time disappeared, but with about 25 minutes before qualifying we discover we need to add some fuel.  We don't need much gas in the car for qualifying, but we do need about 5 gallons, so I hop in the car and take it over to the fuel station.   Only I didn't realize there are TWO fueling stations at Daytona, and of course I drove all the way to the wrong one - the one I drove to was for the Rolex cars.  The Grand Am fueling station was at the OTHER end of the paddock, and the Rolex guys refused to give me so much as a drop.  Must be a rules thing, I'm sure.   Finally I get the car gassed up, get back to the paddock, put on my drivers suit and get the car in line.  Bill double checks to make sure the  lug nuts are tight and the tire pressures are set, but darn it, I didn't have time to put the video camera in.  I think Bill had to add a little air to one of the tires, but he gets it taken care of.  But isn't that perhaps a little strange?  We didn't think so at the time...

While waiting on the grid to go out, I realize I'm just in front of the Sylvain Tremblay / David Haskell #70 SpeedSource car, and they are consistently the fastest of all the RX-8 drivers.  Hmmm, this is a good opportunity to learn something, so I decide right away that I'll let him by at the earliest opportunity, then try to follow him around.   It almost works, before everything goes all straight to "you know where"...

First lap out, and I'm right where I want to be.  Haskell is driving the yellow RX-8, and I figure he will punch a hole through the few cars in front of him, and I'll do my best to stick to his bumper.   Only I can't - he makes his way through traffic, I get a little held up, and voila, he's gone, and I'm left fighting in the midst of a pack of cars.  This is not what you want for qualifying - you want clean, open track.   Everyone's thinking "if I could just get clear of these other 3-4 bozo's, I'd get an clean lap!"  It's a battle for position that we shouldn't be having, and as I'm coming through turn 3 on the inside of another Silver RX-8, we touch ever so slightly.  At the time I didn't even know we made contact, but Lenworth was watching from the stands, and he insists he saw sparks flying between the cars.  Later we find out there isn't a scratch on our car's bodywork - but because I had the wheel turned, the edge of the front left rim barely contacted the other car - and there are paint marks on the spokes.  Now that is close racing!  This would prove to be a problem, as only 1 lap into qualifying, I had a tire that was now losing air (but I didn't know it at the time). 

So I'm still on track, oblivious to my leaking tire, trying to break out of the pack.  And my car starts getting slower, and I don't really know why.  It starts understeering in the infield right handers, and oversteering in the left hander that enters the Nascar banking.  I adjust my driving to compensate, trying even harder to go faster, and then I spectacularly screw up in the chicane, but don't hit anything.   Actually this happens two laps in a row.  I'm on the radio to Jon, apologizing to the crew for letting them down - Jon is reassuring me - telling me to hold it together, and try to get one good lap in - that is all we need.  Its only a 15 minute session, maybe 6-7 laps total, so I gut it out and try to get a good lap.   Each lap is worse than the previous one - I can tell as cars slowly disappear into the distance.

Mercifully the session ends quickly.  Back at the paddock, Doc consoles me (maybe the goofy fur hat helped just a little - heck, its Florida, Doc).  I felt terrible for the team as I thought I'd let them down with my poor showing during qualifying.  What the heck was going on?  Did I forget how to drive?  When I was out there I couldn't seem to do anything right.  That's when Lenworth made it back to the garage, and said the silver RX-8 made contact with us.  We start looking at the car, but there is no obvious sign of contact - then we first notice the bent rim on the left-front of the car.   We check the tire pressure, and we find that we had about 1/2 the air left in it.   Then one of the super-nice Play Therapy Racing guys comes over from the adjacent garage, and points out that our right rear tire is flat too.  These Hoosier tires have pretty stiff sidewalls, so you may not notice a flat unless you're really looking and sure enough he's right - the right rear only had 7lbs of air pressure in it total, almost a complete flat tire.  Holy cow, I was circulating around the track at 150+mph with the left front tire going down, and the right rear tire already down.   It looks like the right rear tire was flat due to a leaky valve stem.   How could I not figure this out?   I've driven on flat tires before, and you can really tell when it happens as one end of the car gets really squirrelly.  But in this case, with a partial flat on opposite corners, I was totally confused about the situation.  I think my last practice lap was a 2'17", which really isn't great, but you have to consider the tire situation - that means I'm either:

A)  A really a brilliant driver for being able to drive quickly on two low tires,

- or -

B)  A really stupid driver for not figuring it out!

OK, live and learn (fortunately).   I was starting to feel better about our qualifying position, all things considered.  When you step back and put it in perspective, you realize it could have been a whole lot worse.  I could have turned the car into one big ol' ball of tin foil...

Back to work.  Between 5:30 and 9:30pm (when the garages close for the night), alot needed to be done to the car before the next morning's practice session. 

1)  We needed to put the practice tires back on

2)  For all the rims that had them, I wanted the metal valve stems replaced with good old rubber ones, because the metal valve stems can sometimes leak if they become "unscrewed" slightly.  That's what happened to the right rear tire.

3)  We needed to finish up our alignment.  We never really got the alignment right because we were having to scramble to fix the leaking fuel pipe and just plain forgot about it.  It turns out we had a toe out condition in the rear which is really not such a good idea...

4)  We needed to fill the fuel tank to make sure it wasn't still leaking. 

5)  And about 50,000 other little things I can't remember now that always seem to crop up, like charging the radio batteries, checking the oil, cleaning the windshield, checking the brakes, etc.

Bill has got to be the best dang friend in the whole darn world, that anybody ever had.  He's often first to arrive, last to leave, never complains about the workload, always willing to do whatever needs to be done - and when he's finished the next words out of his mouth are "what can I do to help".  

Finally around 8:30pm, we decide to test the fuel tank.  We top off the tank and find that its still seeping fuel at the inlet.  Doc and Lenworth jump right on it, pump some gas out of the tank, clean up the junction area, and Doc tries again with the Marine grade epoxy.  If it doesn't seal up overnight, we'll have to go to plan B, whatever that is.  9:30pm comes - time to go home for the night.

Friday, January 27 (Race Day Arrives!)

This morning we have 1 practice session, then later in the afternoon, we race.

Doc and Lenworth arrive first thing in the morning to find the fuel tank fix didn't fully cure.  Sri offered to scrape off all the marine grade epoxy, and then give it a shot with good old fashion "JB Weld" epoxy.   This is a racer's cureall when all other repairs fail - if this didn't work, then we'd probably have to rip the whole thing out and start from scratch. 

Last night I had taken the "race/qualifying" tire off of the bent rim and put it on one of our practice rims for the race, which had left us 1 practice tire/rim short.  We were going to try to borrow a practice tire/rim from one of the other team cars, but it didn't work out.  And since we didn't want to practice on the race tire, Danny had to run over to the Hoosier guys this morning, and swap the practice tire back on the rim.  Here you see me doing probably my only "work" of the day - reinstalling the one practice tire to make a full set.  Sri and Jon wouldn't let me touch the car the rest of the day, which suited me just fine.  They wanted me fresh for the race.

Doc had been trying different engine computer "maps" throughout the weekend.   The computer map basically tells the injection system how much fuel to deliver at each engine rpm and load.  We decided to go back to the original "map" that we ran at Roebling, so Doc set to work re-programming the engine computer.

Victor left work yesterday evening, and drove through the night to get to Daytona.  He got right to work performing fuel calculations, trying to determine when we should have our pit stop during the race.

Here I am explaining to a skeptical crew that yesterday during qualifying, once when I went to shift, I couldn't find any gears at all - it felt like I was rowing around in an empty gearbox.  It never happened again, so naturally these guys are looking at me like I'm crazy, which is probably true.  I acknowledged that it may have been driver error, but to file this information away in case it happens again.


Yes, Playboy sponsors several cars, and yes, there were Playboy bunnies running around the paddock and fan areas.  No, I don't have any pictures of anything besides this car.

Practice approaches, and Sri finishes up with the 4th or 5th repair on the fuel pipe, this time with "JB Weld".  We decide to run the car on only 3/4 of a tank of gas - we won't put the repair to the full test until after practice.  Yesterday Danny didn't get much practice due to my "black flag" error, so we agree he would drive the first 25-30 minutes, and I would drive the last 15 minutes, just enough so I would be "fresh" for the race.

For timing and scoring, Victor uses an I-Card system plugged into his laptop.  This allows him to receive real-time race information, broadcast by Grand Am race control.  He can see the lap times of our car and our competitors, as well as keep track of overall race position, number of laps completed, number of laps to go, etc.  This is invaluable information during the race, and pretty handy during practice, too.

Two of the ROAR team cars, circulating almost in formation.  Nick and Rob drive the #62 car, while the #25 car is driven by Mark Allen and Beau Buisson.

The long arm of the law extends to pit lane, where the speed limit is 45mph, and strictly enforced.   Exceed it and face a time penalty. 

Danny's practice session is uneventful, and he pulls into the pits around the 25 minute mark to change drivers.  Here you see Bill and Sri checking tire temperatures, while Lenworth (on the opposite side of the car) is checking tire pressures.  We are starting to get organized and things are looking up.  Danny is helping me get belted in, which is tougher than you might think when you are wearing a full-face helmet with a Hans device attached (which limits your head movement), and nomex gloves.  With limited sight, mobility and grip, you feel like an astronaut on a spacewalk trying repair the Hubble telescope. 

After getting in the car, I'd like to say the rest of the practice session went smoothly, but that would be a lie.  After 2 or 3 laps, the car gave a brief sputter in infield turn 6, but it kept on going.  I radioed to Jon that I thought I might be running out of gas.   As I exited the banking of NASCAR turn 2, it sputtered again badly, and I knew I was in trouble.  Then it died completely with one last gasp.  There is a huge flat concrete area that runs down the left side of the straight, so I pulled the car off and let it coast as far as it would go.   By sheer luck I coasted to the corner worker / safety area and came to a stop.  It felt like I had run out of gas, but the gas gauge disagreed slightly with that assessment.  In any event, my session was over, and a tow truck came and took me to the garage.

To the left is Anthony Breon, owner of " of South Florida", along with his significant other, and friend, Mario.  Anthony did a fantastic job on the roll cage in our car and he comes highly recommended.

Work continues on the car as Doc puzzles over why it seemed like it ran out of gas. If the fuel gauge could be believed, it didn't.  So why did it die?  There were several theories:

1)  Bad fuel pump relay

2)  Bad / overheating fuel pump

3)  Bad fuel pickup not allowing us to fully empty the tank

4)  Fuel gauge is wrong - we really did run out of gas

We top off the fuel, putting to the test Sri's fuel pipe fix. It holds!  No leaks what-so-ever!  But the car wouldn't take more than 10 gallons or so of fuel.  So we probably weren't out of gas.   Doc replaces the fuel pump relay and checks the fuel pump. It now seems to work ok.  Hmmm...

On a different note, we actually had some good data from our practice with regard to tire temperatures and tire pressures.  Danny had noticed that we weren't seeming to use all of the available tread on the tires (based on the observed wear pattern) and insisted we look into whether we were running the tire pressures too high.  Also it seemed the car would develop an understeering "push" tendency as the session wore on.  Armed with the data, Jon went and talked to the Hoosier tire rep, and confirmed Danny's suspicion.  We decided to make a significant tire pressure change to the car, even though this meant we wouldn't be able to test it.   This is generally a "no-no", but since we have been running mid-pack, we don't have alot to lose.

Race time rapidly approaches and soon we are out of time.  All of the tools and gear are packed onto the massive rolling tool chest, and the team heads to the pits.  With Doc's help I buckle in to the car - he hands me a spare relay just in case I get stranded somewhere.  It didn't sound like such a bad idea at the time, but in retrospect, what were we thinking? 

The cars are lined up on pit row, in qualifying order.  The drivers are announced on the PA, and the national anthem is sung.  The vast majority of spectators watch from the infield stands, or are sitting on the tops of RV's.  Very few are in the NASCAR bleachers.

7-8 rows ahead are the front runners in the ST Class.  I'm gridded almost exactly in the middle of my field.  Finally time winds down and we perform our pace lap.  Most race starts are done in 3rd gear, but well before we approach the start/finish line, I am in 5th gear under full throttle - this will be by far the fastest race start I have ever done.  The first two laps are chaos, as cars push and shove their way through the field.  I'm concentrating on keeping the car "clean", and when I review the video afterwards, I can see that I wasn't driving as aggressively as I should.  I think I lost a few positions over the first couple of laps as a result of this.

<=== Click Picture for Video

Finally after a few laps, things settle down, and I decide to start making my move.

I pass a few cars, and start feeling pretty good.  Then I make a crucial mistake, and enter the chicane too hot.   I go off track, and its such a bad spot - its like a funnel - that I have to wait for most of the field to pass before I can safely re-enter.  What a rookie mistake!

<=== Click picture for video

Then a full-course caution is called due to a bad crash in turn 1.  Its a terrible place to lose control, as you need to brake from over 150mph (probably 170 mph for the GS cars), all the way down to about 75mph.   Because of the caution, the field regroups in single file.  After the restart, I begin picking off some of the cars that got by me when I went off in the chicane. 

Back in the paddock, the crew is probably a little concerned by my up-and-down progress.  Then it happens - at one point, the sun, the moon, and the stars lined up all at once, and I pass 7 cars in about 1 1/3 laps.  Beth said Doc whooped for joy when he saw us regain so many positions at once.

During this, I actually made contact in turn 3 with a SpeedSource RX-8 - you'll see it in the video.  And someone must have dropped some sand into the infield kink, because it got quite slippery there.  That worked to my advantage and allowed me to overtake a few of the more cautious drivers, even though I'm making tons of mistakes.  

<=== Click Picture for Video

After this, I'm feeling pretty good.  For several laps I circle the track by myself.  The car starts to pick up its "push" in the front end, but its manageable, and I can adjust my driving style accordingly.  Then disaster happens once again, but this time with no advance warning.  The car stumbles and dies in the same exact place on track as during practice - coming out of NASCAR turn 2 onto the back straight.  Once again I coast to the gap in the wall right before the chicane, where two workers push me behind the wall to safety.   I hop out of the car and replace the fuel relay, but that doesn't fix it.   I crank and crank and crank on the starter, and after a minute, the car stumbles back to life!  I reach for the window net, and it comes undone in my hand. Crap.  OK, I can't get back on track like that, so what do I do?   Maybe I can make it back to the pits. 

So I start driving on the grass, just inside the NASCAR oval - there is nothing between me and the track surface.  Cars are whizzing by at 140-160mph, but for the most part I'm at a safe distance - the only time I get nervous is when I go by the chicane, because it bends in very close.  I'm worried the track officials are going to throw me out of the race, because my window net is clearly out of position.   I'm almost to the pits, most of the way through the grass inside of NASCAR turn 3, but I can feel the car starting to die again.  I don't want to cause a full course caution by stopping in a vulnerable spot, so I look for another break in the wall / guardrail.  I spot one up ahead, and just manage to get halfway through it before the car dies again.  I bound out of the wounded RX-8, and heaving mightily against a slight gravel incline, I push the car the rest of the way though the gap. 

Exhausted from the effort (I need to get in better shape!), I jump back in the car and try to restart it.  No go - and not a corner worker in sight.  I radio to Jon that I am stranded once more.  Just when I thought the battery was dead, the engine cleared its throat and came back to life.  This time I wisely decided to take the car directly to the paddock garages - to heck with the pits.  So I followed an access road used by the corner workers - it paralleled the track just inside NASCAR oval, but this time I was on the SAFE side of the guardrail.   I come upon a locked gate, and a surprised official jumps out of a chair and opens it for me.  The access road dumps me into the ROLEX paddock area, and the place is jammed with spectators and race teams preparing for the upcoming 24 hour race.   Out of my way, don't these people realize I'm in a race?!   I manage to nurse the car back to the garage, where most of the team is already waiting. 

(Editors note:  When I told my buddy Scott Smith about this part of my "adventure", he suggested I write a book, "Racing the Backroads of Daytona")

Doc and Lenworth are trying to figure out what's wrong.  One thing's for sure, it isn't the relay!   Just for grins, I hand Danny the "spare" one I swapped out of the car, just in case he might need it.  All told It probably took me 10-15 minutes to get back to the garage.  We fiddled with the car for another 10-15 minutes, trying to diagnose the failure.

Here you see the front fender damage caused by the contact in turn 3 with one of the SpeedSource cars.  Danny and I pulled it out a bit to make sure it didn't rub against the tire.  There was also a minor "wheel donut" on the rear door, which you can barely make out in the previous photo.  Its not too bad really - it felt like a much worse jolt to me when it happened.  Brian (from the Corner-Carvers website) came by later and said the impact was so great, that he saw both cars jump off the ground.

Now seems like a good time to do the driver change, so Danny straps himself in.  We don't really know what failed, but it definitely seems to be related to the overall fuel level.  We figure if we just keep the tank topped off, it ought to run just fine.  Certainly you can't do very well in a 2 hour race with a 30 minute pit stop, which, by the time Danny gets back on track, is what this whole escapade cost us.  However we think it's important to finish, so we decide to continue.  We top off the gas tank, and prepare to send the car back on track. 

Now its my turn to look pensive in the pits, as Danny circles the track.  Not a whole lot for us to do now but watch.

By dumb luck, Danny comes back on track with the class leaders, although of course we are about 15 laps down.  Danny manages to have some fun with them, but since we aren't racing for the lead, he doesn't challenge them directly, as that would be considered unsportsmanlike.  Instead he settles behind them as they make their way through the field, to see if he can learn anything about how we stack up.  

Here is one of the front running GS cars making a pit-stop, changing a tire and adding fuel at the same time.  The Speed Channel TV crew knows a story when it sees one.

Victor and Jon are trying to figure out when to bring Danny in for a "splash-and-go" pit stop.  Yes, we sent him out with only 45 minutes to go.  Yes, we should be able to go over an hour on 1 tank of gas.  However the car might die if the fuel level drops too low, and we are getting terrible fuel mileage.  So we'll have to stop again and take on more gas, just to make sure we finish without further incident.

With about 20 minutes left, we finally catch a "break" (yeah right), when another full course yellow is called.  This allows Danny to come in for fuel, without losing another lap to the leaders.  It's a short yellow, and the course soon goes back to green.

He drives a few laps, then shortly thereafter, the car starts smoking!  But the smoke isn't coming from the tailpipe (which would indicate an engine failure), but instead from somewhere underneath the car.  Danny makes another unscheduled pitstop so we can take a look. 

It doesn't seem "fatal" - Doc and Lenworth think the transmission is dumping some fluid on the exhaust pipe, where it is creating a terrible amount of smoke, but not really doing any damage.  We're not running a tranny cooler - maybe that would have helped.  Danny says the car seems to be running fine otherwise, and he isn't having any major difficulty shifting.    Now you can see the wheelmark left by the SpeedSource car in this photo.

There are only 4 laps to go.  If we go on track, we speculate that the worst that might happen is we start to lose gears.  Heck, at this point the transmission probably needs a rebuild anyway.

A Grand Am official asks us to push the car backwards, wanting to see if we are leaving a puddle of oil under the engine compartment.  But all that's under the car are a couple of minor drops of undetermined fluid.  So I ask the official how long we can sit in the pits - he says as long as we're "working" on the car, we can stay.  I'm thinking we ought to just park it here for a lap or two, then go out to take the checker.  I tell everybody to look busy.

I try to convince Danny to sit here for a lap or two, but he's not having any of it.  He came here to race, and dang-nab-it, he is determined to finish as well as possible.  He's got that perpetual fight in him - there ain't no holding him back when he's got the bit between his teeth, so out he goes.

With about 3 laps to the checker, Danny radios in that he's been punted badly in the Chicane by a GS class Porsche.  Danny says the Porsche tried an impossible pass in the middle of the chicane, and we all know the chicane has only 1 racing line.  He said they must have bounced off each other 3 times.  Brian (from Corner-Carvers) said the replay of the incident was shown immediately afterwards on the gigantic 50 foot Jumbo-tron, for the pleasure of the infield spectators.  This means it will certainly be on TV when they replay the race (on March 4th, I think). 

Two laps to go, and we are laying down a smokescreen worthy of a WWII Destroyer escort.  Look at the smoke in the cockpit!  Can you believe Danny is still driving this thing full speed?  He told me later, the only way he knew when to brake for turn 1 (the scariest braking zone on the track), was when he no longer saw the shadow of the grandstands.   This is the stuff of legend, don't you think?  When he was a Ranger, his nickname was "Danbo" (kind of like Rambo) - seems pretty appropriate.

They don't actually let us take the full checker.  On the final "white flag" lap, we are told to have Danny get the car off course.  Jon radios Danny, and he pulls it off track somewhere near turn 6.  I think we still got credit for finishing though.

The race is over, and Danny drives the car back to the pits.  You can see the significant damage caused by the Porsche. These doors don't open anymore.  But like all things, it could have been worse - there are some tire walls in the chicane that collected several other cars this weekend.

More Porsche damage - this front tire held up, but we probably won't be using it anymore.  And that's the end of the race.  How did we finish?  Well, not very well, in fact, I haven't paid much attention to it.  All I know is we finished ahead of a whole lot of cars that fell by the wayside and never made it to the end. Next time we resolve to do better!

But that's the way racing is.  Almost 100 cars showed up this week, with an expectation to win.   Only 2 went away winners - one GS class car, and one ST class car.  So the odds are stacked well against you from the get-go.  Still, we all show up and give it our best shot. 

Unfortunately the Play Therapy racing team had a disaster of their own.  The rear differential exploded and caused their fuel tank to catch fire.  Fortunately, the quick thinking driver activated the onboard fire extinguisher in time to save the car (and his life).   The entire car, inside and out, is covered with the extinguisher's dull white powder residue.  There is definitely some fire damage.  After this happened, they kept the car covered up, but I want them to know there is no shame in what happened to these guys - and I'm hoping they'll be able to get back on track soon.

Saturday, January 28 and Sunday January 29 - the Epilogue

Our race was over, and it was time to relax.  We decided to stay the weekend and take in the Rolex 24 hour race.  The race starts at noon on Saturday, and ends at noon on Sunday.  Just like in our race, the cars are put on the grid, but this time spectators are allowed to mill around and meet the drivers and ogle the cars up close.

This is Kenny, Sebastian and Kristopher, three hardworking ROAR crewmembers, whom I caught admiring Sylvain Tremblay's GT class RX-8.  This RX-8 is quite different than the ones Sylvain and Danny and I race in the ST class.  This one is built with a lighter tube frame chassis, all carbon fibre body panels, a sequential transmission, and has a 3 rotor engine (ours has 2 rotors) that makes probably twice the horsepower that his/our ST class car makes

The first half of the starting grid, consisting of the Daytona Prototype (DP) cars, as seen from high in the grandstands.

The second half of the grid, showing the GT class cars.  Just like our race, there will be two classes of cars on track at the same time - DP and GT.   You can see Sylvain's RX-8 on the second row - he qualified the car quite well!

At the start of the race, the GT cars make it cleanly through turn 1 with no contact.  Its a 24 hour race, and no one is in a hurry to crash in the first turn.  Sylvain's RX-8 is the third car through the turn, so he held his position.  We watched for a couple of hours, then took a break and headed back to the rig.

OK, now we get to the most controversial part of the story.   This is the part that will probably have Danbo kick my sorry butt across the room, but this is just too good to resist.  Talk about biting the hand that feeds you, but here goes.  Danny flew home last night, and MOST graciously let us use his rig during the 24 hour race as a base of operations.  He parked it in an RV area reserved for competitors.  Bill is going to drive it back to North Carolina for him on Sunday.  So until then, the rig provides us a place to relax, drink beer, sleep, etc.  It has a "stocked" fridge, a really neat observation deck on top, a TV with DVD player and so forth.  So its a pretty cool place to hang out when you need a break from all the cars going around in circles.  It was indeed very nice of him to let us use it.  But enough sucking up...

So I open the door to the so-called "stocked" fridge, and what do I see?  This must be food that only Danbo can eat.  This is exactly the same food that was in it three weeks ago when we came down here for our first Daytona practice.  Now I know the rig sat in the warm Florida sun, without any electricity, for 3 weeks.  And the rig is black, so when you close it up, it gets hot as blazes inside, even if its only 65 degrees outside.   In his defense, probably half the food in here doesn't really need to be refrigerated.  Nonetheless, no one touched ANY of the food in Danbo's fridge. 

This is Bill impersonating a grasshopper while talking to Jean Wilkins, who used to be the events director / manager at VIR.  Jean now works for Howard Boss Motorsports, the team that has the Rusty Wallace / Danica Patrick Rolex DP car everyone is talking about.  I never got a chance to stop by their paddock to say hello, but hopefully during a less hectic race weekend, I'll get an opportunity to do so.

Rob and Nick finagled their way into keeping the massive ROAR transporter in the Grand Am paddock.  Sitting directly on the infield, this is like having front row seats to a Stones concert.  Saturday night they had their observation deck erected on top, and the party was going strong throughout the 24 hour race evening. 

I could have taken tons of pictures of the Rolex race, but quite frankly, it will be photographed and written about ad nauseum by the professional press. So lets just say a good time was had by all, and some DP car won its class (they all seem the same to me), and unfortunately all 3 of the RX-8 GT cars broke, so some Porsche won the GT class (just like they do every year) and that's about all I paid attention to.   A 24 hour race is like a weekend long party - they have outdoor movies, and fireworks, and carnival rides all going on while the racing never stops.  Its pretty cool, and way cheaper than going to any other professional level sport.  Heck, for $80 or so, you get a 4 day pass that lets you watch every minute of action, from any seat in the house - you see up close every practice session, every qualifying session, and every race.  You get access to the paddock, and you can walk right up to the stars and start jabbering away like a blithering idiot.  Not only can you bring a cooler, you can bring in a whole blessed RV full of food, people and drinks.   There ain't nothing else like it this side of the Atlantic, so next year you better come, because its a truly spectacular sporting event.

But until then, I'll just try my best to keep you in the know.  

  A bit of a break, then we head for VIR in April!  Maybe we'll have an update in between.



To go to the next story, click on this link: VIR Practice