2006 Rolex 24 at Daytona Schedule
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
4) We needed to
fill the fuel tank to make sure it wasn't still
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.
27 (Race Day Arrives!)
This morning we have 1
practice session, then later in the afternoon, we
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
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
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
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
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
"RACECARBUILDERS.com 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
1) Bad fuel pump
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
<=== 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
But until then, I'll
just try my best to keep you in the know.