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One Lap of America 2001 - Bill and Mark's Excellent Adventure!
Event 5
Road Atlanta           Check the Weather forecast for Road Atlanta

  

 

“OH MAN, What’s wrong with those guys, as if its not hard core enough to just be running the one lap, they are updating the site as they go?!?!” 

 - Fellow Corner Carver that goes by the internet handle “sleprGT”

 We continue to write our updates in real-time, despite the fact that our website has been down since yesterday late afternoon.  We don’t know why the Lycos folks cut off our service, and they lack direct telephone support.  As of 5:00pm today, we have gotten no response from our emails to them to explain why they pulled the plug.  Or maybe it was just a server crash, and they haven’t gotten back up yet.  The fact that you are reading this now means we have either moved the website or the problem has since been fixed.  The timing of this couldn’t have been worse, and I apologize.  

I know that I have to keep writing these in the car as I go, or I will never be able to recreate exactly what happened and how we felt.  So I will continue to write these updates each day, and maybe later you can still enjoy them. 

In any event, here we go with the next installment.

 

Yesterday was the longest drive of our journey so far.  Fortunately the track sessions at the Texas Motorsport Ranch went quickly, so we were able to leave the track by 1:00pm Central time, 2:00pm Eastern.  This left us 18 hours to travel the 911 miles to Road Atlanta.  As usual, Bill and I were among the first to leave, but for some reason we end up traveling a bit slower than our competitors.  Maybe this is because we keep stopping at Walmarts for supplies (Bill gets a 10% discount, and we really like those falling low prices!).   Plus we decided to treat ourselves to a real sit-down meal at that wonderful southern mainstay, Waffle House, somewhere in Louisiana. 

 We hit the road once again refreshed, and decided to call our BMW buddies Scott Smith and David Basile, to see if they had caught up to us.  Scott and David end up running in a later run group, and typically leave the track about hour to an hour later than us.  Sure enough, they were already 40 miles ahead of us.  Oh well, we won’t get to caravan with Scott and David.  It should be noted that Bill is a truck driver by trade, and can’t afford to risk his license by driving too fast on the highway.  Nonetheless he can drive for hours on end tirelessly, even if his bladder is the size of a pea. 

Sometime around midnight, while I was giving Bill a break from driving, I was cruising at 80mph on I-20 and got passed by one of those really fancy Range Rovers, the big expensive ones that cost more than $50K.  It seemed to be comfortably cruising at 90 or so, so we followed on a safe distance back.  It turns out this was Brock Yates Sr., making the run from Texas to Atlanta.  You would think Brock might just hop in his personal plane, at least he strikes me as someone who might own a plane, but he drives the routes just like the rest of us. 

Bill and I managed to roll in around 3:15am and catch a few hours sleep at a hotel near the track.  We awoke at 7:15, and made it to the track by 8:00am sharp, right behind this yellow modified vette, which sported a custom rear wing that actually bolts into a trailer hitch receiver.  This is a clever way to make a removeable wing.  We didn’t need to get there as early as we had at previous tracks, as I had driven Road Atlanta once before, and didn’t need to walk it ahead of time.

 One of the surprising things is that Bill and I are still getting along well, in spite of the close quarters of the RX-7, and the fact that we see each other almost 24 hours a day.  We have seen some teams fall apart already – unfortunately the co-driver of the mini dropped out, and left the owner high and dry in Topeka (at least I think it was Topeka).  The Mini’s owner managed to pick up another co-driver, and continue the journey.  The Lotus Elise team developed some difficulty when the co-driver hit a guardrail at Watkins Glen, and after that we noticed they weren’t getting along too well.  Shortly thereafter the Lotus dropped out after breaking a fan belt on the highway, and had to be towed.  I would think a fan belt could be easily replaced, even for an exotic car, but I don’t know all the details as to why it didn’t return.

Atlanta locals Gene and Nancy Felber joined us at the track, and brought several pots of Starbucks Coffee (and cookies, they remembered the cookies!)  for all the One Lappers to enjoy.  David Kan also joined us, and I feel real bad for not recognizing him at first.  David was a student of mine when I instructed for the BMW club at my first Road Atlanta outing.  David, if you are reading this, I apologize.  I hope your newborn son, Thomas Ryan, is doing well.  I also enjoyed seeing Robbie Kollar, who as a fellow BMW Club racer, is one of the fastest drivers I have ever met.  I think it has something to do with the fact that Robbie has no fear of anything when he is behind the wheel. 

Also visiting Road Atlanta were several cobra replica owners.  In North Carolina there is an independent car manufacturer that builds cobra replicas, which are called Superformance Cobras.  This shop sets up a tent at local One Lap tracks, and invites their customers to bring their cobras.  Superformance manufactured the two Cobra replicas that are competing in One-Lap, and they are doing quite well.

Millionaire Don Panoz owns Road Atlanta.  He has gone into the car business recently, and he made sure some of his cars were on hand.  The closer car is a street going Panoz roadster, and the far vehicle is a racecar that he sells mostly to amateur racers such as myself.   The latter is well known for being fast, light, and inexpensive to race, with a list price of around $50,000.  Even amateur racing isn’t cheap.

Of course if you have a little more money, you can race one of these.  Here is one of my favorite race cars, the Panoz Le Mans Prototype (LMP).  These cars are raced in the American Le Mans Series, and were also campaigned at the 24 hour race in Le Mans France.  They manage to be both unusual and beautiful at the same time.

 

As I recall we warned you earlier that if you bring young ones to the track, we will corrupt them into incorrigible monsters, that can think of nothing else but motors and wheels.  Dan Gilbreath, a coworker of mine, failed to heed this warning and brought his two sons, Christian and Daniel, to see the action at Road Atlanta.   I could tell when they left the track, they had the gleam in their eyes that will only be cured by expensive injections of racing fuel, rubber and shiny sheetmetal.   Dan, this one is going to cost you.

This picture shows how we line up on track at the starting line.  The cars are released in intervals of about 10 seconds.  This minimizes on-track passing, and allows cars to run 3 clean laps without interference from other drivers, at least theoretically.  The first session on Road Atlanta’s circuit went very well for us.  I ran hard and we scored a 9th place overall finish, which moved us up another spot into 11th in the overall standings. We are still trying to crack the top 10 once more, but it is going to get tougher and tougher to do so.  As I glance at the standings, I can see that with each event, the cars tend to spread out in overall points.  We do remain within striking distance of a couple of teams, but it will take consistant driving from here on out to move up.    It is also possible that someone ahead of us will break.  After all, each event is worth 400 points, and few teams can afford to miss even one heat.

When lunch time rolled around, I decided to cruise the paddock and take some pictures of other interesting cars.

This is a Corvette that was heavily modified by a Supertuner call Mallet.   Take a standard C5 corvette, bore and stroke its motor (I think this means you make the pistons bigger and longer – we wouldn’t know much about Pistons since our car doesn’t have any!), and you end up with something like twice our horsepower.  This one is well driven by Ted Hughes and Barry Konken. 

 

As we were relaxing in preparation for our next heat, which would start after lunch, that crazy team driving the topless Corvette Grand Sport R replica (seen in the background) replaced a part on their drive shaft.  In the morning run, they broke the front U-joint that connects the drive shaft to the transmission, and in a matter of a couple hours, had a replacement brought in and installed it in time to make the afternoon session.  How they did this so quickly, I’ll never know, but they said a local vendor found a part from a heavy truck that was identical to the one they broke.  Some times it pays to drive good ol’ American iron.  If this part broke on our RX-7, they would probably have to fly in a replacement from Tokyo.  The Corvette GSR replica has no top – none at all.  And they are living in it for 4000 miles and a solid week.   Now that I think about it, if I were driving it, this drive shaft failure would have been an excellent excuse to go home, kick up my feet in a  warm, cozy house, and have a nice hot meal.   I think there is something about eating bugs, freezing in the rain, and enduring 90 mile an hour wind for hours on end, that rots your brain. 

These two vintage roadsters rolled in around noon, we think in preparation for an upcoming Ferrari event at Road Atlanta. 

They certainly turned heads everywhere they went, and I think those insane corvette drivers were trying to figure out where to put their luggage so they could run one of these for next years One-Lap. 

The second heat started around 1:15.  On my first hot lap, as I was accelerating out of turn 10, the back end of the car came around.  As I refused to lift off the throttle, the car power-slid up the hill, as I was heading under the crossover bridge at the crest of turn 11.  I started to think, “hmmm, I don’t remember there being a concrete wall right in the middle of the track?”  A photographer I spied conveniently located at the side of the track was certainly thinking “This is going to be really good, I better get this!”  Fortunately my stubbornness streak abruptly ended when my survival instinct took over.  I lifted off the throttle, corrected the orientation of the car, and rocketed over the hill without hitting anything.   But once again, my sideways on-track behavior was caught on celluloid by an opportunistic observer.  Which web-site will this embarrassing photo appear on?  

The damage was done though, not to the car, but to my lap time. This gaffe caused me to lose 2 valuable seconds, which could very easily mean a finishing position.  Fortunately the other two laps were pretty good, so maybe it won’t be too bad.  We left the track, as we always do, before the results were posted, so we can only wonder how we ended up.

 

After leaving Road Atlanta, we stopped at The Carolina Rod Shop, which was a checkpoint between Road Atlanta and Virginia International Raceway (VIR).  This lovely old Cadillac convertible caught my eye.  If only I had another garage. 

As I write this, its almost 7:00pm and we are traveling on Interstate 85 between Greensboro and my own home outside of Raleigh, NC.  I happen to live about an hour and a half from our next racetrack, VIR.  Bill and I, as well as my BMW friend Scott Smith and his co-driver David Basile, plan to stop by my house and sleep there.  For once we should have plenty of time to rest up for the next day.  I don’t know when you’ll get a chance to read this, as our website is still down, but as soon as it comes up, we’ll post this update so you can enjoy it. 

  

To go to the next story, click on this link: Virginia International Raceway