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One Lap of America 2001 - Bill and Mark's Excellent Adventure!
Event 6

Virginia International Raceway --- VIR

Check the Weather forecast for VIR


(I need to apologize for the quality of some of the photos on this page – apparently while I was taking pictures, I had gotten my camera lens a bit dirty.  I’m thinking that it was dog slobber from my trusty one-lap-dog Shadow, which my wife had brought along for the day.)

Bill and I rolled into my home just north of Raleigh around 8:00pm.  We were kind of thinking, this doesn’t feel right.  We actually have gotten somewhere before 3:00 in the morning – we could get used to this.  Not only that, we beat Scott and David in their M3 (who we offered to put up for the night) by almost an hour.  Scott and David are becoming legendary in their ability to eat up long distances in very short time.  The first thing out of Scott’s mouth when we next see him is “Boy aren’t those cops in <insert whatever town we just passed through> really scary?  They were giving us the once over on Interstate…”  We think this is pretty funny because WE haven’t gotten so much as a dirty look from the police.  Fortunately none of us four has gotten a ticket yet (knock on wood).  But maybe that explains why they get there ahead of us almost every time, despite leaving each track a half hour to an hour behind us.


We hope Jerry Churchill and Bill Evans can afford the ticket we saw them getting yesterday on I-85, shortly after we left the Carolina Rod Shop.  They were beside the road in their beautifully modified Viper (rumored to cost over $200K), pulled over by South Carolina’s finest driving a Chevy Camaro Z-28.   I think being pulled over by a cop driving a Z-28 has to be the worst – they probably view it as a personal challenge to write tickets to folks in fancy, expensive sports cars.  We saw this team further up the road and they were driving MUCH more slowly, so I don’t think they got away with a warning.

Scott and David arrived at our house at 9:00pm.  By that time, Bill and I had already taken the wheels off of my RX-7 and were giving the brakes and suspension a visual inspection.  We wanted to determine if we needed to change any brake pads or brake rotors and make sure there weren’t any problems with suspension linkages, bushings and the shocks themselves.  We noticed some slight grooving on the front rotors, but the overall wear was acceptable.  It looked like we had over 50% brake pad left on the rears and maybe 40% left on the fronts.  We decided to forego any changes, and broke for dinner when pizza arrived.   We resumed our work after dinner, and then noticed something a bit disturbing about one of the front shock absorbers on the RX-7 – the bump stop on top was pretty badly damaged.   The bump stop is essentially two large solid rubber disks stacked together, and this keeps the top of the shock absorber from slamming into the fender when the suspension is heavily compressed.   Chunks were blown out of the bottom disk, which must have been caused by a pretty heavy impact by the shock.  I think this must have happened at Michigan International Speedway.   These NASCAR oval tracks have a pretty steep transition from the banked oval section to the flat road-course section.  The car experiences some rather large suspension compression as it tries to deal with this.    Getting a replacement at this time of the night was out of the question.  We decided not to fix it, and continue to run it as it was.  Here is our reasoning.


1)      Much of the bumpstop still remained.  Also, the tires appear to hit the top inside of the fender anyway when the suspension is fully compressed.  So we will essentially be using the tires themselves as bumpstops.  This is a consequence of our relatively soft, street-able suspension.  (Note to self:  Need stiffer springs to prevent suspension from fully compressing and ruining bumpstops). 


2)      We aren’t going to any more NASCAR tracks with their really hard transitions, and VIR and Watkins Glen don’t have any left hand turns that should cause the suspension to fully bottom on the right front side, so it won’t matter that we don’t have a bumpstop on that corner.


3)      We only have at most 15 racetrack laps left to run (2 time trial sessions at VIR + 3 time trial sessions at Watkins Glen = 5 sessions x 3 laps each = 15 laps).  Surely the remaining bumpstop will last 15 laps.   And we won’t need or use up the bumpstop on the street, unless we hit a parking lot speedbump at 50mph.


4)      Dang it, we drove this far, and we’re not stopping until the wheels fall off!

Actually it was #4 that was the real reason we decided to go forward, but the other 3 reasons will make my wife feel like we know what we’re talking about.  And then we found more bad news.

When we were putting the wheels back on Scott’s M3, I noticed that one of the rear wheels wobbled disconcertingly.  I crawled under the car, and sure enough, one of the lower control arms was missing a nut on the bolt that held the control arm in place.  Fortunately the bolt was still in position, and all we needed to do was find a nut to secure it.  Unfortunately this had to be a very special nut, because the car is German and expensive.  And only the BMW dealer will carry this nut, and if he doesn’t have it, it will have to be flown in from Munich.  Since this was a serious safety issue, and the car wouldn’t handle predictably with a wobbly control arm, Scott couldn’t consider going on until it was fixed.  We decided the best course of action was to make sure Scott had the BMW at Leith BMW (Capital Blvd, Raleigh NC), first thing in the morning, and maybe they would have pity on him and get right on it.  

We got to bed after Midnight, and rose at 5:45am this morning, because we still had 1.5 hours to drive to VIR.  We had hoped to get a solid 8 hours of sleep, but our car problems from the previous night prevented it.   Dang it, the sleep deficit continues to grow.  Jean Wilkins, who works for VIR and helps manage the running of events there, immediately noticed the bags under our eyes.  We thought this was odd because we had been looking at each other for a week now, and never saw them.  

Our first heat was on the south course, and it went well except for the fact I bobbled the car just a little on the final corner of the final lap.  It probably cost me a couple of tenths, but I was thinking it was no big deal since you rarely win or lose a three lap “race” by 2 tenths of a second.   I couldn’t be more wrong, as I found out later that I had been edged out of 10 place by Greg and Dale’s other RX-7 (the one with something shy of 400hp), by only 5 hundredths of a second.  That bobble really cost me, and this was at least the second time (that I can recall) that another car had edged me out of a position by less than a second.  I was kicking myself about this – being down by 100 or 200 hp means I have to drive a perfect session in order to have a chance to beat those guys. 

Scott and David arrived at VIR in the nick of time to run their first heat.  They got a 10 second penalty added to their laptimes for arriving late, but this is better than not running at all, and losing out on about 200 finishing points.  It turns out several of the mechanics at Leith BMW knew all about the One Lap of America, and when they saw his race car they rushed him to the front of the line and fixed it very quickly.  Way to go Leith BMW, Capital Blvd, Raleigh NC! 


Several Tarheel Sports Car Club folks arrived before lunch.  Some of us posed for a group photo, but we didn’t get everyone that came in it, because the paddock at VIR is large, and people like to wander around and see the sights.   We really appreciate it when supporters show up at the track, as it gives us an emotional boost. 

Martin Mikhail and John Duff drove down from the Washington DC Area, to see their buddies Greg and Dale run Greg’s RX-7 at One Lap.  John has his name on the side of Greg’s car, so he must have helped provide some of the go-fast parts on it.  John is a true race fan, and spends what appears to be virtually all of his time attending CART races, and helping others make their RX-7 much faster.   


Brock Yates, Jr. and several of the big wigs at Car and Driver, get to drive someone else’s car for the event.  Now  Brock Jr. isn’t actually competing (although he does seem to have quite a bit of on-track experience), but he does have to drive between tracks the same as everyone else, and then when he gets there he has to run things.  So he is often the first there and the last to leave, which means he has to really haul you-know-what to get to the events.  Two nights ago on the way to Road Atlanta he blew by us on the interstate doing at least 90 in this sharp Audi TT.   As usual, Bill and I are among the first to leave and the last to get there.  If I hadn’t mentioned it before, Bill has a commercial drivers license, and he just can’t risk getting a ticket.  He actually has significant paycheck incentives to keep a clean driving record.  Despite this we average a very good clip, because he is an iron man behind the wheel, and can drive tirelessly for hours on end.


Here is a dog slobber covered photo of the BMW M-coupe, provided by BMW to Bob and Jayne Stommel to drive just for One-Lap.   This is the NEW version, the one with the 330+ HP motor.  

Side note to BMW Motorsports:  Next year, if one of these opportunities comes up, CALL ME!   I race  a BMW E30 series M3 in BMWCCA class JS, and have gotten a JS Class pole position at least once at every track I have ever raced on.  Also I hold the JS race records (unofficially anyway, since no one keeps track of this stuff) at VIR, Mid-Ohio, and Texas World Speedway.  Pick up the phone – operators are waiting!!!  End of side note to BMW Motorsports.

Despite some 3000 miles in close quarters, Bob and Jayne still appear to be happily married, which say’s a lot, believe me.   I think the stress of this event is such that it is not always a good idea to have a co-driver that you are too close to or familiar with.  On the other hand, some of the teams that were total strangers were having some difficulty as well.  So there seems to be a happy medium – someone you know you get along well with, but maybe you don’t see them everyday.  Notice in the background of this photo, the beautiful red buildings at VIR, with their cedar shake roofs.  VIR is without a doubt the best facility for amateur motorsports in the country, and it is also better than many professional level facilities, too.  If you like to drive on track, you must drive VIR.  Car Guys (a group I instruct for) will visit there the end of July.  Sign-up and maybe I’ll see you there.  Their link is on our “Great Stuff” page. 



Here is yet another free ride at One Lap.  We are starting to feel like we are the only guys that brought their own car and paid their own expenses.  This Audi TT was provided by Audi North America to Stu Sack and Pearce Sloan.  I would never have guessed that a car could look this good with a battleship gray paint scheme, but somehow the designers at Audi have pulled it off.  I also thought the folks that put the graphics and decals on the TT did a super job – the best of any car at One Lap in my opinion.   I sure don’t have as much imagination and artistic ability as these guys.  I guess that’s why “I are an engineer”, and not some clever artsy-fartsy designer type.


Matt Hubbard and Gwen Butler are fielding this red Porsche 944 Turbo.  I’m pretty sure that since this car is at least 10 years old, that they are paying their own way just like us.  These 944 Turbo’s make excellent track cars (actually anything with Porsche on the side of it makes a great track car), with enough power, handling and braking capability to get you into and out of serious trouble.   These cars are a really good choice for someone that is interested in attending driving schools, because they go fast, handle predictably well, and don’t cost too much.  Matt and Gwen seem to be driving it quite well and I thought I’d give them a little recognition of their efforts.


Sometimes when you aren’t running in the top five overall, you don’t get any well deserved press, but this Saturn (left) and this Acura (right) are scary fast.  Blake and Peter Fuller are piloting the Acura (another family team), which you can see sports an unpainted Carbon Fibre hood.  Carbon Fibre is the stuff that Formula 1 racecars are made of – it is among the lightest and strongest materials ever designed by engineers.  The Saturn is the car on the left, and has a mean looking hoodscoop, feeding some kind of supercharger or turbocharger.  I think this particular Saturn is driven by Chris Berube and Tom Brandlehner (but I’m not sure if I got this right – send me a correction if I’m wrong).  Together these two cars are embarrassing a lot of more expensive and more exotic iron, and in the process are damaging the egos of those drivers they pass.  Keep up the good work guys!


Speaking of being embarrassed, how would you like to lose to a car that costs only $300?  Actually Bill Arnold and Tamara Hull may have up to $3500 total invested in this car, after they raided some junkyards and put it back together in good shape.   Bill and Tammi have a little contest going between the two of them – taking turns competing for best time amongst themselves at each track.   Bill is an excellent BMW mechanic and as a testament to his skills, this old BMW 5 series is hanging in there quite well.   Bill and Tammi actually race BMW M3's just like like the one I have.  Plus Tammi has another BMW racecar that she owns, and a third one that she is building.  In order to start this event, they drove this car across country from the left coast, and probably have put 7000 miles on it so far.  

The afternoon session finally started shortly after lunch.   A brief rain shower made the track a bit damp.  With every lap it was drying off somewhat, but the conditions on the back side of the track were a bit slicker than usual.  We ran a pretty good session, except for a bobble which cost us 2-3 seconds, so it wasn’t our best effort, but it wasn’t all bad either.  For some reason, the car seemed a little lower on power than this morning, but I can’t put my finger on anything specific. So we may be a few positions further down the finish than I would have liked.  I know we are flirting with 11th place right now, and we really would like to get into the top 10. 

We are a little concerned about Greg and Dale, as when we left, they were working on their motor.  We don’t think they had a good second run at VIR.   Between John Duff, Greg, and Dale, they have a mountain of RX-7 knowledge, and we left them our shop manual, so I think they will be able to fix it, provided it isn’t serious.  As usual, we packed up immediately and headed for the Glen.  If we hurry, we may be able to get a decent nights sleep at our favorite hotel, the Best Western Lodge on the Green, and believe me, I could sure use one.

As I write this, Bill is driving us through some wicked, curvy hills in the mountains of Virginia.  Bill is wondering how I’m not getting sick, typing and looking at this tiny laptop screen as the world tosses around us.   It must be because I originally grew up in West Virginia, where I got used to this sort of thing.  Nothing on a car seems to last as long in West Virginia, because you are always stressing it.  The tires and brakes, engine and transmission – everything seems to wear out quicker, due to the fact you are always climbing or descending hills, or going around curves.   This became apparent to me when I first moved away, and all of a sudden I didn’t need to get new tires and brakes nearly as often.  So a word of advice – if you are buying a used car, don’t buy one with West Virginia wear and tear, if you can help it!

Today I am really tired (have you heard this before?), and I know my writing may be suffering because of it.  I would have written more for my VIR update, but I just can’t manage to do so.  I hope you will enjoy reading about this, and check back for our next update, which will be the final event, Watkins Glen.

 To go to the next story, click on this link: Watkins Glen #2