The alarm was set to wake us at 6:00am. Of course I woke up promptly at 4:45, and those wheels that turn inside your head in the middle of the night kept me up, until finally at 5:50am I decided to just get up and take a shower. This is kind of a shame, because before the first event, it's your chance to store up on sleep. We are definitely running a sleep deficit, right out of the gate. If a normal person gets 8 hours of sleep per night (assuming that we could compare ourselves to normal people, which is debatable), then after two nights we are already a total of 6 hours shy, since we slept about 5 hours each night.
I glanced out the window and was surprised to see a cold rainy morning. The day before had been sunny and close to 80, so it was a pretty big weather swing, one that the forecasters missed of course. Actually, while most One-Lappers don't like the idea of rain, we were kind of hoping to see some. This is because rain is the great equalizer - cars with gobs of horsepower cannot take advantage of it due to the lack
of grip, while cars with less horsepower tend to narrow the gap in performance. Now you may think that 265 horsepower (at least that's what we hope we have) is a lot, but some of the competitors in our class have 450hp, or more. It's hard to make up a 200hp differential.
By the time we arrived at the track at 7:45, the skies had cleared, but it remained cool and windy. This is ok for Bill and me, since turbocharged cars like cool dense air, which allows them to make a bit more horsepower. Unfortunately for us though, many of our competitors are running superchargers or even larger turbos than we are - nonetheless
we'll take what we can get!
This souped up Mercedes has been predicted to be the top seed at One-Lap. It is seeded as Car #1, out of about 90 cars. Bill and I are seeded as Car #44, which is almost exactly mid-pack, which is fine by us - we hope to sneak up on some faster competition that won't be expecting us. After all, we really don't have a fast enough car to win overall, but we do hope to beat some teams we shouldn't.
This Viper is seeded number 9. It looks more like a race car than a street car!
Finally we have the #44 RX-7 of Bill and Mark. This means the organizers of the event think we will finish somewhere around 44th. This only gives us more incentive to do well. Now these initial seeds are just predictions of expected performance, and in order to determine the order that we will start our first event, we will run one qualifying lap from a standing start. The cars line up in roughly the order of their initial seed, and go out on track in groups of 5 or 6. We drive around the track for what is called a recon lap and stop just before the start finish line. Then, one by one the cars are released, about 6 to 7 seconds apart, trying to run the fastest lap they can from a standing start. It turns out I was the last car in our group. You want a clean lap
- you DON'T want to catch the car in front of you as this slows down YOUR laptime. You aren't trying to pass him, only turn a better time, just like qualifying is done in any racing series. We went out on track, did our recon lap and then waited at the starting
line for our turn on the qualifying run. One of the things that veteran One-Lapper Ron Adee told me the night before (he won overall a couple of years ago in his blue viper), was that if you think you might catch up to the car in front of you, pretend to stall the car when it's you're turn to start, so that you get more spacing. This is because your timed lap doesn't start until you cross the starting line, so waiting longer insures a clean lap. It was my turn to go, and darn it if I didn't stall my car. After a few second pause I fired it to life and with my tires squealing, began my run. I went through the uphill esses at full throttle and I was hitting close to 140 on the back straight (NASCAR cars can hit 160) when a corner worker started waving the yellow flag furiously. One of the previous cars in my group had gone off at the chicane they call the bustop, and I could see his car on the inside of the track, motionless. So I had to slow down a bit there, but as soon as I was past, I got back on the gas. No sooner did I do this, when I caught up to all 4 remaining cars in my group. It seems a few of them didn't know that they needed to continue their lap as fast as possible. I couldn't risk passing a group of 4 cars because they were pretty much taking up the width of the track, so I settled in and just followed them around, hoping we would get another chance to qualify. It turns out we didn't, and I had to accept the tainted qualifying time. I was really disappointed, since this meant we would likely start further back.
A little later Bill came back to the pits, and said we had qualified 16th! I had a hard time believing this, since my qualifying lap certainly wasn't our best effort. Its possible that they made some kind of "adjustment" for us, but I don't really know. I
didn't think we could have been the 16th fastest car, given all the horsepower that showed up. But it turned out to be true. Things move pretty quick at One-Lap, and before I knew it we were restaged to take our runs. It was a very similar format to qualifying, in that we went out in groups of 5, did a recon lap, then waited at the starting line for our turn to do 3 fast laps in a row. If you catch the car in front of you, you can pass him, just like in qualifying. I was the second car in my group, and I was pretty sure I wouldn't catch the car in front of me, a late model Corvette with a motor that seemed like something out of a Nascar racer. The previous night this Corvette had started his motor in the parking lot, and you thought it would shatter windows. A VERY impressive car. We were off - he went, then I followed some 8 or 9 seconds later. I was still getting used to driving on the street tires, as well as getting used to running again at Watkins Glen since I hadn't been there in almost 10 months. Going into the turn they call the Carousel, I got the car REALLY sideways. It seems I
hadn't slowed the car enough upon entering the turn, and I was trying to get the car back on the proper racing line. I'm sure the corner workers were saying to themselves - "this is going to be real good!". I know I was thinking that my One-Lap career just might end on the very first lap! But I got the car under control (I'm sure the corner workers were a little disappointed), and settled down and drove the remaining 2 1/3 laps about as well as I could. In fact, to my surprise I had caught the Corvette in front of me just as we took the checker.
So now I'm thinking, Ok, I know I turned a faster 3 laps than the Corvette in front of me, since I left the start line between 8 & 9 seconds after he did, and only finished maybe a couple of tenths behind. This could mean that our team moved into 15th place! That would be cool, but I couldn't get too excited, because I know from racing my M3 that sometimes other drivers may not qualify as well, but when it comes time to race, they really do much better than expected. So I expected that maybe a few drivers behind me might actually turn in better times and pass me. We just had to keep our fingers crossed. We broke for lunch not quite knowing exactly where we ended up.
This is the #2 seeded Cobra. Last year some guys ran a topless Lister Corvette Replica, a car which looks like an awful lot like a cobra that was stretched about 4 feet. After many brutally cold and rainy 500 plus mile days, they
persevered and were given an award for the spirit they displayed. This Cobra guy deserves a similar reward, but it looks like he had the common sense to put a top on the car!
Finally during lunch, one of the timing and scoring folks walked through the pits and gave out the
results of the first session. We had moved all the way to 7th place
- a top ten finish! This was completely unexpected, and we still had one more session to run this day at Watkins Glen, but we were certainly excited by this news. We know that maybe some of the cars in front of us had mechanical trouble, and if they clear that up, they may be passing us by. But this was certainly a great finish for us. Expected to finish 44, and ending up in the top 10! Especially since every other car in the top ten had at least 200hp on us.
It remained pretty cool throughout the day, enough to enjoy the great jackets provided by Doug Hayashi, who runs the Pulp Racing website. After lunch we lined up to run another session at The Glen. This time our RX-7 was in the grid toward the front of the line. People were coming up to us to chat (when your 44th, you must not be as interesting). We were certainly enjoying the attention. Bill helped me give the car a once over, and strapped me in, and
I went out on track. I ran 3 pretty good laps, then we went back to the paddock and packed up the car. At this point, we really don't know where we finished in the second session at Watkins Glen. Right now as I type this we are driving to the Cannonball Pub (owned by Brock Yates
Sr., in Wyoming NY). After which, we drive across Canada, heading for the middle of Michigan where we hope to get a few hours sleep before our next event - drag races at Mid-Michigan Motorplex.
We aren't getting our hopes too high though, we now go to three different tracks that neither of us have been
to. This means we expect to lose several positions. Our hope is that by the time we get to Road Atlanta, we'll not have lost too many positions to drop us out of the running for a good finish. It would be too much to hope for to remain in the top 10, but hopefully we
won't drop too far.
I've always been a fan of mini's, so I have to include this picture here. This particularly sharp example that isn't expected to finish very high, but I am willing to bet the drivers will be having an absolute ball. This has to be one of the ultimate underdog vehicles, and if it makes it to the end, this team deserves a special award.
If my spelling and punctuation are a little rough,
it's because I'm tired and I really wanted to get this out to you in as close to real time as possible. We'll post another update when we get a chance.
To go to the
next story, click on this link: Michigan