The final hours of the ride
up from VIR to Watkins Glen on Thursday night are little fuzzy to
me, because I was not conscious for many of them.
The sleep deficit had finally taken its hold on me, and I
was most grateful that Bill was still quite able to drive.
During a normal work week, Bill puts up to 3800 miles on
his big rig, so when it came to picking a co-driver, I think I did
quite well. Usually I
can’t sleep in a car, especially sitting bolt upright -- the
passenger seat in the RX-7 won’t recline because of the roll bar
immediately behind it. Plus
in order to get to the Glen, the roads through Pennsylvania are
pretty rough and curvy. It didn’t matter though – I couldn’t keep my eyes open
to save my life. We
got to the hotel shortly before 1:00am, which meant that we were
able to get almost 6 hours additional sleep.
We still didn’t know the
results from the second VIR time trial.
We were sitting 11th place overall after the
first heat (behind Greg and Dale’s RX-7 in 10th), and
when we left VIR, Greg and Dale were working on their RX-7, trying
to get it to run. They
suspected that their brand new motor had been blown, and it was
looking pretty grim for them.
An event like One-Lap is an
endurance race. There
is a fine line that Supertuners must cross when they build their
cars. Too little
power, and you lose. Too
much power and you break. And
when you add power to a motor, you have to compensate for it with
the other subsystems in the car.
A more powerful motor requires a bigger cooling system to
cool it, a stronger transmission to receive the power, and a
strong drivetrain between the transmission and the wheels to
withstand that extra torque.
You also need better brakes and bigger tires so you can
stop the car from higher speeds.
We chose to leave our car alone and trust in the engineers
at Mazda. We
thought that other, stronger cars in front of us would break as a
result of their modifications.
But so far, the top cars remaining to this point seemed
unbreakable, or if they did break, they always seemed to have a
ready fix. It should
be noted that Watkins Glen is very tough on cars because it
contains several long, uphill, full throttle stretches, and today
was going to be unusually hot.
At this final event, we
were not going to run the usual 2 heats, but 3 heats of 3 laps
each. On the final
day of One Lap, almost 1200 points of the approximately 7000
possible, were at stake.
At “Waktins Glen 2”, as I call it, it would be possible
for many positions to change hands.
And we really, really wanted to capture and hold 10th place.
For some reason, a “top 10” finish sounds much better
then a “top 11” finish, doesn’t it?
The overall lead belonged
to Spencer Geswein and Brian Smith, two Michelin test engineers
driving this red Viper GTS with the ACR package.
The ACR is a street legal competition package developed by
Chrysler for amateur racers.
While many of the other competitors were spending their
time working on their cars, Spence and Brian were polishing and
cleaning theirs. This
is a testament to just how awesome these Vipers are with very
little modification. It
turns out that this team had enough of a lead over 2nd
place competitors, that as long as they finished reasonably well,
they couldn’t lose. They
would need to break or crash for someone to overtake them, which
meant their strategy for this day would be to drive nine-tenths
instead of their usual ten-tenths, to preserve the car.
received the results from yesterday, and because of our strong
finishes at VIR, we now held 10th
place overall, but our lead was tenuous at best.
11th place was held by the brutally fast orange
GSR Vette, which had previously broken some driveline components
at Road Atlanta. While they managed to fix this car in record time, it was
always possible they would break again, and they always seemed to
be tinkering with it during every available minute.
The Orange GSR vette was simply fantastic at VIR, and we
knew if he didn’t break at Watkins Glen, he would surely
overtake us. And
Dale and Greg in their RX-7 were still within striking distance,
despite finishing poorly on the 2nd VIR heat due to
Also, while I didn’t realize it at the time, there was
another well driven Z06 Corvette that was in striking distance of
us, and Watkins Glen was the drivers home track.
So there were 4 cars that wanted this 10th place
position, and we wanted to do everything possible to keep it.
It turns out Dale and Greg
didn’t show up for Watkins Glen until after it was all over.
They said that their motor had indeed blown, and they were
working furiously until 5:00am trying to install a new motor,
before they finally threw in the towel.
I’m really sorry they had problems, but such things are
part of endurance racing.
I was sitting in my car on
the grid for the first heat, and Bill was standing by and timing
our competitors with his stopwatch.
We were particularly interested in how the GSR vette was
doing. We watched him
go by on his first lap, and he seemed to be holding back a bit as
he motored down the straight.
Well, maybe he knows he’s got us, I thought, so he’s
making sure he doesn’t break the car.
But then he didn’t come around again.
We waited, but still no GSR.
Bill wandered over to see if he could listen in on Brock
Jr.’s pit radio, and heard that the GSR had broken once more and
would have to be towed in. OK,
Dale and Greg are out, the GSR is out – at this point I thought
maybe I shouldn’t be too aggressive on my first run as I
didn’t know if anyone else was close enough to catch us.
I went on track behind one of the red Vipers that I was
ahead of in points. Even though we were 10th position, some
competitors didn’t respect our little cars ability, and insisted
on going out ahead of us. The
very first lap under green I was charging hard through the turn
they call the Carousel (which is the turn after the bus stop
chicane), and darn it, there was that Viper, limping off track.
Fortunately we were running the long track, and he was able
to pull onto the closed off NASCAR straight, out of my way.
I continued the lap, and when I reentered the NASCAR
straight from its far end, I looked ahead, and saw the Viper once
again in front of me! Even
though his car was hurting, he decided to reenter the track on the
far side of the NASCAR straight and go to the pits.
Because we were running the long course, and he took the
shortcut, this put him right back in front of me.
I was doing probably 100mph, and he was doing less than 20
when I came upon him in the final turn before the pits.
I must admit I was pretty upset at the driver for not
staying in the closed off NASCAR straight until the cool down lap,
because this created a very dangerous situation for both of us.
Despite some lost time, I continued on with my run.
I noticed on the long uphill straight section that the car
seemed down on power – it just wouldn’t pull past 130mph,
where before I could hit maybe 140 (someone told us the broken
Renntech CLK Mercedes had been clocked at 180mph at this same
point). It looks like
we had a problem with the car, but I was determined to drive it
until the wheels fell off at this point, and finished my run.
Here is a picture of
Scott’s M3 on track during the first heat, as it hurtles down
the front straight at Watkins Glen, with David at the wheel.
This would be the last picture I would get of Scott’s M3
this weekend – more on that later.
The second heat would not
be until after lunch, so we had some time to check out the car and
take some pictures in the pits.
When the results came out, I looked at them, and quickly
realized that the now 11th place Z06 vette
(after the GSR vette and Greg’s RX-7 both dropped out)
was much faster than me here, and not only that, if the trend
continued for the final two sessions, he would pass me by a mere 5
points! He needed a
total of 80 points and 16 positions to get by us, which meant that
if he beat me by 8 positions each of the final two events, he
would do it. And
he was exactly 8 positions ahead of me on my first run.
Part of the reason I was slower was the close call with the
Viper, but I knew that couldn’t explain all of it.
We checked over the car, looking desperately for a loose
hose or anything else
wrong with it. We
inspected the plugs and they appeared to be pretty worn – I
should have changed them before the event, but I didn’t because
they only had a few thousand miles on them.
I didn’t realize how tough these few laps at each track
would be on the car (sigh). And
we were having an unusually hot day at Watkins Glen, which meant
that my itty-bitty stock intercooler was getting heat soaked after
only one lap, so my boost was way down from its usual 10-11 lbs,
to only 6-7 lbs. A
turbocharger works by running a turbine off of the exhaust gases,
kind of like a paddle wheel on one of those old style river-side
grist mills. This
turbine compresses the air going into the engine, but that air
must be cooled by the intercooler first, because cooling it makes
it more dense, and more dense means more power.
So really, all the intercooler is, is a second radiator on
the car which has the intake air inside of it instead of water.
My stock intercooler is simply too small to work
effectively on a hot day, as I was finding out, so that probably
was one explanation why my car was so much slower (in addition to
the plugs). So hot
weather was our enemy and we were getting it in spades at Watkins
Glen. Would our
car throw in the towel today?
We certainly hoped not, but our confidence in it was being
shaken for the first time as we wondered about it being down on
Even while this was all
happening, we were able to get some good pictures in the pits.
Is it a high technology
device used to create massive downforce at 100mph, or is it a
dinner table – you decide.
It became a regular
occurrence to see Brock Yates Sr. walking through the pits,
wishing the competitors well.
To many of us, Brock is a legendary fellow as the person
that started and ran the original Cannonball run during the
1970’s. I only wish
that I was born a few years earlier so that I could have
participated in that event.
This one is for Neal, who
also drives one of these. You can tell by the soot all over
the sides and rear of this Ranger pickup, that it is anything but
a stock truck. The massive V8 rumbles fiercely, and you don’t want to
stand too close to the side pipes or you feel like the exhaust
will blow you over. It
is piloted by Robert Bond, Steffan Wigart, and Peter Cooke.
How did they get 3 people in it?
They carried along this home built wooden-tent like cover
on the back (nick named the dog kennel), which they removed and
slept under while the truck was being raced.
I’m wondering if someone rode along in the bed on the
long distance drives.
Bill and I were always
impressed by the performance of this Dinan tuned 2000 BMW Z-3
roadster, driven by Mark Love and Reg Reimer. As one of the
country’s leading Supertuners, Dinan focuses primarily on
couple of the cars in the Supertuner class have already broken,
such as the Renntech Mercedes CLK, which never completed a heat
and was out on the first day due to electronic problems with their
transmission (computers - go figure!), and the awesome
Supercharged Mallet Corvette, which we were leading already when it
was spouting coolant at VIR.
But this Dinan, another Renntech Mercedes, and the
Superformance Cobras were still out there running well.
And Rick Potter’s lightening fast RX-7, sponsored by
Peter Farrell Supercars, could certainly be considered a
supertuner car. These
surviving supertuner cars show that you can build a high
performance car, which can stand up to an endurance type event,
but it takes some solid engineering and a lot of hard work.
We are certain the Mallet and Renntech cars that broke were
solidly engineered and tested as well - sometimes you just have
Russ Wiles, Mike Bartley
and Tim Peterson teamed up to run this 1995 BMW M3 Lightweight.
For one year only, BMW built a special version of its M3
coupe and called it the Lightweight, and made it faster with
lighter body panels, improved rigidity and a better suspension.
It was a car coveted by the most serious BMW enthusiasts.
This very car took first place at One Lap a few years ago,
and this year it is solidly in the top 10.
But if you look through the results each year, you can see
that the price for winning One-Lap goes up each time.
The 300 or so HP this M3 has just isn’t enough anymore,
despite the fact it is driven extremely well.
This Porsche 911 Slantnose
is driven by David Carr and Dale Sealy.
Porsche’s are reknowned for being race ready out of the
box, and this car appears to have been turned into a GT1 racecar,
so it is much faster than stock. I have always loved the classic lines of Porsche 911’s,
especially the ones of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, and hope to
own one someday.
We ran the 2nd
heat after lunch, and by this time it had gotten even hotter at
the Glen. I decided
to add a couple of gallons of 110 Octane race fuel to my car,
hoping that maybe my power loss would be due to my gas having too
low an octane. I
ran as hard as I could, but the car was even slower than the first
heat by just under 1 second per lap.
Uh-Oh. I knew the Z-06 vette breathing down our neck in the points
race was not going to be effected by the heat as badly as our car
was, and if anything he might improve.
Our chances of maintaining 10th position were
definitely in jeopardy.
And it appeared that because the 3rd heat would
run immediately after the 2nd heat was over, we
wouldn’t know the results of the 2nd heat before we
went out for the last time.
There wasn’t much we
could do about it – we had no more spark plugs, we couldn’t
find any loose hoses, plus we didn’t know just how well we
needed to finish on the last heat in order to keep 10th.
So I cruised through the pits and took some more pictures.
Here was someone having
some pretty bad luck. Apparently
Dan Schlickenmeyer and Marshall Aiken’s supercharged Mustang
Cobra R had some terrible overheating problems during the 2nd
session, and the prognosis was terminal.
The long full throttle hills at Watkins Glen, combined with
the high heat, had caused the motor’s head gasket to fail.
Dan was leading SSGT2 (our class) at the time, and was
driving impressively well. It is said this car had 575 horsepower to the rear wheels,
which after adjusting for drivetrain losses (usually considered
about 15%), means that he had something like 660 horsepower!
Unfortunately for us, Dan was so far ahead in points, that
he had 9th place locked up, even though he would not
run the last session. So
in order to stay in 10th place we still had to finish
very well in the last heat – better than we had all day.
It was going to be tough.
This is the crowded engine
bay of one of the two Impala SS sedans.
It contains a modified 383 cubic inch motor, not exactly
what the car came with from Chevrolet.
At the time I took this picture, they were pouring water
into the coolant overflow tank – not a good sign.
They thought they had a coolant leak, but didn’t see a
hose leak anywhere, but they did notice coolant had blown onto the
bottom of the hood, so they were puzzled.
I pointed out to them that a blown head gasket can allow
combustion gases to enter the cooling system and overpressurize it
– this would cause coolant to be forced out of the coolant
recovery tank, possibly spraying the bottom of the hood.
They thought about it, but they weren’t fully convinced
– or maybe they were just trying to be hopeful.
We don’t know if they ran the last heat, but we saw them
later stopped by the side of the road, filling up their cooling
system with water from a creek!
Luckily they had originally towed their car on a trailer
which they had left at the hotel, so they will get home ok.
By contrast, this cobra’s
engine bay seems almost empty.
This is the advantage of running a car without all the
unnecessary emissions equipment, air conditioning, etc.
And these cobra’s have held up quite well.
But you don’t have to
have a sports car or race car to run One-Lap.
Many people bring their touring sedans along for a good
time. My boss
has both a Pontiac Grand Prix like this one, and a turbo Volvo
sedan. Maybe I can
corrupt him into doing this one day…
Right about now the sounds
of the track got very quiet.
All of a sudden you couldn’t hear any of the cars
screaming around the track, which means one of two things.
The session has been stopped because a car has broken down
in the middle of the track and can’t move, or there has been a
crash. Bill came
running over into the pits – he had been timing Scott, who was
out driving his BMW, and Scott failed to come around again.
Word spread through the pits that Scott had crashed!
At this point we had no idea what to do. The track itself is a vast complex, since the circuit is 3.7
miles long. And you
can’t see very much of it from any one place.
So we could wander around for quite some time before we
came upon the crash area. We
noticed an ambulance going out, but it was moving slowly and
wasn’t using its lights, so that was perhaps a good sign.
Finally we tracked down an official that had a radio and
asked if she could give us status on the Scott
– it looked like he was going to be ok.
I have to admit when I
first saw Scott safely in the pits, my eyes moistened (I won’t
admit to crying), I was so relieved to see him.
He came away with some bruises from the shoulder harnesses,
and he’s going to be pretty sore, but the car held up and it
appears that it will be rebuildable.
I won’t put a picture of it here, because I consider that
bad karma, if one believes in such things.
The front end is pretty badly smashed up, where Scott went
into a wall, but the passenger compartment was completely
undamaged. As the car
impacted, Scott said it was the best feeling in the world to feel
the harnesses restrain him in the seat and see the front of the
car do its job absorbing the crash.
He felt like the car saved his life, and if you saw it, you
would agree. Thumbs
up to BMW! I know Scott is kicking himself right now, all the way on the
long drive home, but he is determined to get back in the saddle
and face the track once more, which is what you have to do.
The survivors of One-Lap
pulled up to the grid for one last time.
It was hard to get Scott’s wreck out of my mind.
Also, we didn’t know the results for the second heat, but
I knew that my run was worse than in the first heat, and now the
11th place Z-06 Vette probably only needed to beat me
here by a few positions to take over 10th place.
I really had to find a way to do better this last session.
One consolation was that by now it was late afternoon, and
just a few clouds had moved in, so the temperature had dropped
was still hot, but not as hot as this afternoon. Would the slightly cooler weather give our turbo’s back
some much needed power? As
we waited on the grid, it was clear I was quite tired.
I sat down against the pit wall and closed my eyes, almost
falling asleep. All
week long I had been wired to the hilt before each run, and now I
felt almost completely relaxed.
Finally it was our turn.
Unlike previous runs, I decided to not use the recon lap to
get heat in the tires and brakes. Instead I felt it was more important to go slowly and lay off
the turbo’s, so that intercooler would remain cool for as long
as possible. I almost
coasted up to the start/finish line and waited for the signal to
begin. When the flag
dropped I somehow managed to drive both aggressively and within my
limits. By this time
I had gotten used to the brakes and tires, and I went into every
braking zone as deeply as possible.
I glanced at my in-car laptimer when I crossed the start
finish line (at the completion of my first hot lap), and I noticed
I was a whole second faster than this mornings first lap.
This was very encouraging and I drove even harder on the
second lap. Again I
crossed the start finish line, and I had knocked off another 3
seconds! Now I
was really excited, but the car couldn’t seem to go any faster.
The boost started dropping on the 3rd lap as the
intercooler got hot, and my final lap wasn’t so great, but maybe
it was good enough. We
were really encouraged by the strong finish – about 5 seconds
faster than our run in the first heat, and 7 seconds faster than
our run in the second heat. It
just might have been enough to hold off the Z-06 Vette.
Unfortunately we wouldn’t know until later that evening,
and it practically killed us to leave the track not knowing.
Before leaving, we took
some last minute pictures. This
is Scott’s co-driver, David and his father Bob Basile, posing in
front of our RX-7. Bob drove up from Philly to see David run, and right now is
probably thinking of ways to talk David out of this. The reality is that while our sport is dangerous, you
have to remember that 10’s of thousands of people hit the tracks
across this country every weekend, and serious injuries and
fatalities are extremely rare.
I had read an OSHA statistic that said that, normalized for
rates of participation, motor racing is no more dangerous than
a racing death does occur, especially at the professional level
where the cars are so darn fast, you really hear about it, though.
We went back to the Seneca
Lodge where Scott and David were staying, and stopped by the
Seneca Lodge Bar to relax. I
rarely want to drink alcohol, especially on a competition weekend,
but after the enormity of completing One-Lap, I really wanted a
beer – badly. The
bar at the Seneca Lodge is a shrine to racing – if ever I own a
bar, this would be it. Parts
of racecars, and old historic photos, line the walls.
These were the originals, not the cheap copies you see at
Bennigans. It’s a throwback in time --- beer on tap is still only
rather dark and rustic inside, I didn’t get any good pictures,
but if you are ever in the Watkins Glen area, it is a place you
MUST visit. It
will feel like 1965 again, the golden age of auto racing, when I
was just a babe.
We returned later to the
Best Western Lodge on the Green, and waited for them to post the
7:00pm, they had an open bar and some finger foods set out, and we
mingled with the other racers, who were as anxious as we were.
And then the word was out – the results were posted
outside on the side of the trailer. I was afraid to look, and Bill looked first and came away
laughing. We had done
it! We had held
onto 10th place overall – a top 10 finish by a stock
motored RX-7! This was the finish we felt was too much to even hope
for. When we started
out, we thought top 20 would be possible, but after we finished 7th
in the very first session a week ago at Watkins Glen, our sites
had moved much higher.
The taps were flowing and we allowed ourselves a couple
more beers to celebrate. I
even drank the regular stuff, not the light beer!
The next morning was the
award brunch. Before
the brunch, I sat down in the lobby with the One-Lap legend, Jim
Atwell, and listened for an hour to some more stories about racing
in the original Cannonball Run. Jim tells me he has boxes full of old photo’s and
memorabilia from the 70’s when they raced across country.
Hmmm, this could be an interesting project for someone that
wants to put together a book.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I thought it would
be fiction. Maybe I’ll give Jim a call when all this is behind
As you can see, for nearing
80, Jim still has quite a bit of life left in him.
It turns out we talked so long, we almost missed the awards
brunch, so we walked in a little bit late.
Rick Potter and George
Samuel took a well deserved 1st place in class SSGT2,
and 4th overall, in their Peter Farrell Supercars
RX-7. We finished 10th overall, and took 4th
place in SSGT2. That
means there were 4 SSGT2 cars in the top 10, which is amazing.
The Supertuner class and the SSGT1 class usually dominate
the top 10, but as you can see, SSGT2 was VERY fast this year.
Awards were given for the
top three finishers of each class, and then they gave out the most
coveted awards, which were for the top 10 overall finishers. We received a very nice large crystal goblet for our 10th
place overall effort, and it will be proudly displayed for all to
Right now as I write this,
we are driving back from Watkins Glen, and are on Highway 17 in
the middle of Virginia.
I just got off the phone with my wife Beth, and she
informed me that we made the SpeedVision website a second time –
for the VIR update, they mentioned how fast we were driving and
how we moved into 10th place.
By the time you read this though, it will probably be gone,
as they don’t leave their articles online very long.
I hope you have enjoyed
reading about our journey. There
is one more segment left to write – the Epilogue.
Over the next week or so, Bill and I will reminisce over
the events we’ve been through and I will assemble them together
all at once and post it. We will also go back and find some photos that we didn’t
use in the regular segments and make them part of the story. So check back later, and read once more about our final
thoughts on this years 2001 One Lap of America.
go to the next story, click on this link: Epilogue