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One Lap of America 2001 - Bill and Mark's Excellent Adventure!
Event 7

Watkins Glen - Watkins Glen, New York -- the finale

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graphics/Watkins Glen Track Map


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. 



We finally 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 mechanical difficulty.   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 power.

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 BMW’s.   A 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 bad luck!  


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 somewhat.   It 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 swimming.   When 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 $1.25!   Being 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 results.    At 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 us…


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 see.

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. 

To go to the next story, click on this link: Epilogue