Portland International Raceway
Kent, Washington, USA
October 4 and 5, 2003
What a weekend! This was about as cool as that PIR weekend when I felt so successful.
During a Group 1 qualifying session, I chased Roland, one of my slightly faster friends, down the straightaway. At T1, a worker held up a let-by flag and Roland apparently assumed it was for him to let me by. I glanced in my rear-view mirror before I turned in and noticed that Mike Rockett (who holds the overall track record, if I remember right) was steaming up the inside. His car is incredibly fast; at that point on the track, Roland and I are both between 125 and 130 miles per hour. Mike's car can't possibly be going slower than 165 miles per hour.
Any race driver will tell you that speed is relative. I was following Roland closely, and he was never more than 20 feet ahead of me. That seems like plenty of room because the difference in our speeds is tree to five miles per hour. Even at more than 120, it seems like there's plenty of time to do something.
At 125 miles per hour, though, a car moving by at 170 seems rather startling because it's going almost fifty miles per hour faster. That relative speed is what a race driver perceives most directly, since he's looking for changes and movement and not linear and direct motion.
When I looked forward again, I saw that Roland had turned in and that Mike would have to do something interesting through Turn 1 in order to avoid hitting him. Sure enough, Mike tagged Roland's right-rear hard. I knew that I didn't want to become a part of this problem, so I slowed my car down in a straight line and went down the escape road towards the middle of T2.
I only had a split second to make that decision. I figured that Roland and Mike wouldn't make contact and everyone would make fun of me. Everyone would call me Escape Road, or Alternate Line, or something. When they made contact, I didn't exactly feel vindicated. While I was certainly safe, I feared for Roland. When I lost sight of them, Roland was twisted around more than 60 degrees to his right and both cars were still moving at a good amount of speed.
Exiting the run-off area, I inched back onto the track and headded back for the paddock. I was really rattled beause I feared the worst for Roland.
Fortunately, nothing came of it. Roland was fine, though his car was pretty much totalled. He didn't seem so upset about his car, either, and that was becuse he was planning on building a new car over the winter anyway. I was immensely relieved with that news.
For ITS, I qualified behind Brian Horne, Ron Tanner, and Skip Yocom (thought I doubt it was in that order). I couldn't improve on my 1:43.1 from Saturday because the qualifying sessions in the morning were pretty damp, though the line was drying out. When I set my record, I realized that I was doing one thing in particular: trusting the car.
While I've been more aggressive through the season, I'm still driving just a bit conservatively. While I'm really getting to know my car, and I'm familiar with it, I've only recently started to trust it. To approach corners knowing that it will take care of me, and that I can react to anything that might go wrong.
Because of that, I've been trail braking a little more, getting a better set at turn-in, and carrying more speed through and then while exiting each corner.
I got through the start of the ITS race well, but Jack Burns got inside of me through 4. I let him into 5a instead of trying to out brake him because I thought it would be too risky. (Plus, there was 28 minutes of racing left.)
That lap, I chased Jack down the straightaway, through T1, and then into T2. I caught him a little under braking, but then noticed he locked his left rear really hard. He ended up turning in and I thought he'd be OK, but he never let go of the brakes and ended up under steering towards the dirt. He hit the dirt and kicked up a huge cloud!
After navigating through a few dozen feet of opaque air, I heard on the scanner that a worker in T2 called in an alert that Jack rolled. That sucked!
I didn't talk to him after my race (because I got stuck in line at the scales, had to suck down some water, hit the bathroom, then go straight to the grid for Group 1!) but his car was by the scales, and every single panel is crooked.
For the rest of the ITS race, I battled a couple of ITA cars -- those pesky CRXes are so very light. A Canadian guy named Tim who drove a CRX pitted next to me, and we were pit-mates in Mission, too. He said his car weighed about 2200 pounds. Cripe!
Jack's son Lincoln kept racing after his father wrecked; he was behind the CRX that was right behind me, so I was battled to keep ahead of the the Honda.
They took a long time to untangle Jack's car; it rolled onto the tire wall. I think we had six full-course laps. That left only six or eight laps for racing.
The CRX ended up diving under me in 3a one lap, then tracking out and I had to put two wheels into the dirt. The driver apologized, but it was really no big deal. At the time it happened, I thought that I had gone into the dirt more for being afraid of getting hit than that he was really so close.
I ran really hard, trailing through T2 aggressively. One of the other drivers thought me a very aggressive line in T8 and T9, and I started to get that working, too; I don't do it exactly like Hugh, but I'm really fast and all over the track left-to-right. It's pretty cool; I shift to 5th before the new pavement patch on the front straight ends! I finished about 11th overall, which was just awesome. I ran with the big dogs and held my own!!
For the ITS race, I was 4th of 7, ahead of Lincoln and Keith Kolacy (who I lapped, I think). Behind the guys who out qualified me, too: Tanner, Horne, and Yocom.
Unfortunately, I went into the race tied for championship points with Ron Tanner. His placing ahead of me meant that the championship was his. I'd lose by only three points. This might have been disappointing had I actually expected to win. But I didn't; being so close right at the end of the season was enough of an achievement to thrill me.
In the C Production race, I qualified 17th of 30-something cars with something in the neighborhood of 1:43.3. There was the white Datsun roadster and a guy who drives to the track in his rae car -- an Acura Integra. I out qualified them both.
Guy's car is getting very fast; his parts are dirt cheap and plentiful, and he's been steadily improving. He was about 300 yards behind me even after about eight laps. But he disappeared suddenly. After the race, I found out that he broke his drive shaft and ended up looping it in the chicane. He recovered, and nursed it around. I helped him push the thing into his trailer. He's a really nice guy.
Group 1 was nutty because several of the really fast SCCA cars came out of the woodwork, and that stretches the big speed differential. At the end of the race, I end up carving through lappers with some full-tube groundpounder chasing me.
Steve's Acura turned a fast race lap about 0.3s slower than me, so I guess he'll be nipping at my heels next year as he gets more experience.
For both races, I drove the wheels off the car and had a lot of fun. It was a great ending to the season.
I won the C Production championship soundly. But it is kind of a hollow victory as I had so little competition. But I've made a ton of progress and learned a lot, both wrenching and driving. I'm eager to start working on winter maintenance, and making some improvements to the suspension. I just can't wait for the next season to start!