Portland International Raceway

Portland, Oregon, USA
June 5 and 6, 2004

Driving a trailer in traffic is funny. Other drivers will do everything they can, including making some boneheadded moves, in order to pass a trailer. When towing, I drive the speed limit and keep plenty of room ahead of me in order to maxmize my available stopping distance.

On the way to Portland, I was passed by a couple of fools who tucked right back in ahead of me, interrupting my safety cushion and forcing me to stab at the brakes. In Vancouver, Washington, traffic was stacked-up on I-5 South. After the bridge over the Columbia river, a lane opens up that goes only to MLK Boulevard, the Expo center, and the track. I was coasting through this lane passed the stopped traffic when a driver in the jam decided to move his SUV out ahead of me. I had very little time to react; I simultaneously hit the horn and brake, then released the brake to swerve my Grand Cherokee and trailer onto the shoulder. As I passed the moron, I worried that my trailer wouldn't clear him. He jumped back into traffic just in time.

Once safely to the track, I set up my paddock during the land grab and was next to Carlo and Taryn. They run TC Motorsports, and are great freinds of mine. Once set-up, we went out to dinner and had a fun time.

Saturday morning practie was rather wet. I was eager to go out on my wet tires and see what they felt like, and got down to business right away. In the rain, it's simply not possible to drive the car nearly as fast as in the dry. There's just too little friction to make good contact. The limits of the car are thus far lower, so times really soar. In the afternoon, there were some nice sun breaks so I got dry times in for both my groups.

Sunday brought far worse weather. It was quite rainy, though the weather was changing minute to minute. Nothing was obvious: would it stop raining by the time my session started? Or should I leave the dry tires on? It takes about 15 minutes to change all four tires, if I'm really hustlng. Then, I need to get dressed in my driving suit, get down to grid, and wait for the start of the session. I need to predict the weather about 40 minutes in advance to know which tires to run. Professional teams have portable satellite dishes, reports from spotters and meteorologists, and so on. Club raicing is different. If I have the time, I can climb the granstand to look southwest over the trees.

The morning qualifying sessions were drenched in my groups, and I had to skate around the track. It wasn't much for setting a better time, but I did get some more practice with my wet tires and the slippery surface.

The Group 1 race on Sunday started in a bit of a drizzle. In the first lap, Bruce Beachman spun between Turns 6 and 7, was sideways by the time I saw him. I tried to go behind him, but he was trying to get off the track since he was broadside to the oncoming traffic. I ended up on the grass. Wet grass is the worst possible surface for the race car; there's zero traction at all. I couldn't get the car back on the track, and spun.

On the video page, you can see my lazy twist through the grass into the outside wall. During the time the car was sliding, the brakes were completely ineffective, and the steering only vaguely influened the car. Wet grass is terrible.

The thump was pretty bad, but the only damage to show are small dents in the right rear quarter panel and right rear bumper moulding. The bumper as impacted, and popped out of its hanger. I really got away with one, here.

But the great news is that I got back on track, then proceeded to pick my way through traffict to get to Guy and Steve. I passed them both before the end of the race, so I still finished first in C Production. I couldn't believe that I did so well, even after I spun.

Dan Heinrich drives a car in D Production. He's actually faster than me, though I guess he shouldn't be because he's in a lower class. He didn't have anyone to race with, so he got out of my way then chased me as I caught the other two D Production drivers. What a sportsman!

My ITS race was about as exciting, and didn't involve a spin. The unpredictable weather left me believing that I needed wet tires. I didn't; after I drove to grid, the clouds over the track cleared and more sunshine came through. Most drivers uses unshaved "full depth" versions of their regular race tires as rain tires. Me, I have some old Kuhmo Victoracers. They have about 3/32nds of tread on them, so they're far better than my worn-down dry-weather tires. I use the Kuhmo's to park the car. These tires sit outside in the sun and rain all year while the car is on the trailer in storage.

As it dried up, I didn't have much hope for a good race because I knew my tires weren't optimal.

But then the green flag dropped. There were only two other ITS cars; a new guy who I haven't met, and Skip Yocom, who's almost two seconds per lap faster than me. Skip's a great guy, and we're always joking around about how I'm going to catch him some day.

Since I didn't anticipate much success, I just went out to drive. After a few laps, I saw that the new ITS driver had entered the hot pits. He emerged from the wall on the front straight just as I entered the festival curves. That meant I probably lapped him, and he wouldn't be a concern. Finishing second behind Skip is good enough -- though racing is ralely about being "good enough".

I was clicking off laps and making a little bit of progress through the field. I entered T10 on one lap to find a yellow flag. I started scanning around to see what might have caused it. No yellow at the T12 station, and no cars lying around. As I added speed and made my exit onto the front straight, Skip popped out from behind the wall. Holy cow!

During the qualifying session, Skip's car didn't seem to be running right. He was slow, then fast, then slow again. I saw him use the old pit exit road in T11 to hide behind the wall at "the point", a wall between the drag strip and the front straightaway. I couldn't tell if he used the exit road because he wasn't able to control his car, or if his car was sputtering.

And I couldn't guess what had happened to him this time, either. But I had caught him, and I vowed to not let go. For the next seven laps, I hung onto his bumper. Skip drives both SCCA and ICSCC events. He enters two different groups like I do, but runs two different cars! He's been driving since Christ was a corporal, and has all sorts of exprerience and amazing car control skills.

Skip wouldn't make a mistake. So I vowed not to, either. Over the next seven laps, I had the time of my life, chasing Skip and looking for holes. I put a fender under him twice, but the veteran made great moves and anticipated everything. I wouldn't pass him, but when the checkered flag dropped I was still right on his bumper.

What a race! I kept my emotions in check and didn't make a single mistake. It's very tempting to simply force the pass, but that usually causes more trouble than good. Racing heroes all know the better part of valor, and I learned it that day. Since I was chasing skip, I almost didn't notice that I had caught most of the lead cars in the grid and finsihed quite high in the group overall. A snag at timing and scoring will keep me from knowing the exact results for a while, but I'm terribly proud of the results and my progress.

But what's funny is I did all this on five year old, dry rotted, unloved tires. Those Kuhmos really came together, and offered predictable handling and didn't go away during the race. Maybe everything I know about tires is wrong!

I won't fix the damage the car sustained until the end of the season -- it really is that minor.

When we left the track, we found that the access road was closed. Through the weekend, there was a low-rider meet at the convention center. Impalas with hydraulics and fade paint jobs were everywhere. Apprently, someone dissed another boy's hooptie and the fool kept steppin', so he got a cap in his ass. There were cops everywhere; the road from the track to the I-5 underpass was shut, so we had to drive north around the convention center and get back onto the highway.

I can't wait until Mission. I hope it's unquestionably dry tire weather.