Schumacher Taxi Service
It's faster if you let us drive.

2011 Charlotte Chumpcar Race Report

By Jer Enger

Dave and Justin agreed to tow down, giving me a much needed break from towing which I very much appreciated. That was made possible by having a garage at CMS. So Steph and I loaded up the truck with everything but the kitchen sink and started out for Charlotte. 9 hours, split into two days. I love driving 81 at night during the week, set the cruise control and just go. But we got to Roanoke, our pre-determined stopping place, so fast and easily that we shrugged and kept going, rolling into Charlotte around 2 AM. It was nice to check into the hotel we planned to be at all weekend early and sleep in.

I get up, eat, fill gas cans and head to the track. It's mammoth, looks like a GIANT football stadium from the outside (seats over 200,000). There's already a line of trailers waiting at the tunnel entrance at 11:15, so I get into line and wait. It's pissing rain and nasty. The usual suspects are already in line, Team Infiniti, Mike's yellow Camaro, ExFed racing, Acuras and Bimmers galore. As always, the field looks very intimidating before the racing starts. They finally let us in at 12:30. We go right to the garages, and we have stall # 1. Very cool to be in the NASCAR garages, they are heated with doors and plumbing, not a fucking pole barn like at CMP. I immediately stake out the closest pit stall to our garage, stall # 14. I get unpacked and wait for the rest of the team. And wait. And wait. They were running real late from suffering horrific rains and traffic the night before. But I had beer and other racers so I went around chatting and watching the tech/AIV process unfold. CMS is huge and overwhelming. You can see the entire oval from the infield, very cool. Just breathing it all in.

The guys get there with the car, and we were running late to tech so we opted to do that first. I watched all the other Miatas go through, three 1.6s-and they all got penalty laps. Poor or no documentation, heavy scrutiny (flashlights, crawling under cars, peering here there and everywhere). Uh oh. I'm thinking we're in for a tough time. Tech was a snap, the cage is really built well (thanks Justin and John!)and there were no issues. Now it's our turn for AIV. "A 1.8, huh? hmmm". Ugh. I pointed out our swaybar, our homemade chassis braces (they loved that), the home depot water line return fix and forced air induction. I also explained the radiator was shot and we were replacing it after this was done. Heck, they were matching VIN numbers from the motor to the car to the ECU! So we look over the AIV documentation. I explained they were all 1.8s, all running, and I had a gazillion spares if they threw one out. They see our average asking value was $535. I argue that's "asking" and Donnie said that's where the subjectivity comes in. I hold my breath, and he writes down 1 lap. Can I live with that? Hell YEAH! Inside I'm doing the snoopy dance. Whew, I was expecting 10 laps; 3 for the car, 5 for the bar and 2 for the camber adjustable a-arms I didn't mention (but they saw). WIN! We change out the radiator and it takes 2.5 gallons of water vs. 1 gallon for the stock one. Another WIN! John and Dave are wiring madmen and put doodads and the new fans in. Time for beers and a nice dinner. Ah, relaxing before the race. So nice! Steph joins us and Carol is on her way.

We get there early, 6:45, and walk the track. eerie. And a surprise-this infield track looks hella fun and challenging. Banking, off camber, on camber, all right! It was still drizzling so everything was wet.
So we all get called into the driver's meeting, held in the NASCAR meeting room. Clean racing, blah blah, chicanes, don't hit em blah blah 14 hour race, let's go. John straps in for the first stint and it's still pretty slick and wet.

I got this photo early, nice shot of John in the rain at the start.
John does a good, clean stint and we are 4 laps down (there was the unpenalized Boom Pow Surprise Probe that was decimating the field). We are in 11th I think. Good stop, I get in. Now during John's stint and also during my stint, people were driving super aggressively, and the chicane barriers were hit repeatedly. Almost all the yellow flags were for barrier resets. After an aggregiously bad impact, John red flags the race and we have an impromptu driver's meeting at the start finish where we were told it's $500 per hit to replace those barriers, and the black flag penalty was doubled to 30 minutes.
So the team straps me back in and out we go...again.

The following photos will show you just how quick we were compared to the other Miatas. This red one was probably the fastest of all the others:

The car behind me is the fast probe, who eventually ran me down on the straights and dusted me. Later they had overheating issues and were not a factor. The other cars who were fast were the winning 66 3000GT, the 08 Nissan 300ZX, and the two Acuras (one of which crashed out). My stint is going good, I'm starting my last lap and I get black-flagged. WTF? Turns out our new transponder ran out of battery fast, was supposed to last four days but lasted two. It stopped transmitting. How many laps did we lose before I came in? No one will ever know. 3? 5 ? 10? I do know we lost ten more laps (15 minutes) getting a new transmitter and mounting it. After it's all done we are 16 laps down in 15th place. Sigh. Lesson learned: charge the transponder right up to race time.

Pitting on NASCAR pit road, spot 14:

Now things start rolling. There were fewer chicane hits as we cycle through Dave's stint, Justin's stint, John's 2nd stint and my 2nd stint. There were some near misses (see related video posted earlier), lots of 2 wheels off and one harmless spin---all unpenalized. Gotta love Chump. Around 6 PM during my 2nd stint, I counted 26 cars still running during a caution; CMS had wiped out 1/2 the field. We had climbed in the standings throughout the day up to 7th, 23 laps out. We were running shorter stints than most teams so we had more stops, accounting for most of the lost laps.

One thing about this track were there were lots of different lines. This is Dave in turn four.
As he was wrapping it up, full course caution pops on and then RED FLAG. The leading Infiniti crashed out hard. The flames were high in the air, the driver was pulled from the car by another driver, taken to the hospital and the race lost for the leaders. They had run a flawless race and were very consistent, but with the 66 pushing them hard, only a lap down, they ran out of talent. This is the same team who led at Sebring with 30 minutes to go and lost brakes, crashing there too. 20 minutes later the track is clear, Justin takes over and proceeds to lay down what were almost certainly the fastest laps for our team on the day. He passed his way into 6th, and the Infiniti fell below us, giving us 5th. And that's how it ended.

We headed back to the hotel and sat in the lobby drinking beers for a few hours, swapping tales. This race experience for me might have been the best. Hard to beat winning at Sebring, but it was way more fun than previous races. Being able to take the back chicane at full throttle or near full throttle while everyone else braked equalized our top-end disadvantage, and the car was flying through the infield. This race is on my MUST DO list for 2012.

From autocrossing at Boeing in 2004 to racing at Charlotte Motorsports Park now, what a strange thing life is sometimes. I want to thank the best teammates and people I will ever find. I love going to war with you guys