Wow. Just, wow. VIR is to CMP what CMP is to
Stafford. The Chump series is pretty much what we thought---it's
about the racing, not the show. From a "being on the track"
standpoint, Chump was WAY better than any LeMons racing I've
done. A caveat-two big contributors are the track, which is
simply awesome, and the number of cars---only 31 at the start. It
was about finding the right lines 2/3rds of the time, and looking for
passes the other 3rd. At LeMons there are so many cars on the
track it becomes about finding a hole more than racing lines.
It's faster if
you let us drive.
Our First Chumpcar Race
By Jer Enger
We show up around 10:30 and they park us in the lot that oversees both
courses, the lot on the right of the uphill on the north course.
Drinking beer and working on the car. About two hours later they
tell us we can go in. We get there, and there's the Stewart-Haas
hauler sitting there. I wheeled the trailer right around it and
parked two lanes away. A few minutes later the space between us
and then was filled with two other teams. Turns out one was
Hendrick Motorsports (Jeff Gordon) mechanics and the other was part of
Scott Speed's Red Bull crew. While the Stewart guys were pretty
standoffish, the other teams were regular joes and were super nice to
chat with. Hendricks guys brought a terribly under-prepared
automatic Neon with horrific tires they'd just purchased a week
earlier, but the Red Bull guys brought a "rolled" Miata that was well
sorted and fast. Both teams said they hoped to come back next
year (as did the Stewart guys, reportedly).
Anyway, seems like we spent a lot of time on the car on Friday, there
were a lot of little things that needed to get done! So we
finally decide to roll through tech. Did this really
happen? It was the most cursury tech I've ever seen. They
examined the battery tie-down and cage pretty closely, shrugged and
kept looking--a little. For some reason they thought the rear
sway bar would be a place we cheated and commented on our puny stock
bar. No mention of our super shiny new a-arms that while no
advantage and not cheaty, would have gotten us a shitload of penalty
laps at LeMons. Barely looked under the hood. Asked my what
our theme was about. I walked him through our STS team and the
Tijuana Taxi and VOILA! 4 bonus laps for theme. hahahaha
Made the (not) mandatory food donation and started plus 9 laps.
We got to take turns biking the course---whoa, elevation changes!
One lap was enough. I was really winded from it. It was hot
on Friday, so we cooled off with beer, a nice steak dinner and bed.
Saturday morning. Typical driver's meeting, but short.
Turns out this was the first ever 24 hour race at VIR. Wow!
John takes the first stint and is running 1:37s and 1:36s. Sets
the fast lap for the daytime session at a low 1:36. Loves the
track. We cycle through the first eight hours like clockwork,
moving up the standings to 5th. Everyone loves the track. Maximum
stints, minimum stops, just like we planned it. Amazing. At
5 we have the safety break. We changed all the pads in 15
minutes, cleaned up the car, and notice some fluid under the
hood. Passing it off as power steering fluid from the wrapped old
system, we don't think twice about it. All looks well, the tires
appear to be in great shape and we just swapped fronts to backs for the
Saturday night. Wow, we made it to my stint. My first hope
and goal was to get everyone a full stint, and we were almost
there. Drivers meeting was short. We plugged in the lights
and I belted in and got started. The first thing you realize
about the south course is all the elevation changes. I was
actually a bit thrown off by it and was running really shitty laps for
the first ten laps or so. I can't explain it, I just didn't
"engage". In the 2nd lap Stewart took the line from me coming off
turn 2. Since I was in the Miata, I knew I could outbrake him and
did so coming to the spiral, but not enough to make it stick, so I
yielded the line. I still can't believe I was on the track with
Tony Stewart. Anyway, I radio in and ask for my lap
times. 1:40s. WTF! I got mad and got faster and
faster until around 60 laps into my stint I was getting very consistent
and fast---down to a 1:34.7 I think. I think being on the 10 hour
old tires was more than offset by the cooling track temps.
:) My stint ended and I felt great---until I stopped in our
pits and shut off the motor.
Smoke coming from under the hood. Oil everywhere.
Surprisingly only a quart low, but it looked like a lot more. The
temp gauge never indicated over-heating, and the oil pressure was
always good. We checked the gauges A LOT all race. Dave
determined it was probably a front seal. With nothing to do about
it, we dropped a quart in and sent John back out. Now it was dark
and the lap times fell about 4 seconds a lap. Each successive
stop we put more oil in. I tried to sleep from 10:30 to 1:30, but
with the cars whizzing by at 100 MPH it was kinda noisy and you just
don't really sleep. I finally gave up, got up and met Justin H
who was on his way over to roust me.
Apparently while I was resting we threw a belt and overheated the car,
the same belt that we lost at Nelson Ledges. This time, though,
we had a spare and Dave fixed it quickly. I wonder if all the oil
contributed to the belt failure...anyway, now we are back to 7th.
We stayed there. I got ready and was told how difficult it was to
drive in the dark, but I didn't feel that. Justin H and I both
felt pretty comfortable in the dark and in fact he was timing me at
1:36s and 1:37s in the dark. Oak Tree was a bitch because there
was no way to see the turn in or corner off at night, so that slowed
the laps down. A trick that helped was to use the brights
entering Oak Tree, but I didn't figure that out until late in my stint.
So I end my stint and now we each had two full stints. Hmm, this
weekend is shaping up. We were still doing stellar pit stops and
made practically no mistakes in race management. We had a
question, though-short stint and get everyone another 45 minutes, or
maximize our laps in hopes of moving up? 3rd place was 13 laps up
on us, and we were still in 7th. Stewart was in 8th but was 20
laps behind us. We decided there were not going to be four cars
ahead of us that broke (we were right, none did). So we short
pitted and every got another session. We used up every last quart
of oil I had, 10-30, 10-40, 20-50 and a 15-50 bottle from my Lotus days
and still had to beg a gallon off another team. But the car
lasted the whole race and was just as strong at the end as at the
start. I took the checkers for the first time in my life, man
what a great feeling to do the cool down lap.
Clean racing all weekend, but best of all no stupid penalties. We
all went all four off at least once, 2 off countless times and never
got flagged. It was racing and it was spectacular. John got
tagged and spun off turn one, and Justin did a solo spin off Oak Tree
and those weren't penalized either. It seemed appropriate,
honestly. No harm no foul. I loved it. The best
race weekend of my life. We had a great time racing the
Near-Orbital Space Monkeys until they had a catastrophic failure in the
middle of the night. I had a blast with the #2 team from 4-6
AM. Lots of new friends.
My schedule next season will center around VIR and be filled in after
that is on it. VIR loved us, were shocked at the clean racing and
the night time sessions, and want us back. yay!!!
The team, post race:
Stewart's hauler behind my puny trailer:
Burned oil highlighting our fancy intake vent:
This used to be one of AJ's chrome wheels--oops!:
Buckling John in for the start:
The nice Hendrick guys next door:
Our perfect canopy tie-downs:
Dueling motor swaps-Stewart brought three cars, two of them were Supras
that blew motors in the first two hours. The pink one we saw at