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A novice experience at PIR

Guest ChumpGuido

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Guest ChumpGuido

I was on the waiting list for La Familia should a seat open up and the call came about 5 weeks before the race that there might be an opening and it was confirmed a week later. Just soon enough to get some experience with the car before the race, refamiliarize myself with PIR (it's been 20 years since I took a Cascade school), and find all the safety gear that autocrossers never need.

Mark is out to win "best theme" no matter how we place with the car. Our racing plan is to have a reliable race with no penalties. Any finishing position above mid-pack we'll consider a win.

Stints were set at 1.5 hours because there were 8 drivers. Somehow I ended up being the second driver in the rotation, so that meant my first stint was 3pm-4:30pm. Gary Bockman was doing wonderful in the rain despite complaining about a push, so I wasn't too nervous going out even after getting a push-start because our battery wasn't charging. Follow people around, notice that the handling SUCKED in the rain (why didn't we ever test in the wet?!?), find the chicane and realize how much people were overbraking there, come back around onto the main straight, and test how hard I can brake for the chicane. Oops! Gotta brake a wee little bit earlier, just keep things calm and take the escape route.

OK, click off more laps calmly and gradually step up my pace, keeping an eye on the flaggers because we want no penalties. After 30 minutes of this ill-handling car being danced around by Miatas and a few fwd cars, I'm starting to get tense and annoyed, wondering why I'm out here. T6 has a little oil or fuel drops right in the line and that just makes the push worse. Another 30 minutes on the wet surface and I'm finally realizing that my throttle inputs are too large, but the car still doesn't want to turn and the pesky Miatas are still dancing around me in the corners. I have a great respect for how Gary Bockman was wringing every second of performance in the rain from the Fiat. But wait, is that some dryness? Am I really starting to get some traction?

Yup, in the final 30 minutes the car starts behaving properly as the track dries out and the little crap-can car transforms itself into the wonderful handling car that I remember! Suddenly I'm dancing around other cars, diving into T4 on the inside, crossover passes entering T7, full throttle (actually a light lift) through the chicane and passing into T10. Wow, now that was what I was looking for!

I caught and passed one Miata on the back straight (take that!), though they followed me through on the next lap and learned how much speed you could carry through there (oops, did I show my hand too much?). Feeling really good now about the back straight, I was flabbergasted how fast Lab Rats caught me at T10. Must be nice to have power, tires, AND skill :P

Now my thoughts turn to the fact that the radio hasn't been working, so I wonder how they'll let me know it's time to come in? I suppose, in the worst case, they could black flag me... oh, hey, there's a sign-board saying, "28 IN". I wave to acknowledge the sign and pit, wondering how many times they'd flashed it at me and I didn't notice. The answer is I saw the impromptu pit board on the first display and the team saw me wave... woo-hoo, we're really working well together!

Man, I sure hated to come in now that the racing was becoming fun! [racing is always more fun when you're passing rather than being passed, LOL]

As the team plugs away through the afternoon and night, I'm periodically posting updates to a small audience on the web via wireless. A few minor irritants arise, like the battery not charging and Pinky breaks the handle off the headlight toggle switch and a bushing for the steering column falls out and the brake rotors were already warped from the test day and ... well, I'm sure all the teams had similar experiences. All these little things are worked around or fixed permanently and they don't slow ya down.

Teamwork took care of dinner and sleep breaks and pictures and keeping our La Familia theme alive and keeping the car alive. Teamwork made the ups & downs much better.

Mark Scholz gets his first stint during the DST time warp, which means we're halfway through the race. His stint is eyewitness to some of the race-changing on-track drama. Gary Bockman takes the wheel 1 am... he has the front row seat when 00 wipes out the chicane and the windshield is splashed with water from the impact! We do a windshield service while the chicane is removed and send him out to finish his stint.

Then the fog rolls in thicker and thicker while Gary moves us higher and higher up in positions. I find it very easy to leave him in the car for a full 2 hour stint and I'll take a short 1 hour stint. 3am rolls around and now I have to get in the car after Gary moved us back into 10th place. As I climb in, Gary's words to me are, "You can't see poop out there", plus some pointers on how to look for the turn-in points.

I head out and discover just how bad it is. Other cars are just flying around at full tilt and I'm a moving chicane. The mirrors are my survival strategy until I can pick up my pace... made it through the worst parts and down to T10-T12. Hey, fairly clear down here except... where'd the T11 curbing go? <ker-thump, slosh> aw, crap, I just went right over it! <bounce, bounce, slosh> Well, I know where the old pit road is, pick it up and embarrasingly come to the "point" to wait for directions. Radio in, "I went off in T11, nothing damaged except my pride." The turn worker waves me on.

Coming around for my next lap, I turn in for T7, accelerate out the chute to T8, and <ker-thump, slosh>. Damn, where'd the track go?!? "Off in T7, I'm gonna back my pace down."

I take it real easy around T10-12, make it around to find the T7 braking cones, turn, see the inside curbing, accelerate out the chute to T8, and <ker-thump, slosh, wham! bang! slosh ker-thump> "Off in T7, alternator is squealing, I'm coming in. I'm not doing any good by being out here." I ignore whatever Mark is saying since I can't hear him over the squeal while I'm going down the back straight. T10 comes up, I slow down and I start waving my arm as if anyone can see it in the dark (it's clear behind me anyways) turn for T11 and <ker-thump, slosh, bang> Damn it! Take the old pit road again and the worker waves me back on right away. "Off in T11 again, will have to go around again before coming in"

Mark radios back, "No, stay out."

"You want me to keep out here?!?"


"I'd rather not."

"No, stay out."

"Uh, copy that."

I'm not sure why, but I stay out. This was absolutely no fun. The rain was tedious, but this fog is a nightmare. Then the fog relented somewhat and I picked up the pace a bit. I realize why I was going off... everything is the same brown color in the headlights! I can't tell what's track, what's curbing, and what's mud field. Red and white paint on the curbs is coated in mud and it all looks brown. And I have no faith in where I'm going if I can't see the track.

Cars keep passing me left and right. Every so often I get someone to follow through T4-T7, but they always leave me behind accelerating down the chute to T8 This stint is turning into a rear view mirror festival as I try to time the approaching headlights so they reach me before the turns. I spot the orange Mustang coming out of the pits and think, "aha, a new driver who doesn't know what he's in for!"

Sure enough, I catch the Mustang at T10. As we round T12, we're shown the blue flag (I'd already seen the headlights). The Mustang driver doesn't know who's on his tail as he's frantically trying to point me to the right. I have no intention of passing him since I want to follow someone if it's possible. I hang with him through the chicane and through T4-5, then pass him as he slows down to what seems like half my pace and his headlights fall away in my mirrors. But there they are again in my mirrors going down the main straight and he repasses me, disappearing into the distance, never to be seen again. So much for the one pass I made on this stint!

The fog closes back in on the track and I radio in, "Fog's back, can I come in now?" The answer is affirmative, they're ready in the pits. I climb out of the car, take off my helmet, and steam rises out. I'm complaining about the awful drive and everybody's laughing at all the mud on the car. "What time is it?" 4am, so I lasted my stint. "What place are we in?" 11th. Hey, after that miserable stint, I only lost one position?!? I'm dumbfounded. I didn't catch anybody (unless they'd spun), everybody passed me, and we're in 11th? By the time the driver swap is complete, we drop to 12th, but that's to be expected.

Mark takes a perverse delight in the mud coating the former rally car. Jeff is on track for 15 minutes until the red flag comes out. Dang, why couldn't that have been thrown while I was out there suffering?

Go to the drivers meeting, concur with the plan, and the team mostly disperses for sleep. I'm too tense to sleep, so stay up clear to 8am green flag and then head off to sleep. I wake up at 1pm to sunshine and cool air, so guess that the fog didn't burn off until late. Video a few laps, realize the Fiat isn't on the track. Walk to the pits, expecting to see the bad news, but the pits has no car. It had just left after the throttle cable repair. That's when I learn that we'd mostly held 11th until hour-long repair dropped us to 20th. Kristine is in the car, complaining about how slow it is, yet she ticks off the fastest lap any of us have done. Mark calls Kristine in, we check the timing (suspected knocked loose during the throttle cable repair), lock the distributor down (yes, it was loose), and Mark takes off for the final hour. At the end of his first lap, he blows the chicane. Starting his third lap, he's hit (mildly) by an overtaking car, between the chicane and T4. I check the scoring sheet and note that all the cars now visiting the pits are behind us. Only two cars ahead of us are remotely within reach (+1 & +3 laps) and 21st is too many laps down to catch us. Mark's not catching anybody, so it looks like we have a lock on 20th, which is how we end up.

We met our goals by winning best theme, getting no penalties, running mostly in 11th & finishing mid-pack. Mark's learned he wants more reliability and better lighting. I learned that I'm very annoyed by adverse driving conditions and may not be 100% sympatico with a 24 hour format. On the other hand, I don't think I'll turn down any offers to drive, either ;)

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Guest Brent Picasso

Great racing with you! You guys had an awesome team and theme going. We adopted your generous "gift" and attached it to the LabRat's roll cage- it may have turned out to be a curse, as shortly after the nighttime racing started we fell off of the track and drove right into the tire wall!

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Guest PSmurf78

I have to agree with you on the fog. I was driving the lab rats car from 2 till almost 4 am. We had lost our right pointing light earlier in the evening, which made it exciting on a mainly right handed turning course. I don't know how many time I followed a line, and just guessed when to start my turn in.

I told my team mates that I hoped the GPS tracking wasn't working in the car because my driving was horrible. I remember multiple times at T7, turning in, then seeing that I was going to cut the corner and had to correct. I'm impressed by all the drivers who were out at that time and their ability to continue under those conditions.

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