A good wife, a good van, a good car
copyright (c) 1993 by Terry Coates
As an egocentric male humanoid, I find it very difficult not to oversee and approve virtually everything that I feel falls within my sphere of control (and guys, these spheres are enormous, are they not?). On the other hand, it finally occurred to me (after Cheryl pointed it out a half-dozen times--the sphere is dense, too) that she spent the last racing season "running" the van. After this great realization, I afforded her more latitude in setting the van up for the track and I stopped worrying about it altogether.
Which brings me to the "good van" part. It is just beginning its third year as my often-trusty tow vehicle. The winter's rest brought a transmission rebuild, the only serious problem afflicting it. Cheryl and I spent a day building a loft aft of the middle seat (with a cut-out for the new, sparsely-filled tool box). We also removed the first bench seat and laid carpeting (a remnant of our apartment). For the first time ever we have enough room to carry what we need with room to hang-out and a comfortable space to sleep. Oh yes, and there are curtains in the back now.
I tow the Sentra SE-R with a dolly rather than a trailer. This is mostly because I don't have room to store a trailer, but I've become fond of the good acceleration and decent fuel mileage inherent in pulling less weight. We made the tow to Memphis averaging 10mpg and 62mph including stops. Despite the fairly mountainous terrain, we rarely exceeded the National Interstate Speed Limit, which we all know is 68mph, give or take. A good wife, a good van, a good car: I put them in that order for obvious reasons, but please understand that I will have to spend more time discussing the car and its contributions to the program.
With my wife running the paddock, I could concentrate on running the car. Getting it out of moth-balls was easy. Despite my attempts to start and run the car periodically over the winter, the battery was dead-flat when spring allegedly arrived. I had the body work freed of last year's carnage, which necessitated some new decals. Hi-Tech Signs, in the Kenny Center, came through, taking the time to make sure I got what I wanted. Incidentally, Rob Jones changed his numbers before Runoffs, so there should be less of a problem telling the cars apart this year.
Mechanically, there was very little to do. I changed the oil and filter. Dave Wenger at The North End Wrench bled the brakes and checked the timing. We checked the other fluid levels and showed the car the door. It's a Showroom Stock car. It runs.
A got a set of the new BFGoodrich 224's and mounted them up. I had planned to do an alignment but there wasn't time. I considered Memphis just a warm-up race anyway since I had never been to the track. The only other thing to do was to finish cleaning the car. I washed it, but didn't have time to wax it. I don't think I've ever waxed the whole car at once. I just do what time allows and eventually it all gets waxed. I also cleaned the engine bay. I have never waxed it.
That clean engine ruined my practice session for the Memphis National. Which wouldn't have been so bad, but it was also the qualifying session for the Regional race. The problem? The 16-valve engine has deeply recessed spark plugs centrally located within the head. When the engine is "washed", what happens to the water that collects around those plug boots? It goes into the recesses and waits for the motor to get hot. It then boils and interferes with the juice destined for the spark plug causing a major power loss. Worse yet, when the hood is opened, it smacks fear in the heart: steam coming from the spark plug holes looks very bad indeed.
So few are the mechanical problems that can be solved with a paper towel.
With the problem dried up for the Regional race, I charged from last in class to second, a good distance behind Rob's Sentra. I inherited the win when Rob pulled in early with a problem. A few laps before, though, he had set a new SSB track record at 1:24.227, a time that would not be bested that weekend. This brings his lap record total to three: IRP, Nelson Ledges, and Memphis.
I edged Rob by .001 seconds during qualifying for the National race. We were behind an NX2000 with unreal straightaway speed. I got a great start and passed the NX. I kept the lead through the first lap, biting at the heels of the SSA and SSGT cars as they bunched up in the corners.
The last turn on the track is called "Coffin Corner." The two, consecutive 90 degree right-handers are so named because concrete walls line the inside and outside of the track. It can be intimidating, but it is a fast corner and great gains can be made on lesser opponents because this is the entrance onto the drag-strip straightaway. The lead cars coagulated in this turn also, causing me to lift to avoid contact. That was all it took for the NX to motor by. The race for first in SSB was over.
I tried to keep up for a few laps: closing in through the corners, losing the fight where only power mattered. Memphis is a very abrasive track, though, and I was being very hard on my left-front tire--and still losing ground each lap.
Meanwhile, just behind me, Rob had been pacing himself to the point where he figured his left-front tire would last. I had built a small lead over Rob while chasing the NX. That lead soon evaporated as my fading left-front tire caused me to mis-negotiate (or "screw-up") Coffin Corner one too many times. Rob's Sentra is a little short on power compared to mine, but down the main straightaway he used my draft to catch and pass me under braking into turn one.
The rest of that lap was the single most fun lap I've had in a very long time. We were nose-to-tail for much of the lap and went into a 90 degree turn side by side. The camera in Rob's car doesn't show the fun since it always points straight ahead, but you can hear Rob laugh out loud in the middle of the turn (and the bench-racing afterward was nearly as much fun)
I couldn't make Coffin Corner with any great speed now since my left-front tire was coming apart from the heat build-up of the earlier laps. I began to let Rob go. I had to make the tire last the race. I could still go 115 mph down the straight, but the corners were getting slower and I knew the tire had very little left. I didn't have anyone in the pits so I had no idea how many laps remained. I knew it was getting close because I was doing some higher math down the straight: 34+(25x1.8x(1-(18x1.8/34)) .
That was my target trip odo reading for the finish: 34 miles (what the trip odometer read after qualifying--I forgot to reset it at the start of the race) plus 25 laps at 1.8 miles per lap adding some percentage for wheel spin because the 34 miles in qualifying were done in 18 laps, but that isn't 34 miles, etc., etc. Obviously I do a lot of rounding in my head and my final guess was a few laps short. But it's a long straight and what else was I going to do?
Three laps later Rob's car threw a big piece of rubber back at my windshield. Aha! So he was in trouble, too! I dug in and closed back up on him. We were both decidedly slow in the turns, about 1.5 to 2.0 seconds off our qualifying time now, but the next SSB car was probably 15 to 20 seconds back. It would come down to whose tire didn't blow.
At the end of the penultimate lap (not that I knew that at the time), Rob's tire blew in the middle of Coffin Corner. I went on to finish the last lap and take the checker for second place. Rob finshed on the flat, taking the checker as he entered the paddock. Pure luck allowed the fourth-place SSB car to be lapped by the leaders on the last lap, securing third place for Rob. I can't describe what his last lap looked like through the eyes of the camera; it was blurry but interesting.
What was supposed to be a warm-up for Indianapolis turned out to be my best National finish yet and a regional win. Not a bad warm-up. A good wife, a good van, a good car: This could be a good season.
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