Jack Pine Sprints
copyright (c) 1993 by Terry Coates
I've had really great events and a couple of relatively bad events this year, but Brainerd was a healthy dose of the best and the worst. For starters my wife couldn't make the trip because she had landed a teaching position with Columbus Public Schools (making them an unofficial sponsor of the car). That left the whole affair to Pat Breakey, trusty crew-guy, and myself.
The trip is a long one. By the time the van was safely back in the driveway, some 1,963 miles had run across the clock. Perhaps a third of those miles were accompanied by rain. During at least 3 of the 34 road-hours (that's an average of 58 mph including stops), the "Spinal Tap" CD "Break Like the Wind" was filling the van with thoughtful lyrics like, "And it feels so real, you can feel the feeling." For some reason I was in an incredibly good mood that seemed boundless.
The long drive was made even longer by the self-destruction of two of the dolly's tires (that's two out of two, naturally). The first problem occurred while I tried to sleep in the back of the van. It was raining and the standing water caused the car to swing uncontrollably, even at 55 mph. I was trying to sleep in the back of the van when it happened and watched the whole thing. Kudos to Pat for making the save and prolonging the weekend. When we stopped for gas, the dolly tires were running so hot that they were steaming. The sidewalks had all been rolled up where we stopped, so we pressed on carefully.
We made the next truck stop at 11:30 p.m. which was probably also about a quarter-of-two-tires-blow (Eastern Standard). The tires were just about treadless and definitely possessed. We affixed two new car tires and were off. The new tires ran cool and the dolly stayed squarely behind the van through the rain (even passing the "Okay, that's enough" test at 72 mph).
We arrived at the track a mere 18 hours after setting out. The incredibly good mood was not apparent. It was still there, but masked completely by fatigue. No time for that, however, as the press day was underway and testing started in an hour. We were barely out of the van when SSGT Firebird driver Brian Kelm told me to grab my helmet and get in his car. We were going on a press ride.
Having never been at the track, this was a great opportunity. I got to see the track at just under "race speed". Between the visual and visceral exposure, a few good tips from Brian really helped lower the learning curve. It is quite a feeling being strapped in someone else's car while they propel you into turn one at Brainerd. At the end of the one mile straight, the Firebird hits about 135 miles per hour in fifth gear. There is no braking required into the first turn.
After the first practice session, the Buckeye Nissan Sentra SE-R was about three seconds off the track record, but there was plenty more. At the end of the test day we put on some new front tires to scrub them in. That was the ticket, and we were in the mid 2:05's, about 0.5 seconds under the track record for Showroom Stock "B". After (relatively) poor finishes at Mid-Ohio and Blackhawk (3rd and 4th), I felt like we were back in form.
That night we headed down the road to the local go-cart track. Without any real regard to the posted rules, we had a blast. The racing was "spirited" to say the least. Brian Kelm, accustomed to running at the front in SSGT routinely picked the most anemic cars. It was by poor luck at first, then on purpose. He enjoyed blocking with a slower car much more than charging to the front in a faster one. There was more bench racing between sessions there than all weekend at the real track.
I awoke the next morning in the nearest thing to a coma I hope ever to experience. It might have been the go-cart fumes, but was more likely the result of travel exhaustion. It was cool enough that Pat and I slept in the van without an open window. There was some evidence that Pat's breath could have etched glass that morning, so that certainly could have been a factor.
Morning practice was routine and we touched middle 2:05's twice. After practice, however, I was approached by a competitor who was appalled at the horsepower the Sentras (Harry Manning and I) were generating. When we explained what a stock motor was, he offered to protest us to find these hidden secrets of power that we possessed. I guess Harry and I shouldn't have been driving so well. It couldn't have been that this guy was slow, right?(!)
That cloud hung over for some time, casting a shadow on my 2:05.365 qualifying time, good enough for the pole. It appeared that we would survive the weekend without a teardown, thanks in part to other competitors assuring that I was legal. After some cooling off, I inspected my good mood. It was still there, but dented quite badly. But that was nothing a trip to the go-cart track couldn't fix!!!
After a brief Showroom Stock party, we went go-carting again with the same results. We got to bed a little earlier this night, Saturday, as ours was the first race of the day.
We went out for morning practice to seat some brake pads. The balance of the car seemed good and we were ready. After practice, Mr. Protest stopped by to chat with Harry and I. He mentioned that he "might have to apologize" as he'd found his timing to be advanced 15 extra degrees, which might account for why Harry and I were so fast. Too bad he didn't file the protest--it would've been a marvelous waste of money.
On the starting gird, I was behind a row of SSGT cars, which would easily run away from the rest of the pack down the long straightaway. To my right was the sole SSA car, a 300 ZX. Behind my lightning-quick Sentra was Harry Manning in his lightning-quick Sentra. To his right and behind the 300 was David Daughtery's NX2000. Tony Suever, OVR's only other SS entry, gridded his MR-2 fifth in SSB. The fast nature of the track was not kind to Tony's Toyota.
When the green flag flew, the drag race was already under way. The 300 pulled away from David and I tucked in between them. We went into turn one in that order, the gap from the 300 growing slightly. About two-thirds into the turn, the 300 slowed to the point where I had to take evasive action to miss him. It was so totally unexpected that I lifted. David dove inside and passed me and the 300 into turn two. I got beside the 300, but he powered past down the short straight before turn three.
For all intents and purposes, the race was over then. I never gave up, but thanks in part to drafting the 300, David turned the new lap-record on lap two and opened up a gap that would never change much for the rest of the race. I turned three straight 2:04's after lap one, but David did the same. If I had a bad lap (and a "bad lap" was a mid 2:05), so did he. And so it went, right to the 3.6 second margin across the finish line. After the first, every lap we turned was under the previous track record, even with traffic.
Though I was disappointed with second, the error was all mine. On the positive side, we found that we could run with David, the new Central Division champ, on a fast track. That bodes well for the Runoffs. His NX2000 is always "prepped" and "fresh" where as my lightening-quick Sentra sits as it did when I took delivery, although broken in now. A little freshening and new shocks all around should help quite a bit.
The regular season is at an end now. What a season it was, too: Six poles; Three firsts, five seconds, a third, and a fourth in Nationals; Two poles, two firsts and a third (tire blew) in Regionals; Four track records. As for point totals: second in Central Division, first in the Showcase Series.
There is one race left, however. This fantastic season could be capped off with a respectable finish at The Valvoline Runoffs. Road Atlanta is another track I've never been to, but new tracks don't seem to bother the lightening-quick Sentra. We'll keep our fingers crossed.
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