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CENDIV Showcase National at Blackhawk

copyright (c) 1992 by Terry Coates

I desperately needed a test day. I hadn't been to Blackhawk since 1989 and could scarcely remember my way around the track. Fortunately, the new-for-92 Showcase (or "Enhanced") National offered a free test day to registered drivers. It worked.

We arrived at the track after an unexpected sightseeing tour of Rockton (or was it Beloit?) at about 3:00 am. We parked in the track entrance and slept for a few hours before registering at about 8. Everything was run pretty smoothly although we understand the registration line would later back up as the large, unexpected crowd arrived. Since the test day was free there was no pre-registration and no one thought so many people would show up.

For our first session, Showroom Stock was grouped with the GT cars among others. It is very disturbing to watch a GT-1 Chevy/Ford (pick one) bear down on your rearview mirror at a speed approaching twice that of your own. I don't remember much else of that first session except that my times were as slow as I expected and that I toasted the brakes.

Ah, brakes. The watchword at this track. I remember going through brakes here before, but this was incredible. Since I was here last the track has been modified with new curbs, new pavement, and--most importantly--a new, slow turn. The Nissan Sentras that Rob Jones' and I run were tough on brakes. I started on the original pads that had seen only 1300 street miles and the IRP race. At the end of the session they were nearly gone, rotors were deeply scored and I didn't have a spare set.

No problem, of course. Rob and I just turned them. Well, I guess "ground them down" would be more accurate. Armed with brake cleaner, WD-40, and a whetstone we got them nearly good-as-new in a couple of hours.

The second session went better. The track was a bit greasy but my times came down two full seconds. Part of that was due to fiddling with tire pressures, but most of it was gaining familiarity with the track. Somewhere in the course of the afternoon Rich Grunenwald arrived and was hit with one of the few disadvantages of running a Showroom Stock race car: keys. The car wanted them, his wife had them, and the two were not in the same place. He was able to resolve the situation in time to get some practice in.

Late in the afternoon Rob and I started counting sets of brake pads. We had picked up six sets from Buckeye Nissan before leaving. The Sentra's pads are fairly full of metal and under heavy braking gush fire through the wheels. These "Fire Breathing" Sentras were consuming pads at the rate of just over one set per two, 20 minute sessions. It was obvious that we needed to start the 25-lap (approximately 36 minute) race on a new set of pads. We had just enough (It's hard to fathom that six sets was only just enough!).

Our last session was halved to 10 minutes because the day was running late and registration was already opened for those not attending the practice day. We toured the town again in search of a few miscellaneous parts, but everything was closed. We stopped to eat and read with astonishment about some rioting in L.A. It was the first we had heard of it having been away from the press since Thursday afternoon. We retired, exhausted, early in the evening.

Saturday's practice session lost another half-second from my times. I put on a new left-front for qualifying and the car was sticking better in the turns. But before I could get a really good lap in, tragedy struck. Okay, so it wasn't really a tragedy but it was all my fault.

There was something in the air during that session. Rob and I were sandwiched between two more red Sentras (a timing and scoring nightmare) and about lap two or three, Rob spun off in turn one. I had planned to ride on his coattails and now he was behind me. He didn't lose much time, but before he could run me down I lost it in turn one. I can't remember now how it happened, but I spun to the inside of this rather dusty turn, filling Rob's car with dust. When I came around the next time the slippery flag was out and I wondered why. It was because some idiot had moved the dirt inside of turn one onto turn one. That idiot was me.

Needless to say, that slow turn cost everyone time. Rob was smart enough to pull in and wait until the turn was better, but the brakes and tires were already past their prime and he would not better one of his first laps. I had already convinced myself that pulling in after a few laps would be a great strategy but I got caught up in the make-believe battle on the track and only came in a bit early so as not score my rotors again.

That didn't work either. I had scored my rotors again and, though not as bad as the first time, they would not do for the race. Rob had a spare set of rotors which he pulled out for the race. This is the beauty of a two-car team as I replaced my rotors with the set on his car, which were nearly perfect. This was the first race I'd ever spent more money on brakes than on tires.

There were fifteen SSB cars on the official grid. Rob and I qualified a dismal sixth and eighth in class, 22nd and 24th on the grid. The only bright spot was that we would be nose-to-tail at the start so at least we might have a good dice. OVR member T.C. Cline qualified third in SSB, Rich Grunenwald was 14th. No other OVR members competed in Showroom Stock that weekend.

The race was fun though I ran much of it alone. An early battle with Jody Lift in a 16V GTI evaporated when he fell back and then pulled of with an unknown problem. I had already passed him but he had been staying with me to that point. The second-gridded SSB car burned up a clutch early and pulled off. There was quite a bit of other attrition but no more of it would be SSB cars.

My one highlight of the race was a textbook flubbed pass. It's a highlight because I didn't flub it. I can't recall who it was, but someone attempted to pass me on the turn leading onto the front straight. I knew they had me and it was too early in the race to bother blocking. I stayed my line and the other car out-braked me but boggled the turn. I stayed on my line and got on the power as the other guy collected his car. By the end of the straight I'd passed him back and even lengthened my lead.

The SSB race did not look as close as it must have been. That left T.C. Cline trying to stay with SSB-leader Mark Younquist but the NX2000's bigger brakes and better handling was too much to overcome. The margin of victory was three seconds. Rob and I moved up considerably overall to 13th and 14th but I was always about three seconds back of him and he three seconds back of third place in SSB. We finished fourth and fifth in SSB.

The enhanced national called for the return of entry fees for those finishing within thirty seconds of the winner of classes starting ten or more cars. I was twenty-one seconds so at least five positions in SSB were refunded. SSC started ten cars, but SSA and SSGT were not even close.

There were spectators and we did our best to talk with them and answer their questions. I really don't know how many showed up, but I'm sure it was several hundred.

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