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Michigan National

copyright (c) 1992 by Terry Coates

True to form, I picked the car up from Buckeye Nissan on the day we were to leave for this race. We've all had these last-minute ordeals . . . things don't show up or the wrong thing arrives when it's too late to get what you need. Not this time. Everything fell into place.

The damage to the motor from the Indy race was severe--the head was "toast". I could easily have given the season up for lost. I had a large bill to pay before I could pick the car up and no shortage of other things to spend money on. But Indy was my best showing so far. I had some confidence up and if I packed it in I'd be starting all over again next April.

So I did what all good racers (and most bad racers) do: I charged it. Figure out how to pay for it next month, this month is for racing.

Cheryl Thomas and I picked the car up from Buckeye Nissan Thursday afternoon. They had finished the car up earlier in the day so we could make the Friday practice day. "The engine guy" assured me that the motor was okay. And just in case anyone is wondering, no, we didn't "do" anything to the motor. I couldn't afford to put it back together much less upgrade it somehow. In fact I wasn't sure it would be up to full power.

The tow up was uneventful except for the storm of newspapers just outside of Lowell, Michigan. I don't know where they came from but Rob Jones' motorhome whipped them up into a frenzy in its wake. A page even got lodged in the wheel well of the Sentra.

Neither Rob nor I had been to Grattan before. It is beautiful. The main paddock is small but Showroom Stock was sent to a large grassy area outside the track to ease the crowding. While the facilities may not be as nice as Mid-Ohio, the grounds are kept just as well. The track surface is good and the layout has major elevation changes, several blind and/or off-camber turns, and plenty of excitement. It is also mean on brakes. Rob and I each ate up four sets of pads and a pair of rotors before we were done.

It was a cool day and the track felt really slick. In retrospect, though, I think it was us. The track is unlike any track we'd ever been to. There are so many blind turns that it takes a while to remember where you are and which way the next turn goes. Rob and I ran comparable times. I broke a sway bar mount, shortening one session, but over four complete sessions I shaved about a second each time. We ended up at just under 1:40 with better times to be had with a bit more track time.

There was no unleaded racing gas at the track and I was running short. I would have to practice on 92 octane pump gas and try to run it all out before qualifying. Despite the (relatively) low-grade fuel, morning practice took nearly another half second off Friday's best.

I was having a pretty good time by now. I was running right with Rob and he and I seemed to be about the second fastest SSB cars. T.C. Kline hadn't been to Grattan for five years and had missed the practice day. He was having some trouble getting with the pace, but we all knew it was a matter of time. His times were getting better as ours had the day before.

I went out to qualify with a light fuel load, hoping to save the necessary amount of race fuel. That would also keep me from running too many laps and ruining my rotors as the pads went away. It took eight laps to score a 1:40.374; two laps later the car sputtered for fuel and I came in. I talked with the pole-sitter-elect. His crew was timing Rob, T.C., and others, but not me! Being a nobody has its advantages.

I snuck into second place in SSB on the grid. The first five "B" cars were an uninterrupted string. We were under the track record all the way back to seventh place. It would be a tough battle. Rob managed an uncharacteristic fourth. He later discovered that his right side brakes were binding up and costing him straightaway speed. He got both front and rear freed up by race time.

Kline improved himself to slide in just ahead of Rob, third in SSB. Don Mills and Ken McVicker represented OVR in SSGT qualifying fourth and seventh, respectively. Forrest Granlund managed second in SSC, but the Mazda Miata would prove tough, qualifying seven positions up, two positions in front of the lead SSB car!

The start was going to interesting because the first turn at Grattan is a huge funnel. The entrance to the turn must be sixty feet wide but it tightens down to half that by the exit. Rob started right behind me with David Daughtery in the lead SSB car to my right. The start was pathetic. I was at full throttle long before the green was out. It appeared that the starter waited for the end of the field to hit the straight and paid no regard to the formation or the ever-increasing speed of the field.

I was lucky. Many cars were caught off-guard by the start but I threaded my way up to the head of the SSB field. That lasted about one turn. Daughtery got inside me in the next turn. Kline managed the same a few turns later. I gave up at least one of those positions due to inexperience. A lot happens during that first lap and I'm still learning. I did keep third, though, and neither of the lead cars ran away from me. They finished in the order they passed me.

As it turns out both of those guys posted faster race laps than I did. I would have had trouble holding either of them off for long. They were just faster that day. There will be other days. Rob got stuck behind a slower car just long enough to distance him from catching me.

The other OVR drivers didn't fare so well. Ken McVicker finished fifth in SSGT, sixth overall. And that was it. Don Mills suffered mechanical problems all day Saturday and completed only two laps of the race. Forrest Granlund, who had practiced saving the car when a rotor cracked on the test day, saved from stuffing the car again when a wheel parted company.

I scored my first National trophy and made no mistakes that track time won't fix. Okay, I did forget to bring my helmet but I can guarantee that won't happen again. Fortunately, Rob had brought his spare and my bulbous head just squeezed in.

At the same time I mathematically eliminated myself from qualifying for The Runoffs. Amazing, but there are seven or eight guys from Central Division that deserve to go (and that doesn't include me). Finally, it's time to comment on the theory and practice of Showcase Nationals. I would very much to hear someone define the difference between "Showcase National" and "National". If Denver gave money for advertising, great. The workers had a cash award, fine. But I paid for my test day and I paid my entry fee with no chance to earn it back. The trophies were very nice, but BFGoodrich sponsored the Showroom Stock awards.

I like having interested spectators but the rest should standard. And I can't wait for the next issue of SportsCar to come out. I want to see who won, uh, whatever the gimmick was that the National Office came up with. If we thought we knew, we were invited to post five dollars and the first person to get it right won ten bucks. The proceeds (though I can't imagine there being any) were to go to the Arthritis Foundation. That kind of Mickey Mouse stuff makes them look like they are starved for anything resembling a good idea.

From here it's on to Nelson Ledges and then Rob will have to go to Brainerd to defend his Runoffs invitation. I will probably hit some regionals and start working on next year's program.

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