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1993 CENDIV Season Opener at IRP

copyright (c) 1993 by Terry Coates

Racing Luck. We've all heard of it and most have experienced it through our respective auto-based competitions. It seems I can't leave for the track without someone invariably spitting, "Good Luck!" at me. I usually reply, "Hopefully, I won't need it, but thanks anyway."

Luck, in general, is something I've never valued highly. I've always considered it a bastion for the unprepared or unskilled. If someone finds a twenty dollar bill lying on the ground, they might say, "What luck!" But that's not luck. That's the end result of someone unskilled at grasping onto strips of paper or an unprepared person with a leakey wallet. That luck is merely someone else's error.

Prepare properly and posses adequate skill--luck should never enter the equation. Wrong. I was proved wrong at the Central Division season opener at Indianapolis Raceway Park, April 18th. I benefited from luck caused by no man. My "luck" was at another driver's expense, but I didn't do it to him and he didn't give it to me. It was luck.

Nothing could go wrong all weekend. The Nissan Sentra SE-R was fantastic every session. Call it proper preparation if you want, but it's a Showroom Stock car. What preparation? We made the usual trip to Dave Wenger's North End Wrench only to bleed the brakes, turn the rotors, and replace a couple of worn brake seals. Once at the track, I changed brake pads once and changed tires. That was it.

Speaking of tires, BFGoodrich brought out a new tire for us that weekend. They must've been "the ticket" as lap times were cut in half! Just kidding. It would take more than tires to do that, but we were running two seconds under the track record. Conditions were better in general, though. The record was set on a warm July day last year.

Practice was uneventful, but fast. In qualifying I did something I may never do again. Of eleven laps, all but one were within 0.38 seconds of the fastest. Lap four was 1:55.549, good enough for 1st in SSB and 11th overall in a field of 23 cars. OVR member Tom Metcalf, Jr. put his Camaro fourth overall while Kenneth McVicker suffered a misfire that placed him a whisker behind my Sentra. Tony Suever put his new SSB MR-2 fourth in class. He was a little off the pace, but he is happy with the car and we'll hear more of him before the end of the season.

Even though I was 1.6 seconds faster and 4 positions higher than the next SSB car, the race was not yet won. And I don't say this to be humble. Under other circumstances I could have gone to sleep knowing that if the car ran, I'd probably win. But one of the fastest guys in Central Division was arriving Sunday morning and would start at the back of the pack. Five rows of slower cars separated my Sentra from David Daughtery's NX2000. Anything could happen.

Cheryl and I thought it was too cold to stay for the Saturday night party so we went out to eat. After that it was too early (and too light) to retire to the campground, so we went to the drive-in.

Almost directly across from the track there is a two-screen drive-in theatre. For about the price of a first run movie here in town, we saw Groundhog Day and A Few Good Men. This also kept us awake until about 1am, but since we didn't race until 1:45 Sunday afternoon, there was little danger of sleeping in.

In fact, we awoke early and were at the track by 7:30. We watched in horror as Daughtery turned a time nearly a second under my best qualifying lap. This could be bad, but to make matters worse, someone had cut him off on that lap and he thought the track was a little slick. He thought high 1:53's could be run in the race.

The start of the race was terrible. In front of me things seemed to be okay. The SSGT and SSA cars got off pretty well. In my mirrors, though, an SSB and SSC car were streaming up the inside and outside, respectively. I was on the inside so I moved right to block the SSB car and he promptly bumped me hard. I thought I might spin if he did it again (and I knew he would) so I moved back left just far enough to use a 300Z's bumper to steady me. The SSB car hit me again and then we were on the first turn. I dove to the middle as a hole opened up there and then I saw the pieces start to fly.

I knew the melee was several cars in front of me and I hoped it would sort itself out by the time I got there. No chance. Just as I got there, the SSC car was sideways right in front of me. I didn't think I could avoid hitting him. My only chance was to the outside, into the grass. I must've barely missed him. Lucky? Sometimes the grass isn't all that slow, but it was that day. When I rejoined the track, there was no one behind me and not too many cars in front. Somehow, though, it looked like every SSB car was in front of me. From pole to last place in a fraction of a lap.

We circled the track again under a full-course yellow. A second SSC car had gotten tangled in the mess. The two were stopped on the track with barely a lane open on the inside. At the end of that lap we were black-flagged and brought in to the pits.

So there I sat. Still about the same overall, but last in class. Daughtery had moved up to second in class. It didn't look good, though I could probably salvage second; Daughtery would inevitably move into first. Then the luck hit. On the restart, we went back to grid order. Apparently, the black flag was requested on the first lap but we had already passed the black flag station. Hence, we weren't shown the flag until the second time around. The first laps didn't score, but they were counted as race laps. We would restart on lap three (a pace lap) and take the green on lap four. Re-starts are single-file so Daughtery would be eleven car lengths back now instead of five. He would have three less laps to catch me. I couldn't have been more lucky.

The re-start was uneventful. I maintained my overall position while Daughtery worked his way through the pack. After a few laps only McVicker's still-ailing Camaro and six seconds stood between us. The gap shrunk once to four seconds but stayed mostly at five or six seconds. McVicker's car mended itself two laps from the finish and he passed me down the long straight.

The eventual margin of victory was seven seconds. It was my first National win, my first really nice checkered flag, and my first "National Event Winner" decal. I was surprised, to say the least, when I found that my race-fastest lap of 1:55.583 was the new SSB track record.

In SSGT, Metcalf moved up to second. Tony Suever lost one position by the finish, but that was due to Daughtery blowing by. BFGoodrich probably had the best weekend. They accounted for nearly 75% of the Showroom Stock field. They took four poles and set three track records. It would appear the new tires are doing well.

My race might have been more interesting had the restart not happened like it did. But I'll take the win. There'll be plenty of hard-fought finishes in the future. I'll just chalk this one up to preparation, skill, and pure, unadulterated, dumb luck.

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