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The Indy Grand Prix

copyright (c) 1993 by Terry Coates

It took until July, but we finally had the first miserably hot race weekend of the year. The great heat of early July will have passed by the time this is printed, but it will still be remembered. The July 10th USA Today expected the high temperature in Bangor, Maine to reach 89 degrees. Indianapolis would be close to 100.

It could have been worse. It could have been slightly hotter, but few tracks can hold (or perhaps generate) heat like Raceway Park: No trees. Lots of asphalt. Hot. Humid. Constant breeze. Were it not for that, the weekend would have been unbearable.

We arrived Friday morning for the usual Showcase National practice day. Knowing how bad the sun would be this weekend, I made sure to pack the tarp and lay out the poles for our makeshift canopy. Too bad I didn't actually pack the poles . . . The only alternative was to harness the breeze by opening all doors and windows on the van.

My crew guy, Pat Breakey, and I had intended to spend the test day fiddling with the few suspension changes available to Showroom Stockers. Instead, we worked with BFGoodrich's Jim Fogerty on tire pressures. The heat was especially worrisome because IRP is incredibly abrasive on tires. Jim's pyrometer, Pat's pressure gauge, and my wife Cheryl's stopwatch worked in search of fast times and reasonable tire temperatures.

Whenever possible, we ducked out of the sun and into the van. The breeze kept it comfortable. But any activity (including standing) in the sun broke an immediate sweat, even for those in shorts. The rapid test schedule kept me in three-fourths of my race gear (long-john tops and bottoms and suit pants) nearly all day. Even so, I was reasonably cool in the shade. The tough part was being fully suited up, strapped in the car, and motionless in the pits. That's hot.

By the end of the day, I was five pounds lighter but we were only about 0.75 seconds off my track record, set in weather some 25 degrees cooler. Most importantly, the tire temperatures were really good (considering the track itself was 110 degrees or more). We could run excellent times knowing the tires would easily last the race.

For the first time this season, I had to spring for a hotel. We had suffered the heat at Road America, but after sweating all day, a pool, shower, bed, and air-conditioning seemed like necessities.

We arrived at the track, refreshed, Saturday morning. We only got five timed practice laps in the short session, but the results were good. All five laps were within one second of each other, the fastest of which was only 0.5 seconds off the track record.

Rain threatened before qualifying, but passed without drop. My first qualifying lap would be my best but I noticed a bumping noise coming from the trunk. It had to be tires that we had ferried back from the BFG truck after practice. After the next timed lap I pulled in and, sure enough, there were two tires in the trunk. I went back out with a lighter tail, but never came within half a second of that first lap. A little something to make you go "hhhmmmmm".

That first, tire-laden lap was good enough for the pole in SSB by 0.45 seconds. Harry Manning was second with OVR's Rob Jones and Tony Suever third and fourth, respectively. Rich Grunenwald managed only seventh in his Sentra's second time out. The first three SSB cars were sandwiched with SSA cars. On the two-wide grid, the top SSB cars would be nose-to-tail on the outside. The wild card, as in the April IRP race, would be David Daughtery. David, the current CENDIV points leader, would be starting from the back of the grid because another commitment kept him from making qualifying.

Once again the day ended with a jump in the pool, but we were careful to get back in time for the BFG-sponsored Hog Roast and the half-price admission to Saturday Night Thunder.

Watching the oval racing was much better this year. It didn't rain like last year, the racing was closer, and the midgets' on-board starters kept things moving. Jack Ruby spiced up a perfectly boring "FastMasters" ("CrashMasters") affair by spinning himself and Bob Bondurant on the last turn. For those not familiar with this series, allow me to summarize: Racing bloated, $750,000 Jaguar street cars on an oval course broken by two acute corners is as ridiculous as it sounds. Sure, if offered, I would drive. But I wouldn't pay to see it again.

Sunday morning brought a welcome addition to this Showcase (or any) event. Gone was the "Emergency Practice" (used too often by those whose with no emergency). A few short practice sessions were run instead of the usual "open wheel" and "closed wheel" groups. Time permitting, this is much more preferable. I must temper my endorsement with that fact that I didn't actually participate. I felt that sleep was more important. And since our race was late in the day, nothing "warmed up" would stay that way until race time anyway.

OVR member Don Mills had the pole of the group and led us onto the front straight as slowly as he should. I love it when Don has the pole. Though the front on the pack was placid, our first attempt at a green flag was waved off. Soon after we were on the front straight, a Camaro directly in front of me, swerved out of line and pulled alongside the car in front of him. It was blatant and perhaps intentional. Maybe the start didn't look right to him, but it sure wasn't right after he went three-abreast well before the green!

The green came out the next time around. I maintained my position through the first lap. The faster SSA and SSGT cars were drawing away to the point where we wouldn't catch them when they bunched up braking for the turns. So far, the race was going as I expected (planned? hoped?) it to.

I concentrated on clicking off quick laps in an effort to draw away from Harry Manning. Rob Jones was sticking with Harry. I gained only a small lead. One of the slow SSA cars began to tangle with Harry which allowed my lead to grow, but it was never more than a few seconds. Another SSB car appeared in the battle behind me. It began to appear as though I would get caught by this pack of competitors. I turned my heater on full, in hopes an extra horsepower might be found.

Then attrition began to level SSB field. The Daughtery scare had been over with a clutch problem on the first green-flag lap. After nine laps, Rob Jones retired. One lap later, Rich Grunenwald blew a hole in his block. Three laps later, another competitor overheated. By lap thirteen, only three of the seven starters were running. Tony Suever took a big thunk and bent his front suspension, but soldiered on in third place.

That left Harry and I all alone. He closed in a few times, but never quite close enough to try a pass. Harry and I are both second-season National drivers. Neither made any big mistakes, and we must've made the same amount of small mistakes. With three laps to go I finally had a lead that thought I could keep to the end. We were mercifully lapped by the overall winner, Don Mills, shortening our race by one lap. Don is one of the nicest guys at the track. In the post-race interview, he was modest and all that, but you should've seen him just take the microphone from the interviewer--I thought he was going to do a song!

The homestretch of the season is upon us. Two Showcase Nationals remain along with three other CENDIV Nationals. Three firsts and four seconds in seven starts is beyond my wildest expectations for this year. My only hope is that it keeps up. Oh, one other desire: I hope I can figure out how to do these darn P.A. interviews before I butcher another one!

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