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Mid-Ohio National

copyright (c) 1993 by Terry Coates

There is no question about it. 1993's Mid-Ohio races have contained my two poorest moments of the season. The first, you might remember, was the my-fault collision on the first lap. The second marked my worst finish of the season. Of course, the fact that a third place is my worst finish says a lot about the season I've been having--and I'm not complaining--but it was a disappointment nonetheless.

Right from the start, Crew-Guy Pat Breakey and I were having trouble getting the alignment on the Buckeye Nissan Sentra SE-R to stay put. We measured the toe before we left for the track, but after practice it was way off. We reset it before qualifying. We needed a little more speed to make a run of it. The field was unexpectedly tough.

There was much communication during qualifying. After the first few laps, my radio told me I didn't have the pole and I knew I wasn't going to get it, either. Near the end of the session, my left-front wheel told me things were not as they should be. A light vibration into the Carousel became a major grumble two turns later. I pulled into the grass and waited out the rest of the session. I had a nice chat with an older couple working the corner.

I limped the car back to the paddock, the left-front wheel popping and grinding the whole way. The car was barely on jack-stands when Rob Jones ducked under the fender and started disassembly. I was on the phone trying to round up a CV joint when word came that the wheel bearing was shot.

Good thing, too, because I couldn't locate a CV. Assistant Crew-Guy Ryan Hark picked up the bearing from Buckeye Nissan and headed up to the track. Rob had everything apart and ready for the replacement.

Meanwhile, the qualifying grid came out and the times appeared inaccurate. Rob and I both had recorded times 0.5 seconds better than what the grid showed. In the heat of problem-solving, though, we hadn't checked the provisional grid in time to catch the mistake. Tony Suever, armed with new rear tires (his first new tires since April) routed us all for the pole (legitimately, even with our "correct" times). Rob and I were behind Tony with an SSA and an SSGT car in between. Dan Minkler, in an SSB NX2000, was right with us.

The Showroom Stockers staged an impromptu party at the BFGoodrich truck. The race "party" was limited to beer and chips. A meal from the host region surely cannot be too much to ask for a $170 entry fee and $7 for extra crew passes.

Ryan arrived with the bearing just before dark and in no time Rob had re-assembled my car. A quick cruise of the paddock revealed no probleOn Sunday morning, we ran the emergency practice to put some pressure on the bearing. No problems. One more stop on the alignment pad and we were set to go.

The race was more exciting than most. With Rob beside me on the grid, the "A" and "GT" cars in the row ahead were all that separated us from Tony. We surmised that we had to get with Tony on the start or he would walk away.

The green flew and I got a horrible start. I got boxed in the center of the track and there was no room for forward progress. Rob went around me on the outside. Dan got around both of us. Half-way through the first lap, Rob made a bold move to try and get with Tony, but it caught him out and I got back around. Things stabilized like that for a few laps: Tony was a few cars ahead of Dan Minkler, with my Sentra, and Rob's Sentra close behind.

I ran on Dan's tail for several laps. Always close, but never able to attempt a pass. Rob hung back a little, studying us both. I began to lose ground to Dan when I noticed that the car was running hot. Very hot, in fact, and definitely losing power. Rob had been closing up on me through Thunder Valley for the last few laps. Now, with my power going away, he easily got alongside of me and he made the pass.

I turned the heater fan on "high", pumping heat into the car (and out of the engine). I stroked the next lap. The engine cooled and I seemed to regain power. While I cruised down the backstraight, eyes on the temperature gauge, Rob passed Dan. That slowed them a bit and I found I wasn't all that far back. I re-mounted my charge.

Before I could make up much ground, the slippery flag came out at the end of the backstraight. The three of us charged gingerly into the turn. All three went sideways, Rob and I more so than Dan. I was working on saving my car and not hitting Rob when he spun into the grass. Dan and I both went by. He told me later that he let the car go off to avoid the contact that seemed inevitable.

I was in third now, Tony was still drifting farther ahead, clicking off lap after lap of 1:52's--about a second a lap better than the rest of us. I wanted to pass Dan badly, but I was several seconds down with only five laps remaining. I drove my [spherical body parts] off for the next four laps.

The gap vanished. With one lap left, I was inches off his bumper. I pressured him (if artificially) on every turn to try and force a mistake. Through the Keyhole there must've been two inches between our bumpers. Down the backstraight I got alongside of him. He took a defensive line, and I stayed inside. We hit the brakes . . .

I stayed just even with him deep into the turn, trying to preserve the line. I might've miscalculated it a little, the turn might've been a little slick--whatever--I couldn't pull it off. I slid wide, barely keeping the car from the grass. Dan slipped past on the inside.

I pursued him the rest of the lap, but it was to no avail. The margin was still probably less than 0.5 seconds at the finish, but no one watching the race (except for Rob who rejoined after missing the pea-gravel trap where he went off) could've known how exciting and close it was.

Though it was my worst finish, it was probably one of my better efforts of the year. And above all, it was fun. I want to win races. I want to go to the Runoffs. But I also want to race and that means close racing, not clicking off laps alone. It also means competitors assisting to the point where you feel bad. Many thanks to Rob Jones for his efforts and his clean driving. The three of us raced close every lap and there was barely a rub between us.

I extend a hearty congratulations to Tony on his first win of the season. He made that car fly (he might've even set another track record, but we'll never know because timing and scoring butchered the race-fastest laps). Check back a few articles to where I said not to count Mr. Suever out. He's not done yet, either. The next two races are at Blackhawk Farms where his car should be completely at home (no pressure, Tony).

I'll skip the first Blackhawk race and gain two free weekends. After that, though, the home stretch is in view with the remaining two Showcase events and a Nelson Ledges race in the last four weeks of the season. I need the Showcase races to preserve my points lead in that series. It appears I second place in Central Division is nearly locked up, so the Nelson race will just be for fun.

I still want to win more races, but the goals I set for this season are rapidly vanishing. I have set another goal now, though. No more third-place finishes!

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