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copyright (c) 1994 by Terry Coates

The off-season didn't seem very long. I remember what a relief it was when last season was finally over. For all the things I enjoy about weekends at the track, it's good to have a break. A chance to breathe, I guess.

But it's good to be back! It doesn't seem long ago that the Sentra cruised into Road Atlanta's pit lane last October. But once that first NASCAR race hits TV, the blood starts oxygenating or something and I have to run out and start the race car. At long last we headed to Road Atlanta in early March to start the 1994 season.

The car required more attention than usual this spring. It still wasn't completely together after the teardown at the Runoffs. We were missing half-a-dozen bolts and a couple of gaskets were fried. The clutch was stuck. I'd never seen that before, but it was frozen in place. I had to start it in gear and pop the clutch to "un-stick" it. Dave Wenger of The North End Wrench summed it up when he said, "You ought to drive it more." A point driven home when I took it in for a recall and the mileage hadn't changed on the odometer since October, 1993. The service guy thought it was a mistake.

The trip to Atlanta was a typical tow-vehicle-problem nightmare. If the laws of supply and demand still work, a mechanic could make a killing in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee on a Friday night. Since the van would run if it wasn't hot, we were able to nurse it along, carrying the parts--just in case.

"I still can't believe he did that." Pat Breakey, my crew chief, and I would say probably a hundred times over the weekend and the days that followed. Somewhere on the interstate, Pat was having problems with an older gentleman driving a Chrysler New Yorker (previous body style--the small one). Traffic was tight. During a lane-change, Pat may have cut in front of the guy a little. But only after extensive signaling and a very slow lange change. At the first opportunity, the guy changed back to the right lane, eased past the race car and ended up beside the van. Then he started coming over. Up to this point, I was asleep on the floor. Pat tried to move away and got on the horn. I woke up.

Before I could get up there was a jerk and a big clunk. After Pat ran out of room on the berm, he hit the brakes (jerk). And then the guy hit us (clunk!). Never seen that one before. Actually, I still haven't seen it 'cause I didn't get up in time. But, "I still can't believe he did that." The guy drifted back and eventually disappeared. He didn't stop so we didn't either. We had a small scrape on the bumper and a big rub on the tire but that was it. Very strange.

We got to the track well after registration and tech closed because of our van-problem delays. We unloaded a few things and went to sleep. I froze. There was ice on the car in the morning.

Tech moved so slowly the next morning that we missed practice. We could have used the session to help set pressures on the new Kumho Tires. Thankfully, there were two qualifying sessions and we were able to take a good stab at it. We were only fourth after the first session and third after the next. Rob Jones of OVR had the pole, but the top four SSB guys were very close. It was going to be a good race.

Incidentally, of the six cars entered in SSB, four of us were from Ohio. Five of the thirteen cars in the Showroom Stock group were Buckeyes. Two were from Georgia.

That night I dressed more warmly and had one more blanket. Pat had one less blanket and was still toasty. I froze again. I must've had a good time, though. At one point I allegedly cackled loudly, "Aaaah Haaaa Haaaaa! Hoooo Hoo. Ooh, thats a classic!" Pat wasn't able to get a response from me after that. Too many hours watching the comedy channel, I guess.

The race was great as I expected, but I wouldn't want to repeat it. I got a good start and was second, behind Rob, into turn one. After things sorted out, he was a little ahead, but there were two Miatas running right with us that made things very interesting. On about lap three I caught Rob on the back straight and passed him going up to the bridge. He passed me back going into turn one and I passed him back coming out of it. Then he got me back somewhere and it was shaping up to be a great race.

Then I sort of missed the turn-in under the bridge. The physics of doing that are, uh, not good. The car gets light because of the crest and turning the wheel at that point doesn't do much. All four tires were in the dirt going down the hill. The speed there is probably about 70 mph. It's downhill. It's dirt. You have--at most--two options: Crash or save. The second option isn't always available but there is no way to come to a stop. I reached deep down into my driver's suit and pulled out those old PRO-Rally nuggets and managed to save it. It was not fun, but I eased it back on the track without hurting anyone.

I rejoined in fourth. Over the next couple of laps, I passed back two Miatas and two other SSB cars to regain second. By that time Rob was gone. I wanted to give Kumho their first win, but I screwed up. It just might've happened. It was good to know that the tires could run at the front, however, and I think the choice to use them was a good one. There's a lot of season ahead.

Impound was much simpler than it had been in October. They weighed the cars and we re-ran the race in conversation until we were allowed to go. Rob's car weighed within 8 pounds of mine. Probably a difference of fuel. It's always refreshing to know your competitors aren't cheating either.

We limped the van home without fixing the problem. Now the list of "things to do" is longer for the van than it is for the car. But we have a short off-season until the Central Division season opener at Indianapolis in mid-April. Plenty of time to get ready. But then again, every other weekend there's a NASCAR race . . .

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