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The Michigan National

copyright (c) 1994 by Terry Coates

We had high hopes for the Grattan race. It should be an "MR2 track", but I was apprehensive. We had expected the same of Blackhawk and were rudely surprised. Grattan, though winding, blind, and off-camber, also has a very long front-straight and other flat-out sections.

The MR2 is so different from the Sentra that the Friday test-day turned out to be money well-spent. Never before had the differences between front-engine, front-drive and mid-engine, rear-drive seemed more pronounced. Thankfully, the MR2 is a very balanced car and my best efforts to kill myself resulted in only two full spins (but hundreds of wild rides) during the long day of testing. Driving the car doesn't require the upper-arm strength that I had first thought. Saving the car from slides, spins, and certain embarrassment, however, completely wore me out.

We camped at the track. Cheryl and I inhabited the van while Pat Breakey opted for the tent. I couldn't help but think about his welfare when a big crack of thunder awoke me at 3:30 am. It rained hard and long, good enough for about two inches by morning. Of course there was no way in h#!! I was going to check on him. The welcome mat was out if he gave up the fight.

Saturday morning, much to our surprise, the tent was still staked into the sandy soil and Pat was still in it, none the worse for the wear. Brave man, Pat. Staying in that tent during the storm in his underwear was like ... well, staying in a tent during a storm in your underwear. What can compare?

The storm passed, but the heavy clouds, cool temperatures, and light mist hadn't. As we were the first race group, the track was wet for practice. We went out on rain tires, but it probably didn't matter. There was either a mildly damp line or water running across the track, depending on which turn you were invading. It was slick all over, though, and I set out to prove that the MR2 in the rain is not the beast everyone thinks. We were at least as fast as the other cars in SSB, right where we wanted to be. And I never spun it, though I did get sideways a couple of times.

By qualifying, the mist had all but cleared. The track was dry in most places with puddles and streams in a couple of spots. Nothing that would slow times much. Despite some early traffic, we were able to get a number of clear laps and landed on the pole. The time was good, with the rest of the pack scattered back a ways. As we like it.

It rained again Saturday night, further washing the track, but it was already clearing before we retired. Pat chose to join us in the van after the dream about unzipping the tent door and spotting a tornado. By morning it was bright and sunny. The track was bone dry. It was also a totally different track than it had been all weekend. Completely green, washed of all rubber and oil.

The start was uneventful until turn two. I braked a little late and contacted a Camaro lightly. The impact wasn't hard, but it knocked my foot off the brake pedal! I must not have been squarely on the pedal, but whatever happened it was unexpected. Before I could fumble back on the brakes, I touched another Camaro. Again, not hard, and little damage resulted, but it was a frustrating way to get a race started.

As a result, my early lap times were dismal. I couldn't concentrate and my missed-shift problem came back (this happens when I'm not thinking--it goes away when I relax). Harry Manning in a Sentra ran me down and passed me down the long straight. I lost considerable time to him and Rob Jones in his 240SX was closing on me. I settled down and got to work.

In four or five laps I caught Harry. I passed him cleanly as he missed his braking point for "the dip" but I couldn't get enough of a lead to hold him off down the front straight. He passed me, but I knew I could probably out-brake him at the end. He was mid-track when he hit the brakes; I sailed alongside of him and started to brake. He cut in on me.

I was shocked. Here I was inside of him, though not yet even with him, and he was taking me right to the grass. This brought me into some standing water, which skewed the car quickly. I recovered and braked harder, ducking behind him. He held me up for much of the course, but I was on him down the front straight and tried to out-brake him again. Instant replay.

This time I missed the water, but he was endangering me with this move and I was furious. I tucked behind him again and held the accelerator down until I hit him. And I hit him pretty hard. I wasn't trying to put him off, I wanted him to know I was unhappy. The contact was bumper to bumper so there was no real damage to either car. That was the first time I'd ever done that and I felt terrible, but not until afterwards. The guilt was bad enough that I don't expect to do it again, but I've never been more angry.

Shortly thereafter, we came into that turn again and there was a waving yellow flag, so I couldn't do anything. I stayed to Harry's left and partially alongside of him so as not to lose ground. As we came into the turn, looking for what the yellow might be for, the accident scene (from around a blind corner) popped into view. A car was stalled, sideways, in the middle of the track and Harry was heading straight for him! I had very little time to react, but I chose to continue on as I had a clear path while Harry braked. Trying to stay behind Harry would've meant risking a pile-up, which I wasn't in the mood for, especially since the driver of the stalled car was getting out of the vehicle as we came around the turn! Was it a pass under yellow or bad racing luck?

The net result was a big enough lead that I held Harry off to the flag a few laps later. It was a win, but I was more upset at Harry's driving than anything else. He was able to excuse the hit since he had nailed me hard during the Runoffs last year, but he filed a protest for the pass under yellow. We talked about why I was upset at his driving tactics at length, but I don't know if it registered. The next time, I warned, I won't back off and he can take his chances.

Harry asked to withdraw the protest when he had no witnesses, but committee heard it before honoring his request. The bottom line was that the pass under yellow was not called in by the corner station, so it never happened. Was it a pass under yellow? I guess we'll never know for sure. Meanwhile, 350 miles away, Paul Tracy was assessed a stop-and-go for the same thing.

A win is a win, I guess, but times like these can sour things a bit. I couldn't believe that we'd won at IRP a month before. This time it just seemed like we didn't win.

So this sets up a battle for points at the end. We have four wins to Harry's five and he has one second place. There are two races left in CENDIV, and we have to win both to win the divisional championship. I wasn't too concerned with the divisional championship this year, but now it stares us straight in the face as an unlikely, but still possible title. I guess we'll have to go for it.

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