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Buckeye Sprints

copyright (c) 1994 by Terry Coates

Two races left in the season--two wins short of the Central Division Championship. The first of these last races was Mid-Ohio, the place where everyone goes for Runoffs practice. Instead of concentrating on the MR2 beforehand, most of the prior week had been spent preparing the Sentra. I had agreed to rent it to Bill Harrison, a California racer who had come out to get some pre-Runoffs track time. The preparation was not difficult, but the car had not been raced for months and needed some going-over. Cheryl and I delivered the car and a handful of parts to the track Friday morning so Bill could take a Mid-Ohio school.

Back home by midday Friday, my crew guy, Pat Breakey, and I plotted our strategy for the overwhelming task ahead of us. We decided an alignment would be our best offense. Though we frequently check and make small adjustments to the car's "toe", it was staggering to see what the Hunter 111 Special Edition thought our alignment truly was. It seems the MR2 punishes the suspension quite a bit more than the Sentra ever did (although it could be the driver and all those off-course excursions, curb-smacks, near-spins, and spins). Nevertheless, we got things straightened out Friday afternoon before we headed to the track to set up camp.

After registration and tech, we went to dinner with Bill. We compared racing here to out west. Our smallest field in SSB is his average sized field. He races six Nationals a year, we race ten to twelve. We really liked Bill, but living 2500 miles away can sure make a difference. He thought Ohio was all "big cities" and wasn't aware that we grew corn here(!). He only buys and eats fat-free foods because "people out there look in your cart and judge you." Thank goodness we live here: pass me those cheese curls!

The MR2 was twitchy in Saturday morning practice, probably owing to the fact that we had relaxed the toe settings significantly from what we had run all year. Now that I was more comfortable in the car, we thought we could regain some straight-line speed at the expense of stability. Turns out that "stability" is a pretty important thing to have with the MR2. Twitchy was fast, however, and we qualified on the pole, just ahead of OVR racers Tony Suever and Rob Jones. Is this starting to sound familiar? The three of us were set up for yet another battle.

My rented Sentra was getting around better and better each session, landing ninth on the grid in SSB. The car was running fine, though Bill was using more brakes than I remembered using at Mid-Ohio. He was out of brakes after qualifying but Rob Jones, who had a spare set (even though he was running the 240SX), saved the day. Other than the incident where I spun in front of Bill (imagine being t-boned by your own car when neither of them are completely paid-for!), things were going well for him and he was learning a great deal.

The start was advertised as being on the back straight, but we took the green on the front-straight for some unknown reason. I thought that might actually be better for me. I was pretty badly mistreated by the CD/ROC start (on the back straight) and didn't need those problems now. Of course I got them anyway. There wasn't a lot of contact, but I had bad luck and made a couple of bad decisions which caused the loss of the class lead to Tony. More importantly, there were a couple of cars between us which would prove difficult to dispense with. As always, Rob was not far out of the picture.

As the race wore on, all but a single SSA 300Z stood between Tony and I. That, and about six seconds. I was running conservatively and planned to start charging and taking chances at the half-way mark. Rob was just far enough back that he couldn't challenge me at the end of the back straight. Then the carnage began that led to a full-course yellow.

It took a few laps, but the field finally bunched up behind the pace car. On the restart, the 300Z got around Tony, leaving me to try next. A couple of laps later, I got a good run onto the back straight and made the pass. In a few laps, Rob also passed Tony. Rob was close enough to pull alongside me down the back straight a couple of times. Under braking, however, the MR2 would ease ahead and take the corner. Near the end of the race, Tony got back by Rob and challenged me for the last time. He was always faster coming out of "Thunder Valley", but on the last lap there was a caution in the Carousel and he couldn't try the pass. I went easy into the Carousel to ensure a good run to the checker. Naturally, Tony did the same and finished just off my bumper, some 0.463 seconds adrift.

Though it wasn't the fierce battle that IRP had been, it was fun. If not for the yellow, I don't know if I could have run Tony down without spinning off in the process, but I'm glad I didn't have to try. I know this sounds dumb, but I felt a little bad winning this race. Once again, Rob or Tony could've easily won and either deserved it at least as much as I did. I guess everyone needs problems like these.

My rented Sentra finished about where it started, but Bill was enthused about the experience and feels much more confident about his chances as Runoffs. I was happy to help, but I admit being apprehensive about the whole thing. I was terribly glad the car survived intact, especially considering what lies ahead for the car: Brainerd.

The Sentra is the only car with a chance at Brainerd. It's the last race of the season and we have to leave in four days. I still can't believe we won this race, but more importantly, if we can do it one more time, we're the SSB Central Division Champions!

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