copyright (c) 1995 by Terry Coates
The Buckeye Sprints, NeOhio's August National race at Mid-Ohio used to be a typical late-year race: Almost no one showed up. Late in the year we all tend to be running low on cash and even lower on the energy it takes to go to yet another race. Those without a points battle still in progress stayed home.
The late-season stretch isn't easy. There are three Central Division races in the last four weeks of the season. The last two are back-to-back with the loooong tow to Brainerd capping off the season and adding the last Showcase Series points.
But these days, the Buckeye Sprints is a must-attend event. And it will be as long as the Runoffs are stationed at Mid-Ohio. We were expecting some real competition this time (no offense to those who have been running against us--there just aren't any seasoned drivers that also have front-running cars in Showroom Stock "A" in CenDiv). With my work schedule having gone haywire, I wasn't able to get the car as ready as I wanted it to be. We hadn't even put synthetics in the gear box or rear-end yet!
The expected army of Northeast Division cars didn't show up, but they sent one representative in the form of Kjell Skavnes (say it, "shell skav' nez") in his blue M3. Skavnes has been around a long time and is always a formidable competitor.
Speaking of formidable, he out-qualified me, but not by much. We were together on the grid, but there were a lot of slower American Sedan (AS) cars that were sure to get in the way on the start. And they did. In the course of the first lap, I lost significant ground. Over the next few laps I was able to stay in touch. When a full-course yellow came out, we were brought back together nose-to-tail.
Shortly after the restart, I received a little tap from an AS car behind me onto the long back straight. As a result, I got past Skavnes under braking. Two laps later he did the same to me. We raced hard and close for several laps, often side-by-side through several turns. He is an aggressive and tough player, but we never touched.
The last lap came and we were still nip and tuck. I passed him again and he got me back at the end of the back straight. I knew my best shot was going to be coming onto Thunder Valley. He got loose onto the short straight and created my opportunity. I drew alongside just before the left-hander. It was time for someone to blink. No one did.
We entered the left-hander side-by-side. He gave me as much room as he could and I tried to keep the car inside as far as possible. My BMW drifted out and we hit. The thud put both of our cars into the grass on the outside of the turn. I kept the car from spinning and continued on to take the checkered flag. I felt sick as I crossed the line.
I've never liked carnage. I feel like the contact should always be avoidable. I ran the scenario over and over in my mind but it always came out the same. When it came time for someone to give, neither did and neither would if offered another chance. I guess that's a racing incident. And while I could've braked harder and/or earlier, when you're inside (off-line) it's difficult to determine exactly where and how much to brake. The last thing you're interested in is slowing too much and giving the pass away. So as bad as it felt, it wasn't so stupid that I couldn't forgive myself, although it tarnished the win to the point where I couldn't enjoy it. That's a fair trade.
That race brought our win total to five and that locked-up the Central Division points battle, mathematically. But that's not enough to keep me from going to Brainerd! Sure it's a thousand-mile one-way tow. Sure there's little or no competition. But there is this one-mile front straight with a flat-out 135 mph turn at the end. And this Press Day where you can take passengers on hot laps! And finally, most of the "Showroom Stock" community in which I spend many weekends goes. It's a fun event.
Cheryl starts back to school (teaching first grade) days before the event, so she can never go. I opted to take my recently-retired father as main crew guy instead. We pulled out Thursday morning (just four days after the Mid-Ohio race) for the long drive. Five minutes out of the driveway a lid blew off a crate on the trailer. I ran back to get it, missed it somehow, ran an extra half-mile, and ended up taking twenty minutes to get going again. It was going to be a long trip.
Fifteen hours later, we pulled into a cheap motel a little over an hour from the track. Six hours later we were strapped back in the van to finish the trip. We arrived at the track on schedule and prepared for the "Press Day".
On the Friday before the event, there is a press event from nine to noon. A cheap ($75) test day follows from noon until five. In the past, I have done both; partly for the seat time, partly because it's fun to take passengers and show them what we do. Today would be Dad's first ride at speed.
I was a little rusty, having not been at this track since the same time last year, but we still hit 130 mph down the front straight. Dad thoroughly enjoyed the ride, but one was enough. He said he could sure see why we like it and I hoped he gathered some appreciation for what we do. But I didn't have time to get pensive--a line was forming!
In years past, I could hardly sell a ride in the Sentra. It's a great ride, but it doesn't look like it would be so fun, so folks shy away until there's nothing else to ride in. After all, it only goes 120 or so. In sharp contrast, there was a constant line to ride in the BMW. Starting with a full tank, I gave 2-lap rides until the car was sputtering for fuel. Then we got more fuel and gave more rides! All totaled, we ran almost two hours and I must've done double the race distance. I opted not to do the practice day. I was tired!
That night we all went out to dinner at a cook-it-yourself steak place. There was much merriment.
The next day we qualified on the pole, ahead of the lone SSGT car and some 8.5 seconds over the only other SSA car. There were two AS cars ahead of me. Did I mention that this is a small event?
Saturday night we ate the supplied spaghetti dinner and headed out to the go-cart track. The carts were new this year and fairly fast. Hey, seat time is seat time. This is also one of the only places where you can pass someone and then enjoy letting them back by so you can try them again! I think my Dad was also seeing another reason why we do this.
Race day was beautiful and the race was uneventful. The SSGT car's motor was on its last leg and so he faded gently back. I began to reel in the slower AS car toward the end of the race. The Mustang had fantastic straightaway speed, but fumbled in the corners. It would have been fun to beat him, but with the finish a ways down the straight, I never could have held him off.
Dad and I cut an hour off the return trip by not having lids blow off the crates and the like. We were beat, but we went straight through the night, even eating a Waffle House breakfast at 5 am. Now that's traveling.
Although technically we didn't need to attend this event, we came away with another qualifying record, a track record, a nice trophy, and the Showcase Series Championship (and an extra bottle of Champagne for having done the Press Day). What more could I ask for?
Shortly after returning home, the "Who Will Win the Runoffs" issue of SportsCar arrived at the door. Hmmm, they picked Kjell Skavnes to win SSA. How very interesting. . .
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