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The 1995 Valvoline Runoffs (tm)

copyright (c) 1995 by Terry Coates

Well I'm certainly going to know how to spell disappointment before this article is through.

Perhaps my best season yet ended on lap 12 in Thunder Valley instead of on the podium as we had hoped. The culprit was a dropped valve. For those non-technical readers, remember the cartoon scenario where the main character is going down a conveyor belt toward a large hammer that keeps slamming up and down? My main character was a valve and the hammer hit it. Hard.

The net result is, of course, loss of power . . . well, loss of motor is probably more accurate. Fixing it is a little more involved than pulling a 'toon back into shape.

We started the week third fastest in practice, a tad behind Kjell Skavnes who we had narrowly beat at the last National at Mid-Ohio. Ahead of us was David Daughtery's fast Nissan 300ZX "R" (incidentally, you can't buy one of these--but that's another story) and the Toyota Supra of Eric VanCleef. I had hoped to be ahead of Skavnes, but if we found a little more speed, I'd be happy.

The second day's practice session found us a tad slower and we dropped to seventh on the list. This would not do. I had a feeling the alignment was not quite right and we were definitely down on power to the other M3s, so we scheduled a trip to town. The car was re-aligned and we used a diagnostic machine at Midwestern Auto Group to determine that the cam timing was a little off. It was adjusted back into place.

Wednesday brought the first qualifying session and we found enough speed for fourth on the grid. The same two cars were still faster than us and Randy Pobst had put his BMW M3 at the head of the line. Thursday's qualifying shuffled the Supra ahead of the 300ZX, but we remained in fourth. Considering the company, we were the highest-gridded amateur and the highest-gridded non-National Champion. We were, no doubt, the best of the rest.

We were still a little down on power to some of the M3s behind us on the grid, but I was confident that if the start was clean, we'd maintain fourth easily. The race was a parade. The top five spread out in the order of the grid and there were no changes right up to the end--except that we dropped out a little over half-way through. We would have had no trouble finishing fourth and third might have been within reach at the end.

So my streak of two podium finishes at the Runoffs ends at two, but is still two out of three. And this was my first DNF (though technically we classified a finisher for completing more than half the laps) in three years. It was a huge disappointment.

But I think I handled it better than anyone expected I would. When the motor let go down the backstraight, there was nothing I could do. When it became apparent that I couldn't finish the race--or even get it back to the pits--I was let down, but not crushed.

Racing involves a lot of emotional highs and lows. I suppose it's okay to ride the highs all the way up, but when the lows pick up speed, I get out of the roller coaster. It's the only way to survive them; it's either that or quit. I'm not ready to quit.

So we regroup for next year. At this point I don't know what I'll be driving or even in what series, but I will be driving something somewhere. And it'll have four wheels. And it'll probably come From the Showroom.

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