Race Day

On race day, we were all pretty relaxed. After all, the reason we’re here is to have fun. Still, it was a pretty long wait until our race at 4:15 in the afternoon.

I wasn’t even going to practice at 9:a.m. I’d decided to save my brakes and tires for the race. But Kiwi found two sets of nearly new pads in his trailer. It was 7:45.

“If you want them, they’re yours,” he said.

I told him I had already decided not to go out. He looked at me with that expression that said, full of Kiwi accent, “Okay mate, if that’s how you want it.”

There’s no such thing as too much track time. The tires would hold up. Merlin, Jakester and I put the pads on, put the better-than-worse brake pads we’d moved to the front the day before back on the rear of the car, and I went out and cooked everything in. After the third long stop from about 100 mph, they stopped smelling like new.

Ceegar had his race against other Mustangs at 1:45. He was ready. His crew chief O.C. got him buckled in while Merlin, Jakester, Friendly and I went up on a hill overlooking several of the turns on the course.

Ceegar got the jump on the white Mustang right off the bat, and led the field of vintage cars. They shared the track with some IMSA Mustangs that were just tearing it up. Those drivers, and their cars, were incredibly fast and precise.

Beater, who was watching the race from a different part of the four-mile mile track, said they hit the same point on that turn within an inch, each and every lap.

What I saw from where I stood would make a difference later that afternoon.

A maroon Mustang began to close on Ceegar as his tires went away. On the last turn onto the main straight, Maroon caught him. Almost. It was a drag race up the hill to the start/finish line. Cowboy was standing there and saw Ceegar beat the Maroon by half a car length.

Ceegar was officially one of the fastest Mustangs in the country. Now he has the medallion to prove it.

The day was hot, and after recounting the race from the different places where we all could see it, Jakester and I headed back over to where my car sat with two other Corvettes Kiwi had hauled to Road America. Eventually I got in the rented minivan, turned the air conditioning on full, and closed my eyes.

I went over strategy, and each turn of the course as I drifted in and out of a light nap. Jakester sat on the other side with his iPhone.

They lined me up fourteenth. I had different goal in mind for the end of the day. But when the green flag fell, I got boxed in by several Camaros and a Firebird. For a lap and a half, the whole clot of fast cars went around the course in a tight group.

Eventually, it began to thin out. And I began to go to work in earnest. Watching the IMSA cars earlier in the day taught me how to come out of Turn 13 and approach Turn 14. Every time, they touched the rumble strip on the left, but came to it from the far right.

The first time I tried it, it made perfect sense. It was the only line that allowed a high rate of speed up and over the hill. Coming at the rumble strip from any other angle put you out in the grass. I knew this from personal experience the previous morning.

I saw where I could brake later on other cars, and get more of a jump. That exit on Turn 14 was critical. I was on full throttle while they were still trying to straighten out, the back of their cars swinging left and right in the hunt for traction.

I picked off a blue Mustang, but wondered if I was lapping him. Then went after a white Camaro. One of the leaders spun down in the bottom of Turn 8. I didn’t see what happened, but he was sideways across the track. Everyone was going by him at high speed, and I followed them.

For some reason, I’d lose brake pedal going around the long right had sweeper of Turns 9 and 10. I started pumping my brakes with my left foot to get them ready for The Kink, even while I had my right foot to the floor.

I came around Turn 14 and saw a red Corvette Coupe mangled on one side of the track. It looked like it might be Cowboy, but the next time around, when the ambulance was there, I saw the color was not quite right. I pushed harder. Now I was catching up to Canuck, just four cars ahead of me.

Then the race was over, 24 miles and 84 turns later.

Canuck was seventh overall, and took first in the Historic TransAm class. I was 10th overall, with the sixth fastest time out of a field of 42 cars,  a time slightly faster than Canucks (though Canuck had posted a time one second faster earlier in the weekend, he was quick to point out).

Falcon was 21st over all, and took first in his class too, even if he had a small ding where he’d been nudged.

Beater moved up to 23rd over all, and would have moved up another ten spots with one more day of track time.

Ceegar, Cowboy and Small Block didn’t fare as well. Cowboy got put into the wall by a blue Mustang. I don’t think it was the same one I passed. The nose of his car was shortened, but he was able to drive back to the paddock.

Small Block spun, and tagged the end of a Porsche, and then he too went into the wall. A portion of the front of his Corvette was removed by the concrete.

Ceegar came out of Turn 14 and started to spin, but gathered it up and was still headed in the right direction, though still on the grass. But when his car came back onto the pavement, the left front hooked up and he shot across to the left, collecting one other car and banging hard the drivers side of his TransAm Mustang, sheet metal bent or torn from nose to tail. His car came in on the bed of a tow truck.

It was rough out there. In some ways, it was rough all weekend. Bump and run seemed to be accepted, and there are those who say that “rubbin’ is racin’. There were more wrecks, and more serious wrecks, than any weekend in the Northwest. Of course, there were a lot more cars, too, and Road America is a very fast course.

But if they thought of us as “Show Poodles” before this race, the seven of us able to run on race day took three first place finishes in class, and Canuck and I finished in the top ten overall.

On a track we’d never driven before this weekend.

On the way back to our paddock, I turned to Jakester.

“This would not have happened without your help. Thank you.”

It was absolutely true.

We just looked at each other, and each of us nodded. It’s kind of the way we’ve learned to communicate that kind of thing, when no other words are needed, when enough has been said. Just a nod.

We’d prefer to say the rest on the track, on the field, by what we do and how we do it. We were at Road America, after all, and we did well.

About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon
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One Response to Race Day

  1. Karen Smith says:

    Dear Erik, and Jakester,
    saying Thank You seems so small for all the enjoyment you brought to me in your writings for making your experience come alive to people who have not been to Road America, the pictures that the others sent, the grid sheets, videos were absolutely wonderful, I send you a BIG THANK YOU:). Hugs always

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