We were the fifth group to hit the track, which left plenty of time for worrying and second-guessing about the repairs we had just completed. I did my best to stay calm and rational while I waited for our group to be called to the grid. The car was ready, and I had to trust that we had done everything correctly.
Practice went very well despite some oil on the track in a couple of corners. I managed to keep up with a yellow and blue Sports 2000 -- a much faster car* -- for several laps, which shocked me... until I found out that it was being driven by a racer who had never driven a mid-engined, right-hand-drive car. He is used to the front-engine V8 sedans that he's raced for years, and he was busy learning that the techniques are very different.
Debbie Campbell, a co-worker at Pegasus Auto Racing Supplies, arrived after practice with her parents, who had never been to Blackhawk before. Her father and I chatted about racing while she and her mother chatted with my mother about dogs. Debbie used to show dogs all over the country, and my mother is a dog training instructor, so they had plenty to talk about.
For qualifying I asked my parents to once again time Pete while I monitored my own times on my on-board lap timer. The best number I saw on the pit board was 1:20, while my fastest qualifying time was a 1:18.89. I knew I had turned a few laps in the :19s, so I was confident that I had the pole. The grid sheet confirmed it: I turned a 1:18.89, and Pete's best was a 1:20.26.
Between the qualifying session and the race, there is generally enough time to give the car a thorough inspection and repair most problems that may show up. The between-session checklist includes such things as bleeding the brakes, checking the wheel bearings and rod ends, and retightening any fasteners that may have worked loose. Everything was pretty much normal, with the same old bolts working themselves loose, everything else staying tight as usual, but the right rear hub was suddenly loose. The hub I've been using is a modified VW piece that just doesn't seem to be holding up too well to the stresses of racing. Oh well... take off the wheel, remove the cotter pin, have Dad hold the brakes, torque the axle nut down again, new cotter pin, wheel back on... wow, that's a lot easier and quicker with two people! When it's a one-person operation, you jack up the car, remove the wheel, remove the cotter pin, put the wheel back on, lower the car, somehow stop the wheel from turning -- usually by locking the transmission in two gears at once (a big job on its own) -- tighten the nut, unlock the transmission, jack up the car, take off the wheel, put in a fresh pin, wheel back on, car back down...
The car was ready in plenty of time for the race. I had enough time to watch a couple of other groups race, including the Formula Vee / Spec Racer group, where I used to run. The polesitting Vee, driven by Hal Adkins, spun or got hit on the first lap. By the time the pack went through corner 4, he was at least 15 seconds behind the back of the pack. He drove like a madman, gaining huge chunks of time every lap. Within about 10 laps, he had regained the lead. I confess that Hal is one reason I got out of FV. I realized that I would probably never be able to beat him, at least not with the car I had. I still joke with him that I had to move up a class to have any chance to keep up with him.
We gridded for our race and waited in the cars for ten or fifteen minutes while the safety crews cleaned up after the group before ours. I don't know what it was about this weekend, but every single group -- including ours -- had an incident (or multiple incidents), stranded cars, or blown engines that needed to be cleaned up and cleared away before the next group could hit the track. It was unusual to say the least, and it got us so far off schedule that the last three races had to be shortened by five minutes each and victory laps were cancelled.
I gridded directly behind the yellow and blue Sports 2000 I had followed in practice, and Pete lined up next to me. I was a little concerned that the driver in front of me still wouldn't be familiar enough with the gearbox and might miss a shift on the start. That would give Pete a clear advantage of several car lengths at best -- a good reason for Pete to hope for it. I got lucky, and everyone in front of us got away cleanly. I got a slight edge on Pete and crowded him just a little bit exiting corner 1 to try to keep him behind me. As the race progressed, some cars fell off the track here and there. On the second lap, corner 6 was waving their yellow flag, indicating that there was something dangerous or someone vulnerable on the track or near the track. I slowed and tiptoed around the corner, looking for the incident that caused the flag... but I couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. The next lap, corner 6 still had their yellow flag out, but this time I saw a driver standing next to the track. Apparently he had spun exiting the corner and his car went into the weeds about 50 feet off the track. The car was completely hidden by the foliage, and it stayed there for the rest of the race.
My father was showing me the gap times between Pete and me on the pit board -- :03, :04, :06. About halfway through the race, the board showed :13... and my oil pressure gauge suddenly dropped! The rule of thumb for oil pressure is to have 10psi per 1000rpm. Since we spin the Formula Ford engines to 6000rpm, 60psi would be ideal, but most of us settle for 40psi. My car had 40psi all day, but suddenly it dropped to 20psi. Better than nothing, but it seemed to me that if it started dropping, it was likely to drop the rest of the way to zero. I tried everything I could to nurse the engine, keeping the revs as low as I could while still conserving speed. I don't know which would have been a more disappointing sight in my mirrors: Blue-white smoke indicating a blown motor, or the purple nose of Pete's car!
The car held together and the oil pressure didn't drop any farther. I finished about 10 seconds ahead of Pete and shut the car off as soon as I could. Now to diagnose just what happened and what we need to do about it...
The points now look like this:
- John Haydon: 150
- Pete Wood: 125
- Michael Schindlbeck: 69
- Denis Downs: 33
- Scott Reif: 33
- Larry Noble: 17
- Jon Borkowski: 16
- Paul Schindlbeck: 16
- Dick Plank: 13
- Bob Fleming: 8
Next stop: Milwaukee's lakefront, Veteran's Park, for the "Masterpiece Style & Speed Showcase" car show.
* A Sports 2000 is a little hard to describe. Imagine a formula car, with a 2.0-liter Ford engine in the back, but with two seats and fiberglass fenders. The design of the fenders can make the car handle better than a Formula Ford, and the larger engine gives it better acceleration and top speed.