Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is that 4, or is that 5?

For the Fall Sprints, the last CenDiv Regional race of the season, Chicago Region decided to spice things up a bit. Instead of a single race spread out over two days, or 2 races (one race each day), they put together a 4-race schedule. The first three races would be 8-lap sprint races, with each race setting the grid for the following race. The last race would be an 18-lap "feature" race. The feature race would be the only one that counted towards the Regional championship, but each of the four races would count towards a "weekend" championship.

I was looking forward to the quick sprint races, but not to the weather. Friday (towing day) was cold and rainy all day, and the forecast for the weekend called for highs in the 40s and overnight lows below freezing. I pulled out the long underwear, gloves, and winter coats.

When we got to Blackhawk Farms Raceway Saturday morning, a layer of frost covered everything (sound familiar?) and the track was a little wet, but the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds. The morning qualifying session was difficult because the cold weather made for some great horsepower, but it also took away a lot of traction. On top of that, the track was wet in several spots, including the front straight. Any heat that built up in the tires would be rinsed away before corner 1, which made braking dicey. I got a little spooked after locking the brakes a few times. That plagued me for the rest of the weekend, and I braked too early every lap. Still, the lap times were promising for such challenging conditions. 1:31, 1:27, 1:28, 1:26... then a 1:24.6 on the last lap! That last lap was good enough to catapult me to the CFF pole. (Mike Green had tried using tire warmers before the session. He warmed the tires up to 170 degrees before going out. When he came back, the tires were all at 80 degrees.)

Sprint 1 Grid (top 10):
FF 22 John Spinello 1:21.6
FF 38 Dan Johnson 1:22.1
FF 10 Steve Barkley 1:23.8
CFF 65 John Haydon 1:24.6
CFF 7 Mike Green 1:25.3
FV 88 Hal Adkins
FV 19 Matt King
FF 49 John Luxon
FV 70 Daniel Eick
CFF 15 Bruce Drenth

When the green flag came out for Sprint 1, I got a jump on Mike and took a defensive line into corner 1. He tucked in behind me, but somehow I carried more speed and managed to open up a comfortable gap before corner 3. When I stopped watching my mirrors, I realized that I was close enough to the three lead FFs that I was in a good position to challenge Spinello for 3rd overall! Just as I was trying to talk myself into settling for 4th overall and the class win, Spinello dropped out. A lap later, William Cobb in a F500 passed me for 3rd overall. I would have liked to finish higher overall, but as my dad said later, "You won your class, and you can't get any firster than first!"

Many of us (including me) had assumed that the finishing order from each sprint would set the grid for the next race. We were a little surprised to learn that the grid would actually be set by fast lap time during the race, not by finishing position. Clever -- but it cost me a grid spot! While I settled in and cruised to the finish, Mike had actually turned a faster lap trying to chase me down. Touche'.

Sprint 2 Grid (top 7):
F500 28 Cobb 1:17.9*
FF 38 Johnson 1:18.6
FF 10 Barkley 1:18.9
FF 22 Spinello 1:21.5
CFF 7 Green 1:22.3
CFF 65 John Haydon 1:22.5
FF 49 Luxon 1:22.8
*Cobb did not go out for the morning qualifying session. He started Sprint 1 at the back of the grid and worked his way up to 3rd overall, setting fast lap of the race in the process.

When I saw the results from Sprint 1 and the grid for Sprint 2, it struck me how well I was keeping up with the FFs. These cars usually run soft-compound tires, which offer better traction than the hard spec tires that CFFs run. Then it dawned on me: The FFs couldn't get an advantage because the cold weather prevented their tires from getting warm enough to be effective. (Cold? It snowed during the lunch break!) The CFF hard tires, on the other hand, never get very sticky, so their behavior in the cold is about the same as it is on a hot day. Another thing working to my advantage is the fact that I have spent the majority of my racing career on old, used tires which have very little stickiness left. For the first several years, I actually raced on street tires. I'm not used to relying on sticky tires.

Before Sprint 2 started, Dan Johnson told me that he had one shock absorber that had failed. I was a little surprised that he decided not to run in Sprint 2 (he had set the fastest FF time with the failed shock, after all) and at least set a time so he wouldn't have to chase from the back in Sprint 3. But he decided to try to locate a replacement shock, probably because he would only have to set a good lap time in Sprint 3 (not finish well) to grid well for the feature.

When Dan didn't show to the grid, that put me one row behind Mike. He got a good jump on me and led me for the first 3 laps. I stayed on his tail to try to find an advantage. Finally I got a good run coming out of corner 6 and managed to get in front of him before corner 7. I wasn't able to catch the leaders this time, but I got down to a 1:21.5 and once again settled in for a 4th overall finish and another class win.

Sprint 3 Grid (top 8):
F500 28 Cobb 1:16.9
FF 22 Spinello 1:18.6
FF 10 Barkley 1: 19.0
FF 49 Luxon 1:20.4
CFF 65 John Haydon 1:21.5
FV 81 Bertolucci 1:22.1
CFF 7 Green 1:22.5*
CFF 15 Drenth 1:22.5*
*Green's and Drenth's fast lap times matched to 0.001 second. They were actually gridded by their second-fastest lap times, which differed by 0.041 seconds.

Sunday morning dawned just as cold and frosty as Saturday. It was so cold, the Stewards decided that we should have two pace laps for each race, so we could have more of a chance to warm up engines and tires. That was a good decision, in my opinion. I even came up with a plan: The first lap would be spent warming the engine and tires; the second lap would be just for warming the left front tire and the brakes -- in anticipation of the right-hand corner 1.

When we gridded for Sprint 3, we were surprised to watch Cobb take the pole position and then drive back to his paddock spot. I'm not sure what happened there, but I'm assuming the cold was making his car misbehave. Which is odd, considering that F500s have snowmobile engines. That meant that the fastest car in the group would start the feature race at the back. Meanwhile, Johnson had found a new shock and was ready to start Sprint 3 from the back.

Once again the race start worked out in my favor. I accelerated away, but Green got balked by another car going into corner 1. That let me open up a comfortable lead on Green before the end of the first lap. Meanwhile, Johnson had made his way through the pack. He passed me in corner 1 on the second lap and passed Spinello soon after. He challenged Barkley for the overall lead, pulling out to pass in several corners, but he wasn't confident that he could make the pass, so he backed out and pulled back in line at the last moment. That dicing was slowing Barkley down enough that I caught up to the lead pack within a couple of laps, and three laps in a row I watched Johnson try to pass in corner 7, only to back out and concede the corner. Finally, he decided that he would make the pass, even if it meant forcing Barkley to back out. He pulled out to pass Barkley going into corner 7 again and tried to outbrake him. Unfortunately, he miscalculated and the car began a slow spin onto the grass on the inside of the corner. Spinello and I both saw this and backed off to let things unfold before we got to the corner. Johnson slid sideways through the grass, hit the curbing at the inside edge of the track... and his car barrel-rolled onto the track, sliding upside-down across the corner exit. Barkley came to a full stop to avoid him, but Spinello and I were both able to sneak around the mess, passing Barkley in the process.

Actually, I didn't quite make it. Barkley got going again just as I was next to him. He looked over and recognized that I wasn't in his class, so he was ready to let me go. Then he realized that Spinello was also in front of him, so he put his foot down to try to get the lead back. Unfortunately for him, this was the last lap and he didn't have enough time left to chase him down. I finished 3rd overall and got another class win.

Feature Race Grid (top 6):
FF 22 Spinello 1:23.1
FF 38 Johnson 1:23.5
CFF 65 John Haydon 1:23.8
FF 10 Barkley 1:23.8
CFF 7 Green 1:24.7
FF 49 Luxon 1:25.6

With Johnson out, that put me on the front row. We went out for the pace lap(s) and we all proceeded to toss the cars back and forth, trying to scrub some heat into the tread. Back and forth, back and forth... but as we exited corner 5, I realized just how tired I was. My arms were completely exhausted! I didn't know how I could make it through a second pace lap, much less 18 race laps.

Thank goodness for adrenaline. The green flag flew and Spinello and I dashed for corner 1. Luxon and Cobb both passed Green on the first lap, giving me a bit of a gap. Barkley passed me somewhere in the first lap as well, but I still had the CFF lead. About halfway through the race I caught up to a Formula Vee and lapped him just before corner 7. Once I was past him (and just before Green and Luxon had passed him), he spun. That opened up my lead a little, and I was able to relax a bit. I tried to be conservative, telling myself that steady 1:21s should keep me in front. When I looked at my lap timer several minutes later, I saw that I had done a 1:20.9. Then a 1:19.9. 1:19.8. Finally, I got down to a 1:19.007 -- just 0.3 seconds slower than my best time ever. I finished 4th overall, with another class win.

Winning my class in each of the four races secured the "Weekend Championship", which was an excellent way to finish off another Regional Championship in CFF.

So that's 2 Midwestern Council championships and 2 Regional Championships. Can I count the Weekend Championship as a 5th?

Monday, August 24, 2009

No Stick, No Go, No Stop, No Clue... No Problem!

The last time I raced on the Wisconsin State Fair Park / Milwaukee Mile infield road course was in 2005. Since then, another layer of asphalt has been added to smooth out the infield course and especially the transitions from the oval to the road course. Still, I thought I would have an advantage over those who had never raced there before when we finally went back for a double Regional race last weekend.

It turns out that sometimes a clean slate is better than a memory.

The track was terribly dirty and dusty for the first qualifying session on Saturday. When the track isn't being used as a track, it (and the grass around it) serves as a parking lot for people attending the State Fair and other functions at the fairgrounds. Unfortunately, it rained heavily during one or two days of the fair this year, so a lot of mud was left on the track surface. Some of the animals at the fair also used the track as an outhouse, and the resulting mess was too much for even the track sweepers to scrub off completely. As if the slippery conditions and dusty atmosphere weren't enough, the track didn't even go the way I remembered. Every line that I thought I knew was wrong. I qualified last in CFF and 13th overall, 2 rows back from Pete Wood and not even in sight of polesitter Mike Green. I still don't know how they managed to get enough grip to go as fast as they did without off-road tires. I think I would have gone just as fast on the grass as on the track.

Saturday's race started well. I got a good run off the last corner, and the green flag was out just as soon as I could see the starter's stand. I got around the F500 in front of me and tried to tuck in behind Pete, but just as we passed the start-finish line, my car sputtered. It was a familiar feeling, but I tried hard to tell myself that it didn't happen and that everything was fine. I downshifted for corner 1 and followed Pete through. I got on the throttle and felt like I had hit the rev limiter. I shifted to 2nd and set the car up for corner 2 before I realized... my car doesn't have a rev limiter. Just then the car sputtered again. It was starving for fuel and wouldn't pull all the way to redline. That might not have been so bad except that this track is basically 4 flat-out stretches connected by 3 hairpins and a flat-out sweeper. As I exited the corner 4 hairpin, the car sputtered earlier and earlier in the rev band. I watched everyone speed past me as I tried desperately to make it back to the pits with the engine coughing and misfiring the whole way. The next thing I knew, I was on the front straight again. I had missed the pit lane entrance! It would take another agonizingly slow lap before I would have another chance to find it. I just barely made it into the pits before the pack came around again to put me a lap down. I jumped out of the car and took the rear bodywork off, hoping to find an obvious problem like a pinched fuel line, or a loose fitting allowing the fuel pump to suck in air instead of fuel. No such luck. I sent someone running for a screwdriver so I could take the top of the carburetor off. Lucky for me, John Vlasis happened to be in the pits. He came over and noticed right away that the carburetor float bowl was almost empty. Since the float appeared to be in good shape (not broken or leaking), he suggested that the float level had somehow been mis-adjusted. I was willing to believe that, since I had adjusted it just last week! He offered to do a "quick and dirty" adjustment, and I eagerly accepted. He couldn't possibly make it worse. He bent the float to what he estimated would be a super-rich condition and put the carb top back on while I got back in the car. I looked at the lap counter and saw there were still 8 laps to go of an 18-lap race. I needed at least 9 laps to be considered a finisher. As I got buckled in, I saw the starters change the lap counter to 7. Should I still go back out? Let's see, I had 2 laps already. Add 7 more. That's 9! If I could just keep from going another lap down, I'd have a finish. I took off out of the pits and the car ran flawlessly. It popped and backfired a bit on trailing throttle, but that was to be expected with all the extra fuel. I got passed immediately by the 3rd place CFF, and I did everything I could to stay on his tail. He pulled away a bit each lap, but I still managed to knock 2 seconds off of my qualifying time. And I got exactly 9 laps, enough for an official 4th-place finish.

Why did the carburetor lean out so much? I have no idea, and that's what bothers me. The last time that carburetor was opened was in 2005 when Bruce Lindstrand set the float level for me. The car ran flawlessly since then, but most engine builders advise that the float level should be checked after every event. I never did because the car ran so well. Last week I figured that I was living on borrowed time and I should check it. It seemed to be just a little bit richer than it should be, which I thought was odd. Still, I leaned it out just a hair -- not even all the way to the recommended level. It also ran just fine Saturday morning in qualifying. We speculated that the needle valve could have stuck closed, but on my second "limping" lap I hit a pothole, bottoming the car on the track surface and jarring everything so hard that I can't imagine that it wouldn't have been knocked loose. It's just possible that some debris could have gotten on the seat for the needle valve, sticking it closed like glue (as opposed to some grit getting in between the two sliding parts of the valve), and that when John bent the float tang in the pits, the pressure on the needle valve was enough to break the grip of whatever was gluing it closed. It's a mystery, which means I don't know what to do to prevent it from happening again. But Bruce reset the float level after the race, which seems to have made it happy again. My fingers are crossed.

Sunday morning qualifying started better than Saturday's race, mainly because the car ran without any issues. I also tried to forget what I thought I knew about the track and just follow the fast cars. Unfortunately, as I started to really learn the track, the brake pedal started going soft. Within a few laps, the pedal was going to the floor without slowing the car. There was no way I would be able to turn any better laps, so I pulled in early. When I checked the car between sessions, I found that both brake fluid reservoirs were nearly empty! A failing master cylinder would have ended my weekend, but when I went to unscrew the caps, they both just fell off in my hands. I had neglected to tighten them all the way, and the brake fluid simply sloshed out.

I only took a couple of tenths off of my lap times, but it was good enough to qualify on the same row as Pete Wood with a 1:20.3. Pete pointed out that the 4 CFFs qualified at 1:17, 1:18, 1:19, and 1:20. Not a tremendously tight field, but at least Mike, Pete, and I would be within 3 rows of each other. After the session I watched some other cars in the corner 4 hairpin. The fastest cars were taking a very different line than what I was doing. It was definitely worth a try! I should have taken a walk down to the two corners where the track exits and enters the oval. I probably could have picked up several seconds there.

The race start went well for me. The green flag came out a bit later this time, but I got a great jump on the FST in front of me, and Pete and I passed Mike going into corner 1. The infield course is very narrow, and it suddenly looked very crowded. I actually laid back a little bit, expecting to see at least one car go cartwheeling through the air, but I should have known better. Everyone made it through cleanly and started to spread out a bit as we approached the hairpin. I tried my new line entering the hairpin, but as I turned in, I was surprised to see Butch Deer's FST right next to me -- in the grass! Apparently he had followed me a few laps in qualifying and expected me to take the same line as I had been doing, which would have left him plenty of room to drive inside me. I got lucky once more. Butch is an excellent driver, and he was able to keep his car under control despite the total lack of pavement under it. There are many drivers who would have ended up on top of me. But we made it through, and the field started to spread out a bit. Pete and I were pretty evenly matched with a couple of FST cars, and we battled back and forth for several laps. Around lap 8, I followed Pete into the hairpin, but it was clear he wasn't on the right line. He slid off the track and let me pass, but he didn't lose much time. He kept the car moving and pointed in the right direction, and I heard later that I only had about a 3 second lead on him at the end of that lap. Two or three laps later, he passed me back and held me off for the rest of the race. I got close, but never quite close enough to challenge. Mike ran into an ignition issue during the race, so I managed to finish 3rd. Pete turned a 1:17.9, and I managed to get down to a 1:18.9 trying to catch him.

One thing became very clear during the weekend: My tires are no longer any good. One thing I am sure of from 2005 is that I was able to take the long sweeper (turns 1 & 2 on the oval) flat out in 4th gear with only a little lift at the entry and slight throttle modulation in the middle. This year, I had to stab the brakes hard before the turn and I could only hold about 3/4 throttle through the turn.

The engine, on the other hand, is doing very well. When the carburetor was working, the engine pulled hard all the way to 6800 rpm. In fact, it accelerated so quickly that I almost over-revved exiting the hairpin a few times. A fresh Farley cylinder head will do that for you, apparently.

Friday, July 17, 2009

More Competition

The third race weekend of the year (yes, here we are in July and there have been only 3 race weekends) was the Blackhawk Valley Region "Firecracker" at Blackhawk Farms Raceway . This event is usually a double Regional (one race Saturday and one race Sunday), but to encourage more entries, BVR made it a quad Regional, with two races each day. This weekend would effectively count as one-third of the season.

The four-race schedule had me in a bit of a panic. Would there be enough time between sessions to take care of a full nut-and-bolt check? Would I have time to change out of my driver's suit? When would I eat lunch?? It wasn't until Friday afternoon that I realized what a goof I was being. Circle track racers run as many sessions in a single night as I would be running over the course of two days. Why was I so worried?

Early entries looked promising, with 4 cars pre-registered. Marty Handberg would be bringing his Tiga, Alan Murray would have his Crossle, and Bob Hall would bring his Crossle. Unfortunately, Bob backed out early in the week. I think he ended up running at Watkins Glen with Pete Wood instead. But the three of us could still have some fun races together. After I got to the track, though, I found that Alan couldn't bring his car. Now it was down to just Marty and me.

On the other hand, there were many more Fomula First entries than usual. We normally run together with FST, F500, and FV, but the total entries for that group were over 30. Meanwhile there were only 9 cars in the FA / FB / FC / FE / CSR / DSR / S2000 group, so the stewards decided to even things out by moving the FF and CFF cars to the FA group. That was just fine with me. That moved us from Group 2 to Group 4, and I love being in a later group. That also meant that our first race would be the first session after lunch.

It was a hot, sticky weekend, so I chose my oldest, hardest race tires. I figured that anything newer and softer would just overheat, and I wasn't far off. I felt like I had good traction all weekend, and the tires were still in decent shape Sunday night. But it rained Friday night, and it threatened to rain Saturday, so I brought rain tires with me too. They weren't needed, and I took them home Saturday night.

Saturday's morning qualifying session went well. The car was running strong, and the handling felt solid. The track was a little greasy, so everyone was running a little slow. I qualified with a 1:22.9, one second faster than Marty but still on the same row.

I quickly changed out of my driver's suit and started the nut-and-bolt check before the car had cooled off. I ran through the list and realized that I still had about 2 hours before the race! That was more than enough time for lunch and a bit of rest and relaxation. We had paddocked next to the grid lane, coincidentally within two spaces of my qualifying spot. All we had to do was push the car out from under the canopy and I was gridded.

The pace lap was rather fast, so there was no time to scrub the tires to heat them up. Lucky it was so hot outside. The green flag came out, and I looked for any way I could get in front of Marty. I looked to the right side of the track and considered a diving move into corner 1, but I thought better of it. If I wrote the car off in the first race of the weekend, I'd lose a lot more points than if I finished second. I decided just to try to stay with the cars in front of me for a few laps. I managed to gain a bit of ground, but what really helped me was when the leaders came to lap us. The lead cars seemed to time it just right for me and just wrong for him. I saw at least two of the lead cars outbrake Marty going into a corner, forcing them both to slow down. Both of those cars passed me on a straight, exiting a corner, so I lost no time at all. I don't think any of the leaders cost me any time when they lapped me, and the one car I lapped also didn't cost me any time.

On the victory lap, I came around the Silo turn to see that the corner 6A station was waving double yellow flags. That was a little odd. Not that they would have flags out on a victory lap, but that they would be double waving yellow. Officially, there is no "double waving yellow" in SCCA. The "official" conditions are standing (or stationary) yellow, waving yellow, or double yellow (a.k.a. full-course yellow). Before I could guess what they meant, I saw that another car was stopped on-track at corner 7, and a worker was waving the red flag at me. Now I was really confused. The car wasn't blocking the track, so couldn't I just drive around him? But the worker was signalling for me to pull in behind the other car. Just then, the other car pulled away, and I noticed that all three workers were wearing Hawaiian shirts. I stopped where they indicated. The man with the red flag shook my hand and congratulated me. Another man handed me a bottle of water, and a woman put a lei around my neck. How fun!

It turned out that Marty had also gotten slowed a little by battling with Tom Stillwell, who was turning similar lap times in a Swift FF. Marty tried to pass but realized that he would have to take too great a chance to do it. So I wasn't the only one who figured that finishing second would be smarter than finishing the weekend early. But the starting grid for the second race of the day would be based on the finishing positions from this race. That put me one row in front of Marty.

The interesting consequence of the grid being determined by finishing positions is that a few cars that ran into problems during the first race would have to start at the back of the grid. That would mean more traffic to deal with, but nobody in the group was trying to crowd or intimidate anyone else. I felt very safe with everyone.

We had just as much time for the nut-and-bolt check between races. I found a couple of loose fasteners that hadn't come loose in a few years, but everything looked good, and the car was running very strong. I sat down and tried to relax before the second race.

The grid for the second race had me directly behind Katie List in a yellow C Sports Racer on the outside lane with Marty in the next row directly behind me. On the start, Katie didn't accelerate as quickly as I expected. Just as I realized that I wasn't at full throttle, I also noticed a huge hole in the right lane. Orie Voigtmann's red Sports 2000 had been in the same row as Katie, but he took off quickly, and Tom Stillwell, whose Swift was next to me, didn't. I dove for the opening, passing Katie and almost passing someone else before corner 1. Again, I tried to stay with the cars in front of me for a while, but Marty did an even better job of staying with me. For at least the first four or five laps, he was right on my tail. I was starting to prepare myself for him passing me, when I realized that Katie had passed him. He didn't seem to be right behind her, either. When she passed me, I saw a comfortable gap between Marty and me. I just tried to concentrate on driving smoothly while I waited for the leaders. Once again, they seemed to want to pass Marty in the corners, but they almost always passed me on the straights. (Do I drive like a menace? Now I'm paranoid that nobody wants to share corners with me.) I made it to the end and stopped in corner 7 for another bottle of water and another lei. Later I found out that Marty's fastest lap in that race was a full second faster than mine. I would have to work even harder on Sunday.

Sunday was less humid but also less breezy than Saturday. Overall it felt a little cooler, but not by much. The hard tires would still be the right choice. We lined up for qualifying, and I tried to get close enough to Marty that I could draft him, or at least watch him. Unfortunately, we were separated and my pit signals weren't very useful. This time, he outqualified me by less than half a second.

For the race, Marty should have been gridded on the outside lane with me in the inside lane behind him, but I think someone in front of us may have been late to the grid, because I ended up in the outside lane on the same row. I was behind Jim Smalley in a Formula Mazda, and Marty was behind Katie List's CSR. Marty and I got a little behind on the pace lap somehow, and we ended up with a gap between us and the row in front of us as we exited corner 7. I could hear Marty get on the gas before the flag came out, and I reacted a little slowly. I got on the gas as well, but he was already well in front of me. Once again, though, I got lucky. The timing of the green flag was on my side. Marty caught up to Katie before the flag came out, and he had to get off the throttle. I was just far enough behind Marty that the green came out just before I would have had to lift -- and while Marty's foot was still off the throttle. If the timing had been any different, I'd have lost the battle. I passed Katie and followed Jim through the first few corners. He shook me fairly early though, and Katie passed me soon after, but by then, Marty was nowhere in sight. He disappeared so quickly, I was worried that he may have gotten tangled in an incident on the first lap. I wasn't getting any pit signals, so I had no idea what was going on with him. For all I knew, he could have been in front of me. I tried to signal my crew that I wanted to know where he was, but before they could respond, I saw him in front of me! By then, the checkered flag was out, but it was clear that he was having car troubles. It sounded awful on the cool-off lap. One more lei.

It turned out that the top plate of his carburetor had come loose, and he was suffering from a terrible vacuum leak. My crew relaxed when they heard his car popping and banging, but they neglected to let me know about it. Marty told me later that he made a bad mistake on the start after the green flag too. A Formula C car which had lapped the field on Saturday had a different driver today, but he didn't know that. He let the car go, figuring that the driver must have had a problem in the morning qualifying session. But on Sunday, the driver's fastest lap time was only a second faster than Marty's fast time -- which, once again, was one second faster than mine.

The grid for the second race was similar to the second race on Saturday. I was in the outside lane behind Lyle Rundhaug's D Sports Racer, with Gayle Gaborski in the FC next to me and Marty directly behind me. This time, Marty didn't let Gayle go first. But I got a good start again. I moved over to the inside lane to try to pass Lyle. He got back in front of me and also passed Tony Foster's Swift before the corner, so I followed Tony through the first few corners. Marty was on my tail again, but within a lap or two, Alex Murray (who had been having bad luck with his FC all weekend) was ready to pass us as he moved up through the pack. He separated us a bit, but it wasn't until the leaders came around that I got a comfortable lead on Marty. I never really did relax, but I could concentrate on driving smoothly, instead of trying to stay in front. It paid off with another lei.

But the biggest victory of the weekend was that for the first time since 2005, I don't feel like I'm fighting the car anymore. In 2005, I felt like I was on the same wavelength as the car. It felt like it was obvious what to do. When I needed more cornering speed, I would do this. When I needed to brake later, I would do that. The car would always do what I needed, and sometimes it felt like I didn't even need to know what to do. But since 2006, I've felt like I just couldn't get it right. The car wouldn't turn in -- or was I cranking the wheel too hard? The back end would step out in a corner -- or had I just lifted? And I just couldn't trust the brakes not to lock the wheels coming into a corner. I had actually started to coast coming into some corners because the car just didn't feel right. I'm not sure what changed, but this weekend, I was able to keep my foot down much later. The car always did what I needed, and it seemed like I knew what to do again. It was an amazing feeling, and had I finished 8th, it still would have felt great to have that back again.

TRO Central Division Championship CFF points:
John Haydon 100
Marty Handberg 64
Bruce Drenth 28
Alan Murray 24
Peter Wood 15

Each lei has a laminated tag attached that reads:
"I got LEI'D at turn 7."

Thursday, July 16, 2009


After the minimal turnout at the first Regional of the season, it was encouraging to see that 6 Club Formula Fords were entered for the double Regional at Road America at the end of May. Again, mixed feelings. Six is much better than one, but I'm getting excited over just 6 cars. There was a day when 20 cars was a pathetic showing. But I'll still take 6 over 1.

The car needed a new battery, a new water temperature gauge (to replace the borrowed electrical gauge), a gear change, and a thorough drying-out. Everything went smoothly, but for some reason I ended up with a 3rd gear that is just a bit taller than ideal for Road America. I think the preferred gear may have been in the transmission that burned up at Blackhawk in 2005, and I had just lived without it since then.

The weather threatened to be a repeat of the April race, but Saturday morning dawned clear and sunny. It stayed that way just long enough for us to unload everything from the truck. Then it started raining. We loaded everything back into the truck... and the rain stopped. So we unloaded everything again to let it dry... and the rain started again. We went back and forth at least three times before it started to really rain. But the sun was starting to poke through in the west.

So, would it be wet or dry? Time was running out, and we had to make a decision in time to change the setup for the first qualifying session. I decided to gamble on a dry session, while Pete Wood did the opposite. I got lucky. The sun came out and stayed out, and the cars on track immediately before us dried the track pretty thoroughly. It didn't rain the rest of the weekend. Fortunately for Pete, the session was long enough that he was able to duck into the pits, change tires, and still get a few laps in.

I was a little disappointed in my performance that weekend. My fastest lap time all weekend was a 2:41.6, three seconds slower than my best, and only good enough for 4th place. On Saturday, Pete dropped out with an engine problem, but Marty Handberg passed me for 3rd, and I just couldn't challenge.

Sunday was much better, though my lap times didn't really show it. Pete pulled into the CFF lead on the start and held it for the first lap. Bruce Drenth, who had qualified on the CFF pole, passed him back and used the aerodynamics of his Eagle chassis to run away from the rest of us. Alan Murray had also gotten a poor start, dropping all the way back to 5th, but by the third lap, he charged past Marty coming into Canada Corner. He was trying to pass me too, but I closed the door and made him try again. And try again he did -- in corner 14. He passed Pete on the front straight, but not before giving me a bit of a tow, which brought me back in sight of Pete.

The rest of the race, I worked on getting to within striking distance of Pete. I got close, but never close enough to make a legitimate challenge for 3rd. Finally, on the last lap, I got close enough to draft him on the front straight. I pulled out to pass... and realized that my too-tall 3rd gear cost me enough acceleration on the steep hill that I couldn't quite draw even with him. Fourth again, but at least this time the gap was down from 2.3 seconds to 0.14 seconds.

Now we have a points race!

John Haydon 44 points
Bruce Drenth 28 points
Alan Murray 24 points
Peter Wood 15 points

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

O the Drama

Where to begin? If you don't mind, I'll try to start at the beginning of the interesting stuff.

April 26 was the first SCCA race of the season. It was a one-day single Regional race at Blackhawk Farms Raceway, capping off a three-day weekend that included two days of driver's schools. The students who attended and passed both driver's schools would qualify to run the Regional on Sunday, and to encourage entries, this was designated as a double-points event. Still, entries were very light. I was the only Club Formula Ford entered.

Unfortunately, it rained for much of the weekend. By Sunday morning, many paddock spots were underwater. The rain came and went through the day, but every time it stopped, it just came back that much harder later on.

I had parked under the Lindstrand Motorsports tent in an attempt to stay dry. Allen Wheatcroft and I both waited until the very last moment before going out for qualifying. When you're moving, at least in the Tiga, rain doesn't have much of a chance to fall into the cockpit of the car. I managed to stay pretty dry that session. The wet conditions kept my lap times up in the 1:55s, but I kept the car on the track and facing in the right direction.

The car didn't need much maintenance between sessions, which was lucky. It's hard to work on a precision machine when you're parked in the middle of a muddy lake. As we waited for the race, the clouds seemed to part. We even saw something resembling sunlight in the sky. For the first time all day, the predawn half-light gave way, and it really seemed to be the middle of the day instead of the end. But not long after Allen and I commented on that, the sky really opened up. Just in time for us to push our cars to the grid.

I mentioned before that you can stay fairly dry when the car is moving through the rain. When you're sitting still on the grid for 10 minutes, you give the rain a much better chance of hitting you. Over and over and over.

By the time we rolled out onto the track for the pace lap, the rain had soaked through my driver's suit and had even splashed onto the inside of my helmet visor. The wind might clear the rain off the outside of the visor, but there wasn't much I could do about the rain on the inside. Shaking my head back and forth didn't do much. I would just have to live with the blurriness.

We set off for the pace lap (still shaking my head), and I immediately discovered some new things. I had seen a deep puddle on the track at the apex of corner 3A before, but I had never seen standing water anywhere else. It turns out that when it rains really hard for a couple of days, standing water collects in a lot of new places. One of these places is the apex of corner 1. And it turns out that when you drive right through a deep enough puddle, you create a really big wave, like a wall of water taller than the car. The next thing that happens after you create this wave is you drive right through it. When that happens, a shocking amount of said wave ends up in your lap. In case you're wondering how that could possibly be shocking, it's because the temperature never got above 50 degrees, and all that icy water ended up, as I said, in my lap. I hit similar puddles (with similar results) in 3A (yes, I should have known), the braking zone for 4, 6, and 7. And I kept hitting them throughout the race. Each time I would make a mental note to avoid it on the next lap, but it was like my mental notes kept getting washed away.

The only scary moment in the race was when the car suddenly slowed while exiting corner 4 about halfway through the race. It felt incredibly harsh inside the car, like someone had turned off the engine for a second. Oddly, I have a hard time picking it out in the video. Could it be that I'm really concentrating that much harder, and I'm that much more tuned in to the car when I'm driving, that the slightest hesitation feels like an eternity in freefall? Or am I just a drama queen?

Back to the point: The car stumbled under acceleration. It felt a bit like it was out of gas (I know that feeling well), but I had filled the fuel before the start. Plus, we were running so slowly, I would probably only burn about 2 gallons during the race. The only other possibility I could think of was that the battery was dying. Moments later, my onboard lap time display confirmed my suspicions by displaying a very helpful blank screen.

The battery I was running that weekend came with the car in 2004. I have no reason to doubt that it was the same one Pete Wood had been using in 2003 and 2002. Seven years of racing, and I never replaced it? Keeping a battery for 5 years in a street car is pushing your luck, as far as I'm concerned. Now here I was, taxing this antique battery with the added demands of the rain light and an electrical temperature gauge. What was I thinking?

If there's one thing I know about, it's nursing an ailing car to the finish. That's not to say that I'm any good at it, but I've read about it a lot. The ignition system needs maximum battery voltage under heavy acceleration, so it was time to ease up and coast a lot. I considered turning off the rain light, but I would have been black-flagged without it. The race was nearly halfway through, and all I needed was a finish. As miserable and soggy and cold as I was, I preferred some slow track time to an early ending to the race.

In Impound, we discovered that the car now weighed a full 8 pounds more than it had after qualifying. All of it was water.

Almost as soon as the race was over, the clouds parted and the sun came out. It didn't matter much; everything inside the truck was soaked, too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Anarchy Dingo

The Internet is a wonderful tool that allows you to find out really useful things. It also allows you to find out that an anagram of Haydon Racing is "Anarchy Dingo".

I can't decide which version I like better.

Isn't that just the cutest little anarchist you ever saw? He makes me want to denounce all property as theft. On the other hand, I really want a stuffed animal version of him.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Yes, I am writing this post purely out of shame. The kind of shame that comes with not writing anything in three months.

It's that time of year, though, and the excuses are the same as last year: It's too cold to do anything with the car, I've been working on the catalog, and I'm in hibernation. There is a new excuse on this year's list: We're still dealing with the basement rebuild. This week was the first time in 6 months that actually mopping the (new) basement floor looked like it wouldn't be a total waste of time. And even that took three hours and almost an entire box of Swiffer pads. The construction dust was so thick that it would completely clog a pad after about 5 square feet. The sponge mop only rearranged the dust into fascinating new patterns.

The catalog just arrived today (it will be in the mail to you shortly, don't panic), and once again it looks like the best we've ever done. I can't take as much credit this year though. The choice of paper and ink and printer and presses combined to make the photos and really pop. The blacks are actually black this year, not just dark grey. The type looks sharper as well. And then there's all that wonderful text and layout work. I'll autograph your copy if you bring me a Sharpie. (No, not a Shar Pei. It's hard to write with a dog.)

If I may be permitted to whine a bit about the weather: BRRR!! I heard last night that we had 24 consecutive days this month with a high temperature below freezing. Three days in a row we had a high in the single digits, and for three nights the lows were in the teens below zero. That's Fahrenheit, folks. Not Celsius.

I have been told to be thankful for cold winters, because that helps to control the bug population. On the other hand, the mountains of snow on the ground have probably insulated the little critters pretty well. I'll bet they're loving life right now. Jerks. I should probably mention here that I was stung by a bee at the last race. Stupid little thing flew right into me, landed on my neck under the collar of my driver's suit, and then the little turkey had the nerve (and the stinger) to blame me for it. Moron.

The trailer is currently buried behind the garage, and the car is buried inside the garage. I expect that's how things will stay for at least a few more weeks. I had planned all kinds of projects for the car to get it ready for the Formula Ford 40th Birthday Party race at Road America in July, but of course I haven't started any of them. The good news is that only two of them are really important: Checking the engine bearings and revising the shoulder harness mounting points.

What's wrong with the current shoulder belt mounts? The Tiga was designed before anyone ever thought about head and neck restraint devices, so the mounts are about 10 inches apart. Unfortunately, the HANS Device (virtually the standard head and neck restraint these days) requires the shoulder belt mount spacing to be no more than 6 inches center-to-center. Bruce Lindstrand had modified the mounts on the LMI Tiga, and I was hoping to copy his design. It is a very clever design: It brings the belts closer together, it's a stronger mount (the belts are anchored to two square tubes instead of just one), and it allows for vertical adjustment to accomodate taller and shorter drivers. He also eliminated a somewhat questionable piece of anchoring hardware, which can't be a bad thing.

Changing the mounts will require stripping the car to the bare frame. Stripping the car will require room in the garage. Room in the garage will require moving about two tons of assorted things that don't really have a permanent home. Finding them a home will require clearing household items out of the storage garage that we rented while the basement was being redone. Moving those items will require a clean basement floor. Oh, wait...