January 29, 1999, my hotel room in Anaheim, CA
Today's practice went quite well, but in keeping with my Gremlin luck I did have one incident. The track surface is EXTREMELY varied. Some parts of the track are so dry and hard that they are developing a "blue groove" where the tires are actually leaving rubber on it and then other parts are soft and muddy. Some areas are smooth and then others rough as can be. I managed to bicycle the car in a tight right hand corner (soft rutted surface) but instead of going on over and rolling, it stuck on the front left wheel, then stood up on the nose, then cartwheeled over on to the right side wheels, then on the back end of the car so I'm looking straight up at the sky. Finally it decides to sit back down on its wheels with me pointing towards the hydro-barrier. WHEW!!! Missed that roll over! (I still say it was driver skill that kept me from rolling it, as I hung on the wheel just as tightly as I could!) I went on and finished practice and the work that Jay helped me do really paid off because I finally have front end bite and the steering is working better. Things are looking up?
Between first and second practice, I was able to get my new front tires on the car, but didn't have enough time to groove them so, I ended up going out on the new tires and surprisingly enough, the car didn't push that badly! I was able to keep Joe in my sights which felt REALLY good. Also, to really make my day, Mike Hallock of Custom Axis Shocks (the type I have on the Pilot) showed up and said he would help me get my shocks working better. He had quite a few suggestions to make the car work better and was able to see the suspension problems I had described to him. Saturday morning's practice should be interesting, as I have changed the springs and settings on the shocks and grooved the front tires.
Another really neat thing about being here in SoCal is that I'm getting to meet the people I've heard about for the past couple years. Todd and Denise Wittman and Todd's mother Dee all race, Doug Goodenough and his wife Stacy Fay are here, Joe Price, of course and I hear that the Briggs (Bob and his son Beau) will be here too. It looks like the Stadium Lite class is going to be a full grid! I finally get to rub elbows with the big boys that used to race Mickey Thompson's Grand Prix!
Sunday Night, January 31, sitting in a Phoenix hotel room again - A reflection on the weekend in Anaheim
First off, let me say I-10 SUCKS!!! The drive today from Anaheim to Phoenix was dull and boring. That road is a long black strip of NOTHING!!! I just can't wait for the drive from El Paso to San Antonio. NOT!!! Can you say "Nothing out in No Where"?
OK, back to business.
This weekend was ONE WILD RIDE! Saturday's practice was interesting to say the least. Mike of Custom Axis Shocks came by and revalved my shocks so that the car would stay stuck to the ground better. It paid off. The car was working really well in the corners and over most of the rhythm section, but there was a section that proved to be nasty. When I was running the stiffer springs on Friday, I was able to hit the first of three bumps and clear the second two by actually bouncing over them. Well, with the new settings things were different. I took it easy through this section for the first two laps but I decided that on the third pass, I could clear it as I had the day before. WRONG!!! Because the car didn't bounce anymore, I caught the rear tires on the top of the last (and biggest) bump and proceeded to do the dirty lawn dart landing again. AND, to add insult to injury, not only did I pull off a perfect endo after the lawn dart, but I proceeded to pull two (or was it three? I saw ground/sky/ground/sky too many times) complete cartwheels too.
Sometime during the lawn dart, endo and cartwheels I managed to bend the entire lower front frame of my car into oblivion. I figured I was done racing for the season. I was tired of crashing, breaking, bending and hurting. I limped back to the pits and put my car back in it's stable (the trailer). Totally defeated, I was calling it quits for the rest of the series and going home.
After a bit of soul searching, a really good self pity party and a talk with my wife Scarlett, I decided to pull the car back out of the trailer and proceed to see what could be done. During the crash I destroyed the lower section of the frame where the front suspension mounts and twisted it about two inches inward and to the right. I took a cutter out, started hacking away bent stuff, then using a hydraulic jack, I pushed the frame into something that resembled "straight" and welded in some bracing. I was back and ready for the heat race! My car went straight, but was a total bear to turn the wheel. I was gonna race it anyhow - even if this racing stuff killed me!
Luck (bad - the only type I've had so far) for my heat race didn't let me down. Right off the bat in the first corner, I was hit in the left rear wheel and had hole punched in my left rear tire, flattening it and the nerf bar was torn up too. I ran the entire race on a flat and had a horrible time turning right. Fortunately, there's only one right hand turn on the track. I managed to pull out a fifth place finish of nine starting the race. I had to hunt up a new rear tire for the main, but thanks to Doug Goodenough, I was able to find an exact replacement for the one I had destroyed for me in the heat race.
Now comes the main. Eighteen Stadium Lites on the line - three rows of six cars. I'm sitting in the middle of the second row. The flag waves, the car in front of me doesn't move much and "boom", I'm hit from behind. Now, you have to remember, I don't have a front bumper or skid plate on my car because of the "practice modifications" I had done to it earlier in the day, so the last thing I wanted to do was hit someone, but I find myself hit from behind and pushed up against the car in front of me as we head over the first table top. I proceeded to the outside of the pile of cars in turn one and got to the second corner somewhere in the top ten, I think. I stayed clean through the race, had a couple good battles with some of the other drivers and held my ground pretty well. In the place where I managed my big practice crash, Doug Goodenough's hood flew off and attacked me. It hit me square in the front of my "windshield" area and then went straight up. The next lap, there it sat in a couple pieces, and with each consecutive lap, Doug's hood began to disintegrate into more and more pieces.
All things considered, a bent car, VERY stiff steering, sore body and lots of very fast competition, I feel I came out with flying colors. I went the entire race without bending, breaking, crashing, rolling, endoing or tangling with another car and actually handling fairly well. When the checkered flag finally flew, I had managed to pull of a tenth place finish and I'm now sitting in second place behind Joe Price in the points standing.
I took the car to ATV Racing this afternoon and Jay and Neil figured that they could have the front of the chassis replaced, braced and race ready for me by the time I get back on Thursday for this weekend's race right here in Phoenix. My hat's off to these guys for really bending over backwards to help me out. They are totally swamped right now with work, but they figured that they could squeeze my work in after hours, so I am totally indebted to them. These guys truly are great people to have as sponsors!
Oh, by the way, while I was sitting in the hotel room, I saw a commercial for the races scheduled in Phoenix next weekend. The last thing shown in the promo is my lawn dart/endo in St. Louis. Boy, no wonder I hurt so badly! I cleared that stupid table top by at least ten feet and landed directly on the nose of the car. And, the reason I don't recall seeing much during the flip was that it was SO quick and violent, I didn't have a chance to see anything! OUCH! Donny, ATV Racing's engine man, saw it too and said he was pretty impressed that I walked away.
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