I want to temper my exuberance about this race weekend a bit, because there was a driver very seriously injured in one of the other race groups after mine. So instead of gloating for multiple paragraphs, I will say that I am very thankful to be sitting at home, safe, with a trophy, and I’ll provide the recap after the jump.
We arrived Friday night with a significantly-repaired Neon. After the AER race, Jon from Albany Autoworks had swapped the ball joints, flushed the cooling system, put new brakes on, changed the thermostat, and performed a genuine MacGyver miracle to match up some factory clutch parts to my Fidanza flywheel. The one thing we didn’t do was change the radiator cap: Danger Girl had reminded me about it but I failed to pass along the request to Jon.
It’s no small thing to get an SCCA logbook done for a car. Not only do they perform a more detailed safety inspection than NASA does, they also verify the car’s compliance with the class rules. As a seam-welded, 2.4-liter Neon, we were destined for STU, Super Touring Under, which is a class for ex-Koni cars, 2.5-liter Bimmers with wings, and E36 M3s. I wasn’t sanguine about our chances. But I took the class they offered because we had no other options. And I was grateful that the OVR-SCCA tech crew was willing to tech a car with a flashlight in the dead of night.
Track temperature was in the forties come Saturday morning. I went out and slid all over the place, nearly spinning twice during my first lap. I was pretty despondent when I came in — but I should have considered the fact that the Neon was the lightest and the lowest-powered of the serious contenders in STU, which works to our advantage in these situations. As it was, we qualified fourth.
At the start, I was caught utterly flat-footed; they start on the front straight and not the back straight! That’s never happened to me at Mid-Ohio. So instead of picking up positions, I lost a few. Then a car spilled fuel in front of me. It looked like I’d be in the wall before Turn 3. But it somehow all worked out and I escaped the melee with just a few scuffs. I managed to hold fourth in class, which became third when the Integra in first pulled off for a mechanical. Then the BMW in third spun off the Carousel. Second place with two laps to go! In my SCCA debut!
But all was not well in Neon-land. The radiator cap that had caused us issues at AER started spraying coolant. Or at least that was my guess. And I couldn’t afford to risk two more laps. So I went to the pits on Lap 10 of a 12-lap race, out of second place.
Sunday morning I started the qualifying race in 35th of 40 cars, thanks to my early pull-out. (Wink.) Worse than that, the total fucking moron in front of me wouldn’t drive up to the back of the pack, so when we saw the flag the rest of the pack was already through Turn One and heading up to the Keyhole. (Remember this idiot; he’ll return.) There I was, in 35th place and two thousand feet behind the pack. So I put my head down and went to work, turning a 1:44.7 on the Pro course (at 2,640 pounds, I would add, not the 2400 we could run at in NASA) to make up 18 places and finish 17th in ten laps, fourth in STU.
Come the Sunday afternoon race, I was determined to be more Baruthian on the start, so I made up eight positions through Turn One and the Keyhole, moving into a strong third in STU along the way. Two of those were courtesy of a dust-up ahead of me that put a T4-class Firebird immediately behind me. He didn’t like the idea of that, I’ll tell you. But I focused on catching the T4 Solstice ahead of me.
Three laps in, I was on the Solstice’s back bumper when he waved at me. Since this is club racing and not pro racing, I figured that he was trying to alert me to something, and he was: the flag station two stations up was deploying the double-yellow. I waved back. Big eyes on that guy. Something for all of us to emulate.
Turns out that the Civic that hadn’t been willing to drive up to the pack in my qualifying race had tangled with another Neon in the Carousel. They were too tightly twisted to be pulled apart without two wreckers and ten safety personnel. Not to mention the fact that the track had enough oil on it to fill the Deepwater Horizon. We took seven laps under double yellow. For once in my life, taking the most aggressive start possible had paid off in a big way. I was 9th of 40th, and 3rd of 7 in STU. My first SCCA podium, in my rookie weekend as an SCCA road racer.
I have to thank my wife for making this happen. Without her decision to obtain an SCCA Full Comp license and try this herself, I probably just would have stuck with NASA despite my frustration with the Performance Touring director. But instead I went to the SCCA and met a bunch of GREAT people who really love racing and who view each other as fellow club members, not customers to be milked or sacrificial lambs to be hobbled so their friends can win free tires.
We’ll be rebuilding the Neon to be more competitive in STU over the winter, even if that means that the car is no longer NASA eligible. I’m looking forward to the process and to having a great season with SCCA in 2017. I’ll be writing a bit more about this for R&T this week, as well.
As always, I couldn’t see a single checkered flag without Jonathan Shevel of Albany Autoworks. Thanks to him, I’m free to spend my weeks writing about racing instead of trying to figure out how to build and maintain a race car. I’m very pleased that we’ve managed to score both SCCA and NASA podiums this year with a car that frankly hasn’t been competitive since maybe 2008. That’s down to his detailed efforts and a little bit of luck for me behind the wheel. I’m grateful for all of it.