WATCH MY FULL ON-BOARD VIDEO FROM THE RACE!
About three weeks ago, I registered for the Lime Rock Paddock Crawl SCCA race.
Our car was in North Carolina, we were in Connecticut, the only engine we had was sitting in a parts car at the shop, and we had ordered an SM built cylinder head from Jim Drago at East Street Racing in Memphis. I didn’t quite know how we were going to pull this off and get the car ready but I was ready for a challenge. I had a nagging itch to just sign up for the race anyway and do whatever it took to make it happen.
Boy would the next few weeks be a wild ride….
Turns out though, not only did my father and I accomplish the build but we qualified on pole and won every race over the course of the weekend.
It was truly a remarkable sense of accomplishment and a long three weeks that I’ll never forget!
Here’s the full story…
On May 22nd we began our journey down south to get the car. We only had one disaster on the road which was a broken hub assembly on the trailer. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves pressing together wheel bearings by the side of the road in order to get the trailer going again. Thankfully, this only put us a few hours behind schedule and it didn’t delay the trip too much.
We arrived home again a few days later and began pulling apart the parts car engine to accept a new cylinder head. The plan was to run the bottom end as it was as it had solid compression numbers and was from a low mileage, well kept after street car. It was a bit of an unknown but we kept our fingers crossed that it would run strong.
The cylinder head finally arrived from Memphis and we began assembling all the little parts and connectors to match up with our bottom end. New gaskets, water pump, fan belt, etc etc…
In goes the motor.
The time comes to fire it up.
I’m sure you can guess by now that of course it’s not going to start. You would be correct!
Since it was our first VVT engine install, we were a bit paranoid we did something wrong.
After another week of headache chasing electrical issues, we outsourced the car to Flatout Motorsports. They did an incredible job of diagnosing the car and fixing it within a day. Turns out, we had 2 faulty coils and never imagined both sets were bad. But the third one did the trick!
In our race group 5 there were approximately 40 entries, 35 or so of them being SMs. Lime Rock is a short 1.5-mile circuit. Therefore, we can safely presume that it’s going to be a crowded race track.
When this is the case, it’s important to get to grid early and take a nice slow out lap so you don’t catch the last car leaving the pits on your first flying lap.
By lap 4, I had finally caught up to that last car and had set a 1:02.1.
I came into the pits to hopefully sit there for the rest of the session. My time was only briefly good enough for pole until Ralle Rookey squeaked out a time quicker by a tenth. Time to go back out.
Now, I had work to do.
Not only did I need to find a gap among the 40 cars on Lime Rock, I also had to bust out a pole lap on likely the one and only clean lap I’d get again (and even then, I’d have to be lucky.) With some expert radio communication, my father Keith was able to put me out right into a perfect sized gap.
Sure enough, I didn’t hit any traffic and we able to get down to a 1:01.370.
It was a fairly driven lap but this time on at least “luke warm” tires as opposed to stone cold like my original lap.
Finally, at this point we were able to kick back in the pits, stay on Pole and wait for the session to end.
Friday Afternoon Qualifying Sprint
The Friday afternoon session had a race start with a pace car but would count for best lap, NOT best position. Essentially a Qualifying with a race start at the beginning. It sounds like a strange format, but actually makes sense in my opinion. This is because it’s easier to get clean laps in that session as the cars are already sorted and the tail end is closer to the leaders when we begin the session.
The grid for Saturday morning was determined by the fast time in EITHER the morning or afternoon qualifying sessions.
I was able to keep the lead for the whole session at the green flag.
In addition, I was able to improve my time by another tenth, now 1:01.259.
This would mean I would be starting the Saturday morning first race from P1.
Saturday Morning Race 1
The finishing position of this Saturday Morning race would determine the grid for the afternoon’s feature race.
At the green flag, I fortunately got a very good start and didn’t have a challenge into turn 1. I settled into a decent early pace as I realized my car set up was absolutely perfect on cooler tires.
It was safe to guess that as the tires heated up, I may have a bit of a handful of car later in the race. Therefore, I balanced the fine line between lengthening my lead and not putting excessive heat into the tires. Thankfully, the 4 second lead at Lap 20 was enough for a fairly calm last couple laps, giving me a pressure free environment to negotiate lapped traffic and pick up the win.
Saturday Afternoon Feature Race
Starting again from P1, the plan was to extend an early lead and then drive through the hot tires, just like in the previous race.
Plans change sometimes though!
We also tried a different wheel offset which would narrow the car’s track width up a bit. These wheels were mounted on scrubbed in stickers, so I thought the tire advantage would outweigh the track width disadvantage.
To my surprise, track width ended up mattering a whole heck of a lot more than I thought it did.
My lap times were slower and the car definitely had a smaller friction circle, achieving a similar balance but just less overall grip. New tires were nice, but it mitigated that advantage by being narrower. Now I had to work….
On top of that, Ralle Rookey was on his game and had an overwhelmingly quick pace early in the race. I knew at that moment that this was going to be a great battle!
On lap 5, the red flag comes out.
There was a serious incident in the Uphill. Thankfully everyone was ok and we were going again within 15 minutes. It would be a single file restart with 7 minutes to go in the session.
Being the race leader on the restart I was responsible for setting the pace to take the green flag.
I re-started the race at 5,000 in 2nd.
Slow enough to minimize the draft advantage of the cars behind, but in the powerband enough to get a good “snap” when I eventually went to power.
I was able to keep the lead on the restart but Ralle Rookey was still on my bumper.
A couple of laps after the restart, he gets a good run and a good tow, pops out and passes me into Turn 1. In an odd way I was sort of relieved because now I didn’t have any pressure from behind and the whole mindset of the race was different.
Now, instead of be blisteringly fast, I just had to stay on his tail to be in a position for a draft by pass into Turn 1 on the last lap. At one point, I made a small mistake in West Bend and fell a car length back.
A car length too much- I remember thinking “I really hope this isn’t the white flag lap” because I was just a bit too far behind from where I wanted to be.
I closed the gap on the next lap and got that car length back.
Now, I was all over the tail of Rookey and waiting for that white.
A lap later, Ralle was still in front and but a lapped car right at the apex of the downhill. I lifted off on the straight between West Bend and the Downhill and gave myself a couple car lengths of space to try and time a run.
Fortunately, it worked.
I had more or less a full head of steam coming through the downhill and Rookey had the pick set on him by the lapped car. Sure enough, on this lap the white flag also came out, so I was able to go for a stress free inside pass into Turn 1.
I was able to keep the car on the road for the last lap and brought it up for the win!
This weekend was truly a dream and I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude having done so well after putting in all that work. To think where we were three weeks ago with the car in as many pieces as it was…
It’s team effort; the driving is the easy part.
Keith Goring, Susan Dixon, Tamara Morrison, Flatout Motorsports, East Street Racing, and Carbotech.
DRIVE LIME ROCK PARK FASTER THAN EVER.
MASTER THE PERFECT LAP.
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