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I left Minneapolis on Thursday to meet up with my friend Pete in Des Moines. On the way down, MN State Patrol tagged me at 84mph in a 70 (maybe it was just a warning?). One driving award later, I was back on track to Des Moines. I arrive at Pete's around 8:30 and he took me for a quick spin in his new Mustang BOSS 302 (photoshoot coming soon) before heading out to some of the local bars. We had a great night, drank plenty of beer and I passed out on the couch pretty late.
The next morning I met up with a few other team mates who had spent the night in Des Moine and we caravaned to the Iowa Speedway to hang out and wait for the rest of the team to arrive. Another team coming from Minneapolis broke down on the way one of our guys managed to pick them up and tow their car down to the track as well. Once everyone got to the track, we went through registration and tech inspection then spent the rest of the afternoon prettying up the car while the open track session was going on in the background.
Mulling around the pits, I saw lots of interesting cars that I hadn't expected to see; a Triumph TR6, a Merkur XR4Ti, an Alfa Romeo...
Eventually, the car and the rest of the team made it to the track and we teched the car, unloaded spare parts into the garage, and set up out pit box. As the sun started to set, Nick, Mary, and I went for a walk around the track. This was to be my first time driving on a banked oval so Nick gave me a few pointers on lines to take to help ease my mind for the race which started the next morning. After the track walk, we took off to get dinner and headed back to the track to finish up some last minute prep on the car.
On Saturday morning, we met up at the track to double check everything on the car before the driver's meeting at 9:30. The race was scheduled for 10am and would run til 11pm so we tried to come up with a schedule for driver changes and estimate how long our tires and fuel would last. The race began without a hitch but about 30 min into the race, two BMWs collided and both cars sustained pretty significant damage that required a trip to the paddock to fix. These cars were both contenders for an overall win this weekend but a call was made that could've really soured the results.
We knew it would rain on Saturday so we were keeping a pretty close eye on Nick's iPhone with the weather tracker up to try and predict how long we had until we got soaked. Soaked might actually be an understatement. When the rain actually did start to fall, it was absolutely blinding, and that was in the pits! Out on track, the huge quantity of water was an even bigger problem because the road course had become completely flooded. All of the banked parts of the track directed all of the water straight into the infield road course, submerging it under 8+ inches of standing water!
One advantage to all of this water was that the yellow flag came out frequently. This helped us conserve fuel and tires much longer than we'd otherwise be able to. We almost managed to double-stint a tank of fuel! Unfortunately our plan to do so failed and necessitated an additional unplanned pit stop.
In any case, the race continued although the transition from road course to oval was pushed back from 1pm to 3:30 when the rain finally let up.
FInally the rain stopped and the track started to dry out. As the track cleared, the speed started picking up. As the race went on, is started getting dark. This was great, until about 7 hrs into the race when the #28 Bare Metal Racing Nissan Sentra got loose on the high side of the banking of Turn 1 and spun out right in front of us. The result was a collision and nearly 100mph that left both cars pretty battered and bruised. Luckily, neither driver was injured.
A quick assessment of the damage showed that our front crossmember was pushed back about 4 inches, putting the radiator fan into our headers, and the front bumper, hood, and left fender were mangled. After beating on the car with a hammer and ripping off broken plastic and sheetmetal for about 30 min, we managed to get the car back out on track.
After James finished up his stint at 6pm, it was my turn to jump in the car for some laps around the oval as well as the transition back to the road course. I got out to do one lap and was immediately called back into the pits to check lug nut torque. Apparently our pit crew had forgotten to check because they were busy trying to bash the hood back into place so we could attach the lights we'd be running into the night. On my first few laps at race speed, I nearly smacked the wall a few times trying to figure out where to lift off the throttle to set the car up for the bankings. I was amazed at how difficult driving an oval track was. With the speed you're carrying, and with 40 other cars fighting for space on the 7/8th mile track, you're constantly watching your mirrors to see if someone is on your high side or low side, who's coming up behind you, or slowing down in front of you. About 20 min into my stint, an 1st gen RX7 blew its engine, spewing oil onto the track from Turn 2 all the way to Turn 4. This brought out another safety car which we followed for about 15 min while the track crew cleaned up the mess.
Just as they were finishing up, it started raining lightly. The green flag went out and we resumed racing for about 5 laps before the light rain turned into a torrential downpour that made the earlier storm look like drizzle in comparison. Visibility dropped to 50 ft and the safety car once again came out. After about 10 min of following the safety car, the call was made to switch us back over to the road course. The rain was coming down so badly that I saw at least one car go off track while still behind the safety car.
Finally they resumed the race and with about 35 min left in my stint, I put the hammer down. In all reality, I took it pretty easy. The banking was greasy and the infield road course was so wet that I had water coming up over my hood in more than a few corners. Additionally, it was now pitch black and my headlights were poorly aimed because the hood was so beat up. In any case, I managed to keep the car on track and stay out of trouble long enough to finish my stint.
We sent two more drivers out after me and at 11pm, the first day of racing came to an end. We finished up 13 hrs of racing with a severely damaged front end but the car remained in decent mechanical condition for the most part.
After the first day of racing, we brought the car back to the garage where we could better assess the damage from earlier in the race. After taking the hood and bumper off, we realized the car was actually in much worse shape than we thought.
Notice how the front bumper is about 8 inches out of line from where it should be...
We immediately went to work trying to set the car relatively straight again.
When using a jack to try to straighten out the frame didn't work out as we'd hoped, we resorted to hooking up a chain to the front end of the car and trying to pull it back into shape with the truck.
We went to bed that night exhausted and frustrated but ready to keep racing on Sunday.
Sunday was an early morning. We had to be at the track at 8:30 for the driver's meeting but we were up late the night before working on the car. Tired and groggy, we went through a quick driver's meeting before walking back to the pit lane for last minute prep on the car like installing GoPro's and checking tire pressures. With everything looking good, we sent Nick out onto the track to drive first.
Unlike Saturday, the weather on Sunday simply couldn't have been better. It was in the low 70's, sunny skies, and low humidity. Absolutely perfect!
Our friends at Bare Metal Racing managed to get their car fixed on Saturday night and joined us back on track.
Despite the great weather, this is still amateur racing and there were bound to be more spins and crashes.
Unfortunately, one of those incidents involved the race leading #01 My Little Pony Ford Mustang which spun out on the high side of Turn 1, much like Bare Metal Racing did the night before, and came down towards the inside of the track where it was speared by the #59 Clownshoe Racing E30 BMW.
While both teams struggled to get their cars back out on track, the rest of the field continued racing.
Nick came in early from his stint after blowing out a tire. He'd had the same issue that I expierenced the night before but just kept driving until the tire finally gave up, forcing him to limp it around most of the track and back into the pits.
I was lucky enough to get the chance to head up to the top of the control tower to watch the race and take some photos. It's amazing from that vantage point because you can see the whole track and pretty much everything within a few miles of the track!
About 5 hours into Sunday's race, James called in on the radio to say that the transmission had lost 3rd gear. On the next lap, he said he lost 4th and 5th gear. It wasn't long after that before he lost all drive and the car coasted to a stop at Turn 2 of the road course. We got the car towed back in and quickly discovered that the transmission had given up. Upon further inspection, we discovered that the transmission mount had been cracked during our incident the night before and there was nothing to keep the transmission steady. Unfortunately, we didn't have a spare gearbox.
That was it. We were out of the race with about 7 hrs to go. So we packed up the car, grabbed some beers, and spent the rest of the afternoon BSing with other drivers and enjoying the race as well as the beautiful weather.
As the sun set and the track got darker, the racing action started to pick up. The last 3 hrs were essentially a sprint race to the finish and the Canadian team, BSD Racing (Acura Integra), was leading the race, up 7 laps from British American Racing (BMW E30) and 44 laps up from the Free Candy Honda Civic and Tubby Butterman BMW. With about 40 min to go, Tubby Butterman and Free Candy both came into the pits on the same lap for new tires. They were mere feet from each other on pit lane but Tubby managed to get their BMW out first by just a few seconds to take 3rd place!
Meanwhile, B.A.R. was down only 4 laps from BSD Racing and was making up ground fast. We later found out that BSD Racing was on fumes and had to slow down to conserve fuel. With a lap and a half to go, B.A.R. managed to overtake BSD Racing for the lead and maintained that lead to finish 10 seconds ahead in 1st place! 25.5 hrs of racing came down to a 10 second margin of victory! Everyone in the pits went crazy!
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