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30th Annual CSCC "8 Hours of the Cascades"

15 October 2005

After the well-earned but wholly unexpected results in the 2004 running of Cascade's enduro, there was never really any doubt that Eric and I would be back for 2005. Hal really had an itch to run his Porsche 944, though, so Bruce Beachman joined the team in his place. Bruce brought his experience in professional-level endurance racing, as well as members of his crew from the Rolex Sports Car Series, where he races a Corvette Z06. He also races it and an EIP-classed BMW 325 with Conference, so we were already familiar with each other.

The drivers and crew of the 2005 enduro effort:


Pictures from this event



In the weeks that followed the race, I've come to the conclusion that I was seriously sleep-deprived both before and during that week-end, a condition that had some rather unpleasant effects. Some of those effects included a reduced ability to concentrate, short-term memory loss, and a general sense of disconnectedness to the events around me.

All in all, not a great state of affairs when engaged in sustained high-performance driving, not to mention being able to observe and remember events for later documentation... as you'll see below.

Friday

I hadn't been sleeping very well the week leading up to the enduro, so I made sure to get to bed early (for me) in preparation for Eric's arrival at my house at 7am. Having gotten to sleep by about 11:30, I woke up at... 4:30, making it my third 5-hour night in a row. I really need more like 7 (or more, if I can get it), so 15 hours in 3 nights was, as F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen might say, "less than ideal."

Eric showed up a little after 7 so that we could load up the stuff I was bringing and then we hit the road for a pleasant, if sleepy, drive south to Portland. Now, short of an accident, mechanical or health problem, or a natural disaster, you wouldn't think there'd be anything notable about the tow to Portland, and usually you'd be right, but: At one point in our conversation, Eric noticed some odd movement in the rearview mirror, which quickly resolved itself to be... a bee! Yes, somehow a bee had gotten into the car and kept to itself for about the first couple hours of our drive. With a great deal of surprise, and not a little amusement, we eventually convinced our stowaway to find some other way to get to Portland. The rest of our trip was uneventful and we arrived at the track shortly after 10am, right on schedule.

We rolled into the South Paddock (other side of track from the infield Pro Pits) and found a place to park everything, then decided to move over closer to where we saw Hal was set up. We hadn't been out of the truck for two minutes when we found out that Hal's car was already suffering some sort of serious fuel starvation issue: When they rolled out for the first session (which we'd missed on purpose), the car had only gone 100 yards or so when it died. They were pretty sure it was fuel, but they were still checking out some other possibilities.

Eric and I unloaded the car and then went over to check-in and pay for our part of the day (Cascade was running a combination school, lapping day, and pre-enduro practice) and returned to find that Hal's team had concluded the cause of their problem was a dead fuel pump. Since getting at it to replace wasn't something they were going to be able to easily do at the track, they loaded up the car to head for a local garage and its lift.

While we continued to unload a few things from the trailer and change over to some older tires we were going to use for practice, George Burgesser wandered by and offered to tech the car for the day. Strangely, and this after a full season of tech inspections by both Conference and SCCA, he said that the brand-new, braided nylon vent hose for Eric's dry-break fuel system wasn't—technically—safe. By this he meant that, unlike the rest of the system, it didn't afford a metal barrier between fuel and the driver. Jim, Eric, and I shared a collective "oh shit" moment before George pointed out that it wouldn't take much to put the car into compliance. Upon pondering his suggestions and thinking about the relatively easy methods we could use to make the car legal, we then proceeded to be shocked at some of the fueling setups we saw on other cars that, while technically "safe," were several miles past scary. Comparing Eric's "unsafe" setup to at least one bodged-together "legal" system I saw made me more than a little thankful that even the equipment Eric refers to as his "eBay specials" are of good quality. (Besides, my wife would shoot me if I even thought about racing in a car that wasn't at least as well-sorted as Eric's.)

The fuel system wasn't going to be an issue until the next day, though, so we put it aside while we got down to the business of getting Bruce (and, to a lesser extent, me and Eric) some seat time. Bruce dropped 2 seconds/lap over his first two laps, but was reporting over the radio that, aside from how different it felt from his Corvette, something just didn't feel right. He was having a hard time controlling it in the corners and was just feeling generally uncomfortable with the setup. He came in about halfway through the session so I could have a go, whereupon I discovered the same unpleasant sensations, confirming that there really was something up with the car and it wasn't just Bruce's unfamiliarity with it.

Between sessions, Eric looked over the car to make sure everything was as it should be. In the end, he could only assume that it was the old tires we were running on, but he had recently raced on these same tires (mounted on 18" wheels) and couldn't think what would have changed since then. In any event, when he went out in the next session, he radioed in that the car was fine, and then set a time of 1'20.1" to prove it. (Considering that he was just bombing around on old tires in a practice session, compare this time with our fastest race lap.)

After confirming that the car felt okay and getting in a few laps for himself, Eric brought the car back in so we could practice a full pit stop with refueling, tire change (mounting our race tires on 17" wheels), and a driver change. When Bruce took the car back out, he immediately radioed that the car felt more normal and got down to a 1'23" lap pretty quickly, running out the rest of that session.

For the final session of the day, I just wanted to go out for a little bit to try the different handling from the race wheels & tires, but also to experiment with Eric's seating position, which lets him sit a little farther away from the wheel than mine does even though we're basically the same height. Once I went out, it was pretty clear to me that the other wheel/tire combo really did feel "off" compared to the 17" wheels, much as Bruce had asserted. I also found that I could work with Eric's slumped-down seating position, although the difference to mine caused me to squirm a fair bit. (More on that later, unfortunately.) And I discovered that my radio problem from 2004—where the person on the other end of the radio has a really hard time hearing what I'm saying—was back, and with a vengeance.

A funny story about that session, though: On what I had determined was going to be my in-lap to end the session, I saw a black flag in Turn 8 (leading onto the back straight) to indicate that everyone should exit the track for some reason. Jim came on the radio to warn me of this right about the time I arrived to a waving yellow flag and a series of twisted skid marks in Turn 9, which in turn led to a yellow Sports Racer backed into the wall. I acknowledged the "black flag all" to Jim and then let him know that I was at the scene of the incident, whereupon he asked me how bad it was. What I didn't know, and Jim didn't realize, was that Eric was standing right next to him a the time. Eric sees the full-course caution, hears Jim ask me "How bad is it?," and gets a mild panic attack wondering what I've done to his car!

At the conclusion of the school, we headed over to pit position #4, the same as last year. Eric drove his truck/trailer, Jim drove the car, and I got to drive the 2006 Ford class "C" motorhome we'd rented for the week-end. It smelled like a brand-new apartment... nice. Once we arrived, we wasted no time in setting up the trailer and our share of the canopies (6 or 7, I think) we'd need for our combined pit areas. After that was complete, Eric changed the front rotors and pads in preparation for 8 hours of hard driving. The skies continued to look ugly, as they had for the later stages of the day, but still no sign of the rain we'd all been expecting. Fingers crossed, and all that.

Some of Hal's crew (we had planned it so they'd be pitted next to us; we were sharing parts, expertise, and food) arrived around 5:30 or so to begin setting up their equipment (and more canopies!) while the rest of the crew—and the car, unfortunately—remained at the shop where they had finally discovered why the fuel pump wasn't working: The shop that had installed a fuel cell in Hal's 944 in preparation for the enduro had somehow, in defiance of all logic and rational thought, failed to install a fuel pump... at all! We're talking a major performance and race prep shop in Seattle, too. "Mind-boggling" doesn't begin to describe it.

Around 7pm and shortly after we went through the usual "hurry up and wait" of registration and tech inspection, Hal and his car arrived at the track. Fuel pump installed, tested on a dyno, and ready to go. They unloaded his car and some other stuff, we all packed up the stuff that would stay in the trailers overnight, and then headed off to our usual enduro watering hole for beer and dinner. (The rain we'd been expecting finally showed up as we left the restaurant.)

Eric and I headed back to the track to collect his parents, who'd brought down the race gas and the spiffy new dump can holder/cart that Randy had made. I made it back to my room and got to sleep a little after 10, only to awaken when Skip (my roomie for the night) arrived from Seattle a bit before 10:30. After chit-chatting about the day and a discussion about the race, I finally fell back to sleep about 12:30.

Saturday

I woke up at 5:30 which, for those of you counting, made for the 4th 5-hour night in a row. Bleah. Skip and I had a quick continental breakfast in our room before meeting Gary and Greg Estes and the Krauses in the lobby. We got back to our pit area by about 7:30, when Randy and Linda went off to buy ice for the various coolers and ice chests we'd be using.

Pre-race

First order of business for the day was to get everything ready for the day, which included setting up a laptop for the wireless Timing & Scoring signal, getting the nitrogen bottle out of the trailer and connecting up the hoses and air guns, and getting our dump cans ready for the morning's practice sessions. Despite the (traditionally?) dire forecast for rain, the sky was looking remarkably pleasant, including patches of blue sky and even the occasional sunbreak. In fact, the weather was looking so good that morning that Bruce and I decided we weren't likely to make significant gains with continued dry-weather running, so we skipped the practices.

One thing I noticed was that there was a new player in the P1 class this year: A shiny, red, and very fast Panoz Esperante. It looked good and it sounded even better, but they withdrew long before the race even started. Too bad.

Anna and a truly ridiculous amount of food (remember, she was feeding both our and Hal's teams) arrived around quarter to nine, so some of us had our second breakfast of the day while Anna began laying out the lunch, snacks, and assorted beverages we'd need throughout the day. I know that Hal's hardworking crew, in particular, appreciated being able to pop into Eric's trailer for warm food and drinks as they continued to struggle with various issues. I certainly made sure to eat my fair share!

Our first "amusing anecdote" (ha!) occurred when Bruce and I went off to the RV to get changed into our driving suits for the team photo. When we were ready to head back to the pits... the door wouldn't open! No amount of screwing around with it could convince it to open, to the point that I finally climbed through the driver's area, out the passenger door, and opened the door from the outside. (The door would cause us problems the rest of the day, actually.)

Eric went out for a while in the third (and final) practice session to bed the new pads and rotors, which is when he discovered that my fancy new lap timer (which uses the Timing & Scoring signal instead of an infrared beam from a trackside sending unit) wasn't picking up any signals. Since he'd removed his Hot Lap timer in favor of my device, we were now without in-car lap times and splits other than what Jim could tell us over the radio.

It was during one of these practice sessions that Hal discovered a new problem with his car, which was tripping the sound meter at 110dB! The crew added a turndown to the exhaust tip, but they were still at 107dB, which is when folks from other crews gathered around to provide welding equipment, someone with the skill to use it, and other assistance to install an additional resonator right there in the pits. Some of these people were other competitors from the P2 class, but they still pitched in to help out, which is one of the great things about the racing community.

While the corner workers broke for lunch at 11 (their last chance to take a break for at least the next 8 hours) the drivers and crew chiefs went off for our respective meetings. When we returned, Eric drove the car around the wall and backed it in for the start. And then we all ate again. :)

Race

Since Eric was running the first two stints (of 6) and I had worked as crew for him off-and-on during the "regular" season, the two of us went over the wall to get ready for the start. We got the car all ready for him to jump in (belts placed, window net out of the way, etc.) and then spent a few minutes chatting. Although we'd never had to do it at the start of a race, he and I had worked together enough times to get him strapped in that neither one of us was at all concerned about the start. Of course, neither one of us was aware that the cam lock for the belts was locked in the "open" position... With a minute to go, Eric walked across the pit lane to stand against the wall and wait for the starting signal.

At 12pm exactly, the ambulance at pit exit sounded its siren (I've always thought that was a slightly creepy way to start a hazardous event like a race) and Eric across the pit lane to the car. He got in quickly and we were all set to get him going with a minimum of fuss, but we were having a hard time getting the belts to seat in the cam lock. I'm sure we both assumed we just weren't pushing them in far enough to catch, but it wasn't until we'd wasted valuable time that I grabbed the cam lock to rotate it, and discovered that it was open. We quickly got the belts connected and his helmet plugged in to the radio, but a third or more of the field had left by the time he drove off. He'd only been out for a few minutes when Jim told us Eric was having a hard time hearing the radio. It turns out that, although I had actually taken special care to keep the headphone wire away from the belts and HANS device, it had snagged on something and pulled free. Luckily, Eric was able to drive and reconnect the plug at the same time, so ultimately no harm done.

It was about this time that Bruce's laptop started having problems picking up Timing & Scoring's wireless signal, despite the fact that we were literally straight across the track from the antenna. Bruce and I shared a quick "what else is going to go wrong?!" look, but we quickly learned that everybody was having that particular problem. Although the T & S software causing this issue would get straightened out, most everyone on pit lane would have inconsistent Wi-Fi connectivity for the duration, making the availability of live timing and scoring somewhat pointless.

Most of Eric's early laps were relatively slow, but he was also working his way through the cars that had beaten us away from the grid. Soon enough, he set a lap time that would stand as our fastest over the 8 hours.

After viewing some of the race, including the first pit stop (stopping for less than a minute to get 10.5 gallons of fuel), and stuffing my face in preparation for my time in the car, I wandered over to the RV with about 30 minutes before my first stint. I hadn't seen much need for renting an RV when the subject came up at one of our team planning meetings, but I must admit that it was nice to have a quiet, private place to get changed and collect my thoughts. I returned to the pit and sat quietly in a chair until there was roughly 5 minutes left in Eric's second stint, at which point I put on my HANS device, gloves, and helmet, and then pretended to be calm and relaxed.

Once Jim had announced that Eric was approaching pit lane, I hopped over the wall with one of the clever in-car water bladders Eric had provided. It wasn't long at all before I saw the car come under the Bridgestone Bridge and I started waving my arms to help him gauge the distance to our pit stall. In contrast to last year's race, I was smart enough to stand off to the side, rather than in front of, the car as it came into the pits. :)

I opened door and replaced Eric's water with mine, then popped the window net and cable for the radio, by which time he had mostly unstrapped himself, leaving me to move the left shoulder strap out of the way and let him climb out. I squirmed myself through the cage and into the seat, putting the steering wheel back on as Eric connected my radio fittings. Right after we got the harness connected, Jim came on for radio check and, as there was no other work to be done on the car (as I've mentioned, adding fuel is fast), he told me to fire it up and go... and off I went! (In another improvement compared to my initial stint last year, I didn't even come close to stalling on my way out the pit lane.)

Unfortunately, I immediately experienced a problem I would fight for my entire 103 laps in the car: After discussing seating positions in the car and how to save time during stops, I decided that I would just leave the seat where Eric likes it (one "click" further back than I prefer) and slump down in the seat as he does. Despite experimenting with it the day before, many hours of seat time was apparently not to be overcome that easily and I spent the race subconsciously trying to push my lower back up against the seat, with the painful side effect of forcing my shoulders up into the unyielding carbon fiber of my HANS.

Eric's post-race analysis would show that I hit my target pace on my first hot lap, which was great, but I wouldn't be able to hit it consistently, with nearly half of my dry, green-flag laps coming in between 1'24" and 1'26.5". On the other hand, my lap average was 0.6" faster than last year, including my best lap of 1'21.658" (1'22.283" last year) on lap 181. This is almost certainly due to the amount of seat time I have in his car, totaling the practice and 2+ hours in the 2004 enduro, plus half of a lapping day with Speedware at Pacific Raceways and the test sessions from the day before. I was pretty comfortable and confident from the moment I got in the car.

It's this confidence and increased familiarity that must explain my willingness to pass people pretty much anywhere I thought I could get the nose in, including a ton of times in Turn 7, several in 4 and 5, a couple around the outside of cars in Turn 6, and two outbraking moves going into Turn 10. In fact, I was generally carrying so much speed through Turn 10 that I even had to get on the brakes in Turn 11 a couple times (not the best place for it) because I had rather unexpectedly gained so much ground on the cars in front. I also started throwing the car into the first apex of Turn 4 to help get it rotated for the second, which is something Eric had described to me but that I never thought I'd be able to suck it up enough to try myself.

On the subject of Turn 4, Greg had commented to me during the test day that he thought I was much closer to track left (actually just about off the pavement) when braking than most other cars. I didn't think I was doing anything weird or even different than usual, but I became really aware of it during my first stint, especially as I started getting flung all over the road (mainly to the right) under braking... I was practically changing lanes! After one too many wild movements at high speed, I started setting myself up for the brake zone in the middle of the track whenever possible, which seemed to fix the problem, even if it messed up my entry to Turn 4 a little bit. I had to make some adjustments a couple times when I was getting lapped there and discovered that I could drive my usual line if I just braked a little earlier. Sometime during my second stint I concluded that the car was getting upset when going over a small bump at the edge of the track with the left rear, which I would avoid the rest of my stint by braking just after the bump.

Jim came on the radio about two-thirds of the way through my first stint to ask how I was doing. My response was that I was sleepy and my shoulders hurt which, looking back, were probably the understatements of the week-end.

It was in the latter stages of my first stint that things started to get busy for me, beginning with what I feared was a pass under a local yellow on the back straight. I alerted Jim to the possibility and spent the next little bit waiting for the bad news. The yellow had changed to a white flag by the next lap and I never heard anything, so either it wasn't yellow to begin with, the corner worker had meant to grab the white but got the yellow instead, or I dodged a bullet. Regardless, it was a wake-up call for me that I needed to pay better attention to the flag stations.

Part of the reason I hadn't been watching for flags was all the attention I was paying to the P2 BMW (foolishly, as we're in different classes and were several laps apart overall) that had been filling my mirrors for several laps. There was no car-related reason for it to be as close to me as it was, and it was nearly all I could do to stay in front of it. After 4 laps or so, though, it got past me in either Turn 4 or 5. I stayed right with it as we went through Turn 6, putting me in a perfect position to "eat smoke" as something went wrong as he (or she, as one of the two drivers was a woman) applied power exiting the corner.

The next flag I saw was a white for the Porsche 993 of Chris Pallis and Don Kitch that was moving slowly down the back straight, having blown a clutch (I think). Things got really interesting on the next lap, when I got boxed to the inside of the back straight by a faster car just as we approached the crawling 993. I don't know by how much I missed his rear quarter as I pulled back out to pass, but it couldn't've been much.

Whatever the problem was, it kept them from making it to a safer part of the track, bringing out the second full-course caution of the day. We were on the early side of our pit window so I was called in for fuel, during which I was finally able to get the drink tube up into my helmet and enjoy some much-needed Gatorade... some of my erratic lap times were due to my fighting with the blasted thing, and knowing I was hauling around refreshment I couldn't get to was even more annoying than my thirst.

Fifty seconds later I left the pits without losing a lap and drove hard to make sure I caught up to the pack before the restart, which proved to be quite an adventure: I was in the middle of a very mixed bag of cars when the green flag came back out. Cars fanned out all over the place as everybody tried to make up as many positions as possible as quickly as possible, in the time-honored tradition of race restarts the world over. I did my best to just keep out of trouble, but even so I went 3-wide through Turns 4 and 5. The pack was pretty well sorted by the time we made it to the back straight and most everybody settled back into an enduro-style pace.

My second stint wasn't far along before I realized I was already pretty much wiped out, a result, no doubt, of not having raced in a year. What I didn't think about until much later was that I could've taken the opportunity during the pit stop to adjust the seat and sit in what's my more natural position. The pain I was experiencing from my shoulders, coupled with my exhaustion, meant that most of the next hour-plus would pass in a haze.

I started noticing a light mist on the front window while transiting Turns 4 and 5 about 4:20 that afternoon. It was the second time that day that had occurred, so I didn't worry about it. I was seeing tire tracks in those corners by about 4:40, at which point I snapped out of my haze and started thinking about wet-weather driving. Everyone starting tiptoeing through that end of the track, but Manfred Duske's 280Z still went off into the grass between Turns 4 and 5, sending dirt and grass flying everywhere. The rain was rapidly spreading over that end of the track and it wasn't long before Turns 7 and 8 got a little hairy, resulting in a Miata that spun off right in front of me as we exited Turn 7. As the rain finally covered the entire course, it seemed to me that I was still willing and able (or simply stupid enough?) to go through Turns 10, 11, and 12 with a great deal more speed than those around me, including at least a couple P1-classed cars that had been faster than us all day. After a discussion by the crew that (based on some erroneous information, as it turned out) the weather was only going to get worse, Jim called me to say I'd be coming in about 10 minutes early so we could switch to our Pirelli rain tires during the changeover to Bruce.

It was only a lap or two later that it was, ahem, my turn to spin as I exited Turn 8. Actually, I had already finished tracking out from the corner and was almost done with my throttle input when the back end wagged one way and then the other before coming around completely and sliding halfway off the track to driver's left. I had to stare head-on at several cars as they roared by only a few feet away before there was enough of a gap that I could attempt to get going. Annoyingly, the combination of wet tires, wet grass, and a 2- or 3-inch lip of asphalt caused me to stall the car every time I tried to get the rear tires back onto the pavement. What felt like forever but was really only 30-35 seconds—during which Jim radioed to "pit this lap"ówere wasted before I changed my approach and pulled the car completely into the grass and generally parallel to the track. I was then able to build enough momentum to gradually drive the car back onto the track and then into the pits.

Jim radioed to just go ahead and bail out of the car when I got in, as someone else was going to help Bruce strap in. This was just as well, as I was thoroughly pissed off about what had happened and threw my water bladder over the wall, followed by my gloves and then me. "Amusingly," nobody had any idea why I was angry until I told them about the spin... there was no mud or grass on the car, or any other indication that it'd been doing anything other than lapping PIR for the last few hours.

It wasn't until I'd taken off some of my gear and had a chance to settle down a bit that I realized how much I'd messed up my trapezius muscles by constantly trying to adjust my seating position. They were extremely tender and quite swollen, to the point that I had some difficulty lifting my arms above my waist for an hour or so. Note to self: Next time, sit the way you're used to, dummy.

Given the state I was in, there isn't much I remember from Bruce's two stints. I know he had a minor spin in Turn 11 during his first few laps, but it was so minor that there was no indication based on his lap times. He drove a bit more than 20 laps on wet tires before it became obvious that we'd made a bad call on the weather: The rain had stopped, the track was drying, and the soft Pirellis were beginning to overheat. He was called in for another 4-tire pit stop and was immediately 3 seconds faster per lap, increasing his pace even more until darkness fell. (Even then, his times didn't fall off from his daylight pace by more than a few tenths.)

Due to my strange affinity for wearing shorts year-round, I'd missed the opportunity at the 2004 event to cross the pit lane to the wall for the end of the race. This year I'd planned ahead and was wearing jeans, so I joined the other drivers and crews at the pit wall for the last laps and checkered flag. Unfortunately, the race was destined to finish under a full-course caution, but it was still cool to have the remaining cars rush past us at 60MPH.

Post-race

Fun over, it was time for us to take down the canopies, pack away the tools and other gear, and load up the trailer and other vehicles for the trip home. To liven things up a bit, we killed the battery in Eric's truck by using it to power the lights in the trailer as we loaded. That was quickly resolved and then we headed over to Stanford's for a late steak dinner... during which I came that close to falling asleep right at the table. (Side note: I have never seen anyone eat as much as Greg packed away that night, and after having eaten all day long. Most impressive.)

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