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2nd Annual GPDA "6 Heuers of Kartrrera Panolympia"

23 January 2010

Back in 2009, the 5 or 6 guys in the "Ground Pounder Drivers Association" (they all drive big ol' tube-framed stock cars) decided to organize a kart enduro that would raise money for the ICSCC race workers' fund. It was, by all accounts, a big success, with everyone having a great time and a fair bit of money raised for the workers. I had intended to run in it myself, but bought a new sump pump with the money I'd planned on for the race. I was considering it this year when a group of guys in similar situations turned into a team of six. There is a tradition, if one year can be considered a tradition, of each team coming up with a goofy name ("No Free Beer, No Save" for a worker team, for example, "Big, Loud, and Fast" for a group of big-bore drivers) and, as we were five BMW drivers and one Porsche driver, I initially called us "Team BMW and Guest" while we thought of something better. (Or, maybe that should be "better," with air-quotes!)

I had also "gotten volunteered" to be team captain, but that mainly meant organizing the team's entry fee and sending e-mail to team members about this or that. As captain, I also decided we should have matching t-shirts so that we looked like a team. I had a decent design in mind which included some text commemorating the event, but one thing and another meant it got pared down to something very simple and relatively generic. Even that proved to be a problem, though, as apparently ordering them 9 days in advance from a place in California wasn't early enough: they were waiting for me when I got home on Saturday evening AFTER the race. Bah.

The drivers for Team Deutschegebuildedproduktionautobahnmodenracinautosmituberschnellerpilotengruppe*:

Pre-race

Adam, Cavan, Jerold, and Mike came down the evening before to get some practice in and familiarize themselves with the layout. Unfortunately for them (and everyone else that'd done the same thing), the organizers had elected to run the track the opposite direction for the enduro. (This was mostly a pretty good idea, but it also meant that the driver on course couldn't see the timing and scoring screen, which made it impossible to judge a pace.) Even so, their experience with the karts and different corner geometries was quite useful as we walked the track. One topic we kept returning to was the real lack of places where we'd be able to make a pass, especially considering the severe penalties for kart-to-kart contact. Among other things, we were told very explicitly that nailing another kart in a brake zone to loosen them up and make them open the apex for a passing kart was a strict no-no. Unfortunately, that rule didn't get enforced as strictly late in the race, which I'd come to regret.

Part of the registration and check-in process was that drivers were weighed to determine the average for each team, with teams below average required to carry ballast on their karts. At the drivers meeting, race director (and karting champion) Mike Smith announced that teams were going to have to average 195 pounds per driver and then began listing each team and amount of ballast they needed to carry during the event. He read through three team names, each of whom needed an additional 20 pounds, and then said "...and that's it." A brief moment of silence as the other eleven teams considered that, followed by big laughs and cheering as we realized what a bunch of fat-asses we all are. :)

Turns out that I had additional duties as captain, namely, to pick our team's qualifier, the driving order, and our strategy for driving stints. Based on nothing other than his best time from the night before, I selected Cavan to qualify and start the race. He didn't do as well as he expected (a bit over a second off his best time), but none of us cared about what position we'd start from. After I chose Cavan-Jerold-Adam-Mike-me-Eric as our line-up, we spent a fair bit of time talking about how long our stints should be. We heard lots of people talking about 30-45 minute stints (and many double-stinting, at that), but we decided to start with 20 and maybe move to 30 later. None of us expected us to be competing for the podium and we decided to take things a little easier, and possibly have more fun because there was no real pressure to race for a win.

Race

After two orientation laps to make sure that all the drivers starting the race would have a chance to experience the karts and the track layout before the start, Mike Smith waved the green flag and they were off! Of course, being that they were equally prepared karts, that really only meant that the overall speed of the pack increased to racing speed, but it was still exciting and caused a cheer from those watching.

The "small" guys on the team (er, okay, the light guys on the team) were able to run competitive laptimes, but our frequent driver changes pretty much doomed us from the start. We ran as high as 4th, and even briefly in 3rd (multiple pit lane violations by several teams during the early driver changes), but most of the time we fluctuated between 5th and 9th. My first stint was almost my last, as I was having a hard time breathing (from being out of shape), my muscles wore out pretty quickly (again, out of shape...), and just a generally high level of frustration with all the mistakes I was making. I guess I should have given myself a break, though, as it had been over 18 months since my last race.

Anyway, and despite multiple complaints of headaches and more pairs of bloodshot eyes than Saturday morning of Greek Week, the 6 hours of the event went by really quickly. This was, we concluded, due to the fact that we were all in and out of the kart so frequently, even with 6 drivers. I spent a lot of time on various corners, watching how the drivers from other teams handled areas I felt I was having difficulty with. Cavan and Mike, especially, had some good feedback about a couple corners, and putting their advice into practice really did make a difference on my subsequent stints... well, it felt like they made a difference, as I really had no idea what my times were like.

I do know that I was running 48" laps in the first stint and down to 47" in my second and third. Rather than refuel karts during the race, we were told to just switch karts when we felt we were getting close to the fuel limit of our particular kart. This was something of a guessing game, based on the expected duration we were told to expect from the karts as a whole, although we found out later that we could've stretched our kart changes out at least another 20 minutes. Anyway, one of our kart changes was due in the middle of my third stint. Between the fumes, the length of the day, and how out of shape (racing and otherwise) I was, I was pretty beat at that point. Mentally as well as physically, as it turned out, because I completely blew which lane I was supposed to be in for a kart change, after entering the pits. I came that close to running over Bruce Beachman, which he thought was pretty funny... and which I could hardly process. My brain? Bzzzzzt.

Anyway, that kart was awesome. It was a bit loose, which made for some really fun (if slow) powerslides through one of the hairpins, but it also got me down to a lap in the high 46" range. To put that into perspective, the track record was all the way down at a near-flat 44" lap, held by a small-ish teenage girl who comes to the track all the time. She was there that day, in fact, and was drafted in to help the pace of one of the slower teams. (It turns out she was Jessica Dana, who would go on to beat Jeff Gordon at his own charity karting event a few months later.)

Remember that stridently-discussed rule about contact I mentioned earlier? Well, while I did get nailed pretty decently by former enduro teammate Hal Hilton late on in the race (just a racing incident, though), I got positively CREAMED by someone in the brake zone for the first hairpin in my last stint. Aside from what it did to my neck, despite the neck collar I'd bought, the side-to-side whack my brain made inside my head hurt so bad I almost bailed out of the race that lap. Of course, nobody got penalized for what was one of the more egregious bits of contact in the whole event. (Seriously, I haven't experienced this much pain in a car, ever, and I've hit the wall before.)

Once the racing day was over (and, man, but was it nice to get outside and into some fresh air!), the team got back into our cars to drive toward home before stopping to have dinner. As weird as it is to drive after a day on the track in the car you're driving home, it was positively surreal trying to drive my car on real roads after that much time on a tight, twisty track in an unsprung kart an inch or so off the pavement.




*Note: Yeah, I know it's not really German. It's actually "Deutsche für Fliegers," a faux-German invented by USAAF flyers in WWII. It "translates" to German-built, Production-based, Road-Course Cars with Really Fast Drivers Group.

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