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Jim Swanson Memorial VII

2 August 2003

Because of my little contretemps in June, I missed the race at Mission (also in June), which meant I had a two-month break between races. It also meant that my first race after the accident would be back at Portland. Talk about hopping right back onto the horse that threw ya!


Pictures from this event

Friday

The trip down to Portland was a great example of how plans & reality can differ. The first part of the plan was to leave work early, nip home to grab the mostly-loaded car, and be on the road south by 3pm. So far, so good. Of course, the freeways were quite congested, but this was a Friday afternoon, after all, and that was to be expected.

What was NOT expected, though, was massive congestion from home all the way to the Thurston County line (that's two counties from home). It took us (in 3 separate cars; the other two were air-conditioned, had music and comfy seats, and were able to drive in the HOV lanes) 2 hours and 50 minutes to drive the first 60 miles of our trip. This blew my timetable to pieces. Instead of rolling through the gates at PIR with over an hour to register, get the car ready, and run it through tech inspection, I was still north of Olympia. Time for Plan B.

Plan B was to drop the hammer (hey, it's only a 4-cylinder hammer, but a hammer it is) and burn south for Portland without stoppin' for nothin'. My hope was that I could at least make it before the gates (and registration) closed at 8pm. I'd have to go through tech in the morning, but at least I'd be at the track and could get everything ready. But it was going to be a close-run thing. Well, long story short, it turns out that a lot of the things that make it a pain to drive a race car on the street are quite helpful when you need to get somewhere in a hurry, and I made it to the track in about 1.5 hours from Olympia. Registration was quick and I was able to get my car ready for the next day before the sun went down. Whew!

Saturday

Despite piling into bed before 11 on Friday, I tossed and turned and only got about 2.5 hours of sleep by the time I got out of bed at 5am. Still, there's just something about a race day that doesn't much allow for sleepiness, so I wasn't concerned. As expected, tech went quickly and uneventfully, leaving me plenty of time to hang out after the Novice meeting at 8.30 while waiting for the first practice session for Group 7 (Novice Closed Wheel). Had I known I wasn't going to have another chance to breathe all day, I might've enjoyed it more...

As I sat in pre-grid and then later, as we moved out on our reconnaisance lap, I didn't feel any nervousness about "returning to the scene of the crime" of my incident in June. I felt reasonably comfortable with my knowledge of the track, I knew what to expect from the practices and race, and I had taken steps, I believed, to make another incident less likely. Unfortunately, one of those steps (lower tire pressures) was to prove a bad idea on a day that wasn't nearly as hot as in June. It took something like 3 or 4 laps to get the tires up to a reasonable pressure, causing some unexpected oversteer in a few corners. I was getting used to it, though, and increasing my speed accordingly, when I entered Turn 12 (me ol' friend!) on my 5th lap.

I had borrowed a video camera for the week-end, which means I have some beautiful footage that starts out looking like my incident in June all over again, only this time (jeez, I can't believe I went through this again) I kept my foot planted on the accelerator, cranked the wheel farther over, and pretty much hoped I wasn't going to hit the same @*$%!& tire wall all over again. At the cost of a traffic cone, a HUGE cloud of dust, and some very startled corner workers, I managed to miss the wall and sail through the rest of the turn. Of course, the massive steering input initiated some massive oversteer as the tires finally hooked up and I found myself completely sideways to the direction of travel, facing a concrete wall and catch fence that screens the infield bleachers where my wife, daughter, and in-laws were sitting. (I guess if you're going to do something spectacular, do it front of your friends & family.) Some quick hands and a lot of opposite lock got that sorted out, leaving me still moving at a good clip toward pit in. The video shows a couple of seconds of hesitation while I debated coming in to calm down, and then I clearly make the decision to keep on keepin' on.

The following lap I got a finger shaken at me by one of the workers in 12, and a furled black flag waved at me (signifying, as they say, "whatever you didn't do before, don't do it again"), but the rest of the session was otherwise uneventful. Afterwards, I got a mild talking-to by the Novice License Director for being a little, um, "overexuberant" and some congratulations from folks on a great recovery (judging by the in-car shot, it must've looked pretty wild from the outside). I also found out that my transponder had failed to work, again, so I borrowed one of the rental units and taped it to the side of the car.

A boost in tire pressures, a slightly slower entry to Turn 12, and the borrowed transponder resulted in a calm, trouble-free second practice, so I was feeling pretty good for the race. But then the Fates decided to mess with me, again.

Since my transponder clearly needed to go back to the manufacturer, I decided to take advantage of the couple hours I had before the Novice race by removing it. It's bolted to the inside of my wheel well, so I needed to remove the left-front wheel, which is when I discovered that one of the wheel lugs steadfastly refused to move past the halfway point. Worse, it wouldn't tighten back up, either, which meant I couldn't race until & unless something was done. Once again, Chris Heinrich (ably assisted by Dave Dunning) saved my butt by figuring out the problem, finding someone with an air wrench to get the lug off, and then sawing & filing the now-trashed wheel stud so that I could remount the wheel. Without his help, I would've missed the race and the whole week-end would've been a bust.

The hijinx with the wheel meant that I just had time to change into my race gear and head over to pregrid. At least I was able to relax once I got there, to the point that I did a little pre-race commentary after switching on the camera. :)

The License Director likes to mess with us a bit, so that we aren't surprised when something happens for real, and today's first event was to have gaps in the starting grid. We were supposed to close up the field, but it was unclear (to me) how many gaps there were, so I held to my inside grid position. If there were two gaps (which I heard later there were), then I did the right thing; if there was one gap (which I thought I overheard on pregrid), then I should've moved up and to the left of my starting spot. Regardless, the front half of the grid looked pretty ugly as we rolled toward start/finish, and I effectively started behind someone who should've been behind me. (In conversations later, several of us were surprised we even got a green flag, the formation was so ugly.)

I had a great start, passing three cars in the braking zone for Turn 1, so I settled down in 5th for an 8/10s pace. Unlike the race in June, where I said I was going to take it easy, but instead got really aggressive (I'm nearly positive that didn't have anything to do with my accident), this time I really was going to take it easy. As if my slide at Turn 12 earlier in the day wasn't enough, and then the problem with the wheel stud, I really didn't want to do anything on the track that would mess up my day. So I just tried to relax, check out other people's lines without screwing up my own, and see how things progressed.

While I wasn't afraid to mash the throttle on the straights and do some hard braking at the end of them, I was taking it pretty easy in the twisty bits, which meant that some of the cars behind me started catching up before long. In fact, they were the two Miatas and the BMW 325 that I had passed at the first corner. Oh, sure, I could've just waved them by, but I decided that it would be a worthwhile learning experience (that's what Novice races are for, after all) if I battled it out with them. You can't really tell from the video I took, unless you compare the different line I started taking through several corners, but the Spec Miata and I were side-by-side for about 4 corners, with the E Production Miata behind us, dodging around trying to find a way past both of us. It was pretty exciting.

As we got near the back straight, though, I decided I'd had enough fun and, not wanting to test my luck any further this week-end, pointed the two of them by. Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed the 325 that was back there and he snuck by right after the Miatas. Oh well, I thought. Still, I must've been going quite a bit slower than I had in practice, because a Pro-7/ITA RX-7 started gaining on me. All other things being equal, this car can't touch my Integra on horsepower, yet he was gaining quite handily. So I sucked it up a bit and started putting some distance on him, relaxing again (but not as much) once I was a decent margin in front.

Remember when I said the License Director likes to mess with us a bit? Well, he decided now would be a good time to throw a full-course caution. This sucked as far as that RX-7 was concerned, because it meant I'd have to start pushing again on the restart to keep him behind me. It also meant, though, that I'd get a free pass to catch up with the Miatas and the 325 that had, by this time, pulled a bit of a lead on me. We tooled around behind the safety car for what seemed like a ton of laps and then, finally, we got the restart.

Once again, Boom! I got a great jump and repassed the 325 and the Spec Miata. (Okay, okay, maybe horsepower had something to do with it, too. Sheesh.) I almost got past the EP Miata going into the chicane, but I couldn't quite pull it off. I tailed around behind him for several laps, eating him up on the fast bits, but driving just a little too conservatively in the twisty bits to get close enough to pass. Meanwhile, the Spec Miata was all over me, but I was always able to pull far enough away from him on the straights that he couldn't quite get a run on me in the turns.

And that's the way we finished. I think that, with a bit more effort in the turns, I could've caught and passed the Miata in 5th, and the Datsun 510 in 4th was not too far in front of him, so who knows? Still, I had a lot of fun, got some good experience, and managed to "stay on the black stuff" for the whole race. All things considered (other than the stupid wheel stud), a pretty good week-end!

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