But I can't say that. Because I approached this weekend the same as I always do - with a steady mind, set on the intent to perform. Those thoughts are for Mondays, when you're setting your trophies in their cabinets. For now, it's time to race.
The weather report indicated perfect 85 degree weather during all three days. I like perfect.
Unfortunately, coming into this weekend, mathematically I had no chance of reaching second place in the driver's championship. All I had to do was finish near my team mate Dave Allen, and I was set for third spot.
This was yet another weekend where I would not be having a Thursday test day, and instead would be jumping right into practice and then qualify. And again, my goal was to be fast out of the gate.
I was sharing the car with Mike Neff, who rented the car to run another race group in Improved Touring X. Mike usually does a couple events every year and is a clean racer, so I had no problems with it.
Practice went very smoothly. I find it easy to get into the groove at Thunderhill. We put the fastest set of tires I had on the car, so that made things a lot easier. When you have a set of well taken care of tires, the car gets much easier to drive. Some of that might be placebo though. Still, having nice-looking tires that you can sink your fingers into because they're so soft doesn't hurt.
Once I was back in the paddock, car owner Ed Railton came over and slyly asked me as I opened the door, "how was the transmission?"
"Perfect" I exclaimed, "I thought I was going a little crazy at Laguna because I thought it felt a bit notchy!"
"That's what Dave [Allen] said when he drove it last time" Ed supplied, "so I threw a brand new one in there. I forgot to mention it before you went out."
"So I'm not crazy!" I said, relieved, "thanks, Ed."
It's pretty cool of an owner to just pitch in a whole new transmission because his drivers say it's a little notchy feeling. Ed's done a ton of awesome stuff for us throughout the year, like hauling the car all the way back to the shop in order to rebuild the engine overnight so I could race the next day. You couldn't ask more than that.
Qualifying was equally perfect. There was little traffic, and I had tons of space. But I'm still new to Thunderhill, relative to a lot of the veterans out there, so I wasn't quite as fast as my team mate, but I still managed to put it 12th overall, 3rd in class. The official results showed a new SSM car, the 00 driven by Barrett Tilley, had got in front of both me and Dave, but it was a mistake, and it was actually an SMT car, so while the official results say I was 4th, I was actually 3rd.
On Friday evening, during the social hour, there was a "Meet the Team"event hosted by Steve Jaroch, SCCA's Chief of Announcing. We stood by the cars and basically did a 5-way interview with Ed, Ian Cook (Ed's former boss) and his driver Ed Lever (who evidently is an excellent interview), my co-driver for the weekend, Mike Neff, and myself. Dave Allen was sadly scarce. That interview will probably show up in "The Wheel", the region's monthly publication. It was a fun time, and there was a pretty good crowd watching, so I'm glad people enjoyed it. Thanks to Steve for having us.
At the start of the race on Saturday morning, I got a huge drop on Dave Allen and left most of the guys behind me for dead going into turn 1. But Dave came back and wedged himself along side going into turn 4, finishing the deal in turn 5. At the end of the first lap, which was unusually calm for Spec Miata, the 58 driven by Jeff Annison rocketed by me. That car had some major horsepower.
Not long after, Jeff started battling the 08 being driven by John Grillos. I was happy with this, because it meant I would probably catch up. I pushed a bit harder.
The battling didn't favor John, and I began following him after trying to get by in the first couple of corners when he lost his momentum in turn 1.
It was at this point that I realized something was wrong. My temperature gauge was climbing. Racing in the draft of John's car was robbing my radiator of cool air, and the engine was going to overheat.
So I started moving over to the side on the straights, avoiding the slipstream when I could. It was a rock and a hard place: either take the slip stream, overheat, and lose power (risking the engine), or take the full force of the air flowing over the car, lose straight line speed, but save the engine. Obviously, saving the engine is preferable.
Once I broke the draft, I could see the thermometer needle going down.
This continued for a little while, until John slightly overcooked turn 14's entrance. He swung out wide, and the back end started to slip away.
He was close enough to spinning that I couldn't tell if he was going to save it or not. And he was positioned on the track in such a way that I couldn't tell if he was going to spin to the outside or the inside if he did lose it. I was about 2 tenths of a second away from jinking to the outside when he gathered it up. I had to slow to avoid hitting him.
This allowed the 20 of Andrew Holifield to easily slip by on the main straight. But I wedged myself to the outside of Andrew in turn 3 and got him back.
I was now up an unsavory creek: I had to defend my position, while tending my engine's condition. It was inevitable that I would lose some spots now. It didn't take long for Dante Paulazzo to pass me in the 81.
Dave Anderson in the 32, another SSM car, also got by not long after. I was now in 4th in class. As far as I knew, Dave Allen was still in 2nd. I couldn't lose too many class positions otherwise I would lose 3rd spot in the championship! And now, a rather large queue was forming behind me, which contained the green SSM #5 driven by Alan Gjedsted.
With the 1 lap to go signal from the starter, I had to capitalize on all of Dave's mistakes if I was going to take the position back. I tried my best, but he lost me going down the back stretch going up the hill to turn 9. I looked in my mirror and saw Brian Ebding in the 3 car pop on Alan going into turn 9. I knew this last-lap ditch attempt, even if it worked out well for Brian, would kill both of their momentum to turn 10.
I was a good 10 or 12 car lengths behind Dave now, and I was going to have to push hard in order to catch him, assuming he made a mistake. But I pushed too hard, and had a nice big drift in turn 11. That sealed my fate. I finished 4th.
I gave the car a pat as we took the checkered, for holding together in the race, and for a wonderful season. My arm bumped the wipers. It was almost as if the car was acknowledging me.
As it stands, I did not lose 3rd place in the driver's championship. This race was really important, since it was worth double points. My third place in the championship is a result I'm proud of. But the weekend is not over yet!
Up next is the SCCA Illgen Classic 4 hour endurance race.
Our team consisted of Ed Railton, Roger Eagleton, and myself. Ed's driven Miatas for years, and has lap records. Roger drove with me during my first karting enduro a couple years ago, and raced BMWs last year in SCCA.
There were many classes taking part. Miatas, sports racers, prototypes, GT cars, and touring cars were all on the menu.
The first practice/qualify session was on Saturday afternoon. Mike Neff had just finished his race, but there was a problem. The clutch would not fully disengage. This made it impossible for Mike to shift during the race, and very difficult to get the car moving.
Ed acted quickly, got the car up on jack stands, and dropped the transmission and drive shaft. He only had about 2 hours before the start of practice.
An hour later, and we knew the problem. The throwout bearing, the part that basically pushes the clutch away from the flywheel and allows the motor to spin independently of the transmission, had exploded, lodging parts in all kinds of spots in the clutch.
Miraculously, Ed managed to clean all the parts out, put in a new throwout bearing, remount the transmission and drive shaft, all on jack stands, on his back, in less than 2 hours and just in time to practice for the enduro.
I went out first for a couple laps, to make sure the car was ship-shape. There was a ton of pickup on the tires and at first I thought something might be broken, since it was vibrating the whole car and the grip was terrible. But when I heard the "clang, clunk" sounds from the wheel wells I realized what it was. It took about 2 laps to clean all the rubber chunks off the tires.
Ed pulled me into the pits and Roger took the wheel with a practice driver change. Roger familiarized himself with the car for 20 minutes, and then Ed jumped in for another 20.
We were entered in the "under 1700cc" class, rather than the Miata class, because we figured we'd have the best chance to win. I was excited because I was going to get to try the car on race-bred tires, instead of shaved street tires. Ed reckoned the race tires would be good for about 2 seconds per lap.
Sadly, the next morning, the morning of the race, we contacted the tire shop (AIM Tire), and they were out of Miata-sized slick racing tires. They had sold the last set only 10 minutes prior, a set of Hoosier slicks, to the 35 car of Dan Cooper, Greg Cicatelli, and Doug Makishima - our main competition.
My dad and I drove the truck over to the Goodyear trailer, to see if they had anything that would fit on our rims, but they didn't.
So, we bought a set of shaved Toyos, since that's all we could get. Lesson learned. Special order the tires you'll need.
We practiced for another hour and a half, making a few driver changes and wearing in a new set of tires. Ed set the fastest time in the morning with a 2:10.5, which qualified us as the second fastest Miata. The 35 car beat us, however, by some 2 seconds.
We decided that I was going to start the car, since I had just been racing close quarters all year. The primary concern was simply to survive. I would drive for an hour and a half, then Roger would take the middle stint, and then Ed would take the final stint.
The start was good. One of the cars ahead of me didn't show, so everyone basically moved up a spot. This meant that I now had the inside on the 35 car. A large pack of Spec Racer Fords - tried and true sports racers built by SCCA Enterprises and only slightly faster than a Spec Miata - were ahead of us. My start was so good I made it nearly to the middle of this pack, and the 35 car was stuck behind. I knew it was only a matter of time before they would catch and pass me, though, with those sticky Hoosiers, once the SRFs filtered around me. Being in the middle of that pack without any hearing protection was a headache. Those cars are so raspy they literally hurt your head.
Joe Kalinowski flew in to drive the 58 car with Jeff Annison, and Joe started right behind me. After a couple of laps he caught and passed me. I followed him closely. On lap 4 or 5 he made a mistake in turn 9 and dropped wheels, which sucked him off track. I zoom-zoomed by.
I spent most of my stint battling with the 41 driven by Phillip Holifield. I was very pleased to finally be able to put some space between our cars. Phillip is an extremely fast racer and I'm usually nowhere near him in the races.
Right about lap 20, one of the large GT cars left the race with a bang in turn 8. A full course caution came out, and the safety crews hauled the car away. I'm not sure exactly what happened. I was focused on keeping the pickup off my tires.
The pace car split the field, and while I was not leading the race, I was directly behind the pace car. This basically gave the 35 car a 1 lap lead over us right away. 2 laps later, we were back to green flag racing. I again started working out a gap between me and Phillip. We were not in the same class, but you still want to finish as high as you can.
The rest of my stint was spent dodging faster cars. There was one sports prototype that was lapping about 24 seconds per lap faster than the Miatas, and that thing just flashed by every time.
With the fuel nudging empty, Roger called me into the pits and we made a driver change and filled the car with fuel. Two of Ian Cook's drivers helped us out with that.
Once I got out of the car, I felt ready for another hour at least. The Miata is not very hard on the driver, and it's quite a sinch, physically, to drive.
Meanwhile, Roger was setting solid lap times. It had been a while since he had driven Thunderhill, but he was re-learning the track very quickly. Roger put a number of laps on some of our competitors and got us further ahead. We still had no chance of catching the 35 car, who was now a couple laps ahead.
An hour and a half later, Ed got in the car for the home stretch. Ed and I had very similar lap times, and he also put more laps on the other cars in our class. All of our stints were fairly uneventful.
At the line, we finished 2nd in class, 15th overall.
It was an awesome race, and it was a fantastic warm-up for the NASA 25 Hour coming up in December.
And now, the SCCA racing season is over. Now I can truly say that I'm thinking about how awesome of a season it's been, how I'm going to miss all the people who are part of SCCA racing, and how I cannot believe that it's only been 7 months since I started in SCCA. It's been a year to remember.
And thank you, to every volunteer who has helped out during the season. You guys are awesome.