by Region Member Mark BrownWow, what a week! I think the racing gods were trying to tell me something before I left for Laguna Seca. I’m still glad I didn’t listen to them.
The week before we were supposed to leave, we had that huge snow storm. You remember? We had like 4 to 5 feet of snow. It took me two days to plow the road just to get out to the highway and another day just to get the trailer shoveled out so I could move and load the trailer. I had a friend of mine, Duane Kenaston, come along to help me out. I’m sure glad he did, he was a huge help. My plan was to have the trailer loaded and ready to go by Sunday night and leave early Monday morning. We had to be at the track by Wednesday morning to set up our pit area. Well, I loaded most of the trailer myself Sunday night. Duane and I loaded the rest Monday morning. We didn’t leave Red Lodge until 11:00 a.m. I was a little concerned about the road conditions from Red Lodge to the Interstate at Rock Springs at first, but it was pretty clear most of the way. It felt great to be on the road, finally heading to sunny California! It always seems like it takes forever to get thru Nevada. I don’t know why; well, I do, but that’s another story. Anyway, we arrived in Seaside, CA, around 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night, and got a room for the night, wanting to already be at the track.
Wednesday morning we get prepped for the long weekend at the track. We were told to go to a certain area of the track to wait for our turn to get in. Pretty soon a lot of old racing friends are arriving behind us. While we were in the hurry-up-and-wait mode, the bench racing started along with a few bottles of Bud to wash it all down. It was great to see a lot of these guys. I had not seen most of them since the ’06 running at Laguna. All during this time, the “big guys” are passing us. Audi, Porsche, Corvette, Austin Martin, and Ferrari.
After what seemed like hours had passed, we moved into our respective assigned spots. Our paddock space happened to be at the exit of turn 3. We set up our pit space in short order and got right to work installing my new engine. About this time, Denise and Jake had arrived. They had flown in and were spending time with Denise’s sister, Christine, and brother-in-law, Buddy. It was all going too smooth, I thought to myself. It was well into the evening before the kart seemed to be ready to fire up for the first time, but we had to wait until morning–“quiet time” had come.
Thursday morning was a nice, warm, bright sunny day. Things were looking great. There was a paid practice today. I opted out. It was a little too pricey for me. It worked out to be $24 per minute of track time. Anyway, I still had stuff to do on my kart. I filled the transmission with ATF and got ready to get her started. I Looked down at the floor pan and noticed ATF dripping off the edge! A closer inspection revealed a leak at the case halves. Great, just what I needed! There was only one thing to do. Pull the engine, pull the cylinder, and split the cases. Turns out the case gasket had shrunk and pulled through the bolts. Well, off I went in search of parts. Thank God for great competitors. It took me all of 5 minutes to find what I needed to fix the problem. A couple of my friends from the Dyson racing team stopped in to see me. Boz and Daryl always manage to find me and check in to see if I need anything. I have a lot of respect for the Dyson team. They are a great bunch of guys. By 7:00 p.m., we had the whole thing ready to go, but I still hadn’t fired it up yet. I was getting nervous. I knew we only had two 15 min. practice sessions on Friday. I had a lot to figure out in those two short sessions before qualifying Saturday morning.
I keep a log of all my data for setups on the kart and engine. That really helps get your tuning and setups close for a starting point. Friday morning my setup and tuning where just about spot on. I just needed a minor adjustment here and there. I really wasn’t trying real hard anyway. I had a fresh engine and it needed a little break-in time anyway. Most of my lap times were in the high 1:37’s, which for me was pretty good. This was the first time I had been in the kart since October of 2006. I was happy and feeling very good about my goals for this race. Oh yeah, my goals: (1) Finish the race; (2) Post a lap time in the 1:35’s; and (3) Finish in the top 5. In 2006, I qualified in 12th position and ended the race in 8th with a best lap time of 1:37.4. It was the first time I had started AND finished the race. Man, that felt good. I was looking just to do a little better this time. With two fifteen minute sessions out of the way, it was time to regroup and get ready for Saturday.
Qualifying: They really should just call it “drive for grid placement.”
Did I mention how nice the weather had been? High 70’s and 80’s on Wed., Thurs., and Friday. Well, that all changed Saturday morning. It was 42 degrees at 6 a.m. We qualified at 8:30 a.m. It was COLD. I had to tape off almost all of the radiator ducts just to keep enough heat in the engine so it wouldn’t cold-stick on me. Plus, it was foggy. That was a real problem. The first couple of laps were OK, but then it really got thick. It was real spooky not knowing who you were coming up on or how fast you were closing on them. Our qualifying was cut short by 7 minutes. I got 3 good laps in. We were supposed to have 20 minutes, but due to conditions, they cut it short. I was a full second off my best lap time from the day before. Lap time = 1:38.8, which was good enough for 8th in class.
I was really happy with that. Now we had a little time to relax and check the kart over before the big race on Sunday afternoon. Duane and I went over the kart checking and rechecking everything. We were very optimistic about the race. I felt confident that I could still achieve my goals for the weekend.
It was Sunday afternoon already. The week had gone by way too fast. We had been checking the weather every 15 minutes and looking at the data to make our final jetting selection. As crazy as the weather had been over the week, I didn’t want to take a chance by getting it wrong. I was banking on the “A” types out there to push the limits just a bit too far and get it wrong. It never seems to fail; they always, well almost always, jet just over the edge. With the selections made and the kart ready to go, we warmed the engine up to running temp and pushed the kart to the grid. I think Duane was just as nervous as I was. The race director gave us the 5-minute-to-track-time, and we all piled in our karts. Our out lap is a warm-up lap and when we hit turn 11, it’s “game on.” We have two classes in the field, the twin cylinder class (FE) and the single cylinder class (ICE). The FE class starts in front, followed by the ICE’s. At the drop of the green, I was passed right away. That’s ok I thought, I’ll get it back. It’s always hairy going into turn two at the start of the race. It seemed a lot more crowded down there this time. As the lap played out, I had moved from 9th place to 6th place before the end of the first lap. I had the guys I had passed close behind me looking for revenge. One of those “A” types was ready to pass me at turn 5, but that jetting thing got him. I gained another position when the polesitter was just a little too aggressive going around Rainey curve (turn 9). He had to return to the pits to unload a truck load of kitty litter. I was feeling really good now. Up to 5th–YES!. Everything was going pretty smooth. However, I had a nagging problem with my helmet. I don’t think I pulled on the strap enough to get it tight. At high speeds, the air would get under it and would start lifting me out of the seat. It was a little distracting. By the end of lap 5, I had caught up to the slowest FE kart. Leaving turn 2, and upshifting, the throttle stuck wide open with the transmission in between second and third. Total surprise! I was immediately passed by two karts while I pulled the lever back with my toes. I tried to get on it again and it stuck again. I nursed it back to the pits, trying to stay out of everyone’s way. Back in the hot pits, we tried to free it up. In hindsight, all we needed was just a shot of WD40. The fog the day before had rusted the throttle shaft just enough to ruin my day. Go figure.
All in all we had a great time. I felt I drove well. I didn’t meet my goals, but I was close. I’ll do better next time.
Here’s a link to the track photographer. You can’t download, but they are great to look at. http://www.dmtimaging.com/superkarts2008/index.html
Here is a link to some onboard footage from my Aussie buddy, Sam. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2o–m0wsu0
I hooked up with some old friends and made some new friends too. There’s something about Laguna Seca, even when the wheels are falling off, you can still have a smile on your face.