Last week-end I took the Greon to Nelson Ledges for an SCCA 2 day licensing school. SCCA requires new drivers to the club to attend 2 schools and and race in two races before being issued a race license. This school was two one day schools so the requirements could be met in one week end.
How did the school go?
Well, we had fun, and I’m signed off on both schools by Steve Harris, but, I have to race the Spring Sprints under observation or attend another school.
What!? You say.
Here’s what happened.
Got there Friday around 6:00, got unloaded, safety gear teched, yada, yada, yada, went to class. The car meanwhile is drawing a lot of attention. Saturday came and everything started out just fine, went to class, was assigned to an instructor, he took us on a few laps around the track. The instructor, Steve, knows me as "The Green Neon guy".
I was in run group 1, so first out. I take it easy, just figure the place out, see how nuts folks in my run group are, just run around the joint for 20 minutes. As we come in, I’m held on pit road, and told we need to do a better job covering up the "1" . No biggie, go back, Carl starts servicing the car, I’m off to class. Get to class and they’re asking about car #9. I get a warning from the sound cops; the car registered a 103. 1db. Ask if I’m OK for the day, the lead instructor says yeah, and everyone moves on.
The second session comes around, I pick up the pace some and start to play with the others. I spend some time fiddle farting around with this dude in an ITB Golf who’s doing his best to block me. Some faster cars move through, I slip by behind the fast guys and pass a few more cars. Steve wants me to get more aggressive next session. No problem. Go to class, life is good.
Third session, I go out and my goal is to pass everyone I can and wind up chasing one of the faster ITS BMW’s around the place. Had fun, Steve happy, go to class, everything is cool. Get back to our pit and Carl informs me that the sound cops had been by complaining that we’re getting louder and if we get much louder, they’ll have no choice but to park us. Oh, and by the way, they’re moving the microphone closer to the track.
Lunch, class, and more instructor rides. The fourth session comes around and it’s a qualifying session for starting position for the practice starts. The microphone is at the exit of turn 13, driver’s left, as you accelerate up on to the front stretch. I’m having to literally go as fast as I can into 13, coast out of the corner past the mic, jump back on the gas, then run like a bat out hell around the rest of the joint. During one of these flat out laps, I try something different at 4, chatter the tires and loop it. Get the car turned around, feel it out around the carousel, then run flat out down the back stretch. Get on the brakes, for 12, turn in and the steering goes stiff, then normal and back. I somehow keep the car on the track through 12 and 13 and dive into the pits to have someone look to see what went wrong. No one sees anything I go back out and it does it a couple more times but the session ends soon and back to class. The problem with the car turns out to be a dry power steering pump and a twisted PS belt. In goes some fluid, on goes a new belt, we’re starting something like 14th out of 20 for the practice starts.
Practice starts session comes about, the group heads out and everything goes well for the most part. I’m improving position the first two times but on the third start, I get stuck behind a broken car with a couple of others and we all wind up at the tail for the third start. The third start goes off and I’m doing my best to hang onto the tail of a 944 and start picking off cars. The course stays green and we’re racing! I’m just clicking off laps, kind of by myself at this point, just working on catching cars ahead of me and having a good time. Dump it into the carousel, hit the gas and the car quits! Two laps to go, and I’m dead at station 10.
For us, the Saturday party turns into the Saturday evening thrash. Flashing the codes nets us a code 11 (Timing belt off by one or more teeth from learned position) and visual inspection confirms it. We decide to just go ahead and change the timing belt. Carl starts the tear down, Pauletta and I are off to gather needed tools and parts. Borrowed a gear puller from the Greenery, went into Warren to buy a timing belt and some lanterns and flashlights.
When we return, there’s a half a dozen people in our pit, and parts and tools everywhere. Folks had come by and just dropped off tools to help the cause and moral support for Carl. As Carl and I get deeper into it, folks fade off to the party, and we thrash on. In the dark, we ran into a snafu, I thought I had lost one of the hydraulic tensioner bolts. So all three of us are on our hands and knees looking through the grass in the dark for this bolt. I’m insisting that it looks just like the other one, but it turns out that the second bolt was longer and it was sitting there the whole itme. I’ve done Neon timing belts numerous times, really. Well, while we’re looking for the not lost bolt, I had placed the crank pulley in the grill to heat it so it’ll slip back on the crank and we forgot about. We cooked the balancing rubber out of it. Oops! We forge on though, saying we’ll at least get the engine to burp, so we know it runs, and we’ll run into town in the morning and try to get a new crank pulley/dampener.
Well, no burp. The engine wouldn’t start, it keeps re-setting the code 11. I decide to call it, go back to the hotel, and come up with some kind of plan ‘B’ for Sunday.
Sunday comes and we head to the track. Pauletta and Carl start to get things packed up while I head to the tower to get my Novice Permit and make arrangements to get some of the second days school money back. While in the tower, I run into a man by the name of Aaron who has a fleet of Spec Miatas there and tells me that his buddy might have one that will be open. His buddy was on the way and should be at the track soon. A glimmer of hope. I go to class, catch up with my instructor, tell him the what’s happening. He says if I can’t get a car lined up, to come see him and he’d try to work something out.
The Miata falls through when his buddy shows up and quotes us the rental for the day. Too expensive, it’s raining, and if I pile it, the deposit check would bounce. Aaron, introduces me to someone else who brought along a spare show room stock Escort ZX2. Rental was reasonable, but, I didn’t fit in the seat, and swapping seats would be an all day affair. A rental is out, so back to instructor Steve, and he and I go in search of Steve Harris to possibly get a waiver. Find Mr. Harris, we all sit down and talk. Steve (Harris) isn’t too keen on the idea of the waiver because he’d already had a slew of folk looking for them because it was raining and they didn’t want to run in the rain.
Instructor Steve and I continue to work on Harris and I suggest in passing that I was hoping to make the Spring Sprints in 2 weeks. More conversation ranging from Danica winning her first race to what my previous wheel to wheel experience was. Harris finally agreed to sign off on the second school but I have to run the Sprints under observation. If I can’t make the Sprints, then it’s off to a second school. Oh yeah, and I’m to not say a thing about it to anyone in the pits for fear of a mad stampede of waver requests. So we pack up and leave, and that’s where I stand.
Technically, I have my license, but I have to run the Sprints to keep it.
The coolest thing of the whole week-end was how supportive complete strangers were of me. When it got around that I wasn’t going to be able to finish the school, people came out of the wood work to my aid. Everyone with a possible car available said that they had no problem with me driving their car. That I looked really good out there and all commented on how fast I was. Most were offering to help pitch to get me a waiver. I have to say I’m completely humbled and feel a sense of validation at the same time.
When I was racing short track cars, if I did good, others were angry about it. When I was helping them do better everything was cool, when I did good, then I was an SOB. To have experienced drivers along with my peers at the school taking notice of me and making an effort to express that blew me away. Again, I’m humbled and see why people stay with the club so long.
Finally, I have to thank a few people, first my wife Pauletta who puts up with this madness and took car of us during the week-end, making sure we were fed, going the right places at the right times, etc.
Second is Brian Gard of Performance Driven. With out his help and friendship, there's no way I could afford to do this. His help and wealth of knowledge are priceless and more than appreciated.
Carl Fuhrmann, who came to my aid when I called out for help for this school. He took care of me and the car so I could concentrate on what I had to do.
And those in the Indy Region SCCA who have been encouraging and supportive of this endeavor, thank you all.
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