In May I made my race debut in World Racing League at Brainerd International Raceway with the Fart-Hinder (Swedish for Speed Bump) Race Team. This past weekend I made my race debut at one of Americas most storied racetracks, Road America, with the same team.
This weekend’s event was run by ChumpCar. Chumpcar rule book uses a cost based system where all the cars need to cost under $500. The rulebook can get long winded and complicated but bottom line, its cheap track time. The race at Road America was a 16 hr race. Specifically it was a 9hr on Saturday and a 7hr on Sunday.
Having attended Road America a handful of times as a spectator and media member and always wondered what it’s like to come screaming up the front straight or what is the right line through the carousel or how hard is the apex of turn 6 to see as you come under the Corvette Bridge. After this weekend I was able to answer 2 of those questions.
Going into the weekend the team had prepared the faster of the two team cars, a Saab 9-3 with a 2.0 Liter turbocharged engine. I didn’t get a chance to drive this car at Brainerd in May because I didn’t fit so I was excited to drive something that had a bit more power than the 900. This was also the first time that my wife was able to attend an event I was racing in.
Friday was load in day. The cars went through tech and we took care of a few miscellaneous items that didn’t get done at Fart Hinder HQ in Duluth, MN. We had to replace a few belts, change some fluids, add some zip ties, add some stickers and go racing. It was a pretty laid back day. After we were finished at the track we went to Schwarz Supper Club for a team dinner. The following statement is no exaggeration; this place has THE BEST steak ever! Again…I’ll say it…THE BEST food ever.
Saturday morning came early and crap it was cold, cold enough that my wifey had to use the exhaust to warm her hands. The race started and the car seemed to be running smooth. About 30minutes into the race the driver came on the radio and said he was coming into the pits. He had a big spin going into Canada Corner and wanted us to check the car over. Somehow…he didn’t hit anything and there was no damage to the car. About 30 minutes after that we saw the car go down the pit straight and head into turn 1. Almost immediately after the car disappeared through Turn 1 we saw yellow flags come out on the corner station and the two truck leave. Shortly after that the driver came over the radio and said “the clutch went to the floor.” We figured it was something simple and were hoping a quick bleeding of the clutch would solve the problem. The car got back to the pits and we tried that, and a few other things. We soon discovered that the clutch had simply given up. Without a spare clutch that car was done for the weekend.
But that was not the end of the weekend. We brought an entire spare car, the trusty Saab 900 was thrust back into action. A swapping of some cameras and a torqueing of the lug nuts and the car was ready to rock. The rest of the day went relatively uneventful. A faulty coil which took 3 pit stops to fix kept causing the car to stall in right hand corners.
My stint in the car was the only uneventful one of the day. It didn’t take too long for me to get comfortable with the car. I had plenty of seat time in it at BIR. It did take me a while to get the hang of the track though. Finding braking and turn in references seemed to be a trial and error process which resulted in a few blown apex’s and a few wide exits over the rumble strips. Turn 1 can be taken a lot quicker than one would expect, turn 3 sucks you in. And turn 14, let me tell you about turn 14. I hate it. It’s deceptive. You want to turn in early, but no, it’s always to early. No matter how late I turned in it was always too soon (Insert Vin Diesel joke here). Once I got into a rhythm I was able to turn consistent, respectable lap times and managed to stay out of everybody’s way. My stint was over before I knew it and I came into the pits and handed over to the next driver for what would be the final stint.
During the final stint there was some issues. A sudden vibration when under power that we were unable to diagnose. The driver went out and ran the final hour of the race and we figured we would take a look at it after the race and figure it out.
After the car took the checkered flag we spent some time changing tires and inspecting the car to figure out where the vibration was coming from. So the team cracked open some Lake Superior Brewing Company Beer and started to attempt and diagnose the problem. Nothing was loose. Everything on the car seemed to be as it should. We made the call to run the car the next day and see what happens.
Sunday morning arrived with slightly higher temperatures, but still a bit chilly. Overnight we thought that we should change the transmission fluid to see if that would solve the vibration, only problem was that we didn’t have any transmission fluid. Good thing Cameron from Red Line Oil was there and driving. He also happened to have some Red Line oil for us to put in our transmission. With some fresh fluid in the transmission we hit the track for the final 7 hrs of the event. First hour and change went without issue, until the driver came into the pits with the exhaust dragging on the ground.
This broken exhaust has happened before at a previous race. Luckily the team owner knows a guy who happens to be a retired professional welder and also lives 2 miles from the track. This guy also happened to walk into the garage as we were taking the broken exhaust off. Talk about perfect timing. The wife and I made a run to the parts store to pick up some other things and the exhaust went to a Volvo grave yard (another story there). After about 2 hours the exhaust came back in one piece. We made some other repairs to the exhaust hangers and the car was ready to go back on track with 3 hrs to go.
The next hour went by with no issues. I jumped in the car with 2 hours to go and was only planning on driving for 1 hour. It was an uneventful stint. I was able to look at the lap time that was in the car and see where I was slower. I was losing a lot of time through the carousel and through the bend. I was able to find speed and get within 0.5 seconds of the fastest lap of the day. As soon as I got the some clear track I needed to come in. Coming out of Canada Corner on my in lap I lost drive, a box full of neutrals, no go, or whatever other term there is for when shit brakes. A flat tow back to the pits and a quick inspection found another broken clutch. And with that, with 1 hr left in the race our weekend was done.
Even with destroying two clutches we had a great weekend. We finished 45th out of 65+ starters. All the drivers got laps. We consumed some great food, drank some great beer and broke some not so great clutches. And to answer those questions I asked in the beginning. Driving up the front straight at speed is an amazing feeling and turn 6 always sneaks up on you. As for the line through the carousel, I got nothing.
Shout outs to Red Line Oil for helping us out with some fluids for the car and to Lake Superior Brewing Company for providing some fluids for the drivers after the race.