Friday, August 18, 2006

Once You Get The Bug.....

When I retired at the age of sixty-seven I had sort of assumed that my racing days were over. I was now a "used to be" driver. I still had the interest but as far as I knew the closest place to race was College Station, Texas about eight hours away. That’s a long way to drive to attend races on a regular basis.

Tom Walter, who lives about three doors down the street, told me about a little track down near Donaldsonville. I didn’t know at the time but Tom was heavily involved and often functioned as course marshal during events. When he wasn’t doing that, he was building Corvettes to be driven by his brother or working with a crew racing a Porsche. While the tracks main functions are involved with drag racing they do have a road racing course laid out off the back section and they are working with the New Orleans Race Drivers Association to get a regular road racing program established. A track, less than an hour away, was an attractive proposition. The next time they had a race I went down and volunteered to work corners.

The track was called "No Problem Raceway". Don’t ask. I don’t know why either.

It’s a nice little course; 1.8 miles with eleven turns. All paved. Mostly 40 feet wide but the section where you run down the end of the drag strip is 60 ft. Good run off (read spin out) areas. Flat. No big topography changes. Three straights, one at 1900 ft, second 500 ft and the third 800 ft. When you look at the track map it is hard to figure out what they mean by straight but that’s what they advertise.

The bulk of the road racing is sanctioned by NORDA rather than the SCCA. They put on what they call "The Grand Bayou Road Race Series" and stage 6 to 12 races per year. It’s a real "run what you brung" deal. In an effort to get some competition out of small fields they do what they call bracket racing. If you run laps between X and Y you are in Green bracket. If you are a little faster you are in the next bracket. If you are sand bagging and run faster than your bracket you get bumped up to the next bracket automatically. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive you fit into one bracket or another. The result is some strange combinations. You might see an F production Midget racing a street stock BMW and a 944 Porsche. There are even guys who drive to the track, tape the headlights and go racing. It’s like being back in the fifties when that sort of thing happened a lot.

There are a couple of exceptions of course. They have enough Spec Miata’s to make a field so they get to run by themselves. So do the Formula Mazdas.

The rest of the open wheeled cars get dumped into an "open wheel" group. There is no racing there because the cars are so different and run at such different speeds. The average open wheel field might be a Formula SCCA, A vintage Brabham, a Formula Ford, a formula Mazda, a vintage Cooper and a Club Ford.

For a year I worked corners at the track for NORDA events and for various Porsche, BMW and Ferrari club track days. I even got my brother to come out and work with us when he retired. He was getting a big kick out of it and although I didn’t know it was getting the bug to go racing.
I started preaching the Formula First gospel to any that would listen. A quick, low cost class would be ideal for that track, especially if we could get several cars out quickly. To do that, we would have to find a bunch of older formula vees and do the conversion. The good part of that of that there are a lot of older cars around that could purchased cheaply. Ebay always has a couple and so do several other reliable sources like SR Racings sales board.

The next thing I knew Hugh was looking for a car and found a good one. Carl Wartel was selling his extremely evolved Warrior. It had recently come back from the SCCA National Championships where it had acquitted it self well.

In late Feb. we made the drive down to south Florida to pick up the racer.

Hugh got the car, a truck bed full of spare parts and a trailer for a very reasonable price. In the process we got to know Carl and found a friend as well. We have been on line with him several times since then to ask questions or just to shoot the breeze.

A couple of weeks after we got back they had a track day. We got Hugh ready loaded the car on the trailer, and headed to "No Problem". We also took the Porche so that he could get some seat time while we were waiting to get some track time for the open wheeled car. They don’t like to run open wheel cars with ones with fenders. I think it embarrasses them.

Hugh put in three sessions in the Porsche, with his lap times dropping slightly with each lap, before thay finally called a break and let him take the open wheeled car out. His very first lap in his new car was a couple of seconds faster than the best he had been able to do in the Porsche.

When he came in he had a little grin on his face that didn’t go away for several days.


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