Idle Thoughts, October 93

Idle Thoughts by Pat Childs

It has been a quiet year for me, taking something of a hiatus from the world of motorsports.  To be sure, the decision by Bridgestone Motorsports to withdraw from active participation in SCCA (with the exception of the Spec Racer tire program), left the good folks at Blackburn Racing little choice but to make drastic cuts in personnel and at track service. After a much needed vacation, visiting my parents down in Naples, Florida, I received a call from Steve Butz and went back to work for him, at Butz Lumber.  I have an agreement that allows me latitude to pursue my racing interests whenever I so desire, as long as I give sufficient notice.  Thanks to this arrangement, I have managed to get my racing "fix" quite often this summer, taking advantage of many requests for at track assistance in various avenues of sports car racing.

In April, I received a call from Downey Motorsports and was asked to wrench on Dick Kennedy's Spec Racer ride.  I have to admit that the car came to the track with an almost dead on setup.  Through two days of pre-race practice and saturday practice and qualifying we played with a variety of sway bar settings, tire pressures, and finally one minor adjustment in corner weights, getting "Dickster" a balance he felt comfortable with.  He qualified and finished 10th, after running as high as 7th in a race long battle with a pack of cars, setting 5th quick race lap.  At least I still knew how to tweak a Spec Racer after a few years away.

In May, I started out by lending my endurance racing experience to my buddy Wedge Rafferty's Firehawk effort, as team strategist and resident tire expert.  We managed fairly well, though totally out-powered, fighting a flock of 350 cubic inch '93 Firebirds with a well worn, multi-Nelson 24 Hour winning, '88 IROC, powered by a 305.  Firestone has come up with really decent Firehawk tire, which seems to keep its stick and predictability in long term race conditions.

On Memorial weekend, I was at Grattain, Michigan, for the Showcase National, working with the Hoosier guys.  It was interesting seeing another outfits operation up close, and they're some pretty good folks.

In June, I was back at the race that got me interested in the SCCA originally, the Nelson 24 hour.  I was back with Wedge Rafferty, again lending my expertise as team strategist and tire expert.  It's weird, almost masochistic, I guess, how I truly enjoy my annual sojourns to this armpit of a race track.  It's something that anyone who calls themselves a racing fan, or a racer, needs to experience.  The surrealness of headlights lighting up the darkness at 3:00 AM; brake rotors glowing red hot as they strain to haul down the speed at the end of the back straight.  One word:  COOL!

In July, I had the chance to hang out with my heros, working the Fast Masters for Blackburn Racing, tending to the tire needs of a flock of $750,000 Jaguars.  When I was 15, my dad took me to the Nichols/Goldsmith racing shops in Griffith, Indiana, home of the fastest race car in the world, Chargin' Charlie Glotzbach's purple 99, Dodge Charger Daytona.  Charlie was competing in Fast Masters that weekend and I finally got to meet him.  He was friendly and just like I imagined him to be when I was a kid.  The Jaguar Motorsport guys from Tom Walkinshaw's outfit are about as unpretentious as they come, as they tinkered away with the beautiful, high dollar racers.

An amusing anecdote: At the beginning of a practice session, when a notable USAC veteran climbed from the car howling about a bad "push" after 3 laps, the driver who was to drive that car next (who has won that annual race out on West 16th Street a few times) instantly began whining as well.  Dick Simon, shaking his head with a bemused grin, came up to me and said, "Any dumb s**t knows a car on cold tires is going to push like a pig!"

In August, I was back out at IRP for the Fast Masters finals.  Chargin' Charlie hadn't made the cut for the big show, but the roster of qualifiers represented the top racers from the last 25 years:  Parnelli Jones, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford, George Folmer, David Pearson, Brian Redman, David Hobbs, Gene Felton, Ed McCullough, and Eddie Hill.  Everyone figured that Parnelli and Bobby U. would be the big guns to beat, after having been the fastest in the series, but jaws dropped when Folmer went out and trashed the track record.  Alot of people didn't realize that George still runs a heavy schedule of Vintage Racing events, in cars whose values far exceed the pricey Jaguars.  It was fascinating to be up close and personal with these guys as they prepared for their races.  Their various demeanors ranged from smiling and laid back, to "ho hum, another day at the office", to agonizing self-doubt, and "I think maybe we should have stayed in Brainerd."  Folmer dogged Unser for the lead as they pulled slowly away from the pack being led by third place Parnelli.  Unfortunately, on one of the yellow flag restarts, Jones and Folmer were KO'd, giving Bobby a relatively easy run to the checker.

At the end of August, I attended the Regional out at Putnam Park, just stopping in to see the track for my first time.  It reminds me or a cross between Roebling Road and Grattan.  I especially appreciated the hill separating the rear of the pits from the paddock area, which makes for an excellent viewing platform as well as a sound barrier.  The layout of the track assures that quite a bit of the track can be seen from this area. The rest rooms were first rate and centrally located for ready access from the pits and ample paddock area.

The lone down spot was my visit to the concession stand.  While the prices were moderate for track food, I felt the service was rather poor.  The pretty blond at the counter asked me if to taste the lemonade she had sold me to see if it was weak, as she tasted some from the dispenser.  When she shook her head and said it was way too weak, I agreed and stood there with my cup, expecting it to be replaced.  She just gave me a cold stare and tersely said, "I've already given you your change.", then turned and walked away.  I made a mental note to bring my own refreshments to the this track in the future, while I ate my barbecue chicken sandwich (that had no barbecue sauce on it) and tried to ignore the bug in my lemon water.

The old itch is still there to get behind the wheel a few more times, and I'm toying with the idea of converting my Fiesta over to Production specs from ITC.  I guess we'll see what happens.