We’d successfully installed a 1.6 liter Miata engine in Dennis’ RX-7. We’d given up evenings, weekends, dozens of brain cells, and 38 or so horsepower in the process. Fearless Leader had managed to let a bunch of near strangers do horrible things to his car — without ever really getting in touch with his inner control freak. Despite our too many egos, we’d some how succeeded in not killing each other during the build process. The idea had occurred to at least a couple of us, but miraculously no one was even lightly strangled.
Now that the car ran and occasionally moved under it’s own power, there was an esprit de corps among the team members. It was nice. So we were off to High Plains Raceway to test the car.
Keeping with my “hanging back” strategy, I arrived late. Most of the guys were already there and were getting ready to take the car out. As they finished their test drives, each driver seemed to genuinely like the car. No one got out and immediately kissed the ground, but I think they were really just happy to still be alive.
“It doesn’t accelerate, it doesn’t go around corners, but other than that, it’s great!”
The only car I’d driven on a race track in my life at this point was my stock 1994 Miata. I’d gotten comfortable (if not terribly fast) lapping High Plains Raceway. I was still confused by turn 6 and was afraid of turns 4, 5 and 7.
Occasionally, I’d get hugely brave, do something really stupid, and suddenly find myself sitting by the side of the track facing backwards, inhaling a dense cloud of dirt. Brian was usually riding in the car during my moments of brave/stupid. In hindsight, I’m baffled at my own stupidity. On some level, I really believed that if I had a talented driver in the car with me, suddenly I’d become a talented driver. Time and time again, this turned out to be not the case.
I wasn’t going to die from racing… I was going to be bored to death!
I’d gotten used to my little Miata. So when I was strapped into the race car for the first time I discovered it was all wrong. My skinny little butt slid side-to-side across the seat in every corner. The steering wheel was too high; the clutch pedal action was straight out of a UPS truck; the steering felt slow and squidgy.
The car was slow. Really slow compared to my Miata. It was good for what seemed like 75 miles per hour max on the long straight at High Plains Raceway. It would accelerate reasonably well until until about 50 mph. Then it felt like an invisible drag chute was deployed. The ancient all-season tires didn’t stick in the corners, producing gobs of understeer. I wasn’t going to die from racing… I was going to be bored to death! I came back from my test drive joking that “It doesn’t accelerate, it doesn’t go around corners, but other than that, it’s great!”
I didn’t like our race car, but I was pretty sure I knew what the invisible drag chute was.
Back in Boston, I’d raced sailboats. Slow, heavy, nearly pointless-to-race sailboats that were good for six mph flat out in a gale. Races were held Sunday mornings when, typically there was little wind. In the afternoon at races end, there was often no wind at all. This meant that making the ~600 yard trip back to the dock could take 30 minutes or more. Some of my competitors were able to get their boats to move in zero wind. They’d move to the front of the boat and get the stern out of the water. Smaller stern wake = less drag.
Our alleged race car was missing it’s rear hatch glass. As the air passed this part of the car, instead of flowing smoothly across the glass, it tumbled, creating a huge amount of drag. Big stern wake. Some air tumbled and then was caught by the vertical sheet metal above the bumper of the car. More drag.
I pleaded with Dennis to install a plastic back window. He seemed unmoved. I pleaded with him to re-install the glass rear window. He was extra unmoved. The great part about having a ChumpCar team is that you have lots of buddies to help you drink beer and work on the car. The bad part is that someone always has a crazy new scheme to make the car go faster. Dennis was burned out on crazy du jour.