My team and I returned this week from our first true 24 hour race that was hosted at Virginia International Raceway. The race was put on by the friendly folks of the ChumpCar World Series and was a true test for all 86 teams involved. We arrived Thursday evening to get a lay of the land and get the RV setup. Friday morning we were assigned out pit stall and setup our home base for the weekend. We got a chance to get everyone out in the car during the practice day and spirits were high.
The format of this race is one that requires an explanation. Yes this was a true 24 hour race but with a couple of twists. The first segment of racing was held from 10am til 5:30pm on the South 1.65 mile course. Then the track was shut down for a one hour safety break to allow teams to install their lights and check over other aspects of the car. The second segment was from 6:30pm (technically 7:30pm due to a power outage and lightning) until 6am on the Full 3.27 mile course. This made things interesting because all practice was done on the south course during the day. Only one of our drivers really knew the Full course. The final segment after another hour long safety break would have us back on the south course from 7am until 1pm to make up for the hour lost to lightning. Here is a picture of the track. The full course is the entire perimeter where the south course is just the left most circuit.So we start the race with Jim in the car and actually get a fairly decent start considering it is a random green flag start. I believe we started in the 8th or 9th spot. Jim ran a full 2 hours at a great pace with no incidents and no issues. We pulled of a near perfect pit stop and send Ryan out. Now at this point I will admit I am not sure what position we were in and there will only be a few other times where I will actually know. Ryan goes out and continues with Jim’s pace and has another issue free stint. Ryan did have to pull in early do to heat exhaustion and a pounding head ache. It is worth pointing out that the ambient air temperature was flirting with 100 degrees fro much of the afternoon. Also, we are currently not setup to run cool suits and have to rely on a camelback hydration system to keep us cool. So back to the action, after Ryan comes in then I go out and start passing cars left and right. I battled with the leader, who was a lap ahead of us at the time, for a while and eventually passed him to get back on the lead lap of the race. I was out there for quite a while and it felt like I was passing cars left and right and in some cases I know I split the middle of a couple cars. What can I say; I saw daylight and went for it. Also, during my entire time in the car I was trying not to pee myself, yes you read that correctly. Even though I went to the bathroom prior to getting in the car I had to go immediately again once I started getting up to speed. Unfortunately my stint was cut short when I looked down and noticed that the tachometer was no longer displaying engine speed. This means the alternator dies and I needed to cut it hard to get into the pits. At this point we were in 4th and after a battery and alternator change we would get back out on track in 23rd position with Sara behind the wheel. All things went fairly well up to the first safety break of the day. At this point there was a track change (for 12 hours of full course night racing) and darkness began to roll in.
The picture above is a lot brighter than we actually experienced. Driving at night on a course that you don’t know is one of the most terrifying but exhilarating experiences I have ever had the pleasure of living through. For the first 30 minutes of your first night session it is all you can do to stay on the track. During my time on course I spun the car at least twice and made some slight contact with a Toyota MR2 (sorry guys). Once you learned the track it was still crazy because you still had to over drive the headlights to be fast. Take all of that and apply it at 3am and you can see how much it takes to actually get through one of these races. Here is a shot of the car at night.
There are some things in racing you just can’t control from the sidelines. You can’t drive the car for your team mates, you can’t force them to sleep, and you can’t make it easier for the person who is behind the wheel. After a long night of racing I wish I made myself and a couple of the other drivers try to get a few hours of sleep. As we approached the morning safety break one of our drivers spun off course and met a tire wall with the passenger side of the car. He got the car back to the pits under its own power and the damage was assessed. Brakes, tires, and fluids were also checked and we deemed the car okay to continue for the remaining six hours of racing. Our first driver out after the last safety break completed ten laps before spinning the car and ending up nose first into another tire wall. The car had to be towed back this time and the damage was much worse. We were retired. He is what the car looked like at 7:45am which is almost better than some of our team members look like after being up for 36 hours straight.
This poor car is now sitting in my garage needing a new driver side frame rail and a little straightening of the uni-body. We are going to try and make it to Nelson Ledges October 8th – 9th for another 24 hour all nighter but we have a lot of work ahead of us.
Special thanks goes out to Enger Tire, Cometic Gasket, Wiseco Piston, Advanced Engine Services, Klotz Synthetic lubricants, Eric’s Performance Parts, Modotek Performance, Paradise Racing, FBO Systems, Ohio Technical College, Daytona Sensors, Race Quip, speedlab.com, racedayvinyl.com, Mel Kistner, and my wife Amy Kistner (especially for not divorcing me over all this racing stuff). Photo credit to Matthew Eddy, thanks.