ARRC 2006 – Greg Amy
The Lead Up
The week's festivities started LONG before the date on the ARRC web site. It actually started months before as ace crew chief Matt Kessler dug in to prep the NX2000.
The NX's regular racing season \ended after the September 9/10 regional at NHIS. At that event we clinched the NARRC and NERRC championships, so I decided we’d to sit out final event, the NARRC Runoffs at Lime Rock, in order to have more time for prep for the ARRC. Matt "Monster" Kessler took care of a long list of outstanding small items, at the same time building a fresh engine for the ARRC effort (the guy always wants more!) In concert with that we also subscribed the services of Vincent DiGiuseppe of The Old Car Warehouse (http://www.oldcarwarehouse.com) to take on the unenviable task of cleaning up 4 years' worth of dings, dents, and scrapes and make the NX2000 look a lot better for this key event. He did a SUPER job.
Work on the car proceeded slowly and meticulously, with Matt pretty much subsisting on cigarettes and Monster energy drinks (thus, his new nickname). As the days marched towards the first weekend in November, work proceeded well. It seemed the to-do list never got any smaller; any time something was scratched off another two items were added. As the last weekend in October approached it became clear that the important stuff (safety, dependability) would be done in plenty of time, giving some opportunity to finalize the performance stuff (read: the new engine). As we were cleaning and loading for departure on the day before departure, almost all items were finally done.
Unfortunately, the one big item that didn't happen was installing the engine. As late as midnight the night before, Matt was still putting the final touches on the engine as it sat on the engine stand. The temptation was large to simply pull an all-nighter and get it in there, but since we were pulling out of the shop parking lot at noon the next day for a 17-hour drive we agreed it made no sense to kill what little sanity we (actually, he) had left on an unproven and untested variable. Instead, we strapped the engine into the back of the van "just in case" it was needed (it wasn't).
Just before noon on Tuesday Jeff Lawton and Jeremy Billiel pulled into the parking lot dragging Jeff's ITA Saturn, and soon thereafter Dave and Melissa Gran pulled in, loaded up all their stuff into the van, and Team Kakashi was on its way to Atlanta! The caravan down was uneventful; we met up with Joe DiMinno and his ITA Sentra SE-R in central PA, and we kept in touch with Jake Gulick who was about 2 hours behind us. Driving in light rain and overdosing on South Park DVDs (while chatting up life and reality with Jeff and Jeremy on the VHF radios), our group soon found itself ready to park it for the night at a local Motel 6 in Harrisonburgvillestontownfield, PA. We had a nice enjoyable dinner at a restaurant with a really cool green and red neon sign, which was enough to send the crew to a nice slumber...
...until Jake Gulick caught up to us and arrived early in the morning. No matter; bright and early everyone was up, repacking, enjoying a Waffle House breakfast, and back on the road. After working through rain in Virginia the caravan found itself in nice weather. We yacked it up and enjoyed the peaceful drive (and used cellphone-based Internet access to figure out what all those roadside crosses are about! See http://www.christiancrosses.org/). The group came rolling into the Road Atlanta parking light right at the allotted gate opening time of 4:00 PM and I took charge of the Northeast paddock area and got folks settled in.
The Test Day
The Thursday test day dawned bright, and we had high hopes of getting the car set up properly for the following day's qualification sessions. The goal for the first session was to bed-in some brakes and tires, while giving me the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with Road Atlanta (one of my favorite tracks). We were able to do that easily, except that we were grouped with "GTA" cars, apparently local oval-type tube-frame-and-big-engine cars. To say that these guys had no clue about how to drive is an understatement; they'd go FLYING by on the straights and then PARK their cars in the corners. My comments were something like "if these guys didn't have big engine they couldn't pass wind". A friend remarked that during their race on Saturday these cars were going so slow through the corners that the crowd couldn't tell when the pace lap ended and the race began; he said the only way they knew for sure the race was over was when the corner workers started waving at the drivers! So, as you can imagine, they wreaked havoc with everyone else's test day. But, we soldiered on, look for something resembling "open track"...
We found ourselves with a car that was working well but we were stuck in a range of lap times significantly off from the year before. There didn't seem to be any obvious car or driver problems, and we were on new tires, but we just couldn’t break into the lap times we expected. The only consolation was that it seemed no one else could either! A few competitors familiar with the track noted the whole place seemed a couple of seconds off, but tomorrow would tell the tale...beer, dinner, and a good night's sleep would probably take care of it...
The Qualifying Day
Friday morning was another beautiful Georgia Fall day, and qualifying waited. We knew that the cooler morning qualifying would likely set the pace for the Saturday race, so we were ready right out of the gate. Arriving to the grid late we planned on letting the group stretch out so we could find some clear laps; however, as the group proceeded around the track on the warm-up lap I noticed that no one seemed to be moving along, everyone was just kinda taking their time in a conga line. Halfway through the lap everyone was still going silly slow, staying all lined up single-file, as in the warm-up lap before the start of a race. I saw no yellow flags (only white) and we were ready to go...so I did! I threaded my way from the back of the pack all the way through to the front of field, right up to the top five cars: Joe and Bob Moser in Honda CRXs, Kevin Ruck and Evan Darling in Acura Integras, and Bob Stretch in a Miata. As the pack came around to the Start/Finish line, everyone jockeyed for position, hoping to find a drafting partner to increase speeds down Road Atlanta's long back straight.
I was 6th in that train, and duly filed around behind those five fast guys. For the first lap or so I watched ‘em, looking for a drafting partner, but I was surprised to find that I actually had to lift slightly to stay behind the other cars along Road Atlanta's long back straights. Ok, fine; so how about if I led the train and let them draft me? The next lap I pulled out and passed a few other cars, gesturing for them to tuck in and work together, but I was surprised to find that no one could even keep up with the NX2000 in the draft! On the other hand, the light, nimble CRXs and the well-balanced Integras were monsters under braking and cornering, so it seemed that a perfect storm of strong points was brewing... However, I soon found myself gradually pulling away from the other cars and kicking in some decent lap times, to the point that Matt was on the radio telling me to stop racing with the other cars (which was a big surprise to me; he didn’t know I was!) At the end of the session, the NX2000 was on top of the leader board, just over 6/10s a second clear of the second-place car. As expected, the track got slower as the day progressed, and none of the top five competitors in ITA were able to improve their times, so we used the session to bed in brakes and tires.
How about that: Kakashi Racing had the pole for the ARRC ITA race!
To add to the excitement, my family started rolling in from across the country - literally. Sisters, nieces, and nephew from Louisiana and South Carolina; my mother and another sister from Texas; my father from Louisiana; and Thea, my wife, actually drove in from Connecticut! To describe the paddock space as "crowded" would be quite the understatement! But, by then, the day's activities were over for me and I was able to pull everyone away to visit while Matt and Tim Rogers hammered away at prep work on the NX2000 for the following day's race.
That night we had a nice dinner and got to Tim’s house early to get a good night’s rest.
As in years past, we chose to pass on the morning warm-up session (another chance for damage or failure). We were confident in our setup and in our prep; plus we wanted to sleep in late and get a good breakfast. And we did just that, stopping and enjoying company and food, then making a leisurely half-hour drive to the track.
To our displeasure, the weather gods were rattling their rain sabers. There was a front moving in from the west, and the forecast time for the start of the rain was pretty much right at the 1:00 PM green flag for the ITA race. While Matt and Tim spent the available time checking the NX and digging out rain tires (just in case!), I spent a lot of time on the computer, checking RADAR returns and forecasts via cellular Internet access.
Somewhere in there I came riding back into the paddock with skinned-up knees and arms; seems the Honda Gyro had gotten out from underneath me on the dirt road leading up to the Registration shack. Fortunately none of the injuries were anything more than Band-Aid capable (it hurt, though), and I got patched up.
Finally, 30 minutes prior to race start, based on my weather data, I declared that the race was going to be dry and the team went about its business applying the dry tires and setup. It was on!
Sitting there on the grid, waiting for the five-, three-, and one-minute warnings, is when the butterflies’ dancing routines really crescendo into a full-scale three-ring circus. Plans, scenarios, and expectations are flowing through your head, and you do everything you can to relax, with nothing seeming to work. Suddenly, just as the grid worker waves the pace car out and then gestures at you to follow, right at that moment it all goes away, the concentration takes over, and everything snaps into sharp focus.
Having just sat through 10 minutes of this nervousness, I was surprised at the suddenness of the calm and focus. I understood what had to be done, and I knew how to do it. I focused on making sure that I was mentally ready, making sure the tires were warmed up, and making sure the brakes were warmed up. As we went around the track on the warm-up lap I coached myself to do exactly what I had done numerous times before, and not try anything new. It got me there, it could take me onwards.
As we approached the end of the warm-up, we all lined up two-by-two for the start. We came down the hill and I had my visual focus on the starter. Contrary to many starts, I intentionally kept the speed of the pack at the same slower rate as the pace car had held (44mph, the driver told me beforehand) as I knew my car’s forte was torque and acceleration. As we came around the last corner the starter threw the green flag and we were racing!
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the ease by which I pulled away from the other cars; after all, the NX2000 had shown itself to be the torque-monster of the field. However, I was surprised, and going into Turn One with the pack streaming behind me turned out to be a non-issue. We all climbed the hill towards Three and filed through, and I was able to extend the lead through the Esses, and Turns Five, Six, and Seven. However, going down the back straight it became obvious that short of a stupid mistake on my part this was going to be our race to lose; by the end of that long straight we had at least a good 4-5 car-length lead. We filed through Turns 10A/10B and down the hill to finish the first lap, and I felt a calm sense of disengagement: it was almost like I was sitting there, calmly watching and coaching myself through these first few laps. It was an unusual feeling, as it was something new; it was combination of not only being “in the groove” but also being detached. Regardless, it felt reassuring.
As the opening laps unfolded it became apparent that the race for the win was going to be a battle between me, Joe and Robert Moser in the Honda CRXs, and Kevin Ruck in the Acura Integra. Slowly, though, Joe and I began to pull away from the others as they battled among themselves. I continued to lead, with Joe showing incredible discipline, apparently choosing to not fight me for corners, instead using me for some drafting in the straights. Joe had the opportunity in a couple of place to pass into the corners but it had he done that I would have re-passed on the subsequent straights and caused us both to go slower. Instead, he chose to work with me.
And what a monster that NX2000 was on the straights! By the end of the long back straight it would not have been unusual to see a 6-car-length lead. Joe, however, had that little lightweight CRX rockin’ in the braking and cornering; despite the 6-car-length lead he’d be right on my butt through the subsequent corners. At one point I almost threw it away when the back end of the car stepped out under braking into 10A, but with a bit of good luck I was pointing the right way and was able to power out of it and maintain the lead (but it was close).
We drove like that for 11 laps: my extending the lead on the straights, his picking me back up under braking and cornering. I had a pretty good idea of where his strengths and weaknesses were, and I was formulating a strategy on how I was going to deal with it. However, that strategy soon came to naught: as we were going through the 10A/10B complex on the twelfth lap I glanced back to see Joe rocketing straight off into the gravel trap on driver’s left, as if he hadn’t even turned! I lost sight of him as I drove under the bridge, and then as I was entering Turn One I looked back and saw basically an empty track all the way to the last corner. Coming back around 10A the next lap I saw Joe’s car still in the gravel trap, and with no other cars close by I knew it was our race!
Matt informed me via radio that the next cars down the order were 9 or so seconds back and battling amongst themselves, and that all I had to do was hold station. I backed off a hair (but not too much!) and Matt kept me apprised as to my competitor’s location. To say that those last 6 to 7 laps lasted forever would be an understatement! Fortunately, though, eventually I came down the hill and to my delight saw checkered flag being raised…
…we had just won the ARRC ITA race!
Man, were we psyched! Matt and I were yelling congrats to each others over the radio, and I tried to enjoy the cool-down lap for as long as possible. I came back around to grab the flag for the parade lap, filled the cars up with guys, and cruised around waving at the spectators and corners workers (and Jeff Lawton, who ended up in the gravel in T5, unfortunately…) We drove back into the pit lane and I drove the Nissan up onto the winner’s podium for the trophy presentation. As I was getting out of the car, I was so psyched I actually ended up falling out of the car! No injuries, not even any embarrassment, ‘cause nothing was going to ruin this moment. I accepted our trophy, got some photos taken, sprayed the obligatory champagne on everyone and the car, and then we proceeded to gather up and each enjoy of sip of it.
Man, did that champagne taste good!
Unfortunately, reality soon dug in as they reminded us we had to bring the car to the Tech shed. The top cars were impounded, weighed, and our car as the winning one had to be partially disassembled for inspection. I got the car to Tech and went back to change out of my monkey suit, and then began to coordinate the gathering of tools to be brought to Tech. They wanted the head removed from the car so they could measure bore, stroke, and compression, and they wanted to inspect a few other key items. I pretty much stayed out of the way as Matt, Tim, Kevin, and Brian jumped in there and got the stuff done.
After a few hours of work and inspection we sat back and waited for word from the Tech inspection crew as to our legality. At one point we believed there actually may have been a problem with the compression (Matt was concerned that he inadvertently miscalculated when he built the engine) but the Tech crew came back and released us; we were all legal!
Just as we began to push the now-headless NX2000 back to our paddock space, it began to rain. We all got soaked! So, we took some time to clean out the trailer, pushed the car inside, and packed up all the “stuff” we had outside.
Jeff and Jeremy bade us a farewell and started home early, while the rest of us met for dinner. We thoroughly enjoyed talking and exchanging stories while everyone on the team autographed shirts, hats, and other Road Atlanta paraphernalia for the family! Soon, though, the jubilation came to an end and we reluctantly bid “adieu” to the family and dispersed back to our hotels/houses for sleep.
The Drive Home
We woke up Sunday morning as early as we could, ready for a VERY long driving day. We expected the ride would be about 17 hours, and we wanted to try and get it done in one day (last year we were home by midnight). We loaded up the van and said good-bye to Tim, then drove back to Road Atlanta to grab the trailer. Soon after checking to make sure we hadn’t left anything we began the long tow home.
The drive started off good enough, with the drive into Charlotte non-eventful. However, as we were leaving Charlotte we saw a Racing Radios enclosed trailer stopped by the side of the road. We had noticed the guy passing us an hour or so before, so we figured he might be having trouble. We decided to take the next exit and work our way back to him. When we finally got to him he told us that the trailer had become disconnected from the hitch and he’d gone for a pretty wild ride! He was still spooked (and this was a good half-hour later, at least) but he seemed to have a handle on it and his equipment was in good shape (well, except for one broken and one missing load bar!) We made sure he was all set and then got off at that exit for gas and some sandwiches. As we were pulling away from the station someone next to us ran into the back of the car in front of them at the light! The damage was minor and no one was injured, so we soldiered on, but this was the beginning of some bad omens…
Around mid-day, as we were passing through central North Carolina, Joe suddenly pulls off at an exit without warning. Thea and I were in the Audi at the time so we took the next exit and doubled-back. When we caught up with them we saw Matt and Joe hunkered over one of the trailer wheels; seems that the wheel bearings were TOTALLY fried and destroyed and someone had flagged Joe down to tell him he was billowing smoke!
Let’s not forget this was on a Sunday. In the middle of nowhere North Carolina. Well, at least it wasn’t raining…
We had pulled off near a gas station so Joe went over and asked them where we could possibly get trailer bearings on a Sunday afternoon, while I logged onto the Internet to figure out where we were and do some “yellow pages” searches. They gave Joe some places to try and he, Matt, and Dave took the Audi on a “bearing quest”. The pisser about that whole situation is that Jeff had offered to give us some extra trailer bearings he had “just in case” but we totally forget about it before they left. I called Jeff and Jeremy to find where they were (almost home) and I called my NC friend Kirk Knestis to find out where he was in relation to us (too far away). Fortunately, The Boys did manage to find a tractor supply company that had exactly what we needed, and they ended up buying two sets of brake drums pre-packed with bearings. Matt cleaned up the stub axle as best he could and they slapped on one of those drums and threw on the wheel. We were ready to re-roll.
By this time it was getting close to the end of the afternoon. We had lost at least a good three hours dealing with that problem and it became obvious that we weren’t going to get home at a reasonable hour. But, we kept going. At the next fuel stop, about two hours later, Matt did a quick visual inspection of that drum they had just replaced and was shocked: three of the five wheel studs were broken off and the other two nuts were loose! In our haste to depart after the drum replacement, we had apparently forgotten to do something as simple as tighten the lug nuts! Argh!!! Fortunately, Joe bought two drums so we removed and replaced that broken one in the parking lot of the gas station (in record time), made sure the lug nuts were tight, and then hit the road again.
With the exception of frayed nerves and significantly sleepy drivers, we made it home the rest of the way – very, very early in the morning – with no further incidences. Dave went to work, Greg called in sick, and Matt slept in late.
This ARRC win was a goal we had been pursuing for a long time, and for Matt and me it was a monkey that had been on our backs since the bronze medal at the 1992 Runoffs (we shoulda won that race!) We were simply on Cloud Nine. Friends were ecstatic for us. My family was proud beyond words; it seemed like my Mom and sisters were almost to tears! As I noted in the press releases, "[t]he best part about this win is that my wife, family, and friends were there to share it with me. We had friends and family come in from Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Connecticut for this event, and I'm proud to have delivered the results for them. It truly doesn't get any better than this!" And I truly mean it.
One can’t describe an event like this without thanking many people:
So what now? Well, we’ve met the lion’s share of our goals for this project. There’s a few things left to achieve, but I’m confident we’ve proven our point. However, this is all about fun, isn’t it? So, we can now look forward to that. I had considered jumping into another project build of a different car, but I’m just not motivated to spend another buttload of time and money on this. So, we’ll look towards the 2007 schedule and try to hit some high-visibility marquee events, defend our wins and track lap records, and maybe even go out there to set a few more.
Look for Kakashi in ’07 tearing up a track near you! – Greg