1992 Runoffs Wrap-Up

as told by J.J. Gertler of Hard Drive in the GEnie Automotive Forum

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Topic 2 Tue Oct 13, 1992
AUTO.RT [jj/CRX-Si] (Forwarded)
Sub: Team GEnie at the Runoffs!

The Team GEnie Nissan NX, driven by Greg Amy, will go for the national title at the SCCA Runoffs this week! Here's where we'll let you know what's going on (communications vagaries permitting).

Category 28, Topic 2
Message 1 Tue Oct 13, 1992
AUTO.RT [jj/CRX-Si] (Forwarded)

Well, here we are in Atlanta. We've had some trouble getting through to GEnie from here. But we've had a lot less trouble on the track!

We put the car on the track Saturday, and things were promising from the start. The Team GEnie Nissan turned competitive times -- in the 1:54 range -- before we began tweaking.

The cloud on our horizon took the form of a white Mitsubishi Mirage Turbo with the number 88 on it. We'd been chasing defending national champ Gerald Alaimo all year long, and he was clearly ready for Road Atlanta, with the car in the 1:52 range from the start. But we knew that we had room for improvement, because Greg reported a moderate to severe push which made the car detectably slower.

We spent the remaining Saturday and Sunday sessions trying different tire combinations, with varying results. Then, Sunday, the stopwatch clicked on the 03 Nissan with a 1:52, and life was looking a bit rosier.

No other car was even in the 1:53s, according to our timing, so it looked like a mano-a-mano battle with Alaimo. For Monday's session, we concentrated on eliminating the remaining push, and went to bed optimistic.

Monday's session was, to put it mildly, a disappointment. Alaimo went faster. We went slower. The car still pushed. And several other cars had caught up with us.

Top wrench Matt Kessler and Greg discussed how to approach the fix. They didn't necessarily agree. But by the end of the night, we'd decided on a radical solution, basically reversing the setup course we'd been pursuing.

The Tuesday morning session was at a cold and fairly dark 8 AM. As the crew had been up until 11:30 working on the car, it was a somewhat bleary crew which assembled in the pit.

That wooziness disappeared fast. The watch showed 1:52, 1:52,1:52, 1:53, 1:53, 1:53, 1:52. Greg called in to note that the car was MUCH more drivable, and the tire temperatures showed that our solution wasn't abusing the new Goodyears. Today was a very good day.

We sobered up a bit when SCCA published their times from the practice session. Alaimo had a 1:51.8. We were at 1:52.5. And there were three cars between us. Indeed, the top eight cars were within a second of each other.

Which brings us to tomorrow's practice. We have some ideas, but we also have a secret weapon in our pocket. Team guru Bill Wittstein arrives tomorrow, and he will be involved in the final tuning. We hope to be on tomorrow night with good news!

Category 28, Topic 2
Message 3 Wed Oct 14, 1992
AUTO.RT [jj/CRX-Si] (Forwarded)

Today brought the first of two qualifying sessions. Our group went off at 2:45, and the car had basically been made ready last night, so this morning was spent in adjusting details and other pursuits. Bill arrived at the airport this morning with a suitcase in hand and a driveshaft slung over his shoulder. How, you might ask, does someone carry a driveshaft in a box on board a United flight? Simple. When the security guard asks what's in the box, you say "A driveshaft." And they wave you through.

Happily, the driveshaft was brought not out of need, but out of caution. Similarly, even though the car is handling fairly well, we changed the rear struts today, just because we could. But that's getting ahead of the story...

Thanks to Jim Williams (A.WILLIAMS34), we had the capability of timing 8 cars today, using Greg's laptop. (The timer program will be released from the library soon.) We'd been fifth fastest in practice, but today was for real. So we watched the timing with particular interest.

The results were gratifying. Because this session was run in the day's peak heat, everyone slowed from Tuesday's early morning session. Tires which had gripped the track slid. Thin air made turbochargers less efficient. But some slowed less than others.

First, to nobody's surprise, was still defending champ Gerald Alaimo's Mitsubishi.

Second, a half-second back, was Alaimo's regular-season nemesis, Ken Payson's Mitsubishi.

And one-tenth behind Payson sat the Team GEnie Nissan of Greg Amy.

We are not cocky about our chances, either in tomorrow's second qualifying session (also in the afternoon) or in the race itself. We still have to weigh the advantages of less-sticky tires that last versus faster ones which might fade. But we know that whatever the raceday setup, we have a competitive car, an ace driver, and terrific preparation. We hope to have an exciting story for you tomorrow!

Category 28, Topic 2
Message 4 Thu Oct 15, 1992
AUTO.RT [jj/CRX-Si] (Forwarded)

The second qualifying session didn't begin until 4:45 today, which meant a cooler session than yesterday. This boded well for our tires and overall speed, but it meant the same for our competitors.

Because of the late start, we were able to take the time to do a few extra things to our car. New rear struts were fitted, and a number of checks and adjustments kept Bill and Matt busy. Jim Williams arrived this morning from Texas, and added his expertise to the mix. He also lent Greg a trusted ear for his ideas and strategy.

We had a set of scrubbed Goodyear Eagles with the softer C compound set aside for the second qualifying session. The Cs actually run better after they've been heated and cooled once, so we mounted up the tires from Tuesday's practice session.

Just before going to the grid, two of our competitors, Don Fuller and Tony Swan, came to Greg to suggest that they all work together in the session, with Greg leading the three-car draft which could better the times of all three. So the three Nissans lined up nose-to-tail for the start.

The plan didn't last long. On the first lap, Greg got a little bit sideways coming under the Nissan bridge, and Fuller and Swan backed off, breaking the draft. But in the end it didn't matter.

It didn't matter because even without the draft, all three cars improved upon their Wednesday times. Greg ultimately came down to a 1:53.1 according to SCCA, good enough to move him past Ken Payson.

Unfortunately, two other competitors fared even better. Dane Pitarresi, a driving school instructor, took his Toyota MR-2 to the pole with an astonishing 1:52.6. Mark Youngquist's Nissan moved into second. And first-day pole winner Gerald Alaimo hung on for third.

So the Team GEnie Nissan NX will start tomorrow's National Championship race from the fourth position, with a great opportunity to move forward. While we may not have had the fastest single lap, our overall average for the session was the fastest in the field, and that augurs well for the race.

The only question left is the weather. Rain is predicted for the Atlanta area tomorrow, but when it will begin or end is still uncertain. We hope for dry but cool weather, but of course we really have no choice!

Tomorrow, we hope to have some happy news to report! But in any event, we'll let you know what happens with the Team GEnie effort!

Category 28, Topic 2
Message 7 Fri Oct 16, 1992
AUTO.RT [jj/CRX-Si] (Forwarded)

The full race report will follow, since the team's going out tonight to celebrate our finishing THIRD IN THE COUNTRY in Showroom Stock B, in the process setting the Runoffs lap record! The race was a wild affair, and could have ended a number of ways. In the end, though, Nissan NXs took 5 of the top 6 places, with Mark Youngquist winning. Our congratulations go to Mark, and the story will be up here soon!

Category 28, Topic 2
Message 15 Sun Oct 18, 1992
M.MESTEL [Mitch] (Forwarded)

Good going!! but the big question is how far can you spray champagne??

Category 28, Topic 2
Message 16 Sun Oct 18, 1992
E.MAGLOTT1 [Edward] (Forwarded)

I made it down to Road Atlanta on Friday morning to see the Team GEnie crew in action. I missed my convoy (or they left w/out me) leaving in the morning, which meant that I had no SCCA member to get me in at the discount rate. Greg and everybody were down in the paddock, only about 150 yds from the gate, so I called them on the cellular phone, and Greg was nice enough to come up and get me in at the bargain price. Funny to call the Connecticut phone number to talk to people so close <g>.

The crew was busy "thrashing" at a torn CV boot, which was only repaired 5 minutes before grid time! I decided it would be best to get out of their way and scope a good viewing spot for the race.

I will let Greg and jj go into the details of the race. But I will say that it was the best raceing of the 10 or so I saw. It was quite a thrill to see them come around the first lap w/ Greg moved up to 2nd from his 4th spot on the grid. And the margin between Greg and 1st was less than a foot. Greg was driving like an animal...Oh, he told me not to say that <g>. Those were his words actually, I just called it aggressive.

He made some impressive passing moves in the turn 12 area. On the inside, on the outside, in the grass <g>.

It was great to meet Greg, jj, and all the crew, and to get a more detailed "behind the scenes" look at racing.

Category 28, Topic 2
Message 17 Mon Oct 19, 1992
AUTO.RT [jj/CRX-Si] (Forwarded)

Having just arrived home from Atlanta, let me first say that we're quite grateful for the support and enthusiasm we've seen here on the board. It was terrific to run knowing that there were folks out here pulling for us, and interested in the result!

It was good to meet Ed, and I'm glad that he has given you some of the flavor of the race. Herewith, the semi-official report; I'll let Greg fill in the details from the driver's seat when he returns tomorrow night!

Race day dawned uncertain. The morning looked fresh, clear, and cool, as good Runoffs mornings do. But the forecast was for rain. We just didn't know when.

A call to Flight Service indicated that the cloud cover would arrive in the late morning, with rain projected to hit Atlanta two hours after our 1 PM start. If true, this would be ideal, as the cooler temperatures and cloud cover should help our softer, "C" compound Goodyears last the distance. But we kept a wary eye on the weather front nonetheless, and sent a set of wheels to Goodyear to have rain tires mounted.

Tires would be an unknown factor. Yokohama arrived with a new tire for its preferred teams, engineered to last the distance. Our strategy of letting the Yoko teams -- most of the field -- burn out their traditionally sticky but short-lived treads and then going by on our more robust Goodyears hung on past experience, and we didn't know whether their new tire followed that philosophy. Also, qualifying had mixed the deck. Dane Pitarresi's pole-winning Toyota MR-2 was on Yokos. So was Mark Youngquist's Nissan NX, in second. Third qualifier Gerald Alaimo rode on Bridgestones. And in fifth was traditional nemesis Ken Payson, on BFGs. We didn't expect them all to have trouble, especially on a cool day.

The 9 AM 10-minute warmup proceeded uneventfully, or so we thought. The main purpose of the session was to scrub in a new set of Goodyears, since the tire engineers present told us that the Cs do better after one heat cycle. But when Greg returned to the pit, he reported a clunking sound from the drivetrain.

Thus began the major thrash that Ed reported in his last post. Back in the paddock, crew chief Matt Kessler and wrench John Jones put the Team GEnie NX up on jack stands. Team guru Bill Wittstein got into the car to run it through the gears, and Matt went under the car to listen to the drivetrain. Greg passed instructions from one to the other, adding a reminder to Matt of the hazards of working near operating driveshafts.

And then, not thirty seconds later, Matt's work glove became caught on a CV joint boot and wrapped around the halfshaft, dragging his arm with it. He hollered for the motor to be stopped, which Bill -- Matt's father as well as employer -- did with alacrity.

Thankfully, the glove had pulled far enough away from Matt's hand that his fingers weren't broken. His forearm was gashed in two places, and bruised badly enough that the puffy purple began to show immediately. Judy raided the everpresent first-aid kit for Band-Aids, antiseptic, and an Ace bandage to hold the dressing on. Matt refused a trip to the track medical facility, insisting instead that we check if there'd been damage to the car.

Sobered by the accident, the team returned to its tasks. While disentangling the glove from the left halfshaft, we saw immediately that the left CV boot had been torn.

We had three and a half hours to the green flag.

Matt and John went immediately to work removing the driveshaft assembly from the transmission. We had brought most of a car's worth of spares, including a complete driveshaft, but of course we didn't have a CV boot on hand. In the spirit of the Runoffs, our competitor Wiley Timbrook offered us the use of one of his, if he had any; it turned out he didn't. Once we found the Nissan Motorsports rep (it took quite a while), he said that he'd given a collection of boots to another of our competitors. But he didn't know whether the one we needed was among them.

Another competitor, Mark Youngquist, immediately gave me the part I described to him. Unfortunately, the part I described wasn't the one we needed.

I next tracked down Rob Jones, the fellow with the boot collection, as he filled his car at the gas pumps. He immediately told me to take whatever I needed, if he had it, and gave directions to his paddock space.

Rob's wife very helpfully went through the boot collection with me, opening boxes and pulling parts out of bags. Sure enough, there it was. I raced back to the paddock with the right part and gratitude to Rob and the Buckeye Nissan team in my wake.

The driveshaft was out and disassembled when I returned to the paddock. The new boot was mounted as fast as prudence would allow, and the fittings greased with Valvoline Synthetic.

1:45 to the green.

Kjell Skavnes, a year-long rival, showed up around this time and asked whether we had an extra hub and spindle assembly. We were torn between the altruistic impulse to give him the part and the thought that our as-yet unsolved front end problem could be in the hub and spindle, which would then need replacement. Kjell volunteered to ask others for one, and to return in a little bit when we'd finished diagnosis. We said the heck with it, and lent him the parts.

Now the driveshaft wouldn't go back in. Matt had it seated, and was whacking at it as hard as he could without bending joints or Brinelling bearings, and the darned thing simply would not seat. We tried the most expedient solution: A bigger hammer. Didn't work. (Let this be a lesson to you shadetree mechanics everywhere.)

1:15 to the green.

Bill asked me to get him a file. We pulled the driveshaft back out, and the George Alderman Racing team comes up with a file (by my count, the third time this season they've saved our bacon.) Bill cleaned and deburred the transmission end of the driveshaft, and it slipped back in like it was greased. I returned the file to the Aldermans, and the buttoning-up commenced.

The car stood on its wheels again with 45 minutes to go. But we don't know whether the original problem -- the clunk -- had been fixed.

A quick run around the paddock verified that whatever the clunk was, the driveshaft work had sent it away. Two operations remained: Aligning the wheels and checking tire pressures.

We did the wheel alignment with Bill's new super-whizbang Dunlop alignment rig, which is about as accurate as two pieces of angle iron and a measuring tape, but intimidated the competition MUCH more. After a correction to the front toe, we adjusted tire pressures, attached valve caps, and took the Nissan to the grid with about fifteen minutes to spare.

As the field moved out behind the pace car, I thought back to last year's start. There, Greg had dropped back as the field passed under the Nissan bridge to turn 12, opening a gap to the car in front of him which allowed him to stand on the gas early and take the green with the turbo spooled up. He passed four cars before Turn 1.

This year, there was no turbo to spool. But, as the first row came under the Nissan bridge, I noticed that Alaimo was close on Pitarresi's bumper, but behind Youngquist, there was a considerable gap...and then a red Nissan. In spite of being more tense than I've ever been for a race, I smiled.

Greg nailed the accelerator as the field came down the hill to 12, and was on Youngquist's bumper at the starter's stand. The brake lights flared as the field squealed into turn 1. And, as the 31 cars streamed up the hill to turn 2, the Team GEnie Nissan was second.

And a good thing it was, too. Because as Greg clung to Youngquist's bumper, Pitarresi's pole-winning MR-2 was spinning up the hill, thanks -- Pitarresi later said -- to a push from Alaimo in turn 1. The field scattered to avoid the red Toyota, an endeavor in which everyone was happily successful. But the spin allowed the first five cars -- Youngquist, Greg, Payson, Alaimo, and David Daughtery -- to make a clean break from the pack.

Ken Payson told me a month ago that his approach to the Runoffs was much the same as for the regular season races: Hook up in a draft with his fellow Mitsubishi driver, Alaimo, draft away from the field, and then settle matters between the two of them. That strategy now came into play, and Greg soon became its first victim, falling to fourth. Crucially, though, he didn't let the Mitsubishi train pull away from him; indeed, he and Alaimo worked together to pass Payson. Greg held onto Alaimo's bumper for a couple of laps, and then dove inside of him at turn 3.

Alaimo slammed the door, and Greg found himself flying through the dirt on the inside of the turn, bouncing over rutted Georgia clay -- and with Payson and Daughtery following him through! Greg's surprise at this situation was matched only by Alaimo's when Greg returned to the track from this excursion *ahead* of Alaimo's white Mitsubishi.

Alaimo came back under power to relegate Greg to third. This didn't last long, and it set up the most electrifying move of the race.

For two laps, Greg took runs at Alaimo under the bridge. The Mitsubishi would regularly move wide through turn 11, entering the right-hand turn 12 from the pit lane. This was a safe approach, because a pass in 12, a 90-degree turn at the base of a steep hill, is essentially impossible.

On the seventh lap, Alaimo flashed under the Nissan bridge, following his usual line to the left, into the pit lane, and began to turn in for 12.

Except this time, there was a red Nissan in the way.

Greg had held back going through 11, taking the inside line and holding the car in as he dove down the hill. It was a slower line, but that shorter run down the hill cut inside Alaimo's wide arc, preventing the Mitsubishi from taking the inside line in 12 -- to which Alaimo'd already committed.

12 is a one-line corner.

Two cars were headed for the apex.

Somebody had to blink.

And as the crowd rose and even the SCCA workers gaped, the impossible happened. Two cars slid around turn 12 side-by-side, with the 03 Nissan inside the sliding 88 Mitsubishi, launching down the front straight into second place.

All around us in the pits, experienced race crews and officials yelled and hollered. They couldn't believe what they'd seen. And their incredulity increased when, exiting turn 1, defending national champion Gerald Alaimo slid off the track, returning only to motor slowly to the pits and withdraw.

Greg set off in pursuit of Youngquist, with Payson, Daughtery and a resurgent Kjell Skavnes following. Greg and Payson traded positions a few times, but the Nissan ultimately pulled ahead and caught Youngquist. Once with the leader, Greg began to push the leading NX, trying to bump-draft away from Payson and the pursuers. Youngquist began to drive defensively, going off-line to block Greg. Greg radioed in. "Tell Youngquist's crew that I'm not going to pass him until two laps from the end." He wanted the two cars to work together, and Youngquist seemed to catch on.

But Skavnes and Daughtery, in a Nissan Sentra SE-R, were not to be denied. As the field entered the 17th of 18 laps, Youngquist and Greg were close together, with Daughtery slightly back, followed by Payson and Skavnes.

Skavnes got by Payson in the first half of the lap and closed on Daughtery. Then, approaching turn 7, Greg set up to pass Youngquist for the lead, just as he'd announced he'd do.

But David Daughtery thought he saw a chance to jump to the lead in one shot. He dropped to the inside of 7 early, apparently trying to pass Greg and Youngquist.

The move didn't work. Daughtery's Sentra hit the Team GEnie car, pushing it off the track. Our NX hooked up and shot back onto the course, striking Daughtery's car. Kjell Skavnes, turning to avoid the tangle, shot head-on into the berm on the inside of the turn. And Ken Payson, dropping all the way to first gear, slipped by the mess unscathed.

Greg and Daughtery, their cars seriously bent, both got straightened out and rejoined the race. The lead cars had pulled away so strongly that they were still third and fourth.

Daughtery's damaged bodywork was rubbing a tire, making his pursuit of Greg difficult. But the Team GEnie car still ran strongly, and Greg put everything he had into catching Payson.

Youngquist's lead was suddenly on the order of three seconds. In the pit, unaware of what had happened, we saw the number 98 Nissan appear, followed an eternity later by Payson's red Mitsubishi. Then Greg's car, hood askew, left- side podywork deranged on both fenders, came down the hill, running strongly...and gaining visibly on Payson.

The last lap seemed to us to take forever. Reports on the loudspeakers indicated that Greg was closing on Payson, but we didn't know how tightly. Then Youngquist appeared under the Nissan bridge, coming down the hill to take the checkered flag and his national championship.

But few eyes saw Youngquist's victory. Because, as he crossed the line, from under the Nissan bridge two red cars appeared -- side by side.

Payson and Greg came down the hill as if welded together, the Nissan drawing even as they plunged toward the one-line turn 12. The crowd rose again, seeing, as the two cars approached, that it seemed inevitable they would crash.

But they did not touch. Payson held the Eksten Autoworks Mitsubishi in tight to the curb. And Greg had his foot deep into the throttle, coming around the outside, using every bit of grip left in his Goodyears to carry more speed into the short straight to the finish line.

On the outside, Greg's Nissan passed the starter's stand, still in full song, drifting out of the turn, alongside Payson, carrying full speed until all four tires were on the grass strip between the track and the front straight berm.

Payson took the flag, barely ahead. But all eyes were on Greg's fight to keep the Nissan under control and moving straight ahead on the narrow grass strip.

Greg brought the Nissan back onto the track safely and took the cool-down lap.

When he pulled into the pits, you could see that Greg was exhausted from his hard, come-from-behind driving. He really put everything into it. But there wasn't much time to recover before track officials pulled him out of the car and onto the victory stand, where he was interviewed by the track announcer, had his picture taken with a series of hats, received a bronze medal and a kiss from Miss Road Atlanta (I'll let him fill in the details here), and finally joined Youngquist and Payson in spraying the crowd with champagne. Then he went off to be interviewed by the racing press, still with the dazed look of surprise on his face. After all, he'd never finished this well at the Runoffs before -- and he'd never been through the hats and champagne and media routine. It was a heady experience.

In his interview with the track announcer, Mark Youngquist, referring to the bump-drafting, said that he wanted "to thank Greg Amy, because he had the fastest car out there today, and he sacrificed himself so that Nissan could win."

Youngquist was more correct than he -- or we -- knew. After the race, SCCA announced that Greg had set the Runoffs lap record, with a lap of 1:53.211 on the altered Road Atlanta circuit. So, although our car didn't finish first, we can say that it is the fastest SSB car in the country.

Considering that we started the season with a new-from-the- showroom car, just the two of us, driving to races with a small toolbox in the back, it was a truly fantastic finish.

Category 28, Topic 2
Message 21 Tue Oct 20, 1992
E.AMY [Greg] (Forwarded)

Whew! What a review, JJ! You had ME on the edge of my seat!

What more can I say? I think the entire team did a fantastic job (despite me!). It was truly a team effort. I enjoyed the laurels, but everyone will get their just reward.

It was also nice to meet E.Maglott1. Always a pleasure to have a face to place with the name!

Thanks to all for your support, and to Nissan, Bob Sharp Motors, Goodyear tires, Valvoline Synthetic oil, Pyroil chemicals, and to Matt Kessler, Bill Wittstein, and John Jones of FastLane Performance. Special thanks to our very own SysOp, JJ Gertler and his gorgeous wife Judy for getting this effort started and organized.

Oh, and Miss Road Atlanta...