RACE REPORT – March 8TH & 9TH – Thunderhill Raceway, Willows, CA
US TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP
by Jerry Bradbury (Siddhartha)
Ah, the thrills of racing! The smell of high octane fuel and hot brakes, the squeal of tires, the machine gun rat-a-tat-tat of the Wankel rotaries, the deep rumble of American iron, the pretty girls in the paddock and everything on the grid from highly polished pro race-cars, layered like a Victorian drawing room with vendor stickers, to five colored back yard beaters whose quarter panels look like they have been worked over by a large angry man with a big hammer. And that’s before the race starts. When the green flag flies another set of sensory impressions rolls in: the sound of engines all around you, the rush of the wind, the feel of g forces against your harness and seat in the corners, the clatter of the chassis working under stress, the low howl from your tires as they fight for grip, the buzzing swarm of Miatas ahead that you must somehow get past or through and those pesky Hondas that dance in your mirrors briefly before blowing past.
I wish I could tell you about my debut race on Saturday at Thunderhill Raceway in National Auto Sport Association’s Performance Touring class, but I failed to make the call to the post. Oh, I was in there for “warm-up”, which to most of these crazy guys means “spank the rookies and cut ’em off at the apex” on a cold track with cold tires. Gee whiz, fellas! And I qualified first in my group of one with the fastest time I have yet turned at Thunderhill, a 2:08 and change, but I was having electrical problems during qualifying. I lost my power steering in turn 6 with Miatas going past me on both sides and the wheel suddenly feeling like it weighed a hundred pounds. I managed to limp it around to the pits, turned it off, started it again and the problem went away. Come race time, I strapped into all my safety gear and was heading for my grid position when the panel went black and the starter solenoid would only click-click-click-click. Dead. Off they went without me and we pushed the Mini back to our pit and tore into the external master power shut off switch that is mandated by NASA rules. Sure enough, one of the poles to the alternator was dead and the car ran only until the battery died.
So we re-routed the wires, charged the battery, went to the free barbecue, drank mudslides and went to bed, satisfied that the morrow would bring better tidings.
Sunday was another perfect day, mostly sunny, in the 70’s, with a clear view of Mount Shasta and the Sutter Buttes. The paddock was jammed full of cars and transporters and most of the cars seemed to be in Group A. There must have been 70 racers on the track for warm-up. But all my opening night jitters were gone. I just warmed it up and watched my mirrors so none of the strafing runs would catch me unprepared. Sure enough, there was carnage as a few guys took themselves out during the warm-up session. Why do they DO that??! Reverse Darwinism, I guess. Good for the rest of us, as always.
Back in the pits, my support group was waiting. Canyon Bob Scheer and his dad, Jack, had motored up from LA with their race prep mechanic, Dan Pacheco. Bob runs his silver Burbank Plating 2002 MCS in the prestigious US Touring Car Championship, where they pay real money for racing. For the past two years he has been my hero and my mentor, always available to chat, diagnose problems and offer advice. His engine has been vigorously massaged by Dan with some amazing plumbing by Hubie Fuh and produces over 200 big horsepower in a lightened race car that goes like stink. All I’ll say about his suspension tweaks is that you can see twin Moton cans in the boot, ‘kay?
My JCW MCS motor is still stock. The car has been stripped and the suspension re-engineered, but it still weighs a chunky 2650 lb. and makes only 210 bhp. Still, our lap times in qualifying were only a second apart. Bay Bridge Motors in Oakland has put my car back together twice now after two costly shunts and Jacques Andres, a Mini racing wizard, has done the race prep. That’s Jacques behind the wheel of his orange and blue MINI MANIA/Andres Motorsports racing MINI that you’ve seen bicycling the car on the inside cover of MC2 magazine. I brought Lee, my treasured mechanic from BBM along and it was he who helped me into my safety gear and found and fixed my electrical problem. In addition, Vince (minispeedrcr) and Mickey (kmickey) were there with their S cars, running in the High Performance Driving Event expert class. They offered help and support to Bob and me as well.
After another qualifying run and more attrition, I was getting ready for a nice lunch when who should appear at my door but Ali Arsham, who runs the west coast USTCC. He asked me how many cars were in PTD. Ans.: One. He asked me what I was getting for running in that class. Ans. : Nothing. He then said, “Why are you wasting your time? Your qualifying times are right up there with us, why don’t you come run with USTCC? We’ll give you 4 new Nitto racing tires today, two more at each race, we offer cash for racing and if you win, MINI USA will give you $2,000.” Sold. So I applied the USTCC sticker to my windshield and got ready for my racing debut in a professional series. You can see Bob and me on Speed TV. Hey, mira mami, I’m a pro!
I lined up 11th on the grid and waited for the green flag. There it is. Let out the clutch and we’re off. USTCC starts first so there was clear track; well, except for all the rest of the USTCC guys who were up ahead there. So I motored peacefully around behind the Toyota in front of me until two fast Honda guys flew by me and went through turn 6 with about 2 inches of daylight between their bumpers. Coming through turn 14, the Toyota ahead of me sputtered and I motored past into 10th place. Hey, I passed a guy!! Coming through turn 8 next time, I saw one of the USTCC cars stopped sideways on the track with parts scattered around and leaking. Just as I was thinking “Oh boy, I’ll pass another guy!” he fired that puppy up and fishtailed up over turn 9, trailing parts and fluids, fenders flapping and bent wheel wobbling. I was sure I could catch him, but I guess he figured he had nothing else to lose, put the hammer down and stayed ahead of me.
Still I was slowly reeling him in with about 8 laps to go when the yellow flags appeared and coming up over the turn 5 bypass I saw the leading Honda lying on it’s side, smashed into pieces. Coming over the blind hill, with the green del Sol still right on his bumper, they suddenly came upon a rookie back marker putting along in the middle of the track. The lead car took evasive action but the track is tricky there. A section of asphalt running down from the high turn 5 intersects the turn 5 bypass route there and the bump upsets the car’s balance as it’s on tiptoes from cresting the hill. He miscalculated. His protruding wheel studs struck the back marker’s rear tire which slammed his nose into the pavement and caused the car to fly end over end into the weeds. End of race. He was airlifted to the hospital with some broken bones, his car was scraped up and towed off and that was our finishing position.
No, you won’t see us on the podium. Bob finished 4th and I finished 10th. But we have two Minis running in USTCC West and we’ll be back next month at Infineon Raceway at Sears Point. Stay tuned for more adventure.
Shiva Waits In Pre-Grid