2011 Pumpkin Races

Matt Getting Ready to Race the Heavy 160

Last Sunday was the Oaklane season finale, the Pumpkin races. We had 175 cars in attendance, the weather was fine and a good time was had by all. Joey was home for the weekend, which made things even better.

Matt had two races on Sunday. In his Heavy Honda 120 race he had a tough go. He got together with another driver during a pass and they both went dead. Matt gave me the hand signal that let me know the chain was off and I grabbed the huge screwdriver that is used to un-jam it. Joey was one of the corner workers and pushed the car into the pits and pushed it up on its nose. I un- jammed the chain and put it on the front sprocket and started it on the rear. A helper turned the axle and it popped back on! We pushed Matt off in plenty of time for the restart.

I was proud of this as it was something that Matt and I rehearsed and we worked out the chain-off signal mid-season after seeing another driver do it. This gave me a little extra time to get the tool and line up some helpers. Usually someone else does the actual chain wrangling. I did it myself this time and I was proud. Joey helped, which was the icing on the cake.

Back on the track, Matt was making a pass and another driver decided it was a good idea to try and pass Matt at the same time. This resulted in a Matt sandwich and all three went dead on the track and had to restart in the back.

About 1/2 way through the race and Matt was finally making some progress through the pack when two cars spun right in front of him. Matt tried to pull the car low coming out of turn 4, but caught the right front wheel on the front bumper of one of the spun cars. It was a hard hit, but Matt kept the car rolling. As he came around turn 2 I could see the front end was bent.

Matt pulled the car into the pits and a couple guys tilted the car on its side while I grabbed the bending bars and got to work trying to bend the L-shaped radius bars straight again. This was another case where others usually do the bending for me. I had practiced bending used radius rods back to straight. This was my first time doing it for real.

The radius rods were amazingly stiff for 1/2" diameter aluminum. They resisted my first few attempts. I re-positioned the bars closer to the bend and gave them all I had and the radius rods started to bend. I got the one rod straight-ish and went to work on the second. The second one was a bit easier and I bent it until the caster looked close to right. We put the car back down and pushed Matt back into the hunt.

Matt caught up to the back of the field and was immediately black flagged off the track. The race director signalled to me that Matt had gone Dead On Track (DOT) three times. Matt came off the track and I explained why he was pulled off. He reminded me that the third time he did not go dead, but drove off the track under power. The tower had made a mistake. Unfortunately, it was too late to get back into the race. Bummer.

I purchased a couple of radius rods and installed them while I had some down time. I also adjusted the toe and camber so it would be close to right.

Matt's second race went a bit better. This was in his Heavy 160cc Honda car which is his favorite of the two. In warm ups Matt looked great, smooth and fast. Matt started in the back on the outside and got a decent start. He was passing for 5th when the car behind him decided to pass Matt. There was not enough room so Matt backed off and let the kid pass. This slowed the three cars down and the leaders moved way ahead.

The three gathered speed and Matt made a smooth pass on the kid that slowed them down. When he went to pass the 5th place car the car behind stuffed his nose in again and Matt backed off again. This scene repeated once more before Matt managed to pull off a pass for 5th that would stick. Matt pulled away from those two and managed to pick off the 4th and 3rd place cars in fairly short order. This left about a third of a track between him and 2nd place.

Luckily the leaders were running nose to tail and Matt had a clear track and 18 laps to make up the distance. He was making time and closing the gap when he got a bit of good luck. The #2 car passed for the lead, which slowed them both down. This reduced the gap by about 3 cars. Matt moved up to the leaders and passed them one at a time like nothing. He had enough speed to pull away for the last couple of laps of the race.

Matt with the checkers after the last race of the season

The last races on the track are the parents races. This gives parents 20 laps to learn what they put their kids through. I have done this several times and it was fun. It has taught me a respect for the drivers. Since Matt has two large size cars, and I had adjusted the foot controls as far out as I could I had my pick.

I chose the 120cc car over the 160cc car because I wanted to see if I could go flat-foot around the track. Matt runs both cars flat out after the first lap or so and the tires are warm. The other times I had tried this I pussyfooted around the track blipping the throttle and never getting to a smooth run. I screwed up my courage and decided to go for it.

I managed to get myself into the car and strap myself in. I was defiantly putting 160 pounds of shit into a 105 pound bag, but I fit. While I was waiting for my race in the staging area the drivers walked around and made fun of us. It was interesting to be on the other side.

At one point a 5 year old driver came up to me and started to talk. I asked him to give me the safety check. He did not miss a beat and gave me the standard check that he gets every week. He made me raise my arms up to confirm my arm restraints were on. He then told me to hit the brakes and grabbed the roll cage and pushed the car back and forth to confirm they work. He then reached in and checked my belts and pulled them tight. He was smooth and efficient. We both got a kick out of the experience.

Me stuffed into Matt's 120 Honda waiting to race

Finally, the previous race finished and it was my turn to shine. The race director said "roll em" and my friend pushed me down the starting lane. I flicked the switch and nothing... This car has always been tough for Matt to start and I was getting the same treatment. Finally the engine coughed, sputtered, stumbled and finally caught in earnest as we approached the track entrance. I rolled out onto the track and I was driving a race car!

It was a crisp and clear night which is pleasant to watch the races, but just sucks the heat out of the track. This meant I would have to be extra careful getting the heat into the tires. I gave a few purposeful weaves on the track to scrub the tires then I dove into the first turn and floored it. 120cc of low compression engine does not exactly snap your head back, but it does build momentum.

As I built speed the tunnel vision started to set in. You are already sitting with your eyes knee-high peering through the eye port of the helmet. The speed and the fact that you are constantly turning focusing on getting down to the apex of the corner and keeping the car from spinning coming out of the turn. It is like watching the world through a toilet paper tube.

I was starting to get my courage to go flat-foot and the caution lights came on. I slowed and tried to do some aggressive weaves to keep the tires hot. We got another 1-2 laps green and the flagger called for line ups. I was told I was #4 before we started, but the flagger was telling me I was #1 now. I slowed a little more to let the others fall in behind me. We lined up double file and prepared to start.

The flagger gave the one to go signal. At this point the car on the poll (me) sets the pace until the green flag drops in turn 3 or 4. Most drivers just floor it at this point. I was not so interested in racing as surviving and perhaps even getting comfortable in the car. I picked up the pace and looked for the green as I entered turn 3. When I saw the green I floored it. Two cars passed me on the front straight and another passed going into turn 1. I built up speed but that did not prevent the other two cars from passing me.

Having worked myself to the back I could concentrate on learning how to drive. I held my foot down and made it through the first turn. This gave me a lot of speed for the next turn which caused me to get way sideways coming out of the turn. I steered into the slide and saved it :-) That was cool.

I started to do 1-2 turns in a row before lifting. The speed was building and the tunnel vision looked more like I was looking through a soda straw. I was starting to feel in control when the caution lights came on.

Caution laps are a real drag. I swerved to keep the tires warm, but I knew they were cooling down. I bumped the car in front of me like the real driver do just to feel it. I lined up at the back of the pack and watched for the green. The pack pulled away and I focused back on driving. On the second or third lap I held the gas down and kept it there. The car was sliding coming out of each turn but I was correcting and holding it. I was flat-footing!

I kept refining my technique and feeling better. A car came up to pass and put me off my line. I had to lift off the gas while being passed but I got back to it and I was having real fun. the pass looked like I was in a video game as I was inches from the other car. In my tunnel vision all I could see is my left front an inch away from his right rear. It was freaky.

I got back to flat-footing but another car came up behind me. I held tight as we came through the turn and completed the pass. I consciously held the gas down as he came past. As we were exiting the turn he came up and hit my left front with his right rear. My car stopped turning and went right to the wall. BAM!

It was a hard hit and I knew my night was over. Even if the car was OK I was shook up and it would be best that I stopped. The corner workers came over and asked if I was OK. I said I was OK, but my wrist really hurt. They went to get the emergency dolly to roll me and the car off the track. They lifted the car up and put us on the dolly. I was rolled off into the pits. When I got out of the car I saw the front end was really bent. The radius rods were bent to the point where the tire was back against the nerf bar and would not roll.

Me stopped dead on the track after taking it to the wall

I bent the rods just a little further than Matt had in his accident but the difference was minor. In his case he just sat there and hoped that we could get things straight enough to get back into the race. In my case I could not wait to get out of the car. It impressed me how tough these kids are. Matt earned a big helping of respect. What a kid.

Race Safe,


PS: As I type this my hand is black and blue and my thumb throb every time I hit the space bar. I sure miss my prehensile thumb every time I:

  • Start the car
  • Ride the bicycle
  • Use the space bar
  • Set the parking brake
  • Open the Motrin bottle
  • Open a door
  • Open my fly
  • Open the Tylenol bottle
  • Open a zip-loc bag
  • Close a zip-loc bag

These kids sure are tough!

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