2011 States Race
This weekend was the regional dirt championship dirt races (also known as the "states" races) in Schnecksville PA. This is a small flat track that offers some very close racing. Matt likes racing dirt so I decided to give it our all. This regional event turned out to be the second biggest event in the nation of 2011 with 280 cars.
The States race is a 3-day affair with the full race format. Practice, qualifying, lower mains and A-mains. It is a very formal and regimented affair called the Grands format.
On Friday everyone arrives, signs in and has their car safety inspected. There are a few controlled practice sessions where cars get 3 minutes on the track 5-6 at a time with cars of the same type.
Saturday morning they start qualifying all of the cars. Cars are fueled with track provided gas and the tanks are sealed. They wait in line in reverse order of sign in and go out one at a time for 8 laps to determine their fastest time. After coming off the track each car is measured and weighed to determine legality. This is a long process. On Saturday we started at 9:00 and finished at 5:00.
The drivers are sorted by qualifying time. The fastest 5 are put into the A-main, the next 5 fastest in the B-main, next 5 in the C- main and so on depending on the number of cars signed in. The last 6- 10 are put in the lowest main. Let's say 22 cars signed up for the class then there would be; 5 in the A-main, 5 in the B-main, 5 in the C-main and 7 in the D-main. They race the D-main and the top 5 transfer to the C-main. They race the C-main and the top 5 transfer to the B-main and so on. A somewhat drawn out and confusing process but in the end the fasted and best racers make up the grid for the A- main event.
After the A-mains the engines of the top 2 finishers are torn apart and checked for legality. Once found legal the trophys are awarded. The winner of the A-main event is the champion for the weekend.
I took thursday and Friday off from work to repair crash damage and set the cars up for dirt. There was a lot to do to change asphalt to dirt cars. change gearing, lock the rear axle, change the offset, install foam air filters, change the springs, mount tires and measure the circumference of the mounted tires. I had lots of tires to try and match the condition of the track as dirt changes with the weather and number of raced on iffy. Once the car was together I matched the rear tires so the difference between the circumference of the inside rear tire was 2 1/2 to 3 inches smaller than the outside tire. This is an important measurement called stager. Too much and the car is slowed down. Too little and the car will not turn. One adjusts the stager by mounting the tires on different wheels and fine tunes with air pressure.
I got done just in time to hook up the trailer and pick Matt up from school at 2:48. We drove straight up the Schnecksville to be standing in the sign-in line at 4:00 when it opened. Next was to get the cars safety inspected. We passed without problem :-)
We drag the cars and all our equipment over for controlled practice. There are 3 rounds of 3 minutes each so we have to learn quickly. We taped on our qualifying numbers to indicate the class and got in line with the heavy GX120 Honda car. Matt has been racing for 9 years so he is an old hand at this hurry up and wait game. We had the soft dirt tires on the car. When our time came Matt pushed off with 5 of his peers and took the track for 3 minutes. He looked good against the others without spinning and getting a few good passes.
When he came off the track he said the car felt good, but I thought the car was not turning well. Cars can go fast w/o turning, but you will not be able to pass in a race. I decided we needed more stagger. The maximum rpm was correct, so I guessed my gearing right.
We went over their scale and Matt was 325.5 lbs. The class minimum is 325. At our track we are 329-331 so the scales must be different. Note to self: add 2-3 lbs. We pushed the car the 200 yards from the scales to the staging area to get ready to practice the heavy GX160 car. The car is identical, except it has a 160 cc Honda engine.
I only had one set of dirt tires so we swapped all 8 tires from one car to the other. This was a bit of a Chinese fire drill with loosing some of the 1/4-28 lug nuts in the fine gravel of the staging area and Matt and I fumbling with who does what.
Once we had the tires swapped we got back in line to go out with the other heavy 160 cars. When we went out again Matt looked OK, but not really great. This car was not turning well and Matt was not gaining on the others. This was his first time in the 160 car on dirt so I am sure some of it was Matt's learning curve. Some was my learning curve.
This car was 326 lbs over the scale, confirming the calibration difference and my need to add weight. The RPM was about 200 above my target so I needed to adjust the gearing.
Roll the car back to the staging area again and repeat the tire dance. This time Matt and I worked out a system. He ran around with the impact gun and removed the nuts. Put the nuts in a pile and removed the tire. I ran around and put the tires at their new positions, then installed them and started the nuts. Matt tightened them with the impact gun.
I had Matt push the 120 car into line and I run back to the trailer for a smaller axle gear for the 160 car. I remove the chain and the master clip goes flying into the fine gravel. I had to find this one since I used my spare fixing last weeks crash damage. I found it :-) I install the gear and find the chain is too long. I run back to the trailer again and grab a shorter chain. I loop it onto the gears and snap the master link on then run up to adjust the air pressure on the 120 and buckle matt in. This time I go with 4 psi in the inside rear to give more stager.
Matt looks better this time and feels good. The stager lets him turn better.
We push the car back and repeat the tire dance. As Matt is tightening the wheels I adjust the chain tension by moving the engine. We get done in time to make the 2nd practice session.
With the better gearing and stager Matt is getting the 160 around the track well. He manages a pass on one of the other cars. We skip the scale and I have Matt push the car back. I show him the little trick of letting the engine run when you push the car. This makes it much easier, but you must keep your hand on the switch!
Matt takes off the left rear tire and I run it back to the trailer to install a wider wheel to give us more stagger. I return with the wheel and we complete the tire dance. When I push Matt off for his last 120 practice he looked better yet. The car can carve a tighter line which is essential in this little bull ring of a track for a good race.
We push the 120 back to the staging area for the last time and do our last tire dance. I pushed the 160 onto the track and learned the 60 liked the increased stager too :-). Matt looks great on the track, making a smooth arc and keeping the car out of the marbles.
It is 9:30 and we are beat. It is 10:00 when we have the cars in the trailer and can head home for the night.
Saturday we arrive at 8:00 for the handler's meeting and to get ready to qualify. Qualifying 280 cars one at a time is a long process and it will take most of the day as each car gets 8 laps on the track. In addition each car needs to be fueled with track fuel, then have the fuel system sealed. After the qualifying run the car and driver get weighed and measured then the engine gets sealed to the chassis prior to leaving the area.
Matt's 120 car runs near the middle of the qualifying and the 160 runs near the end. Dirt tracks change over time and the soft and damp track at 9:30 may be hard and dry with a blue band of rubber running around it at 12:00. tires and gearing are always an issue on dirt.
My instinct told me this may be the time to switch to soft asphalt tires. As the track started to darken up I decided to have a close look at the cars coming off the track. Many had dirt tires, but some of the faster cars had asphalt tires. I also watched many cars qualify along with their club vice president who is the resident track surface guru. He could tell the tires the cars had by the mark they left on the track. He recommended asphalt tires.
Back to the trailer and Matt and I switched the tires again on the 120 car. The asphalt right rear was 1/2 inch bigger in circumference so I put a thinner wheel on the left rear to restore the stager. Matt and I pushed up to get fueled and wait our turn on the track.
When Matt went out he looked OK. The car seemed to hook up and he got around well, but what do I know? when the times were announced his best time was 7.16 seconds which sounded good to me. I was not keeping track, but it was not as fast as some, but much faster than most.
We swapped the tires to the 160 car and repeated the procedure. This time Matt looked great until the last lap where he spun going over the line. His time was 7.004 seconds. Again, I was not keeping track, but I only heard one driver in the 6 seconds.
After all of the cars in all the classes have qualified they push the button on the computer and print out the starting grids for all of the races. When this list was posted there was a huge crowd around the list. It was a mob scene.
I had a cup of coffee and bought Matt his first waffles and ice cream. Once the crowd died down I walked over to see that Matt was in the A-main, gridded 2nd in the 120 car meaning he was 4th fastest in qualifying. Matt was gridded 4th in the A-main in the 160 car meaning he was 2nd fastest overall. Wow. Boy was I proud. It was a long day for Matt to put 16 laps on the track, but he put both cars directly in the A-main. This is no mean feat.
Matt's 120 race did not start until late until around 7:30 pm. I had duties at the track so I had to get there at 8:30am. Matt spent about 14 hours at the track yesterday for 16 laps (less than 2 minutes) of seat time and I knew he would be bored waiting around all day again. I had Patti drive Matt and Joey up at around 5:00 so they would be there in plenty of time to get ready to get ready and help get the car ready.
My biggest concern was what to do with the car. They watered the track and applied several hundred pounds of calcium chloride. Then they spent an hour running it in with a couple of junker truck with over-sized tires. In the morning the track was muddy and loose. By noon it had turned a nice dark blue with rubber due to all the racing. My stopwatch told me the track was stinky fast. The lower mains in his classes had gotten almost 1/2 second faster on the sun warmed track than the qualifying times yesterday. Were the lap times going down because A- the cars were going faster or B- the cars were driving a tighter line. With "A" I have to change the gearing to keep the HP up. With "B" I should hold pat on the gearing. What to do, what to do...
I decided it was probably "B" and that I should not touch the cars. To pass the time I volunteered to corner work #3 for the the lower mains. Corner working is one of my favorite jobs at the track as you get to be close to the action, interact with the drivers and are participating in the competition. It was a little different on dirt as the cars are going slower under caution due to the gearing. I could actually run as fast as the cars in many cases. The cars also started differently with the lower gearing. They were hard to get going, but seemed to start in just 1-2 steps. The other thing was you can start a car on the infield as it is dirt just like the track. The cars had enough ground clearance to just motor over the bumpier surface.
Matt and Joey arrived around 5:00 and we had a nice dinner under the tents that the club had set up. Time to get to work. We went back to the trailer and did the tire dance again, loaded it with his racing gear then pushed the car up to the staging area to wait some more. I went up to judge a race and corner work one more. Matt and Joey went off to play a little Frisbee.
Finally at 7:30 it was time to get to racing. I called the boys and started the ritual of going racing. I started the car on blocks to warm the engine. After a minute we pushed the car into the staging area and Matt started to put his suit on and get into the car. I was a little concerned that he still had his dark shield and it was pushing 8:00. They just turned on the track lights but it was still kinda light out. Too late to change.
The pit steward checked Matt's belts, arm restraints and brakes and we were good to go. The race before finished and the winner took his victory lap. It was time. The race race director called "roll em" and I pushed Matt up the hill to start the engine. Joey and I take our place on the pit wall. It is all in Matt's hands now.
Matt was starting in the #2 spot. I call this the dead man's hand as it is on the outside. The success of the start depends on being to find a spot on the inside. It is not uncommon to start in the #2 spot and end up last on the second lap when the pack stays tight on the start. I crossed my fingers.
The start did not go well. The pack was tight and Matt did not get to the inside until he was in 7th place or so. Then a miracle...the yellow flag came out. The order goes back to the last completed lap for the restart. In this case it is the initial line up. All restarts are single file so Matt starts #2. Cool.
Matt gets a good start this time and it is soon clear that he has more speed than the leader. In 2-3 laps he makes his move. the leader does not want to give up her position, but Matt makes the pass in fine dirt track style, using all 8 tires for traction in the apex of the turn. Once he has the pass he opens up his line a bit and lets the car roll. He pulls away from the pack.
Matt completes a lap as the leader. I think to myself at least I will be able to tell Matt that he lead the A-main at the states race. He continues to pull away from the pack. As the race continues it is clear that the cream is beginning to rise from the back of the pack. Then a yellow flag comes out. Matt maintains his position on the restart, but his lead is gone.
There is a lot of racing going on in the back, which works to Matt's advantage as passing slows you down. However, sometimes the passing ends in a wreck and the yellow comes out evaporating the lead. This is how this race goes, 5-6 laps under green and then the yellow. Through all of this the #7 and #8 cars are picking their way through the pack. They are clearly fast cars. With 10 laps to go they are on Matt's bumper for the restart. Matt has perfect form on the start and holds the lead. He pulls away a couple inches per lap. One mistake and Matt is toast.
Matt had built up about a 1 car length lead when the white flag came out. Matt was looking good entering turn 2 on the last lap when it happened, the yellow flag came out. Joey and I could not believe it. All of this work and Matt could lose it on the restart.
Matt gets a perfect restart and holds his lead going into turn 1 but the #7 car is literally on his bumper tapping matt in the apex and on the exit of turn 2. One good bump could take Matt off line and open up the chance for a pass. The bumping continues in 3 and 4 but she never gets into Matt hard and he takes the white flag again in the lead. #8 gets into #7 a bit and they loose a little momentum. This gives Matt 2-3 inches of breathing room as they head down the back straight. Matt runs the perfect line and takes the checkered flag!
Joey and I were going nuts as Matt took the checkered flag from the flagger for his victory lap. I ran out on the track and was jumping up and down waiving my hat as Matt came around 2. I was pumped. Matt later said he has never seen a bigger frog jump. Matt returned the flag to the flagger and drove off to the scales. Matt was getting all sorts of congratulations as he got out of the car.
Matt made the combined minimum weight by 2.5 lbs. Then came the moment of truth. Matt had to weigh 100 lbs in street clothes w/o his shoes. Matt was running around playing frisbee before the race in the 90 degree heat. Last time I tested Matt for the official weight he was 102 in the beginning of the season. I was with the car so I could not see the scale read out as Matt stepped on the scale in front of the official. I held my breath for what seemed like hours when the official said OK and waived him through. I asked Matt how much he weighed. No problem, I was 105. Exhale.
We have not won yet as the engine needs to pass technical inspection. I push the car over to the impound area and run back to the pits to get my tool bucket to get ready for the next race.
I ask the tech director what I need to do and he tells me to pull the engine. I tell him I will do it after the Heavy 160 race and I need to take the tires off this car for our next race so he does not get concerned that I am working on an impounded car. He is cool with it.
Team Dille does another tire dance, now with the cars 200 yards apart and in the dark. This one did not go as smooth as the others since Joey dropped one nut in the grass, but we found it after a few minutes of looking. We pushed the 160 car into the staging area.
Our wait was fairly short as the in between races went quickly. I warmed the engine and pushed the car up to the staging area. Matt returned from the trailer with the clear shield on his helmet as it was about 9:15 and truly dark out.
In no time Matt was suited up, buckled in and checked. This time I had Joey do the starting duties. Matt was starting #4 this time so I was responsible for working the #4 corner. Joey took my corner duties so I could be in the pits if needed during the race.
Matt looked great as he took to the track. The 160cc car has 30% more torque and power than the 120cc car and it looks it. These cars really accelerate on the dirt. Matt looked like he was having fun on the track. Whatever happens it will be fun to watch.
Matt gets a great start and has 4th place coming out of turn 2. Things go well. Matt set his sights on 3rd and got his groove on. After two attempts he got a good setup and passed into 3rd. It was a clean pass and it stuck. It took him a few laps to catch up to 2nd and he performed another flawless pass. He managed to catch up to the leader, and he took a couple of looks at a pass but he did not quite have the steam to attempt one.
This race was mostly green and the leader caught up to some lapped traffic. One mistake on the pass and Matt was positioned to pounce on the opportunity. They dispatched the lapped traffic w/o incident, but Matt did not get a break. There were a few restarts after that where Matt had the chance to try a pass on the start, but the leader was good and Matt did not get a break. He finished second.
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