Round 6 and 7 – Lac
La Biche March 2010:
Lac La Biche 2010: Note book from Car 79 after warm weekend of racing:
Another year has come to an end at the Lac La Biche motor speedway. The speedway is temporary as it is located on the lake directly in front of the town of Lac La Biche. The 2010 races were the beneficiary of some of the best weather for the annual festival of speed in recent history. There were quad oval track races, side-car oval track races, hockey games, 1/8 mile (1/4?) sled races and of course, the Ice Racing cars. The 1.2 km long road racing track started off quite slick on Saturday during practice as the studded cars made a precariously narrow strip of traction for the rubber cars that followed in the next practice session. Lots of spin-outs were achieved during rubber practice, but no body contact resulted. This was a driver's 'hazard and perception-response' test that would be necessary for later in the weekend as speeds increased and cars got closer. This is Car 79's story.
The last lap 79 turned was at Lac La Biche in March of 2009 and the car was in parked on the trailer until today, March 6, 2010. Car 79 went to Lac La Biche for its one and only race weekend of the season. One high-speed spinout in practice (thanks for the collision avoidance, 54) followed by one incident of being stuck in the snow bank (one wheel only, and about 1 foot into the glue-like white stuff) scraped off most of the driving rust from the driver. It also reminded me that one small mistake can be so costly on the track. Given the warm weather, the banks this year were VERY soft and it was easy to become jammed nose-in. Slush and the odd puddle became apparent on Saturday, causing the odd face-wash and splash through the open driver's window (through the safety net), or in the case of Car 79, through several small holes in the floor that resulted in high pressure geysers onto the racing suit.
Chevette RACE #1:
Starting at the back of a race is the most satisfying place as the positions gained form as sense of accomplishment. Starting 10th of 11 cars and finding my way to 4th with 3 laps to go, and the PLAN seemed all in order. Until.... "BLACK FLAG 79", how can this be? WHAT did I do now? There was NO body contact through the race. I was following a clean driver at the time. We were having a great spar, no spin-outs, no banks, no passing under yellow. OK, I wave at the officials that I got their message and I drive around by signalling (hand up) my intentions to enter the exit lane. Until, NO GRIP! Can't turn into the lane. Going too fast to swerve off the track down that narrow path that leads to the frowning officials. On a collision course with large pile of white stuff! I swerve back onto the track, partially deflect off the bank and make ANOTHER red-faced lap by the black-flag waving workers at start/finish AND at the far end (corner 4). REALLY, I wanted to get off the track and pay my dues, but rather than stuff my car into the exit lane bank, I make one more pass. OK now the "last lap" flag is waving. The thought occurs, "Can I pit and cross the finish line" at the same time, thus scoring my position without penalty? The short answer is NO. The frowning official informed me that I was going too fast as I entered a corner that had a stuck vehicle with tow truck nearby. The real answer is that the car I was following went in too fast, did a zig, followed by a zag, gave the impression of "too fast near a safety vehicle" and grabbed the attention of the frowning officials. Car 79, following this speed demon (at the same speed, but without the zig or the zag) did not grab their attention. Reportedly, there was some talk on the officials radio head-sets that this speed demon ought to be black-flagged and others responded by suggesting no penalty was warranted, but IF SO, then BOTH the speed demon and the guy following (that's me, Car 79) ought to be flagged in (because flagging the first car without the second is just not fair....). Kinda like a speed trap, where all cars are guilty in the line. So, GUILTY was the verdict by the hanging jury of frowning officials... black flag was the sentence to both SPEEDY (who shall go nameless, but has driver initials LM and numbers '5' '5' - but not necessarily in that order...) and Car 79.
Chevette RACE #2:
Somehow, my starting grid position for race #2 was 5th, in spite of the JAIL sentence from Race #1. We are to start in the finish order of the previous race. There is no way I could have maintained 5th after pulling into the pits and exchanging pleasantries with the frowning official. These conversations are akin to those with my wife - "Yes, you're absolutely right, and it will never happen again!". Back to Race #2. The 1.2 kilometer track was challenging and dynamic in the sense that it changed rapidly from lap to lap, requiring the drivers to seek out new lines for the best grip as the race wore on. I found myself in a battle behind 3 faster cars. 3 cars dicing and exchanging the lead with Car 79 as close as 2 car lengths back, waiting for these guys to knock each other out of the race so I could charge into the lead. First it was 54 in the lead, then 26, then 55 took them both and 54 fell back to 3rd. These guys were all over the track making huge errors, over-driving corners, catching banks, knocking snow and slush flying. Trouble is, I was also making huge mistakes planning my thread-the-needle maneuver. Every time I got within 2 car lengths, I would mess up a turn and fall back to 8 car lengths! Finally, 26 zigged and zagged wildly after the chicane, and sensing the weakness, 54 and 79 eased past. Then on the last lap, now a Chevette trio, 55, 54, and 79. Car 55 buckled under the relentless pressure of 54 and went wide with 3 turns to go, 54 pounced on the lead. Looking like a 3rd place finish was in order, Car 79 settled into the final 2 turns. WAIT, 55 is off line and flailing wildly trying to get back to the grip. 79 passed 55 during the last 200 feet to the finish line and took 2nd place by 1.5 seconds. Who's the speed demon now?
Chevette RACE #3:
Now it is Sunday morning and the slush has frozen all across the full width of the track, making the racing line much wider. Practice saw a great tussle between 54 and 79 as we both learned the grip was hugely superior to Saturday and the "outside line" was a great way to burn the slower cars trying to apex neatly on the inside. We may have had the fastest laps of the weekend during this practice session (which counted for nothing...). The track became slower with each race as the temperature rose, the slush became water and the racing suit embarrassingly more "wet stained"... Gridding at P2 in race #3, behind 54, was a great chance to put some much needed space between 79 and the rest of the pack. Staying near the front would set-up well for the Championship trophy, as the last race was for double points. Considering how fast 54 and 79 both ran in practice, we were both eager to get into Race #3. Flag drops, off we go, 54, followed by 79, 55 and 26. The PLAN was to chase 54, force him into a mistake and hopefully take the race. No mistakes were made by 54. Minor mistakes were made by 79. A yawner. NO passes. I could not gain on 54 and 55 could not gain on 79. A parade. Back markers came into the equation only on the last lap. The finish was 54, 79, 55, just as we had started. Boring video.
Chevette RACE #4:
Same PLAN. Chase 54, but harder off the start. Make him worry about that mean, green machine in his mirrors. Drive it like you stole it. Same start order 54, 79, 55, 26 etc. etc. for 12 cars. Off the start, a bit closer, minimal gap while rounding out Lap #1. Lap #2, finally the break I had been waiting for - a MISTAKE by 54. Wide at the exit of Corner 1, 54 bites the bank hard, does a 360 and slows to a near stop before getting going again. Heart rates soar. Driver 54, because he lost it and may have let the championship slip away. Driver 79, because I hadn't had a lead in a very long time and it's easier to drive in 2nd and follow the leaders actions than to lead the race. This time 79 and 55 are well past 54. Mirrors can be your enemy. If you don't know there is a car right behind, there is no worry! But having mirrors can make for a nervous lap. I turned my windshield mirror up and back so as to allow the video camera to catch both the forward view and a look behind through the mirror. This means I cannot see out this mirror - all the better. Many laps expire and I can't see ANYONE near my back bumper (through the smaller side mirrors). But THEN, as I pass a flagger / corner worker, I see them wave a blue flag to the lapped car I just passed. Translation: there is a FASTER car coming through, and catching 79! 3 laps to go and NOW I have to sweat it out! I spot the color purple in my left mirror, which can only mean 26 has caught up. The sportsmanship of racing is not always apparent. On this occasion I give full marks to 26 for not bumping or rubbing 79. We had different, somewhat intercepting, lines through corner 1. But 26 allowed me, the leader to run my line and not dive-bomb my strain-hardened left-side panels into any corners. I managed to fend off 26 for the entire "last lap" and take the checkered flag. There couldn't have been more than 1.5 seconds between 79 and 26 at the finish (my impression). 54 took 4th.
Rubber Race #4 - A statement about our sport
Between Chevette races, the other classes run, including the studded cars and the open class "non-stud" or NS (rubber class). We generally use the NS class as a warm-up race for the Chevette races as most of the Chevettes run both classes. The NS class is therefore a mix of Chevettes with FWD cars. Given the inherent traction advantage of FWD over a RWD Chevette, the FWD always win this class. However, recently, the Chevette drivers have put 5 or 6 of the top 10 cars on the grid. Take an inferior car and out-perform a superior car. Yes, this means that Chevette drivers are probably superior to FWD drivers. Race #4 saw FWD in P1, P3 and P5 and Chevettes in P2 (car 54), P4 (car 26) and P6 (car 79). The track runs CCW and turn 1 is a high-speed left-hander. As this class starts in pairs, using a rolling start (INDY style), there is much more speed in corner 1 than in Chevette race starts. As well, there are more cars, more congestion, and more white knuckles for at least the first lap or so, until the order strings out a bit. The green flag drops and the 3 Chevettes on the right cruise forward. I can't find an opening on the left (inside line where it is safer) because the FWD cars are there. I follow 26 around the outside and a huge splash of water (from the left) lands on my windshield. I stay right and drift wide, now following 83 who is behind 26. We are all tight against the right bank with cars lined along my left. No room to go left. Can't go any further right. Gotta just stay the course. UNTIL 26, directly in front of 83, grabs the bank (driver's right). He spins sideways, exposing is right door. 83 veers left, smacks 26 at the right rear quarter and spins 26 around again (still on the bank). 26 goes right around, nose-down on the track, tail up on the bank now stopped. I can't go left. I don't want to slam into 26. I swerve right and grab the bank as well, spinning similarly clockwise but nose-up and tail down with a nice view to the outside of the track. We have a minor collision, side-to-side. I stop. I look right. Car 11 is approaching at race speed, headed directly at my passenger's door. No swerve left. No swerve right. Within 2 seconds, CRASH. Forensic evidence confirms it is Purple Car 11 that slammed into the passenger's door of 79 and knocks 79 into 26. The rollcage in 79 does its job. The right door is caved in by about 12 inches, wrapped around the rollcage like aluminum foil. The rollcage along the passenger's door is bent inwards by 4 inches. The passenger's seat has been forced to the left, crushing my glasses case that was jammed into a convenient storage crack. The car is no longer running. After the tow truck yanks 79 back from my revised view from the bank, I sweep the broken glass off my racing suit, start the car and 79 trundles slowly around the track to the pits. It runs but not well.
Here is where motorsports makes a statement. My competitors gather quickly around my car, including 6, 37, 54, 55, and some support crew form the FWD class - all to get 79 back into the next race. The remains of the broken rear tail lights are removed. The timing belt is re-timed. The glass is vacuumed out of the front seat. The snow is scooped out of the front end. All just in time for Car 79 to make it to the next race! Thanks guys, you put the "sport" into Motorsport. As Car 6 told me, it does help to have changed 6 engines in the last 4 years - making the timing belt re-installation a breeze on this warm sunny day.
Chevette RACE #5:
Double points race. The points are now very close as 54 slipped up and allowed 79 to win Race #4. The starting grid for Race #5 is now 79, 26, 54. EXCEPT, that the track has now become a huge series of puddles. The puddles act as speed control devices as they suck speed out of the car and create awful visibility problems as well. A quick driver's meeting tells us to AVOID DRIVING TROUGH PUDDLES. That's like saying avoid drinking beer while in Germany. Can't be done - or very well done (or done without getting caught). Car 26 resorted to his backup car (that's his 2nd car, not a car used for driving in reverse...). Unfortunately, due to the puddles, this feature race was shortened and it was not much like racing. Rather, it was more of a follow-the-leader game. 79 just about drowned in a series of puddles and slush, allowing 26 one chance to get by, and so he did... From then on it was uneventful. 26 won Race #5 with 79 next in line and the season ended with a close 1-2-3 for the Lac La Biche championship, with Car 54, 79 and 26 taking the 3 podium positions.
Charity races were also run, both Saturday and Sunday, which raised several thousand dollars for local charity. Thanks again to the volunteers and the Lac La Biche organizers. You make this Festival of Speed a great annual event. As a final footnote - Car 79 has now officially RETIRED after 15 years of competition and over 200 Chevette races. Only one other car has completed 15 seasons (car 55). Thanks to the NASCC, the race organizers, the other 'Vette drivers and of course, the race fans for all the great memories!