Aww, yes: Harris Hill Road. My car lives here. I live here. (I have an apartment for stuff, but...haha, no.) This race is like the 12 Hours of My Couch. My Porschelump 944 should DOMINATE! Just kidding. I have no idea what I’m doing in race traffic. Not. A. Clue.
The 12 Hours of My Couch was officially called something less Stef-centric, however, it was the perfect opportunity for me to give ChumpCar another chance. My tow there consisted of pushing the car down the hill from my carport into the paddock. The staff who runs events at Harris Hill is always pretty good about running the race well and pulling off drivers who are in over their heads for a chat. Everything about this sounded like a solid bet for loads of fun with minimal effort.
With sub-$500 crapcans, everyone has their reasons for doing more of one series over the other. I hadn’t gone to another ChumpCar race after my car got t-boned in 2013, but we were paddocked next to a team who said that they were through with the similar, but more comedic 24 Hours of LeMons series after getting t-boned there.
Moral of the story: don’t t-bone cars, I guess.
ChumpCar skips LeMons’ focus on hilarious themes and doing well with the biggest hooptie to focus on the racing itself. Classes were added based on displacement only this year, but the main prize was still the overall race winner. Some teams feel Chump is too serious compared to the party-with-a-race-happening LeMons scene, and others feel like it’s just what they always wanted. Either way, if there’s track time and I’m driving in it, I have fun, regardless.
I’d been wanting to hop onto another team for Chump and give it another chance, but the schedules never lined up between LeMons races I knew I wanted to do, work and other stuff. I have no idea who to point my wagging Finger of Shame at, but Texas’ race calendar has an unfortunate tendency to book races for crapcan and crapcan-legal series where races are either too close to or directly booked on top of each other. (This hurts car counts in all series, which is an even bigger bummer for those of us jumping up and down and begging for more opportunities to race an el cheapo endurance car in my state, but I digress. That’s a whole ‘nother rant.)
Committing to two races in one month is financial and timesuck madness, but with one race right in the backyard of my couch, I couldn’t resist. I’ll figure out how to do LeMons in something because it’s always a huge party, but I’ve got to toss the 944 in this ChumpCar race. It’s right there, down the hill, where I have approximately 42 trillion laps in various vehicles.
The 944 was prepped for LeMons’ Class B, but in such a way that I only needed to add a couple items to get it legal for ChumpCar. We weren’t going to be competitive compared to the legions of Miatas, BMWs and Mustangs that were built to compete for Chump’s top prize, but there were several other cars I knew we could play with on the entry list. There was a Fiat I’d previously borrowed for a local enduro race, a Buick-engined Maserati that was being rushed into completion to make it in time for the race, a quick Triumph TR7 we might stand a chance against if they broke (again), and our closest nemesis: the “Ghost of LeMons’ Past” 944.
I call it the Ghost of LeMons Past because this is the 944 that ended the Peoples’ Curse. It got unfairly cursed for looking too nice, too shiny, and too run by Porsche Club-types. It wasn’t cheaty, though: it was just a well-themed 944, and it had even nuked a head gasket early in the race. The current curse rules then doomed it to destruction despite having only seven votes out of 122 teams. The whole experience was so unappealing to LeMons’ staff that it led to the eventual phasing out of the Curse.
The team rebuilt the car and ended up running mostly ChumpCar with it, and then they sold it to another team who does mostly Chump races.
Again, everyone has their reasons.
(Shoot, I’m still mad about that engine and the Curse was on its way out before I even started racing anything. THOSE WERE USABLE 944 PARTS, YOU SAVAGES.)
Despite the fact that my car was 99.9999999% ready to go, I was still running around with a barrel full of nerves during practice day. My fire system hadn’t arrived until the day before and all of my teammates were en route from Houston. I wasn’t entirely sure what the Houston crew would bring, and some of the items we really needed to have on hand, like jacks and other tools, were apparently on the road.
Either way, I finally calmed down when I went out to see how the car would do for an hour and thirty minutes. Breathe. Calm down, otherwise you’ll accidentally bork a shift from grabbing the wobbly shifter too hard. Focus on the laps. If it survives an hour and a half out here, it should be fine for the race.
The Porschelump ran great. I had a blast. The same stutter problem I’d had in turns during LeMons at MSR-Houston hadn’t reappeared in months, so I opted not to tinker with it for now.
Best of all, some of the other drivers who came out for practice weren’t all running away from me. I could keep up with whoever was in the gorgeous Gulf-liveried Mustang that looked like it belonged more at a vintage race than a ChumpCar one. I was able to play with a few of the Miatas who came out to practice, too. This was going to be great!
I came back in and did a few last-minute action items on the car and then waited for my teammates to show up. Nugget wasn’t due to come in until the next day, but everyone else was en route.
The Chump registrar’s nickname was “Huggy Bear,” so I had to get his picture with my “lovable lump of snuggly stuff” team mascot.
Finally, Kevin showed up to practice, turned a few laps and promptly let it roll around slow for just long enough for the coolant to spew out. (We still only have one working fan. Oops.)
Yep, it’s a race weekend.
After Kevin wrapped up his laps, Karl and crew-guy Kris showed up with not just a box truck full of tools, but an entire bus to camp out in. They were a bit too late to get any laps in, but weren’t super concerned about it. Kris usually crews for Karl’s stock car that runs NASA races, which meant that between my legion of spares and the truck full of tools, we were probably the most overprepared team there.
Admittedly, I was pretty butthurt after our first ChumpCar race, which was exacerbated by reading a few posters on Chump’s message board claim that they didn’t slow down enough for the yellow flag before our car got hit. I couldn’t see the incident myself because it was on the far, back side of the track from where we were, but I still went away feeling like Chump was where all the folks who got too many penalties for contact in LeMons went. That’s not something I’ve written about or really made public because I knew my experience was out of the norm. I knew it wasn’t a rational feeling, but rather, an emotional response to losing a car.
I own a 944. Serious German car. Emotions are for the weak.
Publicly, I was getting back on the horse, getting another 944 and getting back into racing. But there’s no coincidence as to why it went into LeMons’ events first.
I knew this was a problematic attitude to have because ChumpCar is the kind of event that keeps some folks interested in and participating in motorsport. It’s no-BS endurance racing that’s accessible to an average dude. Folks who don’t resonate with the we’ve-seen-everything-and-your-Miata-is-dull attitude of LeMons and who just want to race something blossom over in Chump. (Often in Miatas, because why not?)
Worst yet, it conflicted with my own beliefs. I’m very anti-snobbery in motorsport. If you find something on-track (or off, in the case of rally nuts) to do with a car that you love, own it. Love it. I can’t dump on that, even if it did eat my car.
Plus, the number of people who’ve had great experiences in Chump vastly outnumbered my one bad experience. Even the other Chump races I’d been to contradicted the bad taste left in my mouth from our one Texas World Speedway event. Every other event I’d spectated or helped out with, folks drove well and people were friendly. What else could I want out of a race series?
Like the time I went back to finally drive TWS in my new 944, I knew I couldn’t leave ChumpCar on a bad note. ChumpCar races attract good people: fact. The drivers who have a blast over in Chump are often racers who do other series anyway. The races where I don’t get t-boned are always a blast. These nerves about doing this event were something I needed to look in the face and punch in the balls.
After having driven in practice, sure, my nerves were still there, but not very much. Everyone was well-behaved and friendly. People I ran with during my practice session were aware of the other traffic on track, passed or got passed safely, and generally awesome.
I still got zero hours of sleep before the race, anyway. Karl convinced me that I should go first, which I’ve never done. I’ve been last, when everyone throws in their ringers to catch up. I’ve been in the middle, which is fine. But first? First is the stint when I put in people who don’t know the track very well because there’s several parade laps before the start. Alternately, it’s when I put the crazies in who love to play in traffic. Everyone who’s there is out for the start.
It’s the busiest stint of the entire race.
So, no sleep. Karl gave me some great sludge-grade coffee that did a decent job of halfway waking me up, but those feelings of dread that subsided a bit after yesterday came right back up in full-force.
“Just come in if you get too tired,” he mentioned.
There’s something that breaks in my head on race weekends, even though I swear up and down that we’re in it for the lulz and the experience: I’d like to beat whoever I can, thanks. We’re kind of slow, so my strategy is all around minimizing stops and lessening time spent in the pits. I’ve said “don’t break the ‘lump” so often that Kevin made decals of my most-used phrase for the car. Breaking the ‘lump, of course, involves a lot of time spent in the pits fixing whatever it is that broke.
While Karl’s advice was solid, it broke something in my little, stupid head. No. No. I will stay out for the whole hour and a half and like it.
At least I wasn’t still incredibly nervous about the other drivers. Oh, no. Once the green flag dropped, a new concern cropped up: I have no idea what to do in traffic.
I mean, I sort of know what to do based on years of being quite slow in LeMons’ traffic: pick a line, stick to it, and be predictable. Own those mirrors. Don’t move into an apex if someone’s nosed in beside you.
Passing, though? Nope. Not a clue. Any time I moved off-line, I couldn’t figure out how to keep my speed up in my floppy 944 with worn-out suspension. That quick track day line that I knew and loved in years of farting around Harris Hill was of zero help to me. I got no point-bys. I was one of the slowest cars on track, and I felt like many of the other teams had put their ringers in for the start. Cars that I was able to play with in practice zoomed past me. Worst of all, I lost a ton of time slowing down for traffic ahead of me that I should’ve figured out a way to move past. Even with the car as worn as it is, we could brake later and hold on to turns a lot better than many of the other cars on track. If I got behind a car that couldn’t corner as well or that took a long time to slow down, it hurt.
There’s nothing like getting thoroughly pwn’d on your own track to show you that you know nothing.
The other stints of the first day were thankfully uneventful. I wrote off my issues with passing as being tired and nervous, and thankfully, the other drivers on track all day completely alleviated my worries about the other cars on track. They were great! I had zero to worry about besides my own tendency to get stuck behind other cars for way too long.
We were fourteenth overall after the first day, and fourth in our class. [Update: MyLaps showed that we were third in the class breakdown that was released after the race. We and team Don’t Panic! both finished 187 laps for the day.] Not bad for a car that’s one of the slowest cars here. The Fiat and Triumph kept having to spend far too long off-track, and the Maserati never made it out. We were running pretty close with the other 944, though, which gave us a carrot to aim for.
Day two rolls around, and I’m in the car first again. I’m going to be more aggressive today, dang it. I need to strike a better balance between not binning the car in the start and giving people more of a fight in the car. No more moving out of the way for faster traffic unless I’m pushed there. Stick to my line. It’s their responsibility to make a clean pass, after all—not mine to help them.
Just kidding, apparently. I still sucked at dealing with cars around me on track in a race. The temperature dropped overnight, so the track was a lot colder today. I was taking turn 6 flat for most of the previous day, but it was just a little too hairy for me to pull off on every lap today. I had less grip. Worse yet, a red flag for a car that got stuck off the track left the car idling for a while, and my brain immediately wondered if I was dropping coolant because I was sitting. The fans on my car are pretty weak to begin with, and only one of mine works right now. It’s fine if I’m moving and pulling air through the radiator. We’ll run cool all day as long as the car is moving. Idling or puttering around is what kills us, though.
So, my last half-hour was all nerves: did I still have coolant? I don’t think I heard anything bubbling. What’s that smell? I shouldn’t track-out where I came to a stop just in case I piddled slippery-water-poop-sauce all over the outer edge of the track. It’s getting moist out with intermittent mist. I’ll take it easy. Okay. Whatever. Stint done, hand it off, awesome. The 944 still runs, therefore, mission accomplished.
My teammates were fantastic. No, really: fantastic. Nugget somehow kept the car in 4th gear for the whole track and still cranked out fast laps that didn’t over-rev the tired engine.
The mystery stutter we’d had at MSR-H came back for Kevin, who almost came back in for our weird unsolvable problem, but didn’t after he found that the problem went away when he backed off a little. Karl mentioned that he’d had the issue at the end of yesterday. We first tried to solve the issue before the last race, where I replaced all the fuel system components I could short of dropping the tank and checking the little screen that goes out of the tank for crap stuck in it that might interrupt the flow of fuel.
Either way, we still clawed our way up to the top half of the standings. Us. Probably the slowest car here.
We had one more problem crop up before the end of the day. When we rotated the tires from yesterday, we noticed a corded tire from the previous day’s six hours of racing, but we were expecting cooler temperatures and rain today, so it shouldn’t be an issue, right?
Karl had the last stint. We checked all the tires when we made sure they were all at the right pressure and noticed that the inside of the front right tire was bald, similar to yesterday’s tire from the same corner. It wasn’t corded yet, thank goodness, but it didn’t exactly have a lot of life left on that inside edge.
I had an alignment issue, obviously. It wasn’t getting worse per se, but we decided to send Karl out on it anyway so we wouldn’t have to spend time swapping a tire during out pit stop.
The tire blew with less than half an hour to go. Kris radioed that he was coming in. Nugget grabbed me away from tinkering with an article in the clubhouse and before we could even get down the hill to the pits, Kris had swapped out the blown tire.
That was the most ridiculously quick tire change I’ve ever (not) seen. We lost maybe a lap to the swap. We might’ve even lost more time trying to limp the car with its wounded tire back into the pits than we did actually changing the stupid tire. Had I known that it would have been that short, I would have changed it when we put in fuel, but holy crap.
Note to self: stock car crew members for the win?
We finished fifteenth after the race was all said and done, complete with a tire change, Kevin backing off for the weird engine stutter and me sucking at driving. We got third in our class, despite having the smallest displacement for Class C. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Most of all, this event completely disproved all the feelings of butthurt I’d had about ChumpCar from our last event. Intimidating experience = punched in the balls.
Sure, the Porschelump is more competitive in LeMons, and I’m all about the party. I’m going to have to figure out how to hop into more Chump events, though, because I had a blast regardless.
(Any suggestions on how I can stop sucking at passing are super welcome, by the way.)