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FFR 2008 Nationals

What a great weekend of racing action. Below is how I saw the event.

Wednesday, after rolling in and getting to see everyone again, Pat and I put an initial setup on the car that looked like it might work well.

Thursday morning started out as a nice dry day, but the typical 8:00 Group A morning practice was slow because of a slick track, the session serving only to provide a reminder of a track that most of us have not driven since last year. The second Thursday practice looked a bit better and the track felt solid, and I ran what I thought was a conservative 1.38.801. Having seen that, I was sure last yearís 1.38.3xx track record would fall before the weekend was over. What I did not know then, but what we all later learned was that this 1.38.801 was the first and only 1.38 the weekend would see because of a variety of track conditions, not the least of which was the downpour that greeted us for half the weekend. Despite driving the car hard, the third session of Thursday did not show any improvement for me, and did not seem to show a large improvement for anyone else, either.

Friday morning: Call Noah, we need the arc. Friday was wet. Real wet. The rain continued all day. Coming from the NASA Florida region, rain is not atypical for us, but dealing with the rain at Mid-Ohio seemed more difficult than Florida tracks in the wet. First, Mid-Ohio pools up water on the straights, so you have to be prepared for a nice hydro-plane several times a lap, even with full tread Toyo RA-1ís. Second, the track has other distinctive rivers that run through the corners that must be identified and then dealt with. Third, the entire track has to be run off-line to find any grip. After a safe practice, I wound up on grid a few minutes later than I would like to and wound up having to qualify behind the CMC posse. Not wanting to bend the car in qualifying, I never was able to get any clean track and qualified third.

During the Friday qualifying race, the fireworks started. It was still raining. John George secured the pole and was on driverís right, to his left was Paul Kaiser, and behind John George was me. Paul and I elected to take the flying start in the lower part of third gear to try to grab some traction. John decided to take it higher in second gear. At the hit of the throttle, Johnís car almost immediately made a hard move sideways, and John tried unsuccessfully to settle the car and spun it backwards into the wall. Kaiser and I ran the race conservatively to avoid contact with each other, with TC McNett running the fast lap of the race and finishing fourth. The top five were McKay, Kaiser, McDaniel, McNett and Larose.

Saturday morning brought more rain, and this time, Kaiser built his own arc and was running a wet weather clinic, four plus seconds up in practice and well over a second up in qualifying. The race, however, was dry, taking Kaiserís big wet weather advantage away. Despite running a faster lap, Kaiser finished the race second behind me, and in front of John George, Carl Thompson III and Dave Standridge. Dave Standridge, the 2007 National Champion, did not arrive until Saturday and missed all of Friday.

Sunday brought better weather early, with a dry practice and a dry race. Because John George crashed in the Friday qualifying race, and because Dave Standridge missed Friday completely, two of the faster cars in the field started from the back of the pack and had to buzz saw their way through the field.

I held the pole, with Kaiser on my outside, which gave me good position into the first turn after the back straight. On the drop of the flag, I had a bit of a better jump and led into turn one and I kept the lead for the first few laps. On what I believe was lap three, I made a mistake heading into madness, but one I thought was safe because I did not think Kaiser would pass on the outside when I had the car all hung out sideways. I was quite wrong about that thought, and Kaiser went blowing by on the outside, and into the lead. I tucked in behind and we ran several laps nose to tail, without passing attempts, so we could put some distance on the field. By lap 5, we had a comfortable lead and it was time to play.

But then came lapped traffic.

Kaiser was absolutely masterful in passing the lapped cars in perfect places and leaving me stranded behind them through turns. Only assisting Kaiser further was CMC was a small field this year, and everyone was racing for a position, so they were not getting out of the way and were not issuing any point bys. You had to earn your way by. I would get out of the Kaiser-built lapped traffic flytrap and catch up, only to be put in Kaiserís lapped traffic flytrap again and again. Perfectly done and very frustrating. Each time I was able to escape and get back within striking distance. On around lap 9 or 10, Kaiser and I drove horrendously deep down the long downhill backstretch leading into madness, and I tried a dive-bomb pass despite the fact that Kaiser was wise to my plan. Both of us carried too much speed into the turn, and we both stepped the cars out and put the cars in a synchronized power-slide within inches of each other, with Kaiser escaping the mayhem still ahead. Lap after lap I would catch up through madness, only to have Kaiser drive away through turn s one and two. With only a few laps to go, I was sizing Kaiser up trying to figure out where I could pass, and to see if I could pressure him into an error. Kaiser, however, makes very few mistakes, and was making none with me in pursuit. I knew it was going to take something special to win. Unlike previous sessions, I was unable to get a big draft down the backstretch, so I was going to have to do it under late braking and by getting off of corners hard. Both of these moves have big risks. With each lap I got it closer, but still not enough. And the laps were ticking off. Time was running out.

Then, it happened, but not how I planned. Sadly, on lap 14, as I was still chasing Kaiser and finally looking to be catching lapped traffic at the right time, Kaiserís car died and had to be towed in. We later learned the car blew a fuse. I was now running in first with what I figured was four or five laps left. I was happy to be there but sad with how it happened, as I had planned for it to happen in a different way. Knowing that Kaiser and I had been running the cars hard, I figured we had opened up a large lead and, to save the equipment and to reduce the chance of an error, I started driving the car at 75% (down from the 110% percent it was at) and started watching the mirrors to see who might be coming. What I saw in the mirrors was a fierce battle between the front running CMC cars, all of whom we had lapped, and I knew any contender from behind would have to deal with the wrath of the CMC gang running for their own National Championship, and the same rage Kaiser and I had to saw through to get ahead of them. For those of you not familiar with the CMC cars or drivers, the cars are loose, the drivers drive hard and passing them can be dicey. What I hated in them laps earlier I was now counting on and hoping for.

Because the Factory Five field is full of talented drivers, I did not want to take anyone lightly, so I still continued running 75% laps, which turned out to be smart. What I did not know then but do know now is that Dave Standridge, who started dead last, and John George, who started next to last were coming, and hard. After what seemed an eon, the white flag came out and all I had to do was keep the car together for another lap. There was traffic in front of me, but it was moving well and in the mirrors I did not see anyone coming, so I stayed where I was. I hit my marks and was finally greeted by the checkered flag. It was a great feeling.

Perhaps as impressive was the fact that Dave Standridge started last and finished second. Or the fact that John George started next to last and finished third. While I did not see them, I am sure they were driving hard and they both had a great finish, particularly given their start position. .

As fun as the win was, equally as fun was hanging out with everyone from Wednesday on. This really is a great group of men and women. TC McNett, who I was directly competing with, was giving me pre-race tips on things to do to the car to get the weight more balanced and to get the car to go faster. Crew from various teams pitched in whenever necessary to help on other cars. Everyone shared setup information, tire pressures and temperatures, and generally worked together to make sure everyone was having as much fun as possible.

It should be noted that I do not believe there was any body-to-body contact between any FFR cars for the entire weekend. This is a great testament to the skill and talent of the drivers of all of the cars. Truly an outstanding event with the best racers anywhere.

I would be remiss if I did not thank Pat Wehmeyer, who thanklessly gave his vacation time up to come with me to Ohio and crew the car for the week. He did a great job of keeping my car together, and helped on Andrew Switlykís machine to get Switlyk through his first ever National Championship, and on his first season with a race license.

This was, by any benchmark, an outstanding event. I thank everyone for their contribution to the event and hope to make it to Utah next year to defend the title.

Scott McKay

2008 National FFR Champion

 

Page last updated: 06/10/2010

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