2017 was a fun, albeit different, year.
I bookended the year with my normal jaunt to the east coast to race at Wall Stadium in Turkey Derby. But everything else for the year was abnormal. Let’s look at the ways.
I traversed the country for races that spanned a weekend.
I was forced to turn left and right.
Races were not sprints.
Contact was frowned upon. Sincerely frowned upon.
I spent a week in Indianapolis, in a camper.
That last one – we went to the hallowed hall of racing. I had never been to the Runoffs before, and I was attending them at the most famous racetrack in the world.
I hadn’t been to the racetrack since the inaugural Formula 1 race 15+ years earlier. I had very little recollection of it. Even pulling up in the shadow of the stadium to check-in sent goosebumps down the arms.
We just made it before registration closed. We got in and were informed that we could empty our trailer to fill the garage we had rented (yes, an actual garage that looked out onto the pit straight), which was conveniently about 500 yards away. We found ways to manage with this, but the easy one was moving the car, right? Unload it, start the engine, let out the clutch and stall. And stall. And stall. After moments of pondering the realization set in…it had been reinstalled incorrectly just before the event. Our shoulders slumped and we pushed the car to the garage ahead of a long night.
Practice was the following day and we scrambled to try and make our 3 sessions. The morning was a loss but we were able to get it buttoned up to get out for session #2. That first lap at speed, on the long straightaway, taking care to notice the yard of bricks. That sent the goosebumps to other places.
The practice day wasn’t a lot of use but did get acclimated to where the track goes. After all, it’s only the 4th time I did this. A little easier to learn in my standard oval surroundings.
Qualifying – 4 days. Yes, 4 days, one session per day. We had 20 minutes each on 4 days, and that’s it. Seems like that would be an easy day, but man did we make it challenging. Between the clutch repair, finding out we hadn’t gotten enough fuel out of the tank beforehand, engine repair on the other car, etc., we were gassed.
On the final qualifying day, after we had officially drained the tank, the car stopped running well. It started breaking up at high rpm’s. Of course this occurred on the final day, with no additional sessions before the race. We checked everything we could in fuel and electrical system. Did a hardship lap. It did not go away. We were going to have to make repairs and hope we fixed it.
We had to get to grid early each day. Sitting there, especially on race day, was a form of peace. I had followed this through, and had checked off another mark on the racing bucket list. I was competing in the amateur national championship, at Indy! Eventually we got the call to go on track, and seeing the people watching, the tv cameras, and most importantly the scoring pylon lit up with our numbers – there aren’t words to explain.
On the out lap I noticed that the engine still wasn’t running right. It was mild compared to what it was, so let’s try it. The start of the race was adventurous, as it got called back and then a few laps in one of the competitors grenaded an engine in the braking zone to turn 1.
Continued around trying to keep nose clean and as the race progressed the engine condition started to get worse and worse. It stopped pulling on the straightaway. Did one extra lap and pulled it in.
Was able to get to garage, park, get out, and watch the rest of the cars go by a few times, see my name on the video board. Now that was a bookend.
At the end of the day we repeated the process of hiking stuff back to the trailer, and we got on our way. It was a great time. The track was fantastic, the local area was a fantastic host, and the experience was fantastic. I get why people do this every year.
I have some unfinished business as the performance wasn’t what I would have liked. But I am thankful to Team Wrenchaholics for the chance to get out there. We’ll reprise it one day, maybe if they come back to Indy again.
Hallowed be Indy’s name,