Spring is in the air, and rubber got put down on the track last weekend at the season opening Southern Outlaw Tour in Montgomery, AL. I had plenty on my mind as we pulled up anchor in Chattanooga and headed south for the weekend. During the off season, my bride and I decided to step it up a bit and acquired a ’94 Holiday Rambler motor home (affectionately known from this point forward as the “Mayflower”), so it was with some apprehension that I hooked my trailer, race car and most of what we own onto it for the very first time and sat out on a 6 hr road trip.
I swear I had more arm pump after that first hour of driving than a professional motocross racer does after a 40 minute moto. Our RV/trailer combo is 65’ + and is susceptible to semi’s, crosswinds, strange noises, etc.…but a couple of hours into the trip everything seemed to ease up a bit. At one point, I glanced back over my shoulder and saw Amber sitting in the captains chair with her feet up, book on a desk, cheese-its, and drink in hand…”I love it” were her exact words. So I guess that’s the official verdict…we’re now RV people.
Upon getting to the track Friday evening we decided that it would be best to sit out the first round of qualifying until we had a chance to test the new combination in some slightly better conditions Saturday afternoon. After an initial shake down pass that was a little on the sketchy side, my good buddy Paul Baxter and I made a couple of adjustments and went up for qualifying. At this point in the day, I must admit I was tired and distracted with everything that it took to get to the track; sponsorship obligations, customer obligations and a race car that wasn’t too friendly on my first pass of the season. Add it all up and what does it mean??? Apparently a knucklehead driving job as I rolled the beams when staging the car and didn’t get an official time for qualifying. Although I felt like a donkey…I took solace in the fact that the car went straight as a string and in two quick passes Paul and I sorted out what took us 10 races to do last season.
Before the next round of qualifying my sweet wife kept my spirits up and Paul calmed my nerves by praying with me in the staging lanes. This time we laid the smack down with a 4.92 at 147 mph, which was a great pass, but unfortunately a little too quick and put us at the bottom end of the qualifying ladder for eliminations.
In the first round, without lane choice, I had a decent (not great) light, and was out on my opponent at half track when the car started a move towards the left wall that I couldn’t pull out of. So I decided to live to fight another day, and clicked the car off coasting through the traps…oh well, there were a lot of firsts this weekend, and after digesting it all for a couple of days, I’m pretty excited about our prospects for the rest of the season. I expect great things this year and feel confident that a solid foundation is in place for some strong results.
April will be a very busy month, as I have the Chattanooga Cruise In (at Coker Tire) on April 6th, Headhunters South in Steele, AL on April 13th, Southern Outlaw Tour in Montgomery, AL on April 20th, and if all goes well…we’re going to try to make it up to the great state of Kentucky for the NOP race on April 27th.
Thanks again to everybody who makes everything possible to race; Coker Tire, M&H, Dart, Comp, TCI, Zex, Lunati, K&N, Amsoil, Holeshot, Hedman Hedders, Texas Jungle Racing and REV Ministries. Thanks again to the almighty God who makes all things possible, period.
After everything that’s gone down in the past couple of weeks, it’s been difficult for me to get my mind around the words to put this blog in motion. The 2012 season of racing and season of life have been a journey that I wouldn’t particularly care to travel again anytime soon. Whether it’s been perception or reality, I’ve felt a lot of pressure to repeat the successes of my 2010 and 2011 seasons…after all, I started out the year with a newly refurbished race car, loyal sponsors, and a loving spouse. So what could go wrong??? Pretty much anything race related that you could think of and it seemed like the harder I tried, the worse it got. A late start to the season, freak parts failures, bad weather, bad luck, bad timing, bad circumstances…just bad, bad, bad. Everything hit critical mass a couple of weeks ago in Huntsville, AL when on a very chilly 40 degree morning the engine kicked backed, shot flames through the carburetor, and destroyed the clutch in my starter…sending me on a 4 hr search for a spare. Ultimately nothing I borrowed worked, and we pushed the car on the trailer defeated, embarrassed, and headed back to Tennessee.
Last weekend I got a chance to blow off a little bit of the figurative ring rust from my 1 month August hiatus and headed down to Holiday Beach Raceway located near “roll tide” country in Tuscaloosa, AL. So what did I do with my late summer vacation from racing? Prepare for more racing, of course….the entire car was nut & bolted front to back, a new vacuum pump, belt/pulley combination was installed, valves adjusted, oil and transmission fluids were changed, carb, filters, lines cleaned from the corrosive Methanol fuel residue…and the on board race computer data reviewed in an effort to establish effective nitrous tune ups for the rest of the season. I also experimented a little further with wing angles and suspension in an effort to create a little more down-force for added down-track stability.
What a couple of months it’s been. Engine issues & new car/new chassis blues have led me to the point of wondering exactly what I’m doing…and questioning what’s best for my employer, sponsors, my marriage, etc. It’s so exhausting to think you’re close to the end zone, and then the goal posts just keep getting moved further back. Such has been the case with almost every aspect of getting to, and actually getting the car to go down, the race track this season.
BUT, I think I’m starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. My devotion this morning was from Joel Osteen’s “Living your best life now”, and he talked about the mindset that is required for victory in our individual lives. He gives a brief overview of how God’s chosen people, the Israelites, were delivered out of bondage and promised an abundant life in another land. The land really wasn’t that far away….only about 11 days via a direct route. However, because their collective mindsets were so beaten down and negative from all the years of captivity…they were unprepared for God’s blessings and subsequently doubted Him all along the way, making a series of poor choices. We all know the rest of the story – what was intended to be a few days journey turned into 40 years wandering in the desert.
I started reflecting upon how hard things have been lately when I’ve focused on the problems and had my doubts whether this was all going to come together…it’s at these times that the mountains seem bigger, and choices more difficult. Then I thought back upon how much God has delivered me out of, and that there’s no way that He would have brought me this far just to drop me off in the desert. Racing is a passion and a gift, but it’s not a necessity…so regardless of the outcome, I need to become more confident that I already have victory in Christ.
That being said…my good buddy Paul Baxter and I had a pretty good test session the other night on a very slick local track. We’re making progress, and eating the elephant one bite at a time. Now that the chassis is settling down, our major hurdles seem to be behind us, and we can now focus on making more power and applying it in steady increments until we find the right tune up for outlaw heads up racing.
“Friday night, Test and Tune”
A couple of months back, Paul and I discussed a mission field of sorts. We wanted to reach out to those at the track who may never have heard the gospel….and to be an encouragement to those that already have. I’m so proud of him and his family as Paul recently received Chaplain Certification from the North American Mission Board and the project is really taking shape! (now we just need to get to some races). The ministry is officially called Racing to Exhault His Victories or R.E.V. Please check them out and show your support at:
Last weekend I got reacquainted with the Camaro at Steele, AL for a test and tune session. After evaluating the finished product and my goals for the season, it became apparent that a shift in racing focus was in order if we were going to have a successful season. Without going into a ton of technical detail, my car is now best set up to run on a 10.5W tire with the Southern Outlaw Tour’s “Extreme 10.5” class which is based around a 5.00 index, and the National Outlaw Professionals series up in KY and OH. So with that in mind, we went to Steele to sort out the best combination for this type of racing.
Well, put a stamp on it and mail it…the 2011 race season ended for me last weekend at my home track. I guess that technically speaking a track that’s a 4-1/2 hr, 250 mile one-way tow to another state, wouldn’t be considered “home” by most standards. BUT, Montgomery has been awful good to me over the past year and a half as 3 of my 5 race wins in the Outlaw 5.30 Index class have come at MMP. The track always seems to work well, and the competition is fierce, but for the most part friendly….therefore Alabama truly feels like a “sweet” home to me.
Such was the case Friday afternoon as my good friend Mike Freeman and I arrived at the track in time to do our routine maintenance, and take a test lap before the evenings single qualifying session. As fate would have it, our lane assignment was in the lane that NO fast cars had been down all night long…the left one. You see, when testing began, the very first car out on the track was an outlaw pro-mod who went in the right lane, and nailed down a 4.0 pass at nearly 200 mph with seemingly little effort. So all of the other cars tested in the right lane right up until qualifying…accept us. So in a “green” lane with very little traction I set out to get some type of barometer of where we stood for the ensuing qualifying session. What a ride. Left, right, left, and right again spinning the tires all the way through the 1/8th mile for a 5.42 pass, and to add insult to injury, I hit a 55 gallon drum smack square, dead-on in the pits on my way back to the trailer. Apparently somebody was thoughtful enough to sit it out in the dark in order to save a parking place for one of his buddies. I got out of the car wearing my full gear, including helmet, and just sat alone inside my dark trailer for about 5 minutes trying to piece together what just happened. This sure didn’t feel like home…
After a quick sulk, Mike and I set about making a series of adjustments over the next half hour or so and managed to make the best of the bad conditions by putting a 5.34 pass on the books in that dreaded left lane which qualified us somewhere in the middle of the pro ladder. Live to fight another day was my mantra, and I was just happy to come through without any noticeable wounds to man or machine.
Saturday was an all day long tuning struggle and after it was all said and done, we’d slightly improved upon our qualifying order with a 5.32 pass. While it was an upgrade, it still seemed like miles apart from the string of nearly perfect 5.30 passes that I’d watched my competitors make. As I was sitting strapped in the car, I swear that I saw no less than 4 cars run the number. Oh well, if there’s anything I’ve learned about this stuff it’s that while qualifying at the top can definitely help your odds, it certainly won’t win you races…you have to show up and do your part every round.
On this particular weekend it didn’t appear is if we were going to win much of anything. However, my daily devotion that morning encouraged me to “press toward the goal” (Phil. 3:14), and not look behind me. While this was great advice, I couldn’t help to notice what was actually in the lane directly in front of me…..a JET ENGINED DRAGSTER! Now, I’m as big a fan of fire, smoke and mayhem as the next guy…but not when I have to drive my temperamental race car right behind it in a lane that’s now been essentially oiled down with kerosene.
Looks like I’d have to make my own traction and hope that it would be enough. So I did a burnout from the water box to past the 60 ft marker feathering the throttle on and off in an attempt to lay down some rubber and burn off some kerosene. While the crowd certainly enjoyed it, and John Force himself would’ve been proud, I wasn’t so sure it would work until I saw my win light come on. Whew! Press forward…
5 rounds later, and without the benefit of lane choice all night long, I found myself in the unlikely position of another final round appearance. Sweet Home Alabama again! However, a victory just wasn’t meant to be as I had the better reaction time, but was late to get on the brakes and gave it up on the other end of the track, breaking out with a 5.297 or by 3 thousandths of a second. Of course I wanted to win badly, but Mike and I both agreed that even though this mess had fallen just short of a masterpiece, it was still a strong outing and a nice way to end the season.
If you’ll recall, last year I raced right on up until Turkey day weekend in an attempt to capitalize on the racing momentum that seemed to be going my way. This year, even though I’ve gotten a small streak going, I’ve decided to end things a little earlier as my battle proven Camaro is in dire need of a freshen and some upgrades in order to be competitive next season. The plan at this point is to; take the engine apart, upgrade the internals from a 565 CID to a 598 CID, add a second nitrous kit, lighten the car with fiberglass components, re-do the chassis and 4-link components….and paint the entire car. Basically, the only thing we’re going to change is everything, lol…in an attempt to run the 4.70 class. Seems pretty ambitious, but we’ve already gone from 6.0 to 5.30, so why stop now?
As for the blown alcohol nostalgia funny car, we’re making progress there too.
So far I’ve gotten my block and heads from Dart, valve train components from Comp, crank from Lunati, wheels from Holeshot, and tires from M&H…now that the racing season is over, it’s a matter of finding the time and parts needed to make the 509 CID combination come to life. Hopefully we’ll be on track for the track sometime later next spring.
Finally I’d just like to say thanks again to all of the old and new sponsors & friends who have hung in there this season and helped through all the lows and highs, the list is long and God is at the top. Without praise going up in ALL situations….the blessings can’t rain down (thanks Andy). Next is my wife, and crew chief Amber, Corky Coker of Coker & Phoenix race tires, Jack McInnis of Dart Machinery, Chris Douglas and crew at Comp Cams, Stanley Poff at TCI transmissions, Marlene and Joe at Holeshot wheels, Steven Farrow of Farrow Motorsports, David Leach, Mike Freeman, and my pastor Ken Clark of Oakwood Baptist.
Let’s do it again in 2012!!!
Often times at the races the difference between a good day and a bad day is just a state of mind. Lately I’ve had to keep telling myself that just getting to the race track and having somebody with me that’s willing to help out is a victory. Such was the case Saturday morning as my wife and I loaded up and headed south to Steele, AL for an outlaw 5.30 class race. I think that both of us still had fresh memories from a couple of weeks back of the hot Georgia sun and the whipping we took on our minds. So as we rolled down the road, I started to feel really selfish and bad knowing that this too, was going to be another long, hot day and if things kept going the same way they had been, then it probably would be a less-than-spectacular result. We drove across the scenic Alabama countryside and I watched couples on jet ski’s having fun out on the lake, we drove past a shopping mall where families were eating, and going to movies….a little further down the road a camp ground and a picnic. Amber never complained, but I kept feeling smaller and smaller as I observed all the fun things that everybody else was doing with their Saturday mornings.
We got to the track, unloaded, and got ready for the day. As I was putting the finishing touches on the car, my buddy Mike (“the scooter guy” from AL) rolled up and he instantly brightened up my day. We visited, talked, and then he looked at me seriously and asked “how’s your walk with the Lord?” I told him that I felt like I’d been in a spiritual drought and had drifted, but that I’d been trying earnestly for the past month to turn it around and turn everything back over to God. I told him about feeling creepy and selfish for even being there…so we prayed together and I came to the conclusion that everybody present was there for a reason, so I decided that I’d better do my part and show up when it counted.
My first pass down the track was a 5.47, with a hard left turn just past the 60 ft. cone, and without my nitrous system engaged. I got back to the trailer and at first I didn’t even know what to do or say…but all I can say now is that somebody else must have been praying too, because after a couple of adjustments to the car and a revised strategy, I went 5.308 and qualified #1!! The next part of the challenge came in the form of a 3 hour rain delay, and a 25 degree change in temperature. Not to worry, my trusty crew chief and I made the most of it by taking a golf cart trip over to the Pilot truck stop across the street where we fueled up on Subway and coffee, got back to work on the car, then went right into eliminations running another, 5.308, 5.312 and 5.320 (that one was on the brakes) taking us right on through to the final round against fellow Phoenix tire competitor and friend Tim Jones.
Tim had lane choice, and lined up on the left which was fine by me as I’d been running right lane all night…as I glanced to my right I couldn’t believe my eyes as there were still people seated in the stands at 3:30 in the morning! At this point, regardless of the outcome, we’d had a great day in more ways than one…but the icing on the cake came in the form of a 5.304 pass and my first outlaw 5.30 class victory of the 2011 season!! The smile on Amber’s face as she met me back by the trailer, and the post-race congratulations from “scooter guy” Mike (who stuck around for the final…because he said he knew all day long that I was going to win, lol!), told me that everything had worked out just the way that it was supposed to. While it didn’t have all the hype of an ORSCA or ODRA win, it was BY FAR the most meaningful and my favorite one so far.
So last night I’m talking over a couple of racing-related things with the Mrs., like what service needs to be done to the camaro in the off season, where we should race, how the nostalgia funny car deal is coming together, etc., and after having a couple of good “Talledaga Nights” style, “I’m a driver’s wife”…laughs, it gets pointed out to me that I should step it up and run 5.0 or 4.70 in the camaro next season. Oh man – sounds like the speed bug has bitten somebody else……and suddenly I don’t feel so selfish anymore!!
Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
I don’t believe that a person can excel in motorsports or in life without genuine, honest to goodness, always got-your-back type friends. I’ve got a few in racing that I truly cherish and my fellow 5.30 class competitor, Paul Baxter, is one of them. I met him about 3 years ago when I was first getting started at the drag strip. He came up from Atlanta to test and tune one Friday night in the fall of 2008 at my home town track here in Chattanooga. At the time he was running 5.0 seconds in the 1/8th mile, and for somebody like me who had never gone faster than 6.40, it appeared as if they would have to put asbestos down on the track after words to keep it from melting from the sheer exhibition of speed. At the end of the night he came over to where I was parked, introduced himself, then proceeded to tell me what a nice car I had and encouraged me to stick with it. I became an instant fan.
In March of 2010 I was down in Montgomery, AL where the ORSCA season opener had just gotten under way. After the first round of qualifying, I was sitting on the floor of Steven’s trailer stunned by what had just happened out on the track. It was my first attempt at running the 5.30 class with a brand new engine/transmission/suspension/nitrous/everything combination that had just been completed the night before…and my car went up into SEVERE tire shake, ripped into the body panels and headed right towards the wall in mid-flight. Paul came by, and made the comment that that looked violent – I responded by saying that he should have seen it from the inside. He offered up some veteran advice and encouraged me to stick with it. I went on to have a season that FAR exceeded my expectations, while he suffered set back after set back and never really factored into the overall points standings.
Early April of this year, I was back out at my local track for the “Battle of the States” 5.30 class race, and I was struggling….2010 ended on such an incredible high note, that unfortunately there was only one direction to go, and it wasn’t a lot of fun. It just seemed like there were a lot of distractions, drama, and stuff going on that just didn’t have anything at all to do with racing…and I was discouraged to the point of considering hanging up my helmet for a while. He encouraged me to stick with it, and told me that he was going to pray for me, and that he would help me anyway that he could. I think he qualified #1 that weekend, and it was his race to win, but unfortunately he suffered an early exit.
Fast-forward to this past weekend at the Saturday night shootout 5.30 race in Reynolds, GA. Paul called me earlier in the week to make sure that I was going, and to offer my wife and me a place to sleep if we needed it. I got to the track Friday and gave him a call to see where he was. He’d had to work a little later than expected and was running late. So I saved him a spot and went on out to the track to test. Right off the trailer I ran a 5.31, and things were looking pretty good…..Paul’s situation was a little less optimistic. After getting unloaded he had a thrash on his hands with trying to get ready for qualifications. I pitched in the best I could and we both sweated it out in the blazing sun and upper 90 degree heat to make the necessary repairs needed to get him on the track. For the rest of qualifying he was never really close and ended up seeded 24th out of 25 cars. I had my struggles as well, but fared better with a 9th place position. I was fairly confident that my first round opponent would be what’s known in racing terms as a “duck” ala “sitting duck,” and that they would be ripe for being picked off.
The elimination ladder was completed and it was posted that the #9 qualifier would be racing #24, therefore Paul would be my first round opponent. I walked up to his trailer and broke the news to which he replied, “Well, I hope that whatever happens will give God the most glory.” We had one of the closest races of the night, my .003 reaction time vs. his .007, however I couldn’t run the number and Paul put up a superb 5.302 E.T. for the win. I couldn’t be upset, it was just a good ole drag race between a couple of buddies, and I was on the losing end. Paul went on to slice through the rest of the field like a hot-knife through butter, and won his first race in 4 years.
It took me a couple of days to let his words sink-in about God’s glory, and what my role in all of this is….but the best I can figure is that it’s to share this story with others about how somebody who lives with a Christian attitude has impacted me directly and a lot of other people indirectly. It’s true that racing is high-visibility and that somebody is always watching, but the true measure of a man is what they do when nobody is looking.
After spending the better part of the past year bouncing around all over the deep South, chasing Outlaw 5.30 class events, this Spring/Early summer has been a change of race pace. Without a true points style championship series in my region, we’ve had to adapt the car to the racing that is available and make the best of it.
So far, we’ve tried our hand at 5.00, 5.30 and most recently 5.50 index class races and this past weekend we got our first “W” of the season at the National Outlaw Professionals Race Series in the 5.50 class in Owingsville, KY. The NOP is an Ohio based start-up series, and little old Owingsville Dragstrip is an IHRA track located in a cow pasture about 15 minutes away from where my Mom and Dad live in the foothills of the Daniel Boone National Forrest in Morehead, KY. This scenic setting would provide the debut weekend as crew chief for my new bride Amber who made it a quick study…by successfully helping call the shots, as well as providing the extra muscle needed to help close the deal.
It sure was awesome to have my Mom and Dad there too….although I’m not so sure they really knew what was going on most of the time, I am sure that they enjoyed it as evidenced by all that cheese in the above picts. I think they’re probably just relieved that I don’t race motocross anymore and don’t have to keep life support on stand-by these days.
So two weekends ago it was a short trip up the road to Bowling Green, Ky for the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion where I met up with mi amigo Henry Gutierrez and his Texas Jungle race team for a little nostalgia nitro funny car match race action. Henry’s Texas hospitality was abundant as he made Amber and I feel right at home in the middle of his well-oiled race operation. In addition to the ’72 Camaro Jungle Jim replica funny car driven by John Capps, they’re now running a ’72 Mustang Mach 1 driven by John Smith and both cars are tuned by legendary nitro guru Paul Smith. With a gnarly looking thunderstorm bearing down on Beech Bend, the Jungle car snuck in a 6.06 pass, and the Brand-X barely got the fuse lit and off the line before rattling the tires and shutting down in the rain. Both cars were stranded at the end of the track in a deluge before being towed back to the pits…pretty epic.
Henry says that they’re working on a Vega version of the Jungle car as well as a re-vamped Camaro version of Brand-X. When it’s all said and done, that’ll be 4 nitro funny cars total – wow! He also threw out there that he’d still like for me to steer one of his nitro taxi’s at some point….one thing’s for sure, Texas Jungle has no shortage of top-shelf equipment or talent to make it happen.
Meanwhile, back in Tennessee, the Dynamo of Dixie has made big strides in the past week, and we’re still on track to be on the track at some point this season. The killer body/chassis is back from Army’s Funny Factory and will go into the body shop in the next day or two. We’re also starting to get a handle on our final engine/transmission combination after much consultation from our awesome sponsor’s; Dart, Comp, TCI, Lunati, Royal Purple, Holeshot Wheels, M&H Tires, and good friends John Dunn, (Dunn& Gone) Kerry Grams (Black Reign Motorsports) and Steven Farrow (Farrow Motorsports). More to follow on this next time…
This weekend I’ll try my hand at my 4th different Outlaw index class race of the season, as our local track is having a 6.0 class heads up race. The only thing we have to change about our set-up is everything….lol. Oh well, diversity makes for better driving, and right now I need all the seat time I can get as I prepare for the challenges ahead.
First of all, as of May 8th, I’m now a married man! My beautiful bride Amber and I decided to get it done Tennessee style, so we ran off to the mountains and eloped. We’ve been together for a little over a year, and I truly believe that our marriage is a testimony to the abundant life that God intends for all of us to have. Married life really is the good life, and nothing makes me happier than to know that I have a lifetime commitment to my sweet heart.
So after a couple of days up in the hills, it was time to come back down to reality and get on with the business of working and racing.