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.
In the song “Bad Luck” by the iconic Southern California punk rock band, Social Distortion, a couple of the lyrics are – “Thirteen’s my lucky number…to you it means stay inside.” Well, I believe that “13” is my lucky number too and I aint staying inside. After all, I was born on the 13th, my racing number has always been “13”, and I truly believe that 2013 is shaping up to be a great year.
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.
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.
The Camaro is 95% complete, and with a few minor adjustments we should be ready to test it for the first time on April 15th. For those of you that have been following along since last September when the insanity of this project started, you’ll recognize that not only has the car been turned “Inside Out”, but so have I. There have been so many; people, personalities, deadlines, companies, parts and places involved with putting all this together that at times it was difficult to imagine that it would ever be completed…and I can’t honestly say that I want to do it again anytime soon. BUT (and it’s a big BUTT), I think it will all be worth it when the first little kid comes up at the track and smears cherry slurpee and corn dog grease all down the side of my white paint, gives me a hug, and tells me that he’ll be cheering for me…or the old guy that walks right past all the exotic rigs, trailers, race cars, in the pits and says “Son, I hope you skin ‘em up today”…it’s been a while since I’ve heard these kinds of things, but that’s what I “Hold Fast” – for me it’s not about a bigger and badder race car…it’s about all the people that touch you along the journey.
The racing season starts full swing in a couple of weeks, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Project 4.70 has been about like herding a pack of alley cats. Writing proposals, gaining sponsor support, juggling schedules, getting help from talented people to make it all come together, scraping nickels to make dimes….oh yeah there’s the labor part of it too! It’s an awful lot of work and sacrifice if you don’t love it…fortunately the Mrs. and I do and we’ve been blessed to have the support of others who share in the vision. Somebody wise once told me; build a project to your vision – not your resources. Put differently, don’t let your vision become compromised by what you don’t immediately have…stick with your vision while gathering your resources, regardless of how long it takes. That’s advice that I’ve taken to heart, because this has taken a long time and there’s no reason to cut corners now.
As of today the long block, transmission, rear end, and suspension are all in the car and now it’s down to mounting the fuel cells, radiators, plumbing, wiring, and final fit/finish…which hopefully will be complete in the next week or two.
A couple weekends ago I applied the amazing lizard skin product to my interior, floor pans, and racing seat. I’m very pleased with the results; it gives the car a nice finished appearance and will reduce the amount of heat soak by as much as 20-30%…which will be a very welcomed barrier to the southern heat we race in.
I’m also very pleased to welcome on board K&N Race Filters for the 2012 season! I’ve long been a K&N customer and I’d like to thank Ryan Fellman for offering a helping hand with project 4.70. Often times we race in less than ideal environments; dusty, dirty conditions and I’m really looking forward to the peace of mind and performance gains that come with running K&N air, oil, and fuel filters. Look for a little more tech information on the custom pieces that they put together for my air scoop to be featured in the final RPM Magazine article.
Speaking of RPM Magazine, if you get a chance, pick up a copy of the Feb 2012 issue, where you’ll see my little old Camaro with the wheels up on the cover next to some nitro guy named Cruz Pedregon (whoever that is, LOL!!). OK, so it’s a tiny cover shot, but inside there’s a killer 5 page tech article written by Tommy Lee Byrd describing what goes into converting a high-ridin’ 5.30 Camaro into a low slung 4.70 land missile.
BIG TIRES, BIG NEWS- We’ve got a new addition to the Phoenix family in the form of freshly logo’d PH455 race tires!
The 17.0/33.0-15’s have been awful good to me over the past couple of seasons, and what better way to pay respect than with a little cosmetic make over? Brand new for 2012 is our “F/X” appliquéd logo which is sure to turn some heads at the track! Special thanks to Corky and the product development team at Coker Tire for their enthusiasm towards the brand and continued support with getting Phoenix and project 4.70 on the track!!!
Finally I’d like to throw a shout out to my loyal sponsors old and new – Phoenix Race Tires, Dart blocks, heads and intakes, Comp Cams, TCI transmissions, ZEX nitrous, Lunati cranks, Holeshot wheels, Joe Gibbs oil, K&N Filters, Lizard Skins and Farrow Motorsports. Thanks for believing and making project 4.70 a reality.
Besides Christmas….PRI, or the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show has to be the second most wonderful time of the year. It’s the annual gathering of companies, dealers, racers, and media in sunny south Florida where everybody shows off new products and race plans for 2012. For me it’s a mixed bag of representing Coker Tire Performance Division drag racing tires; M&H and Phoenix to customers old and new, and an opportunity to make connections with the companies and people that have helped me so much along the way in my own racing.
…this was the title of a message I heard on my way into work today, and it really lit my rocket! Talk about timely…I’ve been on the other end of so many blessings for the past couple of years, that I’ve grown accustom to expecting big results. I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing…and the reason is because I serve a very big God and I believe that anything is possible through Him. However, it can become all too easy to praise God when everything is going good…but the true victories come when you’re in difficult circumstances, and you offer up praise with confidence knowing full well that His plans for you are far greater than anything you may be experiencing currently. (see Jeremiah 29:11) Awesome stuff!
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!!