By most accounts, the debut of the American Endurance racing series was a success. Mixing racers and cars from the SCCA, BMWCCA, NASA, LeMons, and ChumpCar sounded like a tricky idea to start with, but yesterday’s podium contained representatives from several different series. The common thread is street tires: in AER, you can have whatever car you want, but you need to keep it on high-treadwear, low-grip rubber.
Most of the drivers weren’t used to the wear characteristics of those street tires, and as a result very few teams made it through the day yesterday without flat-spotting, rounding-off, or grinding the tread off their Dunlop Direzzas. So naturally today’s race started with standing water on the track and heavy rain in the forecast. By the end of the day, not all of us would be driving back onto the trailers.
Starting order was by fast lap of the previous day, so Jeff “Speedycop” Bloch started my car in fifth. Ahead of us, the AER1 car that finished second yesterday, the Cardorks 901 that won, the Duct Tape 902 that crashed, and the BMWCCA 272. At the start, the Duct Tape Racing car took command. It’s an E30 BMW with the more powerful engine from the E36. Second place was Josh Hughes in the #1 E30, followed by Speedycop. Then something pretty terrifying happened.
Did you know that flywheels can explode and that the driveshaft of a car can enter the drivers compartment? Now you know, and so do the Duct Tape Motorsports guys. Thankfully the injuries were minor. That left Josh and Speedycop battling it out.
Speedy was fast but erratic as you see above, letting Josh take the lead. But when Josh went off backwards hard enough to tweak the front bumper, Speedycop was in the lead commandingly.
At the driver change, Randy Pobst got in the #1 and I got in the #42. At one point we had a pretty good battle, with a couple passes and repasses. Then disaster struck for me as well.
The shifter collapsed in my hand as I was cresting the long uphill right-hander Turn 5. Fearing the transmission had dropped, I put the clutch and brake in and took it off the track hard into the wall. When the smoke cleared I had a ringing headache and the #42 car was done.
Randy handed the car to Jack in first place and although Jack’s best lap was three-tenths of a second worse than Randy’s, a fact that seemed to repeatedly slip his mind during dinner, he extended the lead to a full four and a half laps during his stint. After staying out long enough to ensure the track was dry, he handed the car to Travis Okulski.
On the dry track, Okulski shocked everybody by immediately ripping the fastest time of the race. He was hustling, mostly because he thought he was in the car for just sixty minutes. But then the team started rewriting the script. After Josh, Jack, and team captain Darren conferred for a while and Jack threw a giant temper tantrum about how winning the race was the most important thing ever in history, the decision was made to double Travis’s stint.
“Oh,” was the response from the cockpit. And then it started to rain. It was raining hard and the 272 BMWCCA car, piloted by the region’s chief instructor, Jeff Caldwell, was running just as hard.
“Just don’t lose more than one lap to Jeff,” was the instruction to Travis. But instead, he ran Caldwell heads-up in a car that everybody knew was slower. Holding the gap to under two seconds a lap, Travis didn’t even lose half a lap.
When the final driver changes happened, it was Josh Hughes back in the car for a ninety-minute stint in driving rain. The lead was three laps. But cars were going off everywhere and the lap times were 30 seconds slower than they’d been. Everybody watched the timing and scoring as one hundred minutes passed. Randy Pobst couldn’t stand the excitement so he jumped into the Team Shark Attack BMW 635CSi to finish the race for them.
But when the flag dropped…
it was Hughes with the win. You can see him with his children at the top of this article. “The toughest race I’ve ever run,” was his verdict as he fought to remain steady on his feet.
Time for podiums and overall podiums. Rally Baby was the overall weekend winner for Class C. EZ Riders took the Class B overall with their 300E. There was a big Rally Baby team shot with an actual baby:
Finally, the Class A podium, which made up for in ridiculousness what it lacked in dignity:
Third place was BMWCCA #272, second place was #901 Cardorks, first place was #1 AER Media. At some point, Jack started openly suggesting that the primary difference between him and Tom Kristensen was his ability to “rip the solo in ‘Sweet Child’.”
I was pretty sore from hitting the wall, and I was pretty sore at watching Travis and Jack prance around the podium like they were Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington in “Training Day”, but the real payoff was watching Josh Hughes with his children. He came to support the race, he let complete strangers drive his car, and when it was time to deliver the race win, he delivered. That’s what this is all about.
AER is hitting Watkins Glen and Lime Rock before the end of the year. You should be there.