The National Finals
Santa Pod Raceway
Super Modified Final Round
September 24th & 25th 2011
Time to get serious.
The phrase "Let's leave everything as it is" seems to have been used a lot in our pit area lately, and this weekend was no exception. However that phrase alone gives no insight into the preparation that gets us to that "Don't let's change anything else" point.
After our previous outing, running in Super Pro at the Euro Finals, the plan had been to put the car in the trailer, leave it there, and bring it back to the track two weeks later. Nigel however was infected with a bad case of the "what-ifs" and ended up spending many of the intervening evenings changing the stator in the torque converter back to the one we ran so well with at Easter, and making some changes to the fuel tank and system to try and cure that pesky erratic fuel pressure trace that had bugged us for so long.
The fact is we had to try something. We arrived at this meeting with everything to play for and nothing to lose. The Super Modified Championship was hanging in the balance with us just 150 points behind Fred who was at the top of the tree. This meant that we had all the work to do. Fred had been running very consistently over the last few rounds and we had struggled to keep up with him. We needed to qualify at number one and win the final to take the championship. Even if Fred didn't get to the final he could still take the title if we were runners up.
Steve Clark and I arrived at the trailer on Saturday morning and met Nigel and Jordan, and the first blow to the weekends proceedings struck instantly. Sarah was not there to make us breakfast. She would be arriving later after little Milly's swimming lesson. A crew without a "McSarah" inside them first thing in the morning will not operate to the fullest of it's capacity. This is a fact.
Despite this setback we sat and listened to Nigel's run-down on all the changes he wasn't going to make but did, and began to get the car ready for the first qualifying session. Before the warm up we removed the transmission tunnel and floor to enable checking of the transmission oil. It was about time for the second blow. As Nigel turned the starter it made an all too familiar rasping noise and spat a few sparks down towards the ground. A sure sign that a tooth or two from the many that surround the ring gear had decided to declare independance and make their own way in the world. We warmed the motor and checked the transmission oil and put it all back together before pushing the car out of the pit. As nobody seemed interested in driving the tow car (Sarah's job!)I hopped in and we made our way to the pairing lanes. Fred was coming too. In fact we were the only pair to make the first session. Craig Gibbs was in attendnce, but not ready for this session, and we were expecting one other car to arrive before too long.
That first qualifying run was, to put it mildly, rubbish. It spun the tyres right off the start line. Nigel got back on it and charged for the finish to record a disappointing 11.40. Fred had problems with traction also but headed the qualifying with an 8.04. That was now our target to chase.
We headed off to collect the car and driver. Blow number three. As Nigel coasted to a stop at the top end the motor had spat a load of water out for no apparent reason. I say no apparent reason but the first thought was a blown head gasket, which would effectively end our weekend right there. We were heading back to the pit when I realised that I wasn't sure where the trailer was. Not good when you're driving the tow car. Through his laughter Nigel managed to shout directions to me. At least he was in a positive mood!
It was obvious at this point that we had some work to do before we could take to the track again. The two problems we faced, unexplained water evacuation and a detally challenged ring gear, could not be ignored.
It was around this time that the welcome sight of our fourth entrant to the event arrived. Peter Thompson had been absent from Super Mod since he hit the wall with his Chevelle at Julys Summernationals event but he had made it back to the track. Peter and crew had worked really hard to get to this meeting. The car was showing the battle scars of the crash still, and still had a lot of work to be finished, but it was good to see them back.
By the time Sarah arrived the Corvette was in a million bits. Up on axle stands (ours and a pair we borrowed off Fred), rear wheels off, floor out, transmission out, starter off, bits on the bench, bits on the floor, Nigel on his back under the car, remaining crew crammed into tight spaces, tools everywhere. She immediately put the kettle on and all was well with the world. The ring gear and starter boss were replaced in good time and Nigel set about performing a leak-down test (with an airline we borrowed from Fred...)in search of a blown head gasket. We found a slight leak from number five exhaust valve but no gasket problems. Good news really but the water expulsion remained unexplained. All this work meant that we missed the second qualifying session while Fred went out and failed to improve on his 8.04. We had one more qualifier scheduled. No more chances. We had to make it count. Once the car was all back together we warmed the motor, checked for leaks and replaced the bodywork. All we had to do now was wait to be called.
The call eventually came and we arrived in the pairing lanes behind Fred and Craig. As they backed up from their burnouts Nigel fired the car up and rolled around behind the tower. We watched as the pair launched, Fred's car shook hard but he was on a mission. Craig had traction trouble also but Fred had the bit between his teeth and wanted to improve his number one qualifying time. Like a man posessed he wrestled the Scorpio up the track and, much to our dismay, clocked a 7.91 to consolidate his lead.
It was up to us now. 7.91 should be well within our reach but the way things had been going it was possible that we could kiss goodbye to our championship chances right there. It was tense. Nigel took the right hand lane, spun the tyres in the water and rolled forward. He hit the throttle and there followed a nice straight burnout. I ran out on the track and guided him back, Steve behind the car showing me the way. As I brought him up to the line I was sending positive telepathic messages to Nigel through the windscreen. I have no idea wheteher he recieved them. It didn't look like it. With fingers crossed I walked behind the car and tried desperately to get the video camera to work. It wasn't having it. I stabbed repeatedly at the button but it remained inactive. Too late. Green on the tree and the Corvette was on it's way. It wasn't pretty. It shook and spun off the line, fighting for grip. As the transmission slid into second it suddenly found traction and hoisted the front wheels in the air. Nigel was also on a mission however. He wasn't going to get off that throttle for anything. The front came down and he buried his foot into the floor pan. It was one of those brief moments in time that seems so much longer than it actually is. I think I held my breath for the whole run. As the car disappeared through the top end the numbers flashed up on the finish gantry. 7.59/179! He'd done it. We were still in the race. What a sense of relief. I turned to look at Steve. He was grinning his head off. "That'll do" he said.
At the top end there was no sign of any water, which was good news. Nigel was in good spirits and a little excitable after the adrenaline rush that set in when the front lifted in second gear. "I was telling myself Don't lift, don't lift all the way" he said. He also reported that he felt there may have been a misfire but a look at the data back in the trailer would tell us if there was anything to worry about.
There wasn't. We put it down to wheelspin after looking at the data. Everything seemed fine and we decided that after a regular service we would put the car to bed and have an early night. Tomorrow we had a bye into the final. A quick time would give us lane choice. It was all to play for.
Sunday morning and the weather was still good. Have I mentioned the weather? No? Well it was good on Saturday with a bit of a headwind. It was similar on Sunday with a bit more of a headwind.
The car was ready and so were we. The scene was remarkably relaxed. It would be ridiculous to make any changes at this stage.
It was around 12:30 when we found ourselves once again looking at the rear of Fred and Craig's cars as they lined up for the first round. We would meet the winner in the final. Traction problems yet again for both drivers but Fred ran his best time of the weekend so far, a 7.85. I brought Nigel to the line again. There was less pressure this time but a good run would be psychologically very usefull for us. The car launched well, the best so far this weekend, picking the front wheels up just enough off the line. It looked straight, it looked good, it sounded good. It was good. A 7.56 and we had lane choice in the final.
We fetched the car and driver and at no point in the proceedings did Steve put the tow rope on upside down......
Back in the pits it was time to all agree on the best plan of action. After no deliberation at all that familiar phrase "Let's leave everything exactly as it is" was agreed to by all concerned.
It seemed like an age before the finalists were called. We sat around and ate stuff. Nigel tried to choke me by throwing grapes from a great distance into my mouth. The kids drew pictures and tried to sell them. Nigels brother Russell and sister-in-law Susan came to join us. The call came and we made our way slowly down to the pairing lanes. Perhaps it just seemed slower than usual. We all tried to pretend it was just another race but the determination that everyone on our crew was putting into being nonchalant gave the game away. The whole years championship had come down to the final race of the final meeting. Nigel decided to get into the car while we were still quite a distance away. This didn't help matters as there were the inevitable hold ups. We paced. We pulled the car a bit further, we stood about. Nobody was speaking. We pulled the car a bit further. We sat. We shuffled. We stood on one leg for a bit...(ok that was just me). At one point I walked back to the car and observed Nigel to be in what was either a deep state of mental concentration, or, he had fallen asleep. I couldn't tell which. But the flash from my camera woke him up.
And then it was our turn. Nigel chose the right lane and we went through our usual start line proceedures. I walked behind the car and the video camera worked this time. A good omen perhaps? The cars staged, the lights went green, the race was on. And what a race. Fred cut the better light, I was focused on our car, there was nothing between them for the first half of the track, and then it appeared that Nigel was edging ahead but I couldn't be sure. I began to shout at the car. I'm not sure if this helped or not. Neither driver was going to give up without a fight. I was sure Nigel was ahead, but not that sure. I wasn't breathing again. Could he do it? Could he do it? I had no idea which win light was going to come on. It was ours! He had done it and in that moment we were the happiest crew on the planet. Steve came over and reached out to shake my hand but I was having none of it. I grabbed him and gave him a big old hug!
We congratulated Fred's crew on a damn fine race and made our way to the top end to collect the champ, grinning like idiots.
And then it was all over. Back to the pits and nothing to do except pack everything away and eat some wonderful brie and cranberry paninnis prepared by Sarah.
We went down for the trophy presentation before trying to put the car in the trailer. But, just like the last meeting the battery for the winch and tailgate was flat. We borrowed a battery from, you guessed it, Fred, and the season was finally over.
Our thanks go to all those that have helped and supported us over the year. Matt Hartford in the States for all his help and advice. Goldie and his crew from CamAuto Developments. Gavin and the Westec team. Nimbus supremo and teammate Steve Clarke. Kyle Chesterman for his help both on and off track throughout the year. Stack Dataloggers. Graham Barrs for stepping in and crewing at the Euro Finals and Sarah for keeping Nigel sane and supplying all the wonderful food and drinks.
On a personal note I would also like to thank my wonderful wife Sam for supporting me and the team throughout the year, looking after the kids, taking many great photographs, and sitting on windy dragstrips, and in chilly workshops, time and time again without once complaining or reminding me that there are many outstanding jobs to be done at home.
Thanks to Mark Skinner for the brilliant photographs.