Lap 20

 

I suppose it should not come as any surprise that by the summer of 1971, Bunky and I both decided it was time to try our hand behind the wheel of a racecar. Bunky had a Datsun 240Z that he entered in C production or CP. His car was basically a showroom stock car, but he had removed the tail pipe and muffler and installed a straight pipe as well as mounting racing tires. This made the car illegal for showroom stock so he had to enter it in CP.

I, on the other hand, did not own a car that could be run in Showroom stock. In fact, I did not own a car at all. But I had friends, and my friend, Don, offered to let me take his Zink Formula Vee through Drivers School. A Formula Vee or FV is a single-seat, open-wheeled car powered by a 1200cc Volkswagen engine. It used a Volkswagen transmission and suspension as well. With Donís car, a borrowed driverís suit and helmet, I was good to go.

Liz picked me up after work on Friday with her Dodge Dart. Since I still did not have a car, unless I borrowed my Dadís Pontiac, Liz often picked me up for our dates and we usually used her car on rallies. We headed north for South Beloit and checked into the good old Holiday Inn.

Drivers School consisted of a classroom session with a written test on Friday night, followed by on-track activities on Saturday. The school would end with a five-lap race for each group. I joined Bunky in the room for the classroom session and was soon bored. The main thing they taught in the classroom was what the various flags meant and other rules of the road. By now, both Bunky and I were experienced corner captains and knew all of that stuff. But we sat through it and aced the test with no problems. Bunky, Jimmy, Don, Liz and I all went to the bar to celebrate. I must admit I was getting more than a little excited about the prospects of driving a racecar for the first time.

The next morning, all the students driving FVís were gathered together and our instructors, all experienced FV drivers, explained how the day would go and then talked about the proper lines through each corner. They told us about suspension loading in a corner and the hazards of getting off the gas once the suspension was loaded. Getting off the gas would unload the suspension, changing the center of gravity, and the car would likely spin out. It was all very fascinating to me and I listened closely. Then we went out on the track in street cars, driven by an instructor to show us the proper line.

Finally, Don helped me strap into his FV for the first time. I was excited as could be. This was going to be great. I had never driven Donís car before except to put in on the trailer, but I was not worried. We lined up on the false grid for our first on-track session. There were six students in FV split into two groups of three. Each group of three had an instructor's car in front and another behind. We were told to follow the instructor's car to continue to learn the correct line for this first session. I was the first student car in the first group, just behind the instructor.

The author at driverís school

The grid marshals gave us the signal to start our engines and move out into the pit lane. As I did so I gave Liz a wave and off I went. We drove slowly into the pit lane and then, as we neared the pit exit to the track, the light on the bridge went green. The instructor in front of me accelerated and I mashed my foot on the gas pedal. I was shocked at how that car responded. It leaped forward, snapping my head back. I had to jump on the brakes to keep from rear-ending the instructor! I had no idea the car could accelerate that quickly with a little 1200cc engine. Of course, the car only weighed 1,000 lbs and I should have known better.

The lead instructor started out slowly, and then increased the pace each lap until I felt we were flying around the track. I was having an absolute blast, and managed to avoid hitting any one or any thing the whole session. When I climbed out of the car after that session, I knew I was in trouble. Working corners was fun, but I knew now that I had to drive!

The rest of the day was a blur, but it was soon apparent that one other student and I were the fastest in our group. The other car, also a Zink, belonged to Mike, who was Chicagolandís President at the time. Like Don, he was lending his car to someone for the school. We easily had the best cars in the group, and that is the main reason we were faster than the others.

The guy in Mikeís car just edged me out for the pole position for the practice race, but I was on the front row next to him. At the start, I tucked in behind him in corner one and stayed there through corners two and three. In corner four, I went inside and out-braked him into the corner and went into the lead. I tell you it was a real thrill to come down that front straight on that first lap in first place!

The race was five laps long and I managed to lead the first four. Of course, the only lap you really need to lead is the last one. Going into corner seven and the last corner of the race, in my excitement I over-cooked it a little and got a bit sideways. Mikeís car had been right on my tail the whole race and he was quickly past into the lead, taking the checker just a few yards ahead of me. I was disappointed, but heck, it was only a practice race and I had finished second.

Bunky heads out for drivers school practice

Bunky had enjoyed his day just as much as I and we both earned our competition licenses. The free beer at the dayís end beer bash never tasted better, and tomorrow we would race for real in a regular Council event.

The next morning, we arrived at the track early to get the car ready. Don, like most race drivers, had a regular checklist of things we had to do to the car, like adjust the valves and the brakes, check tire pressures etc. While Don and I busied ourselves with these tasks, Liz polished up the body work. Jimmy was helping Bunky prep his 240Z right next to us.

When my group went out for the first practice, I took it nice and easy. I knew I still had a lot to learn and now, instead of six cars on the track, there were 25. Things were a little more crowded. I just kept trying to increase my pace and get into a rhythm. Not long into the second practice, this black FV flashed past me on the front straight. I recognized that car right away; it was Butch, another Chicagoland member and one of the top Vee drivers in Council. I figured here was another good chance to learn, and tried to follow Butch to learn his line. It was no use. I managed to follow him through corner one but by the time I came out of corner three, Butch had left me in the dust!

When they posted the grid positions for the race, it was no surprise to me that I was nowhere near the front row. I wound up just over halfway back in the field, around 15th or so. That was fine with me. After all, this was only my first race. I checked the grid and saw that Butch was on the pole. His time was several seconds a lap faster than mine. I figured that at that pace, I should see Butch in my mirrors around lap 18 as he came around to lap me.

Don helps belt me in as Bunky looks on

Knowing I had no chance of winning, my goal as the race started was to have fun, learn, and keep my nose clean. I really wanted to give Don his car back in one piece! I kept trying to improve my line and go faster, basically treating the race as another practice. I kept an eye on the lap counter on the bridge. I saw that I was now on lap 18 and checked my mirrors. Sure enough, just like clockwork, there were Butch and the other leaders coming out of seven. They caught me going through the carousel in corner three. I was ready for them and got well out of the line to stay out of their way. Butch and four other cars streamed by in a train. At corner five, I moved over for three more. I now found myself driving looking backwards as much as forwards.

To my satisfaction, in the closing stages of the race I began to lap some of the back markers myself. It was a good feeling to pass someone instead of being passed. In corner three I moved over to pass another one and recognized this car. It was Mayday Mary herself. She had gotten the bug like Bunky and me and bought an old used Vee. Neither the car nor Mary was fast, but she was having fun. In Council racing, that was all that mattered.

The corner three carousel is a double apex corner. You hit the first apex just after you enter the corner. Then you drift the car out across the track as you continue to turn right to set up for the second apex, just before the exit of the corner. I followed Mayday Mary into the corner towards the first apex, moved outside and began to pass her. She did not see me, although I was well alongside her, and moved right out into me. Our wheels touched, and that is not a good thing in an open-wheeled car, as one tire will climb the other. Mine did the climbing and I was l launched into the air. I came down sideways on the track and spun off the asphalt to the outside of the corner.

She had hit my right rear wheel, so I jumped out of the car to check the damage. After a quick inspection, I could see nothing wrong, so I jumped back in and buckled up. I got the car started and rejoined the race when the corner captain waved me back on to the track.

I have no recollection of where I finished, but I had had a ball, my encounter with Mayday Mary notwithstanding. Bunky had enjoyed his day as well, and finished near the front of his class, so he was thrilled too. But Bunky had a car he could race again. I was pretty sure Don would want his back. So there I was, with no streetcar and no racecar and hooked on driving racecars. I began to wonder If Lizís Dodge Dart could be put into a showroom class.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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