Lap 46

 

After a hiatus of several years, my brother, Greg, decided to go racing again. He was into big cars, having raced mostly Camaros and Corvettes, so naturally he went looking for a GT-1 car. He found a professionally built tube frame Camaro that had been raced in the Trans Am series. Liz and I had bought a new house that had two garages, and the new GT-1 Camaro came to live in our back garage.

Then Greg encountered a problem. He was a diabetic and could not get his medical clearance without a special wavier. So here he was, with this great new racecar that he could not race. Rather than let the car just sit in my garage, Greg asked me to drive it. I had not been behind the wheel of a racecar in years, and was a little hesitant to tackle this beast. Greg finally convinced me, so I entered a Midwestern Council driverís school.

I told my boss at the time about the school and the fact that it consisted of a classroom session and written test on Friday night, then on-track instruction and practice on Saturday. If you passed driverís school, you could enter the race on Sunday. He said, "Oh, itís a crash course, huh?" I replied, "Oh, I hope not."

One of Gregís best friends (another guy named Ray) had recently purchased Blackhawk Farms Raceway. Ray was also a big car driver, and that is how he and Greg met. We hauled the Camaro up to Blackhawk on Friday, and Ray agreed to let me try it out that afternoon. I signed the waiver and suited up in a borrowed driverís suit and helmet. Ray then took me for a demo ride to show me the "big car" line. He got into the driver's seat in his street clothes and wearing a ball cap instead of a helmet. I sat on the oil tank that occupied the space where the passenger seat would normally be, and hung on to the roll cage.

This was the first time I was ever in a car built exclusively for racing. This was no FV! It was a tube-framed chassis and not a converted street car. As Ray pulled out of the pits and onto the track, I was inundated with the noise and smell of that big Chevy V8 engine. The noise was deafening in the car, and it reeked of hot motor oil, and I loved it. I hung on for dear life as Ray, who had not bothered with the seat belts and shoulder harness, threw the Camaro around the track. That was probably the fastest lap I ever had in that car.

After my "orientation" lap, I strapped myself into the car and took it out on my own. This was way more car than I had ever driven before. I was impressed and, I must admit, a little intimidated. After a few laps, I had gained even more respect for the Pro drivers I had been watching over the years. This was hard work! It was not easy to go fast. There is a lot more to it than just standing on the gas pedal.

Greg observes as the author climbs into his GT-1 Camaro

Actually, I was not trying to go too fast. I just wanted to get a feel for the car and the track before Saturdayís driver school. Even so, my lap times came down a bit each lap, and after a dozen or so, I brought the car into the pit lane and parked it.

On Saturday morning, I met my instructor, who also drove a GT-1 Camaro. In fact, he had purchased the car Ray had built and raced the last couple of years. We talked about the line and drove the track in a streetcar before I was let out for my first practice. There were only three groups, one for big cars, one for smaller cars and one for formula cars.

Each practice session lasted about a half-hour, so I had lots of track time. It seemed that I had no sooner climbed out of the car than I was climbing back in for the next practice.

I started out slowly, because, after all, this was the first time I was ever in a "real" racecar and it was not my car. I gradually brought my lap times down, but was far from running a competitive GT-1 time. After one practice, I had improved my time by over two seconds and had turned a 1:21. While I was gloating about this achievement, Ray said, "Terry, in that car a 1:19 would be a cool off lap." Talk about bringing someone back to earth!

I did not really care, I was having a ball and, in amateur racing, that is all that really matters. The GT-1 cars were the fastest in my group and, slow as I was, I was still faster than all the other cars on the track with me including the other two GT-1 cars. It was great fun, weaving my way through the smaller cars as I thundered down the front straight.

The Author, Ethan, Donnie and Bunky at driverís school

Ray suggested I try braking with my left foot. I had never done that, so it was pretty foreign to me. I decided to try it coming into six, and the car nearly stood on its nose! I told Ray this, and he smiled and asked, "And what does that tell you?" I thought for a second and said, "I am braking too soon and not hard enough." Ray nodded his head and, sure enough, I got my times down to near cool-off lap range.

Ethan, Bunky and Jimmy stand by with me on the grid

For the start of one practice, I got to the grid late so I was at the back of the field. The first lap out of the pit lane is always under yellow. The green comes out when the first car comes down the front straight for the first time. I saw the green come out and stood on it. I was flying past cars and as we came into corner one I dove to the inside and passed five more cars. After that practice, one of the instructors came over and told me I was being too aggressive. This ticked Greg off and he pointed out that passing cars was what I was supposed to be learning to do.

I learned enough to pass the school and get my competition license, so I entered the race on Sunday. Slow as I was for a GT-1 car, I started the race on the second row and finished well enough to get a trophy. I raced the car one more time by myself before Greg was able to get his medical. We co-drove the car at the Loooong Race.

The next year, Greg had to have his leg amputated just below the knee as a result of complications of his diabetes, so we did not race the car at all that year. Then the next spring, he tragically had a heart attack that took his life. I asked Ray to sell the car so Gregís widow could get the money. Besides, I had no desire to drive the car without Greg there anyway.

The author at the wheel of Gregís GT-1 Camaro at Blackhawk Farms

I asked Jimmy to draw a picture of the Camaro, and he used the picture above as a guide. He made an ink drawing of the car, with crossed checkered flags in the background. That drawing was used to etch the image on Gregís tombstone. Now Greg will have an image of his last racecar forever. Liz and I had the original ink drawing by Jimmy framed, and hung it on the wall in our family room, along with our other racing prints. It is the least expensive print we have, but our most prized.


Pat and Ray were divorced after seven years of marriage, and Pat had pretty much dropped out of Chicagoland and the amateur racing picture. Liz and I remained friends with her, and began inviting her to join us at races like CART and the June Sprints. Now, she is a regular in our motor home at the races. Of course, all our friends understand that Pat is just a very close friend of ours, but once, someone briefly thought that there was more to it than that.

We were at Mid-Ohio for a CART race and had found a nice spot to park the motor home along the fence between corners ten and eleven. A few camping spaces away, at the exit to corner ten, was a group of guys I had met before. They were regulars at Mid-Ohio from the Cleveland area, and always camped in the same place. They had an elaborate set up that included a free-standing canopy complete with a ceiling fan and lights. They set up a U-shaped Bar with regular bar stools and would take turns acting as bartender. They had a variety of decorations, and even a mailbox with "Corner Ten" written on it. I asked if they ever got any mail in it, and one guy said, "Heck, yes. I even get bills in there!"

One of the ringleaders of the group was a nice guy named Scott. I had met him earlier, but Liz and Pat had not. As I was talking to him, Liz and Pat walked up. I said, "Scott, this is my wife, Liz, and this is Pat." Pat said with a straight face, "I am the mistress". Scottís jaw dropped and, for a second or two, I think he believed Pat. Then he saw Liz and me grinning, and quickly realized she was kidding. Still, he played along and said to me, "Wow! Man, you are so lucky!" Later that weekend, we were sitting in the bleachers overlooking the section of the track called Madness, when Scott walked by below. He spotted us and called up to me, "Man, you are so lucky!" After that, whenever he saw us he would say to me, "Man, you are so lucky!"

The next year, we were back at Mid-Ohio and camped in the same area. The corner ten gang was there again in full force. Pat was standing at the fence when Scott walked up to her and asked, "Youíre the mistress, right?" Pat laughed and said yes, she was. Scott turned to me and said, "Terry, you are so lucky!" And you know what? He is right. To have my two favorite ladies go to the races with me is great. I am lucky.

That weekend, a couple of members of the corner ten group pulled their motor home into the empty camp spot next to us. The driver looked out at us and said. "Let me just apologize right now and get it over with." Actually they were a loud but pleasant bunch, and usually went to bed at a reasonable time, so they did not bother us too much. In fact, I spent a fair amount of time sitting at their U-shaped bar under the ceiling fan.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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