Outside Prospective: A Day at the Races

April 15, 2009
View of the start.

So this past weekend, I got to experience a day at Virginia International Raceway, or “VIR” for the cool kids in the *know*. Having never been to the races, I was really excited to get to see this event. The weather was perfect and just a little on the cool side. What was even better was that our friend is on the team that actually runs the series, so I was going to get a behind the scenes look at the world of racing.

Today, we were told to announce ourselves as part of the “crew”. Yes Sir, I certainly am part of the crew. Can’t you see that!? For some reason, they initially pegged me as a “spectator” until I set them straight. I guess walking in with a bottle of water and a camera bag doesn’t really scream “crew”, but I pretended to be offended just the same while trying not to look awe struck as I assessed my surroundings. Yeah that’s right, I come here all the time...*ahem* which way to the race car do-hickey area please?

The first thing I noticed was that this track was beautiful. No Nascar style oval here....but lefts, rights, hairpin turns and elevation. This was going to be good.

They also offered a chance for the general public to actually drive their regular street cars on the track before the race began. Since we didn’t know about it beforehand, we had to just watch while wishing we could be out there playing race car driver for the day too. Even a mini van got to taunt us.

*Sigh* Maybe next time.

In the meantime, I got to learn how the world of F2000 racing works and I learned a bunch. I always thought that those race car drivers just drove around the track accelerating when needed and braking as required. Doh. Turns out it is a lot more scientific than that. There were pie charts and graphs, and analyses. There were on board cameras and headsets. There were tractor trailers doubling as mobile garages and minute adjustments to make the cars just that smidge faster. There were fireproof suits and funny little elf looking shoes. There were predetermined spots for shifting changes and best braking strategy . There were dueling engineers arguing over how many degrees a wing should be raised for optimum performance vs. speed. Oh and there were golf carts and grilled hot dogs too, the only things I really could relate to without having to have explained.

ADSA/Wright prepares to go to the grid.

Before the race began, we walked around to see all the other cars. Lots of mechanics tinkering away with nervous drivers pondering if that last miniscule adjustment was going to be the golden ticket to make this race a victory for them. It turned out they were sharing the track with some other series racers such as the vintage racers and the British Minis and the tricked out old BMWs. I can’t get over how small those Mini cars were originally when they were made back in the day. The wheels looked like you could swap them out with those on a bmx bike. I half expected the racers to be jockeys, but somehow full size people can actually drive them too.

I got to see all the Van Diemens line up in the staging area based on their qualifying lap times. They went out and had to follow the pace car for a lap until they got to find their best position on the track. The race was to be 14 laps around a track measuring about 3 miles long with driver hopes that they could move up a few spots by the race’s end by using either sheer guts or great driving skills. For a few drivers , I think their strategy was to gain ground by taking out the other drivers and sending them into the wall. But, hey what do I know...I am just the “pretend crew”.

The green flag was waved and off they went. As soon as the race started, Wham! I witness parts flying and smoke billowing. Oh what a shame...that driver didn’t even get a chance. Oooh , I bet he was pissed. Chris got some great photos with his camera as we chose a photo spot right by a tricky turn. There was one neat skid out, but of course our camera battery went dead just seconds before. Doesn’t it just figure!! And we were frantically trying to change it out when we heard the tell tale sound of his locked up brakes and turned to see one car skid into the grass. He regained control though and kept right on driving. Barely missed a beat. Now that’s staying cool in a crisis.

Angelo Zarra, lead engineer for ADSA/Wright racing, with Laura and Chris.

By the end of the race, our friend’s team who started out with three cars, ended up with only one finishing 6th place which was a decent finish overall. The second one had engine trouble (so he says) and the last one crashed out due to some other driver hogging up the track. We were able to validate his claim though because his car came back with a few less pieces than he started out with. It was a good race despite all for them though and even the guys who have to do some expensive repair work enjoyed their day. “That’s racing,” they said. I went over to assess the damage and was thinking, "Holy Cow, I wonder how much something like that costs to fix?". Lucky for me, I have that filter that keeps me from actually saying those thoughts out loud. Probably not the best choice of encouraging words at a time like that.

And for me, it was a great experience. I can’t wait until they actually ask me to really be a part of the crew. I think I have some good ideas and suggestions they could use which should really help them do better next time. Or maybe they can just give me a racing crew t-shirt. Yeah, I’d be happy with that. They probably think I ask too many questions anyway.

Article and pictures by Laura Mulcahy.

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