The Scott Stratton Memorial Autocross unfortunately gets it’s title from the untimely passing of friend, competitor and local champion autocrosser Jeffrey Scott Stratton age 26. I worked the course with him, worked tech inspections and even got to ride with him at the last autocross he competed in so I was lucky enough to get to know him just before he left this world. He will be missed by everyone.
Inside the Helmet
The first event of the year is filled with high expectations of the winter’s modifications paying off, a proving ground for bench racing, smack talk, and sandbagging the week before the event. The expectations are even higher in your class if you’re last year’s Champion.
Whether you like it or not you’re the bar of measurement and basically have a target on your back on day one. Actually the target is a blue jacket that says “2010 Class Champion” so it is quite visible. That’s where I was this Sunday at the Blue Ridge Region SCCA’s Scott Stratton Memorial Autocross in Verona. I tried telling myself and others that I didn’t care so much this year and that they would all probably beat me. I was lying to them and lying to myself. HELL YEAH I WANTED TO WIN!! Unfortunately though, I was also trying to be realistic. I hadn’t changed a thing in the car since the previous year and was facing competitors with lightened cars, fresh tires, and in my brother an autocross monster of my own creation.
Seriously, that kid took to autocrossing like a duck to water and ended his first STS appearance only 6 tenths of a second away from me in third place in a car with no engine modifications whatsoever. Unless you count 240,000 miles of New Jersey abuse as a modification in which case the motor is probably juiced and likes to party. Justin and another STS driver named Joe who finished Sunday in second place were ahead of me in Saturday’s practice session. I couldn’t touch them. My abused Dunlop Star Specs had served me well the previous year but were pretty dried out and had a tread compound similar to Fred Flintstone’s tires. Scott Krzastek, seemingly perennial STS Champion, had not come to practice the day before but has and always will be one of the wildest, bravest, and craziest drivers in the class who almost always pulls off the impossible laps that have made him the real #1 guy for years. I was pretty sure I was doomed.
Only when I got my first time slip did I get my head in the game. After tutoring my friend and co-driver Chris Belsky for a lap and everyone else recording one run I found myself in an unlikely position. First! I could hear the wolves behind me though and needed to drop more time and extend my lead. Lap two was even wilder and better with using the constantly spinning rear tires to steer the car at sharp angles and late apexing the final turn for a straighter shot to the finish. The car was on the edge of spinning out the whole time with the adrenaline-rushed driver screaming “WHOOHOOO!” and “YEAAAH!” It’s not staged either folks because I AM having the time of my life behind the wheel of that car. After the lucky second lap every attempt to better it failed. I would be faster through one section of the course at the expense of the other and end up a tenth or two short every time. I could hear them behind me. No, seriously, Joe’s midpipe disconnected doubling his decibel emissions! Scott was driving his ass off and nearly beat me with a run a tenth of a second faster but was spoiled by hitting a cone and ended the day with his only clean run putting him in 4th place. Joe ended the day in second place while Justin, who had taken passengers for most of his laps, finished a close 3rd. In the end my camber bolt clunking Miata stayed in 1st place.
Sunday answered a question that was burning in my head on Saturday’s less successful test and tune where Joe and Justin were ahead of me by a good margin. After Sunday I found that I’ve still got it and last year’s champion isn’t going down without a fight.
From the Outside Looking In.
Apart from my personal story many other dramas were playing that were just as if not more interesting. Justin Mathews in a sweet black Evo with a blown head gasket and 4 passengers got 8th of 80 that day. DJ Fitzpatrick got 3rd overall while driving like a madman in his Time Trial prepared M3 with old Star Specs on. There was a sweet and clean E36 with an LS1 swap driven by Jeffrey Glass that made all the right wrong noises. Henry Lehman made a completely stock Grand Prix GTP 4dr beat an M3, GTO, and many others with a razors edge of control driving style. Patrick Houchens rocked a ’71 Chevelle with its stock suspension, non-power brakes, and dried out white letter radials for baseline testing of a car that will only increase in badassedness. As a bonus my co-driving friend Chris Belsky finished second in the novice class in my Miata. Most importantly though the fastest time of the day out of 80 entries was the Yellow B-stock Honda S2000 on brand spanking new Hoosier A6’s. Watching that car run was a thing so beautiful I’m pretty sure I had a tear in the corner of my eye.
Bruce Crow’s Miata finished second to an amazing and experienced MR2 driver in STR but beat me by 0.06 showing just how tough his class is to win in. What probably hurt Bruce most was the fact that his air-filter kept falling off. No, seriously it fell off in two runs and for its final run was held on by a young ladies hair tie. When you have mechanical troubles in a race it can quickly take your mind out of the game.
Some guy (nameless due to witness protection program) finished off a set of Toyo R888’s in his Euro-nosed GTI battling the Spec Miata driven by Mark Snodgrass in the DSP class. Mark, who had kindly let me drive his awesome car at a test and tune the day before, handily won the class but the nameless guy (who put his first name on his euro plates) promises a fresher set of tires will make the next race closer.
Speaking of SP classes, CSP was an epic battle of Miata’s much like the one I had in STS but with more powerful motors and wide R-compound tires. OASOB/Three amigo’s motor sports spent much of the off-season adding power and grip to Mick Seals 94 Miata in the form of Megasquirt engine management and Hoosier A6’s. Showing just how full of camaraderie our region is full of, last year’s CSP champion Lynn Combs did much of the mechanical work to the car which paid off…for Mick. The “Blue Bullet” 99 Miata of Lynn’s was having some sort of issues and the “Red Bull” 94 of Mick’s soared ahead and took the class win. Mick has since promised to help Lynn iron out the “Blue Bullet” and the vicious dissection of lap times will re-commence soon.
For those who worry about their car not being fast enough or sporty enough you’ll need to grow a set because Samuel Reiman’s Dodge Stratus tore up the course. An added perk was that Samuel is English and gave a Top Gear/Formula 1 style of announcing for the last two run groups.
As each run group wound down and final runs were made competitors parked their cars back in their pit spaces/parking spots and walked up to fellow racers. Instead of yelling and screaming there was congratulations and above all sharing stories of their fastest runs, spinouts, or what they planned on doing next time to the car. The racing never really ends but rather goes from on course racing to bench racing.
Event day which begins with course setup, trailer unloading, registration and tech at 8am came to a close sometime around 4pm with along period for extra non-scored fun runs at $1each. It had been cloudy and cool throughout the event but once the course had been packed up by the awesome folks who stay till the end and trophies were handed out it started to sprinkle (Note: You don’t get your trophy if you leave early unless somebody who stayed to clean up picks it up for you). We got lucky and avoided rain the entire day.
Did all of this sound fun? Sound like good times? Well it was! If you want to get in on this find your local SCCA region and sign up for an autocross. If your local region is the Blue Ridge Region go to www.brr-scca.org and check the schedule for the next event you can make. For the sake of Ray Schumin who is the event registrar please try to register online as it saves him some paperwork on the day of events. You won’t regret entering and watching is free. Goodness knows committed spectator and #1 fan Dan Kiser hasn’t paid a dime to watch the racing and loves every minute of it. We do, or at least I do, have one policy though…the only tools allowed are the kinds that go in a box and are used to fix cars…all others should stay home and not show up to our events and peel out of the parking lot or do other dumb things that might give our group a bad reputation.
Photos came courtesy of Ray Schumin, Mick Seal and Wendy Bergstein who make up the photography talent of the Blue Ridge Region SCCA. A complete results list for this event as well as those going back as far as 1999 can be found at www.brr-scca.org under the results cone/tab.