While there’s certainty a wealth of dramatic stories from the 2014 “Home of Heros” SCCA Majors held at Pueblo Motorsports Park (PMP), the only one I know well enough to tell is my own. Racing is an immersion that doesn’t leave much time to savor the sights and sounds of other races as much as I’d like. Still, as competitors from 10 different states gathered for the first Majors race at PMP (and the last Majors in Colorado for the season), there was reason for optimism.
The repaving of PMP, together with the reconfiguration of T10, has revitalized the 2.2-mile circuit. And despite the threat of rain all weekend, the wet tires stayed in the trailer, while cool temperatures promised a few extra horsepower for qualifying and the race. Practice and qualifying went smoothly, and it was encouraging to see my lap times three tenths under the existing lap record set last fall. But that fleeting feeling of accomplishment lasted only as long as it took to examine the times set by my class rivals. Three other T3 racers were ahead in qualifying, and many lap records would fall on this last weekend in May.
Mounting up the freshest set of tires I had for the first sprint race on Saturday, it was clear I had to look for every opportunity available on the opening lap. A clean start saw a familiar sight as we sprinted into T1. Racers tend to defend the inside line, and there was a large group fighting it out there throughout corner entry. Aiming for a higher line through the turn, I slipped past a large group of cars under braking and accelerating around the outside. This was a tricky affair, but I managed to slot ahead without touching anyone. I could see my Zorro Racing teammate Derek Kulach just ahead as we sought to run down Jim Leithauser (the T3 leader) a few cars ahead. But then I noticed a red GT1 Vette on my tail and made my first mistake. Usually he would just fly by, but between T4 and T5, I signaled him to pass. Little did I know that he’d snapped his gearshift lever off and was stuck in gear! So when he made the move to pass, he quickly ran out of gear down the short chute and couldn’t complete the pass before T5. I was forced to “hold the door open” to avoid contact and was passed by two cars before I could get back onto line. Lesson learned: don’t be overly considerate when racing. No good deed goes unpunished.
The rest of that race found me losing ground to the cars ahead, even as I pulled away from the cars behind. While kicking myself for losing position, it may not have mattered as I noticed the clutch in my Nissan becoming increasingly problematic as the laps wore on. This had been a problem in the past, as the flexible clutch line leading to the concentric slave cylinder (CSC) had sprung a leak. This was repaired, but the symptoms seemed to have returned. With two laps to go, I realized the clutch was completely inoperable. By rev matching, I found I could shift up and down one gear without tearing up the tranny. Using only third and fourth gears (and the broad torque range of my Nissan VQ35HR), I made it to the checkered flag without incident.
But that relief lasted only long as long as it took to take a closer look at the clutch assembly. Between the gully washer that came in Saturday evening and the next day, it became increasingly clear the CSC itself was at fault. After bleeding the clutch, hydraulic brake fluid was leaking out of the bellhousing, not the clutch line. That would require dropping the driveshaft, exhaust and tranny to get to the CSC, but that would only make sense if I had the replacement part. My race weekend in T3 was over, done, finis.
Fortunately, Don Walker of Grid-1 (who had fixed the clutch line previously and initially diagnosed the CSC failure) had brought two cars to rent for the weekend. One of them, a STU-class RX8 was available when the renter wasn’t able to race. “I’d like to see you in the car”, Walker said. But between getting his other Mazda entry ready to race and swapping my entry around Sunday morning, the first time I’d even get a chance to drive the RX8 would be on the pace lap! Like most racers, I am under the (admittedly delusional) impression that I can hop into anything and drive it well. So, this was the time to prove it! Starting from the back of the grid (as all my lap times from the previous day were moot), it took some time to adjust to the power range of the rotary motor which was well beyond the redline for my Nissan V-6. What’s more, no matter how loud that engine wailed, it didn’t have much oomph compared to what I was used to. Using the pace lap and the start of the race to acclimate, I soon began the march forward. The RX8 was truly a joy in the corners, with a low CG and well-weighted steering. The brakes were strong and easy to modulate, but required a relearning of braking points, as this Mazda was almost 500 pounds lighter than my usual ride. By the end of the Sunday Majors race, I’d found some satisfaction in passing multiple cars, turning laps about three seconds off my T3 times and smiling inwardly as I took the checkered flag. That said, there must have been many more dramatic stories from other racers that weekend, but making lemonade out of lemons is always gratifying. My thanks to Don Walker, Grid-1, my wife Kathy and all my friends—who happen to race, crew or work— for making the “Home of Heroes” Majors such a memorable event.