Group three of the “HyPR Hot Air-Cooled Sprints” really only featured one entry that was air-cooled: the GT3 VW Beetle of Jeff Kent. Like the other entries from Rocky Mountain Vintage or NASA, we were more than happy to have him come play with us. The rest of the 14-car field was comprised of almost every production and touring class SCCA offers. At the front for most of the weekend was veteran racer (and tech chief) Bob Maples and his turbo Audi. It was a pleasure racing with a friend who started his racing career at about the same time I did. On Saturday, his STU A4 was more than a match for my T1/T3 Nissan; although it was interesting to note where our strong points were around the 2.0-mile west circuit at High Plains Raceway. Bob’s AWD grip and turbo power gave him a decided edge coming off slow corners like T2 and T8. In turn, my Nissan 350Z had the edge in braking and handling in certain high-speed turns, like T4 and T7. On the rest of the course our cars were pretty equal as we diced for the overall lead. It’s always exciting racing with a skilled competitor like Bob and while the battles were hard and close, neither of us scratched one bit of paint as Bob led the field home in both Saturday races.
On Sunday morning another T1 entry showed up: the Mustang FR500 Boss 302S of Garth Yettick. His factory built race vehicle was impressive in almost every detail, including being finished in classic school bus yellow (same as the Trans Am winning ‘Stangs of Parnelli Jones/George Follmer, who ran at Continental Divide Raceway back in the 70’s). Bob recognized we were all running similar lap times (although I suspect Garth may have been holding back) and said he’d back out to allow the two T1 cars do battle rather than get in the way. That’s always a thoughtful move to discuss among situationally-aware racers. But for the first race on Sunday, Bob was the one doing battle for the lead. His silver Audi and the yellow Mustang danced quite well, with Bob taking the checker by the barest of margins. My view of the action changed during the feature race later that afternoon, as the start remained predictable with the Audi slotting into the lead, the Mustang right on his tail and my red Nissan just back in third. Down the backstraight, my 300-hp normally-aspirated V6 lost ground to the V8 and turbo 6 ahead, but the Z was better balanced from T4-6 and could close on the leaders. Several laps in, the Mustang passed Bob on the backstraight as I closed in. Bob was true to his word two laps later, and let me by on the short chute between T5 and T6. As most race fans know, catching the leader and passing him are two different things. Better braking efficiency and high speed stability allowed me to inch up over the next lap. My well-used BFGoodrich R1S tires were up to temp and predictable, and I began pressuring the Mustang as we hit the tight T1-3 complex. The 440-HP Mustang would still walk away down HPR’s backstraight, but the tide was about to change.
Whether Garth missed an upshift (probably 3-4, if it’s anything like my car) or simply allowed me to close up, I don’t know. But a slight hesitation in acceleration allowed me to reduce the drafting distance. Still, the 5.0-liter Ford merely coughed and resumed pulling away right when I thought I’d pull ahead on the last half of the straight. That’s a strong engine! But heading into the braking zone, I was determined to close up by braking later and carrying more speed through T4. This time I was right on his bumper as we made the transition from 120+ MPH to the 90 or so needed to make the T4 bend. As he moved right to set up for the following downhill left hander (T5) I knew my chance had come. Quickly slipping to the left and inside, I established position to out-brake the bigger car going downhill. The pass was decisive and clean, and the lead I’d gained was not something to be relinquished easily. Driving steady laps is always a bit easier when you have a clear road and something to play for! While my tires were fading, it seemed both of us were struggling to get the power down on corner exit. In the ensuing laps, the Mustang continued to close up on the straights, but wasn’t close enough for a clean pass as long as I continued to be precise in my line and clean in braking/downshifting. Finally, the white flag came out and I knew I had a chance! Building a small lead coming through the tight T1-3 section and flashing cleanly down the backstraight, the Mustang once again pulled out to pass, but wasn’t close enough to establish position approaching T4. My Nissan built a small lead through T5 and Danny’s Lesson (T6). but the Mustang closed quickly as we hit T7 and climbed the hill to T8. Again, better braking balance helped ensure he couldn’t get inside as we made the bend toward the famed “Prairie Corkscrew”. Hitting late apexes down the corkscrew provided yet another clean exit onto the front straight for the ensuing drag race to the finish line. My peripheral vision strained to see any flash of yellow beside me, but as the checkered flag fell I held a scant 0.241 sec lead!
While packing up the truck and trailer for the tow back from HPR, I thought of all the people who’d made the past weekend such a special one. People like Chief Steward Phil Shuey, Registrar Queen Ann Hickey and T&S Chief Carolyn Rasband- all of whom helped approve and keep my T1/T3 entries straight. HP racer Tony Wilson stopped by to spectate with his family and wound up changing the rear hub Saturday evening when we found it was loose. “Can’t come to a race and NOT work on a racecar”, he said cheerfully. Patrick Frank assisted with the repair as Jim Christian loaned us his long torque wrench to get that big 31 mm hub nut cinched down. My gratitude to one and all- I was changing/bleeding the front brakes and enjoyed the company as much as the help! Almost every lap during each of the four races were spent dicing in close quarters. The racing was hard and fair throughout and the smiles, waves and thumbs-up from corner crews and race officials after the race signify a discerning appreciation from an audience who truly understand high-speed entertainment. And while there was certainly no fame or money involved, perhaps it’s just as well- racing as clean and pure as it gets. And for this racer, life doesn’t get much better than the final weekend of the 2015 Rocky Mountain Divisional season.