Carl McLelland and 61/FF/79

2005 Season

 

Phoenix Report

Hi Everyone, The racing season has begun!!!

At the Southern California Historics, last June, I was tempted (as you'll recall) to title it "The Price Of Admission".1 I could have almost called this report "The Price Of Admission, Part 2". Read on........

Lynne and I launched from Sparks right at high noon on Tuedsay, Feb 15'th. It started raining as we reached Fernley and started snowing as we reached Yerington. The snow lasted till about Luning (30 miles south of Hawthorne), then it was easy sailing to our first stop on the trip, overnight at Tonopah. Occasional rain showers across (Boulder) Dam and into Kingman, AZ, our second nights stop. Thursday morning was high clouds for an otherwise 'easy sail' into Phoenix, arriving at the track around 1300 hours.

Much like the formula Ford grid, lined up 'one-two' at the gate was Bob Hatle and I. Ed Swart (President of HSR-West) arrived about 1400. He let Bob and I register early and go into the track about an hour ahead of the "Oklahoma Land Rush" so we could unload and settle into our pit location. In exchange, we "policed" the pits, assuring folks parked in their proper 'motor home' pit area. Actually this worked to perfection; giving me the opportunity to meet most of the Historic NASCAR stock car group and what I referred to as the "New Mexico Group". (More on this later)

A delicious dinner of bar-b-qued ribs then a good nights sleep listening to it pound rain on the motor home all night long!

While on the subject of weather, it rained off and on all weekend. At one point Saturday night I was tempted to put an 'anchor light' on the roof of the motor home lest 'Noah and his Ark' sail by and fail to see us! In reality though, the rain did cancel a few sessions for the higher performance race cars with slicks, but with some schedule adjustments I think most everybody got enough CHALLENGING track time to be 'sated' by Sunday afternoon.

Friday morning I met with Topper Chasse', Jim Rowe and Bud Burns; my co-instructors in the HSR-West competition driving school. Following the classroom session and walking the track we loaded into 'sedans' for track tours with the students. It turned out I drew a rental Chevy Impala and altogether with two groups of students put in about 25 laps at "moderate" speed! (While I never had the occasion to compare a 'civilian' Ford Crown Victoria to a Washoe County Sheriff's Office version, I can now tell you from 'first hand, on-duty, actual experience' a Nevada Highway Patrol Impala will 'blow the civilian version in the weeds'!! {And NO, John, I DID NOT attempt an ABS exercise at 70mph although I was able to sustain 100mph on the (turn 3-4) portion of the banked oval in damp weather at Phoenix International Raceway.})2

After lunch the track dried nicely and our students were able to get in all their track sessions and everybody was signed off and licensed.

The Friday night "wine and cheese" get-together was held in Mark Brannon's pit under the big awning on his 53 foot trailer. One of the really great things about historic racing is the friendliness and cameroderie (sp) between competitor's. Marks pit consisted of three Lola T97's (Indy lights--- 1450 pounds, 450 horsepower V6 motors, etc), a Dallarha (IRL) full Indy car, a formula 5000 LeGrand, and Mark's father's Lotus 23.

Now comes "the Price of Admission, Part 2"........ As the party wound on I was talking to Mark about the expense of racing an Indy lite car. In Mark's words the car is just a "big formula Ford!" (Maybe so, but I think there are a few more 'zero's in Marks racing budget than in mine......) Anyway, after a few minutes we walk over to the Lola that Mark normally races. He removed the cover from the car and pointing to the cockpit says "get in!" Well.... never wanting to disappoint anyone, I climb into this machine. As I settle into the cockpit I realize that even though the seat is not made to fit me, this car is VERY comfortable!! ("Golly Edith, I could really enjoy driving this car!! "Oh Archie....... Your Soooooo Silly!!!") As the seconds roll along and I'm feeling really 'comfy' in this car, Mark's mechanic reaches into the cockpit and installs what turns out to be the ignition module. Mark reaches in and shakes the gearshift to insure it's in neutral, then HE LIGHTS IT OFF!!!!!!!! Oh my, Martha..... I'm REALLY starting to feel all warm and fuzzy!!!!! WOW!!!! Hmmmmmm, let's see....... Talk about the price of admission!! By now my thought's are the same as Will Smith's from the movie Independence Day when he flew the UFO.... "I GOTTA GET ME ONE OF THESE!!!!!"

Saturday morning and its time for the first practice session. I 'suit up' and motor out to the grid. I'm on the pole..... guess nobody else is crazy enough to go drive in the rain. Well, it's been four months since I last drove this car, so it doesn't matter how slow I'll be going; just getting some "stick time" is important right now. Heck, I'd have been out there if it was snowing! Soon we go out on track.... Whoooooo Boy(!!), is it slippery!! I quickly find that driving the car isn't driving the racing line, it's going from one shallow puddle to the next shallow puddle. I can barely maintain 4200rpm in fourth gear on the oval without spinning. None-the-less, it feels SO GOOD to be back on the track. I'm soon soaked to the bone and the session is over.

I skipped the 'timed' practice session; opting to start from the back of the grid for the qualifying race, rather than 'temp fate' in the rain. As it turns out; a good decision.

By afternoon and time for the qualification race the track is mostly dry, but cold, so there's going to be no heating of the tires in this race. Out onto the pre-grid and we're not on a 'board' yet, so I shut off the engine; only to discover a starter problem when I attempt to start up (%&#$*!@%^). After the field pulls away I get a 'bump start' and I'm off at full tilt to catch the field! I catch the pack as I come off the banking onto the front straight, but my hopes for a "fourth gear start" are dashed as I see the green flag wave! I catch the pack but I'm dead last as we reach turn one. I grab third gear after a tap of the brakes and start passing.... I think to myself... "Dead Ass Last, Oker: Here We Go!"3

The "New Mexico Group", mentioned earlier, is a group of racers from the Albuquerque area who strive to annually race a track where they have not raced before. They are, in part, Ken Adams (Lynx formula V), Jim Askew (Lotus Elan), Ned Goodshall (Lotus 61), Ron Greenwell (Lotus 61 with 51 body) and Denny Bridges (Crossle' 20F). Over the course of the weekend we formed a friendship and before we parted Sunday I was invited to race on 'their turf' in Albuquerque this fall.

But back to the race. While I was pushing right up to my 'personal limits' many competitor's were spinning themselves out on the cold, damp track. One by one I was moving up in the field... I caught Phillippe Reyns exiting the hairpin and after chasing him a lap passed him on the oval. Bud Byrnes obliged by spinning in the hairpin, and many of the others let me by when they over extended themselves. All too soon the checkered flag was flying and a finished in fourth place with a best lap of 1:17.652. Not exactly "stellar", but considering the conditions, not an all together bad time....

Saturday night was the traditional catered dinner for drivers and crews, and 'management' really out-did themselves with a really, really good lazagna dinner and a surprise birthday cake for now 77 year old Pace Car driver Topper Chasse'.

The rain Saturday night tried to crush the roof of the motorhome but it stopped Sunday morning. The track for the Lotus Sports Challenge race was cold and wet. I started in the pole position and Phillippe Reyns was on the outside of the front row. Phillippe and I have raced together for years and he is not a driver to be taken for granted. ANY time you beat him you have earned your victory!

After being the Lotus Sports champion the past two years I had a 'title to defend'; and while historic racing is NOT about winning "at any cost", I wasn't going to 'give it away'. If I lost it was going to be an honest competition.

After a wet 'pace lap' Phillippe and I were 'side-by-side' into turn one. I immediately felt the front end slipping badly and could only hope Phillippe was experiencing the same thing, else we would soon be 'up close and personal'. This was the case, and I was clearly leading as we entered turn two. End of the first lap and I felt a comfortable lead, but I could see Jim Askew's Lotus Elan advancing through the pack. Another lap and Jim is 'nipping' at my heels. I didn't feel he could beat me except on the oval. I led him another lap then he made his pass on the oval, passing on the banking. I stuck to him another lap but realized I couldn't stay with him on the banking and had to let him go...... Jim won overall with a twelve second lead and I finished second overall (winning the formula car class) with an eighteen second lead over Phillippe.

By the time of the Pacific formula ford race the track was dry, but cold. I started on the outside of the second row but considered my start something "less than stellar"! I think I was tenth into turn one, so my work was ahead of me. I re-passed many of these competitor's, then noticed Bob Hatle (Mk 6 Titan and one of the front runners) parked by the turn four flag station. Hmmmmmm, obviously Bob has a problem of some sort. I entered turn seven and started feeding in the throttle, only to have the car make a sudden, violent 360 degree spin! Before I could even declutch I was out of the spin and pointed forward. The engine was running, nothing had 'fallen off the car', so I came back on the power only to SPIN AGAIN!!! Unknown at this time but someone had blown an engine an severely oiled the track. But talk about "firsts".... WHO ELSE can say they have spun twice, in the same corner, on the SAME LAP!?!?!?!?!?

I ultimately finished fifth overall and fourth in class (Monoposto formula Ford), but improved my Saturday lap time under similar conditions by almost four seconds and closed to within two point seven seconds of winner Chuck Pittenger's best lap time!

This concludes the "Phoenix Report". As usual, we made many new friends this weekend, the least of which was the "New Mexico Group" and several of the historic NASCAR drivers and crews.

I 'defended' my title in the Lotus series and finished the Pacific formula Ford series race exactly as I finished last season; in fourth place. The "next edition" will be the "Willow Springs Report" after March 12-13.

A few notes and observations: Bill, you would fit nicely in a Lynx formula V. The New Mexico Group expressed a lot of interest in coming out to Willow Springs in March, and to help influence their decision to do so I gave them my "secret" gear ratios I use at Willow. And in closing...... if anyone has a spare $69,000.00 we could easily run back down to Phoenix and pick up Mark Brannons Lola T97 Indy Lite!!!!!!

Until next time........ "Who Was That Masked Man?"...... "I don't Know, But He Gave Me This Silver Bullet!"........ "Hiiii Yooooo, Silver.... Away......."
Carl

Photos: Not much selection this time.. My "Photo Takers" all 'woosed out' due to a few rain drops over in California! (Just kiddin' guys, I know what it was like). First is a very wet, cold and damp Lotus 61 tucked under the canopy on the motorhome. Next is the front straight early Sunday morning, and last is one of Mark Brannon's Lola T97's. (I didn't sit in this one but it's exactly the same as the one I was in. Now wouldn't I look simply "Dapper" in that!?!?!?).

Carl, I believe the correct British term would be "dashing".  Ed.
 

Phoenix Notes:

1. "The Price Of Admission". At the HSR-West Southern Calif Historics in June, 04, I was running the second open practice session, making final tuning and suspension adjustments, etc. (In open practice all formula cars, from formula Ford to formula One and Indy cars are on-track at the same time). As I came into the hairpin and was working my way down through the gears the flaggers suddenly began frantically waving the "faster traffic" flag. I had seen "something red growing in the mirrors", so as I exited the corner I went wide and pointed for this (unknown) car to pass on my right. As he passed I swung over and tucked in directly behind him. Imagine my delight, glee, euphoria, excitement..... I was less than a car length behind a 1995, twelve cylinder formula One Ferrari (I believe the ex-Gerhard Berger car) going through about 12,000rpm on it's way to 16,000rpm!!! Unless you were there you cannot imagine what it sounded like, but it was Spec-Tac-U-Lar!!

 
2. "No John, I didn't try an ABS exercise at 70mph..." I'm a retired Deputy Sheriff. While on-the-job one of my collateral assignments was EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operations) Instructor. We put on an EVOC Instructor School a few years ago for several of the area agencies (Reno PD, Sparks PD, the Sheriff's Office and Nevada Highway Patrol). Since the Highway Patrol Troopers take their assigned patrol cars home with them we allowed them to drive their assigned patrol cars in the school as well as operate our training fleet cars. Actually, all the students rotated through all the available cars, including SUV's. This gave us the ability to teach in both front and rear wheel drive cars as well as all wheel drive.. Anyway, we were doing an ABS exercise. In this, the student enters a diamond pattern of cones at an assigned speed. A signal is given to steer either left or right and at that point the student "dynamites" the brakes, maintaining full ABS lockup while steering through the cone pattern, bringing the car to a stop: ideally without hitting any cones. I was "playing" in one of the NHP (front wheel drive) Impala's, and "John" (our lead instructor) kept bumping up my speeds to insanely high speeds.... 50, then 60, then 65 (which I was barely able to control), then 70mph. As I entered the diamond I saw John's left arm start to move so I reacted, anticipating a left entry for the diamond. However, he pointed to the right! Here I am in ABS lockup, steering first left then right which completely unloads the suspension, followed by the car starting to react strangely indeed! At this point I released a little brake to stabilize the car (normally a NO-NO) then got back into lockup, and mowed down darn near every cone on the course and sent all the other instructor's fleeing for their lives!!
 
3. "Dead Ass Last Oker..." Bob Oker was a professional driver throughout the 50's. He, his wife and son have been life-long friends. Back in the 50's it was often the practice to establish the starting grids by putting numbers in a hat and drawing the numbers to set the order. Bob often as not always drew the number putting him last on the grid; which didn't last long as Bob would inevitably win with whatever he was driving. Bill Rudd, who for years was Bob's chief mechanic came up with the "Dead Ass Last Oker" nickname and it stuck.

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