A Long Hard Week for Six Minutes of Fun

It doesn't get any more fun than this.

It was a long seven days and 2,100 miles round trip just to get to race a car for six minutes. Sounds crazy doesn't it? Friday was the final day of competition in what is billed as the largest motorsports championship in the world. Lincoln Nebraska again hosted the (SCCA) Sports Car Club of America 40th Annual Solo National Championship, where almost 1,200 competitors competed in 35 different classes (which includes ladies classes plus 8 supplemental classes) for a coveted National Championship. Competition is always intense as people come from around the country and Canada for a week of racing and a chance to win nothing but bragging rights. And as a side note, the entire event is run by the drivers with only a handful of SCCA officials to manage the event. 

The championship is a four-day event where competitors run on two separate courses over a two day period. Half of the field ran on Tue/Wed (including us) and the other competitors ran Thu/Fri. The fastest time for each competitor, from each course, is added together to determine each class champion. There is no practice on the real course and each driver only gets three runs per course. The competition is very intense with some classes being decided by fractions of a second. Any off course excursion is counted as a DNF (did not finish) and each cone hit adds two seconds to your time.

Evolution Performace Driving School does course walk videos to help explain "how" to drive each course. Evolution School instructors walk you through the course and explain in detail important aspects of the various features that each course has to offer. If you would like to see what goes into driving these national courses, here is the west course walk-thru and here is the east course.
This was our first time out in the Jeep (ok... it's not REALLY a Jeep, it just kinda looks like one) at the Nationals (my 8th time there) and we had our work cut out for us. For the last 6 years our class has been dominated by Jeff Kiesel and his Bugeye Sprite and competing against him and his car is no easy task. But we gave it our best shot and here is how it all turned out. 

Day 1

Hot... what else can I say. It reached 102 degrees in Lincoln on Tuesday with pavement temps over 130 degrees. I think my brain was a little fried by the last heat (there are 5 heats, we happened to run last) and mental mistakes cost me some time. The course was fast with flowing sweepers.
My first day times:

Run 1 - 56.767 Click for video
Run 2 - 56.922
Run 3 - 58.174 (1) Click for video

Luckily, the first run of 56.767 was good enough to put me in 2nd, but as you can see, a mistake slowed me down for the 2nd run. My last run of the day was the 2nd fastest raw time but that little (1) after it means I hit a cone which added the 2 seconds to my time (it would have been a 56.174 otherwise). At the end of the first day I had to stand on my first run and I was sitting in the last trophy spot in 5th place, 0.561 seconds out of 2nd place. The driver in first, Jeff Kiesel from California, was running off and leaving everyone, so the rest of the field wasn't even looking at his times. But take a look at the difference in times from 2nd place to 5th place for the first day. Keep in mind that when we're out there running, there is no one running next to you to compare yourself to, it's you and the clock, and this starts to show you how intense the competition really is (all of these times are in seconds in case you didn't know).

2nd - 56.206
3rd - 56.356 - .150 seconds back
4th - 56.656 - .300 seconds back
5th - 56.767 - .111 seconds back (Me)

Day 2

Wednesday was a different day and a totally different type of course. The west course had higher speed and more sweepers and the east course was more of a transition course and considerably longer in time. Not to mention that the weather was 20 degrees cooler which I know helped me. For some reason, I'm pretty quick my first run of the day, my first run of each day was the 2nd fastest in our class, only behind the eventual winner, Jeff Kiesel. So after my first run on Wednesday, my combined times from day 1 and the 1st run on Wednesday had me in 2nd place overall and I was feeling much more confident with my chances. I felt a little more at home with this course than the previous day (or maybe it was because my brain wasn't fried like the day before...).

My 2nd run was even better and I was still holding on to 2nd place, one more run and I was set. So here's how it looked at the start of the last run of the whole event for us, 2nd place (me) and the next 3 drivers were in this order:

121.132 - 2nd me
121.897 - 3rd Bob Tunnell .765 back from 2nd
122.284 - 4th Mark Kiesel 1.152 back from 2nd
122.505 - 5th Jeff Christianson (last trophy spot)

But Mark Kiesel had different ideas about 2nd place and Mark came storming back and dropped 1.979 seconds on his 3rd run which moved him up to 2nd place. So it came down to my last run, I needed to run a 63.587 to pull back ahead of Mark again (64.365 was my fastest so far). I would tell you what happened but that would spoil the fun, you can watch my TWO mistakes here. My mistakes cost me dearly and for the moment I was in 3rd place. And because of my mistake, Bob Tunnell driving his BMW, got a re-run. After the mandatory 5 minute wait Bob takes the course again, but half-way through the course, Bob's engine blew and ended his chances for moving up, and that left me with a 3rd place podium finish. So with it all said and done, the top 5 trophy positions looked like this:

1. 114.886 - Jeff Kiesel
2. 120.305 - Mark Kiesel (5.419 from 1st)
3. 121.132 - Steve Brueck (0.827 from 2nd)
4. 121.897 - Bob Tunnell (0.765 from 3rd)
5. 121.953 - Jeff Christianson (0.056 from 4th)

And remember, these are combined times over two days on two totally different courses, with no practice. Pretty close... In terms of distance, we're talking inches.

I feel pretty good with our results considering it's the first time for us in this car at the Nationals. Time to do some tweaking and tuning for next year and fix the nut behind the wheel and we'll be set! Jeff Kiesel made a comment on Facebook today and I quote:

"All right I will take this week off from the car and then back at it. Got to make it fast and only have about 345 days till we leave for Nationals."

We are some crazy people. :-)

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North Georgia Weather September 09, 2012 at 12:51 AM
The Atlanta Region had one new National Champion crowned. Amy Smith won Ladies E Prepared for her first National Championship while her husband Tim and co-driver Bill Bounds finished 2nd and 3rd in the E Prepared open class in the same car.
North Georgia Weather September 10, 2012 at 02:07 AM
And if you ever decide to drive to Lincoln NE (LOL... right!) ... it takes a LONG time. Including the rain we ran into, it took 16 straight hours driving out there. We split it up coming back so it wasn't quite so bad.
Tommy Hunter September 10, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Lincoln is just a day trip. Try going to the other side of the state. 24-hours one way. Do it every year.
North Georgia Weather September 10, 2012 at 10:07 AM
No thanks Tommy! :-) I can only imagine how boring that stretch of road is. I just wish St. Louis would get their roads fixed! The west side of St. Louis is great but the bridges and roads as you cross over from Illinois into St. Louis are horrible. There was one section where you're driving along and all of a sudden, there is a concrete barrier that splits the pair of lanes into two single lanes, you'd better hope you're not changing lanes when you come up on it. Then the two lanes it creates are barely wide enough for a trailer, I'll bet I had 6 inches on either side. Kansas City isn't much better but we took the by-pass coming back so it wasn't too bad.
Tommy Hunter September 10, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Oh yeah, been through there 30 times in the last 12 years. You should have seen St. Louis back when they were widening I-70. If you go back through there again headed west, stay on I-64. It's a straight shot through St. Louis and comes out on I-70 in Wentzville. The part you are talking about with the split lanes is in Illinois. What would you expect. LOL.
Jim Murphy September 10, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Co-driver here - We always use I-64 except when it was under construction. The concrete barrier between 2 lanes was in St. Louis on the I-64 overpass near the baseball stadium. It was raining hard and I was behind a van and started to change lanes when I saw the end of the barrier just feet in front of me (tore up a lot of plastic tubes) and slid back barely missing the barrier with the right side trailer tires by mere inches - whew!!


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