Wednesday, September 22, 2004

MSOKC Race No. 1 (rescheduled) - September 19, 2004

Originally sent: Wednesday, September 22, 2004 1:00 PM

In spite of the forecast from earlier in the week, which had called for remnants of Hurricane Ivan throughout the weekend, MSOKC karters were greeted with clear skies on Sunday for the make-up race for rained-out Race No. 1. Conor celebrated his birthday at the race track and Peter made his racing debut. Henry unveiled some new graphics on his kart (pink stripes!), which were intended to offset the good-natured teasing he received last week from the family of the driver chasing him for third place in the championship.

We acquired a used chassis for Peter a couple of months ago from a colleague who was moving to Houston. Using spare parts and Conor’s 'Rookie Box' motor from last year, we were able to get him going without too much expense. I had taken him to the track to practice with Conor several times, but transportation during race weekends has been our main problem, since out trailer only holds two karts. On Sunday, my dad agreed to take Peter in his pick-up truck. Our objective for Peter was to get him some experience under race conditions. He started all of his races from the back of the grid, as is required for rookie drivers. He worked his way up to speed throughout the day, and by the feature race, he was keeping up with the back of the pack. He even made his first pass – a brave outside maneuver going into Turn 9. Way to go, Peter!

The newly-crowned champion in Conor’s class had moved up to Henry’s class, so we had hopes for a possible win for Conor. He started his first heat race from the fourth position (of five). He made a reasonable start and made two passes by about mid distance. He was then passed by the driver he is chasing for second in the championship, who went on to win the heat. Conor was unable to pass his main rival from last year, who has been getting faster as the season winds down, and finished third. Starting from outside the front row in the second heat, he tucked inside the driver in second in the championship, who had started on the pole, and had to watch as she (yes, she) checked out. Conor had beaten her pretty soundly just over a week ago, when she was lapping in the mid-52 second range. On Sunday, she was lapping in the mid-49 second range – faster than anyone has lapped all year in this class. Someone is going to have to explain to me how you pick up 3 seconds per lap in 8 days… Conor ran a relatively lonely second to the end in the second heat. Conor lined up third for the feature and made a great pass in Turn 1. There was a scary incident behind him, however, which brought out the red flag. After the pieces were cleared up, everyone made it back to the grid for the restart. The two karts involved in the red flag incident were moved to the back of the grid, which put Conor on the outside of the front row. He didn't have as much luck with the restart and was passed in Turn 1. We had made some fairly dramatic changes to his kart prior to the feature, and it became apparent fairly quickly that the set-up we ended up with was not ideal. His lap times were good, but just a tick slower than his heat race times. He was able to hold on to third to the finish, however. Post-race tech inspection varies from race to race. Several times this year they have inspected restrictor plates to make sure the diameter is to specification. This was not the case on Sunday, and while this probably sounds like 'sour grapes', I sure would like to have seen somebody have a look at the restrictor plate in the winning kart… So, with one race to go, Conor’s third place in the championship is now sealed. He is too far back from second but sufficiently ahead of fourth. Way to go Conor!

From the moment we unloaded the trailer, Henry’s pink stripes seemed to be having the desired effect. If nothing else, they let the driver chasing Henry for third place in the championship know that we had been thinking about him during the week between races. Henry started the first heat from pole position and led fairly handily through Lap 4 (of 6). By that time, Adam, the newly-crowned champion in Conor’s class, had caught up and passed Henry, who finished second. Adam went on to win both heats and the feature in his first official outing in this class – wow! Starting from last (7th) in the second heat, he made one pass but then got stuck behind the driver who everyone has trouble passing and finished sixth. His heat race finishes were on par with his rival for third place in the championship, so the feature would be the decider. Henry lined up on the inside of row two with his rival to the outside. At the start, Henry was squeezed to the inside but held his line. On the outside, there was contact and his rival did a half spin and fell to last. The contact also allowed Henry to gain a position to second, where he ran to the finish. His rival caught up to the pack by mid-distance but could not pass and finished last. Only the best nine finishes count for the championship, however, so Henry’s rival will use this as a 'drop' race. His next best race is a reasonable one, but Henry still gained four valuable points, extending his lead to 10. Henry is running as fast as he has all season - his fast lap on Sunday was sub-49 seconds, just a tenth off of his best ever - so we are optimistic that he can hang in there.

Thanks to everyone who helped out with getting and keeping three karts on the track on Sunday - my dad, the boy's uncle Rick, and particularly my lovely wife Laura, whose loving and constant support does not get mentioned nearly enough in these reports. The season finale is this Sunday, September 26.


Thursday, September 16, 2004

MSOKC Race No. 12 – September 11, 2004

Originally sent: Thursday, September 16, 2004 9:02 AM

This past Saturday was the last MSOKC night race of the season. Henry had a 1:00 PM soccer game near Toledo, which is a 2-1/2 - 3 hour drive from the race track, so his participation in the first heat race was questionable. We knew that this would be the case, so we had previously asked Adam Roberts, who is the point’s leader in Conor’s class to fill in for Henry until he arrived, which he gladly agreed to do. Adam ran a bunch of practice laps in Henry’s kart and provided some valuable feedback. After implementing some changes, Adam was lapping in the mid-49 second range, which is just a few tenths better than what Henry was able to do in the previous race. We had also made some chassis adjustments to Conor’s kart in an effort to correct a worsening under-steer problem. His practice laps were immediately on par with what he was able to do in the previous race and got better as the day progressed.

Conor started his first heat race from the fifth position with his main rivals in front of him and one regular and two non-spec karts behind him. At the start, the starter threw a late green flag after most of the karts, including Conor, had backed off assuming that he would send them around again. This negated any advantage he had gained on the run up to the green flag. He arrived at Turn 3 just in time to have the kart in front of him check up to avoid a slower that had started on the front row. Conor tried to check up but was hit from behind, which drove him up onto the kart in front of him. Several seconds were lost, but only minimal damage was done. He pushed hard which allowed him to regain several positions, and eventually finished fourth. Starting from second in his second heat race, he got no help from the kart behind him and the third place starter got by in Turn 1. He was able to apply some pressure but could not get by and settled for third. The flagman inadvertently gave them an extra lap (7 instead of 6), and this turned out to be his fastest of the day (51.13). His heat race finishes earned him the second starting position for the feature. This time, he held his position and ran a relatively uncontested second to the checkered flag. Adam’s perfect score for the day clinched the championship for him, so we expect to see him move up to Henry’s class for the next race. Conor gained a few point on the second place kart in the championship, but the season is quickly winding down.

Henry arrived just as the driver’s meeting was concluding. His class was fifth in the order, which meant that he would have time to change clothes in plenty of time to make it to the grid. He started his first heat race from the fourth position (of five) with three Briggs Medium karts (same engine spec with adult drivers and a bit more weight) behind him. This is the first time in our experience that the club has combined these classes and it would prove to be a factor. He made a good start to maintain his position and on Lap 2 made a pass for third. Two of the Briggs Medium guys were every bit as fast as some of the karts in Henry’s class, and with the front of the pack bunched up, they were impatient to get through. While running third on the last lap, one the Briggs Medium guys punted Henry off in Turn 6. This was a big disappointment since the kart that is third behind Henry in the championship had also gone off and was running last. By the time Henry got going again, he was last and finished that way. In the second heat race, Henry lined up second. The pole sitter was a relative new-comer and must have missed the part of the drivers meeting where they discussed bringing the field around Turn 10 slowly at the start. After three attempts, one of which resulted in a scary pile-up (literally) in Turn 10, the flagman moved the pole sitter to the rear of the grid, which put Henry on the pole. It also put the kart that is third in the championship on the front row with Henry. As is often the case, the outside was a better place to be and Henry got passed going into Turn 1. He was able to stay in contact with the leader, but could not challenge and settled for second. For the feature, the Race Director decided start the Briggs Medium guys in front of the younger guys and separate them by a half lap or so. In retrospect, this would have been smart thing to do in the heat races, too. Henry started the feature from the fourth position. He got a good start and held his line through Turns 1 and 2, which allowed him to take advantage of being on the inside for Turn 3. The leader went wide in Turn 7 on Lap 3, which put Henry into second. Having adjusted to the changes we made to his kart, Henry ran off a string of mid-49 second laps, which brought him to the tail of his rival for second place in the championship. He was able to pull along side on the entry to Turn 10 at one point, but had to back off when the door was closed. On the next lap, he lost a bit of time then the back end nearly came around in Turn 10. He ran his fastest lap of the day (49.50) on the next lap, but by that time it was too late and he took the checkered flag second. Henry lost some points to the third place kart in the championship and will have his work cut out for him in the remaining two races.

The next race is Sunday, September 19 (Conor's Birthday!). This is a make-up race for Race No. 1, which was postponed because of rain. With the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan on the way, I have a feeling that rain might again be a factor.


Friday, September 3, 2004

MSOKC Race No. 11 – August 28, 2004

Originally sent: Friday, September 03, 2004 11:57 AM

After a three week layoff, Bruce Brothers Racing was back in action last Saturday evening. We were told that the race we missed (Race No. 10) was an uncomfortably hot and sweaty affair, and the weather again played a part on Saturday. During the layoff, we concentrated on getting Conor back up to the front of the pack in his class. We Originally sent his engine back to the engine builder for a freshen up and installed an early birthday present - new tires! During the first practice session, it became apparent that we were headed in the right direction with laps in the mid 52 second range. After implementing some suggestions for fine tuning that were provided by the dad of the points leader in Conor's class (how's that for sportsmanship!), Conor was lapping in the mid 51 second range during the second practice session. Henry had recorded a near-personal-best lap of 48.96 seconds his last time out, so we were fairly content to leave well enough alone on his kart. His practice times were in the mid to upper 49 second range.

Conor started the first heat from pole position with his main competitors lined up in 6th and 7th. He made a great start and began to pull away by just less than a second a lap. By mid distance (Lap 3 of 6), the points leader in Conor's class, who just keeps getting faster and faster as the result of experience gained recently in regional and national level races, had worked his way from last to second. He caught and passed Conor with about a lap to go. Conor held on to finish a comfortable second. In the second heat, it was Conor's turn to start from the rear. He made a good start, gaining several positions on the first lap. He caught up with two karts that were battling for the third position by Lap 3. The kart in 4th tried to go through Turn 5 (end of the long straight-away) side-by-side with the kart in 3rd. They came together and both went into the grass. It's normally advantageous when two karts in front of you go into the grass, but this time they took Conor with them. By the time he got going again, everyone else had gotten by. He pushed hard for the remainder of the heat, recording another mid 51 second lap, but ended up finishing last (7th). Before all of the heat races were concluded, the skies finally decided to open up. The club decided to award points for the day based on heat race finishes and the order in which you would have started the feature. A 2nd and a 7th might have earned Conor a feature race starting position as low as 5th, but there were four karts whose heat race finishes equaled 9 (2nd and 7th, 3rd and 6th, 4th and 5th, and 5th and 4th). Because Conor drew the second starting position for the first heat, which is the tie-breaker in these cases, he was awarded points for 3rd place in the feature. That was a reasonable result for what was generally a disappointing day. The best aspect of the day for Conor, however, was that, except for the points leader in his class, who set the fastest lap time in the WKA National race on the previous weekend, he was the fastest kart in his class. He remains third in championship points and has just a glimmer of hope for catching the kart in second with three races remaining.

Henry started both of his heat races from the third position (out of five karts in his class). In the first heat, he made a great start and followed the pole-sitter through Turn 1 into 2nd. On Lap 3, he got a good run coming out of Turn 4 and made a pass for the lead at the end of the long straight-away. He held a comfortable lead to the checkered flag, adding another heat race win to the list of accomplishments for his short racing career. In the second heat race, one of the slower karts in Henry's class started from the pole. Henry made another great start, which was a carbon-copy of the first heat and was in 2nd by Turn 3. The kart that started on the pole drives a very defensive line that borders on blocking. It was very frustrating to see Henry and several others bottled up behind him, unable to get past. Henry made an attempt on Lap 3 that didn't quite work. To make matters worse, Henry's attempt allowed the kart in 3rd to get past. On the last lap while running in 3rd (which would have earned him the pole position/1st place points for the feature), he made a lunge up the inside going into Turn 9 in an attempt to gain back a position. The gap that he thought was there wasn't, contact was made, and all three of the front runners went into the grass. Frustration is a powerful thing, and I'm sure he wouldn't have attempted such a move under different circumstances. By the time he got going again - you guessed it - he was last (5th). After the rain began, Henry was also awarded 3rd place points for the feature. He remains second in championship points with a narrow gap to third and no real hope of catching the points leader, who ended up winning the second heat race because of the incident in Turn 9! Henry was mighty disappointed with himself, but he did learn a valuable lesson.

The next race is Saturday evening, September 11. Henry is on the Upper Arlington High School Junior Varsity soccer team, which has a game that day. The club rules allow for a substitute driver as long as the primary driver participates in at least one of the races (either of the heat races or the feature). We have recruited the points leader in Conor's class, who is about the same size as Henry, to fill in until Henry arrives. It will be an interesting day. I hope that the weather decided to participate, but it looks as if we might be under the influence of Hurricane Frances by then...