(or wuz we???)
Mitty fallout, Atlanta Motorsports Park (fun!), The Famous Mr. Hobbs, Jefferson 500 alert, Radical report from Autobahn and shameless
Fathers' Day gift suggestions from racer/writer/ride mooch
and self-proclaimed World's Fastest Novelist
Burt "BS" Levy
(complete with famous folks, fun, grousing, grins & excuses)
Well, here it is another Mitty Monday and I'm doing my best to recuperate from three pretty great track days, a couple swell drives, one semi-abysmal disappointment (WE WUZ ROBBED!) and a thorough, drooling washout on Sunday. But let's start back at the beginning, OK? I flew down on the Wednesday so I could drop in again at the long promised and now (finally!) completed Atlanta Motorsports Park "country club" track on Duck Thurmond Road (no, I didn't make that up) in Dawsonville, about 45 minutes from the Atlanta airport. As many of you know, I've been doing a series of "motorsports country club" track reviews for Vintage Motorsport magazine (hey, anything for a little extra seat time!) but the place was hardly finished when I visited last year and looked more like a construction site than a racing circuit. Which didn't keep CEO Jeremy Porter from taking me on a hair-raising, eyeball-rattling ride around in his 150,000 mile-plus Toyota Tundra. Which should be equipped with air-sickness bags.
But I digress. The point is that it's done now (and very nicely, too...note the swoopy curves and the female "Stig" adorning the the ladies' room door!) and some of the members have put together impressive garage/hospitality units with more to come. See picture below and wonder why YOU don't have a "garage" like that???
My good racing buddy and AMP member (not to mention head man at Traqmate in-car data acquisition systems) Glenn Stephens was kind enough to meet me there with his willing but well-flogged Miata for a few quick familiarization laps and a tour of the facilities with Jeremy. The full story will be in Vintage Motorsport an issue or two down the line, but the bottom line is that AMP is an uncommonly challenging, exciting and entertaining for a country club circuit with some neat corner combinations and really dramatic (!!!) elevation changes. Great fun in the Miata and Glenn only scared me a few times. I, on the other hand, only scared him once....
If you live around Atlanta, have some neat toys and like pulling Gs, I strongly encourage you to check it out!
That afternoon I headed over to Road Atlanta to help my friend and serial ride-mooch victim Gordon King unload his lovely little Royale RP4 (above...with Gordon actually in it for a change!). Fortunately my timing was perfect, and I arrived after all the heavy lifting was already done. Then the skies opened up a bit (and not for the last time on the weekend) so we headed off to dinner with Jim Cantrell, his crew and the "ringer" they'd brought along to chauffeur Jim's Lola T163 Can-Am car...my longtime friend and hero Elliott Forbes-Robinson! EFR is a familiar name to anybody who follows racing (two Daytona 24-hour victories, '82 Trans-Am champion, etc. etc. blah blah blah) but he's also a tremendous fan of the sport (and the people!) and one hell of a nice guy. He likes my books, too! In any case, it was a super meal (Mexican) with all sorts of lies, laughs and stories included. Followed by a night in Gordon's large & lovely motor home that had blown a tire on the way in and left him stranded for many hours while Gordon tried to locate a replacement. Which there were none of anyplace, since it turns out he was riding on some VERY special tires that are in such demand on the OEM side that they're aren't any replacement skins in the pipeline. Bottom line is that his 6-hour trip turned into a 16-hour ordeal and he wound up with a somewhat suspect Chinese replacement on the offending wheel. I, on the other hand, had to wait fifteen whole minutes for my luggage at the Atlanta airport....
By this time ace car-preparer, mega-wrench, regular co-driver and certified hotshoe Andy Greene had showed up towing Gordon's engaging little pit vehicle, a baby blue Austin Mini-Moke! There was a Mini gathering going on as part of the multi-faceted Mitty motoring extravaganza, and I swear Gordon's Mini-Moke got more stares, grins, gawks, waves & double-takes than the blessed Can-Am cars!
Poor Gordon found himself over-supplied with drivers (if not exactly driving talent) and he kindly agreed to let Andy and me share the Rolex Vintage Enduro while he would do the sprint races. And this was a big deal to both of us, since Andy had won the Rolex Championship outright in this very car co-driving with previous owner Lee Buhl, I'd won the same championship back-to-back in 1994-95 co-driving with my late, great friend David Whiteside in his flyweight Lotus 17 (see below).
Gordon went out for first practice on Thursday and came in with the right-front brake hanging up, and there was no question that we had some brake system problems to sort out. But Andy was up to the task and as you can see from the staged photo below, I even pretended to work on it a little myself. In actual fact, Andy and Gordon wouldn't let me near the car with anything more substantial than a shop rag!
Eventually we got it squared away, and both Andy and Gordon were happy with the end result during Thursday afternoon's practice sessions. In spite of the Royale's relatively tiny, 90 cubic-inch engine and the somewhat inexplicable inclusion of some late-vintage American V8 musclecars in the field (so what the hell is a 1998 Mustang doing in a "vintage" enduro?) we figured we had a pretty good chance. In fact, we thought the Car to Beat was another 1600cc sports/racer: our old friend, longtime pro racer and onetime lead driving instructor at Road Atlanta Doc Bundy in the beautifully prepared, electric blue Regogo Racing Lotus 23B. Sure, the big V8s had a lot more power and tire, but a racecar is a racecar, and a light, low, purpose-built racing machine is just going to be a whole lot faster through the corners than a lumbering, big-motor production car.
I finally got out the following morning, and the Royale felt really great during the two laps I got in before it suddenly went all sideways on me heading up the steep climb through corner two. I could tell by the clinch of my sphincter that I'd hit a patch of oil (make that a BIG patch of oil!) and I was damn lucky to stay on the black part. Don't know exactly who dropped the oil, but I can tell you that the car had a mighty large oil tank and knew the quick way around Road Atlanta, since there was a gooey, slippery trail of oil right on the blessed line all the way from Turn 2 clear through the Turn 10A-10B chicane! So the session was black-flagged and I pulled into the pits for a half hour or so while the safety crews did their best to mop it up. After which they released us for two more laps to dodge our way through the remains of the oil and the session was over. As you can imagine, lap times stunk for everybody, but I wound up second-quick (by less than half-a-second) to Randy Williams' always-fast E-Type and 1.43 seconds ahead of Doc Bundy in the Lotus 23. Only then I made the mistake of razzing Doc about it, and he went out on a clean track in the next session and laid down a thoroughly humbling 1:34:9!. Cue "You don't tug on Superman's cape" please....
Friday afternoon brought bright sun, perfect temperatures and a wonderful session in my longtime Morgan pal "SuperDave" Bondon's Lotus Elite. SuperDave has now stepped out of the indecently fast Lotus Twincam-powered Morgan 4/4 I've co-driven a few times so daughter Stacey can show the boys how it's done (which she is doing quite nicely, I might add!). Strangely enough, SuperDave used to own the Royale that Gordon now owns & campaigns, but he never really felt at home in it and so sold it to Gordon and used the proceeds to buy the Elite. I didn't know much about the car and it didn't have a tremendous amount of urge, but it was wonderfully prepared (turns out it was once owned and raced by Mike Gue of Essex Racing fame, and so the chassis was REALLY well sorted) and I got it going pretty well and loved the way it handled. Better yet, we had David Hobbs on hand as Grand Marshal for the weekend (who started out his professional career in an Elite something like a half-century ago) and so I got a pithy, funny, and mostly printable interview on the subject of racing Elites. See photo above with SuperDave, indecently quick daughter DOCTOR Stacey Schepens, David 'Obbs hisownself, yrs. trly. and the Elite, and watch for the story in my regular column in the next ish of Vintage Motorsport magazine.
David was also kind enough to sign the trunk of SuperDave's Elite, and that was really cool!
But back to the Royale and the Enduro. Andy and I were gridded about a third of the way down because...well, you tell us. Then again, it's hard organizing an enduro with a whole bunch of cars from several different race groups.
The plan was for Andy to start, do about 35 minutes while hoping for a fortuitous yellow flag situation for our mandatory, 5-minute pit stop, and then I'd hop in for mop-up duty. And then Doc Bundy and the feared Lotus 23B didn't show on the grid (he said later they were "saving" the motor) and so it was all Andy Greene and our Royale from the drop of the green. Ity took him about six or seven laps to work his way to the front and then he just kept pulling away from everybody with relative ease. Looked like we had this one in the bag. Only then a BMW and a Jag E-Type got together in a rather messy way (fortunately with damage to sheet metal only) and that prompted an extended black flag situation to clean things up.
And that's where things started to go wrong for us.
All the racecars duly trundled into the pits in response to the black flag. And there they sat, since you're not allowed to work on the cars or do your pit stop during a black flag situation. Problem was, the cars had filed in as soon as the black came out and so Andy and our "leading" Royale was somewhere around the middle of the queue. Needless to say, it would have been hell's own job to try to properly re-align all the cars in the pit lane (not to mention the schedule was rapidly running out of time) so the decision from the tower was that the cars ahead of the Royale would go out for a lap under yellow and then, after they were better than half-way around, they would release our leading Royale and the rest of the cars for a lap behind the pace car followed by a green flag and the race would resume. And there we had to make a choice. Andy's 18-second lead had surely evaporated, so should we dive in for our pit stop at the end of the pace lap or should Andy stay out? "You'll have a clear track ahead of you," I told him, "so just go like hell. We'll bring you in with 10 minutes to go."
And that's what we did. Andy pulled out another impressive lead, came in for an absolutely perfect 5-minute pit stop/driver change and I stormed onto the track to handle mop-up duty. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, there were a couple flies in the ointment. Such as:
1. Two cars (including the John Cloud/Debbie Cloud/Larry Ligas Mustang, which had been well adrift of the Royale before the black came out) had been in the middle of their pit stops when the black came out. They rightly stopped their time clocks and working on the cars during the black, but the officials allowed them to resume when the track officially went from "black" to "yellow" as our lap behind the pace car began.
2. Some of the cars released ahead of us (led by my Porsche pals George Balbach/Mark Eschuke in George's familiar #34 356 roadster) ran around the track as fast as possible and dove into the pits to make their stops while we were trundling around behind the pace car.
So the bottom line is that we made a perfect stop, I came out on a fairly empty track with the Cloud/Ligas Mustang in my mirrors and getting smaller all the time and the #34 Porsche up ahead. Which I duly reeled in and passed on what turned out to be the very last lap. I thought at the time I was putting a lap on them, but it turned out (at least according to the official results, anyway) to be a pass for 3rd overall. Go figure.
Needless to say, there was some confusion when I pulled into victory lane and found the Cloud/Ligas Mustang already occupying the place of honor in front of the podium! Much conversation followed (to say the least) and Andy was pretty upset about how we'd run away from everybody (twice, in fact), had made a perfect pit stop and had never even been close to being pressured or passed and yet had still come home third. Phooey.
To be fair, the HSR officials are friends and do a spectacular job under tremendous pressure, and you'd have to say (as they do down in NASCAR land) that "it was just one a'them racin' deals" and let it go at that. I mean, we're not running for the points championship this year and the prize money's the same anyway. Meaning zero.
Besides, Gordon, Andy, the Royale and I know who REALLY won the damn race....
Sold a bunch of books with my friends Amy and Frank at People Kars, and there were a couple kick-ass parties, too. And the threatening weather (which had looked VERY iffy beforehand) turned into bright sunshine all the way through Saturday. After which it turned to s***. Poor Doc Bundy (remember, they were "saving" the motor for the sprint races?) got sent out in heavy rain on Sunday and struggled mightily to take second place to a well-driven Mustang with some really incredible rain tires. Doc tried hard, though, and he did an uncharacteristic, eye-bugging, jaw-dropping series of loops down the middle of the front straight after losing it out of 12. It was really something to see (he never left the black part and didn't hit a thing!), and everybody but the damn Russian judge gave him perfect 10s!!!
Come Monday I spent a day at the Autobahn Motorsports Country Club in nearby Joliet, where I got to tool around their North track with a bunch of other journos (under slightly controlled conditions) in a selection of late-model, top-of-the-line luxury performance cars (Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Porsche, Lexus and there was even a Ferrari California on hand...eat your heart out!) to publicize the Autobahn Driving Experience. Which is one hell of a neat idea and a great potential Fathers' Day gift for any Chicago-area gearhead. Bottom line is you pay $579 (gift certificates available) for a half day program that includes breakfast, lunch, a classroom session on high-performance driving followed by bombing around the racetrack (again, under controlled conditions) and an autocross competition in a fantastic variety of the very best and latest high-performance automobiles from top manufactures.
Click HERE to find out more!
We did an autocross in a Mercedes 6.3 Coupe (a real King Kong machine...and I stink as an autocrosser) and learned about Autobahn's Teen Driving Academy, which I think is another fabulous idea. A lot of racing drivers (like my friend Andy Pilgrim, who is a factory driver for GM these days) are passionate and deeply involved regarding driver training (or the lack of it) for young drivers in this country. The Autobahn program ($389...makes a great gift for any teen driver!) is a full day classroom/hands-on driving skills/skid control experience that fills in a lot of the glaring gaps in most young drivers' training programs. I highly recommend it, and am glad to say that other racetracks are offering the same or similar types of things as a way to "give something back" to their surrounding communities. And it can save you a lot more than the front-end cost in insurance deductibles and premiums! Not to mention your kid's safety!
Click HERE for more details!
Also got to blast around the track in one of the extreme and really keen Radical track-day cars. Chief instructor Tom Bagley (1976 Bosch SuperVee pro champ, 1978 IndyCar Rookie of the Year, etc. etc. etc.) kindy waved me past after a few laps and let me have at it in the Radical. Great fun and INCREDIBLE grip. Wow! If you're a somewhat experienced track bum, you can buy yourself a 2-day "Radical School" at Autobahn and several other Country Club tracks. You'll be amazed. And enjoy the hell out of it, too.
Next stop is the Jefferson 500 at Summit Point,West Virginia May 17-19, where I'll hopefully be selling & signing a bunch of books and our fabulous racing budget piggy banks out of the Vintage Motorsport magazine booth (shameless plug), hopping in and out of an assortment of U2.5 Trans-Am and IMSA RS racing sedans (all in the line of journalistic duty, I assure you!) and insinuating my way into as many enduro co-drives as humanly possible. Watch this space to see if I do any good....
Assuming I'm still ambulatory come Monday morning (May 20), I'll be instructing at the Lotus Corps track day at Blackhawk Farms Raceway, and then it's up to Road America on Wednesday and Thursday to thrash the tar out of (pardon me, make that "test and evaluate") a whole bunch of nifty new cars at the annual MAMA "spring rally" media deal for motoring journalists.
It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it....
SO STOP BY AND BUY A COUPLE BOOKS AT SUMMIT POINT
(or order them online for Fathers' Day!)
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE JAY LENO INTERVIEW!
If you've never read the utterly hilarious A POTSIDE COMPANION short-story anthology, click the link below to read one of the stories, "The Lift from Hell", in its entirety. It's been posted complete on my friend Peter Bourassa's useful and well-produced MMR website.
He'll be hearing from our lawyers shortly.
CLICK HERE TO READ & LAUGH!
Don't Forget our piggy banks!
Burt will be taking orders at Summit Point for our hand-painted, one-of-a-kind Racing & Restoration Project Piggy Banks! They're the perfect gift for the well-heeled or moths-in-the-wallet enthusiast. Just $75.oo and an e-mailed picture of YOUR chosen car gets you an adorable racing or restoration project piggy bank done by gifted character artist (and also our dear friend) Carolyn Johnson. You can also call in an order to the Think Fast office (708) 383-7203 or e-mail us at [email protected]
Dad's Day is coming!!!
FOR MORE INFO, CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE WEBSITE
Catch the latest poop & pictures, the Jay Leno interview, Finzio's Store and the lurid & occasionally embarrassing "ride with Burt" in-car racing videos on the website at: