2002 Oscoda ProSolo

The Oscoda ProSolo found us sitting in a place where we had never been before - leading the ProSolo Street Modified points race by a large margin. We won the first two races we entered, and given that only your best two of your first three events count for points, for all intents and purposes our season was done (until the Finale in September) in April.

This means that the remain two events we were scheduled to run, the Oscoda Pro and the Peru Pro, are just throwaways. We can block other people from getting points, but we couldn't make our lead any larger than it already is.

This provided three unforeseen side effects.

Firstly, it removed a lot of the stress and anxiety that has traditionally been a big part of our race weekends. When you're behind and struggling to catch up, it's really easy to let the stress get to you (as I'm sure long-time readers have noticed) With nothing on the line, suddenly I'm free to just drive the damn car, and the increased concentration on driving (rather than on the consequences of that drive) has resulted in a distinct step up in my performance level. It helps too that the car has gotten much easier to drive since the Quaifes went in.

Secondly, it has made the race season much cheaper. Street Modified has been in full-bore arms race mode pretty well since its inception. If you didn't bring a new technical development to every single race, you were going backwards, because everybody else was making those developments and going forward even if you didn't.

The Catch-22 lurking here is that roughly half of all technical developments flat-out don't work or make things worse than they were previously - and they all cost money. Even the ones that do work often don't pay off until much later in the development curve, or bring to light new problems that were totally unforeseen.

But with the car working as well as it is, it really makes me not want to screw with it, least the coin come down "tails" and we go backwards again. It means much less risk-taking on flyers, and instead paying more attention on simple changes with low associated risk. The end result is a car that grows more refined, a driver who gets to learn how the car behaves (because it is not radically different each event) and a boatload of money saved.

The latter is more important than I'd like it to be, but special circumstances this year prevent a lot of investment in the car, and equally put a serious damper on the amount of travel we can do. It's a bit of a minimalist season, which makes the fact that we're doing so well that much more amusing.

The third side effect is that I won a pair of brand new tires at each event, so now for the first time ever I have new Hoosiers on the car. Previous to this, I had been using my friend Chris Lindberg's cast-offs. Chris wins a lot of tires, so his cast-offs were all pretty fresh, and he sold them to me for sweetheart prices. Even so, nothing beats the performance of a fresh Hoosier, and now I have a set all my own.

In the downtime between Peru and Oscoda, I drove one local event to scrub in my new tires, installed the new Buschur Racing 3" stainless steel race pipe, and bit the bullet and bought a Motec PLM Lambda meter so I can FINALLY do a proper job of tuning the GEMS ECU. That's it. No radical changes, no sudden switches of tire brands, no extra 100 horsepower. Just a further refinement of what is proving to be a very good car.

Oscoda is a beautiful event. It is, bar none, the smoothest, grippiest, most open slab of concrete in the USA. It is located in northern Michigan, right on the shores of Lake Huron (so the weather is beautiful) and it is a mere 3 hour jaunt from home, not some brutal 22 hour towing marathon. It is also considered too far out of the way by the unwashed masses, so competitor turnouts tend to be low and the event trucks along at a good pace. I love Oscoda.

But Oscoda can be deceptive too. Sudden cloudbursts can and do happen. It is so smooth and so grippy that our Peru/Topeka setups tend to be too soft. And the course designer for the last two years has delighted in adding cheap tight sections to what is otherwise a wide open course.

This year was no different. A long, 65 MPH straight leading into a 30 MPH slalom, which in turn fed a double-apex 180 with cones placed right on top of the natural track-out point (forcing a slower entrance than one would otherwise want to use, lest one centerpuch these cones) That fed into a 3-cone uphill slalom, then a series of tight double-apex 180s that fed into a finish slalom. Two places to make hay with power, 5 or six places to wiggle through and try not to screw up too badly. Probably the most technical ProSolo course I've seen in 2 years, and lots of transitions.

A double whammy there. Technical courses tend to reward driving and neutralize car performance differences - it's no longer about who has the most power (which plays to my strengths) or who corners the hardest, but rather about who screws up the least. And as far as transitions... that's one of the areas where the car is a little weak and needs work.

And the stars they came out to play: Fedja the Unspellable, in his DSM. Kent Rafferty, my nemesis from the past two seasons. Aaron "spin or win" Miller (who won here last year) The Cobb Tuning "Super Scooby" WRX, and... Mark Daddio.

Yes, THE Mark Daddio. The Great Gazoo himself. Multi-time National Champion in every class he enters. The man who so dominated D Stock that they claimed he wasn't human. SCCA Driver of Eminence, he who has OEM development connections we mere mortals can't even dream of... you get the idea. A very rare combination of pure driving talent and solid engineering skills, driving the latest iteration of his multi-championship-winning Neon. Now turbocharged!.

You'd think we'd all hate him, but he also happens to be one of the nicest guys in the sport. Go figure.

So anyway, we were facing a tough course that didn't play to any of our strengths and the single largest assembly of talent (not to mention the highest level of car prep) that Street Modified has ever seen in one place. This was as good a rehearsal for the Finale as we'd ever get to see.

The Saturday morning runs started out well. We were on the pace, and actually held the lead for a few seconds. Daddio was fast, but not dominatingly so. The course was tough tough TOUGH, but my improved run discipline was paying off by keeping me focused on the task at hand. I had an ABS problem on one run, and the car felt mushy and unresponsive overall, but the time was there.

For the afternoon runs, I fixed the ABS (loose wheel sensor) and stiffened the front shocks to help turn-in and transients. It helped - I got marginally faster on the left (a tenth or so) and a whole lot faster on the right - except that I clipped two cones, so that run was gone.

At the end of the day, I was in 4th, roughly 8 tenths back of the lead. However, my coned-away raw time on the right was right on top of the lead time, so I wasn't too worried. I and the car were capable, we just had to execute.

Sunday AM comes, another beautiful day. The first run on the right (on cold tires) is sloppy as all get out, but the next run on the left was a screamer, a good 5 tenths faster - and I coned it away. On the attempt to back it up, I overdrove the car, and threw away any opportunity to improve on the left. It's a good thing that I didn't have the in-car video on, 'cause the streams of invective I was shouting after that run were definitely TV-MA.

Final run. I chicken-pedal into the first slalom, and I get so mad that I start throwing the car around like a lunatic trying to make up time. I roar across the finish convinced that I've just screwed the pooch, but the clock tells a different story. Somehow, I've managed to find a whole 8 tenths on that one side. Holy crap, I might have just won it anyway!

When we get to impound, the top 5 are all comparing notes. Of all of us, I'm the only one to go significantly faster. We try and figure out who won, but we're down to the thousandth's place and so we have to wait for the announcement.

It's Fedja, then a tenth, then me, then TWO THOUSANDTHS, then Daddio, then 2 hundredths, and Kent. 0.14 seconds covers the top 4 places. I'm second. Had I not coned away my good left side run, I would have won. Had Kent not coned away a run himself, _he_ would have won. (Had neither of us coned, it would have been me, then Kent, then Fedja and Mark)

Man, this is a tough sport.

But still - second! And with raw times good enough to win had luck gone my way. That's outstanding. It bodes very, very well for my Championship chances. We can still win! And life has been made that much more difficult for Mark and Kent.

With all of us packed so closely together, we all go to the Super Challenge (the "Show") but Fedja and I go out in the first round, and Kent and Mark are gone by the second.

Overall, things look very very good for us. I'm having the best season of my career, I'm enjoying myself, and we're right on pace. I go into the Finale tied with Fedja for first in series points, and a win in Topeka gives us the Championship.

Thanks again to all our sponsors, and a special thanks to David and Tym at Buschur Racing, who have come back on board as an associate sponsor. Welcome back to the family guys.

Next up: the Peru National Tour.