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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Sebring 2018

Don, Shirley, Nan and I decided that we need to try to experience each of the racetracks that constitute the International Motor Sports Association racing season to watch the Corvettes race. So far I’ve been to Long Beach, California (Long Beach “Gran Prix”), Monterey, California (Laguna Seca), Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin (Road America), and our amazing trip in 2016 to Le Mans, France (24 Hours of Le Mans). This summer we are going to Watkins Glen, New York (Watkins Glen). In March we went to Sebring, Florida (12 Hours of Sebring). Here’s the story:

Sebring is one of the three endurance races of the IMSA twelve race season, beginning with the 24 Hours of Daytona, followed by the 12 Hours of Sebring, and, toward the end of the season, the “Petite Le Mans” 10 Hour race in Braselton, Georgia (there are four endurance races if you count the non-IMSA Le Mans event in France, in which the GT Le Mans Class participates). The Sebring track occupies a section of the Sebring Regional Airport, an active airport for private and commercial operations. The track covers 3.74 miles with 17 turns and two long straights. Some areas of the track are especially bumpy making this course very tough on the cars. Cars have been racing at Sebring since 1950 earning the track the title of “. . . the birthplace of endurance racing in America . . .” Our visit was the 66th consecutive running of the endurance classic. We tried to experience as many of the traditions as possible in two days – we discovered a few traditions that were a surprise!

The main goals were to: experience a legendary track; spend as much time as possible watching the Corvette time trials and the race, itself; visit with the Corvette drivers (past and present); see our Corvette friends at the Corvette Corral; and check out the newest Corvette, the ZR1.

We spoiled ourselves at this track by taking advantage of the “Sebring Club”, one of the suites at the start-finish line above the pit areas, and also by purchasing the VIP reserved parking pass. The Club provided a most civilized way to spend two full days at a race track with its real bathrooms, a spacious air conditioned suite with comfortable stadium seating, a well-stocked open bar, continuous food service, big screen TVs, a great sound system playing the official IMSA radio broadcast, proximate access to reserved parking, fantastic view of the main straight-a-way, and patios for the times when you wanted fresh air or to have your ear drums pierced by the sound of the cars screaming by. The staff members were attentive and so nice.

On Thursday we flew from San Diego to Orlando, and then made the drive south to our hotel. Up bright and early on Friday morning, Don drove us past countless lakes to the city of Sebring and its famous track. Once we were settled in the Club, and had reserved our front-row seats, it was time to go touring. The Corvette Corral was well attended just as we witnessed it at Laguna Seca. Rows and rows of Corvettes, a big tent filled with faithful Corvette fans, and lots of activities. Doug Fehan, Program Manager, Corvette Racing, gave everyone an update on the 2018 racing program and introduced the six drivers. Everyone received autographed posters and got autographs on photos, hats, shirts, and anything else they wanted. It is still amazing to me how accessible the GM and Chevrolet executives, engineers, program managers, and race team members are to the public. I guess they really appreciate the dedication of their customers to the Corvette brand.

We stopped by the Corvette Racing garage area just in time to see the cars being towed out for qualifying.

Don likes to see the topography of the tracks we visit by walking the perimeter. There are 17 turns at Sebring. We had heard that “Turn 10 is party central”. As we walked from turn to turn, we soon discovered why. For years the same groups of people have come to Sebring for the endurance race camping in the infield. Each group tries to outdo the next with outrageous, tacky, humorous, campsites, each one positioned for watching the race. We saw flatbed trailers loaded with used living room furniture, old school buses converted to travel campers, a dilapidated Winnebago painted to look like a home-made US Army tank (complete with turret guns), a plywood diner complete with a live rooster, and everywhere hundreds and hundreds of empty beer cans.

Soon another Sebring tradition came upon us – the herd of Sebring Cows.  We learned that there were no prerequisites for becoming a Sebring Cow, but that “. . . not everyone is cut out for the job . . .”

After the track tour we went shopping to see what was new in race apparel, and I bought a newly produced yellow Jake logo for Buff (the yellow Fox Kart). Next we headed for the huge Chevrolet tent to see the high performance cars (including the ZL1 Camaro), and GM performance parts (including the LS7 505HP crate engine).  Then danger struck!

I had seen photos of the new 2019 ZR1 Corvette and had read press releases and read articles about “. . . the most powerful Corvette ever produced . . .”, but had never seen one in real life. There it was, in a corner of the big Chevy display tent. Looking at the photos in magazines or on websites I didn’t care for the front grill area because it looked overly aggressive. At Sebring I learned that the large air intake area was necessary for cooling the 13 heat exchangers that were needed to permit driving a 755 horsepower supercar on the street. I also didn’t realize that the twin turbocharger cover on top of the engine protrudes through a massive hood opening, reminiscent of the “shaker hood” treatments on the 1960’s muscle cars. 

I was fortunate enough to meet Corvette Product Manager Harlan Charles.  My Corvette social media buddy, Charley Robertson, introduced me to Harlan.  Harlan patiently explained the features of the car to me, walked me through all the option packages, and gave me advice on how best to outfit a ZR1, especially one painted Corvette Racing Yellow Tintcoat.  Harlan should know all about the ZR1 since he helped design it and he drives one every day (even in the snow) in Detroit!

While sitting in the driver’s seat I wondered, “What would Bob Vollmar do with a car like this?”

Then Harlan started the car.  Damn.  I’m told that in “Track” mode blue flames shoot out of the four exhaust pipes.  The engine is certified (independently) at 755 HP with 715 foot pounds of torque.  You can get a 7-speed manual transmission, but the performance is better with the 8-speed paddle shifter automatic.  Zero to 60 comes in 2.8 seconds, zero to 100 (you know, for the freeway on-ramps) is 6 seconds flat and the top speed is governed at 212 MPH because that’s as fast as they feel safe going with the street tires.  Don and I could take one to Bonneville and join the 200MPH club, right?

Here is the video of Harlan starting the ZR1 at Sebring for Corvette fans.  I was here during the videotaping, but just off camera:

Eventually I had to tear myself away from the ZR1 since it was dinner time. We met Charley and a bunch of her Corvette fans at the Sunset Bar and Grille for dinner and a beautiful Central Florida sunset. Surprise! Harlan was at Charley’s dinner party and sat with me to configure the perfect ZR1 for my garage.

On Saturday morning we were up at 5:00 AM and arrived at the track at about 7:00 AM for race day. The crowds were larger than on Friday and the race was well attended. The big event for fans is the pre-race “Grid Walk” permitting fans got get up close to the cars, pit crews, and drivers.

Chevrolet has made it clear that the only GTLM car that is made in America is the Corvette. I like the flag treatment on the side of the car and the fact that the mechanics bring an American Flag to the pits!

The race officials finally cleared the pits of all the fans, and the 12 hour race began promptly at 10:40 AM. A yellow Corvette Z06 was the pace car (of course).

Three classes of cars race simultaneously on the track: Prototype; GT Le Mans (GTLM); and GT Daytona (GTD). To be honest, we only care about GTLM. Corvette had won the GTLM Class at Sebring in 2016 and 2017 and we were hoping for a three-peat. We spent our 12 hours alternating between watching the cars from the Club seating area, and touring around the pits. 

The #3 Corvette had problems from the very first lap when “contact” from another car punctured a tire, and the long day only got worse from there. At the 6 hour mark the #3 car was in last place and running 45 laps behind the class leader. But they kept going. At the 9 hour mark they were still -45 laps and last. By the end of the race the #3 car had managed to overtake the #66 car and we cheered like crazy that despite all their problems Corvette didn’t finish last!

The #4 Corvette ran flawlessly all day and night, had perfect pit stops, and didn’t make any on-track mistakes. But the BoP penalty prevented them from finishing on the podium.

Porsche is running their mid-engine 911RSR for the second consecutive year. Their cars ran really well and sounded nearly as good as the Corvettes. They finished 1st and 3rd. 

In 2017 BMW finished in 2nd place for season, closely behind Corvette and ahead of Porsche, Ferrari and some other small manufacturer from Canada; I can't remember their name. This year BMW is upping their game by racing the new BMW M8 and it is running really well – well enough that the #25 Car finished in 2nd Place at Sebring between the two Porsches.

By 10 PM on Saturday night we were ready to say goodbye to Sebring and head back to San Diego. It was great to have experienced all the history, lunacy, and legacy that is Sebring!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Buff and Shine go to Riverside

(Editor Note:  This Blog Post was the beneficiary of two articles written about the same event: one by Louie Figone in "VKA First Turn" and another by Francis Weir in "VROOM International Karting" magazine, March 2018.  Thank you Louie and Frank)

Last month was the 14th Annual Vintage Kart Reunion, held at the legendary Adams Motorsport Park in Riverside, California. Last year Shine, our 1961 Fox GO-Boy Kart, went to be shown and to make its maiden race entry.  It was a fantastic experience.

I enjoyed Shine so much that in September, 2017, for my 70th Birthday, Nancy bought me a third Kart, a 1961 Fox MAK-KART.  We purchased it from Tony Garbarino, a vintage Kart collector in the Bay area and named the kart "Buff".  It has twin McCulloch MAC-20 engines and is a replica of the poster Kart for its time.  Here is a photo of John Mullen (of Newport Beach, the owner of Buff prior to Tony -- Ron Cubel and Vince Hughes each had a hand in Buff's restoration) with Buff from a few years ago.

Here is the 1961 poster, courtesy of legendary Fox Kart Guru, Dick Teal:

Here are all three karts:  (l - r) Sparkle, Shine, and Buff.

This year we decided to take both Buff and Shine to Riverside.  Poor Sparkle had to stay home.  If you are curious about the inspiration for the names "Buff" and "Shine", please be sure to read all the way to the end of this post!

We entered Buff in the Friday afternoon judging for best restored rear-engine Kart.  Both Sparkle and Shine had won in previous events, but this year the competition was intense with 126 total Karts at Riverside.  Sadly, we came home empty-handed.  Sorry, Buff!

Tony Garbarino always brings impressive Karts.  Here is Tony (background, left) with his award-winning Kart, making a reunion with Buff at Riverside.  Tony won two awards: First Place for Restored Rear engine, and The People's Choice Award for his Restored Rathman Exterminator!

Friday night's activities started with a surprise birthday cake for Faye Pierson, legendary Karting figure, who will turn 90 in July and is still as active as ever.  Faye drove all the Heats in her class on Saturday in her Bug Kart (notice the Lady Bug on the cake!).

The Adams family hosted the Friday night dinner, followed by raffle drawings with lots of great prizes and the awards ceremony.  Special thanks to Scott Wigginton, Frank Weir, and Jack Murray for being the show judges.

On Saturday it was time for racing.  Last year we learned that "real" Kart racers wear white jeans.

Louie Figone wears white jeans!

 Tom Corso wears white jeans!

Some people wear white jeans with Piloti racing shoes that match the paint job of their Kart!

Buff's engines had not been run for many years, so Vince Hughes promised to help me go through them to get them ready for racing at the Bakersfield event in April.  So it was Shine's turn to run on the Riverside track for the second year in a row.  Last year I had a small mechanical issue (of my own making), but this year Shine and its two vintage West Bend 580 Five-Port engines ran great.

(Photo Courtesy of Jerry Imboden)

While I enjoy driving the Karts on the track, I get equal enjoyment in seeing the people who are so passionate about vintage Karting.  As a complete newcomer to Vintage Karting, I feel so fortunate to meet and get to know people who were there in the beginning of Karting and are still passionate about the sport today.  Here are a few of these great folks:

Frank Weir is a fellow Fox Kart enthusiast.  Every year Frank comes all the way from Ireland for the Riverside event.  I first met Frank in 2016 after an email introduction from Jim Donovan.  Frank saw his first Fox Kart in 1961/62 at the age of 14.  Before long, using savings from his summertime job harvesting potatoes (by hand, in Ireland) Frank had saved enough money (supplemented a bit from his Mom) to buy his first Fox Kart.  Frank has been involved in Karting his whole life -- I'll be writing more about his amazing history in a future blog post. You would think that Frank would get the "Long Distance Award" for coming to California from Ireland (about 5,200 miles), but you would be wrong!

 Peter Ward comes to the Adams Riverside VKA event every year from Victoria, Australia (about 7,900 miles from Los Angeles), and thus gets the "Long Distance Award".  Peter is another Karting legend.  He began by making his own engines and frames in Australia.  He placed 2nd in the Australian Championship in 1965, then with a new kart he purchased from Jerry Solt, Peter placed 1st in 1966 and came to the Adams Track at Riverside in 1967.  What history to have raced at this same track for over 50 years.

Over the next 10 years Peter won 11 National Championships.  Peter was the Australian Karting Association President from 1986 to 1996.  Peter has managed to store Karts and supplies in a storage place in the Los Angeles area allowing him to compete with the locals at Adams each year. 

In the photo below Peter is sitting with fellow Australian Bruce Barwick, who along with his brother Graeme, have joined Peter at Adams for the past few years.

Scott Wigginton owns a high-tech machine shop in Santa Clara California.  He brings a few meticulously-restored Karts to the VKA events.  Scott became involved in Karting because of his son, Adam.  Scott's friend, George Jelich asked Scott if he thought Adam, at the time 8 or 9 years old, would like a Kart.  Things snowballed from there, with Scott building replicas of classic Karts (including an amazing reproduction of the 1962 Go Kart 1200 that was featured in VROOM Magazine) and going to Vintage races with Adam from  Medford, Oregon to Riverside, California.  Adam's love for motorsports culminated in his May, 2017 graduation from the School of Engineering at San Jose State University. While at SJSU, Adam participated in the Collegiate Formula SAE car design and performance competition.  In July of 2017 his team finished 1st overall in engineering and design.

We always enjoy seeing Scott and Adam.  Scott was especially helpful to me during the restoration of Shine in sourcing some really rare parts.

Here is a photo of Adam at the National Collegiate Formula SAE Competition!  Like Father, Like Son.

Romero Llamas is a sports car, exotic car, and Kart enthusiast.  He escaped from Ohio for some nice California weather, and was able to secure a ride in a friend's Kart so he could join the Adams action.  Thanks, Romero for snagging a Corvette Racing shirt and for bringing it to me at Riverside!

Terry Ives is a machinist, engineer,  and mechanic from Granite Bay, California.  While walking home from a part-time job in 1958, Terry saw a yellow Carretta Kart sitting in the front yard of Tom McFadden.  Terry stopped to look at the Kart and ask a few questions and he was instantly hooked.  He has been Karting ever since (60 years)! 

Terry has something like 80 Karts.  Is that a world record?  We love visiting with Terry and his wife, Carol.

In case you think that Terry has lost the competitive drive, forget it!  I stopped by his trailer after one of the Riverside heats to see how he did.  I had noticed that he was leading a tightly packed group of racers.  As you can see in the photo below, Terry's floor pan came loose during the race.  Do you think he would slow down for a little thing like that?

My great friend, and mentor, Vince Hughes scored 1st Place in "Past Champion, Rear Engine" with his meticulously restored Wahlborg Bearcat with dual West Bend 700s.  More about Vince in the next Vintage Karting Post (he's helping me get Buff ready to race at Bakersfield in April)!  

Since this is a Corvette Blog, we have to weave Corvettes into each post in some fashion.  For 20+ years I have had a poster in my garage which advertises car detailing products.  I nick-named the poster ladies "Buff" and Shine"!  Nice looking 1959 Corvette, huh!?  It seemed to me that those were good names for some classic restored Fox Karts.  I hope you agree!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Dragster Dan

Readers of this blog will remember my drag racing friend, Dan Schrokosch, from Operation Corvette Rescue and removing the tank sticker from the one-owner 1967 427-435 Corvette.  

Dan has been interested in drag racing since he was 10 years old, when he attended his first race at the Carlsbad Raceway in 1969.  By the time he was a teenager, Dan was racing instead of watching.  Dan has driven and owned more race cars than you can count.  For the past eighteen years Dan has been successfully campaigning a vintage, engine-in-the-front, driver-in-the-rear, classic dragster.  Anyone who can strap 1,000 horsepower between their legs and go racing is a hero to me! Dan’s house is filled with trophies, including many “Wallys”  (see below).

In an era of “celebrity” racing, including NASCAR, NHRA, IMSA, and Formula 1, Dan is an anomaly.  Racing on a modest budget, using his own tools and equipment, financed by loyal, local sponsors, doing virtually all the mechanical work himself, and relying on friends and family to do all the race prep and pit work, Dan’s success is a marvel.

This month Dan has something very special to celebrate – another victory in Nostalgia Eliminator 1 (“NE1”) this time at the  2018 Good Vibrations March Meet in Bakersfield, California, his 4th victory at this venue.  Here’s the story:

Last weekend was the 60th March Meet – a West Coast drag racing event that draws a large number of competitors and spectators.  Until this past weekend,  Dan had won the March Meet event in NE1 three times, including being the defending Champion by virtue of his victory in 2017.  In NE1 the driver has a target time of 7.60 seconds, and getting your car to run as close to, but no faster than, that time is essential for victory.  Despite a rain-filled weekend Dan was able to qualify in the field of 31 NE1 cars in 3rd place with an impressive 7.623 time.  As qualifying moved through the day other drivers did well and Dan ended up qualifying 6th in the field.  Because it rained all day Saturday, eliminations couldn’t start until Sunday. 

Assisting Dan in the pits, and in prepping, towing, staging and retrieving the car were his long-time pit crew members Marcus Havens, and Dan’s wife, Kim.  With their help, on Sunday Dan was victorious over the #22 qualifier in round one.  The day grew dark and cold, but by Sunday night Dan was also victorious over the #10 qualifier in Round 2.  Unfortunately, Marcus needed to leave Sunday night to return to work, leaving Dan and Kim alone to continue the campaign. 

Kim is amazing!  She drives the truck, towing the dragster to the staging area, gets Dan settled in his racing suit and strapped into the car, starts the engine, gets Dan aligned at the starting line, watches him blast off, yells like a cheer-leader, jumps in the truck, races down the tract to retrieve Dan and the dragster, and tows him back to the pits.  Then she does it again in the next round!  Amazing!

The whole family is involved in the racing program.  Kim and Dan's son, Bohdi, age four, is already a drag race fan.  He has been joining Mom and Dad at the races since birth.  He now even has his own Junior Dragster. 

The weather on Monday returned to California beautiful and the continuation of eliminations.  Dan’s third round was about as perfect as is possible with a reaction time of .004 seconds on the starting tree and a run of 7.602 – you can’t get much closer than that.  Now the field was down to four cars and two rounds to go!

Round 4 proved to be Dan’s best run of the meet.  By this time Dan was matched against last years’ season-long NE1 champion.  With nerves of steel Dan beat his opponent by 2 one-hundredths of a second at the line, and ran a remarkable 7.600 dead on!  Damn, that’s good!

Continuing the extremely competitive racing of the weekend, the fifth and final round was another nail-biter.  Dan shaved his opponent at the light by one one-thousandth of a second, and his time through the course was three one thousandths of a second faster.  Victory is always sweet, but to finish a full weekend of racing with such tight competition and in near-perfect driving is surly as sweet as it comes!

Dan’s reward for this amazing, nearly perfect, performance?  In the photo above you can see the trophy.  It is called a “Wally” in recognition of the legendary Wally Parks, Founder of the National Hot Rod Association.  It is the most coveted trophy in Drag Racing.  Cast in Bronze, smiling, standing next to a huge racing slick, the figure of Wally Parks holding a classic helmet – what a perfect image to celebrate a racer like Dan – vintage, old-school, low-tech, filled with grit and determination, and hoping to race dragsters as long as he can hold a steering wheel.

Dan wanted me to be sure to thank his sponsors for their support this season and throughout his career (some of his sponsors have supported him for more than eighteen years).

Congratulations, Dan!  You are an inspiration to anyone who ever broke the beams at the starting line and blasted down the track!

Dan's Sponsors:

Mother Earth Brewery
Churchill's Pub and Grill
Curtis Drilling
Chapman's Automotive
Maxima Oil
Kevin Walsh
Helix Mechanical
Crest Water Treatment
Comp Cams
TCI Transmissions
Machine Tech Racing Engines
Cogswell Motorsports
Lyons Muffler
Seaside Rooter
Carb On Tech
RK Fence
Lenard Izbicki
Water Works
San Diego Gear and Axle
Joe the Door Guy
Jiffy Tite

Friday, February 16, 2018

#1 All-Time Corvette Passenger

I've owned six Corvettes over a period of 50+ years.  Of all the people that have shared a Corvette ride with me over all those years, who do you suppose is the person who has been a passenger in my Corvettes for more hours than any other?

Answer:  My Mom!

Born and raised in Union South Carolina, Helen Ruth Brakefield moved to the Washington DC area right after high school graduation during World War II.  She worked in an aircraft factory (Rosie the Riveter style) making machine gun turrets for bombers.  One of her factory friends, Marguerite Thomas talked about her brother who was a Marine serving in the Pacific.  

After the war Marguerite made the introduction and before long Helen married Clinton "Tommy" Thomas and settled into the Suburban Washington area.  They would remain husband and wife their entire lives.

Four kids later, we were living on Yucca Street in Beltsville, home of the best Shell Station ever. 

By the time all the kids were in school, Mom got a job in the new industry of computers as a keypunch operator at The American Research Bureau, where she worked with Johnny Bradley's Mom and (my future friend) Sharon Cox.

It was through Mom's friendship with Sharon that I got introduced to Corvettes when Sharon,who owned a blue Corvair, came to our house with her boyfriend, Jim McEvoy, in his Honduras Maroon 1962 Fuelie Corvette.  My first Corvette ride left a lasting impression.

Before long Mom got a big promotion by taking a job at the University of Maryland in the Key Punch Department.  She worked hard and was promoted to the Accounts Payable Department, and eventually was promoted to manager.  A few years later I enrolled as a freshman at Maryland and bought my first Corvette, a 1959 beauty.

Mom and I worked out a deal.  I would drive us to Campus and she would let me park in her primo Faculty/Staff parking space in the parking lot next to Turner Hall.  Everyone in College Park knows Turner Hall as the place on Route 1 where you went for yummy ice cream produced by the University of Maryland Dairy.  Parking the Corvette there was way safer than in the student commuter lots, and the walk to Mom's office in the Main Administration Building and to my classes was much closer than the massive, sprawling parking lots.

Sometimes we would get an ice cream cone before starting our ride back to Beltsville.

We commuted back and forth every day for about four years.  Mom's computer experience rubbed off on me and launched my career.  Mom never complained about the Corvette, its loud exhausts, the stiff ride, or the lack of air conditioning in the Summer.  I can't count up all the hours that we spent together in the little Corvette, but it was a bunch.

After graduation I moved out of the house and our commuting routine was over.  Six years later I moved to California.  By then Mom had gotten her driver's license and bought her own car so she didn't need Corvette commuting services anymore.

Mom has been in declining health for the past few years, so I made it a priority to go see her whenever I was in the DC area.  Nan, my sister Barbara, and my brother Pat would join us.

One of our favorite things to do was to get an ice cream cone.

Mom passed away tonight.  I'm sure they have ice cream cones in Heaven.

Love you Mom!  Thanks for sharing all those rides in the Corvette with me!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Tony's 1961 VW Bug

We have some pretty cool cars in the Seaview Way cul-de-sac.  My neighbor, Tony, purchased a 1961 VW in 1993 while still in the Navy and had it restored that same year.  

In the 25 intervening years he has only put 20 miles on the car.  Tony has decided to start enjoying the car and asked me if I would help him install a restored gas tank.  Tony knows all about Beltsville Shell and our training in working on old cars. 

Here is the restored gas tank installed and ready for a drive.

A few adjustments to the carburetor were needed.

Next we were off to the gas station for a fill up!  After getting a fresh load of fuel we are ready for some Crusin'!

Tony's VW perfectly fits the description, "Showroom Stock!"  Every inch is spotless.

At the end of the day, Tony presented me with a new wall decoration for my garage.  Just like his VW, it is perfect!

Thanks, Tony! Let's put some miles on the old Corvettes and your VW!