TEAM STARFISH Vintage Racing

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Race report- SCCA Vintage at Laguna Seca- Sept 22-24, 2006.

 I left work with my wife, motorhome and Barracuda wielding trailer in tow, and arrived at Laguna Seca at about 7:00PM on Thursday. Dick Ott was already there with his 70 Barracuda, and also on hand were Gary Hagstrom (the other half of H&O Racing), and their crew, Larry Clifton and Maley Wilson (the spiritual leader and Holley carb expert). They were all busy prepping the H&O racing Barracuda while I unloaded my canopies and got my pit and hospitality areas set up.

 I wondered what trick was up the H&O sleeve this year (after Tim Herren discovered the “moved firewall” and steering wheel spinner knob last year). It became obvious soon, as Maley was busy hooking up the F1 spec on-board telemetry data gathering equipment (!) and Dick showed off his new fiberglass front fenders and doors, freshly painted to look bone stock. 

The gang from Portland had an uneventful trip down to the Bay area, except for one small problem. It seems they stopped for a rest/pit stop, and were well on the road when somebody exclaimed “Where’s Maley?” It seems they had left him at the rest stop, with no cell phone or phone numbers. I guess it is always a good idea to count heads after a stop………

Friday for me was prep and repair day, while the boys at H&O were taking turns running  the optional Friday Practice. They had starting/ battery charging problems that eventually had Dick and Gary running into town for a new alternator, regulator and battery to power the power hungry telemetry equipment. Not much track time for them that day…….. However, better have these problems on Test day than on Race day!

Meanwhile, I spent the day replacing the Starfish’s cracked front rotors, bleeding the brakes, checking all the fluids, and getting Dick Ott’s help with a quick valve adjustment. The car spent the night on jackstands as all the wheels were removed in preparation for the fitment of a fresh set of Hoosiers first thing Saturday morning.

 Tim Herren drove up from Southern Cal, arriving just before midnight on Friday. He did not bring his car this year, but not to be left out of the mix, brought his skateboard instead. This proved to be useful to Tim, as he was able to practice his race line through the Corkscrew (see Tim’s “All Time Racing” picture album….). (How he got away with that is a mystery, since the Laguna Seca security people guard the track with a vengeance, and do not have a good sense of humor!)

Saturday morning came quickly, and we all started out with the traditional batch of blueberry pancakes supplied by Team Starfish, complemented with Linda Ott’s great homemade blueberry syrup. Everybody got their fill, and there was enough left to feed the crew from Roger Kraus Racing, the Hoosier dealer that brought and mounted my tires. That breakfast ensured we were first in line for tire mounting!

 Laguna Seca runs with “sound windows”, meaning that the quieter (meaning smaller) cars run early and late in the day, while the ground pounding cars (like ours) run late morning and early afternoon. Dick was scheduled to run the H&O entry on Saturday, with Gary taking over on Sunday.  

We went all out on the track at about 11:30AM for our morning qualifying session, with 21 other cars. The cars in our group consisted of the usual suspects; Mustangs, Corvettes, a XKE, a couple of 935 Porsches, and a very fast  Huffaker prepped 77  Triumph TR-8. Just for fun, a couple of 240Zs were added in the mix. Notably missing this year was Luc Noel and his 700 HP NASCAR spec aluminum motored Mustang convert, and that “bad-ass” Chevy Vega with the 510 CI Keith Black Can-Am big block in it. Of the 21 cars on track, Dick Ott qualified 12th  with a lap time of 1.53.014, and I qualified 15th, with a lap time of 1.55.707. These were pretty good times, and mine was within 1 second of my best, so I was pleased. 

The Saturday race did not go so well for me. While I managed to lower my lap times down to a 1.54.489 ( a personal best), about 4 laps from the finish I went into Turn 2 and downshifted into 3rd, only to have the car decide that it liked 4th gear better. I had any gear I wanted as long as it was 4th. …………. I limped around for a lap, and came in and finishing dead last among the classified cars (16th). Luckily for me 3 others were sidelined earlier in the race with various mechanical problems, and 2 others did not even make the first lap before something broke.

(For some unknown reason, attrition in the Big Bore group was high, as 3 cars did not even last through Friday practice, and were sidelined before qualifying even started! There were 24 cars entered, but only 15 were still running by the end of the Saturday race.) 

On the H&O side of the fence, Dick’s great consistent driving managed to move him up the field and he finished in 6th place with a personal best lap time of 1.49.174. This was a phenomenal time, about 3 seconds faster than his previous best, and a phenomenal finish! 

My problem turned out to be a lost shift linkage spring pin and bushing, and a shifter mechanism that had rattled loose, both of which were quickly repaired. We would live to race another day!

 Saturday night the drivers and crew of H&O Racing and Team Starfish were asked to help out serving the catered dinner of brisket, turkey, chili and cole slaw to the other drivers, crews and course workers. Seems the “Mopar Gang” had to pay penance for Tim’s past sins and Chris Curtis’ digressions from last year…..I still had a lot of fun dishing out the Cole Slaw while Gary and Shelley handed out plates and flatware.  

Sunday morning practice/warm-up was another great day at this world class track. One of the Corvette drivers’ mechanics had asked me to do a lead/follow with his driver in the Sunday practice so he could better learn the line. I had fun leading a pair of Corvettes for a while, letting them pass so I could follow them, then passing and  leaving them in the dust at the end of the session. I could sense it was going to be a great day…… 

The Sunday race had me gridded up 16th, with a pair of very fast Mustangs that had also broken on Saturday the only cars behind me. Gary was now driving for H&O, way up in the 6th starting position. When the green flag fell, I quickly passed several of the Corvettes, the XKE, and a GT-350 Mustang, all before Turn 5. I ended up in a great battle with one of the whale tale Porsches for about 10 laps. I could catch him in Turn 8, just after the corkscrew, and at the hairpin at Turn 2. Everywhere else on the track he was faster than me. I moved inside him several times in 8, but could not make it stick without taking a chance. (after all, this IS vintage racing!). I finally made my move in the wider Turn 2, and took away his line. Now I went from following him and plotting to looking in my mirrors. He was right on my tail, and I was not much better off than I was. I kept waiting for the 1 lap to go sign from the starter each time I went by, but it seemed like an eternity before he finally “gave me the finger”. 

My only thought the last lap, was “don’t screw up!”. I had worked hard to gain the position from the Porsche, had stayed ahead of him for about 5 laps, and did not want to blow it on the last lap……. I turned in one of my smoothest laps of the race, and finished in 10th place overall, up 6 places from the start, just ahead of the 911.  

Things did not go so well for H&O, as Gary had punted a Camaro that blew a shift coming out of Turn 11 ahead of him, and in the process re-arranged the bumper and grille on the cuda.. That bump ruined all of their summer’s wind tunnel testing, and must have upset the aerodynamics of the e-body….. Gary managed only a best lap time of 1.49.237, making Dick Ott the official “Mopar Hot Shoe” for the weekend, by 0.1 second. Gary brought the car home in 7th, one below where Dick had put the car on Saturday.  My best lap time for the Sunday race was a 1.52.371, bettering my previous best by over 2 seconds.

In conclusion, this SCCA sanctioned event (my 8th straight!) is always one of the highlights of my racing schedule, year after year. Their “race what you brung” attitude always means that there will be something interesting there, and some blatantly illegal cars….. (No impounds to worry about!), but it is all for fun, so who cares? I look forward to next year (BRING YOUR OTHER “4 WHEEL VEHICLE” NEXT YEAR TIM!).

Respectfully submitted; 

Mike Ritz




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