Our weekend started in good spirits as I joined the rbankracing crew for the 24 hours of VIR.
The team consisted of three cars – a Domination Chassis Eagle Talon TSi AWD, a Saab 9-3 and a Saab 9-5.
All cars were turbo powered and looked like something out of Mad Max. The Talon was clearly a radical experiment in aerodynamics. I was slated for 3 stints of two hours each in the 9-3. After getting some practice laps in the 96 degree weather on Friday, my endurance allowed me to manage about 30 minutes at a time before wanting to die. But hey, at least my abs looked great after losing about 10 lbs of water and only pissing once the entire day.
The next day, the race started at 10 a.m. and the team was shortly in 2nd, 3rd, and 8th position with all three cars running. Then, boom, the 9-5 threw a belt and lost about half an hour – plummeting to 70th or so. Immediate change of plans – all the fast drivers slated for the 9-5 were transferred to the 9-3, and I was dumped into the 9-5.
The 9-5 drivers were instructed to “have fun” and do one hour long stints. That’s what we proceeded to do. The car was actually quite fun. I could see how it was so dominant – the power from the 2.3 liter turbo was insane. You could literally pass anyone at any time. The brakes were adequate (which is better than the 9-3s brakes, which were marginal) and the handling, while wallowy, was safe and predictable. I managed to make up 18 positions while taking it easy – no passing on the turns, just setting it up in the turns for blast bys on the straights, as instructed by the team owner. I even managed a full 2 hours in the car (they let me keep going since it was raining and I was moving through the field).
By about 6 p.m., the 9-3 had been leading the field of 103 cars for roughly 6 hours when it suffered a broken axle. Shortly thereafter, a driver attempted a pass in the 9-5 up the climbing esses and managed to put the team owner’s baby through a wall at over 100 mph as he lost control of the car (lifting while turning, rotating the rear), and accelerated through the wet grass. Both cars were out, I don’t think the 9-5 will ever live again.
This is definitely not “only a flesh wound.”
This left the Talon, which was slowly draining batteries. The team attempted to save the car by feeding spare batteries with a charger, but by 4 a.m. the car shit the bucket and they called it quits. All three cars that were in the top 10 at the start of the race failed to finish.
Driving one of those cars, at speed, at VIR, in that weather, for that duration of time has been one of the hardest, if not the hardest, thing I have ever done in my life. People talk all the time about how bad-ass they are in a car – this is usually from the guys who show up to driver’s education events in grossly over prepared/overpowered cars, have never gone wheel to wheel racing, and get gratification from “passing” people at non-competition track days. This is like winning gym class. I cannot begin to describe how different an actual race is. It’s next to impossible to come down for at least a day as you readjust to the pace of normalcy. Plus, the toll it took on my body was totally unprepared. I had done an hour and a half stint at the Chump event at Watkins Glen in a completely uncompetitive Miata. That cannot compare to being in an actual fast car, running with other fast drivers through the field, in weather and conditions that abuse the body to no end. Most people have no idea how physical driving a race car actually is, and most people who do drive only do 20-30 minute stints. Despite serious weight training and cardio, my body was still unprepared to deal with the heat, stress, and physicality of the entire thing – I made it by sheer willpower alone.
At the same time it was intoxicating because during the stints in the car, there were no thoughts of anything even remotely responsible – it was an experience of pure freedom and empty mindedness – Nirvana as they put it. This is why racing is like crack. This is why I would gladly spend all of my money racing if my wife didn’t threaten to divorce me.