As my roommate will tell you, I am not exactly a morning person. So waking up at 7:00 am on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is not ideal. However, when waking up at 7:00 am on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to go and be at Daytona International Speedway, the mornings get quite more jolly.
When my dad first told me that he would be racing at Daytona, I thought the 4 hour drive was not at all worth it. Then the Wednesday before, I had a change of heart. Thank God I did. Last Friday, I drove through the North Gate tunnel to the track and was immediately immersed in a world of happiness. The rumbling of thousands of horsepower flying by at speeds well over the normal speed limit, the blur of colors as the cars whiz by, the perfect chaos of the pits that ceases with one simple wave of the green flag, it all works in harmony to make the race track my own personal heaven.
My dad races the Audi R8, chassis number 607 (same number as Speed on Directv, not a coincidence I believe), a car that is truly more beautiful than any street car. This car, henceforth known as 607, is a car that would make even Dr. Ulrich drool a little bit. Maintained and built by Bobby Green, the crew chief for the car in the HSR series, it is more of art than car. But get it out on the track and open her up...no museum can contain something that great. The car was turning out lap times of 1:40.0 with both Bill Adam (my dad) and Andy Wallace co-driving her.
Speaking of Andy, what a fun guy. With credentials like his, he could race anywhere. He's won the 24 hours of Daytona, 24 hours of Le Mans, 12 hours of Sebring, and Petit LeMans, just to name a few of the big ones. He is this Englishman who is very quiet but his quick wit and intelligence rival that of his racing abilities. His wife, Catherine, is not the typical race wife either. Normally, I'm stuck at the track with the only other women there. These women are usually the wives of the drivers. They are not the brightest people, to be honest. Most are what I call "Helmet Carriers," good for that and commenting on how pretty the cars look. Well, this is not Catherine. She graduated from NC State with an impressive degree in Aerospace Engineering. She is the crew chief on Andy's Daytona Prototype car running in the Rolex series. And man, is she fun to hang out with! Instead of hearing about the pretty color schemes on the Porsche Caymans running around the track as well, she was teaching me about the difference in Tiptronic and DSG. Every lap, she was timing the other cars to compare them to how fast either Andy or my dad was running. But she wasn't some person completely immersed in racing to the point of no return. She would tell stories over dinner about New Zealand (her homeland), or funny stories about how her parents would hide cats in her apartment while she was traveling. She can tell you why it is beneficial for Peugeot to have their closed cockpit at LeMans while at the same time making her fourth cup of tea for the day.
Well Saturday came and went, with Andy qualifying the car as second. Our biggest rival, the Riley and Scott with a V-10 Judd engine, has close to 300 horses more than we do. That being said, our lap times were only seconds apart at worst. The R8 is a much lighter car and has much better brakes, and, in my opinion, much better drivers. Daytona, though, is not a track where braking helps much. Through the infield track, the Riley would lose so much ground because our Audi could handle the turns better. But getting onto the banking, the Riley would just pull away. As Andy said during qualifying, "Lots of power!" Not so funny at the time, Bobby thought he said "Loss of power!" and started freaking out. Catherine, staying calm, got on the radio and told Bobby that the car was still running and not to worry. A "Helmet Carrier" would not have even heard that message, let alone translated it, because the headphones are bulky and definitely not flattering.
Sunday morning started off with a bang...literally. The R8 engine needs to be warmed up before it can be run, so Bobby climbed into the cockpit and started running through the gears. Every time the gear changes, a loud popping sound occurs. That sound is more effective than coffee. Luckily for them, Andy and Catherine weren't there yet. They got their popping sound too. When Ricky (another of the awesome crew members) went to put the tires back on the car, Catherine nearly threw her tea on the car's owner, Jim, for the sound of the air gun. "I hate those things," she had exclaimed, "I swear, they always wait until my back is turned and then do it!"
The race went down much like qualifying did. We turned some great lap times but so did the Riley. On the first few laps, Andy pressured the driver of the Riley, trying to get any mistake out of him. Unfortunately, one can only pressure while on the enemy's back bumper which, at Daytona, is only a lap or two at most. When 40 laps had passed out of the hour and a half enduro, Andy was called into the pits. In HSR, there is a mandatory 5 minute pit stop. This is a rant for another day. When Bobby called Andy in, it was one lap too early. The next lap, one of the Riley and Scotts, the slower of the two, hit a tire wall and brought out a yellow. Then, on the back straight, our brother Audi R8 blew a tire and broke part of the rear suspension. The race was black flagged for the better part of twenty minutes. So my dad sat in the pits in the car waiting to resume the race. The flag was both a good and bad thing. It grouped the now 3 car field back together so the pressure could resume. It also, unfortunately, took a good chunk of the race away from us, taking a potential win. When the green flag fell once again, no amount of pressure could work. There were only 4 or 5 laps after the restart, not nearly enough time to take the win. With a second place finish, we left the track with our heads held high...planning for the victory to come at Sebring in three weeks time.
The worst part of the weekend was leaving the track. I had been showing off my little Celica all weekend and having to drive it out of the tunnel and away from my happy place was torture. I would give anything to have my alarm clock be the rumbling and high pitched whining of cars driving by, the sound of air guns changing tires and mechanics wrenches furiously trying to make last minute improvements, the sound of engines being revved to 6,000 rpm before shutting off instantly, or the smell of burning rubber. This combination makes me more at peace than anything else. The next challenge is finding out how I can skip my final exams to go to Sebring... :)