OPENING DAY 97 Racing
By Kevin Varney
Opening day is always full of anxiousness and nervousness at the start of any season. This year was no different. We had a feeling of hurry up and wait. Over the last month we have continued work on the new Inland Autobody Ford Mustang until we reached the point where we needed a motor before we could do anymore. Anyone who has ever had a motor built knows what its like to be waiting for a new power plant. Hi-torque racing engines supplies us with our power. Bob Bailey does an excellent job giving us more then enough power needed for our car. This year we were having a new motor built, which always takes a little extra time. In the meantime, we turned our attention to preparing the number 92 Ford Pinto being driven by my bother, Chris, this season.
The car was in good shape, but an altercation with the wall in the last race of 2001 meant we had to replace all the suspension on the right front and reline the rear end. While the 97 Lifetime Muffler sat in the Auburn Mall show for a week, Jeff and I spent the idle time preparing the Pinto, and as it turn out it was a good thing we did. Due to unforeseen trouble with our new motor, we were never able to get it to the shop until Friday before opening day. Chris offered to let us use the Pinto for opening day and we took him up on the offer as there was too much other stuff to ready on the Mustang in two days. Meanwhile, I offered Chris my enduro car to use so he could at least take the green.
We headed to the track on Saturday for our test and tune day with a lot of confidence as Jeff was extremely fast in this pinto at the end of 2001. We unloaded in time for the second practice and hit the track. We quickly saw that the car was not as fast as before. There were about a dozen to 15 cars on the track and we were only about the fourth or fifth fastest. The car was pushing pretty bad from the center on out of the corner. A lot of people would be happy with this but we knew the car was much better then the 19.1’s and 19.2’s we were turning.
For the second practice we bought two new tires for which we have Arnold Eldridge excavating to thank for stepping up with a nice sponsorship for the season. It was their help that allowed us to purchase the $80 apiece tires and $50 wheels. Unfortunately it didn’t help; we were still turning the same times. The third practice went much the same way, and although we could hold off anybody, we couldn’t go around anybody either. This was going to be a problem because as a rookie team we knew we were going to be starting at the back for the first two weeks. We decided to load up and head home to go through the car one more time.
Once we reached the shop and put the car on jack stands, Jeff noticed the right rear shock was leaking. No wonder we couldn’t get the push out of the car. After replacing both rear shocks we set the caster and camber then set the toe and changed the number from Chris’s 92 to our 97. The car was ready.
Rain was the order of the day in the morning on Sunday. Once we unloaded the car and helped Chris unload the enduro car we decided to see how the car felt drying off the track. Jeff went out for 10 laps or so and when he came in said it felt different already even though we were only at half speed. That was a good sign, so we left it alone until our next practice, which turned out to be our last. Jeff rolled out on the track and immediately went for the cars he couldn’t pass on Saturday. With very little trouble at all he breezed by the outside of them all turning 18.9’s on the outside! Once he was by himself, he ripped off several 18.5’s and 6’s. This is extremely fast for a class that seldom turns below 18.7 or 8. We were quite happy, and Jeff said the car was just a tick tight off the corner. I pointed out that it was overcast right now and that if the sun came out as was predicted that it would loosen the car just a tad. With that in mind we left it alone and decided that if it was still overcast at race time I’d drop the right rear tire pressure a pound or two.
Being a rookie, Jeff lined up for the feature in the 24th spot out of 26 cars. I was real nervous because I knew we were fast but wasn’t sure if we’d have time to get to the front. At the drop of the green, Jeff took off like a rocket and by the completion of the first lap had already passed three cars. This continued over the next couple of laps until all heck broke loose coming out of turn four. Two cars got together and simultaneously someone blew a radiator hose soaking the track. Jeff saw the whole thing unfold an as the cars in front of him scattered, he slowed a little and picked his way through unscathed! On the restart he was up to tenth with only 5 of the 20 laps in the books.
The return to green saw Jeff continue his drive to the front as he picked off a few more and was soon in a three-way battle for third. After another caution, he got the line he needed and cleared the other cars to take over third. Unfortunately, by this point the leader was a full straight ahead and second was a half straight ahead. With only 5 to go it looked like third would be our finish. Never one to give up, Jeff pushed a little harder and ran down second with two laps to go. On the white flag lap, he pulled to the outside down the backstretch. We were all a little worried because this was the same guy that Jeff had crashed with at the end of 2001. As the roared into turn three he dove in farther then usual and pulled even with the VW running second. Off the four turn they came and Jeff got just enough bite to beat him at the line by less the six inches!!! We were real psyched to start off the year in such a great way.
In the victory lane interview, the announcer who was equally as excited at such a great race, suggested that maybe the rookie title would be secondary and that the championship was a more accurate goal. Like Jeff said, the rookie title is important, but we have the capabilities of running at the front every week so the championship is not out of the question!
This week, we’ll be putting in long hours getting the Mustang on the track for next week! To see some pictures go to our Adrienne’s Web Design website at www.97racing.net. See you next week!