INSIDE THE 97 RACE TEAM- THE 100 LAPPER

By Kevin Varney

 

It sure is nice to come into our biggest race of the year having just won the week previous. Since the car was great, and there was no damage to repair, we mostly spent the week going from one end to another checking bolts and just making sure everything was race tight and ready to go for the Maine Dodge Dealers Mini-stock 100. We were feeling pretty confident about our chances in the $700 to win race.

Tuesday we took a little time off for Jeff to appear on a local radio show on 92.7 WOXO. He was there with pro-stock driver Tim Brackett and the hour just flew by. We’d like to thank OPS and WOXO for having Jeff on the show, all the sponsors and fans really loved it.

By Wednesday, the car was all ready and I was already getting butterflies for the upcoming weekend. Finally, Saturday arrived and we were off to the races. We usually use our feature tires in the first practice so we can have an idea what the track is like. The first few laps looked great, but the times were a little slow. I just figured Jeff was getting into it slowly. It wasn’t until the end of practice when he was side by side with a car he usually blistered by that I realized we were in trouble. When he came in and told me something was wrong with the motor, my heart skipped a beat.

Jeff told me the car just didn’t seem to have the get up and go like it should. After much discussion, we decided to try it in the next practice and see how it went then. As it turns out, more of the same. At this point we decided to skip the final practice and save what we had for the race. The heat itself was rather uneventful as Jeff started like 12th of the 15 or so cars. Riding easy for the eight-lap race he came home 8th. Still no power though.

Being a big race, we were allowed to pit on the infield for this one, and as the point leader, that gave us stall number one. Just before I went out I told Jeff to just get what he could from his deep in the field starting spot and try to bring her home in one piece. Starting deep in the field with a sick motor was the last thing we had in mind, but that was the hand that was dealt for us on this night.

As the field completed lap one, all heck broke loose down the front stretch. From my vantagepoint all I could see was a lot of smoke and then Jeff blasting through the infield to pick up several spots. On the restart he was up to 16th. A few laps latter he cracked the top ten after another wreck he squeaked through and gained some spots. So far, so good.

Once they went back to green, Jeff waded through some real slow traffic and moved into third, only to have the second place runner blow a tire right in his path. Jeff went to the high side to miss him, but by the time he was cleared he was back to eighth. A long green flag run followed with Jeff battling between eight and fifth. It was real fun to watch as he raced side by side with another car for the better part of 40 laps. Latter he told me that the car just kept getting better which is why he never dropped in line to cool his tires.

A caution on lap 90 bunched up the filed again and by this point Jeff was running sixth and looking pretty solid. Just before the drop of the green the race leader broke all the studs on his left front wheel, which moved us up to fourth. By the time that was cleaned up we were set for a green white checker finish, where lapped traffic cost us a spot and we came home for what we thought was a top five finish. However, somehow a car that was actually down a lap was scored third to the protest of four or five drivers (not to mention our video tape) which dropped us to a sixth place finishing position. Despite our appeals, and the appeals of the two drivers in front of us, and at least four officials I know of, and the local sports editor, the race stood as finished with a lapped car scoring the third place trophy.

Monday we checked the motor to find the number three cylinder only producing about half the compression it needed. As we were doing our checks on the other cylinders, something flew out of the exhaust side and low and behold it checked out OK after that. Our best conclusion is that something was caught in the valve and not letting it close all the way. While we were happy the motor seems to be fine, we all wondered what could have been if we were firing on all cylinders! Oh well, that’s racing and we are still the point leaders by 11 points! Until next week,

Happy racing