So many places to race – so little time

May 25, 2016

by Alan Morris

There are some experiences that every track junkie has to experience in their lifetime, and this bucket list item is about Virginia International Raceway, a hallowed and memorial track set on the grassy manicured grounds that were originally an old Southern plantation in Virginia.

It starts with an email of interest sent to the North Carolina Region SCCA and a request for accommodation to participate in the May 6-7th event, which elicited a prompt response that I would be most welcome, and they could find a place to include me subject to having a current SCCA membership.

Early Thursday morning with the BMW E30 race car loaded on the trailer, we set out for Virginia for an estimated 11 hour trip to the track. Ask me why it is a bad idea not to have a functioning Garmin GPS, and reliance on a GMC in car navigation system with a voice operator who understands no spoken language. Ask me why never to go through Pennsylvania, if you actually want to get anywhere unless you are on the interstate, rather than endless winding rural roads, or even ask why an 11 hour trip took 15 hours, but I am not saying any more.

Registration opened Friday midday and off to see the Chief Tech for car classification within SCCA guidelines, and affix class decals and numbers. This done and with rain starting to fall it was time for practice and to try to familiarise the way around the unknown track, locate marshal stations, etc.

Qualifying on Saturday morning, in bright and sunny weather, the little BMW E30 CASC-OR GT4 plunged into the fray classed as SCCA GT2. The Quali results sheet had some cars with lap times 30 seconds faster, and I thought it prudent to revisit the scrutineers with a request to re-assess, if possible, into another class. This caused much head scratching, but eventually it was reclassified back to the original ITS class, for the Saturday race event, with the proviso that the car would start from the last position 43 as there was no corresponding ITS Quali time.

The race was great fun and the little blue E30 managed to move up through the tail-enders to finish about 1/3rd of the way up in the field. After the race all the cars were weighed and when my turn came I was asked the weight of the car, to which I replied “haven’t a clue – we don’t weigh cars for Ontario regional bracket racing”. Apparently, the car was 190 lbs. underweight, although it is missing no parts other than regular race car interior removals, has Lexan side windows, original glass windscreen, and a fibreglass hood. This caused some consternation, reference to SCCA Regs, and much head scratching. The long and short of it was that the car was reclassified as an SPO class, a catch-all class which allows for more modifications and no weight limit, and moved from Race 5 group into Race 6 group which included “Big Bore”, and you guessed it, the car would have to start in last position because there was no SPO Quali time. I am 100% O.K. with this…I’m here to race.

Sunday morning, bright and sunny, and off to the pre-grid where the cars line up angled side by side in old Le Mans start style in their respective Quali positions with me at my customary place in last position, surrounded by a bevy of big bore Chevys, Mustangs, and a few Porsches. The 3 minute board goes up and the black Camaro to my left explodes into life, bellowing through the 5 inch side exit exhaust that exits at my driver’s ear left, and rocks the little blue BMW. I know for sure that I am not going to be passing any cars in this race, and it will be a challenging exercise in using your mirrors ALL THE TIME.

And so the race went, and I did pass a car, a Mustang, as it motored to a leisurely stop with unknown maladies.

One lap of VIR goes something like this. Exit pit exit and hustle down the front straight getting into 5th gear, before breaking hard and down two gears into Horseshoe, a sweeping right. Overtaking opportunity here, but the fastest line seems to early apex and then sweep around the outside maintaining momentum, but more powerful cars will duck in on the inside and pass you.

Three left-handers follow. An easy left, then move into mid outer track, and apex the second left Nascar Bend, then hook 4th gear and on to the third 90 degree left, drop down to 3rd gear, apex and stay fully left on exit to ease the entry into a sweeping right Snake that you will want to carry as much speed into as possible as it leads into a long uphill Climbing Esses, that jink left, then right, then left again and right again. Take as much kerb at each direction change as the car permits as you attempt to straighten the line. By the time you get to the top the car is pulling hard in 5th as you fly over the last kerb on the right hand side wheels, and the car settles back on all four wheels just in time to brake and downshift to 4th for a fast left hand South Bend, down another gear and enter the 3rd gear uphill right hand Oaktree hair-pin that leads you onto the long back straight. I never did get this quite right, and the oak tree is not there anymore.

Hammer down the back straight checking your mirrors for the front-runners of the pack of Porsches, big bore Chevys and Fords hunting you down to lap you. Brake hard at the last brake marker as you enter the left-hander, and continue trail braking to the apex of the Roller Coaster 90 degree right that leads into the downhill off camber esses.

Using all the off camber road and squeezing on the power, take some kerb into the following left hander and feed in more power as you enter the next downhill right. Hook 4th gear and hard on the power through Hog Pen, the car drifts out to the left, pit entry flashes past on your right and you are back onto the front straight, hammering through 5th to the end of a lap at VIR.

Repeat, until the starting flag man tells you top stop doing that. At the end of the day a great day of racing, and even a trophy plaque for 1st in class being the one and only SPO car in the big bore race.

Afterwards having loaded up the car onto the trailer, and adjourned to the Oaktree Tavern and Connie’s Pub, for a fine dining meal washed down with draft beer, you reflect on your good fortune, the warm welcome extended by the North Carolina Chapter of the SCCA, and the wonderful Southern hospitality that allowed you to participate and be included at this hallowed venue filled with memories and memorabilia of previous giants of motorsport.

Monday morning after a Southern breakfast spread prepared by Linda and Mama Gray at nearby Breezy Oaks farmhouse B & B, you head back on the long trip home.

Did the VIR event, meet and exceed all of my expectations? – HELL YES!


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