Watkins Glen was a racetrack that, due to its location, was well known in Northeastern PA. To finally race there was rather surreal.
The setup for Watkins Glen was the ‘long’ course, with a 7-hour race each day and a handful of practice hours on Friday. It was roughly an 8 hour drive, but with a late 90s GMC tow rig, equipped with a GM 454 V8, we had to stop for gas every couple of hours, making the trek much longer. In addition, the trailer brakes didn’t work, and the headlights may as well have been lanterns in the dense mountainous fog. After 11 hours of travel we were 30 minutes from the track and decided to call it a night.
We woke up early Friday to ensure we got to the track with time to unload, go through technical inspection, gear check, and still have time left over should anything come up. Immediately upon entry, judging strictly by a team’s tow rig, we discovered that there were some pretty serious competitors here for the weekend.
We unloaded the Civic, threw our gear in the back, and got in line for our safety inspections. About 2 hours passed by the time we were completely finished. The threat of rain had us hustling to get in the car for the practice session that evening. The weather looked promising for at least the first three hours, so we decided to run about an hour each, evaluate the weather, and go from there.
Hassan went out first. He had a lot of clean weather and clean driving. He came in after his stint with only good things to say about the new suspension setup. We checked a few things once the Civic was in the pits, and once we were satisfied, I hopped in the car.
We built a custom racing simulator before we started the Civic, so I knew this track in and out long before strapping into the Civic that day. I was confident in my understanding and abilities, which allowed me to focus entirely on learning the car, braking points, and turn-in markers.
The Civic started to intermittently lose power. At first I thought the clutch was slipping, but the RPM stayed stable when power was lost. After a few more turns I realized the car was almost out of gas (we had no functioning gas gauge, FYI). We thought the baffling was setup poorly, but the car guzzled down 10 gallons of gas. We were baffled, until we realized we filled the tow rig, support car, and gas containers, but completely forgot to top off the race car prior to practice. I went back out for about 20 minutes before some rain drops started on the windshield.
Gabe went out after me, being extra cautious in the rain. He came in after 20 minutes once the occassional drizzle turned into a steady rain. By the time the car was back at the trailer the rain started to let up, but with less than an hour of practice left, we decided we were done for the day.
That night we performed some functional checks on the Civic, but overall, we had a good level of confidence going into Saturday’s race. We grabbed some grub (thanks to Sahlen’s free hot dogs), hung out with some fellow chumps, and retired early for a good night’s sleep.
Saturday, 8AM: We all gathered around for the drivers’ meeting. The focus of the day, as per usual, was clean racing; however, that was especially stressed with a field of over 100 cars. In addition, the walls were within spitting distance of the track should you get a little squirrelly. After a few more reminders the meeting came to a close, and everyone scattered to finish last minute preparation they needed before the green flag at 9AM.
The rotation for the day was essentially opposite that of Mid-Ohio. We let the tall folk, Gabe and Tony, take the first two stints, with myself and Hassan to follow. We brought the Civic down to pit row and started getting Gabe strapped in. The remainder of the time was spent checking the lug nuts, fluid levels, and any other items we had on our pre-race check list. It was just about 9AM when the cars gathered to grid.
This time around we had a GoPro, so I’ll keep my interruptions to a minimum and let the videos do the talking. Enjoy.
*Note: A link to the full day’s race footage can be found in the notes and the end of this article*
Hassan waited patiently all day for his turn to race. He got in the car as fast as possible and, as soon as the pit list was done, he took off down pit lane to get out on track. Unfortunately, he left a bit prematurely with over a minute left on the required 5 minute fuel stop, and consequently, without the GoPro. In lieu of a video, I’ll do my best to summarize his stint.
Braaaaaaahhh, braaaaaaaahhhh, errrrrrrrrk, braaaaah, screeeeeeaaaaccchh, brap brap brap. I know, he has mad skillz, bro. Anyhow, Hassan was able to bring the Civic from 60th to 48th position during his hour and forty-five minute stint.
The car had no clock, and we had no communication to the pits, so none of us ran our full designated stint time (aside for Hassan). We just reset the rotation and sent Gabe back out to wrap up the day with less than an hour left. By this point in the day things were starting to wind down a bit. We knew roughly where we were going to finish, we were all happy about how the car performed, and we were all ready for the next day.
It wasn’t until about 20 minutes left in the race when I came back from the porta-pottie when Hassan said there was a full course yellow, and he hadn’t seen the Civic yet. I stood next to him as we watched the field pass by. A yellow RX-7 passed, and eventually that same yellow RX-7 came around again; definitely no Civic. Eventually, Gabe walked over to the pits with some good and bad news. Assuming you’ve watched the video above, then you know the outcome; if not, then SPOILER ALERT: don’t look at the next picture.
We rushed over to the car and started to do a damage assessment. The PF01 wheels and windshield were obviously destroyed, along with most of the driver’s side suspension. A little further investigation led us to a bent half-shaft and loss of water. We assumed the radiator popped, but as we walked to the passenger side of the car we learned a little more. The driver’s half-shaft bottomed out with the diff, which then pushed on the right half-shaft, which then forced the transmission to separate from the block. The weakest part being the block in the back, and the bell housing in the front. We didn’t know if it would be a cost effective fix, but what we did know for sure was that we were done racing for the weekend.
We limped the car into the trailer, cleaned up, and tried to enjoy that night. We all knew this was a possibility we didn’t foresee coming so quickly, but nevertheless, was always in the back of our minds. The next day we caught the start of the race, checked out the gorge in town, and started the drive back to Michigan.
We didn’t know if we would keep the Civic at this point. And if not, we didn’t know what car we were going to run. The one thing we did know was that we weren’t giving up.
Check back in next time to learn how we used that determination to get back on track at Gingerman, our home stomping grounds, that August.