Today was a day of new experiences for me as a racing driver. It was the start of my first oval race weekend, I had a full race practice session with 22 cars to contend with, a split practice session, a rain interruption in practice and my first oval qualifying experience.
Practice first. As it is my first oval race, my team and I planned to spend a lot of time running in traffic to get used to how the car feels around other cars. With the turbulent air coming off the car in front, not only do you get a big 'tow' or 'slipstream', your car doesn't have as much downforce as you would in 'clean' air. It takes a little getting used to as well as having a spotter in your ear all the time telling you where the other cars are. A spotter is a guy who stands up at the top of the grandstand buildings and talks to me over the radio. He gives me information on where other cars are around me- inside, outside, behind, closing, looking high, looking low, clear behind- those terms. That way I can concentrate on looking ahead and running my line. With that help, it was a lot of fun to run side by side all the way around the track. I am not sure how to explain how much fun it is to be inches away from another car at over 180 miles an hour- for multiple laps consecutively- other than it left me grinning ear to ear! I am really looking forward to the race and seeing how things work when you are in a whole train of cars- rather than just 3 or 4.
Then it was time for qualifying this afternoon. We weren't sure we would get to do the session as there were dark clouds all around the track. On a road course, it is not such a huge deal if it rains as you put wet tires on the car and go run. On on oval, however, you only run in the dry. The wet would just be too fast and too dangerous. Qualifying on an oval is unique as it is one car at a time for two laps. It is the combined lap time of those two laps that set the grid. The order in which you go out is drawn out of a hat the day before the race. I was 19th out of 24 cars. Going later in the group can be a small advantage as the track picks up more grip and the air gets swirling a bit (so there is less aerodynamic 'drag'). You get one warm up lap to build heat into the tires as well as build the momentum in the car. The way to go fast in qualifying on the oval is to go out of the pits, put your right (gas) foot all the way to the floor, turn left as needed, lift of the gas after the checkered flag. :) A lot of the laptime on an oval comes down to minute changes in the racing line and a huge amount about car set up.
Well I went out to qualify and did my two laps. After I passed the line, my engineer said, "Very nice job, Charlie. Excellent......Oh yeah, you are 5th at the moment!" Out of the 5 cars after me, one had a problem, two went quicker and two went slower than me. I ended up 7th in the order meaning I will start on the inside of row 4 for the race. I am ecstatic to have qualified inside the top 10!! After I heard my time, I was doing my 'don't rain' dance on the cool down lap! If the rain had come before everyone had a chance to qualify, we would have started based on championship positions and I would have been 12th. Luckily, the weather held.
The weather for tomorrow is a little uncertain. There have been some heavy thunderstorms and even tornado warnings here in Kansas this afternoon/ evening. It has been raining off and on (sometimes super heavily) since about 5:45 this evening. We will see what the weather looks like in the morning. I am scheduled to race at 12 noon, but they have said everyone should be ready to go by 10 in case it's dry and we can get the race in before the rain.
Here's a good website to read the results. Also, this story came out about me in the Kansas City Star this morning. And finally, here's an article from my hometown paper, the Camarillo Acorn, from this week.