Saturday at Milwaukee was Practice and Qualifying. We had a very busy day with the driver’s meeting being held at 7AM and then first practice at 8:15, second practice at 11:30, and qualifying at 2:30 PM with the autograph session at 5:30 for an hour. So my alarm went off at 5AM (?!). Practice didn’t go as planned…at all. The morning was cool and on my 4th lap, before the tires were all the way up to temperature, the back end of the car stepped out exiting turn 2. I spun up the track and hit the wall with the back of the car, knocking the rear wing off and bending both rear corners. Then Wade Cunningham, who was running behind me, had nowhere to go and plowed into me. His impact bent the front suspension and knocked my front wing and nose off the car. I came out of the crash physically unscathed, mostly. My pride (and crash damage budget) took the biggest hits. And my DexCom Seven receiver- but that is a very interesting tale for another day. As I mentioned earlier, the schedule was very tight and so my crew and I started frantically working on getting the car ready for practice possibly but more hopefully qualifying. I was only entrusted to cleaning what bodywork remained on the car, taking things off the car and working a pair of safety wire pliers. My crew, however, were absolutely phenomenal! They rocked it getting the car back together and when we pushed through tech and took our place in line for qualifying, they were more than a few impressed looks from other teams. Since I had so little practice, and my confidence was shaken from the crash, I focused on making sure the car felt right for the race on Sunday. I didn’t push and still managed to out qualify another driver. I would start the race on Sunday in 15th. There were only 16 cars at the race, which might make the impact of the crash on the whole weekend slightly reduced. Rather than be at the back of a grid of 25 cars, I would only be 15th. This would also give me a better shot at a top-10 result. And the final excuse for not blogging Saturday night is that I went to dinner with one of my sponsors in downtown Milwaukee. We dined at a great restaurant right by the shore of the lake. It was a great meal with really enjoyable conversation (very little to do with my crash) that helped take my mind of how difficult the day had been. The racer in me didn’t want to relive the day just before I was trying to get a good night’s sleep and prepare for what was always going to be a difficult race.
Sunday dawned clear, crisp and sunny. It was an absolutely beautiful day to be at the racetrack. (Beware: small digression ahead!) I have said to a lot of people that there is no place I would rather be than at a racetrack. My favorite time of the day at the races are in the mornings and evenings when it is quiet and the day either holds the promise of glory or the glow of a job well done. Those are the moments when I only begin to understand how deeply I love racing. (Digression over….for now) Our race was scheduled for an 11:30 start. The track temperature was up quite high and the air temp was still cool. That combination makes for a fast racetrack. My start was good and I immediately moved up to 14th position. I was chasing down my teammate for this race weekend, Pablo Donoso, even as I relearned the car. His car looked worse than mine felt and I worked my way past him. Then as I closed on Martin Plowman ahead of me, his car slowed and he moved to the inside coming off Turn 4- another spot in the bag. They threw a yellow flag to recover Plowman’s car and so the pack bunched back up.
On the restart, Jonathon Summerton spun trying to put the power down. He kept it out of the wall, but it meant we went back to yellow for a lap. Summerton’s car was a lot better than mine and he managed to repass me after we got back up to speed. I was surprised as the race then settled into a very long green stint. My pace was not close to that of the leaders and on an the mile long track, it didn’t take long before the leaders had caught and lapped me. I then not only had to deal with a mentally challenging race track and an ill handling car, but manage my car position to stay out of the leaders way and be considerate of the race they were having. My spotter, Chris Wheeler, helped me immensely with this and without his help, it would have been a lot harder race altogether. I talked about getting used to using a spotter in my Kansas practice report and it really paid off here. Then, with about 50 laps (out of the 100) to go, it went yellow for a crash in Turn 2. Summerton had spun and hit the wall hard. Chris talked me through the debris field and we settled into line behind the pace car. I was now 11th, the only car on my particular lap, and with the car I had, I was focused on just getting it home and taking any points I could get.
We went back to green and I had a whole train of cars on the lead lap stacked up behind me. I worked really hard to let them past me without disrupting their races. Then with about 25 to go, it went yellow again. Daniel Herrington had spun coming off Turn 4 and hit the pit wall quite hard. His race accident was similar to an accident he had in testing at Milwaukee a few weeks back. I was now up to 10th and holding onto the car for all I was worth! That is where I would finish, 4 or 5 laps down. I did however finish and get a top-10 in the process. Not where I wanted to be, but the best I could have hoped for.
The first conclusion I came to after today’s race is that on an oval, if your car is bad, your race feels very long and is not a lot of fun (or it’s a very short race with a big bill). On a road course, as a driver, you can do a lot more about it. But on an oval, you just have to take what you can get and survive to fight another day. I learned more about oval racing this weekend than I had in Indy or at Kansas. The lessons were definitely a lot more poignant.
The second rumination I had was that last week in Indianapolis (and even at our race in Kansas) we had a car good enough for the top 5-8 places and I was classified 13th in both races. Here in Milwaukee I had a car that wasn’t good for much of anything and I got a top 10. Motorsports is a funny old thing sometimes, but there is nothing else in the world I would rather be doing.
I can’t wait to tell the story of my magical disappearing DexCom.
But now I am exhausted and am ready for a good nights sleep in my own bed, spending some quality time with my friends (and my yellow lab, Kona) in the next few days and getting ready for my next adventure.