Auto racing is a very unique sport. I think that is something we can all agree on. While the NFL has to worry about steroids and under-inflated footballs, race teams and organizations look after machines with thousands of parts and a wide range of variables.
I feel this adds another dimension to motorsports that few other sports have. Not only do I need to be ready for the races, but the vehicle needs to be ready for the fight, too.
The reason I’m starting with this is because my weekend Aug. 7-9 at Road America took a very unexpected twist. After two days of practice, which involved everything from hot and slippy tracks to torrential rain, the Wright Motorsports camp was feeling ready for qualifying Saturday morning.
We performed our usual end-of-day routine; Bring the car across the scales to double-check everything, pull it back into its stall, and say goodbye to the team on the way out.
The next morning would be quite the rollercoaster. After a qualifying run I was happy with, that included a pole and a second-place starting spot, I went back to the trailer to debrief with my engineer. While talking about the laps, we are told that my car had gone on a severe diet overnight and was well underweight.
This was a surprise to everyone on the team. The circumstances of the car being underweight were a shock and a very unsettling situation. Rules are rules, though, and this meant my pole position had turned into a 24th starting spot.
The walk down the grid to my car felt like I was running a marathon. There was a lot of work that needed to be done in the next 45 minutes, but I had some good strategy talks with the team and countless others before the race. I knew what I had to do and had an idea on how to do it.
It sounds a little crazy, but you almost feel less pressure when starting from a situation that is out of the ordinary.
The next 45 minutes would be chaotic and with a mild case of insanity, all I can do is manage it to the best of my ability and try to climb the field as fast as possible.
As the race got underway, I wanted to make the most of every opportunity as the field was bunched close together. The first two laps were quite frantic, involving 10 passes.
On the third lap, I was run off the road going into Canada Corner. This wakeup call told me to calm down and just settle down into a rhythm.
Over the next four laps, I managed to get to ninth position. A caution soon flew for a car off the track, which was exactly what I needed.
With the field bunched up, it was time to attack again. I passed a few more cars and was soon with my teammates. They did not give up the positions, but they did not fight hard to keep them, so thank you for that Kasey Kuhlman, Santi Creel and Mike Schein!
Now in fourth, I set my sights on Andrew Longe for a podium that I wanted more than ever.
Andrew was very fast and consistent. The only reason I was able to get around him was due to a mistake he made in Turn 5. I was able to capitalize on that and end the race in a wonderful third position, 21 spots higher than where I started, without a scratch on the car.
It’s safe to say that both the team and I were relieved with the result. There was an added bonus of a hot lap putting me sixth in the starting grid for race two. I really could not have been happier with the result of the first race, given the circumstances.
Race two would prove to be much more uneventful. After climbing from sixth to fourth early on, I was not able to make a move for third position.
After half an hour sitting in fourth, the checkered flag flew, and I was now three points out of the championship lead after starting the weekend seven points up.
If anyone would have told me that the race weekend would have twists and turns to the extent that it did, and I would be only three points out of the lead, I would have not believed it but would gladly take it.
Now it is time to learn all I can from this weekend and put it forward to the next race event Aug. 21-23 at VIR. Hopefully I don’t have to pass as many cars there!