So, the 2017 Concorso Daytona 14 Hours is a wrap. The World Racing League put on a great event with some very clean racing, with that said our race wasn’t as smooth. The green flag flew at 8am Saturday morning and being a WRL event they have no qualifying or practice, so if you have never been to the track your only experience is from videos, simulators, and asking for advice. I fell into that category and also had the honor of starting the car! No complaints though, I’m always up for a fun challenge.
On the first lap after we all made it through turn one I kept trying to adjust my lap belt when it became clear it wasn’t tightening because it had come loose from the eyebolt on the floorboard. So obviously I had to pit immediately for safety. That put us back to last and some of the leaders were already coming by when I got back out on track. With no knowledge on the perfect lap I just started doing what I do and going for it, trying different lines, and seeing what felt good. After a few laps I got the ever comforting call over the radio from the team owner saying I was currently the fastest car in class. That’s always a nice thing to hear when you’re not sure if you’re going fast or embarrassing yourself.
I stayed in the car for a little over an hour until the tank was about empty. I managed to get the car all the way back to second place in our class so with the initial first lap stop we weren’t in any trouble and were caught back up. We stopped, I changed drivers, and in went one of my teammates.
Things continued to go well with our #78 car running in the top three and our sister car the #87 also running for a podium. As the second driver got out we handed it over to the third driver who would run his stint with some ominous clouds moving in. Shortly into his run sure enough the sky opened and we started to get some moisture. It wasn’t bad at first but started to get slippery and based on the spray from other cars through the tri-oval it looked quite wet. After over an hour (slower pace because of the rain saved fuel) I was told to gear up as I’d be jumping in. At this point it stopped raining so the track was going to dry quickly. Before he got our call to pit the officials decided to call it for him by giving us a “meatball” flag. This flag indicates there’s something wrong with the race car and it needs to pit to be looked over. Our driver said it felt fine and as he came in we were told corner workers saw the right front wheel “moving around” like something was loose.
We did our driver change and added fuel then the crew quickly jacked it up to see what was wrong. Sure enough something was loose, there was a crack in the frame! It was around a suspension pickup, so it was just hanging there allowing everything to move around. The team being the amazing team they are took it apart, saw what needed to be done, and tracked down someone with a welder. They then repaired it in the garages and I was getting back in within an hour.
Strapped in I headed back on track, not even worried about the recent fix that was done as I trust their work whole heartedly. As I got on track all felt good so off I went. By this point we had some sprinkles again and the tires we were running are great street based performance tires in the dry but in heavy rain they won’t work as well. As I entered the kink at some point, the light rain turned heavy and I found myself trying to keep the car on the road and then get the car slowed down to make the horseshoe. Talk about a sketchy moment! I got the car slowed down and was able to tippy toe through the horseshoe, getting a very good gauge as to how careful I needed to be.
Daytona is an interesting place though, you have the infield road course but a lot of time in a lap is done by speed on the banking. I had no choice in the rain but to man up and just keep my foot down throughout the NASCAR sections of track. On the banking itself it wasn’t too bad but through the tri-oval it was skating around and somehow getting random wheel spin at 120mph. It continued to rain harder and while I love racing in the rain it’s very difficult to drive in heavy rain on tires that simply cannot tread water. Coming into turn one at 110mph or so the car hydroplaned under braking and I spun, luckily able to avoid hitting anything and continued. At this point the officials decided to go full course caution and put the safety car out as there was so much water forming in corners it was getting too dangerous.
To make matters worse we had some type of exhaust issue causing a serious amount of fumes to get into the cockpit. Under the safety car period this got even more dramatic due to the lack of airflow through the car. Additionally, it was awfully hot and humid and once the rain stopped and some sun came back the steam was insane. I had to loosen my belts a few times to manually wipe the inside of the windshield to see. It was like sitting in a smelly sauna while doing a decent cardio workout.
Once back green the track was still very wet but the rain wasn’t coming down in sheets so it would eventually dry. My biggest issue now was the exhaust fumes. My eyes were burning, head pounding, and nausea and dizziness started to hit on and off. Every time I was on the banking I’d stick my hand out to cup air so it would flow into my face. Otherwise even at speed not enough air was coming in the car to dilute the fumes. I can’t even put into words how miserable it was.
I made up some time though and had some good on track battles trying to tip toe through the wet spots and quickly adjust every corner as the track dried. One thing tricky there was the track dries so quickly in some spots the track isn’t the same lap after lap. One lap you may still have some water at the apex and the next lap you can take it flat again.
My gas gauge wasn’t moving fast enough as I was ready to be out of the car. I called into Casey to tell him we needed to find a tube to attach to a window during the next pit stop to draw in fresh air. I told him it’s extremely bad and it had to be done. Luckily after an hour and a half or so my gas gauge was getting close to empty and I was called into the pits. I asked they have water immediately available for me (we had no water in the car) and that I was going to throw up or pass out, luckily neither of those happened. I came in and helped with the driver change then fell over the wall. They handed me water as quickly as I could drink it and they had gotten some ice-cold rags to throw on me.
They inspected the car before sending the next driver out and the consensus was that the rear bumper cover came loose and that was acting as a shield to the exhaust, the exhaust couldn’t exit fully out the rear so was getting caught in the bumper cover and just directly going back into the cockpit. They put a lot of tape on the rear bumper to fix it and sent the next driver out. After just a few laps more issues struck.
Our next challenge was a broken left front ball joint. Luckily my co-driver had the part break at a point with a lot of runoff so he just went into the grass. It could have been a lot worst. Casey and the team immediately started asking other Miata teams if they had a ball joint we could have and none did. Surprisingly one parts store nearby had one on the shelf so off they went to get it. It was replaced within an hour.
The car got back out and by this point it was late afternoon and my stints were done. We ran one driver for a longer time as he had missed some seat time during the garage time then Casey hopped in for the final forty-five minutes or so to bring it home. Our sister car was running a fantastic race, very clean, no issues, then during the last hour the engine had some type of issue and they had to retire. This put us into second place in class where we finished.
Overall it was a successful race weekend. It was definitely an endurance race that pushed the car to the limit. The track itself isn’t very physical (minus the exhaust and heat issues) but the team fought hard all race long to keep the cars on track and safely running.
My next race in one of these Miatas will be next month at Road Atlanta with the Sports Car Club of America. Our next endurance race with the team will be at Barber Motorsports Park just outside of Birmingham, AL in August.
Special thanks to Honey Stinger for fueling us to keep the energy all race long, MotoSolutions who kept my visor and glasses free of fog during the crazy weather, ATL Laboratories, and special shoutout to Lemons of Love for all they do!