I’ve been blessed in many ways, one of them being that my vocation can also be my vacation. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with cars and speed. I can remember watching the Indy 500 on TV and wanting to race cars. Fortunately, I’ve been able to fulfill my dream in many different ways by racing at a number of NASCAR tracks, including Darlington and Talladega, where drivers like Petty, Pearson, Allison and many others have battled. I’ve slid sideways through turns in an alcohol fed A-modified and had great Father/Son bonding time preparing and racing go-carts at local tracks.
To continue fulfilling that dream, I made the trip up to a small town in southeast Wisconsin called Elkhart Lake. Just outside of town sits a four mile road course, unchanging since it opened in 1955, with 14 turns and an elevation difference of more than 120 feet. Drivers like Andretti, Donahue, Hall, Hill, Penske, Newman and many others have raced here and I was about to follow in their tracks.
However, instead of racing in a very expensive car, I drove a 1990 Nissan 240SX. It’s called chumpcar racing. The basic concept is to take a car with a street value of $500 and turn it into a racecar. It’s grassroots racing that’s low-buck and gives anybody with the desire to race the opportunity to do so. The races aren’t short either. The shortest is a seven hour race only to come back the next day and do it again for another seven hours. But, the longest could last up to 24 hours. The teams are made up of a minimum of four drivers and whoever you can talk into using as your crew. At races like these I’ve seen drivers take their helmets and suits right out of the box, put them on, get in the car and go out on track for the very first time. And you know they loved every minute of it.
This trip to Elkhart Lake was exciting but had its pits, pun intended. Out of 53 cars only 47 made the grid for this event called the “Great American Meltdown”. My team decided that I would be the first in my group to go out. There were all different makes and models, everything from Chevrolet Camaros, Ford Mustangs to Chevy Chevettes and Saturn SC2’s. The green flag drops and we’re door to door, wheel to wheel with each other. Your first reaction would be to go as fast as you can, but you have to keep it’s a marathon not a sprint. I’m about to reach the end of my stint in the car when I come out of turn 14, about to start up the hill on the front stretch, when I feel the car start to lose power. I had just passed the entrance to pit road, but rather than getting stuck on the track, I cut across the grass onto pit road and coasted to a stop. We push the car into the paddock so I could diagnose the problem. The fuel pump wasn’t working, so it’s off with the suit and into work clothes. After taking things apart I discovered that a wire for the pump had come out of its crimp connector. About an hour later we’re back on track, driving fast but down a number of laps. Later, during a fuel stop and driver change, I discover a front brake caliper starting to leak. It’s back to the paddock for 20 minutes to replace both front calipers, which cost us more laps. At the end of it all we finished 29th. We probably would’ve finished in the top ten had it not been for our mechanical issues but hey that’s racing.
What I’ve learned is that even though we didn’t win, this time, the great thing about this racing venue is that teams pitch in and help each other out. They lend tools, parts and knowledge doing whatever they can to get people back on the track because it’s their passion. I’ve made some great friends during my years of racing and look forward to many more trips like this, but maybe bring home a trophy next time.