So You Want to be a CART Racer? Special Series Part 3
 Introduction by Peter Burke


Winning is Sweet:

The second race weekend for Darrel was scheduled at Phoenix International Raceway, usually better known for it's 1 mile oval (former CART venue). The Formula Dodge series races on the infield road course, making the track more technically challenging for these 'slow' cars.

Darrel came to Phoenix from a good start at Las Vegas, hoping for a good finish in his second race on four wheels - and WELL he did! If he manages to add a few more weekends like this one, he may just be in the running for that big dollar scholarship awarded to the Formula Dodge Series champ...

Photo for the Family Album

 
So you want to be a Cart Racer Series Menu:


Part 1, The 3 Day Competition Course

Part 2, Getting Serious: First Race at las Vegas

Part 3 (this article), Double Victory in the Desert

Part 4-8 (coming soon)

 

Time to Rock and Roll...

I thought my first race came around quick, ha! I seemed like I just got home, kind of settled back in, and hey, what, next race is next week, wow! But, this time I know the routine, and I'm ready. I'm still on cloud 9 from my Las Vegas race. Time to go make some more memories, I hope they're good ones…

PIR 1.5 mile road course

Phoenix Lapping Practice

Where the big boys race...
Getting used to the track was fun. At first the oval turn is a tad intimidating, and fun! It took a few laps to just stick the pedal to the floor and not budge. Turn 1 was by far, the most intimidating turn on the track. T1 comes off the banking into the infield. They changed it a bit from previous years, extending the pit wall making T1 pretty narrow. Right at the transition, there is a pretty big bump that unsettles the car, and if you don’t hit it straight on, you will spin the car – at about 115mph. I was a little bit out of form getting used to the track. I spun twice on Wednesday (the first practice day). That’s more than I ever have. The first was a total brainless spin. Turn 4 at Phoenix is a flat out turn, no lifting, but you have to hit it right, or you’ll go off the track at the exit. Well, I was thinking about the turn I just did, entered too sharp, stayed flat out, and….oops; I went off the track, lifted off the gas, and…c- ya, around I went. No big deal…just a little damaged pride. The second spin occurred a few laps later. I was used to the track, and there was a bit of discussion if turn 1 could be taken flat out, not even a breath off the gas. Well, I thought I’d try it, and I had the joy of turning too fast into T1 and spinning my car at 115mph, pretty darn hairy! That made a dent in my confidence, what a way to start the race weekend. I was a little concerned at that point. Luckily, the next lapping day went well – no unusual incidents, just lowering the times.

Friday's Practice Session

On Friday, everyone who is racing the weekend generally shows up. And, it was pretty amazing how some of the drivers went very fast right off the bat. Two of them were in my group, Randy Puro and Roger Yasukawa. The three of us were turning laps in the 1:10 range, making our group one of the two fastest groups out there. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, just working on turning faster times.

Sunday in the desert

start for the action
From the pole...
Saturday morning’s practice went better than Friday. Roger Yasukawa turned the fastest lap of the practice, a few tenths faster than my best. From the instructor feedback (who was taking split times) he was making time on my in turns 2-5. Their description was that he was a little slower in T1-2, but had a better drive coming out of 2 and carrying it through T5. I talked with Roger for awhile and it turns out he has been racing karts and Formula Vauxhall Jr. in Europe for the past few years. Pretty tough competition. In one of the later groups, someone got loose coming off the oval to the front straight, and ended up spinning the car and hitting the inside wall pretty hard. It hit right in front of us in the pits and was pretty darn loud. Everyone ran over there to make sure the driver was okay. He was fine, but the car was toasted to the tune of about $6500…ouch! Unfortunately for our group’s polesitter, Randy Puro, this was his car. He had to switch to another car for the weekend, which means he would only get 3 warm-up laps in a new car; he wasn’t too excited about that.

leading the pack
Leading the pack
My group, group 1, was first up for racing. On the grid, I was starting second with Randy Puro on the inside of me on pole. Roger was starting eighth since this was his first race and he didn’t have any points. Randy and I talked earlier and both agreed we wanted to check out and not battle right away so Roger couldn’t catch us. Going out on the pace lap, I was totally nervous (hey, I’ve only done this 2 other times!) Coming to the green, Randy brought the field to a slow pace, then gunned it at the exit of T11 (T4 on the oval). We all followed suit and were pretty spread out going into T1. The first two turns of a race at any track are a little tricky because you are used to going into them at full race speed, and we are slower than normal, so our markers need to change a bit.

The Race condensed in 4 minutes
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I was right behind Randy in turns 2-7, then he got a good drive out of 7 and put a tenth on me going into turn 9, the hairpin leading to the oval. Apparently, it was time for a move. I was braking deep into T9 at my normal marker, but Randy, being in a new car, broke earlier. I closed up on him very fast, and I was going to hit his gearbox, so I swerved inside and made the pass for the lead. It was a little unexpected and I was surprised, but I had no problems with it ;-). We went through T9 and the back straight side by side, but I held the inside line going into the oval, so Randy decided to pull in behind me and try to catch a tow. I had 4 main areas I checked my mirrors – going into T2, exiting T7/8, exiting T9, and on the front straight. When I broke off enough of a cushion, I only checked exiting T9 and on the front straight. Checking my mirrors in these two places allowed me to gauge if 2nd place was gaining on me, falling back, or staying even. It let me know if I could cruise or had to step it up a notch. After 2 more laps, I saw Roger right behind Randy. On the next lap, Roger was in front of him – Randy must have let him by to draft with him and run me down! I had about a 2-second cushion, and in the next few laps that didn’t really change. With about 6 to go, I knew I was home free as long as I didn’t make a huge mistake or have any mechanical bugs. With 3 to go, I looked in my mirrors and Randy was behind me, not Roger. “Hmm,” I though, “He didn’t pass me without me knowing it….he must have broke down, spun, or gone 4 wheels off the track.” With 1 lap to go, I saw the white flag waving. I was so excited; I almost started pumping my fist in the air right then! Coming on the last lap, I saw the checkered and raised my fist high…victory!

As I came into the pits, I was congratulated by all the mechanics. They motioned me to start/finish where I was given the checkered flag to do a victory lap since it was my first Formula Dodge win. What a great day, I was elated. I don’t think I stopped smiling the rest of the day :-). I found out a little later Roger had his clutch go out with 3 to go, so he got a mechanical DNF.

Race Result 2

Sunday morning – a new day, a new race

checking out on the competition
From the pole...
Starting positions for Sunday’s race are done according to where you finish on Saturday. In the case of a MDNF, like Roger received Saturday, you start where you did on Saturday instead of in the back. So, I was on pole with Randy next to me, and Roger was starting eight again. This race was 6 laps longer (22 laps today, 16 on Saturday), so if Roger was going to catch me, today he would have his chance. After the pace car pulled into the pits from our pace lap, I brought the field to a crawl in 1st gear. Exiting the oval I waited a few seconds then floored it! It was a good start and I had pulled a 4 car-length lead going into T1. I was running 100% from the drop of the flag, and began to pull out a lead on Randy. My goal this race was to check out early. I was keeping an eye on how much breathing room I had in my spots on the front straight and exiting T9. After a few more laps, I saw Roger in P3 right behind Randy. They battled for a bit, and the Roger got by. I kept my eye on Roger exiting T9, but he wasn’t making any significant gains, so I was content. In the end, I took the checkered flag with a comfortable 9 seconds of breathing room. In chasing me, Roger set a new track record of 1:09.606. In looking at his times, he hit 3 1:09s, with the rest were 1:10-11s. My times were consistent low 1:10s, with my average lap time being a 1:10.4. The consistency was my key to success in this race. He may have gained time on one lap, but would lose time on another. If he didn’t have that mechanical DNF Saturday, this race would have been a serious battle.

Race Result 2

Another Satisfied Customer…

This weekend definitely made my year! I had hoped to do this well, but when it becomes reality, I sometimes still sit in awe. This double win weekend puts me in a tie for the series championship with Randy Puro! Randy had a 2-3 today and a 1-1 at Vegas. This is going to be a great season, and I’m so glad I’m off to a good start! Laguna Seca is up next, and I look forward to telling you all about it in a few weeks! Take Care and have a great Christmas.

Next on "You Want to be a CART Racer?":
Returning to Laguna Seca, where it's not always sunny...

 

 

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