coaching & appearances
|Pobst Position: Saturday Night Dirt Track
Pobst Position: Saturday Night Dirt Track
I live near Road Atlanta these days, and have raced there since 1986. I'm sorry to admit it was years before I ever looked across the street. Years. Directly across the from the outside paddock is, lo, and behold, a NASCAR track, Lanier National Speedway. So focused was I on our track, that I'm telling you I did not even know it was there for a good ten years. It's a three-eighths mile paved oval, set in a perfect bowl between grandstands and wonderful terraced parking for tailgating the races. A few weeks ago I headed over to sample some good ol' Southern short-track action.
Now this is circle track, not the hoity-toity world of international sports cars. There was to be a big late-model feature race, attracting cars from all over the Southeast. These are seriously powerful racing machines, maybe six hundred horses, a lot like our SCCA GT-1 class. They had thirty-two of them on the grid. May I remind you this is a three-eighths mile oval? Isn't the SCCA standard about twenty-five cars per MILE max? I was expecting a wild night. I'm not the spectating type, but I was looking forward to this, shamefully drawn by the allure of crashing, bashing, and mechanical mayhem. As we settled into our concrete seats, the leaders were approaching the start as the tail end was rounding turn four.
The green flies, and, in the immortal words of late English writer Henry N. Manney III, "...in a flurry of flying weenie papers, they were off!" What great racing! I was so wrong. The drivers were obviously making a real effort NOT to hit each other. I quickly realized how prejudiced I was. These guys were good. And clean! The little track was entirely bumper-to-bumper and door-to-door, yet there was precious little banging, even though they were clearly on it HARD. Earned my respect. After a much longer period of green than I first predicted, someone spins over in three. Yellow; slow on down, lead lap guys on right, lappers on left. Lots of lead lap guys, by the way, close field on lap times. Then a race official bravely (some might say foolishly) steps out onto the racing surface, helps to sort the field, and then points his flag at a car. The message is clear, "You, back of the pack!" Justice was swift and definite. No appeals, no protest forms. In truth, no chance to state your case. Part of the risk in entering the competition, I'd say, but no doubt an important reason why the drivers were as clean as they were. Any contact that results in a spin or crash, and you could immediately end up at the back. The Fear of God, also known as Chief Steward.
Sometimes, we racers need a little of that fear. A little motivation to control that red mist. This season in World Challenge saw the closest finishes ever in both Touring Cars and in GT. Circumstances were very similar. Last corner, leader goes inside under braking to protect the line. Second-place goes outside, then late-apexes and comes out underneath the leader on the exit, carrying more speed. Straight-on drag race to the checker is all that's left. Second has the run, and with one look both recognize that Second is gonna be first to the finish line. What does the Leader then do? Watch the replays. Check the photos online. Out of desperation, testosterone, youth, hot blood, or hot emotion, he swerves and 'schmacko', whacks Second a good one, trying to physically hold him back. What is this, Death Race 2000?
In Touring Cars, I believe it determined the outcome of the race. In GT, it was me, and I was fully aware of that finish as we were straining for the line at Laguna. The side-swipe I got did not quite slow me enough, but if it had, oh, boy, it would not have been pretty. That is no way to win. If thiry-two circle-track drivers can race clean on a tiny three-eighths mile oval, then thirty pro road racers are certainly capable of pulling it off on two-and-a-half miles!
Originally printed in Sportscar March 2007