Go Kinda Fast, Turn Left - By Bruce St. James - August 18, 2003
I know this is long, but it's worth the time. I hope. I need to preface this weeks report with a few facts:
#1. I am a very lucky person.
#2. I do not have bad days, I have inconvenient ones.
#3. Racing Sprint Cars fulfills my dream in life. Everyone should know that feeling. Got your attention? There is a reason behind this. Read on...
Manzanita Speedway (1/3 mile) 8/16/03 27 cars on hand
No qualifying at Manzy, we draw numbers to determine heat race starting positions. I drew #13. I'm not superstitious so I didn't worry about much, plus it put me on the outside of row 1 for Heat #3.
Heat Race #3 (Top 4 to Main Event) Started on the front row. The track was very muddy still and it creates a challenge to control 650 horsepower as it slides all over. I ran OK, not great, and finished 3rd. At least I'm in the Main Event and we believed the track would dry out more and the car would work better as the night went on. Boy would it.
Main Event (25 laps, 20 cars) Manzy lines up the main event by inverting cars based on a points average. In other words, the better you finish, the farther back you start the next week. It makes for a good show and puts the fastest guys near the back. I have only made 1 main event at Manzy and finished 16th. My weak points average put my on the outside of the front row for the main. I got a great start and led the field into turn 1. The car was much better and I could carry a lot of speed into the turns. We started to develop a "cushion" which is a shelf of dirt on the top of the track that looks and acts like a curb. You can lean the right rear tire on it and it holds the car better as you broadslide through the turns. It can be good and bad, as we will find out.
So, I'm still leading the race and have started to lap cars, both firsts for me. We had a yellow flag for a stalled car with 9 laps to go. I had plenty of time to plan my last 9 laps and was convinced I could win this damn thing. The track was fast, very rough and basically one groove. As long as I didn't screw up I was home free. My concern was that I would drive defensively, and give up the lead by being conservative. The problem with leading is you have no idea where the other cars or running, or how close they are to you. I just had to believe I was in the right place, running the right pace.
With 3 laps to go I hustled it into turn 1 and missed the corner by less than foot, I'd say. The car was a bit high and I tried to correct it and bring it back down the track. The ruts upset the car and I caught the dirt shelf, or "cushion" with the right rear a bit too hard and launched the car into the air. (It's tough to tell when you are in the seat what it looks like, but people in the infield, and the guy running second, all said they saw the bottom of the engine as the car tried to sail over the turn ... in the air.) What goes up, must come down and the car did ... hard. It knocked the wind out of me, rattled my brain and I bent the floorpan of the car with my feet. I gathered it up and floored it down the backstretch, but had lost the lead of the race. On the last lap the car tried to tip over again and I gave another guy a chance to sneak under me. The final tally was 21 laps led but a 3rd place finish. The guy who won did a great job and deserved the victory, I just don't think anyone was going to pass me as long as I did my job. Now, please reread the above preface before going further.
I was devastated.
3rd place is my best finish EVER in a race. I led a Main Event for the first time EVER. I lapped cars for the first time EVER. It was my best night of racing EVER. And I'm still devastated. I'm not trying to be melodramatic, but I don't believe racing "owes" me anything. There are no guarantees that I will ever be in the position to win again. I came within 3 laps of being only the 2nd rookie in the 41 year history of Manzanita to win a Sprint Car race.
Unlike some of the 18 year old kids I race against, I don't think I have 30 years to build a racing career on. I had a chance Saturday night to win a race in only my 10th Main Event, and for that I should be excited. Instead, I have nightmares about that lap and have re-run that race in my head for the past 36 hours. In my head, I take a more cautious line through the corner, keep the car under me and win. I know some of you will take this as me being too hard on myself, and the answer is yes, I am. The feeling I had in my stomach after the race Saturday night is something I don't ever want to repeat. Whatever I need to do or however I can motivate myself to avoid it happening again will be worth it.
Let me finish by saying I do realize how lucky, fortunate and privileged I am. I know in my heart I can drive these cars and win in them. In fact, at the risk of sounding cocky, I have ALWAYS believed I could win just given the chance. I will not let Saturday take the wind out of my sails. Instead, I now approach every race with a new attitude. No longer will I or anyone around me use the "just a rookie" excuse for not performing. I KNOW I can run up front, race with the best of them and put in a similar situation again, I WILL WIN.
Next Race Friday and Saturday, August 22nd & 23rd Perris Auto Speedway, Lake Perris California. Racing at 7pm both nights, let me know if you are coming so I know to look for you!
Click below for more track/race information.
Go fast, make that freakin corner, turn left. Win. Bruce St. James #00