My Love and Hate Relationship with Carolina Motorsports Park

This weekend I am gearing up for a return to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it’s a familiar team with a few new additions that I have raced with in other events and a new car. It should be exciting and the team principle feels like a podium is possible, I agree.

Last month was Sebring, a week before that an arrive and drive with a team at Carolina Motorsports Park for the LeMons South Fall Race. If you live anywhere near Camden SC, you should make the trek to the LeMons event there. Of the east coast races, that is one of the best. The town closes its main street for the teams to parade their cars through downtown. The whole atmosphere is a great celebration. There are often cookouts on the sidewalk, the businesses downtown stay open late, the Police Department sells slow cooked pork and the Fire Department is out. At the end of main street is a stage and concert.  The track staff is incredibly friendly, even by the highest southern standards. The racing is usually interesting, but if it isn’t, there is a really good go kart track at the facility.

The fall LeMons South race is one of the events I try not to miss. When my usual cohorts; the 3 Pedal Mafia couldn’t make it because of their build obligations, my local partner Steve found us a great offer with a southern team, C4 Racing. The principle is a dirt track racer named Daniel and a couple of his buddies. They don’t follow the circus much, but run the local events. The car was a Civic Coupe with a standard 1.6 purchased after it became a racecar. It was quick, running low 2s with the team hot shoe and I got under 2:10 for most of my clean laps.

Mercifully, the car was dead nuts reliable, not missing a beat all weekend. I say that because despite my love for this event, I have terrible luck every time I go.

The first weekend I ran was 2014. I towed my BMW motorcycle down from Georgia and beat the team by several hours. While trying to carve out a big enough section for two RVs and three race cars, I managed to drop my bike off the trailer, snapping the aluminum frame and ultimately rendering it totaled. That hurt, I loved that bike.

That same weekend, following a train of cars into turn 14, I heard a screech of tires and was positively hammered in the passenger rear. A Volvo was target fixated on my tailights and not the traffic building in front of the 3PM Civic. The Volvo would return to the track, but we would have to use two Suburbans to pull the frame straight, barely making it back onto the track. The infamous Boat lost it coolant and quickly nuked a piston. We spent most of the weekend dealing with the post mortem. The mighty TR7 was still suffering teething issues and barely managed a half day before the GM 3800 re-arranged its internals.

But the Saturday Night barbeque hosted by Team Terminally Confused was excellent, as was the home brewed Duff Beer that accompanied it.

My next attempt was the following spring race. Same track, but not quite the same level of festivities. We had just purchased the truck and were looking to make a string showing. From the start I had issues. I over exerted myself during a morning run and ended up in bed with stomach cramps until I threw up. So I didn’t depart Thursday afternoon and missed the track day Friday.

The practice would have helped, because the truck still had unresolved development problems. Sporting a new Webber carb after my Barber fiasco, it was quick. However, the oil refused to remain in the engine. Initially it was on the passenger floorboard leaking through the gauge. Once that was addressed, it was blowing through the vent on the valve cover, getting us black flagged. A length of hose and a used water bottle solved that problem. But I was annoyed. The driver mentioned the oil pressure was dropping in sustained right hand turns, a previous problem at Barber that I was convinced I had fixed. In my arrogance, I concluded the gauge was faulty and had him press on.

My haughty attitude was doubly wrong. For the first, I had created a “baffle” in the oil pan. Despite several technical articles and research from my teammates, I believed my single piece of sheet metal on the pan would keep the oil near the pickup. Of course it failed to accomplish this mission.

But in the moment, I thought “I fixed it, therefore it could not be losing oil pressure, so obviously the gauge is wrong…”

There was also Sasha, aka Sputnik. Sasha is a genius and a master of all things Nissan. But his creations for LeMons are often more creation than racecar. There is his Plymouth Fury. A giant, hilarious, rolling chicane, that ultimately had its roof cut off. Then he had a Quest minivan. It left the track for a mechanical issue in New Hampshire and returned with the roof cut off. Two years ago at Carolina Motorsports Park he showed up with a Lotus powered by a Nissan 4 cylinder. They spent the weekend wiring it and it saw the track Sunday afternoon, to the best of my knowledge, it kept its roof. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Nissan powered Porsche 944. Debuting at Barber this year, it arrived Friday not running. His team  worked diligently through the night. A few hours into the race Saturday it finally fired, and passed tech. I helped the first driver strap in, completely missing that fact the car was freshly painted. As in that morning. My favorite Blipshift sweatshirt still bears the scars. The 944 was retired and the roof cut off, to be welded into (into, not onto) the trunk of the Plymouth Fury.

Well, for that Carolina Spring race, Sasha had also brought a Nissan pickup, a 720 like ours, but a 4×4. He had welded the cage and then drove it down…from Maryland. His plan was to actually run the race in 4wd. As the truck was an ST, I had a hunch he might have a limited slip rear end and I jokingly mentioned we would try to get that from him when the truck inevitably blew up. That kind of pompous attitude toward a fellow racer ensured karma would deal me a terrible blow.

When my stint came on Saturday after lunch, I made it a whole lap before I heard a “ping” and the engine started to run rough. I limped it back to the pits, still under its own power. Once we had the head off, we saw that the #4 piston had elected to live in the oil pan rather than the engine block.

Another Saturday, another broken car, another bummer of a weekend. But, there was still some good food, great company and I learned a valuable lesson about hubris. We loaned Sasha our spare set of wheels, as his tires were melting and he also ended up using our rear brake line, replacing ours with the new one he purchased. A teammate made a 6-hour round trip to fetch his Mercedes and we still drove on Sunday.

The entire 3PM would return to CMP again that fall, but the Boat could not make it. So it was replaced on the roster by the Mercedes. The TR ran unexpectedly well, but hated to turn left. It enjoyed turning right, perhaps too much, as it was really unstable. By this point, the car had been physically welded back together at least three times and was pretty far out of square. I turned down a seat in the Civic for a seat in the Triumph. The Civic had a real shot at its overdue class win, but would end up hard into the wall Saturday. I know its arrogance, but I have a decent record of not wrecking cars (Blow them up? Sure… but I keep them on the track) and I feel like I should have danced with the one that brought me. The TR was fun, but not competitive.

As always, it was a great parade, great dinner Saturday, great beer, great time. So even with yet another disappointing weekend at CMP, I had fun.

So the experience with C4 racing was a welcome change. We didn’t break, didn’t wreck and didn’t need to use two trucks and tow straps to straighten the car out. We just drove. No we weren’t competitive, but we weren’t last. With a few tweaks to team procedures and the addition of a radio and cool suit, the car has a real shot at top class finish. But it broke the bad luck streak, or my perceived bad luck streak.

To that end, the last time I raced Mid-O, we made the podium (twice on Saturday!) but Sunday brought us a mechanical while running a strong third. Later, the 1st and 2nd place cars crashed each other out, had we finished, we might have won. But like every event with this team, it was always a good time with good friends.

So while winning is a goal, friends and fun represent a streak worth keeping.


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