Sunday, August 16, 2009

Racing's small rewards can be biggest victory

By Dean Reller

SHAKOPEE, MN (August 15, 2009) - I’ll be the first to admit that I am NOT a racecar driver, but as a longtime fan, race official and media member I have a true appreciation for the skills of any driver who takes to the track. Case in point, I was invited to a special race between ASA Midwest Tour Officials, all of which are very good friends of mine at Raceway Park in Shakopee.

Over the years I have gotten a chance to jump behind the wheel of a racecar and take it around the track or in my case, attempt to take it around the track without ending up in a heap against the wall. My first learning experience of the day was after I climbed behind the wheel of my car. The challenge was to put on my seat belts. Unlike your street car, buckling up involves a little more than just one click. A racecar has five belts that surround you from every angle, virtually eliminating any chance of moving in or out of seat. This of course is all in the name of safety, with comfort not really anything to be considered. In my previous racing endeavors, I always struggled to connect each of the belts in the proper order, nonetheless get them to the required tightness of making me feel like I have become actually part of the car. The stars must have been aligned correctly, because I got all hooked up and in a record time to boot.

Now it was time to take to the track. I was last in line to go out, which was OK, because that gave me an opportunity to maybe make a pass. With the green flag out, I was off and running. The first couple of laps I was just trying to feel out the car, braking going into the turns, letting it roll a bit, before getting back into the throttle. I know that the best place to be at Raceway Park was to be as low as you can on the track, after all that’s the shortest way around, not to mention where everyone usually is on any given race night.

I made a couple of passes and felt like things were going really good. Meanwhile, ASA Midwest Tour Vice President Steve Einhaus and ASA Midwest Tour Race Director Eric Peterson were motoring around at a pretty good clip and soon they came up on me. I heard them coming and so I let Steve by and it wasn’t long before Eric came flying by as well. That’s when I thought maybe if I follow Eric I could pick up some speed. That was a BIG mistake. While going into turn three, I came in faster than normal and then started to jump on the gas a little harder and faster than I had before. This was the recipe for disaster as I lost control, slid over the rumble strips and then went into the dirt in the infield. Without stopping, my goal was to get right back onto the track. It sounded like a good plan, but the rumble strips don’t allow you to get back on the track as easily as you got off it. Somehow I managed to get back onto the track, but I soon realized that the proper, safer and much less bumpy way to get going is to drive on the grass and blend back in on the straightaway. (Now I know why the drivers do that.) With that behind me, our first mini-race was done and we all pulled into the pits, only to go at it again a few minutes later.

Instead of starting last, I started near the front which actually gave me the potential of running in front. When the green waved I carefully pulled off a pass and found myself in second, which looked promising, but I knew that the speedsters from before would be soon coming up on me. Now as I mentioned earlier, the bottom groove at Raceway Park is where most people run so in order to pass, you have to make the high groove work. By this time, I noticed someone was working on my low side, so I decided to let the car ride up a bit and give the top groove a try. That was a Really BIG mistake. As I slid to the top, at least four cars and possibly somebody’s Grandma took advantage of the opening as I was shuffled right out of the way. As soon as I saw an opening, I got my car back down to the bottom as fast as I could. Donny Reuvers and most recently Adam Royle have found a way to make the high groove work and I have an even greater respect for those drivers as I got a little taste of how hard it is to run up there. Once I got settled back on the bottom I was able to track down the car in front of me, but ran out of time to try and make a pass.

As I wheeled into the pits, I thought at least I didn’t hit the wall and nobody ran into me, so all in all it was not only a learning experience, but it was a big rush as well. Even though I didn’t finish first, second or even fifth, I feel as though I walked away a winner. Why you may wonder? Well, the things I learned on the track helped me to better gain insight as to what transpires during a race. With that info, I can better paint the picture as I go about my business of writing and reporting about the races that I cover. That to me is more of a Victory than finishing first in any race.

I’d like to thank the ASA Midwest Tour Officials and the staff of Raceway Park, for allowing me the chance to race. I highly recommend any race fan to get the real life experience of driving one of the Track Cars at Raceway Park, it is well worth it.

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