Buttonwillow Raceway; June 9-10, 2001; Open Track Event
We took our Shop Car to Buttonwillow Raceway on June 9th for our first entry in NASA's American Iron class. Our Shop Car had always been intended to be used as a showcase for MM's high performance street car parts, so it required a few additions before we could compete in a race class. In the week before the event we installed a 6 point roll cage, battery safety cut-off switch, and a window net. We also acquired a driver's suit and other safety gear for our resident hot shoe, Mike Croutcher. Mike has 14 years of Autocrossing experience, and has attended about 10 weekends of time-trial-type open track events. This weekend was to be his first time driving in an actual race.
We drove the car to the track late Thursday night so on Friday Mike could put in some practice time before being tested by a NASA driving instructor. After passing a verbal test (Mike had read the rulebook the day before) they went out on the track in their respective cars so Mike could practice driving in passing situations. We quickly received our first battle scar, a dent in the passenger door, after the two cars tried to occupy the same section of asphalt. Mike did pass the test and was cleared to race on Saturday.
Saturday's qualifying session ended with Mike positioned second on the American Iron grid, less than a second off Ryan Flaherty's pole time. Having our 3200 pound street car gridded in second position in its first race made the MM crew more than happy!
When the green flag dropped for the start of Mike's first race, he immediately lost three positions to more experienced drivers. Within four laps Mike had regained his starting position and began to reel in Ryan. For the next several laps Mike hounded the leading car, at times only inches off its bumper. It was readily apparent that while Ryan had an advantage in horsepower, the MM Shop Car had the edge in both braking and cornering speed. Ryan would pull out a 5 to 6 car lead down the first two straights, then Mike would gain it all back under braking into the Star Mazda hairpin. Ryan would pull out another 5 to 6 car lengths on the next two straights, then Mike would reel him back in, exiting the last turn onto the front straight only inches off Ryan's bumper.
Finally Mike was able to get past Ryan coming onto the front straight, only to be re-passed as they encountered slower traffic at the end of the straight. A couple of laps later Mike was on Ryan's bumper entering the Buttonhook. Ryan overshot the corner entry and went off. Mike took the lead, and held it to the end of the race. In the first race for both Mike and MM's latest test mule, the Shop Car, taking the checkered flag in first place was more than we ever expected.
Having won our first race, we wanted to win again. The MM crew was pretty motivated to do whatever we could to gain some speed, as we had already heard that Ryan had acquired a set of new tires overnight. We stripped the car of more interior parts to reduce weight: out came the passenger's seat, center console, door panels, and the carpet.
Mike again qualified second, about 1/2 a second off the pole, but this time both cars were over a second faster than the day before. Our tires, while they still had plenty of rubber left, had lost a lot of grip.
This time Mike held onto his position when the green flag dropped. Our gripless tires were no match for Ryan's new rubber. Both Ryan and Mike drove a good race, with Mike always within a couple of seconds of Ryan. In this race the excitement came from watching Ryan and Mike come up on and then pass all of the slower traffic. Mike averaged 1/100th of a second per lap off of the lap times posted by Ryan.
The latest MM R&D vehicle (the Shop Car) hit the road in June, 2000. We've used it for track testing a number of different items, including tires, springs, shocks, swaybars, and different K-member geometries. Until this event the car has remained a street car, often doing duty as basic getting-to-work transportation, and errand running for MM employees. After winning our first race, and the subsequent stripping of the interior, it will now see less street duty (who wants to commute in it now that the radio has been removed?) and more track time. Other than the basic safety items required for racing, all of the MM parts on the Shop Car are designed and sold for street use.
We'd like to extend our thanks to open-track.com., the Southern California chapter of NASA, for doing a terrific job putting on their events. They are well run, safe, and loads of fun. We encourage everyone to come out to one of their events. Whether or not you want to participate in the on-track fun, come on out, watch the action, and meet the MM crew.