MM at VIR, October 3-5, 2003
On Thursday, 10/2/03, five of us from Maximum Motorsports flew east for the big American Iron race at Virginia International Raceway. Friday morning came much too early after our midnight arrival in Raleigh, North Carolina. Chris Retz from True Blue performance met us at our motel before sunrise to guide us to the track. After a nice 1-1/2 hour drive through the frosty countryside we arrived at the track, and were instantly surrounded by cold, beautiful weather, beautiful countryside, and wonderful hospitality.
In the frigid dawn, we began setting up an MM product display, our scales, and our alignment equipment. Although the tools were too cold to touch, and there was still frost on the ground, a steady stream of MM-equipped AI/AIX cars, most with a coffee-sipping driver behind the wheel, soon found their way into our paddock area. In between bites of breakfast, we began checking corner-weights, setting alignments, and performing general suspension tuning.
As 9:00 AM's practice session rolled around, people started asking us about tire pressures. 50 degrees is a cold morning in California; With no cold weather data, we were at a loss to make any meaningful tire pressure suggestions for Virginia's climate. The amiable east coast folk were not distressed in the least, and took the first practice session in the laid back style that we would soon come to thoroughly enjoy.
After the first session, each driver had good feedback about what they wanted from their cars, and we set to work tuning each car to match the driver's desires. After Friday's afternoon practice session ended, most drivers reported they were thrilled by the grip that we were able to find for them. Combined with the effects of the warm afternoon sun, lap times really dropped from that morning. Again, the second round of practice brought a barrage of questions, comments, and desires of what each driver wanted from his car. We were tickled to be of service, and thoroughly enjoyed working with each person. It was also great to get to know the wonderful people behind the names we recognized from Internet postings and our customer database.
Bryan Shugg and Brian Smith's cars in the MM/True Blue Performance Camp
As Friday wound to a close, Scott Whitehead set up his projector screen on the side of a trailer. Jack Hidley brought NHT speakers to add sound to Gran Turismo, old Steve McQueen movies, and (ahem) Days Of Thunder. Later in the evening, Bryan Shugg, John Pearson, Brian Smith, and Shugg's crew chief, Jason Smith, escorted us to Milton, the nearby town that's frozen in time, for a very tasty dinner at Aunt Millie's Restaurant.
Saturday morning we picked up where we left off, tuning customer's cars right up until qualifying began. When the cars hit the track, Chris Griswold of C&V Machine blazed a 2:04.30 AIX qualifying time. Chris' car brought smiles to our faces as evidence of a well-sorted 'home brew' setup. A flawless 408 CI engine, Maximum Motorsports front suspension, Chris' own panhard bar/3-link and massive Hoosiers are the ingredients of his successful recipe. Lester Lesneski qualified 2nd with his estimated 600 HP supercharged engine posting a 2:05.08. Jeremy Behrendt of Performance Plus qualified 3rd with a 2:06.19. Scott Whitehead secured 4th place with a 2:08.19, sporting a suspension package that was in the middle of an unsorted transformation to Maximum Motorsports parts. The remaining field qualified in this order: Dan Schlickenmeyer, Andy Killian, Anthony Moretz, Mark Luna, Barry Kline, Jim Pantas, Jason Andrew, Stan Berry, David Smith, Kevin Townsend, Brion Gluck, Nelson Grossnickle, Gary Henkel.
In AI, Guy Cunningham grabbed the pole with a 2:09.24, followed by James Hoover with a 2:10.13 and Keith Videtto with a 2:10.40. Last season's AI Champion, Bryan Shugg, qualified his Maximum Motorsports car in 4th with a 2:12.43, after fighting slower traffic and a lack of power. Next in linewere Greg Brown, Mark Wilson, Tim Swain, Elliot Fisher, Gregory Anderson, Brian Smith, Michael Schlickenmeyer, John Pearson, Beau Dunnivant, Will Sadler, Mark Dandurand, Eric Meehan.
The remainder of Saturday was spent forming speed plans for Maximum Motorsports' customers. Since Shugg's underpowered car had no chance of making a pass on the straights, it was decided that a splitter and spoiler would give the necessary downforce to help drive around the competition in the corners. A trip to Lowe's Hardware found all the supplies required. Scott Whitehead's Koni shock broke the adjusting mechanism before qualifying, leaving the car with some ill handling. Luckily, Scott had phoned us earlier in the week, eager to try the MM Race Valved Bilsteins. We had a set in the trailer, ready to go, and got them installed onto Scott's AIX entry. Other customers were satisfied with alignment, swaybar or ride heighth tweaks here and there.
John Pearson's #42 on the scales. Yes, that's a real Mystic Cobra!
As Saturday wound to a close, racers gathered around a large cookout of hot-dogs, hamburgers, and anything else that could be thrown on the fire. We were reminded many times that in the South, this was a 'cookout'…. Not a BBQ. Apparently a BBQ would be a MUCH bigger production, involving hogs in a pit of fire, and gobs of shrimp, at the very least.
Sunday morning on the drive to the track we passed the Piggly Wiggly for the fourth time in three days. What a great name… but what the heck is this place??? We couldn't resist… Once inside the rather plain supermarket we no longer felt like tourists, and loaded up with supplies for the day. We were now satisfied with ourselves, having been to a Waffle House, AND a Piggly Wiggly.
Sunday's first race began with a freak accident, (completely un-indicative of the quality of the AI East race series). The light bar fell off the pace car. The plastic lens left on track led many drivers to believe there was going to be an extra pace lap, for a clean up before the green flag. We even heard some crew chiefs in the pits telling their drivers, "There will be an extra pace lap. There will be an extra pace lap." This was not true! As the green flag dropped, Griswold, Lesneski and Behrendt in AIX, and Cunningham, Hoover and Videtto in AI, got a great start. Whitehead and Shugg were caught off guard and got swallowed up by the rest of the field. Within a few short laps, Griswold had secured a comfortable 45 second lead with no drama. He seemed content to motor along with just enough effort to keep the rest of the pack as dots in his rear-view mirror. Shugg soon regained his 4th place qualifying position, and Whitehead had passed Lesneski and was beginning to hound on Schlickenmeyer. Schlickenmeyer had the power on the straights, but was holding up Whitehead in the corners. Whitehead maintained his cool, waited for the right time, and soon made the pass. Whitehead then went on to chase down Behrendt. As he was getting close, Behrendt slowed with mechanical trouble. In American Iron, Videtto and Hoover had a good battle for 2nd, with Cunningham in front. Shugg's bad start and poor horsepower to weight ratio left him far enough behind that he could not get within striking distance for the remainder of the race. The AIX finishing order was Griswold, Whitehead, D. Schlickenmeyer, Kline, Mortez, Pantas, Andrew, Lesenski, Townsend, Grossnickle, Henkel, Behrendt, Luna, Smith, and Killian. The AI finishing order was Cunningham, Videtto, Hoover, Shugg, Wilson, Brown, Fisher, Smith, Swain, Anderson, Dunnivant, M. Schlickenmeyer, Pearson, Dandurand, Meehand, and Sadler.
After the checkered flag, the cars pulled into the hot pits for a 15-minute pit stop, re-sorted into the original qualifying order. The cars were refueled, and then around came the pace car for the second race. This time Shugg got a better start and was able to stay right on the tail of the lead pack of Cunningham, Hoover, and Videtto.
In AIX, Griswold again rocketed off to a formidable lead. Whitehead also got a much better start than he had in the first race, and within a few laps had passed Lesneski and Schlickenmeyer.
AI quickly turned into a hot battle between the top four cars. Shugg hammered on the tail of Hoover. Shugg would lose two car lengths on each straight, then regain those two car lengths plus even more distance on the entry into each braking zone. He was soon able to pass Hoover, and began chasing down Videtto. Within two laps, Shugg had passed Videtto, and set to work on Cunningham. For two laps Shugg was inches off Cunningham's bumper. Shugg would stick his nose in at each corner entry, seemingly waiting for Cunningham to make a mistake and allow Shugg an easy pass. On the third lap of this exciting nose-to-tail action, the two cars entered the Esses at 115 mph with Shugg again just inches off Cunningham's bumper. As the duo went over a rise, they suddenly found themselves closing fast on a car with mechanical problems that was moving at only about 40 mph. Cunningham grabbed a bunch of brakes, leaving Shugg nowhere to go but to the side. Cunningham then also moved to the side to pass the lapped traffic. As there was not room for three cars abreast on the track, Shugg made a split-second decision to go onto the grass rather than hit Cunningham. And this is not wimpy California desert grass where you can maintain your position while off track. The thick, green Virginia grass zapped Shugg's straightaway speed right down to that of a Briggs & Stratton riding mower. Shugg was thrust back to 4th place, and was not able to get back into the battle for the lead.
Meanwhile, there was some great driving and awesome battles for the remaining positions. Pearson, Dunnivant, and Pantas were seen swapping positions and duking it out. Back in AIX, Whitehead was enjoying a seemingly easy second place behind Griswold. But, lo and behold, from far back in third place, Lesneski was only saving his 600 HP supercharged engine for a sprint at the end. And sprint is what he did. Catching Whitehead off guard, Lesneski passed Whitehead, and as long as Lesneski's engine held together, Whitehead's 480 HP was helpless to regain 2nd place.
The checkered flag fell with the order at Griswold, Lesneski, Whitehead, D. Schlickenmeyer, Mortez, Kline, Andrew, Pantas, Berry, Townsend, Henkle and Grossnickle in AIX. AI finished Cunningham, Videtto, Hoover, Shugg, Fisher, Brown, Smith, Wilson, Anderson, Swain, Pearson, Dunnivant, Dandurand, Meehan, and M. Schlickenmeyer.
Chris Griswold and his silly-fast AIX car.
Shugg doing his riding-mower impression
A big Thank You to Dan Schlikenmeyer for putting together a great race weekend on short notice. This was a very well run event. Everything went smoothly, as scheduled, and without glitches or drama.
A special thanks to Chris Retz of True Blue Performance for all of his help over the course of this long weekend. The VIR race weekend came in the middle of the news of impending fatherhood, and while spending two hours every night moving True Blue Performance into their new facility in Willow Spring, NC!
Most of all, our thanks to all of the racers we met. What
a great group of friendly and extremely great people! The
friendly network of people and the wonderful attitudes really
put a smile on our faces. It was great to meet in person and
become true friends with so many of our racing customers.
L to R Standing: Will Sadler, Bryan Shugg, John Fabry (MM), Beau Dunnivant, Chuck Schwynoch (MM), Chris Artac (MM), Chris Retz (True Blue Performance), Jim Pantas, Chris Griswold L to R Kneeling: Jack Hidley (MM), Ehren VanSchmus (MM), Scott Whitehead, Sloan Whitehead.
Elliot Fisher (Midwest AI 2003 Champion) with the MM crew.
For more AI East information visit americanironracing.com.