by Stephanie Funk
This was the season of the non-summer. So why in the world would we expect anything different when July 21 and 22 rolled around?
NJMP is built in the swampy pine barrens of New Jersey, on a marshy spit that pokes sullenly into the Atlantic. While on the positive side, it means that land was available where one could build a racetrack, the downside is that if you are in the swampy barrens near the ocean in the summer, it’s going to be soggy, hot and mosquito infested. ,
Unlike past events where the temperature was in the upper 90’s along with the humidity, this year’s event featured rain. And not just a gentle soaking summer’s rain, but the blast-you-with-a-firehose variety. That is so much fun, especially for the people who race cars that resemble bathtubs.The secondary fun of a day like that came from watching people attempting to stay on the dry line. Those who ran a full rain line, rim shotting the turns were rewarded with grip. Those who attempted to run the line rewarded those watching with a variety of spins, slides, near misses and general “oh shit” moments.
The rain started put fairly mellow, but that changed. When the open cockpit cars of “Wings and Things” took the green, the rain had changed to the fire hose variety. While it was entertaining to watch cars trying to snap spin in a straight line from the balcony above the main straight, it was evil enough that they threw the checker at half distance. And not one driver complained about that!
Group 7 ended up being moved to Sunday morning, where the lack of H2O pouring out of the sky seemed like an improvement.
But…this is NJMP, home of “The Devil”. There had been so much rain on Saturday that the conditions on Sunday were treacherous. Muddy runoff, holes outside the curbs where people had dropped a wheel, massive puddles, slick surfaces coupled with dry patches made the track a challenge.
And it was a challenge that ended up biting many of the participants.
In Group 5, in STL Amy Mills caught a puddle at the end of the main straight, while at full tilt. The resulting snap spin was ugly. Mills, in Nick Leverone’s STL car took out Tom Smith in his Mazda, causing enough damage that the car was retired for good. (It has since been reincarnated, in a new shell, and competed successfully in the Devil in the Dark)
In Group 3, which was the Production field, Saturday’s downpour meant some interesting finishing positions. We missed qualifying due to a missing seal that caused our little Honda CRX to barf massive quantities of oil. I can’t say I was unhappy starting the race dead last as the rain pounded down. If anyone was going to get silly and go for a ride, I hoped to spectate it rather than participate in it.
What I didn’t expect was to end up fourth overall as many of the other drivers tried vainly to use the line. Instead of speed, it became a test of adeptness, of being able to avoid cars as they spun and slid off the track at every turn. The Hondas are so balanced that between that and front wheel drive, all you have to do it drive with “an egg between your foot and the accelerator” as Garth Stein said in “The Art of Racing In The Rain.”
Sunday was even more interesting. Gridded by of our qualifying times meant that we were again placed dead last in the field. On the pace lap, I noted that there were a number of ugly places, meaning the order of the day was to keep the car pointing the proper direction. Those ugly places ended up helping me.
Tom Broring took off at the green and we proceeded to go at it. Coming through the Devil, the left turn as you exit it, there was a full width slimy place where water had been running across the track. Every time we hit it, no matter where you took it, the car would pitch sideways. Another place was on the back side, where water had been running across the track the day before. Cars were twitching and squirming around, sending dirty rooster tails high into the air. Tom, in wife Caroline’s car, probably feared her wrath if he trashed her car, so he took a conservative approach. I took a “screw it” approach and simply pounded across the slimy spots as fast as I could, at times having to look over my left shoulder to look down the track as I exited the Devil.
The result was a two-race win for us, one that clinched the Northeast Conference Championship, an honor that is totally due to the awesome crew we have. So many thanks from Ed and I to Matt Mather, Joel Porter-Devries, CJ Danek and Kelly Cash! You guys rock! Also, in Group 3, John Hainsworth totally ran away from everyone in his Mazda, just hammering that track like it was bone dry. He never put a wheel wrong, finishing first overall both days.Results can be found here: https://www.scca.com/pages/2018-majors-schedule Select the race in question and choose “results”.
The 2018 Northeast Majors Conference wrapped up as the sun struggled to break free and steam dry the compound. And while we had it rough enough with the rain, it would prove to be nothing compared to the rain that hit during Vintage the following weekend
Stephanie Funk is a New England based driver, competing in SCCA in H Production and with motorcycles through track days. Funk is also an editor at Northeast Racer. You can reach her with comments or story suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org © 2018 Stephanie Funk This material may not be reproduced or used without permission