April 18, 2010

Where to start? To say this was an “eventful” weekend is an unbelievable understatement on so many levels. With that, I’ll start at the beginning–the non-race beginning–as much of what happened last weekend evolved not around racing but other situations.

To start, we dropped the race car, our trailer, and some of our tools off at the Auto Club Speedway track on Thursday night and headed for the hotel, the Hyatt at Ontario Mills, Ontario and called it a night after nine hours of towing and two hours of set up at the track. We checked into the hotel with the excitement of racing at the world famous Auto Club Speedway, the former California Speedway at which NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series had just competed a few weeks prior.

Friday 6:30am, outside the Hyatt Ontario Mills, Ontario

OntarioApproaching our tow vehicle on our critical testing day, we knew something wasn’t right as the rear of the tow vehicle looked wrong. Even in the early hours of sunrise we could tell that we had been victimized. Yes, our vehicle had been broken into and our track gear stolen. We lost driving bags with helmets, H.A.N.S. devices, gloves, shoes, etc, along with the GoPed (motor scooter) we use for motoring around the larger tracks; radios; some tools; and other items.

Three hours later and after two visits from Ontario’s finest, limitless calls to the insurance company, a kind, but weak response from the hotel manager (the usual parking lot foot patrol we had been accustomed to was not on duty Thursday night), and we were off to the track to salvage what we could of testing and to contemplate our plans (or lack of) for the weekend. What happens from here on is even more amazing than the violation….

Friday 11:00am, Test Day at Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, CA

Dave approached Ryan Flaherty, the National Chairman and Regional Director of NASA’s SoCal and explained our situation. Ryan immediately responded with a suggestion that we test that day in HPDE4, a non-race High Performance Driving Experience which does not require the stringent firesuit attire of a full race group, and even reached behind him and grabbed an open-faced helmet for us to use! Unbelievable response, but not finished yet, as Ryan advised us that he’d bring his track bag with him Saturday morning and that we could use anything we wanted! Unbelievable!

We rushed to our pits as Charles was finishing his prep work on the car. Dave jumped in with loaner helmet and with the intent of making the HPDE4 that was had just begun its session on track and realized the steering wheel wasn’t in the car. Dave yells to me to retrieve the steering wheel, which we normally keep in the tow vehicle. I run to the tow vehicle, and half way there, begin to suspect the worst. I soon realized that the thieves also took our race car’s steering wheel! So much for my extra precaution of separating the wheel from the car to protect against the race car being stolen! Someone in an adjoining pit yelled, “try using two vice-grips….worked for me last time!” All we could do was laugh! What else could we do?

OntarioLineThree hours later and after countless laps around the garages with part of the steering column in hand; multiple calls to car shops all over San Bernardino Valley; and a trip to a parts store; we borrowed a welder from Kevin OConnels stock car team and were welding a new interface connection piece onto our steering column to affix a new steering wheel we had purchased at a shop ten miles away. Shortly thereafter Dave jumped in again and was on the track! The “never say quit” attitude of the Life’s Good Racing!TM team combined with the never ending Pepsi-fueled energy of our car chief, Charles Roberts, aided by the added support from our new crew member, Chris Castens, came through again!

Saturday 7:00 am, Race Day #1 at Auto Club Speedway

OntarioLine2Word had echoed around the pits of our ill fated start to the weekend, and to our surprise we are met with innumerable offers of opportunities to borrow equipment for the weekend from the more-than-supportive NASA racing community! From the Factory Five Racing contingent, Karen Salvaggio provided us with a driving suit and helmet from one of her crew and TC McNett provided fire proof socks. And, not even at the track, one of our favorite CMC2 competitors and friend, Nick Steel, was on the phone from Thousand Oaks the moment he heard of our challenges calling friends and local suppliers trying to round up items we needed, beyond the fire suit, shoes, etc. he himself provided. Ryan Flaherty showed up and handed us his entire personal drivers gear bag for use the entire weekend.

Ontario2With further amazement, when we opened the garage that morning, we find Sean Sampson of Sampson Racing Radio Communications personally installing a radio in our car to use in place of one of the several radios we lost, along with providing us a H.A.N.S. device, which is a requirement for competition!!! To say I was blown away, is an understatement. He took time out of his own racing prep time and took the initiative to help a fellow competitor! I had experienced phenomenal support and customer service in the past from Sampson Racing Radio Communications, both from Sean and his staff, but this was over the top. They have further solidified my loyalty as a customer and friend.

The support was overwhelming, and with that support we were able to race both in CMC2 and in Performance Touring “B” (“PTB”) Class, with Dave Brown in CMC2 and myself in PTB. Dave took 2nd in CMC2 after earning the pole position in qualifying; and I took 2nd, running in PTB for the first time after qualifying in 4th position. The fact that we competed is amazing given all that we had to overcome and the results made it only that much better.

Sunday 8:50am, Race Day #2 at Auto Club Speedway

Dave radios in (on his Sampson Racing radio) on his second lap in the warm-up session that there appears to be a problem with the motor; that he is shutting it down; and that he will be towed in. Not long after that with the car in the garage we diagnose the problem as a failed cylinder in the motor. Our weekend is over. Disappointing? Yes! However, given everything we endured, it was still amazing that we were able to race on Saturday. We packed up and headed home, but not without expressing our sincerest gratitude to all who helped us including Ryan Flaherty of NASA SoCal, Sean Sampson of Sampson Racing Radio Communications, fellow CMC2 driver Nick Steel, fellow Factory Five Racing drivers Karen Salvaggio, TC McNett, and stock car competitor Kevin OConnel.

We had a good car as evidenced by Saturday’s results, however it was clear we were down on power and Sunday’s engine failure brought this to light. Our sponsor’s components performed flawlessly as the Hawk Performance brake pads were phenomenal once again; AIP Electronic’s ignition components fired without even the slightest glitch; and the ClutchMasters clutch allowed us to put the power down time-and-again without the faintest sign of slippage.

On Sunday morning when I informed my fianc, Claudia Castillo, that our weekend was over and that we were packing up to head home, she responded with “well you borrowed everything else, can’t you just borrow a motor!” Again, all we could do was laugh…..

See you at the races….

Karl Chicca, Campbell, CA

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