Summit Point Kart Race 2
June 1, 1996
The second race weekend at Summit Point was another eventful step for me and Rob Cooper. This time we were joined by my old friend and roommate, Jeremy Bartz. He came along to help us with timing and with various odds and ends. The night before we also had the benefit of two hours of sleep.
Rob was first to go out for practice. Several minutes went by and there was no sign of him on the front straight. Bad news. After the session he was towed in. The problem? The engine would not rev to anywhere near the clutch engagement speed. The carburetor was to blame for the sluggishness. We listened to several karters explain their settings, yet we could not find two people with the same opinion.
Here again we had to find our own way. In the paddock we experimented with several settings and the kart launched just fine. Everything else was set to go.
With some time on our hands we watched one of the laydown enduro races. It was great until the red flags came out. Two drivers went for a ride in the ambulance. Unfortunately, racing is occasionally a blood sport and karting is no exception.
When it came time for me to race we all went up to the grid. In the distance I could hear the Ferraris racing on the adjacent track. All through the day they had been coming and going by our pit area. It was a sight to see, all those glorious rolling sculptures. And all I wanted was to win in karts.
What is comforting to me about racing is that it does not make me nervous, at the start or during the race. I always feel calm inside the helmet. In fact, I get much more anxious watching races on television.
At the start of the race the kart accelerated and then suddenly slowed. I had been 18th on the grid out of about 25 karts. It is interesting the way we are gridded since it is purely random, so the faster karts could start near last. The result is a mad dash with karts slicing all over the track. Most people passed me when the engine bogged. I knew there were carburetor problems but we had fixed those! I had no choice but to reach over and crank the mixture up a bit. The engine roared to life and off I went. Not too scientific, but effective on this day.
By then the field was already near the end of the front straight. With a nosecone on the kart this time I managed to squeeze another 1000 or so RPM out of the engine at two different places on the track. It made a world of difference. This was racing! During the race several karts went off or broke and I also managed to pass several people.
Not all was good though. On the tight downhill left hander (Turn 5) I spun going in. I had been going too fast, and before I went in I sort of knew it was going to happen. Three hundred sixty degrees later things were fine. I lost just a few seconds. Later on I twice went wide coming out of a turn and got it off the road, breaking one of the body mounts. It stayed on just fine though, only occasionally touching the pavement.
Near the end of the race I was setting up for the blind turn onto the front straight (flat out, about 65 mph/105 kmh) when I saw all these red flags, and people waving their arms. I knew then that a big accident had happened. I slowed down and went offline on the outside. When I passed the point I would have driven over I saw a driver lying face down with his helmet still on, not moving. His kart was a ways off. There were little bits and pieces all over the track. I did not know what to think. It was a shock.
When I came to a stop I just sat there, there being no point in going back for a look. I was amazed at how casual everyone in pit lane was. It was as if I was the only one who had even seen the accident. Moments later I was informed that he was conscious and moving. There was not much comfort in that though. Someone had mentioned it was one year before on that very weekend that a driver was killed at the end of the straight. In this sport we accept the risks. No driver ever believes it will happen to him.
The day ended on a positive note with Rob finishing in his class as well. It was his very first race. I finished my race in 18th place (right where I started), improved my lap times by about four seconds a lap over the last time, and netted 33 points.
I have yet to see a checkered flag. Still, it was all very encouraging. But more importantly I learned that we all must give safety our utmost attention, and that we all need to drive within our limits to succeed. Very important lessons to learn early on.