After a Crash, Part 8: 60 Days After Destroying the Race Car and Building a New One, It's Time to Take the Green at the Runoffs

Read Part 7

Read Part 9

We didn’t build a new race car in 60 days for any race. We did it for the biggest race on the calendar. 

The SCCA Runoffs have over 50 years of history, dating back to 1964 at Riverside International Raceway. Racers flock from across the country to compete for the chance to become a national champion. It is the biggest club race event of the year and, in recent years, has drawn around a thousand competitors. 

The 2019 Runoffs at Virginia International Raceway saw my first start at the event. I attended the 2017 Runoffs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as crew for Hugh Stewart, owner of Hi-Speed Motorsports, who competed in the Touring 1 class. 

There was something charged about the paddock that week. It was filled with hopes and dreams of grassroots and professional racers alike. It was during that trip that I knew I had to compete at the Runoffs as well. 

In 2017, I was still running my rookie year in my E36-chassis M3. The idea of competing at the Runoffs took hold in my mind, and shortly after I purchased an E46 M3 to slowly build towards SCCA T1. 

Racers prepare all year long for the big race. The SCCA season wraps up a few weeks before the Runoffs, which gives competitors time to prepare and travel. While some racers will build new motors specifically for the Runoffs, many others have the “run what you brung” motto. 

We didn’t just build a motor, we built a fresh race car for the biggest race of the year as the previous one had been destroyed two months before. Hobbling around on a healing fracture didn’t slow me down. By the time the car was wrapped and logbooked, qualifying was to start in under 24 hours. 

In a perfect world, I would show up to the Runoffs with a dialed-in, proven car that was quick and reliable. So much of racing is a mental game with yourself and that control is the base of being a quick driver. 

The last thing you want to be doing is second guessing your own equipment. Instead, I was bleeding the fluid on my StopTech C43 brakes for the first time just a few minutes before my first time in the car. I am a careful planner by nature, so finishing a race car minutes before sending it on track had me nervous to say the least. 

Qualifying was over the course of three days, and we only got one session each day. So, while I had three chances to shake down the car before the big race, each one of those sessions needed to count. 

My first time on track with the new car was for a handful of laps. It began to rain as soon as we were released from the grid. My main focus was to drive the car a handful of laps, bed in the brakes, and make sure nothing was going to fall off the car. 

Second qualifying session was much faster, but still a few seconds off my personal best at VIR. I also received a sound warning at the end of qualifying. The SCCA sound limit is 109dB at all of their events as a good neighbor policy to surrounding areas. That’s a generous line, but to our surprise, the sound pressure of the S54 motor and exhaust combination exceeded the limit, even though other cars sounded louder. 

I overnighted a resonator from Summit Racing after the second qualifying. It arrived at VIR around lunch the next day. Hugh came to the rescue once again by welding it into the mid-pipe section right before our final qualifying. There were nearly tears during that install. Hugh and I both almost missed third qualifying because of it. I don't think there are any photos, just panicked wrenching.

Third qualifying meant that it was my final shot at putting down a decent time for a good starting position. I was still a few seconds off my previous best times at VIR, but with each lap, my confidence returned as I pushed the car further and further. After getting a good run down through Roller Coaster and Hog Pen, I knew I was on for a flyer. 

At one point in the braking zone on the back stretch, a lightning pain shot through my right foot as I slowed the car from 150 mph. Ouch! The predictive time on my AiM dash was green, so I ignored it and barreled onwards. I was rewarded with a time that matched my previous best at VIR. I qualified 13th out of 19 cars in Touring 1. 

Touring 1 was one of the last groups to race on Sunday afternoon, which meant that we had a few days to relax and watch the other contests. Those last few days were also spent working on the cars, thinking about how to make them better or faster with the tools we had. 

Race day was finally here! The weather was dicey all day with thunderstorms delaying many of the races. The rain paused before the T1 race, Hugh and I both had our cars on jackstands. Hooser H2Os were on standby for a quick swap. After checking the weather radar, the rain tires went on and we pulled up to grid. 

The rain started to pour on the pace lap and as we lined up for the green; visibility was atrocious between the spray from other cars and the foggy windshield. I am pretty sure I held my breath until the whole field cleanly made it through turn 1. Lap after lap, I focused on keeping my own car on the pavement as I saw competitors fly off into the wet grass. 

I crossed the finish line 12th in the field, feeling a bit conflicted. Nobody shows up to the Runoffs with hopes to finish 12th. While I wished for a better drive and finish, I was very proud of all of our efforts to get to the race itself. 

As I parked my car, I saw Hugh being interviewed by Tom O’Gorman. Hugh finished third–on the podium! There were smiles and celebration in the paddock as we packed up in the dark rain. 

Not many people would have attempted making it to the Runoffs in less than 60 days after a major crash and having to completely start over. This whole situation was not ideal, but rarely in life are you truly prepared for anything you are about to do. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just go for it. 

Building this car and racing at the Runoffs was the ultimate closure to the nightmare crash just two months prior. It would not have been possible without the help of all of our friends and sponsors. 

Special thanks to Hi-Speed Motorsports, TC Design, AKG Motorsport, Hoosier Tire, Epic Motorsports, StopTech, NoVA Graphx, Racing Harness Technologies, Artisan Research, 2Six Apparel, Trackspec Motorsports, Konig Wheels, Eibach and Tilton.

 

Read the rest of the series:

Part 1: Three Types of Wrecks

Part 2: The Day After the Wreck

Part 3: Seeking Racing Justice

Part 4: Building a New Race Car From Scratch

Part 5: A New Roll Cage for the New Race Car

Part 6: The Thrash to Meet a Firm Deadline, the SCCA Runoffs

Part 7: Before Returning to the Track, Time to Make It Look Like a Real Race Car

Part 9: Pondering Future Racing Plans

 

How Christina got her start in motorsports.

 

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Comments
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IndyLegend33
IndyLegend33 New Reader
5/26/20 1:26 p.m.

So you're telling us the first actual race with the car was a championship race in the rain? A P12 finish of 19 cars total in a competitive class is an accomplishment to say the least... not to mention you built the car from scratch in less than 60 days. You kept it in one piece where the risks were high. I just found the broadcast on SCCA's website. Wish I could have flown out to see the Runoffs last year... Hoping to bring the old boss #15 out to run Indy for 2021. Hope to see you there!

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
5/26/20 4:40 p.m.

These slam-fest usually end with a DNF so kudos for getting the car on track and moving up several positions. It's a huge accomplishment.

BigsexySVG
BigsexySVG New Reader
5/27/20 11:50 p.m.

Wow, you've covered it all in one season. Amazing achievement by you and your team. I admire your drive with all that adversity. Most would have called it a season at the crash. Looking forward to seeing what's next for you. Christina are you planning to run at this years Runoffs? Keep pushing and don't let anything get in your way. 

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
5/28/20 9:53 a.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

Thank you! I think once the whole field got through T1 clean I was reminded of the fact that the guys who show up to the Runoffs are some of the best of the best in club racing. We all raced with respect and cleanly despite the horrid conditions. 

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