The 3500-mile contest that isn’t about the cars | One Lap of America

Andy
By Andy Hollis
Sep 3, 2021 | One Lap of America | Posted in Features | From the Aug. 2021 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by Driftpoint Media

The first week of May each year marks a motorsports family reunion, with the faithful gathering to take on a challenge unlike any other: a solid week on the road covering 3500 miles–this year Lake Michigan down to the Gulf of Mexico and back–with daily stops for time trails at various race tracks. 

The Tire Rack One Lap of America Presented by Grassroots Motorsports seems pretty straightforward until you add the spring weather uncertainties, high-strung vehicle prep, and lack of track familiarity. Drama quickly joins the party, and the family responds to meet it head on. Simply finishing can be a struggle, but no one is alone in the battle. We’ve got your back. 

Yes, we keep score,” participants say, “but it’s all of us together against the event.”

The bandleader of this diverse group is Brock Yates Jr., son of legendary automotive journalist Brock Yates Sr. And while the elder Yates dreamed up the undertaking–now in its 37th running–the soul of the event rides with Yates Jr. He sets the route and daily schedule, adjudicates disputes, coordinates with the tracks, and leads a loyal team of timing and marketing folks. 

[When the Cannonball Rally went legit | The history of the One Lap of America]

More importantly, he sets the tone and constantly takes the pulse of the participants. He’ll offer a quick word on grid to help settle a nervous novice, have informal consults with veteran Lap Dogs, and run sweep at the back of the transit pack to provide aid for the unfortunate.

Car prep rules for One Lap are wide open with no limits on modifications–so long as the car remains street-legal, licensed and insured. 

Teams follow several different viable strategies for vehicle prep. Some opt for high-dollar, manufacturer-built specials that are fast and relatively comfortable but not always easy to fix during the week should a problem arise. At the other extreme, home-built, high-strung “race cars with license plates” are optimized for the task and, with the right spares carried, more easily repaired. But how much will those highway transits beat up the team members?

What could possibly go wrong?

Everything and anything. 

This year, two of the transits routed drivers headlong into severe storms that delivered blinding conditions, strong winds, massive amounts of water, and roads strewn with trees and other debris. 

And if that didn’t slow them down, getting around the resultant traffic jams provided navigational challenges. Do teams take that country road shortcut and risk busting up a splitter? Will potholes damage a wheel? Roadkill? One car jumped an alligator near NOLA. The risk/reward equation is always in play during One Lap.

Weather also played a factor on track this year. Drying conditions started the day at both NOLA and Atlanta Motorsports Park, giving the front-runners more uncertainty. (Quicker cars run first.) 

The time trial format features just three timed laps, all of which count. Preceding that, a single recon lap is the only at-speed look drivers get of a track’s conditions. For many, it’s also their first time driving that circuit in real life at speed, with simulators supplying the bulk of their prep. Given all of that, mistakes happen, and consequences can be huge. 

Active rain, though, canceled the drag strip activities at Memphis International Raceway and limited the on-track action to point-to-point timed sprints to avoid the super-slick-when-wet, VHT-covered front straight. At Texas’ Eagles Canyon Raceway, the first several groups had to deal with massive amounts of residual oil-dry from a vintage racing weekend. Both the wet and dry skidpads at Tire Rack’s test track in South Bend, Indiana, were run in near-freezing temps.

Steve Loudin has been trying to win One Lap for years. His logical approach is to bring very fast, mildly modified cars with pro drivers. 

But until this year, some bit of drama has always kept him out of the winner’s circle: car problems, food poisoning, you name it.

This year, with Tom O’Gorman behind the wheel for the track work, it all finally came together. Tom’s versatile skill set matched up well with Steve’s carefully prepped Corvette ZR-1 to dominate all aspects of the competition. For their efforts: cool new B.R.M wristwatches. 

The single biggest question that comes up every year surrounds tires. Teams are only allowed one set: They must be rated 200tw or higher, and those four tires have to last all week. That means they need to handle the required transit mileage and have enough remaining tread to manage any inclement weather. 

In addition, some tires do better in very cold weather than others. And spring conditions can be rather unpredictable. It’s enough to drive competitors nuts.

The most popular choices are the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S and the Continental ExtremeContact Sport. These come from Tire Rack’s Max Performance Summer tire category and sport a 300tw rating. 

Making it through the week on either of these is easy, though the Conti does wear quicker and suffer from chunking if driven aggressively over curbs. The Michelin offers a bit more dry grip, but it’s edgy to drive at the limit. The Continental is more progressive, especially good at channeling deep water, and–based on this year’s skidpad results–superior in cold conditions.

Several competitors rolled the dice by fitting the Yokohama Advan A052. These 200tw Extreme Performance Summer tires are designed for autocross and time trials rather than highway mileage. They work in non-freezing temps and are even quite good in the wet–so long as there is no standing water. With no rain late in the week, the tire longevity worked out and teams running the Yokohamas came to the dry skidpad right on the wear bars.

But there was one more new tire contender. Ian Stewart set a new dry skidpad record on the 200tw Goodyear Eagle SuperCar 3. These tires were quick all week on dry tracks, but they suffered in the rain; Ian finished 58th on the wet pad.

Odds-on favorite for “car most likely to DNF” was the SuperK Adventures team of Andy Smedegard and Alex Moss. Their Honda S2000 time attack special sported a paddle-shifted BMW dual-clutch transmission behind a turbocharged Honda K24 engine. The machine was super quick on track but noisy and reluctant on transits. 

The fact that the car ran on E85 made route finding even trickier, although the Honda towed a trailer full of fuel, spares and tools. It wore Yokohama A052 autocross tires, which gave the duo a huge advantage on dry tracks while rain-soaked transits were a challenge. 

The team almost didn’t make it: In a do-or-die moment, they got stuck in a downtown Dallas traffic jam on surface streets with transmission woes until they were able to reprogram the DCT controller. Still, the stars aligned, and they finished the week in second place overall with a class win–and barely any tread remaining.

Manufacturer involvement is a staple of the event due to its unique challenge and widespread reach. This year’s event welcomed teams from Yokohama/Subaru, Michelin, Dodge and Toyota. Making particularly glorious sounds all week was the 2021 Dodge Charger SRT of David Carr and David Hakim.

Getting some real-world experience were Michelin test engineers Bill Bostic and Ed Gliss. They put their PS4S-shod BMW M2 Competition on the podium in Sports GT1 Small Bore.

Piloting a pre-production prototype Subaru S209–serial No. 0000–were rallycross drivers Bucky Lasek and Dave Carapetyan. Bucky, also a skateboarding legend, earned a new nickname, Captain Cooldown, when he suffered high-speed brake failure heading into Turn 1 at Summit Point after taking the checkered flag. Without missing a beat, he pitched the car sideways across the dirt, working the throttle and brake rally style to somehow miss the surrounding tire wall.

After a day dodging storms at NOLA, competitors crossed Lake Pontchartrain on the world’s longest over-water bridge for a passage control at Tommy’s Express Car Wash. Hospitality included food, drinks and a quick cleanup for the cars.

The route passed right by his Carolina Rod Shop, so the community checked in on longtime One Lap veteran Glen Dodd. Yates, on left, reminds us that this is a charity event benefitting the Alzheimer’s Association and Tire Rack Street Survival.

How’d GRM do? We made it! But not without major drama. Flying the GRM banner yet again were Andy and Ann Hollis in their stock McLaren 720S. 

Qualifying P2 with a strong start at the first track meant more sleep all week as well as drying conditions at several stops. After a long, wet transit to Eagles Canyon Raceway, several electrical gremlins surfaced as warning shots. British car, go figure. 

The wheels really came off the cart midweek when a pinhole was found in one of the two radiators–a rock had hit it during the transit from NOLA to Atlanta. With no parts available in the area–and facing an 8-hour repair job if parts could have been found–we made the decision to quickly bypass the faulty radiator and press on with fingers crossed. 

Assistance came from all over the paddock, and the car was patched together enough to make the next session. The reduced cooling hurt power, but the wounded car still finished the week strong with a Stock GT class win and fourth overall.

Former winners Chris Lewis and Robert Thorne teamed up again, this time with a mildly prepped C7 Corvette. Consistency was the name of their game, as they racked up excellent finishes at every event. 

Still, drama almost took it all away: Brake issues led to a big off on the very last corner of the very last track session of the week. Chris, who was behind the wheel at the time, was able to guide the Vette away from a tire wall and through a sand trap, then limp across the nearby finish line. DNF avoided, they scored enough points to stay on the podium. Notably, Robert posted extensive videos each evening–edited during transits–that truly captured the essence of the event. Check ’em out on his YouTube channel.

Scott Robertson and Becky Burton easily took the Spirit of Grassroots title. Their K24-swapped Mazda Miata is driven to events all over the country with only a small trailer for support. 

Stalwarts of the Gridlife scene, their car suffered a significant wheel-to-wheel racing shunt a week before One Lap. After they patched everything together–thanks to lots of late nights and help from the community–just rolling into the hotel to begin the week was a victory. 

Fighting off several mechanical woes–two front wheel bearings and an intake sucking water–and sleep deprivation due to qualifying near the back of the field, they clawed their way up to third in class. More important, they were heroes to all.

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sleepyhead the buffalo
sleepyhead the buffalo Mod Squad
8/3/21 10:27 a.m.

Awesome write up Andy!

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