Last weekend was the big weekend of the year for short track racing at Evergreen Speedway. The tradition has lived for many years, and with the exception of a short hiatus, the Washington 500 weekend is where my passion for racing cars began when I was a boy.
My dad took me to the WA500 in the 80’s several times. I’d sit in the grandstands with dad. We’d talk about how cool, loud and fast the cars were. It was always fun because I got to watch famous drivers like Bill Elliot, Harry Gant, and Davy Allison race the 5/8’s mile at Monroe. Years ago, when my childhood friend invited me to the other side of the catch fence (the fence between the grandstands and the track) the WA500 weekend was the one event I always wanted to win.
I was pumped up on Sunday! I’d been a fan, a team owner, but the last 4 years I’ve been a driver. My rookie season I had just past legend Geoff Bodine, but got turned in a crash and lost my clutch. My 2nd season we were running 3rd, but ran out of fuel with 2 laps to go and under caution, battled back to finish 5th. My 2010 trip to the WA500 earned me the number one qualifying position and a trip to 2nd place on the podium. 2011 was poised to be a great race.
We unloaded at the track on Sunday morning early. Practice revealed a handling problem. The car was stable, but not fast, and when I would drive it hard it was just bad. I mean really bad. We came in and out of the pits, making several adjustments. Nothing helped. The guys were working hard on the car, but we needed to work on the driver. Steve and John got out the scratch paper. We begin to break down the track, corner for corner, so I could give them feedback on which part to fix first. When you have a chassis problem it is imperative to fix the first problem even if the 2nd and 3rd problems are worse. We went to work.
I qualified 9th. I thought if I qualified in the T-5 our changes to the car would be enough, but obviously they were not. I really felt like we were in for a miserable day. The car was slow, and nothing we were doing was fixing it.
I told Steve an John, “Guys, we’ve got to go big. I don’t care what we change, just do it.” They went to work.
We lined up in row 3 outside. The green waved and the car was decent, much better than practice and qualifying. We battled to 4th. After a caution there was a restart and we were row 2 outside. As the green waved I got a great jump and cleared the 3rd place car who was inside me at the start/finish line.
Steve said, “Clear.”
I held the my car to my line and proceeded to drive it to the bottom of the track. You could imagine my shock and frustration when the 3rd place car slammed into my left rear wheel, knocking me sideways. He then helped finish me off and around I went. A full 360 degrees. In front of the field bearing down. Just missing the outside wall. Not getting hit by any other drivers. Bam, I shifted into 2nd gear and took off. It only cost me 2 positions as I blended in with the field in 6th place! However, the officials sent me to the back of the field.
We restarted about 15th. On the ensuing restart we rocketed up the outside. Passed some historically really good cars and drivers. I thought, “We are not out of this thing yet!” I put my head down and drove.
The car got better, and we started picking off positions. 8th on one restart. 6th on another. Then we had a green flag run toward the end of the race. 5th. Then 4th.
I needed a late caution as the leaders were out ahead a bit, but I was gaining on 3rd place rapidly as the white flag and checkers flew. We ended up 4th on the day.
There is a saying in racing, “If you can’t win be the show.” We didn’t win, in fact, we didn’t make the podium, so the only place I can acknowledge my sponsors this week is here with the above beautiful picture. However, I got this message from a new fan, “My wife and I really enjoyed watching your aggressive driving style.” That one-line gave us hope that at least we put on a great show for the fans at the 2011 Washington 500. See ya on the big track July 30th!