Let’s start with the ending. I did it. I won the NASA 2019 TT3 National Championship at Mid Ohio. I didn’t beat the track record but I am still happy with the win.
Congrats to all the other Texas guys. Chase wins quickest learner, finishing 3rd, and dang near beating me with only a handful of laps to learn the track.
My story actually begins 3 years ago.
I participated in Nationals one other time in 2016 at WGI. I finished 7th out of 11 with a 2:04 against a winning time of 2:00.9, but knew that I could have and should have done better. The next year I improved quite a bit as a driver and won the TT3 Texas Regional Regional Championship and set a few track records doing it. I found a way that year to get back to WGI to redeem myself (somewhat) and managed a 2:02. Better but I still felt like the car had a sub 2:00 in it.
In 2018, I moved to Louisiana with work and decided to move my car to a garage outside of VIR so that I could hit some more east coast tracks like Road Atlanta, VIR, LRP and WGI of course.
In June of 2018, I had the incredible fortune of meeting Pro Racing Driver Scott Heckert at a Chin event at VIR. At that point, my best time at VIR was a 2:02. Scott offered to drive my car and put down an easy 1:59 that should’ve been a 1:58 without traffic. He did this in June on some really used up tires.
He made another offer to coach me at an event I had coming up at LRP and WGI. I accepted and off we went. By the end of my 5th session of my first time ever to LRP, I had broke the existing TT3 track record by more than 3 seconds with a 56.8...all due to his coaching! At WGI, it was a DE event with heavy traffic throughout both days, by I managed a 2:00.8 which was better than the current TT3 track record at the time. To round things out, when I went back to VIR two months later, I reset that track record with a 1:58.
At this point, I am feeling great about the car and my driving and signup for last NASA event of the year at WGI to try to officially break the record. Unfortunately, I spun two bearings on my first hot lap and had to tow the car 1600 miles back to Louisiana to make the repairs.
Fortunately the block survived, so I sent it to a machine shop to clean and check cylinders and deck. All is well. Head went to Lang. I spend all winter rebuilding the engine. I opted to upgrade the cams to a 272/280 set up. Unbeknownst to me, Lang was sent a 304 intake cam which I in turn installed. I also installed grant rings to save a a few bucks as I had heard positive things. Long story short, the engine never stopped smoking and eating oil. When I pulled it back out there was scoring on the cylinders and pistons and obvious contact between the valves and intake pistons.
At some point during that rebuild I decided that I wanted to do Nationals at Mid Ohio. I had skipped 2017 at Sebring due to work and 2018 at COTA due primarily to having the car in VIR and really trying to break 2:00 at WGI as my main focus. My goal for 2019 was to finish somewhere on the podium.
However, to be competitive I needed an engine that didn’t drink a quart of oil every two track sessions.
I decided to buy another engine. I refreshed head and replaced rod bearings. I checked one main bearing cap and it was fine. I cleaned the top of the pistons but other than that left everything else alone. I did Beisanize the Vanos. I left in the stock cams.
Two weeks after getting the spare engine in I headed up to Mid Ohio for 2 days with NASA and 2 days with Chin. Car ran fine. I was slow on pro course with NASA but Scott coached me the following two days on chicane configuration with Chin and by end of 2nd day with him, I was in the 1:35’s.
I wanted to get more seat time so I did two days at NOLA with PCA but only got in a session each day due to my starter dying.
Still wanting more seat time and tired of limited track time plus heat in Louisiana, I moved my car back to VIR. I signed up to run with NASA at VIR in August. Unfortunately just as I tried to start car before first warm up session Saturday, it would not fire. I spent two days troubleshooting (never got a single lap in) before giving up and handing it to Perception Motor Werks. They quickly diagnosed and replaced a bad DME. I bought a spare through them as well. Both cloned off of my existing tune through Epic.
I am still wanting track time as I have only had one problem free event all year long. I signed up with HOD at VIR and everything went great. Ran my 3rd fastest time ever so I have a bit of mojo back as I get ready for Nationals in two weeks.
I flew into Raleigh and drove to VIR two weeks later (9/16) to give myself a free day to look the car over and prep it. I needed to change the oil and I wanted to cleanup my wiring. It was a real rats nest. Got the oil changed and samples sent to blackstone. But I decided to pass on wiring as I was worried I’d screw something up right before Nationals.
Went to load car on the trailer and one of my ramps shifted. Fortunately nothing bad happened but it could’ve been disastrous as I had no way to replace splitter had it been damaged.
Made it to Mid Ohio on Wednesday and unloaded car with no issues.
Thursday was a Test and Tune day. I had a set of pirelli DH’s plus two sets of sticker A7’s and a set of cycled out A7’s.
I ran all Thursday on the Pirelli’s. My target time was 1:33. Best I could do was a 1:34 with traffic. Data said that there was a 1:33 so I felt reasonably ok.
However there were two TCR cars in our class. One of the drivers was really fast and ran a 1:31 during the day. In addition, a guy from Mid Atlantic was signed up that I knew was fast and the Great Lakes Fast shoe was also signed up so a podium spot at this point is gonna be tough!
On Friday we had a warm up session that didn’t count but did set the grid position for the first timed session on Saturday. I had a choice to make. I couldn’t run the Pirellis as I have to run DOT tires for official sessions. I was worried if I ran my scrub A7’s that I’d be gridded so far back I’d spend the next couple of sessions fighting trough traffic to improved my grid position. This left me with the option of running stickers for a session that didn’t count. I decided that I had to run the stickers and hope that they still had magic left for Saturday. I managed a 1:32.6 which was the best TT3 time and I snagged a great grid position. One odd thing during this lap was my oil temp was set swinging all over the place. Pressure looked good and water temps were fine, but I was a bit nervous. I checked the oil filter afterwards and it was metal free. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Turns out to be a loose CAN connection.
The next day as we were on grid for the first session, it started to drizzle. By the time we got onto track I had to use my wipers. I have heard that mid Ohio is treacherous in the wet so I and almost everyone else came right back in without getting a timed lap. Our next session wasn’t for 6 more hours! I waited around a looked at my data a bit. Filled my truck tires. Read an entire book. Finally 2:00 rolls around and we start our 2nd timed session. On the first hot lap, the tires still haven’t come in and I miss a few braking zones but still manage a 1:32.8 which is good in that I now have a decent official time, but I know there’s more. I make another attempt and see 1:32.02 flash. While I am mentally processing this and thinking how close I came to getting a 1:31, I screw up turn 1 so decide to come in and bank my good laps. If you ever have an off or spin, that entire session is DQ’d so I didn’t want to risk not having an official time.
When I come in, they weigh me. Check. Measure my tire widths. Check. And then send me to dyno for compliance. I am not to worried as I had dyno’d the car there on Friday morning and it read 16 hp lower than my declared hp. 316 vs 330 peak.
I ask the director when will I know if I pass the dyno. He says 15 minutes. Will I know what the numbers are. No he says but if you fail all your times are DQ’d to that point but you can use the numbers to adjust your weight and update your form for the following sessions. Fortunately, I pass the dyno.
Turns out my AIM time of 1:32.02 was recognized as a 1:31.9 by my NASA transponder due to slight difference in our S/F coordinates. At this point, I am in P1. Dan, the GL hot shoe is in P3 and my MA foe is in P2. Turns out the TCR cars are ineligible for TT as they did not run the required 4 events prior to the championship event.
I decided to skip the final session of the day as it was really hot and I figured the Sunday sessions would be the fastest.
At this point, I am thinking I have a shot to be champion. It was tough to sleep that night.
Sunday, I put on my second set of stickers as I really want to lower my time and possibly get the track record. Unfortunately, I get a couple more 32’s even though the data shows a mid 1:31 which still wouldn’t have been enough.
Despite not improving Sunday even with stickers and great track conditions, none of my competitors were able to improve over my time and I finished the weekend in P1 and the 2019 TT3 National Champion.
Big giant shout out to Scott Heckert. Absolutely no way I finish anywhere on the podium without him. Big giant shout out to my wife and daughter for allowing me to travel as much and as long as I did to be able to prep for and run in the championships.
One funny story. My parking spot was on an incline. I had a board that I backed up to so I could keep car running in neutral to help cool down after the session. I had a heck of time backing up to board all weekend but Sunday I really screwed the pooch. I thought I was on it. Got out of car and it starts rolling backward as soon as I shut the door. I am not strong enough to stop it, so I dive through the windows to press in the brake with my hand. However, my feet are sticking out the window and I can’t reach the ignition to shut it off to put the car in gear. I am yelling for help. Finally, a guy comes over and we get the car safely parked. Partially ran over my bike and messed up my jack stand.