Evan J. Smith
December 17, 2013
Photos By: AWOL Photo LLC/Eric Tillotson, Brad Adler, Diane Smith

The Bus Stop is rhythmic, on the edge, and very fast. It took me quite a few laps to build the confidence to run Fourth gear through there, but the extra speed paid off because upon exit, I pumped it right back into the Fifth gear and ran wide open all the way through NASCAR 3, through Turn 4, down the short 'chute, and through the famous Tri-Oval.

A lap at Daytona is exciting, even more so when you're dicing in traffic. Lap after lap, I somehow managed to pass cars, making up valuable time and positions. Day was on the radio, offering tips and giving me instruction (when he could see me). I relayed engine temperature and car feel, and he gave me lap times and kept my pace in check.

Of all the corners, I found Turn 1 the trickiest. It's fast and wide, with no clearly defined braking zone or "line." Since I was preserving the car, I braked early and turned the Stang in there with a big arc. But that brought it's own dangers, as guys dive-bombed me, trying to late-brake and get under me. While some made up ground, I watched a few lock up and slide right past my door.

I learned where the Mustang liked to run and where it didn't. It had a tendency to lock up when I ran the inside line in the International Horseshoe, so I was careful when diving under other cars.

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Over the next two hours, we moved from four laps down to the 43rd position (out of 120-plus cars). Finally, Day asked about the fuel level and just then the engine stumbled. I radioed back: "Out of gas, coming in."I hit pit road on fumes and we executed a smooth driver change with Kenneth Payne taking over. After a driver swap, refueling the car, and a quick look at the tires, Ken was on his way. We dropped to 52nd place, but the car was fast and there was plenty of time left.

My stint lasted 1 hour and 50 minutes, and I was completely spent. The exhaustion didn't hit me until about five minutes after I was out of the seat, when the adrenaline started to wear off. I pounded water and Powerade Zero. My wife, Diane, was waiting with an ice-cold towel for my neck, which was a life-saver.

Back on track, Ken was up to speed and moving forward. Unfortunately, he radioed in after an hour or so with a tire going down. The next lap was painfully slow as he nursed the Mustang back to pit road, where we slapped on new rubber. Back in the mix, Ken was passing cars and he had us up to 38th place when we encountered our next problem. Sadly, the stock cooling system showed its weakness as the 5.0's temp began to climb. Racecars generally don't fix themselves and the temp just kept climbing right to the critical point. The little 302 was running at 190-200 degrees when I was in there, but it had shot up to 230 degrees as the day got warmer.

Needless to say, stock-type 5.0L H.O. engines don't perform well when running over 200 degrees, and ultimately it ate a head gasket, ending our day. I felt really bad for Jimi Day and Brian Davis, who came all the way from Wisconsin and never turned a lap, and for the crew who towed the car down. Our disappointment was magnified because we were strong and moving forward in rapid fashion. On a brighter note, the Mustang is already fixed and has returned to the track with success. Best of all, there are plenty more ChumpCar races in 2013 and I've been invited back to drive.

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I'd be remiss if I didn't thank Optima Batteries; drivers, Jimi Day, Brian Davis, and Ken Payne; our crew, Al Radonki, Alex Frank, and Brad and Wendy Adler; and my wife, Diane, for the excellent effort and teamwork. Despite our not-so-stellar finish, we had a blast and gained valuable experience.

The ChumpCar Series is competitive, fun, safe, and an affordable way to race wheel-to-wheel with your friends and family and I can tell you this won't be my last time. While open track events are a blast, there's not much that compares to wheel-to-wheel racing, and there aren't many places where the average enthusiast can get out there and mix it up. Couple that with the amazing tracks and ChumpCar is a great option.

Check out www.chumpcar.com. Sift through the rules, the tracks, and the mass of photos. Let us know what you think, as we're contemplating building a ChumpStang (or other Fox) of our own. Drop me a line at evan.smith@sorc.com.