Evan J. Smith
August 19, 2012
Photos By: Jeff Lacina, Raceshotsresources.com

Our Routine

  • 6 a.m. Wake up, shower, shovel down whatever free breakfast the hotel offered, fuel the car, and get to the track.
  • 7 a.m. Unload gear, walk the track, set tire pressure, torque lugs, decide who was driving first, set up video cameras, get in the zone.
  • 8 a.m. Run first session; whoever wasn't racing would get photos, then attempt to rest (which was near impossible).
  • 11 a.m. Find food, attempt more rest (often unsuccessful), check tires again for next session.
  • 1 p.m. Run second session, return to pit area, slam gear in car (took about 5 minutes), plug destination into GPS device, hit the road (350-625 miles).
  • 6 p.m. Refuel car, switch drivers, and eat crappy food.
  • 10-12 p.m. Arrive at hotel, check in, wait for adrenaline crash, sleep.

Repeat for eight days!

Tire Rack's Wet Skidpad, South Bend, Indiana

Track 1

This year's One Lap kicked off with a wet skidpad test for lateral grip. Tire Rack's 200-foot skidpad tested lateral g's, and we did two laps in each direction. Our score was based on the total time, which converts into mph and g-force. "How do you ever practice this?" Jeff stated jokingly.

You can pull more g's by keeping the car as close to the inside of the skidpad as possible without taking out a cone (resulting in a DQ for that event). Most rear-wheel-drive vehicles struggled, as just the slightest bit of aggressive throttle resulted in the front tires loosing grip and the car skating away from the inside edge. "Driving the wet skidpad quickly is a great deal more difficult than it looks," Jeff stated. Still, the Roush RS3 pulled 0.76 g, but we ended pretty far down the overall list (43rd of 75), and 4th in our group. The battle was on.

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South Bend Speedway, South Bend, Indiana

Track 2

After the shortest transit between venues (6 miles), we arrived at this nifty little ring. The track had character, meaning it was cracked and bumpy. "I've seen it on ESPN--the coverage is excellent," I jokingly told Jeff as we walked back to the pits to find the competition working hard on suspension. Actually, one Camaro owner was dialing in negative camber, like 2.5 degrees. Turns out, he did this at every track; then he put it back to zero for the road drives to preserve his tires. He also had a cage, a gutted interior, huge spoilers, and a built engine. Did I mention he was in our class?

Soon cars were making noise, two at a time and spaced appropriately. I planted my face on the weathered chain-link fence to watch. I was amazed how quickly the first guys were getting around and how little brake they were using. A grizzled, gray-bearded old-timer leaned in towards me: "My boy runs here all the time. Got the track record!" he clamored. "You want to go low [in the corners], low as you can, then open 'er up [meaning the steering, I assume]. Nail it right perfect [pause]... and you never stop turning left, just go round and round," he said matter-of-factly. Just then, a BMW ran wickedly hard off Turn 4, kicked up a wisp of dust, and everyone clinched up. "Did he hit?" one guy hollered. "Nope, just snatched the cone," said the old-timer. "Too wide," he said. "Too wide."

Just 10 minutes later, another BMW skimmed a mirror. This is serious business. I've seen enough. I thanked the old dude and jogged back to the Roush. I paired up with a black '03 GT--we'll run together. My heart was thumping as the gate flung open. The two fighters exited as we climbed in.

With only one recon lap, I had to push. I deactivated the TC and AdvancTrac, I sailed into Turn 3 and turned down to the bottom, just touching the brake to set the suspension. The Roush stuck well so I pealed off the apex, and shot up to the wall with the power on. I turned in a smooth recon lap, came to the line, and prepared to race the clock.

I ripped away hard on green. The powerful RS3 skipped the tires and chirped 'em in Second as I entered Turn 1. I breathed the gas, got it low, let it drift up, and rolled on the power with the Roush's tail on the edge of traction. The wall was coming fast, but there was no time to lift or do anything but drive the line. I ran on the ragged edge for three daring laps, and just like that it was over. Though I was on cold street tires, there was far more grip than I expected, and I went faster than I thought possible. I'd finally felt the Mustang at the limit, but glory was far from ours. I finished 31st overall, and 3rd in class. Ten minutes later, Jeff and I had the Stang packed and were heading to Joliet.