Brainerd International Raceway, Brainerd, Minnesota
By the time we reached Brainerd, fatigue was setting in. Our bodies and minds were feeling the strain of the entire adventure and a mere 3 hours of sleep. This is where the long days and thousands of miles crunched down on us. It wasn't just a car race anymore. It was a battle against the miles ahead, the track, and ourselves. Words just can't describe it. I was eaten up by the effects of fatigue, sleep deprivation, and the emotions which pry on you constantly. Jeff was doing far better, so he took the wheel.
"Our stop at Brainerd was cruel on many levels," says Jeff. "Not only did it follow our latest night/morning arrival time of the event, but it also included four points-paying events at one track!" At this point, the Mustang was performing beautifully--better than us--so could we keep it together?
"First up was our three-lap attack of Brainerd's original 3.1 mile, 10-turn configuration," Jeff explains. "After barreling onto the dragstrip at 90-plus mph and running the entire 1,320 and most of the shut-down wide open, you brake for Turn 1 at Brainerd--it's the fastest right turn in North America, and the Roush RS3 swallowed it.
"This was the first track where we encountered the Ford-mandated 148-mph top-speed limiter, inserted as a safety measure due to the two-piece driveshaft. We compared top speed to Chris Smith, a British journalist we befriended, driving a LG prepped Camaro. He stated we gave up almost 9 mph at the fast end of the mile-long (yes, mile-long) front straight to the unlimited Camaros in our class. It didn't matter as we still smoked 'em, leaving Brainerd after all four events, including the dragstrip contest, with our lead intact." Tired and slightly shaken, we marched from Brainerd to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin--just 425 miles away.
Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
One of the best nights came at Elkhart Lake. The 8-hour drive was drama-free, and my good friend and MM&FF contributor Jim McIlvaine provided his stately vacation cabin for our use. He also left us this culinary wonder of a danish called Kringle, which I have determined I can survive on. I finally slept for more than three straight hours, and I felt refreshed for one of the biggest tests of the event--Road America.
"Road America represents the holy grail of race tracks," says Jeff. This 4-mile, high-speed monster has been in operation since 1958 and has seen its share of incredible racing... and incredible accidents. It is scary fast and one of the reasons I told Roush I would do this.
Being the last road-course time trials of the event, many teams were pushing hard to make up ground. Thanks to the points lead we had amassed, Jeff and I just needed to finish in one piece.
More than any other track, my heart raced as I sat staged on the grid. Both Jeff, and event promoter Brock Yates Jr., offered advice for running fast and safe.
I totally respected the dangers. We'd been hammering ourselves and the car all week--I didn't want to run out of brakes or talent. Still, I attacked and it was glorious. Not my overall lap times, which were mediocre, but the experience of being in competition at Road America.
On my second lap, after being flat out in Fifth gear, and while approaching Canada Corner, I experienced huge brake fade. I pumped… then pumped… then pumped… and finally got a pedal, just in time to keep it on the pavement. Way off line and with my emotions maxed, I dialed it back, ran my last lap, and finished fourth in class. I didn't wreck, or even go off. Others weren't so lucky. Not long after my session, a seasoned veteran of the OLOA barrel-rolled a Cadillac CTS-V wagon. The car, as you can see, was totaled--thankfully the driver walked away unscathed. I was relieved I had tippy-toed around this joint.
Still catching my breath, I had some of the best track food ever. On a recommendation of a friend, I had my first cheese curd and I am now an addict! Does anyone sell these delights in Tampa?
The worst incident of the...
The worst incident of the event occurred at Road America, where a brake failure caused this Caddy to crash hard. Despite the massive carnage, the driver walked away unhurt.
Road America is a work of art. "With its massive, horsepower-eating straights, we ran up against the computer-controlled speed limiter, again, this time at three places on the track! With outstanding corner exit speeds and the power to get us launched down the next straight, we spent significant amounts of time on the limiter," said Jeff. "Personally, Road America is where I began my performance driving career 25 years ago," he added. "So it was fitting that the last track event of our first One Lap of America was at the very same track where I was first infected with the performance driving disease.
"On an equally memorable note, I will always remember where I was when I learned of Carroll Shelby's passing," Jeff said. "I had just completed my session when Evan shared with me the news of Shelby's death."
"What an emotional roller coaster that day was. Our results at Road America essentially assured us of a class win, which brought elation, though the news of Shelby hit us both hard, especially considering the fatigue and accomplishment of essentially sealing the deal at this historic racetrack.
"It was only fitting that we venture into the village of Elkhart Lake, where I gave Evan a quiet, reverent tour of historic Stop-Inn at Siebken's, a watering hole famous for hosting race drivers from around the world during their race weekends at Road America."
Jeff and I found a painting of Carroll Shelby in there. He was smiling. And with that, there were just three things to do--drive the 234.7 miles to South Bend, run the dry skidpad at Tire Rack, and collect the trophy.
The final points-paying event was a competition on the dry skidpad. By this time, most teams' tires were in less-than-new condition, so posting a fast time required balancing the front grip and preventing the car from stepping out--at least for the rear-drivers.
Since Jeff made circles in the rain, it was my wheel to turn in the dry. I mustered a tight series of laps and clocked a 0.97g average, eclipsing over 1.0g in the counter-clockwise direction, which sealed our victory in the 2012 One Lap Of America.
Elated, tired, and proud can only begin to describe our feelings. "Once again, I think we surprised a lot of teams with a solid performance," Jeff says.
Hot on our heels was this...
Hot on our heels was this Camaro, prepared by LG Motorsports and driven by British journalist Chris Smith.
We were also chased by Andy...
We were also chased by Andy Stallworth in this highly modified Camaro.
After eight days on the road,...
After eight days on the road, Jeff and I were crowned champions of the 2012 One Lap Of America, beating the 10 cars left standing in our class. Amazingly, we finished 16th overall.