With roots from the Cannonball Sea-to-Shining-Sea Trophy Dashes in the '70s, Brock Yates, Jr.'s Tire Rack One Lap of America is a weeklong race fest separated by butt-numbing highway jaunts covering some of America's coolest countryside. If you have any octane in your veins, it's a "must-do," so when James Shipka offered me a co-drive, who was I to say no? Teaming with James also meant I'd co-drive his '67 OneLapCamaro that has oodles of performance bits that can easily take a weeklong pounding track after track. Both car and owner have done One Lap while I, a "lap puppy," had not. Could I be a hero for a week? You betcha, as I had the creds with my two high-performance driving schools plus drive-on transits. The Camaro was safe and could go the distance. We had "The Coffin," a cigar-shaped trailer that held the following: two tires, plastic bins filled with parts, hydraulic jack and stands, 12-volt air compressor, tire gauge, electrical kit, helmets and gloves, fire suits, Piloti's for me, Simpson's for James, rain gear, blankets, a six-drawer toolbox filled with hand tools, spare diff and fluid, engine fluids, air and oil filters, ten gallons of fuel, a spare trailer tire, blocks of wood, "road food," and ten pounds of loose change for toll booths. This was easy as all we had to do each day was unhitch the trailer, disgorge luggage from the trunk, don fire suit and related gear, and go race!
The One Lap of America starts at Tire Rack Headquarters in South Bend, Indiana and as the primary event sponsor, makes sure each tire approved for the event gets branded and marked. If you destroy one, you can replace it. If you flat spot one, it will suck to be you as the tire's still in play until no longer safe. For us, James shod the Optima Batteries Camaro with new Goodyear Supercar F1 runflats. James elected me to drive the first event, a wet skid pad as 1) I was fairly fluent in "Traction Circle" and 2) he'd never done a skid pad ever, wet or dry. Sporting entry number 65, I was almost last in the run order. Green flag flying, I hit the wipers, crossed the start line and immediately felt the Camaro lazily swap ends before coming to a stop in the middle of the track. Looking left, I saw event photographers happily snapping away and was never happier to be hidden behind a full-face helmet. Finishing, we hurried out of South Bend and traveled south to Grissom Air Base in Peru, Indiana for a real SCCA autocross. James amazingly hadn't lost faith in his ringer 11-time SCCA National Solo Champion and also one quite fluent in "Pylon." Coming back after my first run, I told James the Camaro was possessed by demons. James adjusted rear shocks, which found me another two seconds but I was still snail slow. My third run was no better, and I was expecting my "pink slip" any time now.
After a 551-mile transit stage and a night's sleep, we arrived ready for qualifying at West Virgina's Summit Point Raceway. One Lap's unique as there's usually two run sessions per track. In groups of five, cars take a reconnaissance lap, three official consecutive timed laps, and a cool-down lap. After the recon lap, cars comes to a full stop and are then waved off individually 15-20 seconds apart. After the checker and cool-down lap, cars come off track and the next group starts their session. Today's qualifying sets the groups for the rest of One Lap with the fastest cars starting run sessions first. As each day starts with a track and ends with a transit stage to a hotel, if you qualify bad you leave the track later, which means less sleep. Deep into our eight days of competition, this takes a toll as the fast guys get sleep and you do not!
James checked and adjusted each shock; I ran first and finished way down in 60th. We walked Summit Point during the lunch break and I immediately saw areas where I could have improved. Raining now, the walk helped James in the afternoon as he deftly drove the wet course finishing much higher overall. On the 438-mile transit stage to Carolina Motorsports Park, James subtly reminded me to push on the recon and timed laps, trust the car, and if I was considering reacquiring some driving skills, now would be good! We arrived in Kershaw, South Carolina, and found us booked into the Executive Inn where my hotel room had complimentary earplugs, three flies, and was a pit but I didn't care. At this point, we both would have willingly slept on concrete.
Next morning found us walking the fast Carolina track. James agreed to drive first (we'd follow that regimen throughout the week) and did a great job finishing 41st overall. We walked again at lunch and James shared driving tips. Staged for my group, I won't lie as I had a monster-sized case of nerves. Could I drive well and not fall apart like an overcooked noodle? Did James regret his decision for a co-driver? All played havoc with my mind and then something changed ... James kept saying to trust the car so I'd trust it and my driving, too. I charged the recon lap getting the tires up to temp and when the green fell, I left two fat tire marks in first and second before short-shifting into third gear. The Camaro felt good ... really good. Like in better than good. I took advantage of every bit of power the LS7 had on the open, fast track. Confidence returned, I thanked the car and softly took my cool-down before entering the paddock. Telling James the car felt great was a happy relief and when the times were posted, I'd finished 20th. We also felt a mild brake pedal pulsation and guess we really did use those binders a bit! Looking at options, we called Detroit Speed Inc., where Stacy Tucker graciously gave us rotors off of their Chevy II. Leaving the track, we saw a Detroit Speed banner draped on the wall and thought that was extremely cool.
We then headed to Greer, South Carolina, to the BMW Performance Center. Arriving, Brock, Jr. brought us to the front of the group but not before one of the BMW staff instructors stopped James wanting to know more about the Camaro. Turns out he had one back in the day and like everyone who's had one back in the day, wished he'd never sold it. He talked to me, a veritable sponge, about how to get around the track quickly. Absorbing this knowledge, I attacked the twisty, narrow course finishing 19th overall. Life was good, I was amped, and James took advantage letting me start the next 636-mile transit to Daytona and the fabled road course.
Motoring along at 75 mph, a suicidal raccoon met the Camaro's front aluminum splitter. Now wide awake, we stopped for fuel and found a hurt splitter strut, remnants of raccoon, and some ominous sticky gunk on the trailer. Optimistically thinking it was from the differential vent breather, we swapped drivers and continued south. Fourteen miles from the Florida state line, we hear a loud rhythmic thumping noise. Stopping, we realize that 1) we have no idea where we are, 2) nothing's flat, 3) it's midnight and we're parked, and 4) what is this sticky, nasty smelling fluid now coating the Camaro's left flank, undercarriage, fuel tank, and the front of the trailer? It's a somber realization that our long night's journey into day is just beginning and doubtful we'll make Daytona.
It's situations like this where One Lap makes or breaks a team. Want to see your teammate come apart like a $5 K-Mart sweater? Stalled on the roadside can do just that and what was cool was we both immediately sought solutions. Within minutes, AAA was getting towing arranged and SOS threads were posted on Facebook, Lateral-G.com, and Pro-Touring.com websites. Waiting for the carrier, we sat, windows down, and started hearing voices. James asked if I heard them and I said I thought so. What was weird was there was a lot of nothing around us. Really ... nothing! I told James that if Jason in a goalie mask comes charging from the bushes, I'm outta here! And then started humming the theme song to "Deliverance."
Five hours later, AAA left a Camaro, trailer, and us at a Quality Inn in Gainesville, Florida. Two hours of sleep wasn't much but would have to do as by 8:45, Prodigy's Frank Serafine called insisting we bring the Camaro down to their new shop. Another AAA call and three hours later, the Prodigy Customs crew got the Camaro and went to work. The left rear bearing was toast but luckily the axles were fine. After scooping out a handful of silvery StopLeak-like goop, the Currie third member was also changed. Prodigy's Frank and Lisa fed us a real meal and upon return, we found the Optima Batteries OneLapCamaro repaired to race another day. Obviously, Daytona was history along with that evening's E/T and bracket racing at Gainesville. With options of getting a good night's sleep anywhere vs. leisurely getting to Grand Bayou Raceway for the next afternoon's race, we gave each other an "I'm game if you are" grin, and then chose the most challenging yet brutal option imaginable ... dig deep and drive this 690-mile transit stage with only a couple hours sleep in the past 38 hours! I didn't talk much about this, but I'll willingly share it now. If I had to bet the free world on one drive, I'd put James in the seat as the guy doesn't have an ounce of "quit" in him! It was also at that point we both gained a new respect for the other as One Lap partners. Trading stints, we drove through the night and at Grand Bayou in New Orleans, Louisiana, were greeted with thumbs-up, a much-welcomed Starbucks, and with that, the inspiration to keep going. The downside was aside from four hours of sleep, we'd been awake for the other 49, which meant racing and a 372-mile transit to Birmingham, Alabama, had us hurtin' for another day. James again drove first and did extremely well on this technical track finishing 44th. I grabbed 15 minutes of shut eye, sat in the Camaro for a bit, and watched James get scared by a bird (this was really, really funny), then drove ending up 31st. During lunch, someone gave us the DSE banner and said, "I saw this at Carolina and think it's for you guys ... " We looked and saw the cool "Good Luck" message from Kyle and Stacy, which really made our day. Adrenaline gone, we headed out for next day's track, Barber Motorsports Park. We're at 58 hours now, folks, and we're still speaking to each other! I told James I felt like something the cat had drug in. He told me he felt like his socks! The highlight of the transit was a single-toothed, flannel shirted guy in an old pickup truck who passed us, looked at the "OPTIMA" slathered across the side of the Camaro, leaned out the window, and yelled ... "I gots me a Red Top!"
When you select a hotel, you are actually choosing the amenities and one of them is the quality of bed. My all-time favorite bed comes with a Hampton Inn surrounding it and that's what we got when we arrived at Birmingham about 70 hours from when we started almost three days before. I slept.
Words alone cannot describe the beauty of Barber Motorsports Park, but if you golf, the only courses as respective equals would be Pebble Beach or Augusta. Nestled in the green, rolling hills above Birmingham, the 2.4 mile track offers up 17 turns and 80 feet of elevation changes with plenty of run-off room and perfectly placed berms. It's also a very well-thought out race track that when driven properly, really flowed and allowed the OneLapCamaro to easily stretch its legs. Barber also gave me a clear vision of how important qualifying was and that all cars (or their drivers) are not created equal.
We arrived early for our daily exercise. Following the 1-2-3-4 perfectly spaced brake markers, Turn 1 drops downhill left just after the Start/Finish and we laughed but understood when James said he'd happily start braking at "5." I walked with a racer that had driven Barber before and came away with one key tidbit, capture the landmark main tower in Turn 3 so I could get good track-out position coming off a blind Turn 4. James again drove first and was very smooth ending up 48th overall. We again walked most of the course at lunch but my main focus was the tower. Stopping periodically within Turn 3, I saw it coming into view through the catch fence and made note. On my recon lap at 3, I looked up (yes, literally up), found the tip of the tower peeking through, and had my track-out. Following an Audi S4, I blazed out of 3 on lap three and hauled him in. Brock, Jr. tells everyone that if there's someone in your rear view, chances are they're probably faster than you and to let them by. If you hold them up, you both go slower. It was a drag race at the checkered ending with a so-so 38th overall and yes, I could have stuck a nose underneath the Audi but given that the Camaro isn't mine, plus I didn't know the Audi driver from squat, this wasn't an option. I shouldered a bit of blame, as I should have asked to start first in the session ... lesson learned.
The 700-mile transit that evening was uneventful and several tankfuls of 93-octane good stuff got us to Joliet, Illinois, and Autobahn Country Club. Driving the North course in the morning and the South in the afternoon, these two flat tracks appear to be easy but finding visual landmarks quite difficult. James made brisk work of the shorter North course and found it flowed well finishing 46th overall. Taking to the longer South course, the flying Camaro made quick work of the track and unfortunately my view here wasn't the errant Audi but an LS-powered Mazda RX7 ... who I caught midway through my third timed lap. Again, no give on his part and I passed him at the checker. When we "talked" afterwards, the driver told me "there was no way I was letting you by!" Again, file it away for 2012.
The last event was the dry skid pad and as I really sucked driving the wet one, James took it for the team and his initial foray into skid pad driving was pretty good. Also impressive was our charity, Autism Speaks-Cure Autism Now (www.autismspeaks.org), is halfway to our goal of $5,000 and thanks to all who helped out. As for our finishing position, we were first in Vintage American as we were the lone entry. The other registered team (The "Original" One Lap Camaro) had last minute engine and transmission problems but given that this is an experienced One Lap team (they've done it 21 times!), they'll be back next year with a solid car. And speaking of solid rides ... One Lap's perfect for anything we consider Pro Touring. I've got "definite-maybe's" from a couple of guys but we need more. All it takes is a little bit of money, a partner that's as half-baked as you, a case of your favorite energy drink, and eight days ...
And there is definitely going to be a next year, as I so want to do this again. In anything! For many, the event's about friends, cars, competition, tracks, and the stories that develop from the week long adventure called the Tire Rack One Lap of America. Brock Yates, Jr. spends most of a year planning and coordinating, scheduling tracks and makes sure no one suffers too greatly on the transits. And what most don't realize is that Brock runs the One Lap with the rest of us. He's at every event, drives the same transits we do, and gets to Tire Rack in South Bend, Indiana at the end ready to hoist a cold one to yet another successful week.
Let the countdown to next year's Tire Rack One Lap of America begin, and we'll see you May 5th, 2012, at Tire Rack in South Bend, Indiana. And start practicing your wet skid pad ... firsthand experience says it's a toughie.