Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2015 'Shine Country Classic at Barber

by Jim Hodgson

If a plane landed on your car, it would be trouble. Your car would be damaged. The plane might also take a scuff. A quantity of paperwork would need to be filed, but not by you. No. By that point you’d have become a revolting and possibly flammable goo.
But for a split second between the instant the plane contacted your car and the liquification of your carcass, you would experience some serious downforce.
Yes, downforce. That is why we are here. It is our watchword. It is our token and our meme and our cause. We are the drivers, the devotees, of Our Lady of Perpetual Downforce. Let us sing you the song of our people.
What is Downforce?
A quick refresher: it sounds simple, and it is. Downforce is a force that pushes down. But it’s also much more than that.
A heavy car pushes down because its mass wants to be near the mass of the Earth, much as a fat child wants to be near a Slurpee. So sayeth our prophet, Sir Isaac Newton. But Newton also sayeth that an object in motion tends to stay in motion.
A heavy car’s tires sing our song, but they do not turn. Without turning there is no lapping, without lapping there can be no racing, without racing Our Lady doth sob quite loudly at dinner, annoying everyone in earshot.
What if you could have the downforce of a lighter car being landed upon by a plane, without the liquification of the driver? You can. We can. We do. Praise Our Lady!
A Wing and a Prayer
I first beheld Our Lady of Perpetual Downforce two years ago; a glorious 88 civic with a section of a Cessna wing bolted to the top. I knew I had to become a pilot.
I approached the team members and babbled nonsense at them, hoping to be invited to become one of their number. Instead, I was looked at as one might look at a nonsense-babbling man who should probably stop drinking and go to sleep.
Months later, at the next race, I tried again. This time I employed the time-tested method of borrowing tools. Still no invite was forthcoming. I believe I was spotted using a pulley puller to open a can of beer, an obvious mistake. The beer was already open.
Months after that, I once again approached the Fullerian temple that is the OLPD home base. This time I employed a series of complicated dance moves meant to show that I understand the meaning – nay, the religion – of downforce. At last, I was accepted, under the condition that I never again perform this or any other dance.
To Barber!
The first race in which I piloted Our Lady was held on the swooping tarmac of Barber Motorsports Park, which is a gorgeous facility. Barber has such a reputation that it never admits 24 Hours of LeMons participants until late on a Friday evening, when it is less likely to be judged by other racetracks.
Once inside Barber Motorsports Park, we staked out room in the paddock, unloaded all manner of paraphernalia, and began slowly freezing to death.
In the morning, the living members of the team chiseled themselves free of the icy tomb of the trailer and began to prep Our Lady for worship.
Day One
Our Lady passed under the green flag with teammate Meghann at the helm. The car circulated without incident, unless you count a spin in turn five as an incident. Next, I took over.
Piloting Our Lady is everything I thought it might be. Because downforce, the pilot can navigate almost any line on the track. That is, unless the pilot falters in his or her worship by lifting off the accelerator. Yes, Our Lady is susceptible to liftoff oversteer. Oh, what, like you’re perfect? Back off already.
After my worship, Kevin took the helm. He performed a   pirouette through turn one that would have made Anna Pavlova hang up her toe shoes in a jealous rage. He then spent a few tranquil moments arranging gravel in one of the track’s artfully placed Zen rock gardens. He was tugged back onto the racing surface by track services.
Retirement Grease
Worship over, Kevin begat Mark. It was deep in the afternoon and well into Mark’s stint when Our Lady’s right CV axle forcefully shit its grease and seized up tighter than Dick’s hatband.
A group of the faithful were dispatched. That done, a second group were sent to the parts store to get a new CV axle. Upon their return, Brian put the parts into Our Lady while the rest of the team helpfully goggled at him. I helpfully ate Cheetos.
The day ended with the car back together, but just a few minutes of racing left. Mark was sent back on track for those few minutes, and was received back in the paddock after the close of racing with a ceremonial beer chug and a hearty “Huzzah!”

Wing's Eye View courtesy of Mark's GoPro

Day Two
Brian, high priest and owner of Our Lady, took the green on Sunday with high spirits and the grim look of a man who did all the wrenching yesterday while his team stood around like a bunch of louts. Nary an offer of Cheetos could placate him. Only the piloting of Our Lady could soothe his irritable bones.
Our Lady had other ideas. Her Holiness gobbled up the clutch like an asbestos Ritz and ceased any shifting. Sunday’s quiet hour was spent attempting to diagnose or remedy the problem, but shifting was not achieved except by way of foot to foot.
After a quick lesson on rev matching in Brian’s Honda CRV, Meghann again took to the track, this time piloting Our Lady without benefit of clutch.
Most members of the team improved upon their Saturday times without changing gears, using careful matching of revs to get the car into fourth and leaving it there. What is the name of such a miracle? You know it already, for it is downforce. Say it with me. Say it loud. Bark like a dog! Or don’t. That last part means nothing to Our Lady. It’s just funny to watch.
In the end, Our Lady of Perpetual Downforce delivered a solid midpack performance, finishing 34th of 76 entries overall and 19th of 30 entries in Class A. We completed 326 laps. Our best lap time was delivered by High Priest Brian (1:54.020).
By comparison, the winners completed 422 laps, which means we’d have needed 100 more laps to win. Time spent off track watching Brian fix Our Lady hurt us, but that’s racing.
Undoubtedly, with a sack of luck, we, the faithful, could win a 24 Hours of LeMons race with Our Lady. But we would have to use long stints, fewer drivers, and shouty, hurried driver changes. All of those are dumb. We press on as we are, heads high and hearts full with the knowledge of the true power of downforce.
Our Lady of Perpetual Downforce,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy apex come, braking be done,
In worship we accelerate.
Give us this day our daily laps,
And forgive us our offs,
As we forgive the offs of others.
Lead us not into oversteer,
But deliver us from understeer.
For thine is the grip, the power, and the downforce.
For ever and ever.