2021 One Lap by the numbers: 8 days, 10 tracks, 17 states, 20 scored events, 76 vehicles, 3,678 grueling miles and … a Ford Fiesta?
It was exactly fifty years ago, 1971, when racing legend Dan Gurney along with senior editor at Car and Driver magazine Brock Yates ignored all traffic laws and barnstormed a Ferrari Daytona coupe from the Red Ball Garage in New York City to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, Calif., a coast-to-coast 2,863 mile dash, in just 35 hours and 54 minutes. This, of course, was the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, more commonly known as The Cannonball Run.
This is the stuff of legend. Books have been written about it. Movies have been made about it. It even helped Burt Reynolds get laid — not that he needed much help in that department during the 1970s. The Cannonball Run was a pop culture phenomenon with a middle finger pointed directly at the nationally mandated 55 mile per hour speed limit. When I was a kid, I even carried my tasteless baloney sandwich to grade school in a Cannonball Run metal lunchbox.
History Repeats Itself
Many people have chased — and some have broken — the transcontinental record set by Gurney and Yates. And many people, deservedly, have had their cars impounded and licenses revoked. After running the highly illegal race four times, Brock Yates changed it up and decided to make it even harder. The new race, held in 1984, was called The Cannonball One Lap of America and the rules were simple: Starting at the Lock Stock & Barrel restaurant in Darien, Conn., go to Boston turn left, go to Seattle turn left, go to San Diego Turn Left, go to Miami turn left and finish back at the Lock Stock & Barrel. This 8,900 mile run caught the attention of a lot of media, and Brock Yates himself wrote about it constantly for Car and Driver magazine, and ultimately it caught the attention of “the man” himself. I’m referring to the police, the fuzz, Johnny Law, the Po-Po. Having the cops involved is just bad for business. So, after 1984, the race was converted from an all-out high speed run across public roads to a more law enforcement friendly time-and-distance road rally. Over the years it progressed to combined time trial events at different race tracks and ultimately became what it is today, the Tire Rack One Lap of America, an epic eight day, 10- track, mega race/road trip that is at the top of every car fanatic’s bucket list.
In 2016, the car world sadly lost Brock Yates due to Alzheimer’s disease, however One Lap lives on through his son, Brock Yates Jr., who was a passenger on many of the original Cannonball Runs and the first ever One Lap of America in 1984. Brock Yates Jr. is a one-of-kind character and can be easily spotted at the track lining up fast cars and yelling at people for riding motorized scooters in the paddock or operating drones when they aren’t supposed to be. If you ask Brock a clarifying question about the extremely thin One Lap rulebook the answer will be met with quick witted sarcasm along with a laid back attitude. It is his easy-to-like personality that makes the event so fun and keeps competitors, referred to as Lap Dogs, coming back year after year. And 2021 marked the 36th running of One Lap of America. With the National Auto Sport Association as the sanctioning body and Tire Rack as the title sponsor, on May 1, 2021, it was time to kick the tires, light the fires and get another “Lap” in the books.
One of the draws to running One Lap of America for a lot of car folks is the low barrier to entry. You don’t need a competition license to play. Your car does not need a roll cage to enter. In fact, this event is the exact opposite of door-to-door road racing. Instead of a dedicated trailered racecar you just need the things most NASA HPDE weekend warriors already possess. A registered, street legal, road going car with insurance? Check. A SNELL rated helmet? Check. NASA membership? Check. The only real difference between NASA HPDE rules and entering One Lap of America is you are required to add a fire extinguisher to the car, pack a first aid kit and carry some road flares. Additionally, you will need a SFI rated fireproof driving suit which isn’t a bad idea for some of the high speed race tracks the event goes to — and certainly for some of the more fire prone vehicles One Lap attracts, i.e. McLarens. No, you don’t have to wear the driving suit while traversing eight hours an evening from track to track or while going through the Whataburger drive-through. However, your vehicle will be disguised as a full blown racing car emblazoned from bumper-to-bumper with tons of sanctioning body sponsor stickers. So, good luck with the cops!
There aren’t a lot of rules when it comes to One Lap, however one of the more interesting and challenging things about One Lap of America is the tire rule. Each team must start and finish the race on the same tires. Yes, the tires you will drift around the corners of Summit Point Raceway are the same tires that are going to shuttle you to a gas station bathroom at 10 o’clock at night in the Middle of Nowhere, U.S.A. The requirements are that the tires you use are commercially available and have a minimum of 200 treadwear. You are required to buy them directly from Tire Rack, which provides special markings on each tire specifically for One Lap. Tire choice is where things get interesting with regard to the strategy of this race. If you pick up the hottest 200 treadwear autocross tire currently on the market, like the Yokohama ADVAN A052, you will be quick in the dry, but you may struggle if it rains and certainly during the first event of the race: the wet skid pad. If you choose a more moderate all-around tire like the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, which is 300 treadwear, the tires will certainly last the entire event, you will be good in all climates but maybe not great in any. One Lap has historically always had some rain. The crux of the decision is this: Choose your tires before the eight-day, 3,600-mile race begins and we all know that weathermen suck at their jobs. So, choose your tires, choose your fate and good luck with your decision. For my team, a group of folks I would categorize as balls-to-the-wall, win at all cost NASA road racing people, we, of course, went with the softest stickiest tire possible, the Yokohama. We congratulated ourselves on being aggressive with our setup choice and lied to ourselves that we could certainly make up for any challenges the tires might provide in the wet with our God-given driving talent. You’ve got to love the confidence of a racecar driver.
This race is popular. Lots of people want to do it, and for good reason. It is one of the greatest road trips you can take, one of the hardest races you can compete in, plus it has the history and lore of the Cannonball Run attached to it. This means that entry to the event is not guaranteed. The event fills up fast and there are usually waiting lists. Brock Yates Jr. gets to decide who will come out and play and he chooses wisely. According to Brock, “What makes me nervous sometimes is rich guys in extremely fast cars.” And fast cars most definitely show up for this event. There were multiple Porsche GT2 RSs, Corvette ZR1s, Porsche GT3s, as well as a McLaren 720S, a Dodge Viper GTS, and, of course, our team in a hot-hatch Ford Fiesta ST. With 76 competitors in the field for 2021, there would be only one overall winner, and the chances of it being the Fiesta were one in 76 — if 75 of the other cars crashed, broke or got very, very lost. The good news was this race has 13 different classes so there are multiple races within the race. The classes break down as follows, and I have included some of the vehicles that have won their respective classes in prior One Laps:
1. Sports/GT (SGT-1) Big Bore: Cars over $50,000 MSRP, 3.5 liters and up. This is the heavy hitters and overall winners. This is the land of the big boys, big speed, and big wallets. Previously won by heavily modified Nissan GT-Rs, Porsche GT3s and Chevrolet Corvettes.
2. Sports/GT (SGT-1) Small Bore: Cars over $50,000 MSRP, under 3.5 liters. This is where German engineering placed into precision built sedans seems to shine. Previously won by a BMW M4.
3. Sports/GT (SGT-2) Big Bore: Cars under $50,000 MSRP, 3.5 liters and up. This is the stable of the pony cars. America! Previously won by a Chevrolet Camaro 1LE.
4. Sports/GT (SGT-2) Small Bore: Cars under $50,000 MSRP, under 3.5 liters. This is definitely the tuner crowd that historically blows stuff up all across the country. Previously won by a Honda S2000.
5. Luxury: Sedans and wagons over $50,000 MSRP. These teams enjoy soft suspensions and leather heated seats during the eight hour transitions between tracks — and coincidentally they always look the most refreshed each morning at the track. Previously won by a BMW M3.
6. Alt Fuel: Hybrid, electric, or diesel vehicles. This is the Elon Musk fan club. Previously won by a Tesla Model 3.
7. Mid-Priced Sedan: Sedans and wagons between $20,000 and $50,000 MSRP. These are the grocery getters. Wagons are great for storing lots of gear, probably a smart idea to enter this class for a long eight-day road trip where it pays to bring lots of tools and spares. Previously won by a Toyota Camry.
8. Stock GT: Sports/GT cars (over $50,000) that are unmodified. This is the home for turn-key factory track toys. Previously won by a Porsche GT3 RS.
9. Stock Touring: Touring cars (under $50,000) that are unmodified. Unmodified does not mean you can’t upgrade your brake fluid, so change the brake fluid! Previously won by a Subaru Impreza STI.
10. Vintage: Anything built prior to 1991. The people who enter this class enjoy fixing old things on the side of the freeway in the dark. Previously won by a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro.
11. Truck/SUV: As advertised, something with a truck bed or lots of seats. Bring the kids! Previously won by a Dodge Durango SRT.
12. Retro: Essentially whatever Brock Yates Jr. thinks is cool and retro. Previously won by a Mini Cooper S and lately dominated by Chevrolet HHR Super Sports.
13. Economy: Cars under $25,000 MSRP. This is where poor people enter the event, like my team in a Fiesta. Previously won by a Honda CRX.
The intriguing thing about One Lap of America is the fact that the classes are based on the manufactured suggested retail price of the vehicle and have absolutely nothing to do with any modifications or money thrown at the car after you buy it. Other than the two stock categories, the game of One Lap means is you can buy a reasonable car and then throw your entire wallet at it by bolting on massive turbos, coil-over suspensions, locker differentials, big wings and any sort of performance nonsense to make sure you have the fastest car in the class. But, and this is an extremely important “but,” with all of that bolt-on performance and modification often comes at the cost of reliability. Will the car, with a bunch of extreme mods on it, make it across 3,600 miles, 10 tracks and survive all eight days? This is the ultimate balance of One Lap of America. Like the choice in tires, this is where you choose your own adventure. Keep the car stock and consistent for a solid endurance finish? Or, boost the living hell out of it, crank things up to 11 and pray it stays together for the win? Welcome to the yin and the yang of One Lap of America. Choose wisely. If you choose incorrectly it will probably result in scattered aluminum and oil across a race track or an interstate.
My team, Double Nickel Nine Motorsports, knew that the smart thing to do was to leave our Ford Fiesta ST alone and run it as is. We had previously upgraded the brake pads to Carbotech XP12s, changed the brake fluid to ProSpeed RS683, and had successfully run the car at numerous autocrosses and NASA HPDE events. We had done plenty of testing with the Yokohama ADVAN A052 and knew with a reasonable alignment the tires would survive the high-mileage event. Essentially, the car was reliable and it could be tracked. We purchased a fifth Enkei RPF1 wheel to match the four already on the car for a full matching spare. Other than the spare wheel upgrade, we knew we should leave the car alone.
But, we are racecar drivers so we completely ignored common sense and at the very last second we decided we “absolutely needed” to bolt on a bunch of go-fast bits if we wanted any shot at winning the Economy class. That decision sent us down the rabbit hole of modifications, relentless checking of UPS package tracking for parts delivery, calling in sick to work, busted knuckles and lack of sleep. But, when it was all said and done, we had a new set of coil-overs and spring rates from MeisterR, a new alignment courtesy of Smart Racing Products tools, new brake cooling ducts installed, a bigger intercooler and a bigger radiator from Mishimoto, a new exhaust and custom tune for more boost from FSWerks. On paper the car should handle better and be much faster. I say “on paper” because we had zero time to test the new parts. We had to leave immediately for the 31-hour drive to Indiana. The only test would be driving across country to the start of the event. Because of all of the additional last minute mods we made to the car, I did mandate that we add two more things to the Fiesta: tow hooks, front and back. With all of the “last minute” boost we were adding, we could either find ourselves in a gravel trap outside of a corner or worse, with a blown engine. A bit of superstition in me said if we added the tow hooks maybe we wouldn’t need them.
We were rookies to the One Lap of America, known as Lap Pups, which meant we had no idea what we were doing. This didn’t concern us, because we were already NASA racing drivers, so we figured we would just show up, drive super-fast at every track we went to and at the end of the week pick up a trophy. Easy. As arrogant as we were, we did try to learn as much as we could prior to leaving town. We listened to multiple podcasts about the event, read articles from any source possible, and watched YouTube videos of teams that had completed the race before us. We gleaned some great advice from each of those sources and started buying and packing things people suggested that we hadn’t thought of. We brought protein bars, a small tent to keep our stuff out of the rain, boxes to store gear in that could be removed from the car quickly at the track, and most importantly small foldable bicycles for track walks. Since we were from California, that meant we had been to exactly zero of the racetracks we would be competing at and we would desperately need the track walks to learn where to turn left, right and when to mash the happy pedal. The One Lap of America format is a standing start, three laps, and you are done — and the clock is on you the entire time. There is no practice, there is no warmup. You are on the clock immediately. That means track knowledge is a huge advantage at this event. The portable bicycles allowed us to get around the track as many times as possible in the mornings before the track went hot. Most people, on foot, just got a single lap walk around a 2-mile track. We made three laps at least at each track. The bikes were also immensely handy for getting around the paddock, and God forbid, riding down the freeway to find some gas.
With our little Fiesta packed to the rooftop with the bare essentials, we prayed to the motorsports Gods that we tightened everything up that we took apart the previous three days and then we set off from California to Indiana. We had so much gear packed into the little car we couldn’t bring a second set of wheels and tires, which meant we would be driving to Indiana on our specially marked One Lap of America Yokohamas. When we arrived at the host hotel we found a parking lot full of trailers. We quickly realized a few things. 1. We were one of the only teams dumb enough to start in California. 2. We were the only ones dumb enough to put over 2,000 miles on our tires before the race even started. 3. We were in, without a doubt, the slowest and cheapest car at the event, by at least 300 horsepower and probably $50,000 minimum. As soon as I saw the seriousness of the competition, I was glad I brought along with me a bumper sticker I had made for the Fiesta’s back window.
In Indiana, we passed tech, picked up our Route Book, scored some cool looking One Lap of America stickers to add fake horsepower to the Fiesta, got to hang out with Brock Yates Jr., who always made me laugh, and immediately met some amazing and friendly car folks. The guys from the show Fast and Loud, Gas Monkey Garage, who are always up for shenanigans, were running a Porsche 911 GT2. I could tell right away that the people who compete in One Lap have great senses of humor just from some of the team names that were entered. My favorites were, “Team Our Wives Think We Went To The Store” and “Team We’re Just Here For the Autocross.” We decided if we ever run the event again, instead of Double Nickel Nine Motorsports we want to register as “Team My Couch Pulls Out, But I Don’t.”
While hanging out before the driver’s meeting everybody was talking about tires. Tires, tires, tires. Who is on what? Is it going to rain? Who is driving what car this year? Who brought in pro drivers? Who brought the Fiesta? There was a driver’s meeting where Brock Yates Jr. laid down the law and then we tried to enjoy one final good night’s sleep at the hotel before the race started. Of course, instead of sleeping I just obsessed all night about our tires. In the morning, we were scheduled to be at Tire Rack’s headquarters in South Bend for day one, event one: the wet skid pad.
May 1, Day 1
Each of the 76 cars hit the wet skid pad at Tire Rack one car at a time. The cars lined up by car number and those car numbers were assigned by what Brock Yates Jr. thinks will be the fastest to slowest cars. He does this to keep passing at a minimum while at the big tracks. To run the skid pad, we had to empty out the massive amount of crap we brought along with us. As soon as the two laps on the skid pad in each direction were over — a lot quicker than you would think after driving 31 hours from California — we had to load the car back up again. We didn’t know it at the time, but this would be our week of One Lap. Unload the car. Drive on the track less laps than you thought you would get to. Load the car back up. Drive eight hours to the next track second-guessing every single thing you did or didn’t do during the very short amount of time you actually were on track. Then, when you get to that track, unload the car again. And repeat.
Once the wet skid pad was completed, we loaded up the car and drove 82 miles to Grissom Air Force Base and unloaded the car again. We figured the autocross would be a great opportunity for the Fiesta to have a decent shot at some of the 700 horsepower supercars that surrounded it in the paddock We were wrong about this. Once our autocross runs were in the books we loaded up and jumped back into the ride for a nice long 525-mile drive to Memphis, Tenn. During the extended drive, we had the extremely debilitating experience of looking at the live results on our phones. On the wet skid pad, we finished 38 out of 76 teams while a competitor in the Economy class, Team On The Ledge Racing, in a 2019 Honda Civic Si, which costs suspiciously $198 dollars over the $25,000 MSRP Economy class limit, finished 3rd overall. That was an absolutely outstanding finish for them, but it was a blow to us for class points. The crazy thing about One Lap is even though there are 13 classes, points are assigned at each event in a top-to-bottom fashion for all 76 cars. What that means is the amount of differently classed cars in-between your result and the result of your closest class competitor can make an enormous difference in your ultimate points as they are added up for the entire week. It meant you had to be fast at all times, make little to no mistakes and try to beat everyone, regardless of what class they were in. Short version: One Lap is hard! During the autocross we managed to earn a 29th out of 76 which was pretty decent due to the company we were in, extremely fast cars driven by autocross national champions. I attributed our solid finish in an Economy car to some great driving by Stephen Young and our sticky Yokohama ADVAN A052 tires.
May 2, Day 2
Memphis International Raceway was our chance to make up some ground because it was supposed to be four separate events in one day: two time trials around MIR’s road course, a drag race and an E.T. Bracket Drag race. The E.T. Bracket Drag event was our shot to move up the standings because speed is not the name of the game, consistency is. I have been drag racing with the NHRA since I was 16-years-old, so I was really looking forward to the chance to put the Fiesta up against a Corvette ZR1 and get some big points. That was the plan anyway, until the rain came. The rain cancelled the drag race and E.T. Bracket Drags and it also changed the format for running the road course. Due to the VHT on the drag strip (which is part of the straight for the road course) rain makes the surface extremely slippery and dangerous to drive on.
Because of the rain and the VHT on the drag strip, the Memphis event was switched up to be run like a Solo 1 event. A standing start at one part of the track and with a dedicated flying finish on another part of the track, using about 75 percent of the course, avoiding the drag strip. Six cars at a time were sent out on track as a run group with their starts separated by about 20 seconds. Keith Kramer took the wheel for this event for DNN Motorsports and slid the ol’ Fiesta around in the Memphis rain on the Yokohamas keeping the shiny side up, staying on the track and avoiding hitting anything hard. Thank you Keith! Once the second session was in the books, we had a 509 mile transition all the way to Decatur, Texas, to get to Eagles Canyon Raceway.
May 3, Day 3
Eagles Canyon Raceway in Texas was a beautiful facility we had never been to before, just like all of the tracks during the 2021 One Lap of America. This was our first full road course during the event, the weather was good, and as such this would be the first true measure of which teams were going to be the big guns at the 2021 event. What we found was that the prowess and performance of the supercars that were entered and some of the talent behind the wheel were absolutely second to none. Not only were there numerous previous One Lap of America overall winners in attendance, there were tons of autocross national champions, NASA road racing national champions, pro racing drivers and celebrities. I was sitting down for dinner and I looked around and realized that every single person at the table was a national champion from some form of motorsport. Dave Schotz was sitting next to me, and he has more NASA championships than anyone on the planet. One Lap brings out big, big names, and at the bar at night the bench racing and humble bragging certainly was in full swing.
After our two separate, three-lap, timed sessions at Eagles Canyon Raceway were complete, we were back on the road for a nine-and-a-half-hour, 561-mile, transit to Avondale, La., to prep for NOLA Motorsports Park near New Orleans. At this point Keith had been eating solely Cliff protein bars during the three days of the trip. He had yet to have a bowel movement and we were getting worried. We changed the name from “Cliff Bars” to “Clinch Bars” because after six of them, your large intestine is clinched shut. Aside from Keith’s digestive issues, there was also an annoying clunking somewhere in the front end of the Fiesta. To fix the noise we simply turned up the radio and ignored it. It seemed to work. Our extremely fast Economy class competitors in the Honda Civic Si had it much worse. Their turbo decided to disintegrate. They were trying to source a new turbo and get the car fixed as quickly as possible to try and get back in the game.
May 4, Day 4
New Orleans was muggy, a huge change from the 31-degree temperature we started One Lap with in South Bend, Ind. Stephen Young poked around the front of the Fiesta before we hit the track and found a loose motor mount. That was good news because it was easily fixed, but it meant we were the ones that forgot to torque the bolts properly during the last-minute thrash before the event. The question remained, what else did we miss?
After our two successful sessions around NOLA driven by Keith Kramer, we were doing what we needed to do at One Lap. Score in every event, don’t get a penalty, don’t wreck the car, don’t get a speeding ticket between tracks, and don’t piss off Brock Yates Jr. Some of our competitors were having a tougher event. A Dodge Viper hit a deer on a transit. A $130,000 GT500 sustained body damage on pit lane while doing a burnout as it was heading out onto track. A $300,000 Porsche GT2 RS, just one week old, was also totaled on track. Watching some of the carnage made us feel better about our performance. Our goal was to keep making laps and avoid having to fix stuff or call a tow truck.
After NOLA, we had a 551-mile, nine-hour transit to Atlanta Motorsports Park. This transit included a Passage Control, essentially a checkpoint on the route. Each competitor had to stop at Tommy’s Express Car Wash where you had to have your Official One Lap of America Route Book signed off on in order to get scoring credit for the checkpoint. This was a convenient spot for us to give the Fiesta a much needed wash. Carbotech brake pad dust was turning the front wheels black and New Orleans bugs coated the windshield. On a more positive and personal note, while the car was getting washed, Keith used the facilities at Tommy’s Express and had a successful and satisfying bowel movement.
May 5, Day 5
Day 5 took us to Atlanta Motorsports Park for two separate sets of three-lap timed runs. Stephen Young drove great for us in the morning session. However, the GT500s were so loud, they obliterated sound requirements for AMP during the morning session. Brock Yates Jr. decided to cancel the afternoon session so he wouldn’t have any future issues with the track. Like I said before, you have to roll with the changes at One Lap. The cancellation did give us a head start for our next track and event for the same day. We drove 82 miles to Lanier Speedway to run a completely different kind of track, a banked oval. Keith Kramer drove the oval for us and thankfully stayed off the hard concrete walls. True to One Lap of America’s never-quit spirit, the Honda Civic Si of Team On The Ledge Racing, which earlier in the week lunched a turbo, sourced one, fixed it and then drove all night to make it to Day 5. They were able to resume competition after only missing a single day of the race.
And the extremely gracious thing about these guys is that one of our drivers, Keith Kramer, had a senior moment and left his wallet at a Chipotle in Texas. The guys from On The Ledge Racing, who were still in Texas when Keith realized what he had done, went to the Chipotle and got the wallet, delivering it back to Keith on Day 5 at AMP. On The Ledge Racing you guys rock! With Keith’s wallet back in our possession, we made him buy dinner and then set off for the next transit, 554 miles to Summit point in West Virginia. We had a second Passage Control on this route, the Carolina Rod Shop. Our co-driver Stephen Young was confused and thought we were going to a rod shop that sold fishing poles. He was delighted to find out it was an actual Hot Rod shop with cool cars.
May 6, Day 6
Summit Point Raceway was an extremely intimidating track for our team. We don’t like tracks that are lined on both sides with hard barriers, especially when they are close to the racing surface. We prefer tracks like the Circuit of the Americas with lots of runoff where you can make a mistake and not total your car or end up in a hospital. Summit Point was an unforgiving place, so we drove at 9/10ths to preserve the car. It is a long and expensive tow back to California from West Virginia. Sure, I have AAA towing insurance with the Plus Miles, but that won’t get the car back to the West Coast. Other teams were heavy with the right foot at Summit Point. With the race coming to a close, with only two more days of competition teams were hanging it all out. And for some teams it didn’t work out. We were extremely sad to see our friends and competitors in the Economy Class, On The Ledge Racing, have an off that resulted in a totaled Honda Civic. One Lap can be very unforgiving.
After the harrowing and narrow Summit Point in the books, we realized we needed to finish this event strong. We headed into our longest transition of the event, from West Virginia to Michigan, 629 miles in 10 hours. When we arrived at the parking lot of the Baymont Inn, we found the Corvette Bar was already in full swing, parked right in front of the lobby. There were One Lappers hanging out in the parking lot enjoying some much needed alcohol after a super long transit. This is probably one of my favorite moments of One Lap. After a day of racing and a long transition drive, we got to stand outside have a few beverages and do some more bench racing. Randy Pobst is always entertaining to talk to. After a couple of beers, he was explaining the delicate intricacies of towing a U-Haul trailer behind a Porsche Cayenne during a storm. Porsches aren’t exactly known for their towing capacity. The Germans don’t even bother to put that information in the brochure you find at a dealership.
May 7, Day 7
The morning at GingerMan Raceway we found a nail in one of our Yokohamas we picked up somewhere between West Virginia and Michigan. The good news was we had a full spare fresh Yokohama ready to swap out. All we needed to do was to show Brock Yates Jr. our issue to get his approval to implement using a spare. As we rolled the tire to Brock he said in his sarcastic style, “You can change it. And you didn’t need to bring the tire over to me, you guys aren’t fast enough to really matter.” We accepted the backhanded compliment with a smile and quickly swapped out our old tire and slapped the brand new fresh Yokohama ADVAN A052 on the left front of the Fiesta because GingerMan Raceway is a bunch of right hand turns. Advantage Fiesta!
I was driving GingerMan, and I was hell bent on going as fast as I could. The track had a lot of runoff, so I was willing to push hard. Even though I had never been there before I spent the entire transition drive from West Virginia studying track maps, making notes, and watching YouTube videos of other drivers on the track in similar cars. We got to GingerMan early and while my partners unloaded the car and yanked out the front seat to save some weight I jumped on my foldable bike and did as many laps as possible to know where to go and where to slow.
I drove the Fiesta hard enough to scare myself to death heading into the downhill braking zone for Turn 10B. I thought I was going to end up off the track and into the soft earth, which would mean a blown session (no points) and then I would have to wait for the tow truck to come and test that tow hook we installed. Luckily the Carbotech brake pads saved my bacon and I was able to collect it up enough to stay on track and put down a decent time for my three laps. When the results came in, I bested Randy Pobst by .2 seconds around GingerMan. Sure, Randy Pobst was driving an SUV, but that SUV was built by Porsche and I was in a Ford Fiesta! You gotta take the win when you can, especially against a stud driver like Pobst!
Before the afternoon session I decided I wanted to make a few changes to the setup to see if I could get the car to turn in a little better. We chose to make a few rebound clicks on the MeisterR coil-overs, some toe changes, and some air pressure adjustments to the Yokohamas.
The strategy on our team was to have one driver run both sessions of a race track. The theory here was as a California team we were having to learn every track we went to. A driver having a second shot at a track would certainly be faster than a new driver having their first exposure to a circuit. Other teams were sharing driving duties at all the tracks so each driver could experience the entire One Lap calendar of racetracks. That wasn’t our bag. We wanted to win our class.
With my new alignment setup and a second shot at GingerMan, it was guaranteed that I would go faster in the afternoon. Except that I didn’t. Even though I had only three laps around the course in my entire life, I went after the course during the second session as if I had been around it a thousand times and drove aggressively and foolishly resulting in a slower time. I was making mistakes, trying to collect the car and overall trying way too hard, resulting in a slower afternoon session, which then resulted in a lot of ball busting from my co-drivers, which I totally deserved. For going slower, they let me have the honor of packing the entire car by myself while they went to the snack shack and had some ice cream.
The good news was Day 7 had the shortest transition of the week, a mere 62 miles from Michigan back to Indiana where the whole thing started. This meant it was beer:30. Drivers got together at the hotel bar to let off steam after a long week of racing, lack of sleep and wrenching on cars. I grabbed a quick shower in the hotel room and headed down to hang out with some of the fastest racing drivers in the country.
We shared stories about different animal road kills. We had our own and still had a little meat inside one of our Enkei RPF1 wheels to prove it. Some people couldn’t find race gas so they went to an airport and grabbed some 100 octane aviation fuel. Tesla drivers who thought they had a 581-mile transition were informed by their Tesla navigation system that in order to find charging stations along their route their new transition mileage would be over 700 miles, plus charging time. Others shared stories about previous One Lap of Americas and commented that 2021 was the most competitive year they had ever seen. The cars that showed up were fast, and they were being driven by pro wheelmen. The level of competition had certainly been raised. Plus, there was a Fiesta in the field too.
MAY 8, DAY 8
The final day had arrived. The Fiesta was still running and it still had tread on the Yokohama tires, a feat many competitors thought was impossible since we originally drove out all the way from California on our race tires. What they didn’t know was that we were planning on driving back to California on the same set. Tom O’Gorman said to me, “You know, you can go to Walmart and buy some $60 tires for the drive home.” No way! The Yokos were going to make it. But before they did I still needed to complete the final event of One Lap: the dry skid pad at Tire Rack.
The racing in One Lap is competitive and you feel the pressure for every single event. Each challenge is short in duration, yet the clock is on you the entire time. This isn’t like an HPDE or Time Trial session where you drive around a track for 20 minutes and sometime during the session you put together one good lap. At One Lap of America, you have a standing start and within five feet you have broken the timing light beam and you are on the clock. And this clock is your permanent record. Every mistake you make, every missed shift, every turn you are still trying to learn, every lapse in concentration, all of that is happening while the clock is ticking and counting against you. The pressure is immense. And mere hundredths of seconds can make huge point swings in the standings during the week. The final dry skid pad event is not a victory lap. The race can still be won or lost there.
After my run, I got out of the car ecstatic, and with adrenaline pumping through my veins my hands were still shaking even after being out of the car for five minutes. I knew we put solid runs in on the skid pad in both directions and I was hoping it was good enough for us to move up overall. And it was! Our overall standing in our $19,000 Ford Fiesta ST beat a much more expensive and performance minded Ford Focus RS. Ford is not going to like that.
We also beat cars we never should have been anywhere near in the standings like some new mid-engine C8 Corvettes, Porsches and pony cars. That result came from a lot of good luck on our part. We scored in every single event and never had a mechanical failure or penalty. It also stemmed from some really bad racing luck on some of our competitors: crashes, mechanical failures, or too much whisky from the Corvette Bar each night. Regardless of how we finished overall in our Fiesta against Porsche GT2 RSs — we did beat the one that crashed — what we came for was a class win, and what we earned was the first place trophy for the Economy Car Class. Hell yes!
When we started the race we took a photo of our odometer and right after we finished the dry skid pad at Tire Rack we took another photo. Total mileage for the 2021 One Lap of America: 3,678 miles. During all of those miles, highway and track, the Fiesta didn’t give us a single mechanical issue.
The 2021 One Lap of America Winners Are …
Congratulations to all of the participants and class winners of the 2021 One Lap of America. Huge congratulations to the overall winners, Steve Loudin and Tom O’Gorman. This was O’Gorman’s rookie year, so massive props to him. I want to thank all of the competitors for being welcoming and helpful to newcomer Lap Pups like us. You made the event absolutely awesome. And now for the class winners. I have organized the class list below based on where that class finished in the overall standings. Of course, Steve and Tom in their Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 are rightfully at the top. Read the list of winners and you might see some familiar names.
All of the results for the entire event and breakdowns of each track can be found HERE.
First Place Overall and SGT-1 Big Bore Class Winner
SGT-2 Small Bore Class Winner
Stock GT Class Winner
SGT-2 Big Bore Class Winner
Luxury Class Winner
SGT-1 Small Bore Class Winner
Alt Fuel Class Winner
Mid-Priced Sedan Class Winner
Stock Touring Class Winner
Economy Class Winner
Vintage Class Winner
Truck/SUV Class Winner
Retro Class Winner
During the 1971 Cannonball Run, eight teams competed in the event earning a total of 12 speeding citations along the 2,863 mile illegal mad dash across the country. The winner himself, Dan Gurney, picked up a speeding ticket for going 135 miles per hour in a 70 mile an hour zone in Arizona. Fifty years later, 76 teams competed the 2021 Tire Rack One Lap of America, each completing 3,678 miles, and the absolutely crazy part about it is this: none of teams received a single moving violation. Congratulations to all of the Lap Dogs for avoiding Johnny Law and massive thanks to Brock Yates Jr., for keeping this one-of-a-kind, epic, motorsports bucket list race alive and running. I can’t wait to do it again — in something faster, of course. And in conclusion, I would like to publicly apologize for this extremely long story, if you even made it this far, but hey … this was an extremely long race!