Looking Ahead

At the last race of the season, the Southern California Spec Miata points championship was up for grabs between me and my friend and competitor Wilson Steele. All I needed to do was finish ahead of him in one race that weekend — but it didn’t quite work out that way.

On Saturday’s race, I qualified right behind Steele by a few thousandths, so I was right behind him at the start. When the flag dropped, I got around him on the outside, but then he darted down the middle and got past me through the first turn. As he exited Turn 2, he missed a shift and I got around him.

I maintained a gap for a few laps and I was gaining on the car in front of me, and we were both gaining on the guy in front of us. He left an opening at the entrance to the Sweeper and I dived in and got the spot. Now I was feeling good. Then, one lap later, I blew it as I spun going into the Buttonhook turn. That’s what driving my mirrors gets me — every time, it seems — and I couldn’t safely re-enter till Steele had passed me.

But I got back on and kept at it. I could see him, so all I needed was a mistake and I might have been able to get him. A couple of laps later, my car felt a little loose in left-hand turns. Then it felt really loose in left-hand turns. I pulled off and discovered the right rear valve stem failed. That meant Sunday was even more important.

My car was running pretty well. Running on the hot side, as usual on hot days, but running OK. I also noticed more vibration than normal at the uppermost rpm. In fact, I had been noticing it all weekend. Even so, I ran a personal best lap time in practice Sunday morning, but qualifying went as usual, with times a little slower than practice. Just before the white flag in qualifying, I rounded the Sunset turn on the gas and just after the upshift to fourth, the engine note turned sour and the power dropped off.

So I nursed it around the track and pulled into the pits. When I pushed in the clutch, the motor stalled and wouldn’t restart. A top end failure of some sort, I’m guessing.

That’s when fellow racer Sean Douglass was kind enough to loan me his ‘99 car for the qualifying race and the main, and though we’re both the same height, I was hitting my knee on the steering column when I went to heel-toe. Oh well, this is for the championship. I’ll deal with it.

However, a couple of laps into the qualifying race, the car starts cutting out and bucking badly. I didn’t want to damage someone else’s car, so I brought it in. Douglass replaced a cam sensor, which seemed to work, so I could still enter the main race and compete for the championship. A few laps into the main race, though, the same misfire reappeared.

The car is cutting out big time and unsettling it in high-speed turns, but then a double-yellow came out and the car got a little better. I was hoping for more laps under yellow, but it was only like one or two. As soon as we went back to green, the car starts cutting out again and I’m pointing by out-of-class cars.

I had to pull off so I wouldn’t be responsible for building two motors this winter. I don’t know if I gave it my best, but I gave it my all. I’m looking forward to next season, when I’ll be looking ahead instead of eyeing my mirrors.

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