Not too hot, not too cold and, surprisingly, not as wet as expected.
Many of us labored over the winter to give our racecars some well-deserved TLC. But we hungered for the chase and dreamt of the battles to come. Opening 2014, Auto Club Speedway was there to deliver the fun. Most of us SoCal racers rarely see rain days. Saturday was our chance! Rain X and antifog did not get it done, and Jim Richmond was the only one smart enough to have a working windshield wiper. Rain tires? What are those?
Saturday’s race had Jim Hicks on pole. Hicks later confessed he had a track day at Auto Club Speedway with Tyler Palmer coaching just two weeks prior. Jim Richmond (aka Capt. Squid) looked ready to go in any conditions. John Niedernhofer returned after a year working on his new San Diego brewery (www.culturebrewing.com). He sure didn’t look rusty. Niedernhofer wasted no time in moving aggressively up through the E30s. Someone forgot to tell Niedernhofer that you are supposed to drive slower in the rain. Hicks could not see squat and slid back. The rain just seemed to sit on the windshield, or maybe that was oil from the Miatas. Raining harder now, we all white-knuckled it, the rest of the race. Jim Richmond got ahead with his mono wiper and saw his way to the checkered flag, with Niedernhofer holding second.
Saturday night’s awards dinner at Dave and Busters was packed. Big thanks to Ryan Flaherty, Merle Anderson and the many untold heroes who make our race season happen. Charlie Buzzetti was crowned 2013 regional champion, with Hicks in second and Richmond third. Thanks to NASA for those head socks. Richmond later ran the pool table and schooled Hicks once again.
Sunday dried out and the track was fast — minus the standing water in the complex turn. We had a fun qualifying race in which Richmond and Hicks switched positions several times and ran close. Niedernhofer once again ran away with quick moves at the starting lap and moving through traffic.
In the final race, Niedernhofer started on pole. Hicks and Niedernhofer pulled away in the dry from Richmond, who was down on power. Hicks caught up with Niedernhofer some laps later and they battled it out for a couple of lead changes. Hicks eventually was given the “point by” and claimed the podium. He thanked Comeau Racing for his fast car, Toyo Tires for keeping him on track, and Hawk Pads for fast stopping.
The crowd cheered, the skies parted blue, trophy girls brought giant Toyo Bucks checks and champagne corks popped. At least, that’s the way I remember it.