I realize it's been a while since my last column and I apologize for that.
I really don't wish for this column to be the JJ Yeley Chronicles since I
only seem to write about him of late. But I had a fair number of
people come up after the races on this NWWC tour and say they missed my
writings. So, for all the people that missed me, here you go. For
all the people who didn't miss me, well you can skip this and read
My impressions of the NWWC tour mostly include being tired. If that
seems to be a recurring theme when I recount how these tours go, consider
this. If you covered an average of 200 miles a day to travel to work and
then worked 8-10 hours of manual labor, wouldn't you be tired too?
The number of miles spent traveling between the races (not counting to and
from home was 2700. In a 14-day span, I lost 12 lbs. Some of
you may say that I could stand to lose it and I appreciate your kind
thoughts. The routine went-
drive, race & sleep in that order. This is probably more info
than you want, but 5 days went by once before I found time and a place to
go #2. Betcha you can't read that type of stuff anywhere else. I've
said it before and I'll say it again, I have a ton of respect for the WoO
crews that do this year round.
Tours such as this bring out the best and worst of teams. Some teams
blow apart and that occurred on this year's tour. Most teams just
put their heads down and grind it out. For us, when the going got
tough, we got goofy. Well, maybe we were to begin with and it just
brought the best of it. Still I got to enjoy a night on the town
with Rickie Gaunt, Kevin
Eckert and Rodney Argo. I also took in a relatively subdued
interview with Rickie Gaunt on DO's radio show in Indy. I also got
to meet DO's new quiet and unassuming wife. And all this in one
night! Overall, it was fun but tiring.
I suppose everyone wants to know what was up with the car that JJ ran
during the tour. Actually, the tour presented a rare opportunity.
Since JJ and the ABC Sand & Rock team are concentrating mostly on
repeating their USAC title, it's hard to try different things during the
year. The NWWC presented an opportunity to run an R&D session in
the middle of the year. The car that JJ built (we called it Shamu) had a
few twists to it that were different than the normal car JJ runs.
The most obvious were the panels on the front of the car, but that wasn't
the only thing that was being tried out. What was different and what
did and didn't work? You won't hear it from me. My impressions
of the car? I thought it looked like someone installed a handicapped
stall on the front of the car. I also thought it was the ugliest
thing to arrive on this earth since the day I was born. The car also
prompted what I thought was the quote of the tour by one of the officials
"No car named Shamu will ever run in the SCRA". Well it
sort of did although only after being made USAC legal. Funny thing
was that we didn 't win a race until after all the panels were taken off.
The kids really liked seeing the shark's teeth and eyes on it so we ran
them during hot laps until we were forced to leave them off.
The other controversy involving this car was the motor offset. USAC
rules allow the motor to be offset in the chassis. The NWWC rules
allowed USAC legal cars to run in the series. JJ really didn't have
the parts to build the car straight up and it was assembled using the
parts off of one of the USAC cars. So, it would have been kind of
expensive to go out and buy the parts to make it SCRA legal. Did it
make a difference? I don't think so and here's why. The motor
is offset to the left, which places more weight on the left rear of the
car. This should produce more left rear drive. In USAC, they
can run a much more softer, stickier right rear tire and it helps to have
the car "off" the right rear some. Under SCRA/NWWC rules,
you have to run a much harder right rear tire (some 4 to 5 compounds
harder than an "open" tire) and you are already fighting for
right rear grip. The offset makes that problem worse and we
struggled throughout the tour to find good
balance in the rear of the car. I think it hurt us.
My impressions of the races?
I thought we had a very real shot at Oskaloosa until the last red flag
came out. Our tire sealed over under the red and never fired back up
afterwards. Something we should have been prepared for. The red gave
Travis Rilat the opportunity to get up in there (using the infield by the
way) and grab the big bucks. He did a good job but it hurt to see
them celebrate in the pit right next to us.
Fremont, well we won pretty convincingly there.
Williams Grove- Damian Gardner won pretty convincingly. We had a
birdcage bearing failure right after the red while in 2nd and that was it
for us. I think we may, I say may, have had a shot at it with the
changes we made under the red but I guess we'll never know.
JJ skipped Lincoln to run the USAC show at Salem but it was a great race
to watch. I know John Scott caught a lot of heat for being the
lapped car that slowed Tony Elliott on the last lap and allowed Richard
Griffin a shot at winning. Just what was Scott supposed to do, roll
over and die when he got the "move over" flag? In the
SCRA, they always say to keep your same line when you get that flag,
that's what John did. Couldn't Tony have moved to the bottom to
pass? Why did Johnny Makison ever move off the bottom? He
was faster than Elliott and Griffin both until he moved up top and then
flipped. Also, way too much dust at Lincoln. Lincoln and
Grandview were almost a carbon copy of each other dustwise as when we ran
their during the 93 tour.
Grandview- We took a little too much stagger out and that allowed
Billy Pauch the opportunity to get past us. I think you can still
hold your head up if you ran 2nd to Billy P at Grandview.
Godfrey- Mike Kirby started on the front row and we didn't.
Mike was much better on the cushion going into turns 3 & 4 and that
was the difference. Someone said we needed a few more laps but we wouldn't
have caught him in 20 more laps unless something weird happened. He
was faster than us. What was up with needing 10 (or whatever)
attempts to start that race?
Kansas City- The first night we ran in the top four and that was our
only goal. JJ had to travel to Springfield for the Silver Crown race
(he won) and they locked in the top four into Saturday's feature. On
the start, a power steering hose broke and we never had a chance at the
It's been a while since I've had a chance to watch JJ race and I forgot
that he's pretty darn good at driving these things. I mean, I knew
but it's the subtle things.
A lot of people asked me what I thought of Damian Gardner and I'm sure
I'll get a lot of nastygrams from the people who don't really read what
I'm saying. I think he'll be pretty darn good. He does some
amazing things in the car and he's fast. Do I like racing with him?
No and understand that this comes from a crewmember's perspective.
First and foremost, I see two types of drivers. The type that is not
likely to hit you and the type that
is, causing you to work your butt off getting the car fixed. Damian
is the 2nd type right now. What are the areas he needs to improve?
It seems like the longer the race goes on, the shorter his vision gets.
He had a higher than average number of hit or near misses on other cars
when the caution/red came out. His slide job skills need to get
better. I understand that $10k was on the line but watch the tape of
the slider he tried on Bud Kaeding at Kansas City and I think you'll agree
that it was not stellar. The SCRA guys
tend to be a little polite about these types of things but I guarantee you
that USAC will not. Especially when you are from the West Coast.
He also seemed to struggle when there wasn't a cushion to lean on.
If he improves those three things, then he'll be pretty hard for anyone to
catch. He appears to be on the fast track and I suspect he won't be
running with the SCRA for too much longer. Also, one last thought.
It's my understanding
that Damian is not considered eligible for Rookie of the Year in SCRA
because of his prior experience with a wing. It's my opinion that if
Nigel Mansel, the reigning World Champion in F1 at the time, was eligible
for and won Rookie of the Year in CART, then there is no reason why Damian
shouldn't be considered in the same way. Isn't it going to look kind
of funny if the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame votes him their non-wing
Rookie of the Year
and the SCRA doesn't?
I think JJ raced with a lot more pain from the Belleville crash than he
let on. I'd like to thank him and the rest of the GT Racing bunch
for putting up with me and letting me go on the tour with them. It
was great to hear that Shawn McDonald got a ride in the two seater at
Knoxville. I can't think of anyone more deserving. Not sure
when you'll hear from me again but I'll probably..
See ya at the races.