In the last story I left off with my first SCCA Runoff's just 6 weeks away and who will I be able to find to go with me! Well, while I was attending Mini Meet West over Labor Day weekend, long time mini owner Mike Fazzi stepped up to fill that need and also my old friend and (at that time) fellow mini racer George Captanis went along this first year.
Fazzi went to the Runoff's with me thru 1989 and then for 1990 I was again on the hunt for someone to help me out and this is when (again at Mini Meet West) Rich Warnock raised his hand and stepped up to help me out and Rich is still with me today, and doing a fine job he is!!! Rich did miss one year (2003) going with me (due to personal issues) but another long time racing friend and current historic mini racer Rod Davis filled in for Richie that year.
About a week or so before the 1991 Runoff's I called my long time mini friend Don Racine, owner of Mini Mania and said "hey Don, how about buying me a set of tires for the Runoff's and we can put Mini Mania in front of the SCCA folks! Don said "let me think on it Bill-I will have to think thru how Mini Mania can best capitalize on this"...
The next day Don called me back and said "I haven't figured it out yet but I will say that Don Racine, long time friend of Bill Gilcrease, says yes let's do it and we will see where it leads..." MINCOMP & Team Mini Mania are now in their 19 year racing together and we are looking forward in celebrating our 20th year together in 2011!
For the 1994 year the Runoff's moved from Road Atlanta and spent the next eleven years at the famous Mid-Ohio Racetrack! In 2006 the Runoff's moved to Heartland Park-Topeka, Ks. for three years when the Runoff's made its move to its current location at Road America, Wi. beginning with the 2009 Runoff's.
Over the years the MINCOMP MINI has gone from being a converted street tub based mini race car to what is now a full tube frame purpose built race mini! Although the SCCA GT rules do allow building a mini as a rear wheel drive (RWD) as my friend Joe Huffaker did, I chose to keep the MINCOMP MINI front wheel drive (FWD) as I am very comfortable with FWD and besides I think that a RWD mini is just "wrong"...In a lot of respects the MINCOMP MINI looks very much like it did many years ago but most of the development over the last ten years (or so) are subtle, in some places very subtle! You would think that after 27 years of driving the same basic race car there would not be much for me (as the driver) to learn, not necessarily so! I would venture to say that every time I drive the mini I learn something (good or bad) and I believe that these little things that I still pick-up on while driving has probably been the single biggest performance enhancement over the last few years!
In the consolidated GT4 & GT5 classes that is now known as GT Lite, looking at the class rules of today the mini has gotten shuffled back (competitiveness wise) with 3-4 valve 1600-1800cc dominating the class now! Since the consolidation the smaller displacement former GT5 cars such as the mini have pretty much been ignored and thus most of the mini's that filled the GT5 fields of years past have gone away. Fact is at last year the MINCOMP MINI was the only mini to enter the Runoff's, but so far this year the mini numbers have doubled since last year as currently we have two mini's entered for the 2010 Runoff's at Road America! For 2011 the GT Lite rules have been modified and perhaps these new rules will offer some relief and perhaps some of those mini's that went away will start finding their way back!
Well...the 2009 SCCA Runoff's have again come and gone! After a 3 year detour in Topeka, Kansas the Runoff's have been moved for at least the next three years to the challenging and beautiful Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Road America is the home of the SCCA June Sprints and is a 4 mile long 14 turn course with three long straights! Although the track is a really cool one those three long straights are not what is needed for racing a mini! Yes, there are 14 turns leading on to these straights that the mini can take advantage of but (here it comes again) it has three long straights and compared to the competition the mini struggles with straight-line speed.
This was my 24th consecutive Runoff's and although the MINCOMP MINI was there my name won't be showing up in any record books this year! Road America, like any new track is one that a driver needs laps of practice on to learn the nuances and lack of track time is what plagued me this year!
During Mondays practice session, on my 2nd lap, 1 of the 3 mounting ears on the clutch diaphragm cover fractured, so end of day ones practice, 2 laps! Day 2, Tuesday qualifying it poured rain all day...Day 3, Wednesday qualifying, as soon as started down pit road to enter the track the engine would not run past 1/2 throttle! Limped around the 4 miles and back to the paddock to start the diagnostic process.
Found that the barrel of one of the Webber DCOE auxiliary ventures had broken and was (instead of being in the barrel of the carb) was down stream in the cylinder head lodged between the valve guide and valve stem! Frustrating, 3 days and a total of 3 laps on the new track...
Day 4, Thursday final qualifying, Sitting on pre-grid we are given the 1 minute board and it starts raining!!! It only rained for about 30-45 seconds but enough to get the track wet, so I did 3-4 medium speed laps exploring the wet track and waiting for the race line to dry off. I felt that the track would now take some speed so I picked-up my pace. When I got to the left hand turn 5 the track wasn't ready for the speed that I was going and I slid thru the turn and over the outside dragons teeth! EXPLANATION: Normally the apex's of the turns are bordered by some-sort-of curbing or alligators teeth but at Road America the apex curbing is bordered by progressive alligators teeth culminating in "DRAGONS" teeth (starts off aggressive and turns violent). These dragons teeth are very violent and will break things on some cars! And they did...broke a right side upper front ball joint and fractured the steering shaft support on the Mini Mania/MINCOMP MINI!
So I qualified 21st whilst dragging the right front fender on the tire and chassis on the track! So in the end, I had a great race! I was finally able to string together enough consecutive laps to be able to start learning the track and my times reflected this and got better with each lap. I started 21st and finished 14th...
Like I said, you won't be seeing my name in the record books but I was there, I was the only MINI racing at the Runoff's this year but I look foreword to doing a bunch better next year now that I have had some practice laps at Road America!