As some of you may already know, the ROUSH® Performance race team won the second race of the 2010 GRAND-AM Continental Tires series at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Of course, any win is a big deal, however, this was an especially big deal for me. It is now counted as the landmark 400th win for my father (though this doesn't include any of his drag racing wins of which there were plenty). I'm very honored to be a part of such an impressive line of victories.
The weekend went well for us from the beginning. In practice, we were consistently one of the fastest cars in each session. However, it's easy to get caught up in how fast you are in practice relative to other cars on the track. You never know who has fresh tires, or the type of setup they may have under the car at any time. Also, though a car may have a quick lap, it still may not be fast for the longer runs. Though we were fast, we relentlessly kept trying new tweaks on the setup, with a focus on how our car would perform over the course of the race.
Qualifying also went well for us. During the out lap, I had to quickly clear some traffic. Once this was done, I had two clear laps in which we had enough of a lead that we were comfortable in bringing the car in and parking it on pit lane. As a result, we could still use these tires as scuffs during the race.
After qualifying on pole and setting a new track record, the low point of the weekend hit for us. We were disqualified due to what the technical inspectors called an non-approved part on the No. 61 ROUSH® Mustang. Because of this we had to start the race at the back of the GS field.
The part in question was a brake duct that made for a nice integration into the front fascia. We made our best efforts to follow the letter of the rule book in creating this duct, but the technical inspectors believed that this part may have gave us an unfair advantage. Though I didn't like the decision, I respect the hard job that the series has in trying to make our races fair.
As it turns out, the brake duct wasn't the magic bullet that made us competitive. In the very next practice session we were again the fastest car on the track. We exclusively use Performance Friction Brakes on our race car. So, although the brake ducts may have been optimal for brake cooling and longevity, truth be told, our brake package didn't need such effective ducts. Not only was our suspension set-up great for our race, we could out-brake virtually every car we came up against.
The next time on track was the race. My strategy going into the race was first of all to not crash the car (while coming through the field from 34th). Secondly, I had to push to the front as quickly as possible. Finding the balance of speed and patience is challenging, especially while fighting your way through slower traffic.
Luckily, I was able to work my way up through the field without getting caught in any incidents. Due to our pit strategy and speed, we were in first place by the time I came in for our single pit stop and driver change of the race. This was about one hour and fifteen minutes in (right about half-way). The crew did an awesome job on the pit stop -- four tires, fuel, and a driver change. Now, my co-driver, Billy Johnson, was up next, and he was up to the job as always. After being shuffled back to 16th position due the pit stop, Billy made it all the way up to second near the end of the race. At this point, we were tight on fuel. So, Billy was given the stressful job of trying to manage fuel while fighting to both maintain and gain position. The No. 13 Rum Bum BMW was in front of us, and we were gradually closing in. Given this, it was very unclear if we were going to make it to the end of the race on fuel, and even if we were, it would have been a battle to get by the No. 13 car. However, they were unable to finish the race due to an incident where it got backed up in traffic and hit the car in front of it. The impact caused the No. 13 car's hood to fly up over the windshield and blind the driver. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the crash. The ensuing yellow flag tightened up the field behind us. Once the green flag dropped, Billy hauled the mail all the way to victory lane with just a few laps left.
There are many people who have contributed to this success. I have to give credit to our crew chief, Quinn Conda, for providing us with an awesome car. He took the driving feedback from Billy and me, along with other data, and made great judgments to dial in the car. Our crew also did a great job, both on and off pit lane. I'd also like to thank Brad Francis and my father for the truly great insight and support that they both bring to our program. And of course, I must thank our team sponsors: ROUSH® Performance, Diarkis, UPT, Performance Friction Brakes, Kooks Headers, PWR, BMRS, Image Builders Marketing, and Mechanix Wear.
Other than the car itself, I believe that I have made some strong gains in my driving since the beginning of the year. One of the things that I think made the biggest difference was my laser eye surgery last December. Shortly before I started in Grand-Am in 2006, I started wearing glasses due to eye strain that I was having while working in front of a computer. When I was a child, my vision was about 20/15. By the time I started wearing glasses as an adult, my vision was about 40/20. The cause of this was a defect in my vision called a "coma." It's similar to astigmatism, but the lens surface is more irregular, making it impossible for glasses to completely correct vision. As a result, my vision in racing was compromised. With glasses, there is a warping of light around the surface of the lens across the possible eye positions. Also, as I said, even in looking in one spot, the correction for me wasn't ideal. And, that's not to mention the issue of decreased peripheral vision either.
Even though my vision wasn't bad, my good friend Brad Francis encouraged me to consider getting laser eye surgery. As I looked into it, I began to think that there was maybe some potential here. So, I went to one of the leading eye surgeons in Michigan, Dr. Haddad of the Laser Eye Institute. They did a great job for me. Their service and expertise were second to none. As I found out next time I was on the track, the gains in my driving were better than I had realistically hoped. Though my vision wasn't as bad as someone who would typically get the vision corrected, in driving race cars, subtlety is everything. I think that the following things have helped me in my driving as a result of this:
- Because I can see better (20/15, just as good as I was as a child), my mind can focus more fully on other aspects of driving.
- My mental endurance is greater, again because my mind doesn't have to work as hard to process information.
- Also because of my improved vision, I can better understand the surface of the track rather than having to feel out the track by trial and error and remember it on the following lap.
Next up for my driving is my first oval track race in a sprint car at Hickory Raceway on March 24th and 25th, followed by our next Continental Tire series race at Barber Motorsports Park on April 10th. Stay tuned, as we should have some interesting updates soon on this.