2015 was filled with many highs and lows for me in all aspects of my career. I think this year was better than any other year of my career thus far. I felt that not only did I achieve great results this season on track but I also reached some personal goals off track. Improving yourself in any way is definitely an important part of being a racing driver. You need to be able to handle your driving, business relations, self-market, and manage your technical knowledge of the cars; while at the same time balance work, family, and personal relationships. It's definitely a lot of work and can become overwhelming at the worst of times. It's almost like living two lives at once. You have your everyday life with schooling, work, family, and friends. Then you have your racing life; a completely different monster.
Let's start with the low points of this year first. It'll kind of be like being presented good and bad news at the same time. Most would rather hear the bad news first right? If not, maybe it's just me. Either way, every aspiring professional racing driver has a low point in their season every once in a while. I would rather not call them "low points" or "the lows" because you can always learn from a bad situation but there are times when you wish something would have gone your way. These few lows are those times.
1. Palm Beach International Raceway - March 2015
This low is purely a case of bad luck. I had qualified outside row one (2nd), about .200 of a second off pole. We made some changes that would help the car's understeer issues that plagued the handling in slow sweeping corners. Then the skies opened up. It was clear that the day was over once the tech sign started to skate across the paddock on the river that ran across the facilities. This was accompanied by large amounts of lightening and sudden gusts of wind. A typical Florida spring thunderstorm for sure. SCCA Florida Region announced that the one and half hour endurance race was to start at the end of the day on Sunday. That worked fine for me, I stayed the night with a team mate happily knowing that my race would start the next day. All that had to be done was to make sure the driver that rented the car out for the sprint races on Sunday would bring the car home in one piece. Sadly this was not the case. Thus ending the first race weekend of the season and making it to number one on the (thankfully) short list of lows for 2015.
2. Sebring International Raceway - September 2015
Last but not least on the list of lows for 2015 is my somewhat disappointing and perplexing race at Sebring International Raceway. I came into this race weekend ready to capitalize on my recent podium streak spanning across the previous three race weekends (more on that in the highs). The car had just gotten a newer engine to replace the original that was damaged on a test day a few events earlier. So it was up to me to benchmark and take note of the engine in the car. It felt strong, not nearly as strong as the original engine but it was close in power. The only thing that concerned me through out the warm-up and qualifying sessions was that the rear of the car danced quite a bit under braking. Naturally I thought of turning the brake bias towards the front a bit. This didn't solve the problem. We looked at the rear suspension and torqued the wheel and axle nuts around the car. We even checked the wheel bearings and shocks. Nothing was wrong with the car. I could not just feel something was up with the car's balance, but the time sheets showed it as well. I was a second and a half off my times at Sebring from 2014. Something was definitely a miss. I went out for the race, starting third. About five laps in, I started noticing strange movements from the car on the back straight-away between turns 16 and 17 (Sunset Turn). The rear was swaying back and forth, almost like it was starting to crab walk. After a few laps of dealing with the problem, the car started to wash out entering turn 17. I decided it was time to pull the car in. We checked the car in the pits, still nothing. I made the decision to pull the plug and park her for the rest of the race. I didn't need the ever-growing chance of stuffing the car in the tire wall to become a reality. Later that night the team found the problem to be a wallowed-out axle nut. The nut would tighten and torque properly with a torque wrench, but would come loose because of the car's vibrations.
Now we can move on to the good stuff. The meat and potatoes if you will. The greatest part about the highs of a season is knowing that everything came to a nearly perfect or perfect moment of blissful success for you because YOU worked hard at it. There are a plethora of factors that go into winning or scoring a podium finish in a race. Hard work and dedication are only half parts of the equation. Sometimes luck is more of a deciding factor than anything else, as you can tell from number one in "The Lows" above.
1. Daytona International Speedway - May 2015
Trying to qualify with nearly fifty pounds of air in each tire is a difficult prospect. Although it was quite surprising to me when I qualified 3rd in class and within the top ten overall even with my car's setup being off substantially. Even though I qualified some what well, it wasn't enough to keep traffic from bogging me down at the start. I eventually worked through slower production car traffic and the rest of the field started to spread out. That's when I caught up to Stuart Mullen, who was the class leader. Stuart and I started an epic battle overtaking each other several times during a fifty minute battle that would finally end as I pitted for my five minute pit-stop. As I was starting to turn off onto the Daytona road course pit exit, the new class leader passed me. He had a gap of a second and a half on me but we matched our lap times every other lap. I ended up finishing second place in class and third overall. My first double podium finish of my car racing career!
2. Homestead-Miami Speedway - June 2015
The endurance race at Homestead was almost a carbon copy of my success at Daytona International Raceway a month earlier. Except with a lot more rain...and lightening. I qualified decently for my first ever race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, third in class and fifth overall. The start of the race was very clean. It didn't take long for everyone to spread out and for the lead pack to reach lap traffic. In the distance you could see a typical Florida summer thunderstorm making its' way to the track. Just after we made our pit stop the skies opened up. We decided to stay out on slicks to save time. I was to consolidate and try to pound out some fast laps, while keeping the car on track and out of trouble. The plan worked out well but it wasn't enough to close the gap to first in class who had pulled a five second gap while I was in the pits. Just like the previous race at Daytona International Speedway, I finished second in class and third overall.
3. Roebling Road Raceway - June/July 2015
I was only planning to work this race with my team, Prism Motorsports, but Tilden and Maggie Kinlaw (Owners of Prism Motorsports) gave me the opportunity just a few days prior to leaving for the race. Needless to say I had to rush to clean and prepare my racing gear as I just returned from Homestead-Miami Speedway the week before. The rush was well worth it. Armed with a set of twelve and thirteen cycle tires my plan was to focus on learning more car control and less on event performance. Instead of my usual endurance race, this weekend was a double sprint formatted event. We had one qualifying session and one sprint race per day. On Saturday the twelve cycle tires proved their worth with struggle (that was sarcasm). It was difficult to keep up with the race leaders with a set of tires that had already peaked and fallen off in grip levels. I pushed hard enough to still earn a nice second place finish behind a fellow team mate. Sunday was a different story. I missed my qualifying session to help get all of our drivers out on track, so I started from the back in the sprint race. It started to rain on the pace lap, which was perfect for my tires. In the dry the tires were worn out, but in the rain it didn't matter anymore. I quickly shuffled through the field missing quite a few small incidents and ended up right behind my team mate. I was turning consistently faster times than him but couldn't find a gap to slip through with out taking us both out. So I finished second once again. These two podiums plus the other two double podium finishes earlier this year made a total of six podiums, three double podium weekends in a row.
4. Inverness Grand Prix - November 2015
In early September I decided to rebuild my Gillard Daytona from my last years in karting to make a return to the karting scene in between my car racing seasons. When I mean rebuild, I literally meant I stripped the kart down to the bare frame, cleaned all of the parts, and rebuilt every system that I could in preparation for this year's Inverness Grand Prix. My girlfriend (Danielle), my father (Jeff), and my mentor (Mark Eaton) all helped me reach my goal of competing at Inverness Grand Prix and finishing the kart prep in time. I get on track for the first time since 2013 and immediately find my bearings and settle right in to the kart. There's only one problem, the kart is stiff. The frame isn't flexible enough to properly handle the bumps on the course, let alone the corners. Mark and I made some changes and it instantly pays off. I end up turning a lap three-fourths of a second faster than the second fastest kart. We both know there is more we can get out of the kart, chassis-wise and engine-wise. So we made some more changes that would have guaranteed us dropping at least another half of a second. Sadly we never got the chance to try out our changes. Again, for the third time this season we had a day shortened by Mother Nature. Let's just say a river running across the paddock and racing surface ankle deep puts a damper on any kind of racing... We were definitely looking at a sweep of the race event. This was our first pole of the year as well.