No. 959
August 15, 2018
 

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Peter DeLorenzo has been in and around the sport of racing since the age of ten. After a 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising, where he worked on national campaigns as well as creating many motorsports campaigns for various clients, DeLorenzo established Ujian-nasional.info on June 1, 1999. Over the years DeLorenzo's commentaries on racing and the business of motorsports have resonated throughout the industry. Because of the burgeoning influence of those commentaries, DeLorenzo has directly consulted automotive clients on the fundamental direction and content of their motorsports programs. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the sport today.

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Fumes


Monday
Sep282009

FUMES

September 30, 2009

 

Elation - and disaster - at the Runoffs.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 9/28, 11:00am) Elkhart Lake.
By every measure the Sports Car Club of America's National Championship Runoffs at Elkhart Lake's Road America were a rousing success for the club, the competitors, the track, the surrounding area businesses and for the sport of amateur road racing itself. The paddock was full, the overall "feel" of the event was upbeat and enthusiastic, and drivers and crews from all over the country - some of whom had never had the opportunity to compete at the spectacular Road America circuit - reveled in the atmosphere, despite the iffy weather earlier in the week-long festivities. And I can safely say that Year One of the three-year deal to hold the Runoffs was so successful that competitors will be clamoring to get back to the bucolic setting in the Kettle Moraine country of northern Wisconsin a year from now.

As a True Believer in the sport of amateur road racing in this country, it was gratifying to see the level of competition and the smiles all around in the paddock at Road America. It gave me hope that the sport will continue to be an integral part of the racing scene for many years to come. Kudos to George Bruggenthies and his wonderful group at Road America for hosting a spectacular event, and congratulations to the powers that be at the SCCA for agreeing to stage their premier road racing event at "America's National Park of Speed."

I was going to comment on some of the great races that I witnessed and the stellar driving on display in all of the classes, but allow me for a moment to get personal with the rest of this week's column.

As you know, my good friend Tim Gaffney and I concocted a plan to get him qualified for this year's Runoffs in the Formula Continental class in his "vintage" '88 Reynard SF88, which he did, finishing 4th in the Great Lakes Region, one point out of third. Tim is an executive with AMCI and quite an accomplished racer with extensive racing experience, including a stint in Japan in Formula Nissan and F3000 ('93 - '94), SCCA SPEED World Challenge ('01), as a Team Lexus factory driver in the Grand-Am Cup ('01 - '03), a Porsche GT3R in Grand Am ('05), a Banner Racing Corvette in Grand Am Rolex ('06), and in various SCCA and vintage racing events.

So we were hopeful that - despite chasing myriad problems all season long with the car - that Tim could get a great result at Road America. Little did we know that our little adventure would end up with my friend lying busted and broken in a hospital in Milwaukee - after being airlifted from the track - but that was the hand that was dealt for us at Road America.

Tim had a miserable practice and qualifying - with a a clogged fuel line filter being the culprit - but after a hardship lap on Friday morning, he deemed the car as being "ready to go," and Tim and I and his dad Tom - who thankfully was able to attend - were quietly confident for the race.

Because of the fuel line problem in qualifying, Tim was gridded last in the field of 24 on Saturday afternoon with no time, so after he rolled out on the pace lap we positioned ourselves up the hill in full view of the flag stand at the start/finish line so Tom could give Tim the "green-green-green" over the radio when the starter waved the green flag. After that, we determined that Tom would plant himself at "The Gearbox" concession stand with a view of Turns 5 and 14 and the run up the front straight, while I would be in Turn 5, both with radios on.

Tim got a tremendous start, and by the time he approached the Carousel, he had passed eight cars. But according to Tim's words, he came up on a competitor in the long right-hand sweeper "who bobbled a couple of times," so he got along side of him on the inside - exiting the Carousel. Just as Tim got along side of the other driver, he bobbled again which forced Tim to put his two right side wheels in the grass going into the infamous "Kink" - one of the most daunting corners in all of motorsport. And that's the last thing he's able to remember right now, although he suspects they did touch wheels.

Tim hit a wall with horrific impact, with the hit appearing to be focused slightly behind his left shoulder. Three corners of the car and the rear transaxle and suspension were torn away. Fortunately, the Reynard's left side chassis tubes protected Tim just enough, but he had suffered a huge hit. We then heard something over the PA system about a bad wreck in "The Kink" but given the nature of the noise and the garbled non-clarity of the PA system, we couldn't hear anything, and of course the announcer didn't know which cars were involved. And we couldn't reach Tim over the radio.

Confusion reigned for a moment, as a black FC was off in Turn 14, but we were finally able to determine that it wasn't Tim. Then we got in the golf cart and headed up to find out more, stopping up at the "bone yard" - the field above the paddock where wrecked cars were taken after all the races - but the people working there wouldn't allow us to see any of the cars under the tarps, even though we kept asking about the No. 95 car. "Policy."

Then we finally ended up at the Medical Center, and after Tom identified himself as family found out that Tim was the one involved in the bad wreck, but that "he was conscious and talking." After a few minutes, a senior doctor came out and told us that Tim was being airlifted to a medical facility "with multiple fractures" but that he was conscious and alert. And just then a helicopter roared overhead, with Tim in it.

Tim is now in a hospital in Milwaukee, with six broken ribs, a fractured left leg, severe bruising and contusions and a tremendous amount of pain. Tom is with him, and Tim will be there for a few more days until it can be determined how best to get him back home. As you can imagine we're all very thankful that it wasn't worse than that, because in the back of our minds we know it certainly could have been.

As most of us well know racing is an addiction, an obsessive pursuit unlike few others - complete with its wild swings between euphoria and frustration - and it's one of the most challenging endeavors human beings can involve themselves in. Even though it can provide the highest of highs and be absolutely fantastic when everything goes well, it can also deliver the most devastating of lows - when everything goes terribly wrong - like it did last Saturday afternoon.

But we move on, hopefully to enjoy the sport again another day.

My thanks to the medical staff and safety crews at Road America - and the staff at Froedterdt Memorial Lutheran Hospital - for doing their very best on behalf of Tim.

And a special thanks goes to Tom Gaffney for being there because he was an absolute rock in a very stressful time.

As Tom said, "I think I was meant to be here this weekend."

I believe he was too.


Publisher's Note:
We've enclosed a few pictures from last Saturday (below). My favorite? The one of Tim and his dad, who clearly had a ball hanging out together at the track.) UPDATE (6:15PM, 9/29): Tim is feeling much better and he hopes to be transported back home Thursday or Friday in order to continue his recuperation. Thank you to everyone for all of the kind words and thoughts. - PMD

Tim and Tom Gaffney in the Road America paddock on Saturday afternoon.

Tim resting before the race, and preparing to go out to the false grid (below).


Tim and his dad doing a radio check before the race.

Fall at Road America is hard to beat, and a great time for racing.

 

See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, October 1, at 7:00PM EDT at .

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