Old Dogs, Old Tricks, Pt VIII
Doubling Down at Daytona
Once again the Dean Axe Vintage Racing Traveling Road Show has taken on the road. This time it was the long haul South to the famous high banks of Daytona International Speedway and the 42nd running of WKA’s KartWeek.
Since our last outing at Michigan International Speedway and the Fall Classic we have been working flat out preparing for our Daytona assault. The “Falcon” was very well prepared indeed and confidence levels were high to say the least.
There’s no time like the present to thank the many people that made this adventure possible. As always Team Principle Dean Axe has a way of making things happen. Crew Chief the indefatigable Kenny Holden AKA Goose is always there when needed. Then there’s Randy McDaniels who once again served as truck driver, all around helper and friend who seems to live on Mountain Dew and peanuts. Thanks go to “The Man” Kelly Read who donated his expertise on the clutch program and the list goes on.
Despite the fact that I race in the Vintage categories and that I’m probably considered Vintage myself I don’t often wax nostalgic. But while relaxing in the back of the infamous “Black Pearl” on the trip down it was impossible not to think back an incredible 41 years ago and my first visit to KartWeek.
Thinking back to those days long ago and that awe inspiring debut at a historic facility and the fact that the die was set from that point onward with two class wins by the end of the week. With my mind filled with happy thoughts the miles melted away and upon arrival at Daytona the sun was shining brightly with the towering structure of DIS looming in the background.
Move in day was uneventful with blue skies and bright sunshine making the scene glow. The chance to meet with old friends that you only see at best once a year was priceless.
Finally it was time to take to the track and the first session was used up breaking in engines and generally shaking down the car. The only glitch we ran into was a mysterious rear brake problem that wasn’t anticipated but thanks to some very hard work by Dean and Goose things were repaired in short order.
From that point on everything just clicked, and every single change that we made only went faster. Shortened the pipes, went faster, adjusted the clutches, went faster, changed the gear, went faster. At that point with one round of practice left I made the decision to stand down, make some small fine tuning adjustments and wait for race day.
Well that plan didn’t work out so well, upon arising we were greeted with fog, a heavy mist and a low overcast somehow making DIS look like some bizarre werewolf movie.
The gloom continued well past noon with temps hanging in the mid 50s. With all the dampness it wasn’t just cool it was damned cold. By this time the general consensus was that the day was going to get washed out. The rain delay was sort of a blessing as Goose became afflicted with a severe reaction to something and visited the hospital but still making it back in time for the race itself properly medicated and all.
Then all of a sudden the PA system crackled to life and to the surprise of all the first race of the day was being called to the grid. All of the races were cut to half distance and no practice was offered.
We were scheduled to run the last race group of the day and as the cold day rolled on we finally were called to the grid. Now this is the part where I would like to tell you that there was a huge turn out in the Vintage division and that we were going to have our hands full.
But that wasn’t the case at all, turn out was quite light and it was obvious that we would be the class of the field and it was our race to lose.
Finally Green Flag and as predicted the “Falcon” rocketed off the line leaving the other Vintage machines in our wake as we worked our way through the supposedly faster classes ahead of us.
Then with three laps to go the red flag came out with all the expected confusion on the grid as we prepared to take the restart. Suddenly WKA flagman Phil Clements walked up to us and asked if we were going to take the restart. Perplexed I looked around to find to my astonishment that we were the only Vintage car left running.
Since race starts at Daytona are usually high speed Keystone Kops events I decided to stand down rather than risking the car without improving our results. The day was in the books and we were scored as the winner although the feeling was more than a little anticlimactic.
Race day #2 dawned cool but at least bright, with temps in the low 40s I decided to bail on practice as little could be learned on the cold track. Then the wait began as we were once again scheduled to run in the last race group. Finally race time rolled around and we were gridded last among a hodge podge of classes including TAG, Yamaha laydown sprint, a bevy of 4 cycle classes with the Vintage guys pulling up the rear.
The start went off in three waves with the first class getting the green flag a full 20 seconds before we took the start. But finally the green flag flew and once into the road course it was Keystone Kops again with cars spinning at random place around the circuit. Hitting the back straight I was up by the wall passing long strings of cars when the yellow flashers came on and another red flag was issued.
Knowing that we didn’t really have any realistic competition I became determined to see how quickly I could dispatch the classes in front of me and take the overall lead. It was time to show Dean what this baby could do.
Again the green flag flew and the Keystone Kops pack of whirling dervishes did their thing on the first lap many of them spinning around in unison like a synchronized swimming event. Carefully picking my way through the maelstrom I eventually found daylight and began a surge towards the front of the pack.
We had gridded up 69th overall with one wave being 20 seconds ahead and another 10 seconds up the road. By the end of the second lap we were in the top 20 and on lap 5 I passed the lead pack in the tri oval taking the overall lead having made up the 20 second deficit passing 68 machines in the process.
Bending the “Falcon” into the first turn the SCCA corner worker was pointing at me and clapping his hands over his head. Every corner station the rest of the lap did likewise. As the laps wore down I took the checkers from Phil Clements and on the cool down lap to a man the corner workers stepped to the edge of the track displaying an enthusiastic thumbs up.
These gestures meant a lot to me and I doubt you could have wiped the smile off my face with a ball bat. So here we were 41 years after the first double Daytona win with another one in the pocket. Many times did I pinch myself just to make sure that it was real and not a dream.
Of course into each life some adversity always arises and by the end of the evening I began to come down with a blue ribbon winning dose of the flu. This made the long ride home to the frozen North a lot less than pleasant but this wild ride at Daytona will remain with me forever.
Farewell Daytona, may we meet again.
***Author Greg Wright is the owner and operator of Rapid Racing Inc. A full time, full service kart racing company outside of Indianapolis Indiana since 1983