As I wound my way to Virginia yesterday I thought about the excitement of going back to one of my favorite tracks, Virginia International Raceway. It is just about a half mile over the North Carolina border, but it takes you into another world. The world of racing, with all its sights, sounds, and smells.
This was a special racing event for a couple of important reasons. It was part of the ChumpCar series which means that it is real grassroots racing. Sure, the professional series such as NASCAR, Indy, and F1 are spectacular, but it takes huge fortunes just to get on the grid, but the ChumpCar series is one that is affordable and allows participation in many ways in the sport of competitive driving.
This event was a 24 hour race. That means to finish first, you must first finish. Having a fast car is nice, but having a reliable car is paramount.
The team my visit focused on had done very well in the previous event at Watkins Glen and reliability was core to how their car performed.
Being a 24 hour event meant refueling and driver changes as well as the inevitable attrition of a field of nearly 100 cars.
People love these races because they are so accessible and fun to watch. There is a family atmosphere that is lacking in the big-time professional series.
The people on the teams are just as competitive, but they also understand the value of helping each other out with parts, advice, and even lending a hand.
The teams spent a great deal of time preparing their cars and their people. Rehearsing fueling procedures and going over checklists to ensure that everything is ready prior to getting on the grid.
The pit boxes are arranged with tools, tires, and radios. Duties are discussed and contingencies are planned for.
Once the car is on the grid the driver is focused on the start where staying in the front of the pack really makes a difference.
As the start approaches the tension mounts.
Then the cars are off and the teams real work begins. In the first two hours there are offs which result in yellow flags slowing the cars down as a safety car leads them around the track while crews clean up and tow the unfortunate car back to the teams pit area or garage.
After the first two hours it was approaching the time when cars would come in for fuel and a change of drivers.
Attrition is the reality of a 24 hour endurance race. The team whose car was so reliable had to deal with an on track, car-to-car impact, that took out two of their wheels.
Hours ticked by as injured parts were scrounged and replaced.
Back in the pits the long hours were wearing folks down. Sleep was taken where it could be taken.
With four hours to go teams discussed concerns and strategies.
The cars would continue to run as the time ticked by.
This is a ChumpCar event where you can experience a race as a spectator or as a part of the crew. The sound of engines being asked to provide as much power as possible. The smell of hot brake pads and loads of burned and unburned hydrocarbons, mix with the sights of triumph and failure.
This is racing that is accessible to people at a grassroots level. Take the time to find out when an event like this comes to a track near you and go and have the time of your life.