What a great event! After a 4.5 hour drive up to the championships on Thursday, I went right to work touching bases with race management and all of our drivers. I didn’t get to race this year, but that allowed me to fully focus on the success of our class at the event. As acting Series Director, I saw it as my job to both help the drivers comply with the rules and ensure that everything concerning the class and its rules went smoothly. Also, as a daily professional mechanic and the world’s biggest fan of the 944 Spec class, I saw it as my duty to keep as many cars running and on the grid as possible. I want to personally thank all the drivers who showed their appreciation of my efforts with their kind words. That really makes up for my not being able to race with you guys!
As always, we were supposed to have more drivers in attendance, but life gets in the way of racing. Those that made it were Tony Mazzagotti from the Las Vegas group, JP Molnar from the Arizona group, Ron Dale from the NorCal group, and Tom Atteberry, Marcelo Vine, Jim Richmond, Chuck Sharp, Gerry De Lira, and John Niedernhofer from the SoCal group. Chuck’s wife, Debbie, was also running their 944 in another class and not too far away in the paddock was Joey Genitempo, who was also running his 944 in another class.
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2016 944Spec Western States Championship Race Broadcast
Fast foreword to 20 mins to begin the broadcast.
Friday’s schedule had a warm up and qualifying session followed by a qualifying race. The top 4 car/driver combos of the day so far were Atteberry, Sharp, Molnar, and Niedernhofer. Several days earlier, I had coordinated with the chief of tech and chosen to put every car across the scales after each session. Even though I knew most of the cars had already been to a dyno recently, either at the track or at home, I also chose to send the top 3 cars through the whistler test after Friday’s qualifying race. This would give them time to fix compression ratios found outside the rules in plenty of time for Sunday’s Championship race. The whistler is a testing device that actually blows air into the combustion chamber at top dead center and creates a musical note which translates to a compression ratio for our 4 cylinder, 151.2 cubic inch engines. The 3 cars tested blew a 10.1, a 10.3, and a 10.5 to 1 compression ratio. That last one being right at the limit, but still legal. That sealed the race finishing order as Sharp, Niedernhofer, Molnar, and Atteberry. The 944 of Marcelo Vine was already down for a warped head. With the head off, I saw they already had 88 high compression pistons and warned the guys working on his car that shaving the head further might put them over the compression ratio limit. They concurred. Thanks to their crew’s valiant effort, the repaired head would be installed in time for Saturday morning’s warm up session. That same afternoon, the rest of us enjoyed a small keg of Culture Brewing’s best, provided by none other than one of their founders who’s also one of our racers, John Niedernhofer. With a German name like that, his brewery HAS to make good beer, right?! And they did.
Saturday dawned beautifully. My plan was to test that same car with the warped head immediately after the first session. Again, this was in order to give them time to make repairs in case there were problems. Oh boy was there! The machining to true the warped head proved too much and she blew a hefty 11.7 to 1 on the whistler. That team was understandably disappointed after their efforts but was also offered a spare head in true 944 Spec fashion. They elected to retest in the morning and pending a pass or fail, would enter the race legally or race as a “fun run” competitor, with no points. Strangely enough, that afternoon we also had two cars go down simultaneously for alternators: Niedernhofer and Richmond. Usually, it’s just the voltage regulator that’s bad, but these were both honest to goodness alternator failures. I swapped out Niedernhofer’s and then helped finish Richmond’s swap just barely in time for the qualifying race. Both cars ran well and this time the race finishing order was Molnar, Niedernhofer, Sharp, and Atteberry with some really exciting dicing going on. Position changes and lead changes made it a very entertaining sprint with many groans from the crowd during the off track excursions and many cheers for the successful pass attempts. Looking at the lap times, the finishing positions, and the race craft, the Championship race on Sunday was still very up for grabs. The wild card was Marcelo Vine and his #9 944. His car was fast and it was obvious that he could drive well. But would the car be legal to compete on Sunday morning?
Saturday evening saw 4 pre-planned, and NASA-sponsored, “pub crawl” sites around the paddock with a budget for food and a keg of beer. What a great idea! The 944 Spec guys took the idea and ran with it. Our drivers coordinated amongst themselves and chose Brats and Italian sweet sausage. Late in the afternoon, Ryan Flaherty dropped off a tub, a bunch of ice, and our keg of Deschutes IPA. Some 944 drivers and their wives went to work on the food, tables, etc. Gerry De Lira and I went to work on the décor. We started by bracketing the pub area with 2 clean, freshly painted 944 Spec race cars and by raising my PORSCHE flag on its 22 foot tall pole! THAT made our party easy to find in the paddock. I also brought a 5 1/2 foot tall Porsche crest. Gerry, the recently retired Marine, scrambled his 120 pounds up a ladder and we duct taped it to the front of his RV facing the “pub.” He then produced a small flood light and we lit up the crest like a beacon. We improvised for our other pub décor. Besides the normal folding tables, the drivers rolled 16 TOYO TIRES/wheels over to the site and we made 4 stacks of 4 tires; each pair neatly topped with an aluminum race trailer ramp. Made for a nice couple of bars to set your food and beer on and had a great motorsports feel to it. The 944 Spec group all wore our Track Monkey Apparel T-shirts to show who the hosts of the site were and we did our best to ensure all had their fill. With that many people attending, it didn’t take long for the big keg to start floating higher and higher in the tub of ice. The music was good, but the spectacular sunset in the west, coupled with a big, beautiful, honest to science “super- moon” in the east, made for a great relaxing party atmosphere. We had a good-sized crowd the whole time and I received many comments the next day that the 944 Spec site was the best! We’ll do even better next year!
Sunday came in with another beautiful morning. Unfortunately, the retest of the failing car confirmed that the first test was accurate and they graciously thanked the tech team and entered Vine as a no points entry. At 9:40 am, all the 944’s took to the track for the 45 minute sprint race to determine this year’s West Coast Champion. With the driver/car combos being so close in performance, we all knew it would be a matter of who made the least mistakes. A little bit of dicing and few mistakes by the 2nd, 3rd , and 4th cars was enough to let JP Molnar check out early. He checked out so well he should have been a concierge! JP drove a pretty much mistake free drive with no visible drama and took the honors confidently. Adding more icing to the cake was the fact that it was his birthday! So the 2016 title belongs to JP Molnar, with Sharp in 2nd, and Atteberry in 3rd. Some big checks from TOYO TIRES were handed out (How they get those big checks through the bank teller window I’ll never know!). We had prizes from Kyle Yost at Only944.com in the form of VERY useful 944 racing parts. Joe at Focus 9 Technology provided a redesigned DME for the winner. Josh and Leila Vieira from Track Monkey Apparel supplied more nice POLO event shirts. Of course, everything got sprayed with champagne, which made the ink run on the big checks. Seeing the opportunity, all three drivers quickly tried to “modify” the check amount while the ink was still wet. Worth noting is that during his “fun run”, Marcelo Vine started last and made it up to 3rd place at the checkers. We had close racing with only 1 instance of contact during the whole weekend; and that in the final race. After filling out the proper contact reports with tech and upon further reflection, neither driver felt the need to “press charges” because there were no boneheaded moves involved. To me, this represents the same level of respect that we’ve seen and have come to expect from our 944 racers. That’s one of the reasons why I’m still solidly behind this class. You 944 Spec racers know all the others.