Qualifying was next. With the long back stretch at Road Atlanta everyone knew that whoever had the best draft lap would be on pole. But Skip Barber had thought of this, too. We were split into three groups, and sent out on the track with huge gaps. And one rule: Do not draft! Any lap that you had a draft would be discounted, although this wouldn’t be a big deal because it would be very unlikely you could catch the car that was gapped so far ahead. In qualifying, your fastest lap would be your starting position for the first race, second fastest for the second race, and third fastest for the third race; for each pole position, you would receive one point.
The Shootout would consist of six races. Qualifying for the last three races would be held the following day. I was in the third group, which, I must admit, did have a slight disadvantage. The sun was at a perfect (or maybe not so perfect) point so that you could see nothing! Turns 3 and 5 were the worst. I had no idea where the track was, although I was lucky to set three pretty decent laps. My laps were good enough to have me start in fourth position for the first three races.
I arrived at the track the next day to face surprisingly chilly Atlanta weather. Everyone was tense for the first race. We all knew what was at stake. The beginning of Race One was relatively calm. We all got out of Turn 1 clean and were all tightly packed. I was able to get out front and attempt to pull away. I pushed very hard to try to get the biggest gap I could before the back stretch but it wasn’t big enough, and before the brake zone, I had fallen to third. No worries; there were still 10 laps to go.
The next four laps were filled with drivers jockeying for position and making their attempts to pull away. I was happy to stay calm and away from the four-wide actions. No point throwing it away in the first race. But I may have been a bit too cautious. With four laps to go, Jake Eidson was able to break away from the pack; I had let myself fall to seventh place. It was time to push again. Over the next three laps I was able to pull back to third position, right behind second place. I was happy with the result but also happy that I had made a mistake like this early, and I now knew what to work on for the following races.
Race Two would begin shortly. Armed with the knowledge from the first race, I knew what I had to do. I started the race with a pass right from my oval playbook, going three wide into Turn 1 to snatch second place, and on the back stretch, I took the lead. But on the way back to Turn 1 I was passed by Jake Eidson into the turn. I followed closely and then, going down the back stretch, we gave each other the lineup signal.
This was key. Instead of battling into every corner, Jake and I would work together and to pull a gap on the rest of the field. I would pass Jake on the back stretch and he would pass me on the front stretch. This would go on till there were four laps left, where Jake didn’t pass me into Turn 1. Then we both knew it was on, it was time to race. Going down the back stretch Jake made his move and passed me, and attempted his break away.
I waited right behind him until the last lap, never letting him get too far ahead. I made my move, passed him on the back stretch. I was able to hold Jake off to the line to win Race Two. I immediately got out of the car in the pits and went up to Jake. I shook his hand and said what a great race it was, and how it was fantastic to work with him. I would have done the same thing if I had finished second. It was smart racing between two tough racers, thinking of the big picture.
Race Three never really felt good. I had trouble getting set up in a new car, and when I finally did, it was not 100%. But this was no bother; I drove as hard and as fast as I could, and came home with a sixth place finish. I knew if the sixth was my worst finish I would be ok (you can drop your worst finish). It was the last race of the day, but the day was far from over.
Fitness testing was next. We were tested on our reaction times, body fat %, heartbeat, and push-ups. That was tough, especially at the end of a long day.
Missed the beginning? Read Part I