Wednesday, March 12, 2008

To the Swift Goes the Race


Last weekend I had the great privilege and pleasure to watch my friend Josh Pitt of Tucson Arizona race at Willow Springs Raceway, the self-proclaimed "Fastest Track in the West." Josh pilots a Formula Ford style racer called a "Swift" and boy is he ever!


The marvelous Swift!

After a busy Saturday morning, Ethan and I left San Diego for points Northward, specifically Rosamond, CA. Rosamond is a small town probably best known for the race track and being the closest civilized town to Edwards Air Force Base. A restaurant owner who runs an Italian joint called Zuma's told me that where once 20,000 airmen were on base and frequented Rosamond, now there are only contractors who "go home every night." The postscript on that conversation is that business is way down.

Getting back on track (pun intended), we checked in to a small cheap hotel near the highway about 3:30pm on Saturday and booked over to Willow Springs. I'd been there several times before, twice to attend Reg Pridmore's CLASS motorcycle school and once to drive my Miata during a "track day" on the Streets of Willow course (note: there are 2-3 different tracks that comprise the racing complex there, with the Streets course being one of them).

The race track at sunset

Trouble immediately reared its ugly head - I had NO idea what Josh's motorhome or car even looked like. Pit Row was filled with expensive coaches, trailers and all manner of race cars. So, we parked and started walking... ultimately hanging out near the closest garages to the Pits. It was very windy that afternoon and while rescuing a blown-away ballcap, who did I run into but Josh! Great to see him again.

He and the Swift had already practiced and run the qualifying race, winning his group and picking up a bunch of points in the racing series.

The chase is on!

Dang! If only we'd gotten out of San Diego earlier. Still, there were a few cars on the track making their last runs of the day so we got a little show. As the sun went down, we made plans to meet Josh and Curtis, his pit crewman, the next morning. He would be qualifying again for the finals, and then of course God willing would be racing for the whole enchilada!

Cooling heels in the Pits

The "road trip" with my son was REALLY fun - Ethan is always a busy-body (like I was as a kid), with his heart in the right place and looking for adventures. Besides doing a little 4-wheeling up in the hills above the race track, we had dinner at the aforementioned Zuma's (which was founded by the ex-tag team wrestling partner of Andre the Giant of all people!), watched James Bond in "Tomorrow Never Dies", and had a MONSTER of a pillow fight before going to sleep. A total blast...

The next morning, we were up a tad bit later than I wanted due to the time change, ate fast at a cool local haunt called "The Skillet" and got to the track just as Josh was suiting up for qualifying at 8:30am. Having checked out a Nikon D2H camera (the fast one) and borrowed a 300mm lens from Tony Corbell, I fancied myself the team's personal photographer and quickly scurried to Pit Row to begin chronicling the action.

The cars begin the competition with a lap behind a pace car, which then scurries off the track while everyone else whizzes by. There were a number of Groups racing at the same time, with Groups generally designated by engine size or car configuration. As they raced, Etho and I drove to various good photo spots around the track to snap shots. He was bored, but I was giddy with excitement. I knew how much fun Josh was having as he diced through traffic and kept his cool. I used this race to scout out the best places to shoot, confident I could get some dandy shots during the final race later in the day.

2nd lap action

Josh was quick, and though it was hard for the uninitiated (me) to know how he was running, ultimately he won his Class by the comfortable margin of a couple of seconds! He qualified 8th overall, so that meant in the final race he would start mid-pack (but again ahead of the other 3-4 cars in his Group).

At full chat!

We congratulated him for a fine drive and then relaxed in his RV for awhile while he and Curtis cooked breakfast and ate donuts - good racer food! Ethan and I split to give them some time to rest and "strategize," and we took in the racing action of the Porsche club that was there too. The 911's were wickedly fast and fun to watch - I probably snapped 300+ shots of them alone! But the shining star of that open Group was an honest-to-gosh Stock Car that SMOKED the field. This guy was markedly faster than anyone else. So sweet to watch!

Check out the lift on the right front wheel!

Finally, after about 2 1/2 hours, it was time for the Formula Ford finals. Curtis put the really super sticky tires on, and helped Josh cinch into the car like a hand in glove. The motor started with a satisfying "rap-rap-rap" and every stab of the throttle was music. The Swift moved out once again to Pit Row, taking up the 8th position.

Cinching in tight

I had scouted out a sweet spot looking down the front straightaway hoping to get all the cars 2 abreast after the Pace car exited, but alas I rushed it and the shot came out wicked blurry. The next lap I did a better job. Ethan was going nuts with me moving around the perimeter of the track every lap or two, me not wanting to leave any angle undocumented. What a blast! The racing was fierce, yet incident-free. Several cars in another group raced darned near single file within 5-10 feet of each other the entire race. Very exciting!

Sticky tires!

The great news was that the hard work and skills of Driver and Crew were rewarded with another #1 podium finish, this one by at least 5 seconds. The Swift ran beautifully, the tires were sticky, and the driver was aggressive and smooth. What more can you ask for?

We spent just a short time after the race congratulating the team, then left them as they prepared for a long drive back home, first to Phoenix to drop off Curtis and then onward to Tucson. Etho and I took off to explore the curio store in Pearblossom which advertised Indian Blankets 40 minutes from the track, and then of course the snow-capped mountains above Wrightwood which proved insanely magnetic to the two of us boys. We were in no hurry at all to get home, and wound our leisurely way back to San Diego.

Ooohhh - the "artsy" shot!

Footnote: While I took hundreds of pictures at the races, the best ones are in a Set on Flickr at http://flickr.com/photos/klarue. Enjoy!

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