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“Spacer Problems”

I am hurtling down the half–mile front straight not two feet behind the car in front of me, a classic slip–streaming battle. At the end of the straight is a banked turn with a huge radius that, I have heard at least, can enter without lifting and taken flat out. As I approach the banking my tach steadily climbs, 6200...6400...6600...four cylinders screaming, how far do I push it? Time to make my move. If I lift I’ll probably lose 100 yards to the guy in front of me, or worse, be passed by the guy behind. It isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine I am Jimmy Clark chasing the World Championship nose to tail with Graham Hill’s BRM on Monza’s high banks, only I’m not, I’m Kyle fending off my friend Johnny at Pocono Raceway.

Pocono Raceway is unique in vintage racing. NASCAR turns One and Two are incorporated into the vintage road course allowing a taste of the high speed driving experienced at places such as Brooklands, Indy, and Monza. Most feel the rest of the course is simple, but I defy anybody to go into Turn One without lifting and not feel their heart pause.

Another buddy, Joey, had popped for a hot motor for his Lotus 31 and upped the ante for those wishing to be competitive in vintage Formula Ford by virtue of his driving skill and superior horsepower. Wishing to keep up, Johnny had emptied his wallet for a similar output motor. Now Johnny doesn’t drive a Lotus, he drives a Titan – which I am hesitant to admit is a much better car. He also had affixed to the nose of his car an endearing image of Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) urinating on a Lotus logo in the same way that rednecks decorate their trucks in order to display disdain for Ford or Chevy. When I saw it I resolved to hold up the Lotus honor by whipping Titan Boy’s butt.

It wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought, however. All weekend I just could not get myself to do Turn One flat. Titan Boy and I were running similar times, but each time we entered Turn One together, I’d lift, and he’d shoot out a hundred yards or so and I’d spend the rest of the lap workin’ hard to make up the distance. Despite the cubic dollars spent, Titan Boy managed to qualify only one–tenth of a second and one grid position in front of me putting him 3rd on the grid and lining him up for the start behind pole (a Formula B car). I was then behind Joey and his monster motor.

As we came down the front straight for the start of the race I got the jump on everybody and sprung out to the lead, but Joey and the B car passed me with their superior horsepower. I tucked in behind Joey to take advantage of the draft, looked in my mirrors to see Titan Boy right on my gearbox, and then I peer down to the entrance of Turn One, swallow hard, tighten my sphincter, hold my foot to the floor and for the first time that weekend take the turn without lifting. As I glance back in my mirror mid–turn I see Titan Boy about 50 feet back, so I hustle my 61 around the turn and onto the first short chute. For the rest of the first lap I see Johnny drifting ever further behind, but I do not hold back, I enter the front straight at full chat and concentrate on a repeat performance of Turn One. When I checked my mirrors before turning in I was horrified to see the nose of a Titan right there, so I sucked it up and held him off again. Each lap was more of the same, build up a long lead, and then have it disappear by the end of the front straight thank to Titan Boy’s horsepower advantage. Finally when the checker fell 10 grueling laps later, I was crossed the finished line a full seven car lengths in front of my adversary.

This was the first time I had beaten Johnny head to head and I was quite elated. Johnny was, however, chagrined. Then to add further insult to injury, his mechanic came up to both of us as I was in full gloating mode, and revealed that the reason Titan Boy had come up short was a problem with the “spacer.” “What spacer?” I queried. “The one that occupies the space between the steering wheel and the engine,” he replied. Which goes to prove that the most important part of the racecar isn’t the engine. It’s the spacer. You want to go faster? Become a better driver.

Kyle Kaulback