By Andy Jankowiak
So with carefully thought out planning and preparation we decided to go to Riverhead Raceway for the Islip 300 this past weekend. After the ROC race at Lake Erie Speedway and the Bullring Bash at White Mountain Motorsports Park were rained out we made the phone calls around 2 pm Friday and were delighted to find out they were willing to let me race in the Islip 300.
With two hours to prepare we shifted gears and began to get ready for our new destination. We set about the task of converting the car from White Mountain over to what we needed for Riverhead. This did not involve any re scaling or gear changes, instead we spent the time we had make a stubby nose and adding bracing to the front bumper… little did I know we would need more then I had added.
We unloaded and we weren’t fast, way too tight. With three people in the pits and trying to get 7 tires figured out for later the whole day kind of got away from me. You can only do so much and by the time I knew it was time for time trials. We managed to put the left side tires on backwards and timed with less then 3 inches of stagger, my fault. I told Steven I wanted to swap lefts after time trials but I didn’t explain that they were currently marked for there eventual race time placement. Miscue…
It was an impound race so I didn’t have my usual time to come up with a plan. We didn’t have enough gear, the car needed wholesale changes but we were kind of stuck. We had 15 minuets to work before the race so I did what I thought was best and we headed out.
They say 300 laps click off quick at the head. I did not experience this sensation, I was in for a long night. We started out free which was new. We clicked off some spots and worked our way up from 19th only to get shoved into a wreck on lap 25. I could see my bumper pointing straight up in the air, but the tires were fine so we kept trucking along.
The car became tight after this, I assumed I bent the left side of the front frame section up and thus had preloaded the sway bar. We pitted to try and free it up but for the most part I would be grabbing two bites of the wheels for the rest of the night.
It was hard to roll through one and two and as much as I tried to stay out of trouble it seemed to find me often. I became the popular car to run into if you needed a caution, on some instances I’m not sure I did my best to save the car once they had me halfway around as I myself didn’t hate the prospect of some slow laps to catch my breath.
Around halfway things got worse. A “friend” hip checked me hard in the left front and jammed up my electric power steering unit. He also gave me a flat left front and we didn’t have a spare so we had to put the left rear on that we started the race with. The car was very hard to drive after that. The rack had free play from the hit and the car was very darty and unpredictable. If I could run by myself I could hang onto it but it was very hard to go side by side with anyone without bouncing off the wall.
Despite all of this, we managed to stay on the lead lap all day and once the sun went down the car started to feel a little better around lap 175. We hung onto the bumper of the red number 5 and I followed him up into the top ten until about fifty to go. This was the only part of the race where I felt we ran respectable. Not good, but we got better. I learned a better line following the red 5 car and we improved. With 50 to go a couple cars upfront pitted and we restarted in 5th. We kept our place for a couple of restarts but one the pit stop cars came I didn’t want to risk to much with my steering issues and all, but we settled into 7th or 8th.
With 15 to go we got turned around by a car that needed a lucky dog. He spun me to the right down the back stretch, all I could think about was how pissed I was going to be to put 285 laps on my engine and not finish the damn race. I gassed it and managed to slap the wall in a way that wouldn’t take me out. We got turned back around and I made it my mission to try and get a top ten.
We got a good start and I clipped off a couple guys only to get tangled up again with 8 to go. Someone jumped my left rear and we went spinning. I grabbed a gear and got back inline in front of the cars that crashed with us.
Many cars that had less drama then us were sitting pit side. My race had turned into a test of what we could endure. Its not a race I am proud of, it was in fact a race that I will be quick to forget. I am certain my better qualities as a driver were not on display this evening, but I have never been one to accept when it just isn’t my day.
I had spent 292 laps getting shoved around, driven over and breaking pieces on my car. The steering was so far off that I had to take two grabs of the wheel every corner of every lap, I have never noticed myself doing this before. We were still rolling though and a top ten was within reach. If I have one talent in a race car that never lets me down, even on my bad days its that I am a hard to kill. We weren’t out yet.
The green dropped and again I made my mischief of the restarts before I fell in line and tried to hold on. I did what I could to hold place and keep an eye on the front pack in case of a crash. On the last lap I saw a car go spinning and everyone scatter. Sue called on my radio what I could already see. As her warnings came through she let go of the push to talk and the radio reminded me one last time that the battery was dying, perfect I thought to myself. I kept my foot on the gas and weaved my way though. I knew I was around 10th and I did not want to slow down and get passed.
We made it through and crossed the line.
I called up to the spotter. Top 10? No answer. Again, did I make it back to the top 10? Where was I? Finally Sue answered. Yup! 9th! Which was exciting since ninth place paid the exact amount of my tire bill. That is a win! Other then the 6 wheels and the 84 dollars those crooks charged me to cross the George Washington bridge with an open deck trailer I think we did OK. We made the most of a very bad night where we were not 100 percent and finished 300 laps at the Head in the top ten. That’s not the goal we started with, we always want to win but considering the obstacles it felt OK on this night.
Big thank you to Jake, Steve and Sue for coming with. Big thanks to the Riverhead Raceway and all of its fans for being so welcoming and thoughtful whenever they talked to me. It was cool. We will be back someday and much smarter as far as what we need to do. For the moment though I think my 300 laps has satisfied my Riverhead ambitions for awhile.