2019 Race Season Review

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I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t recognize 2019 as one of the most stressful years of my life. Veronika and I undertook a massive move last year that landed us on a small hobby farm with a house that was uninhabitable. Spending the last year and a half living in our motorhome and an apartment, managing a full house renovation and work while trying to stay in shape and race. I admit I can be a little on the ambitious side but even for myself this was a little much.

But here I am at the end of the year, reflecting on the race season. Not necessarily the season I wanted but a successful one regardless. And as the stress of our move and subsequent construction project winds down, I’m looking forward to an unburdened 2020.

Memphis International Raceway Feb 2019

Started out the season with car issues even though it ran great on the dyno during pre-season testing. Running right up to the hp cap. Unfortunately, the nasty stumbling/missing issue reared it’s head sporadically during the first event of the season. I eventually traced things down to a vacuum line issue under sustained load.

Qualifying mid pack for race one, I finished in p2 behind Shawn Taylor. But more importantly, I set a new track record for 944spec at a 1.18.1. Race 2 was ended by lap 3 as the aforementioned stumbling issue came back. A little frustrating but at least I knew I had a strong car this season…finally!

Which allowed me to win my first ever Aussie Pursuit race on Sunday. This is a handicap race that gives a start advantage to cars lapping slower. It also rewards a little bit of tire management as the race time is 45 minutes as opposed to the usual 20 – 30 min sprint format. I ran the car quick and consistent yielding my first p1 of the season. Making up for the DNF the day before and winning the difficult Aussie Pursuit.

Road Atlanta March 2019

I planned on carrying this momentum to my next event at Road Atlanta but Arby’s had other plans for me. I just want to say that food poisoning on the road is a uniquely terrible experience. And vomiting for 36 hours when you are supposed to be behind the wheel is not an experience I want to repeat.

But it’s surprising what the brain and body are capable of when worn down to the I DGAF mode though. Come Sunday I finally quit expelling everything that touched my lips and rallied myself to the track two hours before the final race. I’m glad I did even though I ‘looked a little green’ according to the competition. Starting last, I ran a very strong race and finished on the podium in third. Quite a result all things considered, even if the race wiped me out. I slumped into a chair afterwards trying to hold down my lunch of saltine crackers. An hour later my energy started building again and I was able to load up and head home. Not the weekend I expected.

Reflections on Arby’s and Road Atlanta

NCM March 2019

I don’t believe I posted about this event due to a few issues but I couldn’t write a season review without including the origin story of the pink paint job on the 901. A little background first.

This particular region has some of the fastest 944spec drivers in it’s ranks. In fact, 2 of the 3 podium positions at Nationals came from this group. I was pretty happy with a third place finish during race 1. Race 2 however … totally different situation.

I qualified second and was chasing p1 with quite a gap on the rest of the field when a red flag was displayed on track. If you aren’t aware, a red flag is full stop and indicates a dangerous situation is present on the track that requires all racecars to be stationary. However, this particular red flag turned out to be a red flag drill to make sure the drivers are paying attention. This is pretty unheard of in racing and I would equate it to stopping a marathon to inspect everyone’s shoelaces.

And after traffic resumed on course, the field was bunched up for a restart. Unfortunately, this meant a large field of Miata’s were now in front of us and said Miata’s were the slower of the two groups. Making the restart absolute chaos. It was really exciting until I had to run off track to avoid T-boning a spun car on the outside of a turn. This sent me into a spin effectively moving me to the back of the field. It was better than a potential trip to the hospital, and I was determined to regain position. I was closing the gap when I ran up on a few back markers not only running slow, but running in a manner that was blocking traffic. I literally had to lift off and coast up the hill onto the front straight to avoid a collision. Then they stayed a staggered 3 wide on the straight. If I didn’t get past them my race was over so I ran up the curbing on the inside of turn 1 as the ‘lead’ car left at least a car width from the apex. And that’s when they turned in, and the gap got a lot smaller. Leaving my rear bumper to make contact with their passenger door.

I was assessed a penalty point on my license for this incident because the other driver was a rookie and I should have … honestly I don’t know. It is what it is and I was told that they didn’t see me coming. Which led me down the road of making my hodge podge silver, champagne and blue car a standout. With too many green and orange 944’s running the circuits, it would have to be different. And decidedly different it is, with a sparkly pink spray can job. It definitely stands out and leaves no room for ambiguity.

NOLA May 2019

Another one I didn’t post about. The annual trip to NOLA Motorsports Park is always a highlight of the season. If you remember, things got a little out of control last year. Things were much tamer this time around. Being more focused on racing leaves less room for drinking. So with fewer shenanigans going on the fun remained pg-13 consisting of a ‘ghost tour’, a very cool escape room and an RV park with the best food in NOLA. No kidding.

Some of the best racing between the Midsouth 944spec racers took place this weekend. I finished first, second and third swapping positions with Jeremy Pohlman and Shawn Taylor. I was struggling with an handling issue after race one that I didn’t figure out till the next event. And likely a result of some of us getting creative with the track limits.

944 4×4 at NOLA Motorsports Park

NOLA Aftermath May 2019

An unusual chain of events affected my next race weekend at Road Atlanta and I can only trace the issue back to NOLA. Monday morning as I’m driving the motorhome home, a small nickel sized portion of skin on the front of my shoulder is itching fiercely. Over the next few days, this area spreads slightly and becomes necrotic on the surface. A brown recluse bite. Fortunately, it didn’t look as severe as a Google Search would have you believe, but it did hurt, took several weeks to heal fully and left a small scar that looks like a bullet wound. I suspect it happened during race three as I stored my race suit in the RV basement overnight. The spider that made it’s way into the suit was not happy when I tightened down my harnesses on Sunday.

However, a week before I was scheduled to race at Road Atlanta, I came down with another illness that knocked me on my ass for the second time this year. I was laid out in bed with a 103 fever and um…lots of toilet issues that went on for days straight. Apparently, when you are bit by a brown recluse you aren’t supposed to dab some Neosporin on and slap a bandaid over it. You are supposed to go to the doctor and most likely take a round of antibiotics. At least that’s what the doctor told me when he informed me that my current issue was probably related. Regardless, my fever broke the day before I was to leave for RA so I arrived …

Road Atlanta June 2019

… weak. I didn’t share this info with anyone because it seems rather ridiculous that every time I venture east I have ‘digestive issues’ this year. I did make sure to arrive early on Friday so I could inspect my suspension and try and figure what was causing the high speed understeer on left turns at NOLA.

Another broken Koni strut from the 944.

I had a busted, no, make that exploded Koni strut at the front passenger wheel. This was not the first Koni I have replaced this year with less than one season on them. I suspect the model we are required to use in the spec series is simply not up to the type of track use we put them through.

Qualifying on day one was just dumb. E30’s rule the day at Road Atlanta and with what seemed like a thousand of them backing up traffic to start qualifying, I never even got a hot lap in before the checker flag was dropped at the 10 min mark. Shortest qualifying I have ever witnessed.

Leaving me to start race one towards the back of the pack where I worked my way to the podium and then spun coming out of the esses. Not really sure what caused the spin as I did nothing unusual. Maybe a little dirt or something was put on the track by an e30. Regardless, once I recovered I was back down the field without a lot of time left. Yielding a dissappointing result.

Day two was set to be a screamer when the 944 spec of Tim Pruitt hit the wall outside of turn one a few laps in and caught fire. Luckily he was unscathed but the car was toast. Literally. And as we bunched up for a restart we were in a hoard of mixed traffic. It became less of a race and more of a, who can get in front of traffic contest, to which I was caught several times behind cars holding me up while I watched my competition scoot by. Yielding another less than expected result.

I love Road Atlanta. It is one of my favorite tracks but to date I have yet to race there without a red flag and/or major incident of some sort. (fortunately not involving myself) I suspect a lot of the issue is caused by the sheer number of cars that get grouped in the lightning race group. With over 80 cars possible between 944spec, spec Miata and spec e30, clean racing just doesn’t fit the bill as aggression, even overly, is what gets rewarded. Next year I will go in with a much more aggressive mindset and see what I can do. I have the pace but keep getting ‘caught out’ and it is becoming quite frustrating.

Memphis International Raceway July 2019

This was a pretty uneventful weekend aside from the fact I pulled my first hat trick by winning all three races in 944spec. Not a bad feeling and I started using my new Garmin Virb 360 camera.

Winter in July at Memphis International Raceway (July 2019)

Autobahn Country Club August 2019

This is a great track that is horrible in the rain. I had a decent weekend here aside from the weird EMS flags in race 1 where I was passed by half the field because I view yellow flags, especially across multiple corners, as Do Not Pass. I was wrong as this track is ‘special’ the way they flag.

The rain hit Sunday and qualifying was terrifying. Rain usually doesn’t bother me much but with all the patched areas on the track, I honestly didn’t know whether my brakes would do anything from one turn to the next. However, during the race 2, conditions were dry and I was running in p1 when I went a little too deep into a brake zone and was tapped on the rear sending me into the grass. I emerged from the grass in last place and a little pissed. I was closing the gap fast when a spec e30 started losing control in front of me. I tried to tighten my line, dropped a wheel in the still wet grass and instantly lost steering. Sending me into a thankfully soft tire barrier. Ending my race.

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As this was an out of region non points race for me and I was really there to spend some time with the people I would compete against at Nationals, I still classify this weekend as ‘mildly’ successful.

Autobahn Country Club ‘The Cursed Cow’ August 2019

Mid-Ohio August 2019

Can’t compete in the National Championship if you don’t know the track. And with this years event at Mid-Ohio, a home track of the Great Lakes regions, I would be in competition with drivers that have turned hundreds of laps here.

I dusted off the iRacing rig and spent a little time learning the layout of the track. This would be a learning weekend for me and that is just what I did, especially when I learned to be careful passing on the outside of madness during the last race. Which would send me into the wall damaging my steering rack. I was able to make what felt like a 20 point turn with my now 10 degrees of steering movement and park the car behind the concrete wall I just hit. Allowing the race to continue as scheduled.

Blind Madness at Mid-Ohio August 2019

Mid-Ohio National Championships September 2019

This would be my first run at a national title and after fixing my car from the last outing, I

944spec car #901 piloted by driver Christopher Simmons. at Mid-Ohio during the 2019. NASA National Championship.

spent a lot more time in iRacing improving my time. When I arrived, I was immediately faster. Hell, almost competitive and as the week progressed it began to look like I had a shot at the podium in 944spec. But as it tends to go racing a 30 plus year old antique, trouble seems to always be around the corner. This time in the form of an overheating engine.

Specifically, I simply could not draft on the long straight as my car would start puking coolant any time I so much as thought about tucking behind someones bumper. This left me gaining on the top 3 in the tight sections and losing almost a second on the straight during the qualifying races. I still put in a solid performance in the final finishing fifth although the result could have been much better.

On a side note, I ran in the GTS1 class and finished 2nd.

2019 NASA Championships at Mid-Ohio August 2019

Memphis International Raceway September 2019

Fall fest was another race on my home track. Taking the intensity of the Championship home with me, I set out with intensity. I finally discovered what was causing my over heating issue, a freakin’ radiator cap that wasn’t sealing. After swapping caps I was free to let loose locking out another weekend on my home track with three wins.

Fall Fest at Memphis International Raceway September 2019

Memphis International Raceway November 2019

Season closer for the Midsouth region and another hat trick. And for a highlight, we ran an alternate track configuration to reset a long standing 944spec record and it was captured by yours truly on lap one. I used a lot of what I’ve worked on this year to ‘program’ the alternate course into my mind. Shattering the old record by over a second. I plan on bringing it down even more next year.

Midsouth 944spec Regional Champ for 2019. Myself (Christopher Simmons)

Hunka Hunka Burnin Rubber at MIR November 2019

What Next?

It’s pretty cool looking back on the progress I’ve made this year as well as the highs and lows that accompany the race season. My plan for the next year is to come out even faster and stronger. I still feel there is so much more potential and with thoughtful practice I was able to realize some of that this year. Time to double down, explore new avenues and push harder.

Til next year!

Chris Simmons By Chris Simmons

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About the Author:

Chris Simmons

Chris Simmons is a race car driver, instructor, business owner and all around gearhead. His passion for motorsport started in the drifting community and progressed into wheel to wheel racing of all kinds. When off track Chris can be found training and working on a myriad of projects. After a hiatus from writing, he is back to share his passion, knowledge and experience in regard to motorsports on and off the track.

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