Road Atlanta with NASA Southeast June 2020

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What better way to reignite the 2020 season than a trek to Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta for the annual Turn 7 Girl memorial event hosted by NASA Southeast. This year was unique with the addition of a few Covid-19 restrictions that everyone was more than willing to comply with in order to race. Unfortunately, a first place finish at Road Atlanta eluded me once again but with two solid 3rd place finishes and a pace 3 seconds faster than last year on a track where luck and horsepower can play a large role, I’m really happy with the results. And I remained food poisoning free unlike last year.

Covid-19 Protocols

I’ve said from the start that social distancing is pretty easy to achieve in our paddocks. Rule one going into the weekend was driver and essential crew only. No spectators, friends, family etc… If you were at the track you had a job. Rule two required masks to be worn at all times unless in the car or trailer. Anywhere groups were gathered masks were worn with large gatherings avoided altogether. This meant no awards ceremonies or large celebratory events. Furthermore, things like racer meetings were handled over the PA system and/or in small groups between each class. There were also additional steps at the front gate including a temperature and mask check before entry.

Part of the 944spec field under the Covid-19 guidelines. From Left: Bradford Tompkins, Tim Pruitt, Glen Edridge, John Taylor, John Perkins, and Chris Simmons (myself). Not picture: John Duffy, Taylor Vohs, John Torgersen, Brian Evans and Larry Helm
Friday – Just Track It

In an effort to avoid hotels and unnecessary interactions, I took the motorhome to Road Atlanta arriving Thursday afternoon. I used Friday’s Just Track It event as a test day to get myself and the car ready for the weekends competition. After all, the car sat under a tarp in my driveway since February. The car ran great during the test day aside from an intermittent cooling issue I would fight all weekend.

Regardless, I highly recommend the Just Track It Friday events if you are traveling to Road Atlanta. RA can become quite busy during a race weekend and track time is limited. The Friday event affords 5 to 6 additional sessions. Easily worth it in my opinion.

The new race control/hospitality building at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta looks great.
Saturday

Saturday was in the standard format with a warmup and qualifying before lunch and then an early afternoon sprint race. I usually qualify poorly at Road Atlanta due to poor luck, driver antics and inter-class politics. But I’m starting to figure out this landscape and qualified strongly in 2nd place.

Top three starting grid was Tim Pruitt, Myself (Christopher Simmons) and John Perkins with Bradford Tompkins in 4th mixing things up right at the start. My plan for race one was to pass Tim as soon as possible. I was lacking a little bit of pace on Tim so I figured if I could pass him early I would have a chance.

Putting pressure on Tim from the start, I got an excellent run out of turn 5 and quickly pulled next to him. I attempted an overtake in turn six on the outside but a momentary lock up left me with a loss of momentum. Something Brad quickly capitalized on by diving to the inside behind Tim and taking 2nd place.

At this point Brad and I hashed it out trading places and chasing each other for the next few laps until engine issues saw Tompkins drop significantly down the field. All while Pruitt built an insurmountable lead.

With my tires cooked from battling Tompkins, I was resigned to a 2nd place finish until John Perkins put on a last minute charge and passed with one lap to go. I can’t blame him for taking advantage of the situation as I left the door wide open while passing an e30 in turn 10. Ultimately yielding a 3rd place finish.

Podium for race 1:

  • 1)Tim Pruitt
  • 2)John Perkins
  • 3)Christopher Simmons
A very low key podium ceremony after race 1 in the 944 paddock.  Masks Required.
Sunday

My inability to qualify the way I want reared it’s head again Sunday. Although the average has raised significantly, both of my flying laps were met with traffic towards the end causing me to lift. I still managed to qualify 3rd so I went into the race pretty excited as I’m pretty sure those laps would have easily been a personal best.

1st through 4th battling from the start.

The plan for race 2 was the same as race 1 except I was starting third and the race distance was longer. I paced positions 1 and 2 held by Tim Pruitt and John Perkins respectively for a couple laps until John Taylor started applying serious pressure from 4th. At this point it was anyone’s race as 1-4 were running closely together.

After a few laps John Taylor made a bold move at turn 7 and we traded the slightest bit of paint. As I was initiating my turn into 7 I saw him jump to the inside cutting off my line. I admit a more timid, less experienced version of myself would simply yield the position but that’s not where I am today. When I saw John’s move to the inside, I left him room. Just enough to be exact. Both off line we lost momentum coming out of 7 paying for it down the entire back straight. Watching Pruitt and Perkins begin to pull away and slip by some out of class traffic at turn ten.

John Taylor was locked on my bumper for most of race 2 making for a very tense and exciting stint.

If you watch the race vid below, go to 8:38 to watch the ‘carnage’. Resulting in my side view mirror getting folded in and John’s car getting and ever so slight kiss of pink.

Now there were two podium battles. The battle for 1st/2nd and the battle for 3rd. John Taylor and I had some of the best racing I’ve had, period. Locked in an intense battle for 3rd lap after lap until an unfortunate spin left John facing the wrong direction coming out of turn 5. With just a few laps to go, our tires were toast at this point and it was only a matter of time for one of us. Fortunately it wasn’t me and I finally had a little room to breath and cruise home to 3rd.

At some point John Perkins passed Tim Pruitt for first. That’s about all I know as I was too busy fending for myself as John and Tim pulled away.  Yielding a race 2 podium of:

  • 1) John Perkins
  • 2) Tim Pruitt
  • 3) Christopher Simmons
John Perkins charging hard through turn 3 fending off Tim Pruitt for a first place finish Sunday.
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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