2020 Summer in February @ Memphis International Raceway

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2019 was a great season that solidified an upward trend in my racing and building on that momentum is the goal of the 2020 season. Looking at the results from the season opener with NASA Mid South at Memphis International Raceway, things are off to a great start.

Summer in February marks the start of the race season in the Mid South. Weather is unpredictable this time of year so you never know what the weekend will hold. This year featured dry mid 50 degree weather on Saturday and constant light rain Sunday afternoon. It could have just as easily been snowing. That’s one of the things that makes Summer in February such a dynamic event.

This event also holds a comp school for those making the jump from HPDE/Time Trial to wheel to wheel racing. There are 5 rookies this year in various classes. So congrats to Kevin McAbee #04, Chris Johnston #57, Shawn Brereton #222, Ritamarie Thomason #13 and Scott Ham #152 on making the move to wheel to wheel racing.

Race 1

I qualified pole for race 1 and promptly lost P1 to the number 47 driven by Pat Magruder. Leaving me in the always fun position of chasing P1 while holding off the drivers behind me. Namely Shawn Taylor and Brian Hurley. After a few laps and a few unsuccessful pass attempts, I was able to push deep into turn one which left the number 47 on the high side of the turn struggling for grip. As I tightened my line, car 47 went into a spin resulting in a drama free pass. The pursuing cars slipped by as well leading to a little too much mirror driving until I settled into a comfortable 4 second lead securing the win for race 1 of the season.

Race 2

Whatever these guys did during the off-season is working as once again, my start in P1 was met with instant harassment. Determined not to have a repeat of the race 1 start, I pushed deep into turn 1. Shawn Taylor had plans of his own and followed suite, boxing me in from the outside and forcing me to once again yield P1 at turn 1. The chase was on. We matched pace lap after lap as he managed to slip by slower traffic at a few advantageous moments. Time felt meaningless in this race making a 20 minute sprint feel like an hour. Each lap I expected the white flag and every time it wasn’t there, still chasing, I was thankful for the extra time to try and shut down the charging 817. In the end, time ran out but not before closing the gap to 1/10th of a second with Shawn Taylor the victor. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. When looking at lap times after the race I had eclipsed my fastest time from last year by 2/10’s of a second, running a 1:18.1. A new record for 944spec at Memphis International Raceway and also, indicating that a 1:17 is right around the corner.

Race 3

Normally race times are set somewhat in stone. So when the intercom came to life an hour before race start, announcing that the race would be starting in 20 minutes due to weather, the paddock immediately erupted with activity and a few choice words. We joke that race director Shawn Taylor did this to ‘sabotage’ the competition but in reality, rain was on the way. There was only one casualty to this abrupt schedule change as Hurley’s car was refusing to run. All I could offer was a battery charger as I ran around looking for my hood pin with less than 5 minutes on the clock. Michael Morris was in a worse situation having just finished a starter swap. All said most of the 944spec field made it to grid with maybe a minute to spare. It immediately started raining, albeit lightly.

This was a mixed condition race with just enough rain to make you question the available grip each time around the track. Shawn and I both had good starts from P1 and P2 respectively but no one is willing to abuse their clutch in a standing start quite like Michael Morris. He quickly rocketed by both of us taking the lead, where we immediately entered the spec Miata traffic. I used the traffic to my advantage to neutralize Taylor early. After 2 or 3 more laps I found myself in front of Morris and leading the race. Add an opportune pass before the hot pits that allowed me to distance myself from the rest of the field and the race was mine. I went on to build a 17 second lead and then settled into a maintenance pace as the track was slowly starting to fall off. Ending the opening weekend winning 2 of the 3 races and setting a course record on the main course.

I will reupload fixed versions of race 2 and 3 when I have time.

Chris Simmons By Chris Simmons

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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