So the big weekend arrived and I'm certain Jody will be posting soon, but not without a tempting wrench thrown my way...
Wednesday last, I received an email inviting me to New Jersey Motorsports Park as a guest of Volkswagen for rounds 8 and 9 of the Jetta TDI Cup. I've been itching for two years now to see these cars in person and free infield tickets (and swag) are awesome... if I could make it.
Dovetailing off the positive experience on my feet over Labor Day weekend, I rationalized my way to NJMP, solo, and then on to the in-laws for the weekend. At worst, I'd catch practice on Friday, get way too tired, and we'd have both cars in PA to be driving home as a caravan. At best, well, let's just say at best was the case that materialized. :)
I made it a hundred miles through constant rain to NJMP at around noon on Friday and found my way to the infield. I'd nabbed a sub and fueled the car just as I reached Millville so I was good to go. That was when I noticed there were cars on track...
Sure enough, the TDI Cup cars were out for practice. I was astonished at how quiet the cars were! I am not kidding when I say they sounded like the space cars from The Jetsons. They just whispered by so quietly that I could hear water splashing inside the fenders and the rapid bzzzz of brakes and rain tires against the ground. On Sunday's race, one ARCA fan (NASCAR minor leagues) asked if the Jettas were electric cars. I reeeeally want to drive one now.
They're friggin' fast too... they were on Thunderbolt set up for the fast turn 2/3 (no chicane) and turning 1:38 laps; faster than 4/5ths of the entire Pro-IT field. (As an aside, I timed a few of the SpecE30 cars in Pro-IT and they were in the :38 to :40 range giving me an idea of how my BMW may measure up some day.)
I was feeling good and did a little be-bopping around the VW area hoping the camera in my new phone would not disappoint. Not too shabby, eh?
Incidentally, the driver being interviewed above is Tim Megenbier, the current points leader for the series. If he finishes the next and final race in 15th place or better, he will be the series winner for this year and probably on to some more exciting drives. Last year's champion, Josh Hurley, is currently teamed with Ian Baas in the APR Motorsports VW GTI #171 in Grand Am's Koni Challenge. There are videos online, including a great documentary of innaugural TDI Cup races from last year. Search Youtube for "Racing Under Green."
I chose to head for Mom and Dad Schumacher's place about mid-afternoon not really knowing what traffic might be like. The new GPS mapped me through Philly, but it could do nothing about Mother Nature's choice to resume pouring nor of my choice to be driving in the middle of rush hour. Another hundred miles from Millville to Easston took nearly four hours. Fortunately I had some of my sub andwich and a cooler with drinks. I stopped twice along the way to stay sharp.
Saturday arrived and the anniversary surprise was a huge success. I will let Jody do the talking there because she planned the party and did all of the legwork.
I wasn't so sure I would make it back on Sunday for the second set of races. Catching Friday's practice and qualifying had been great, but the drives in the rain had required a great deal from me and Saturday night I wasn't perfectly comfortable... ifyaknowwhatImean...
Still, I pre-packed and made sure I could go back Sunday morning and chose to decide along the way if I was too tired to continue. I would rather have tried and limped home than have chickened out.
The drive on Sunday was great. No traffic, anywhere, and I made the track before some of the drivers even. The paddock had definitely filled up with the full measure of Pro-IT and ARCA teams so there was a lot going on. I caught the Pro-IT race and timed a few of the cars I was most interested in being careful not to overdo it too early in the day.
For the TDI Cup race, I made my way to the grandstands between turns 4 and 5 and was happy I had. From there I could see very well and follow a number of close races within the field. I love spec racing, where all of the cars are evenly matched, because the drivers really have to work to get ahead and to stay there.
I happened to have chosen the same spot that AJ Nealey's fans had set up camp. When he would drive by, they would cheer really loud; loud enough to startle other drivers! AJ's posse seemed to grow with each lap and I too started paying attention to where he was in the field. He'd started 13th, worked his way up to 9th, but ultimately lost a place and finished 14th. Still, the friends and fans there for him helped make my race.
Ultimately, Devin Cates finished on top capitalizing late in the race on a battle between Mark Pombo, Andrew Novich, and Taylor Brokemeier all of whom made some great moves right in front of us diving and dicing at turn 5. Pombo held on for second and series points leader, Tim Megenbier, patiently drove hard and clean in a solid fifth all race to pounce on third place securing valuable points for a series of consistency. He has definitely had his eyes on the series win more than any one race here or there.
I got to catch the trophy ceremony presented by none other than Tom Hnatiw of Speed Channel fame and was in the wrong/right place to get splashed with champagne too. I suppose I can cross that experience off my bucket list. ;}
But wait, there's more!
I was feeling great, really. The weather had improved and I'd seen some really great racing, but it was only time for lunch. No offense to you big power fans out there, but the ARCA race really didn't hold my interest so by the time the TDI Cup support race was over, I was ready to scoot...
I hmm'd and haw'd a little and poked around my GPS wondering what the difference might be going home through central Delware instead of back up through Wilmington. Obviously it's a longer trip, but I've driven over big bridges before. I've never taken a ferry. :)
Even though it cost me an extra hour on the road and and extra three hours to catch and ride the ferry, it was worth it. The time spent waiting for the ferry and then relaxing on board for the crossing let me take it easy, grab a snack, and enjoy myself for a nice change. I do wish Jody had been with me because it was a little lonely and she could have taken a better picture of me. ;)