Photo Credits to Mark Windecker Photo
Waterford Wet-Down is a decades-old tradition in which corner workers red-flag a first-time winner at every corner station and soak him or her with whatever water they have handy. As required upon seeing a red flag, a driver brings the car to a safe, controlled stop within sight of each station…where corner workers drench the driver and the car.
I’ve heard that a Wet-Down feels pretty good on a 95 degree day, but May 3rd topped out at 52 degrees and windy. As I shivered in our paddock wearing a race suit, scarf, fleece, windbreaker, and gloves, my crew joked before the race, “Would you really want your first win on a day like this?”
We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.
In six seasons of road-racing, all of my poles and most of my podium finishes have been earned in the rain. They call rain the great equalizer. They can call it anything they want, but I hope for it every race weekend, as it’s where I’ve had the most success. If I were a racehorse, they’d call me a mudder.
In other words, when it rained on the first race weekend of the 2014 season, it wasn’t news that I qualified on the ITB pole. There were three cars from other classes in between me and the next ITB car, a VW Golf driven by our class champion. To challenge for the lead, he’d first have to pass them, which would be no problem for him on a dry track. He’s fast. I kept my fingers crossed for a full day of rain and tolerated a few “doing your rain dance again?” jokes. It’s a well-known in-joke in the paddock.
But it wasn’t in the cards. It dried up in the early afternoon, much to the delight of the open-wheel drivers. By the time my group went to grid, the local weather forecast showed only a single-digit chance of rain despite an ominous dark cloud the weather service insisted was going to miss us. We gridded up on slick tires and I wished out loud, “maybe it’ll start pouring, and they’ll delay us long enough to switch over to rain tires.”
Turns out that wasn’t in the cards, either. It started to sprinkle with one minute to go on grid. Lightly. Could it be…? It was, indeed, raining by the time we went green. Oh, yes; the rain dance worked! I thought. A few laps later, it was pouring. There we were, all on dry tires. I can handle this. I smiled inside my helmet like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Then came hail. Whoa, who ordered THIS? Is that hail?! What tires does Hoosier recommend in a hailstorm, anyway?
Rain and hail came down so blindingly fast that conditions went from dry to standing water on track within a handful of laps. The rain line at Waterford can keep your car away from the slickest of cement, but the rest of the track is still as slippery as any other wet road. The grass is even slipperier, if you put a couple of wheels off. Conditions were challenging, at best. Just hang on…and drive!
I maintained the lead for about half of the race, but our defending class champion is a first-class competitor who never let up. He spent most of his laps breathing down my neck, right up until I lost control coming through swamp turn and skidded wide into the grass. He blew by easily, and opened up a substantial gap. I got back on track, slightly shaken mentally but not deterred in attitude, and got back on the throttle. It took a lap and a half to chase him down, and I caught him in Skeethouse turn just as he made an ambitious move on an IT7 car. It didn’t go as he planned. A front wheel dug in near the curbing and the rest of the car bounced up in the air, enough for me to get a clear view of the Golf’s undercarriage. This sudden and unexpected error handed the lead back to me. The Golf spent the rest of the race filling my mirrors, but he never got a good run to complete a pass.
View the highlight video at http://vimeo.com/95471438.
The punchline is, I won the race. The guys at start/finish handed me a checkered flag and sent me out on a victory lap. Corner workers threw red flags, and initiated me into the legion of Waterford winners. Even in the cold, it felt great. Besides, my left side was already soaked from being out there in a downpour. A little more water wasn’t going to make a difference. The #77 sloshed around the track with the checkered flag like the championship car it had been in the years Vaughan Scott, my husband, drove it.
My team and sponsors put together a great car every weekend, and this time finally felt as though I didn’t let them down. Thank you to Vaughan and my crew; and also my sponsors Munk’s Motors; Ideola’s Garage; 4M Industries; and Mo Makki of Gulf Oil. I would be peddling a bicycle if not for all of you.
In conclusion, I invite everyone to SEM’s Waterford. Family Day on June 8th and look forward to seeing you there. The track is a family-friendly, dog-friendly place to spend the day. There’ll be some exciting racing all day long, plus, for a $5 donation to the worker fund, you can turn parade laps on track at lunchtime in your own car. And you have a racer’s word of honor: nobody will throw water in your window.