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Mike's Big Adventure -- 1996

by Mike Buck

[Photo copyright 1997 by Richard Welty; click on thumbnail to see larger scan]

I arrived Thursday night around 9:00 at the Hotel only to get sick as a dog from some bad food. I managed to get to sleep around 2:30 am. I felt much better in the morning.

On the way to the track I heard a funny noise from the truck. As I was pulling into the track I lost my power steering, brakes, and charging system. I pulled over, popped the hood, and saw that the alternator pulley had vaporized. The nut holding it on was still there. The serpentine belt snapped the tensioner right off. Then an official comes over and tells me I'm paddocked on the other side and I can't come in this way. I told him I couldn't drive the truck without overheating it. He helped me out and gave me a ride over on a golf cart so I could borrow someone's truck to move my trailer. Fortunately "Racer Bob" Boudinot's crew had a truck with the right hitch on it, so they bailed me out and got me in ok. I was able to get all the parts the next day, too.

Ok, we're all set to "fly" through the streets of downtown St. Pete now.

Our first session was 5:30 pm Friday night. It's just a warm up. Then we have to qualify first on Saturday at 8:30 am. After watching everyone crash all day I decided it was a good idea to just cruise around during warm up so that I'd have a car to qualify the next morning. Thing was, though, there were 56 cars trying to make the 45 spots in the field.

During the warm up I managed to stay out of trouble. I learned where the corners were and just cruised around. What an awesome experience this place is. I haven't been in the car since the Runoffs. On the front straight just as I'm shifting to 5th we go over an Intersection, and I mean over -- in the air about 6 inches with all 4 wheels. When I touched back down it was time to make a 90 degree 3rd gear turn, so I brake hard and get the car under control. It wanted to dart left and then right. I managed to save it and made the corner. The course has all right hand turns and 1 left. After the 4th turn you go downhill onto the second longest straight with an S turn on it. Well right in the middle of that you find yourself about 6 inches off the ground trying to steer through it. That was fun too. Most of us figured out how to do that. I'm not giving my secret just in case some fellow racer reading this decides to race there next year.

As far as street courses go, it's got a lot of new experiences to offer. I'll describe it: Intense, Fun, Scary, wild, Very Dangerous, Fast, Slow, Blind, Slippery, Launch Pads, Landing Zones, Cement Walls, Catch Fences, Tire Walls, Lots of Debris.

The corner workers did a great job of warning us. Thank you; I know it helped me out.

In the Driver's Meeting they told us that the first 35 cars that qualify will make the show. All the rest will have a second chance Sunday morning to get the last 10 spots. Well, after warmup I was 37th. I had my sponsor a little worried but I told him I was just cruising a round. My time was a 1:24.5; the Pole was a 1:20.5.

The city paved the front straightaway during the night. That pretty much took care of that Launch Pad, but they left us the one we had to steer through. They have a good sense of humor here.

I got a good night's sleep and Saturday morning at 8:30 I was "flying" around the streets of St. Pete once more. I went as fast as I could go this time. I spun on the 3rd lap and kissed a tire wall, just enough to break my brand new tail. I was able to keep going. I found some nice clean track with no traffic. Every time I had a good lap going I'd get a yellow flag in one corner or another. I did get 2 good laps in. My best time was a 1:21.5; that put me in 26th position. Great, I made the show. Now I have until Sunday afternoon at 4:30 to get the car ready.

This was the first Pro event that actually made us feel like Pro drivers. There were a lot of spectators walking around in our pits. I was actually asked to sign my autograph numerous times. Our team sold t-shirts, hats, and trading cards. It was a lot of fun.

Sunday -- Race Day

As we line up on the Pre Grid there's a wall of spectators leading out onto the track, real cool stuff. They announce all the Driver's names. We got 2 pace laps. I came around the last corner looking for the green flag. Someone threw it somewhere down the front straight. Because we all started racing; I never saw it. Believe it or not, we were all good going into the first corner. Everyone, all 45 cars, made it through. It's nice racing with drivers this aware of what's going on around them. It didn't take long for a few to forget, though. I passed a few cars and was having a great race with 2 other cars. Out comes the full course yellow. I had worked my way up to 20th; not good enough to get any points or money. Me and about 10 other drivers had the same thing on our minds; It's do or die time.

I have a good restart and pass one car under braking in the Landing Zone. Next lap I do it to another car. I think I'm doing pretty good now 'til I kissed a wall on the exit 2 turns later and knock my tail off so it's flapping the breeze. It turned into a real good air brake, so I had to make a pit stop and have it removed. I went back out and finished the race.

Jim Goughery Jr had a great battle with Warren Stillwell. Warren made a mistake and slammed the wall hard. Jimmy went on to win. Congratulations Jimmy on your first Pro race.

I did overhear a few spectators say that the Spec Racer Fords put on a better show than the Trans Am race. Imagine that.

Well, I had a great time and learned a lot and can't wait to attack the streets of Dallas.

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