2011 – Race #3: The ah ha moment!

Derek Eldridge

Race #3  June 18th

As I left off last week, I had much work to accomplish for race 3. This would be the Northeast Mini Sprints first season appearance at Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, VT. Dark skies gave the threat of rain, but it stayed clear enough to finish up some last minute adjustments as we loaded the car.

The day started with a real scare as we got closer to the track. My truck, a 95 Chevy half ton, 6.5 Liter Turbo Diesel, began to act up on the way. On the last few hills on the highway the truck came to its knees as it dropped to 30mph. Fuel was cutting out and choking all the way up the hill and I didn’t think we were going to make it to the track. Then again, climbing the last winding road to the track, I had a line of haulers behind me at about 10mph. Frightened to stop it while climbing, I pulled over on the first flat and let all the haulers pass, and let the truck cool for a minute. I carried on, and thankfully made the trip. Now it was time to worry about the race car, we’ll deal with the truck when it’s time to go home.

It was nice to get to the track early for a change. The clouds still overhead, it gave a quick rain. Enough to tame some of the heat, start wetting the track, and then went away for the rest of the night.

There were a lot of car groups there including the wingless dirt midgets as well. That would make for a long night, but a lot of good racing for the fans.

With everything in order, we started the heat. I started on the pole, Drew to my outside. Last post I mentioned how the handicap worked. With my last two finishes not so hot, the handicap was still working in my favor. The green flag dropped and I was off like a rocket. I lead 9 laps. It wasn’t until my 10th and last lap, that I slipped up in turn 1 giving the opportunity for the number 12 of Lowbed Johnson to get under me for the heat win.

It was very exciting, the changes I made to the car this past week, basically completed the replacement of my entire suspension system and it paid off. I finally had stability in the corners and bite coming out. The car was predictable through the turns, and although it didn’t handle like a dream, it was 110% better than it was during the past 2 races, and all of last season for that matter. I had a very good feeling about the feature now.

With only a bit of tire air pressure changes, we lined up for the feature. Sitting in the starting grid, Drew was motioning to me to look at my open shield. The condensation in the air was so great, the heat from my head and my breath coming out of my helmet was causing my shield to be completely covered in condensation, making it impossible to see once closed. I worked to slow my breathing and ran my radiator fan to help pull some air over my shield and clear it up. The radiator is positioned behind my head.

It seemed to work for the moment. When we hit the track, I figured the air from moving would be enough to clear the lens. It wasn’t. I had to crack the shield a bit to allow some air in and keep things clear enough to see. This was going to be a problem. Starting on the pole, with Drew to my outside, my only problem would be making sure I stay in front. As long as I had clean air, there would be no problem.

The green dropped and so did the hammer. Off like a bullet, I took an immediate lead and I was on a mission. Even at top speed, I had to keep my shield slightly cracked. But that wasn’t an issue anymore as I continued to lead. The car was awesome! It was unrecognizable from what I had been driving up till now.

On lap 4 or so, there was a quick flash and a cool breeze as I watched my hood sail off in turn 1. I’ll tell you what, that changed the cars aerodynamics dramatically. Though, I was able to compensate by moving the top wing. Luckily, I have a

Hood, what hood?

two piece hood, so with the bottom hood intact, and the front wing placed high still protects me from any debris that may be kicked up by cars in front of me. It’s still a bit unnerving though. For those of you who are unfamiliar, once the hood is removed on these cars, there is a clear visual path to my legs and lap. Yea, I think I mentioned unnerving. There is a reason we put mesh cages in front of the cockpit.

The first caution came out for Rookie Spencer Allen in the #22 car. Spencer spun in turn 4 causing the first of 3 cautions for the night. We crossed over and I looked to see point’s leader Rich Crooker in the #21 starting on my outside. Crooker with multiple wins this season already, in his brand new 2011 RTS chassis, was going to make me work for every inch of ground.

The green flag dropped, and we were hard into turn one. Crooker beside me into turn one, I maintained the lead on exit once again. Clean air was still in my favor as I pulled away. It’s peaceful in the front. It’s like running a boat across a lake on a calm morning before anyone else is awake. The air is smooth, nothing to slow you down, and your setting the pace for everyone else.

Caution number 2 came out when brother Drew Eldridge, #7, had a flat tire in turn 2. Drew ran it back to the pits ending his night early. We crossed up and what do ya know, Crooker was still to my right. No problem, I did this once before, just need to do it again. The green dropped, and this time, I ran it in a bit too low. Crooker was able to get a tire width in front of me heading into turn one, and took the lead when I had to get hard on the breaks or run him over.

Now in second, my shield issue became more of a concern. I tried once again to close it, but it would immediately fog up. With the shield cracked open for air, I was getting a face full of dirt.

The third and last caution gave me one more opportunity to take back the lead. Crooker now setting the pace on my inside now, we took the last green and barreled into turn one. Without enough grip on the high side of the track, I wasn’t quite able to pull it off and fell back to second once again. Still getting a face full of dirt, I decided to back off a bit and put enough distance between us that I wasn’t filling my eyes.

With only a few laps to go, I slipped up heading into turn 3 and Lowbed Johnson #12 made a clean pass on my inside, landing me back to 3rd.

I can’t express how happy I was to finish the night with a 3rd place finish. With everything I’ve been going through with this car, it was a great feeling of accomplishment to finally get it to run well.

Derek Eldridge #8
600cc Mini Sprint

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Exhibition at Boondocks Raceway

What a great experience to visit a new track with the potential of being added to the NEMS lineup in 2012. On July 16th, 2011, 4 competitors from NEMS including Drew, myself, Terry Reil, and Spencer Allen made the trip to Boondocks Raceway in Skowhegan, ME for what we called a NEMS Exhibition race. […]