Episode 14: Fires Lit!
Fires Lit- Part 1
In my last column I wrote about what sparked my interest in automobiles and motorsport. I then invited our readers to write in with your stories of what lit your fire. I also promised to publish the most compelling story we found AND reward that person with passes to the Mosport Victoria Day SpeedFest as guest of myself and the Reigning World Challenge Championship winning team K-PAX Racing.
I absolutely loved reading all the stories that were sent in – so much so that I want to keep an open invitation to all our readers: please, if you haven’t yet – write in and tell us what attracted you to the sport and / or what you love most!
As for the winner…I’ll start by saying the letter from Mr. Jim Blanchard gets an honorable mention, not least because of his story but also that he and his daughter became corner marshals through their love of the sport. As a driver, I have a HUGE soft spot for trackside crews – their enthusiasm, dedication and bravery are so far above and beyond that I think they should all be richly rewarded. Jim I can’t lavish you with gold, but I’ve pulled some strings and there are two passes with your name on them for our race at Mosport.
The winning letter comes from Mr. Vernon Liboiron of Ottawa, Ontario.
So, without further adieu…
For me to try and narrow down what lit my fire down to one definitive moment would be difficult. It is more like a whole collection of circumstances that have made me the adrenaline junkie I am today (and racing nut). I could quote you all the stats for any street car out there and I’ll never forget my first live NASCAR race at the Daytona 500.
When I was young, like all boys, I loved watching racing- NASCAR, Champ Car, Indy CAR, F1, it did not matter. Then, later in life, it really happened for me. About 6 years ago, I had the chance to drive a friends’ club racer (it was an ‘86 Jetta). We were at Shannonville Motorsports Park here in Ontario and I’ll never forget it! They gave me a few tips and sent me off on the SMP long track. Well, let me tell you, the one thing they forgot to mention were the brakes- they are not power assisted! Corner 3 almost claimed another victim! Fast forward another month and I am attending my first performance driving school at the Mosport DDT circuit. It may be a go-kart track, but given the right instructor with the right student and you can really howl on that little layout. Later that summer, I attended another performance driving school at Shannonville, with the various track configurations and me lucky enough (again) to have an aggressive instructor, all I can say is “do I really have to stop”? I was honestly running on pure adrenaline the rest of the week at work!
For me, it was official- MY FIRE IS LIT.
Since that first summer, I have been lucky enough to attend some really well put together lapping days at Mosport (pro track) and at Calabogie Motorsports Park near Ottawa. I have driven with various clubs and have been lucky enough to have a professional racing driver give me some private instruction at Mosport, and a friend that had raced Mosport many times in Formula Ford (and other classes) tutored me my first time out at Mosport so that I did not kill myself. It truly amazed what these two individuals could do with my little Honda at the great track called Mosport.
Since then, I have helped out at the local track in various capacities for different events (race days and race schools). What makes these events special to me, is the camaraderie and people that you meet. The cars and owners in Vintage class are incredible! I love it when I have to go over to the owner and ask what type of car it is because I have no idea at all.
I now watch the Rolex Series and Continental Tire Series religiously, and I also try to watch local regional racing at every chance I get. There is plenty of excitement in local racing, as they too have mixed classes and all types of drivers.
For me, the most important aspects that I have taken from my experiences at the track, are my new found respect for all race drivers (not that I did not respect them before but now I have a baseline with which to measure their skill, and wow, I wish
I had 5% of their skill) and the fact that I now realize that no matter how good of a day to day driver you think you are, there is vast room for improvement on our highways. Everyone should attend a driving school or instructional lapping event. Your attitude on the roadways will change and your skill level will go up.
Please keep up the great work on your articles, I really enjoy them and congrats on your selection to drive for K-PAX.
Vernon - your story resonates deeply with me – from being a teenage car stat junkie to the adrenalin high of first laps on a track to understanding that Mosport is as rare as it is special, to being a die hard that gets excited at all races, from small regional events all the way to Daytona, to understanding that we all have room to improve and the fact that it benefits even the non racers on our public roads. You have covered a lot of bases my brother. Thank you for your letter and I look forward to seeing you at Mosport for our World Challenge Races!
Fires Lit- Part 2
This past February I landed a dream job – racing for K-PAX Racing – hands down one of the most decorated teams in North America. However – going into it I knew it would not be all smooth sailing. The challenge ahead of the team was enormous: From scratch – build two Volvo C30 touring cars and have them ready by March 21. Not only has a C30 never been built into a race car, the project started mid-January! Three months to build two cars and go racing. The challenge didn’t end there. This first three races on this year’s World Challenge schedule are virtually back to back to back, and were held at opposite ends of the continent – Florida - LA - Utah. To put this in perspective, under normal conditions a top team would need five to six months to build a car – and then spend another two months going testing in private to work out the bugs and improve speed. K-PAX Racing built them in three and we have done all our testing and development at the races!
Many said it was a miracle that the cars were ready for Round 1. If that’s the case then I think the Vatican should be considering Bob Raub and his K-PAX Racing crew for sainthood – because not only were the cars ready but myself and teammate Robb Holland have scored top fives in all the races and on April 30 we won our first race. As I wrote this, I was sitting second in the point standings!
Never before in my racing career have I seen such an intense rate of development on a car. I will never forget showing up at St. Petersburg on day two and looking into the engine bay and asking “ what happened here – I don’t recognize any of this?!” Overnight the crew had completely reworked the engine bay in a (successful) attempt to alleviate overheating issues. It began a trend I would soon get used to: simply put, give this crew an hour and they will do a week’s worth of work. Every time I drive the # 88 car it feels like the first time…because the crew has made so many further modifications!
I am not exaggerating when I tell you they have been working SEVEN DAY WEEKS since February. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that some of these men have not seen their families in months. K-PAX Racing is not a winning team because they have the biggest budget or technological advantages. They are winning team because of their passion for the job and willingness to do whatever it takes to get it done. Think about that. Imagine not seeing your family for months because you are hell bent and determined to win races. Money, fame and glory cannot buy that kind of commitment – nothing can. It only happens when you have individuals who are so passionate about what they do they will stop at nothing until the goal is reached. Driving their car is not a job, it is honour.
When team owner Jim Haughey created this program, he named it K-PAX which is a Greek translation for achieving the impossible.
Team manager Bob Raub is the man who helps Jim to realize this dream. Together with the men and women pictured above they work the miracles that make it happen. In 2010, they beat the Vipers, Porsches, Corvettes and Mustangs to win the World Challenge GT Championship with a four door Volvo S60. In 2011, they started the C30 Touring Car program and we have already won a race.
To circle back to the theme of this month’s column – if we want to talk about “fires lit”…K-PAX Racing. Period.